The Life of Cicero, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter xii.

Cicero’s Philosophy.

It will have been observed that in the list given in the previous chapter the works commonly published as Cicero’s Philosophy have been divided. Some are called his Philosophy and some his Moral Essays. It seems to be absurd to put forward to the world his Tusculan Inquiries, written with the declared object of showing that death and pain were not evils, together with a moral essay, such as that De Officiis, in which he tells us what it may become a man of the world to do. It is as though we bound up Lord Chesterfield’s letters in a volume with Hume’s essays, and called them the philosophy of the eighteenth century. It might be true, but it would certainly be absurd. There might be those who regard the letters as philosophical, and those who would so speak of the essays; but their meaning would be diametrically opposite. It is so with Cicero, whose treatises have been lumped together under this name with the view of bringing them under one appellation. It had been found necessary to divide his works and to describe them. The happy man who first thought to put the De Natura Deorum and the De Amicitia into boards together, and to present them to the world under the name of his philosophy, perhaps found the only title that could unite the two. But he has done very much to mislead the world, and to teach readers to believe that Cicero was in truth one who endeavored to live in accordance with the doctrine of any special school of philosophy.

He was too honest, too wise, too civilized, too modern for that. He knew, no one better, that the pleasure of the world was pleasant, and that the ills are the reverse. When his wife betrayed him, he grieved. When his daughter died, he sorrowed. When his foe was strong against him, he hated him. He avoided pain when it came near him, and did his best to have everything comfortable around him. He was so far an Epicurean, as we all are. He did not despise death, or pain, or grief. He was a modern-minded man — if I make myself understood — of robust tendencies, moral, healthy, and enduring; but he was anything but a philosopher in his life. Let us remember the way in which he laughs at the idea of bringing philosophy into real life in the De Oratore. He is speaking of the manner in which the lawyers would have had to behave themselves in the law courts if philosophy had been allowed to prevail: “No man could have grieved aloud. No patron would have wept. No one would have sorrowed. There would have been no calling of the Republic to witness; not a man would have dared to stamp his foot, lest it should have been told to the Stoics.”1 “You should keep the books of the philosophers for your Tusculan ease,” he had said in the preceding chapter; and he speaks, in the same page, of “Plato’s fabulous State.”

Then why, it may be asked, did he write so many essays on philosophy — enough to have consumed the energies of many laborious years? There can be no doubt that he did write the Philosophy, though we have ample reason to know that it was not his philosophy. All those treatises, beginning with the Academica — written when he was sixty-two, two years only before his death, and carried on during twelve months with indomitable energy — the De Finibus, the Tusculan Disputations, the De Natura Deorum, the De Divinatione, and the De Fato — were composed during the time named. To those who have regarded Cicero as a philosopher — as one who has devoted his life to the pursuits of philosophy — does it not appear odd that he should have deferred his writing on the subject and postponed his convictions till now? At this special period of his life why should he have rushed into them at once, and should so have done it as to be able to leave them aside at another period? Why has all this been done within less than two years? Let any man look to the last year of his life, when the Philippics were coming hot from his brain and eager from his mouth, and ask himself how much of Greek philosophy he finds in them. Out of all the sixty-four years of his life he devoted one to this philosophy, and that not the last, but the penultimate; and so lived during all these years, even including that one, as to show how little hold philosophy had upon his conduct. [Greek: Aideomai Trôas]. Was that Greek philosophy? or the eager exclamation of a human spirit, in its weakness and in its strength, fearing the breath of his fellow-men, and yet knowing that the truth would ultimately be expressed by it?

Nor is the reason for this far to seek, though the character which could avail itself of such a reason requires a deep insight. To him literature had been everything. We have seen with what attention he had studied oratory — rhetoric rather — so as to have at his fingers’-ends the names of those who had ever shone in it, and the doctrines they had taught. We know how well read he was in Homer and the Greek tragedians; how he knew by heart his Ennius, his Nævius, his Pacuvius, and the others who had written in his own tongue. As he was acquainted with the poets and rhetoricians, so also was he acquainted with those writers who have handled philosophy. His incredible versatility was never at fault. He knew them all from the beginning, and could interest himself in their doctrines. He had been in the schools at Athens, and had learned it all. In one sense he believed in it. There was a great battle of words carried on, and in regard to that battle he put his faith in this set or in the other. But had he ever been asked by what philosophical process he would rule the world, he would have smiled. Then he would have declared himself not to be an Academician, but a Republican.

It was with him a game of play, ornamented with all the learning of past ages. He had found the schools full of it at Athens, and had taken his part in their teaching. It had been pleasant to him to call himself a disciple of Plato, and to hold himself aloof from the straitness of the Stoics, and from the mundane theories of the followers of Epicurus. It had been well for him also to take an interest in that play. But to suppose that Cicero, the modern Cicero, the Cicero of the world — Cicero the polished gentleman, Cicero the soft hearted, Cicero the hater, Cicero the lover, Cicero the human — was a believer in Greek philosophy — that he had taken to himself and fed upon those shreds and tatters and dry sticks — that he had ever satisfied himself with such a mode of living as they could promise to him — is indeed to mistake the man. His soul was quiveringly alive to all those instincts which now govern us. Go among our politicians, and you shall find this man and the other, who, in after-dinner talk, shall call himself an Epicurean, or shall think himself to be an Academician. He has carried away something of the learning of his college days, and remembers enough of his school exercises for that; but when he has to make a speech for or against Protection, then you will find out where lies his philosophy.

And so it was with Cicero during this the penultimate year of his life. He poured forth during this period such an amount of learning on the subject, that when men took it up after the lapse of centuries they labelled it all as his philosophy. When he could no longer talk politics, nor act them — when the Forum was no longer open to him, nor the meetings of the people or of the Senate — when he could no longer make himself heard on behalf of the State — then he took to discussions on Carneades. And his discussions are wonderful. How could he lay his mind to work when his daughter was dead, and write in beautiful language four such treatises as came from his pen while he was thinking of the temple which was to be built to her memory? It is a marvel that at such a period, at such an age, he should have been equal to the labor. But it was thus that he amused himself, consoled himself, distracted himself. It is hard to believe that, in the sad evening of his life, such a power should have remained with him; but easier, I think, than to imagine that in that year of his life he had suddenly become philosophical.

In describing the Academica, the first of these works in point of time, it is necessary to explain that by reason of an alteration in his plan of publishing, made by Cicero after he had sent the first copy to Atticus, and by the accident that the second part has been preserved of the former copy and the first part of the second, a confusion has arisen. Cicero had felt that he might have done better by his friends than to bring Hortensius, Catulus, and Lucullus discussing Greek philosophy before the public. They were, none of them, men who when alive had interested themselves in the matter. He therefore rewrote the essays, or altered them, and again sent them forth to his friend Varro. Time has been so far kind to them as to have preserved portions of the first book as altered, and the second of the four which constituted the first edition. It is that which has been called Lucullus. The Catulus had come first, but has been lost. Hortensius and Cicero were the last two. We may perceive, therefore, into what a length of development he carried his purpose. It must be of course understood that he dictated these exercises, and assisted himself by the use of all mechanical means at his disposal. The men who worked for him were slaves, and these slaves were always willing to keep in their own hands the good things which came to them by the exercise of their own intelligence and adroitness. He could not multiply his own hands or brain, but he could multiply all that might assist them. He begins by telling Varro that he has long since desired to illustrate in Latin letters the philosophy which Socrates had commended, and he asks Varro why he, who was so much given to writing, had not as yet written about any of these things. As Varro boasted afterward that he was the author of four hundred and ninety books, there seems to be a touch of irony in this. Be that as it may, Varro is made to take up the gauntlet and to rush away at once amid the philosophers. But here on the threshold, as it were, of his inquiries, we have Cicero’s own reasons given in plain language: “But now, hit hard by the heavy blow of fortune, and freed as I am from looking after the State, I seek from philosophy relief from my pain.” He thinks that he may in this way perhaps best serve the public, or even “if it be not so, what else is there that he may find to do?”2 As he goes on, however, we find that what he writes is about the philosophers rather than philosophy.

Then we come to the Lucullus. It seems odd that the man whose name has come down to us as a by-word for luxury, and who is laden with the reproach of overeating, should be thus brought forward as a philosopher. It was perhaps the subsequent feeling on Cicero’s part that such might be the opinion of men which induced him to alter his form — in vain, as far as we are concerned. But Lucullus had lived with Antiochus, a Greek philosopher, who had certain views of his own, and he is made to defend them through this book.

Here as elsewhere it is not the subject which delights us so much as the manner in which he handles certain points almost outside the subject: “How many things do those exercised in music know which escape us! Ah, there is Antiope, they say; that is Andromache.”3 What can be truer, or less likely, we may suppose, to meet us in a treatise on philosophy, and, therefore, more welcome? He is speaking of evidence: “It is necessary that the mind shall yield to what is clear, whether it wish it or no, as the dish in a balance must give way when a weight is put upon it.4 * * * You may snore, if you will, as well as sleep,” says Carneades; “what good will it do you?”5 And then he gives the guesses of some of the old philosophers as to the infinite. Thales has said that water is the source of everything. Anaximander would not agree to this, for he thought that all had come from space. Anaximenes had affirmed that it was air. Anaxagoras had remarked that matter was infinite. Xenophanes had declared that everything was one whole, and that it was a god, everlasting, eternal, never born and never dying, but round in his shape! Parmenides thought that it was fire that moved the earth. Leucippus believed it to be “plenum et inane.” What “full and empty” may mean I cannot tell; but Democritus could, for he believed in it — though in other matters he went a little farther! Empedocles sticks to the old four elements. Heraclitus is all for fire. Melissus imagines that whatever exists is infinite and immutable, and ever has been and ever will be. Plato thinks that the world has always existed, while the Pythagoreans attribute everything to mathematics.6 “Your wise man,” continues Cicero, “will know one whom to choose out of all these. Let the others, who have been repudiated, retire.”

“They are all concealed, these things — hidden in thick darkness, so that no human eye can have power enough to look up into the heavens or down on to the earth. We do not know our own bodies, or the nature or strength of their component parts. The doctors themselves, who have opened them and looked at them, are ignorant. The Empirics declare that they know nothing; because, as soon as looked at, they may change. * * * Hicetas, the Syracusan, as Theophrastus tells us, thinks that the heavens and the sun and the moon and the stars all stand still, and that nothing in all the world moves but the earth. Now what do you, followers of Epicurus, say to this?”7 I need not carry the conversation on any farther to show that Cicero is ridiculing the whole thing. This Hicetas, the Syracusan, seems to have been nearer the mark than the others, according to the existing lights, which had not shone out as yet in Cicero’s days. “But what was the meaning of it all? Who knows anything about it? How is a man to live by listening to such trash as this?” It is thus that Cicero means to be understood. I will agree that Cicero does not often speak out so clearly as he does here, turning the whole thing into ridicule. He does generally find it well to say something in praise of these philosophers. He does not quite declare the fact that nothing is to be made of them; or, rather, there is existing in it all an under feeling that, were he to do so, he would destroy his character and rob himself of his amusement. But we remember always his character of a philosopher, as attributed to Cato, in his speech during his Consulship for Murena. I have told the story when giving an account of the speech. “He who cuts the throat of an old cock when there is no need, has sinned as deeply as the parricide when breaking his father’s neck,”8 says Cicero, laughing at the Stoics. There he speaks out the feelings of his heart — there, and often elsewhere in his orations. Here, in his Academica, he is eloquent on the same side. We cannot but rejoice at the plainness of his words; but it has to be acknowledged that we do not often find him so loudly betraying himself when dealing with the old discussions of the Greek philosophers.

Very quickly after his Academica, in B.C. 45, came the five books, De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum, written as though with the object of settling the whole controversy, and declaring whether the truth lay with the Epicureans, the Stoics, or the Academics. What, at last, is the good thing, and what the evil thing, and how shall we gain the one and avoid the other? If he will tell us this, he will have proved himself to be a philosopher to some purpose. But he does nothing of the kind. At the end of the fifth book we find Atticus, who was an Epicurean, declaring to Quintus Cicero that he held his own opinion just as firmly as ever, although he had been delighted to hear how well the Academician Piso had talked in Latin. He had hitherto considered that these were things which would not sound well unless in the Greek language.

It is again in the form of a dialogue, and, like all his writings at this time, is addressed to Brutus. It is in five books. The first two are supposed to have been held at Cumæ, between Cicero, Torquatus, and Triarius. Here, after a prelude in favor of philosophy and Latin together, Torquatus is allowed to make the best excuse he can for Epicurus. The prelude contains much good sense; for, whether he be right or not in what he says, it is good for every man to hold his own language in respect. “I have always thought and said that the Latin language is not poor as it is supposed to be, but even richer than the Greek.”9 “Let us learn,” says Torquatus, who has happened to call upon him at Cumæ with Triarius, a grave and learned youth, as we are told, “since we have found you at your house, why it is that you do not approve of Epicurus — he who, alive, seems to have freed the minds of men from error, and to have taught them everything which could tend to make them happy.”10 Then Torquatus goes to work and delivers a most amusing discourse on the wisdom of Democritus and his great disciple. The words fly about with delightful power, so as to leave upon our minds an idea that Torquatus is persuading his audience; for it is Cicero’s peculiar gift, in whosesoever mouth he puts his words, to make him argue as though he were the victor. We feel sure that, had he in his hand held a theory contrary to that of Torquatus, had he in truth cared about it, he could not have made Torquatus speak so well. But the speaker comes to an end, and assures his hearers that his only object had been to hear — as he had never heard before — what Cicero’s own opinion might be on the matter.

The second book is a continuation of the same meeting. The word is taken up by Cicero, and he refutes Torquatus. It seems to us, however, that poor Epicurus is but badly treated — as has been generally the case in the prose works which have come down to us. We have, indeed, the poem of Lucretius, and it is admitted that it contains fine passages. But I was always told when young that the writing of it had led him to commit suicide — a deed on his part which seems to have been painted in black colors, though Cato and Brutus, the Stoics, did the same thing very gloriously. The Epicureans are held to be sensualists, because they have used the word “pleasure” instead of “happiness,” and Cicero is hard upon them. He tells a story of the dying moments of Epicurus, quoting a letter written on his death-bed. “While I am writing,” he says, “I am living my last hour, and the happiest. I have so bad a pain in my stomach that nothing can be worse. But I am compensated for it all by the joy I feel as I think of my philosophical discourses.”11 Cicero then goes on to declare that, though the saying is very noble, it is unnecessary; he should not, in truth, have required compensation. But whenever an opinion is enunciated, the reader feels it to be unnecessary. He does not want opinion. He is satisfied with the language in which Cicero writes about the opinions of others, and with the amusing manner in which he deals with things of themselves heavy and severe.

In the third book he, some time afterward, discusses the Stoic doctrine with Cato at the Tusculan villa of Lucullus, near to his own. He had walked over, and finding Cato there by chance, had immediately gone to work to demolish Cato’s philosophical doctrines. He tells us what a glutton Cato was over his books, taking them even into the Senate with him. Cicero asks for certain volumes of Aristotle, and Cato answers him that he would fain put into his hand those of Zeno’s school.

We can see how easily Cato falls into the trap. He takes up his parable, and preaches his sermon, but he does it with a marvellous enthusiasm, so that we cannot understand that the man who wrote it intended to demolish it all in the next few pages. I will translate his last words of Cato’s appeal to the world at large: “I have been carried farther than my intention. But in truth the admirable order of the system, and the incredible symmetry of it, has led him on. By the gods, do you not wonder at it? In nature there is nothing so close packed, nor in art so well fitted. The latter always agrees with the former — that which follows with that which has gone before. Not a stone in it all can be moved from its place. If you touch but one letter it falls to the ground. How severe, how magnificent, how dignified stands out the person of the wise man, who, when his reason shall have taught him that virtue is the only good, of a necessity must be happy! He shall be more justly called king than Tarquin, who could rule neither himself nor others; more rightly Dictator than Sulla, the owner of the three vices, luxury, avarice, and cruelty; more rightly rich than Crassus, who, had he not in truth been poor, would never have crossed the Euphrates in quest of war. All things are justly his who knows how to use them justly. You may call him beautiful whose soul is more lovely than his body. He is free who is slave to no desire. He is unconquered for whose mind you can forge no chains; you need not wait with him for the last day to pronounce him happy. If this be so, then the good man is also the happy man. What can be better worth our study than philosophy, or what more heavenly than virtue?”12 All of this was written by Cicero in most elaborate language, with a finish of words polished down to the last syllable, because he had nothing else wherewith to satisfy the cravings of his intellect.

The fourth book is a continuation of the argument “Which when he had said he (made) an end. — But I (began).”13 With no other introduction Cicero goes to work and demolishes every word that Cato had said. He is very courteous, so that Cato cannot but admit that he is answered becomingly; but, to use a common phrase, he does not leave him a leg to stand upon. Although during the previous book Cato has talked so well that the reader will think that there must be something in it, he soon is made to perceive that the Stoic budge is altogether shoddy.

The fifth and last book, De Finibus, is supposed to recount a dialogue held at Athens, or, rather, gives the circumstances of a discourse pretended to have been delivered there by Pupius Piso to the two Ciceros, and to their cousin Lucius, on the merits of the old Academy and the Aristotelian Peripatetics; for Plato’s philosophy had got itself split into two. There was the old and the new, and we may perhaps doubt to which Cicero devoted himself. He certainly was not an Epicurean, and he certainly was not a Stoic. He delighted to speak of himself as a lover of Plato. But in some matters he seems to have followed Aristotle, who had diverged from Plato, and he seems also to have clung to Carneades, who had become master of the new Academy. But, in truth, to ascertain the special doctrine of such a man on such a subject is vain. As we read these works we lose ourselves in admiration of his memory; we are astonished at the industry which he exhibits; we are delighted by his perspicuity; and feel ourselves relieved amid the crowd of names and theories by flashes of his wit; but there comes home to us, as a result, the singular fact of a man playing with these theories as the most interesting sport the world had produced, but not believing the least in any of them. It was not that he disbelieved; and perhaps among them all the tenets of the new Academy were those which reconciled themselves the best to his common-sense. But they were all nothing to him but an amusement.

In this book there are some exquisite bits. He says, speaking of Athens, that, “Go where you will through the city, you place your footsteps on the vestiges of history.”14 He says of a certain Demetrius, whom he describes as writing books without readers in Egypt, “that this culture of his mind was to him, as it were, the food by which his humanity was kept alive.”15 And then he falls into the praise of our love for our neighbors, and introduces us to that true philosophy which was the real guide of his life. “Among things which are honest,” he says, “there is nothing which shines so brightly and so widely as that brotherhood between men, that agreement as to what may be useful to all, and that general love for the human race. It comes from our original condition, in which children are loved by their parents; and then binding together the family, it spreads itself abroad among relations, connections, friends, and neighbors. Then it includes citizens and those who are our allies. At last it takes in the whole human race, and that feeling of the soul arises which, giving every man his own, and defending by equal laws the rights of each, is called justice.”16 It matters little how may have been introduced this great secret which Christ afterward taught, and for which we look in vain through the writings of all the philosophers. It comes here simply from Cicero himself in the midst of his remarks on the new Academy, but it gives the lesson which had governed his life: “I will do unto others as I would they should do unto me.” In this is contained the rudiments of that religion which has served to soften the hearts of us all. It is of you I must think, and not of myself. Hitherto the schools had taught how a man should make himself happy, whether by pleasure, whether by virtue, or whether by something between the two. It seems that it had never as yet occurred to a man to think of another except as a part of the world around him. Then there had come a teacher who, while fumbling among the old Greek lessons which had professed to tell mankind what each should do for himself, brings forth this, as it were, in preparation for the true doctrine that was to come: “Ipsa caritas generis humani!”—“That love of the human race!” I trust I may be able to show, before I have finished my work, that this was Cicero’s true philosophy. All the rest is merely with him a play of words.

Our next work contains the five books of the Tusculan Disputations, addressed to Brutus: Tusculanarum Disputationum, ad M. Brutum, libri i., ii., iii., iv., and v. That is the name that has at last been decided by the critics and annotators as having been probably given to them by Cicero. They are supposed to have been written to console himself in his grief for the death of Tullia. I have great doubt whether consolation in sorrow is to be found in philosophy, but I have none as to the finding it in writing philosophy. Here, I may add, that the poor generally suffer less in their sorrow than the rich, because they are called upon to work for their bread. The man who must make his pair of shoes between sunrise and the moment at which he can find relief from his weary stool, has not time to think that his wife has left him, and that he is desolate in the world. Pulling those weary threads, getting that leather into its proper shape, seeing that his stitches be all taut, so that he do not lose his place among the shoemakers, so fills his time that he has not a moment for a tear. And it is the same if you go from the lowest occupation to the highest. Writing Greek philosophy does as well as the making of shoes. The nature of the occupation depends on the mind, but its utility on the disposition. It was Cicero’s nature to write. Will any one believe that he might not as well have consoled himself with one of his treatises on oratory? But philosophy was then to his hands. It seems to have cropped up in his latter years, after he had become intimate with Brutus. When life was again one turmoil of political fever it was dropped.

In the five of the Books of the Tusculan Disputations, still addressed to Brutus, he contends: 1. That death is no evil; 2. That pain is none; 3. That sorrow may be abolished; 4. That the passions may be conquered; 5. That virtue will suffice to make a man happy. These are the doctrines of the Stoics; but Cicero does not in these books defend any school especially. He leans heavily on Epicurus, and gives all praise to Socrates and to Plato; but he is comparatively free: “Nullius adductus jurare in verba magistri,”17 as Horace afterward said, probably ridiculing Cicero. “I live for the day. Whatever strikes my mind as probable, that I say. In this way I alone am free.”18

Let us take his dogmas and go through them one by one, comparing each with his own life. This, it may be said, is a crucial test to which but few philosophers would be willing to accede; but if it shall be found that he never even dreamed of squaring his conduct with his professions, then we may admit that he employed his time in writing these things because it did not suit him to make his pair of shoes.

Was there ever a man who lived with a greater fear of death before his eyes — not with the fear of a coward, but with the assurance that it would withdraw him from his utility, and banish him from the scenes of a world in sympathy with which every pulse of his heart was beating? Even after Tullia was dead the Republic had come again for him, and something might be done to stir up these fainéant nobles! What could a dead man do for his country? Look back at Cicero’s life, and see how seldom he has put forward the plea of old age to save him from his share of the work of attack. Was this the man to console himself with the idea that death was no evil? And did he despise pain, or make any attempt at showing his disregard of it? You can hardly answer this question by looking for a man’s indifference when undergoing it. It would be to require too much from philosophy to suppose that it could console itself in agony by reasoning. It would not be fair to insist on arguing with Cato in the gout. The clemency of human nature refuses to deal with philosophy in the hard straits to which it may be brought by the malevolence of evil. But when you find a man peculiarly on the alert to avoid the recurrence of pain, when you find a man with a strong premeditated antipathy to a condition as to which he pretends an indifference, then you may fairly assert that his indifference is only a matter of argument. And this was always Cicero’s condition. He knew that he must at any rate lose the time passed by him under physical annoyance. His health was good, and by continued care remained so to the end; but he was always endeavoring to avoid sea-sickness. He was careful as to his baths, careful as to his eyes, very careful as to his diet. Was there ever a man of whom it might be said with less truth that he was indifferent as to pain?

The third position is that sorrow may be abolished. Read his letters to Atticus about his daughter Tullia, written at the very moment he was proving this. He was a heart-broken, sorrow-stricken man. It will not help us now to consider whether in this he showed strength or weakness. There will be doubt about it, whether he gained or lost more by that deep devotion to another creature which made his life a misery to him because that other one had gone; whether, too, he might not have better hidden his sorrow than have shown it even to his friend. But with him, at any rate, it was there. He can talk over it, weep over it, almost laugh over it; but if there be a thing that he cannot do, it is to treat it after the manner of a Stoic.

His passions should be conquered. Look back at every period of his life, and see whether he has ever attempted it. He has always been indignant, or triumphant, or miserable, or rejoicing. Remember the incidents of his life before and after his Consulship — the day of his election and the day of his banishment — and ask the philosophers why he had not controlled his passion. I shall be told, perhaps, that here was a man over whom, in spite of his philosophy, his passion had the masterhood. But what attempt did he ever make? Has he shown himself to us to be a man with a leaning toward such attempts? Has he not revelled in his passions, feeling them to be just, righteous, honest, and becoming a man? Has he regretted them? Did they occasion him remorse? Will any one tell me that such a one has lived with the conviction that he might conquer the evils of the world by controlling his passions? That virtue will make men happy he might probably have granted, if asked; but he would have conceded the point with a subterfuge. The commonest Christian of the day will say as much; but he will say it in a different meaning from that intended by the philosophers, who had declared, as a rule of life, that virtue would suffice to make them happy. To be good to your neighbors will make you happy in the manner described by Cicero in the fifth book, De Finibus. Love those who come near you. Be good to your fellow-creatures. Think, when dealing with each of them, what his feelings may be. Melt to a woman in her sorrow. Lend a man the assistance of your shoulder. Be patient with age. Be tender with children. Let others drink of your cup and eat of your loaf. Where the wind cuts, there lend your cloak. That virtue will make you happy. But that is not the virtue of which he spoke when he laid down his doctrine. That was not the virtue with which Brutus was strong when he was skinning those poor wretches of Salamis. Such was the virtue with which the heart of Cicero glowed when he saw the tradesmen of the Cilician town come out into the market-place with their corn.

Cicero begins the second book of the Tusculans by telling us that Neoptolemus liked to do a little philosophy now and then, but never too much at a time. With himself the matter was different: “In what else is there that I can do better?” Then he takes the bit between his teeth and rushes away with it. The reader feels that he would not stop him if he could. He does little, indeed, for philosophy; but so much for literature that he would be a bold man who would want to have him otherwise employed.

He wrote three treatises, De Natura Deorum. Had he declared that he would write three treatises to show the ideas which different men had taken up about the gods he would be nearer to the truth. We have an idea of what was Cicero’s real notion of that “dominans in nobis deus”19— that god which reigns within us — and which he declares in Scipio’s dream to have forbidden us to commit suicide. Nothing can be farther removed from that idea than the gods of which he tells us, either in the first book, in which the gods of Epicurus are set forth; in the second, in which the Stoics are defended; or the third, in which the gods, in accordance with the Academy, are maintained; not but that, either for the one or for the other, the man who speaks up for that sect does not say the best that is to be said. Velleius is eloquent for the Epicureans, Balbus for the Stoics, and Cotta for the Academy. And in that which each says there is to be found a germ of truth — though indeed Cicero makes his Epicurean as absurd as he well can do. But he does not leave a trace behind of that belief in another man’s belief which an energetic preacher is sure to create. The language is excellent, the stories are charming, the arguments as used against each other are courteous, clever, and such that on the spur of the moment a man cannot very well reply to them; but they leave on the mind of the reader a sad feeling of the lack of reality.

In the beginning he again repeats his reasons for writing on such subjects so late in life. “Being sick with ease, and having found the condition of the Republic to be such that it has to be ruled by one man. I have thought it good, for the sake of the Republic, to write about philosophy in a language that shall be understood by all our citizens, believing it to be a matter of great import to the glory of the State that things of such weight should be set forth in the Latin tongue;"20 not that the philosophy should be set forth, but what the different teachers said about it. His definition of eternity — or rather the want of definition — is singular: “There has been from all time an eternity which no measurement of time can describe. Its duration cannot be understood — that there should have been a time before time existed.”21 Then there comes an idea of the Godhead, escaping from him in the midst of his philosophy, modern, human, and truly Ciceronian: “Lo, it comes to pass that this god, of whom we are sure in our minds, and of whom we hold the very footprints on our souls, can never appear to us.”22

By-and-by we come to a passage in which we cannot but imagine that Cicero does express something of the feeling of his heart, as for a moment he seems to lose his courtesy in abusing the Epicureans: “Therefore do not waste your salt, of which your people are much in want, in laughing at us. Indeed, if you will listen to me, you will not try to do so; it does not become you; it is not given to you; you have not the power. I do not say this to you,” he says, addressing Velleius, “for your manners have been polished, and you possess the courtesy of our people; but I am thinking of you all as a body, and chiefly of him who is the father of your rules — a man without science, without letters — one who insults all, without critical ability, without weight, without wit.”23 Cicero, I think, must have felt some genuine dislike for Epicurus when he spoke of him in such terms as these.

Then, alas! there is commenced a passage in which are inserted many translated verses of the Greek poet Aratus. Cicero when a lad had taken in hand the Phænomena of Aratus, and here he finds a place in which can be introduced some of his lines. Aratus had devoted himself to the singing of the stars, and has produced for us many of the names with which we are still familiar: “The Twins;” “The Bull;” “The Great Bear;” “Cassiopeia;” “The Waterman;” “The Scorpion;” these and many others are made to come forward in hexameters — and by Cicero in Latin, as by Aratus in their Greek guise. We may suppose that the poem as translated had fallen dead — but here it is brought to life and is introduced into what is intended as at least a rationalistic account of the gods and their nature. Nothing less effective can be imagined than the repetition of uninteresting verses in such a place; for the reader, who has had Epicurus just handled for him, is driven to remember that their images are at any rate as false as the scheme of Epicurus, and is made to conclude that Balbus does not believe in his own argument. It has been sometimes said of Cicero that he is too long. The lines have probably been placed here as a joke, though they are inserted at such a length as to carry the reader away altogether into another world.

Farther on he devotes himself to anatomical research, which, for that age, shows an accurate knowledge. But what has it to do with the nature of the gods? “When the belly which is placed under the stomach becomes the receptacle of meat and drink, the lungs and the heart draw in the air for the stomach. The stomach, which is wonderfully arranged, consists chiefly of nerves. * * * The lungs are light and porous, and like a sponge — just fit for drawing in the breath. They blow themselves out and draw themselves in, so that thus may be easily received that sustenance most necessary to animal life.”24

The third book is but a fragment, but it begins well with pleasant raillery against Epicurus. Cotta declares that he had felt no difficulty with Epicurus. Epicurus and his allies had found little to say as to the immortal gods. His gods had possessed arms and legs, but had not been able to move them. But from Balbus, the Stoic, they had heard much which, though not true, was nevertheless truthlike. In all these discourses it seems that the poor Epicureans are treated with but a moderate amount of mercy. But Cotta continues, and tells many stories of the gods. He is interrupted in his tale, for the sad hand of destruction has fallen upon the MS., and his arguments have come to us unfinished. “It is better,” he says, “not to give wine to the sick at all, because you may injure them by the application. In the same way I do not know whether it would not be better to refuse that gift of reason, that sharpness and quickness of thought, to men in general, than to bestow it upon them so often to their own destruction.”25 It is thus that is discussed the nature of the gods in this work of Cicero, which is indeed a discussion on the different schools of philosophy, each in the position which it had reached in his time.

The De Natura Deorum is followed by two books, De Divinatione, and by the fragment of one, De Fato. Divination is the science of predicting events. By “Fatum” Cicero means destiny, or that which has been fixed beforehand. The three books together may be taken as religious discourses, and his purport seems to have been to show that it might be the duty of the State to foster observances, and even to punish their non-observance — for the benefit of the whole — even though they might not be in themselves true. He is here together with his brother, or with those whom, like his brother, he may suppose to have emancipated themselves from superstition — and tells him or them that though they do not believe they should feign belief. If the augurs declare by the flight of birds that such a thing should be done, let it be done, although he who has to act in the matter has no belief in the birds. If they declare that a matter has been fixed by fate, let it be as though it were fixed, whether fixed or no. He repudiates the belief as unreasonable or childish, but recommends that men should live as though they believed. In such a theory as this put thus before the reader, there will seem to be dissimulation. I cannot deny that it is so, though most anxious to assert the honesty of Cicero. I can only say that such dissimulation did prevail then, and that it does prevail now. If any be great enough to condemn the hierarchs of all the churches, he may do so, and may include Cicero with the Archbishop of Canterbury. I am not. It seems necessary to make allowance for the advancing intelligence of men, and unwise to place yourself so far ahead as to shut yourself out from that common pale of mankind. I distrust the self-confidence of him who thinks that he can deduce from one acknowledged error a whole scheme of falsehood. I will take our Protestant Church of England religion and will ask some thoughtful man his belief as to its changing doctrines, and will endeavor to do so without shocking the feelings of any. When did Sabbatarian observances begin to be required by the Word of God, and when again did they cease to be so? If it were worth the while of those who have thought about the subject to answer my question, the replies would be various. It has never begun! It has never wavered! And there would be the intermediate replies of those who acknowledge that the feeling of the country is altering and has altered. In the midst of this, how many a father of a family is there who goes to church for the sake of example? Does not the Church admit prayers for change of weather? Ask the clergyman on his way from church what he is doing with his own haystack, and his answer will let you know whether he believes in his own prayers. He has lent all the sanctity of his voice to the expression of words which had been written when the ignorance of men as to the works of nature was greater; or written yesterday because the ignorance of man has demanded it. Or they who have demanded it have not perhaps been ignorant themselves, but have thought it well to subserve the superstition of the multitude. I am not saying this as against the religious observances of today, but as showing that such is still the condition of men as to require the defence which Cicero also required when he wrote as follows: “Former ages erred in much which we know to have been changed by practice, by doctrine, or by time. But the custom, the religion, the discipline, the laws of the augurs and the authority of the college, are retained, in obedience to the opinion of the people, and to the great good of the State. Our Consuls, Claudius and Junius, were worthy of all punishment when they put to sea in opposition to the auspices; for men must obey religion, nor can the customs of our country be set aside so easily.”26 No stronger motive for adhering to religious observances can be put forward than the opinion of the people and the good of the State. There will be they who aver that truth is great and should be allowed to prevail. Though broken worlds should fall in disorder round their heads, they would stand firm amid the ruins. But they who are likely to be made responsible will not cause worlds to be broken.

Such, I think, was the reasoning within Cicero’s mind when he wrote these treatises. In the first he encounters his brother Quintus at his Tusculan villa, and there listens to him discoursing in favor of religion. Quintus is altogether on the side of the gods and the auspices. He is, as we may say, a gentleman of the old school, and is thoroughly conservative. In this way he has an opportunity given him of showing the antiquity of his belief. “Stare super vias antiquas,” is the motto of Quintus Cicero. Then he proceeds to show the two kinds of divination which have been in use. There is the one which he calls “Ars,” and which we perhaps may call experience. The soothsayer predicts in accordance with his knowledge of what has gone before. He is asked to say, for instance, whether a ship shall put to sea on a Friday. He knows — or thinks that he knows, or in his ignorance declares that he thinks that he knows — that ships that have put to sea on Friday have generally gone to the bottom. He therefore predicts against the going to sea. Although the ship should put forth on the intended day, and should make a prosperous voyage, the prophet has not been proved to be false. That can only be done by showing that ships that have gone to sea on Friday have generally been subject to no greater danger than others — a process which requires the close observations of science to make good. That is Art. Then there is the prediction which comes from a mind disturbed — one who dreams, let us say, or prophesies when in a fit — as the Sibyl, or Epimenides of Crete, who lived one hundred and fifty-seven years, but slept during sixty-four of them. Quintus explains as to these that the god does not desire mankind to understand them, but only to use them.27

He tells us many amusing details as to prophetic dreams and the doings of soothsayers and wise men. The book so becomes chatty and full of anecdotes, and interspersed with many pieces of poetry — some by others and some by Cicero. Here are given those lines as to the battle of the eagle and the dragon which I have ventured to call the best amid the nine versions brought forward.28

We cannot but sympathize with him in the reason which he prefixes to the second book of this treatise: “I often ask myself and turn in my mind how best I may serve the largest number of my fellow-citizens, lest there should come a time in which I should seem to have ceased to be anxious for the State; and nothing better has occurred to me than that I should make known the way of studying the best arts — which indeed I think I have now done in various books.”29 Then he recapitulates them. There is the opening work on philosophy which he had dedicated to Hortensius, now lost. Then in the four books of the Academics he had put forward his ideas as to that school which he believed to be the least arrogant and the truest — meaning the new Academy. After that, as he had felt all philosophy to be based on the search after good and evil, he had examined that matter. The Tusculan Inquiries had followed, in which he had set forth, in five books, the five great rules of living well. Having finished this, he had written his three books on the nature of the gods, and was now in the act of completing it, and would complete it, by his present inquiries. We cannot but sympathize with him because we know that, though he was not quite in earnest in all this, he was as near it as a man can be who teaches that which he does not quite believe himself. Brutus believed it, and Cato, and that Velleius, and that Balbus, and that Cotta. Or if perchance any of them did not, they lived, and talked, and read, and were as erudite about it, as though they did. The example was good, and the precepts were the best to be had. Amid it all he chose the best doctrine, and he was undoubtedly doing good to his countrymen in thus representing to them in their native language the learning by which they might best be softened.

“Græcia capta ferum victorem cepit, et artes.

Intulit agresti Latio.”30

Here, too, he explains his own conduct in a beautiful passage. “My fellow-citizens,” says he, “will pardon me, or perhaps will rather thank me, for that when the Republic fell into the power of one man I neither hid myself nor did I desert them; nor did I idly weep, or carry myself as though angry with the man or with the times; nor yet, forsooth, so flattering the good fortune of another, that I should have to be ashamed of what I had done myself. For I had learned this lesson from the philosophy of Plato — that there are certain changes in public affairs. They will be governed now by the leaders of the State, then by the people, sometimes by a single man.”31 This is very wise, but he goes to work and altogether destroys his brother’s argument. He knows that he is preaching only to a few — in such a manner as to make his preaching safe. His language is very pleasing, always civil, always courteous; but not the less does he turn the arguments of his brother into ridicule. And we feel that he is not so much laughing at his brother as at the gods themselves — they are so clearly wooden gods — though he is aware how necessary it is for the good of the State that they shall be received. He declares that, in accordance with the theory of his brother — meaning thereby the Stoics —“it is necessary that they, the gods, should spy into every cottage along the road, so that they may look after the affairs of men.”32 It is playful, argumentative, and satirical. At last he proposes to leave the subject. Socrates would also do so, never asking for the adhesion of any one, but leaving the full purport of his words to sink into the minds of his audience. Quintus says that he quite agrees to this, and so the discourse De Divinatione is brought to an end.

Of his book on fate we have only a fragment, or the middle part of it. It is the desire of Cicero to show that, in the sequence of affairs which men call Life, it matters little whether there be a Destiny or not. Things will run on, and will be changed, or apparently be changed, by the action of men. What is it to us whether this or that event has been decreed while we live, and while each follows his own devices? All this, however, is a little tedious, taken at the end of so long a course of philosophy; and we rise at last from the perusal with a feeling of thankfulness that all these books of Chrysippus of which he tells us, are not still existent to be investigated.

Such is the end of those works which I admit to have been philosophical, and of which it seems he understood that they were the work of about eighteen months. They were all written after Cæsar’s triumph — when it was no longer in the power of any Roman to declare his opinion either in the Senate or in the Forum. Cæsar had put down all opposition, and was made supreme over everything — till his death. The De Fato was written, indeed, after he had fallen, but before things had so far shaped themselves as to make it necessary that Cicero should return to public life. So, indeed, were the three last moral essays, which I shall notice in the next chapter; but in truth he had them always in his heart. It was only necessary that he should send them forth to scribes, leaving either to himself or to some faithful Tiro the subsequent duty of rearrangement. But what a head there was there to contain it all!

1 De Oratore, lib. i., ca. liii.

2 Academica, ii., lib. i., ca. iii.

3 Ibid., i., lib. ii., ca. vii.

4 Ibid., lib. ii., ca. xii.

5 Ibid., lib. ii., ca. xxix.

6 Academica, i., lib. ii., ca. xxxvii.

7 Ibid., lib. ii., ca. xxxix.

8 Pro Murena, ca. xxix.

9 De Finibus, lib. i., ca. iii.

10 Ibid., lib. i., ca. v.

11 De Finibus, lib. ii., ca. xxx.

12 De Finibus, lib. iii., ca. xxii.

13 De Finibus, lib. iv., ca. 1.

14 De Finibus, lib. v., ca. ii.

15 Ibid., lib. v., ca. xix.

16 Ibid., lib. v., ca. xxiii.

17 Epis., lib. i., 1, 14.

18 Tus. Disp., lib. v., ca. xi.

19 Tus. Disp., lib. i., ca. xxx.

20 De Natura Deo., lib. i., ca. iv.

21 Ibid., lib. i., ca. ix.

22 Ibid., lib. i., ca. xiv.

23 Ibid., lib. ii., ca. xxix.

24 De Nat. Deo., lib. ii., ca. liv., lv.

25 De Nat. Deo., lib. iii., ca. xxvii.

26 De Divinatione, lib. ii., ca. xxxiii.

27 De Divinatione, lib. i., ca. xviii.

28 Ibid., lib. i., ca. xlvii.

29 De Divinatione, lib. ii., ca. i.

30 Horace, Ep., lib. ii., ca. i.:

“Greece, conquered Greece, her conqueror subdued. And Rome grew polished who till then was rude.”

CONINGTON’S Translation.

31 De Divinatione, lib. ii., ca. ii.

32 Ibid., lib. ii., ca. li.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01