He studied rhetoric with Cicero, and accompanied him to Rhodes in 78 BC. Finding that he would never be able to rival his teacher he gave up rhetoric for law (Cic. Brut. 41). Cicero on the other hand considered Ser.Sulpicius Rufus as his superior in matters pertaining to the law. In 63 BC he was a candidate for the consulship, but was defeated by Lucius Licinius Murena, whom he subsequently accused of bribery. In 52 BC he successfully stood election to be consul in 51 BC. In the Civil War, after considerable hesitation, he threw in his lot with Caesar, who made him proconsul of Achaea in 46 BC. He died in 43 BC while on a mission from the senate to Marcus Antonius at Mutina. He was accorded a public funeral, and a statue was erected to his memory in front of the Rostra.
Two excellent specimens of Sulpicius's style are preserved in Cicero (Ad. Fam. iv. 5 and 12). One of these letters is a letter of condolence to Cicero after the death of his daughter, Tullia. It is an exquisite letter that posterity has much admired, full of subtle, melancholy reflection on the transiency of all things. Byron has quoted this letter in his Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Quintilian (Instit. x. 1, 1,6) speaks of three orations by Sulpicius as still in existence; one of these was the speech against Murena, another Pro or Contra Aufidium, of whom nothing is known. He is also said to have been a writer of erotic poems.
It is as a jurist, however, that Sulpicius was chiefly distinguished. He left behind him a large number of treatises, and he is often quoted in the Pandects, although direct extracts are not found (for titles see Teuffel-Schwabe, Hist. of Roman Lit. 174, 4). His chief characteristics were lucidity, an intimate acquaintance with the principles of civil and natural law, and an unrivaled power of expression.
See R Schneider, De Servio Sulpicio Rufo (Leipzig, 1834); O Karlowa, Römische Rechtsgeschichte, vol. i. (Leipzig, 1885); the chief ancient authority is Cicero.
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