The Swaggering Soldier
The Pot of Gold
The Two Bacchides
The Woman of Andros
This chapter has been published in the book Greece & Rome to 30 BC. For ordering information please click here.
Roman culture originated out of Etruscan rituals and religion and was influenced greatly by the Greeks. Livy described how Etruscan dance and music were introduced in Rome during a plague in 364 BC to appease the gods. Histrionic gestures were developed into dialogs with plots adapted from Greek tragedies and comedies by a Greek slave named Livius Andronicus by 240 BC. Andronicus translated Homer's Odyssey into Latin, and it was used in schools for generations. Short Oscan plays from Campania using mime called fabula Atellana were based on the characters of the stupid clown Maccus, the bragging glutton Bucco, the foolish old Pappus, and the hunchback trickster Dossennus. In the late third century BC Gnaeus Naevius wrote an epic on the first Punic war, a few tragedies about the Trojan war, and dozens of comedies based on Greek plays as well as one play about Romulus and Remus and one about the victory by consul Marcellus over the Insubrian Gauls in 222 BC; the plays of Naevius were so critical of political figures that he was imprisoned and went into exile. Greek tragedies were also adapted by Quintius Ennius (239-169 BC), Marcus Pacuvius (c. 220-c. 130 BC), and Lucius Accius (170-c. 86 BC), and Greek comedies were translated by the freed Insubrian slave Caecilius Statius (c. 219-c. 166 BC), but these are all lost.
The only surviving ancient Roman plays are the 21 comedies (one only in fragments) by Plautus listed by Varro as authentic, six comedies by Terence, ten tragedies by Seneca in the first century CE, and one comedy from the fifth century CE. Titus Maccius Plautus was born in the Umbrian town of Sarsina, lived about seventy years, and according to Cicero died in 184 BC. He was probably named Titus after his father, Maccius after the clown, and Plautus for having flat feet. He worked in Roman theatrical productions and was said to have lost his investment in a merchant venture and had to work in a mill before writing his comedies based on Greek plays. His first few plays were produced during the long second Punic war.
The Menaechmi by Plautus is a comedy of errors, as Shakespeare called his adaptation, and as it refers to Hiero ruling in Syracuse, it may have been produced before his death in 215 BC. Comic confusion occurs when a twin Sosicles, separated from his brother at age seven and now using the same name Menaechmus, arrives in Epidamnus with his slave Messenio. Menaechmus quarrels with his wife and threatens divorce, steals a dress from her, and gives it to his mistress Erotium, who offers to make dinner for him and his parasitic companion Peniculus. While Menaechmus is busy in town with the legal problems of his clients, Sosicles is taken for his brother by Erotium and handsomely entertained. Erotium asks him to get the dress and gold bracelets she received from his brother altered; Sosicles has found what he calls "booty." Having lost a free meal, Peniculus tells the wife that Menaechmus gave her dress to his mistress; she asks for it back, and Menaechmus, not having it, gets locked out of both houses. When the father-in-law accuses Sosicles, he acts insane. A doctor gets four slaves to arrest Menaechmus for treatment, but the slave Messenio rescues him from them and is granted his freedom for it by Menaechmus, who does not even know him. Finally the brothers meet; the confusion is cleared up; and Sosicles happily liberates Messenio.
In the comedy of The Asses Plautus has fun with some very low characters. A profligate son Argyrippus is in love with Philaenium, the daughter of the courtesan Cleareta, and his father Demaenetus wants to help him even though his wife Artemona controls the money. With his two slaves they manage to get money from the sale of asses so that Argyrippus can buy the love of Philaenium for a year; but his father insists on being allowed to spend the first night with her. His wife discovers her husband and son with the daughter in the courtesan's house, and there is hell to pay. This story of lust, greed, and deception shows the darker side of human nature, which Freud quoted as man being a wolf to his fellow man, although line 495 of Plautus more precisely means, "A man is no man, but a wolf, to a stranger."1 The slaves feel victimized by their captivity, the women by their need for money, and the men by their desire for women.
The Merchant is a similar story of young Charinus, who buys a young woman he loves and found on his business trip and says he is going to give her to her mother for a servant; but he really wants to have his neighbor friend Eutychus take her so as to avoid suspicion. However, his father Demipho buys her first and gives her to Lysimachus, father of Eutychus. The wife of Lysimachus returns and is very suspicious, and her 84-year-old female slave complains about the old double standard.
If a man secretly takes a harlot,
and his wife finds it out, the man goes unpunished.
But if a wife even goes out of the house
without her husband's knowledge,
the man has grounds for divorce, and she's driven out.
There ought to be the same law for husbands as for wives!
For a good wife is satisfied with one husband;
why shouldn't a man be satisfied with one woman?2
Finally Demipho gives her back to his son, and the play concludes with a resolution that old men who consort with harlots should be considered stupid and deserve to lose the property they waste.
The Swaggering Soldier by Plautus was probably produced in 205 BC; this satire of a vain soldier was popular with Romans tired of the Punic wars. Based on a Greek play set in Ephesus, a conceited soldier, bragging he has killed 7,000 people, is organizing troops to help Seleucus regain his kingdom; he has abducted a girl Philocomasium from Athens and also acquired the slave Palaestrio, who had served her lover Pleusicles. Palaestrio cleverly masterminds the deceptions that fool the soldier. First, he enables Pleusicles to meet his lover by cutting a hole in the wall between the house where he is staying and the soldier's; then he convinces the watchman that Philocomasium has a twin sister visiting next door. The slave warns the watchman that he may be killed for making a false accusation about the girl, or he may be killed for having let her see a lover; but the watchman is afraid he'll be killed for not reporting it. The helpful bachelor neighbor explains why he prefers the joy of freedom to marriage, and he cooperates with Palaestro's plan to use an attractive courtesan and her maid to pose as his wife to seduce the vain and lecherous soldier. The slave persuades the stupid soldier to let Philocomasium go with the gifts he gave her including Palaestro as her servant so that he can make it with the attractive courtesan. Once they have safely left, the soldier goes to see her next door and is caught and punished by the neighbor.
The Casket is a Latin translation of a lost play by Menander but is not complete. In this sentimental story a young lover, whose father will not let him marry the daughter of a courtesan, discovers that she is a foundling with a respectable father.
In The Carthaginian by Plautus a young man and his slave organize a way to entrap into a crime a pimp, who is on the verge of making two sisters prostitutes when their Carthaginian father fortuitously appears to claim that they were stolen away years ago; the young man is then able to marry his sweetheart.
Stichus, named after the slave who gets drunk at the end, was produced in Rome in 200 BC and seems to celebrate a return to better times after nearly two decades of war with Carthage. Two brothers married to two sisters have been away three years on a merchant venture, and the father of the girls is threatening to marry them off to someone else; they fear his parental prerogative and the shame and disgrace that would result from disobeying the patriarch. Plautus hints that an unwilling woman given in marriage will not be a wife but an enemy. However, the brothers return with abundant goods, and a feast is planned. Much of the conflict revolves around a long-hungry parasite's efforts to gain a free meal; this seems to symbolize the long period of suffering caused by Hannibal's invasion.
The Pot of Gold by Plautus was the basis for Moliere's Miser. Guided by the household god, Euclio has found the gold buried by his grandfather, because the god wants his kind daughter to have a dowry. However, Euclio is so afraid of losing money he has never had before that he does not tell anyone about it and is constantly worried that someone will find it. He even agrees to let the elderly bachelor next door wed his daughter, because he asks no dowry; but Lyconides has already slept with the reputed virgin, and his slave finds the treasure. His master's confession of deflowering Euclio's daughter is misunderstood by the obsessed father as admitting he stole the gold. Lyconides insists the slave give the gold back. Although the ending of the play is lost, it is likely that the slave gets his freedom and Lyconides a bride with a dowry, because in a fragment Euclio says that now he can sleep after not having any rest day or night.
Curculio is about a parasite, who takes a ring from a soldier after a crooked dice game to redeem Planesium from a pimp by means of a letter sealed by the ring to a banker. Curculio likens the bankers to the pimp for the evil of their high interest rates and ways of finding loopholes. Planesium is now able to marry her sweetheart Phaedromus; because the pimp has not been healed in the temple of Aesculapius, she is still a virgin. When it is discovered that Planesium is the free-born sister of the soldier, the pimp is forced to give back the money for having sold her.
Epidicus is named after a slave, who cleverly sets up one deception after another to please the changing desires of his master's son Stratippocles for women. Plautus said this was his favorite play; he changed the Greek plot to prevent a brother from marrying his half-sister, since the Romans considered this incest, though it did not bother the Greeks. It looks as though Epidicus is going to be punished for his shenanigans; but when the girl Stratippocles bought while off in war turns out to be the illegitimate daughter of his father, Epidicus wins his freedom, though Stratippocles has to be content with finding a sister instead of a bride. The sentiments of Plautus seem to have been on the side of the clever slave.
In The Captives Plautus made some important ethical points, and the 18th-century German writer Lessing called it the finest play ever staged. The Elean Philocrates and his slave Tyndarus, having been captured in war, are prisoners and slaves bought by Hegio so that he can trade for his son captured in Elis. Pretending to be each other, the supposed slave Philocrates is sent to make the trade, while Tyndarus risks his life by remaining. Tyndarus invokes the principle of justice so that he will be treated better when he says to Hegio,
There is surely a God above, who sees and hears all we do;
how he will care for your son over there
will depend on your treatment of me here;
he will reward kindness with kindness, I am sure;
and unkindness with its like.3
At first Hegio is pleased with the plan and says, "It does a good man good to do a good turn to another good man."4 Yet all love themselves. A friend of Philocrates has also been captured, and efforts of Tyndarus to make Hegio believe he is insane are unsuccessful; when Hegio finds out he has been fooled, he sends Tyndarus to the quarries for the hardest labor. Believing that dying in an act of courage is not an everlasting death, Tyndarus tries to convince Hegio that his own loyalty to Philocrates is right. Comic relief is provided by a hungry man looking for a dinner, who uses his knowledge that Hegio's son has returned to gain one and goes wild in the kitchen. The slave, who stole Hegio's other son when he was four years old, also has arrived, and they all discover that Tyndarus is that son, causing Hegio to realize he should have treated him better when he was his captive slave.
The Rope begins with the stellar god Arcturus explaining how Jupiter sends spies to observe people's actions and characters so that virtue may be rewarded. Those who pervert justice by perjury or deceit will find their cases retried by Jupiter, and the penalties suffered may be greater. Arcturus declares that heaven is merciful, but there is no mercy for the hard-hearted; thus he encourages people to be faithful, honest, and steadfast so that they will earn the blessings they deserve. A pimp has absconded with two young women while promising to meet a young Athenian, who has paid a deposit for Palaestra; but the god uses a storm to shipwreck them so that they arrive at the appointed temple of Venus on the beach. Palaestra complains that the innocent are being treated like the guilty, though she recognizes that it is because of the wicked deeds of her master.
They all survive the shipwreck; but when the pimp grabs the girls in the temple, the young Athenian's slave Trachalio calls out for help to rescue the innocent, praying that life be lawful and that no one be frightened by fear or force of the powerful. When Gripus, the slave of Daemones, salvages the chest in his fishing net, there is a long argument and tug-of-war with ropes between him and Trachalio, because in the chest is the evidence that Palaestra is the daughter of Daemones. Daemones wants to do the right thing. Gripus sells the trunk to the pimp; but Daemones overrules him by using the money to buy the other girl and free Gripus, who is so frustrated at the end of the play that not hearing he says he is going to hang himself. Daemones even invites the pimp to dinner. In this ethical play Plautus seems to be identifying more with the compassionate master.
Trinummus refers to a triple day's wage given to the imposture hired near the end of the play. In the prolog Luxury with her daughter Poverty says it was translated by Plautus from a Greek play by Philemon. Callicles explains to his friend the Stoic idea that he is only responsible for what is within his own control - his actions, not what other people think of them. Charmides has left Callicles in charge of his household while he has gone to Seleucia; but the spendthrift son Lesbonicus sold the house. Callicles bought it to preserve its secret buried treasure. Philto lectures his son Lysiteles on the recent decline in morality, because people do what they want instead of what they should, being enslaved to their inclinations; he believes the virtuous people are aware of how they fall short of honesty and virtue. Lysiteles wants to marry the sister of his friend Lesbonicus, who promises her without a dowry and then insists on giving what little he has left as a dowry. Callicles and his friend hire an imposture to bring forged letters from Charmides so that Callicles can offer a dowry without betraying the secrecy of the treasure. Charmides arrives to encounter the imposture. Even his slave Stasimus is lamenting the morality of self-advancement instead of law. He notes that what you lend is lost; when asking for it back, you often find a friend made an enemy by your kindness. Finally Charmides gives Lysiteles the hand of his daughter with a thousand gold Philippics in another ethical play.
Mostelleria means a ghost story, which is made up by the slave Tranio to try to cover up how his young master Philolaches has borrowed money to buy a girl's freedom and to party. The father has returned from Egypt to learn from Tranio that his house is haunted and that his son purchased the house next door, which proves false. However, the friend of Philolaches offers to pay off the loan and asks the father to forgive his son and his slave, and he does so.
Pseudolus was produced in 191 BC and is named after a lying slave, who finds a deceptive way of buying his young master Calidorus' girl-friend from a pimp even though the pimp has been warned by the father Simo that Pseudolus will attempt this by trickery. A soldier has paid 1500 drachmas and will send the other 500 with his seal for the young woman; but Pseudolus intercepts his messenger Harpax by posing as the pimp's servant to obtain the seal, and then he hires a man to use it and get the young woman. When Harpax comes for her, the pimp thinks he has been put up to it by Pseudolus but learns that he has already been tricked by the wily slave, who collects 2,000 drachmas from Simo on a bet and gets drunk, while Simo wins the same amount on another bet from the pimp. Plautus showed that those who utter insults will also hear them. Once again the slave proves to be the most clever; the young man gets his girl-friend; and the pimp gets what he deserves.
The Two Bacchides is also about a slave conniving to get money from the father to pay for the courtesan of the son; but in the end the two fathers are seduced into forgiving everyone by the two young women both named Bacchis. The son Mnesilochus expresses the worthy axiom that it is better to let off an enemy than slight someone who has done you a good turn, extravagance being nobler than ingratitude.
In Amphitryon produced in 186 BC Plautus created another comedy of errors as Jupiter and Mercury appear as Amphitryo and his slave Sosia so that Jupiter can enjoy a night of love with Alcmena. Mercury persuades the slave that he exists in two places, and the husband Amphitryo accuses his wife of adultery; but in the end the light of Jupiter helps Alcmena give birth to twins, and the baby Hercules kills two snakes.
Casina is a low comedy about two slaves, who want to marry a servant by that name. The old master Lysidamus wants his overseeing slave Olympio to wed her so that he can enjoy her away from his wife, while his wife Cleustrata wants the other slave Chalinus to have her because of her jealousy and for the sake of her son, who also desires her. They cast lots and the overseer wins, but the arrangements made by Lysidamus are foiled by his wife when her maid tells them that Casina is threatening to kill with a sword whoever tries to sleep with her, and Chalinus is dressed up as Casina on the wedding day. Lysidamus in his desire keeps making mistakes in his speech substituting himself for the bridegroom. The Plautus farce ends with this absurd situation, though the epilog indicates that Casina will be revealed to be a free citizen and will marry the son of Lysidamus, neither of whom appear on stage at all. In this play the women - Cleustrata, her maid, Casina, and the neighbor's wife - fool the men, and the marriage of slaves was a radical issue for that time.
In The Persian the slave Toxilus in order to raise money to buy Lemniselenis from the pimp arranges for his slave friend Sagaristo to pretend to be a Persian and sell the daughter of the parasite Saturio, who can then reclaim her from the pimp after the illegal sale of a free person. The daughter intelligently lists ten vices of the city as treachery, graft, greed, envy, political corruption, gossip, perjury, laziness, fraud, and crime. Toxilus and the freed Lemniselenis celebrate, as their slave friends make fun of the fooled pimp.
Truculentus, named after a truculent slave, is about the courtesan Phronesium, who has three men giving her substantial gifts. Diniarchus tells the audience that if concealed deeds were known so that the wisdom of the past could be passed on to our descendants, there would be no more pimps and harlots and few spendthrifts. Phronesium uses another woman's baby to deceive a soldier to think she bore his child in order to get more gifts from him, then turns her attentions away from him because Diniarchus has sent her many gifts. He too is rejected when Strabax brings her money from the sale of his father's sheep. Diniarchus is caught and confesses raping another woman, though he tries to pass it off on the influence of wine; but her father Callicles notes that wine does not control men, but men wine. Diniarchus asks to marry her, and Phronesium promises her charms to both the soldier and Strabax as long as their gifts keep coming. Perhaps Plautus is hoping that through this satire people will become more prudent and wise.
Publius Terentius Afer, known as Terence, was born in Carthage probably in 185 BC. He was brought to Rome as the slave of the senator Terentius Lucanus, who gave him a liberal education and his freedom because of his intelligence and good looks. Young Terence was befriended by the Scipionic circle that included Scipio Aemilianus, the satirist Gaius Lucilius, the Stoic Gaius Laelius, the philosopher Panaetius of Rhodes, and the historian Polybius. His six produced plays are all extant, but only The Eunuch was really popular in his own time. Four were based on plays by Menander, while The Mother-in-Law and Phormio were adapted from works by Apollodorus of Carystus; rumors persisted that his influential friends helped write his plays, and Terence seemed proud rather than ashamed of his friends' influence. At the age of 25 Terence went to Greece and Asia Minor in search of more Greek plays and never returned; it was assumed he died in 159 BC, but stories of how varied. His new comedies were very influential through the middle ages for their elegant Latin style and in the development of comedies of manners in the Renaissance.
The Woman of Andros by Terence was produced at Rome during the spring festival of the Great Mother in 166 BC. Simo and his freed slave Sosia explain the situation and praise the character of Pamphilus, the son of Simo. Sosia comments that the way to win friends these days is to agree with everything, because the truth is unpopular. This is to be the wedding day of Pamphilus and Philumena, the daughter of Chremes; but Simo has learned that his son is in love with Glycerium, who is believed to be the sister of the late courtesan from Andros. Learning of this, Chremes has withdrawn his consent from the marriage. The slave Davos finds that Glycerium is having a baby that Pamphilus is going to acknowledge as his. Meanwhile Charinus is in love with Philumena and wants to marry her; but his slave advises him that if he can't have what he wants, he should want what he can have. Davos suggests that Pamphilus pretend he is going to marry Philumena so as not to disappoint his father, because Chremes is calling off the wedding anyway. When Simo persuades Chremes to allow the wedding, Davos gets in trouble. When Simo learns his son is in love with Glycerium, Chremes advises him that fathers should not be too hard on their children whatever their faults. A passing stranger reveals that Glycerium is also the daughter of Chremes, and the play ends happily with a pending double wedding of the two sisters.
At the first performance of Terence's The Mother-In-Law in 165 BC the audience was distracted by tight-rope walkers and a boxing match, and five years later its failure was blamed on news of a gladiator show; but the same year it was finally completed successfully. Pamphilus, in love with the courtesan Bacchis, agreed to marry Philumena but refused to have sexual relations with her for two months. He has just returned from a business trip; but his wife has gone back to her parents' house, blaming her mother-in-law, but really because she is pregnant. She had been raped and had her mother's ring stolen before her marriage, and her mother now intends to expose the child. No one can get the couple re-united until Bacchis tells the father of Pamphilus that she has had no relations with his son since his wedding. He asks her to tell this to Philumena and her mother, who identifies the ring Pamphilus gave Bacchis, bringing the realization that Pamphilus is the father of Philumena's child. Pamphilus is happily re-united with his wife and does not bother to tell his father what usually occurs in the final scenes of comedies. This father does not consider it a vice for his son to keep a mistress even while he is married; though he is not told about his son's rape, no one else seems to be bothered much by that violent act when it is discovered the woman turned out to be his future wife.
The Self-Tormentor by Terence was first performed in 163 BC and has a plot so complicated that the slave Syrus can fool the two fathers by telling them the truth, because it is so unusual they fear he is trying to trick them. Chremes, the father of Clitipho, makes the wonderful humanist statement that being human he is concerned about anything human. He says to the father of Clinia, Menedemus, who is tormenting himself with hard work because he drove his son into the army, that if he is right, Chremes will imitate him; but if he is wrong, he will try to get him to mend his ways. What bothered Menedemus was that his son fell in love and was living with Antiphila, the daughter of a woman of humble means.
Clinia has returned from Asia and is in the house of Clitipho with Bacchis, a courtesan beloved by Clitipho but who is pretending to be Clinia's mistress while Antiphila pretends to be her maid. A comic problem is that Clitipho cannot keep his hands off Bacchis which threatens to expose the ruse. Syrus claims it is against his principles to tell lies but without doing so is able to get Menedemus to be duped into giving money for his son and Chremes a dowry when it is discovered that Antiphila is his daughter, because both fathers really want to help their children. Chremes, who years ago had his wife give away their daughter to be exposed, is now happy to have a daughter to give to his friend's son in marriage. In fact to teach his son a lesson, he plans to give all his wealth as a dowry; this stimulates Clitipho to agree to marry another woman of his choice, not the courtesan Bacchis. Thus the value of noble birth is affirmed, and the courtesan is denigrated.
The Eunuch produced in 161 BC was Terence's most popular play and earned him 8,000 sesterces, the most ever paid for a Roman comedy. In his prolog Terence wrote that he aimed to please as many and hurt as few honest people as possible, but he continued to criticize his rival Luscius Lanuvinus, whom he blamed for first attacking him. The courtesan Thais has a 16-year-old girl named Pamphila, who had been stolen from Attica and given to her mother to raise until she died. The brother of Thais sold the girl, but her soldier friend Thasos bought Pamphila as a present for Thais. Now Thais asks her lover Phaedria for two days to make sure she gets the girl from Thasos, who has a parasite skilled in saying what the proud soldier likes to hear. Phaedria's slave Parmeno is to deliver a eunuch to Thais as a gift; but Phaedria's younger brother Chaerea has fallen in love with Pamphila and dresses up as the eunuch to be admitted into the house, where he rapes the beautiful girl when she is sleeping. Pamphila's brother Chremes comes along to prove that she is free-born; he provokes the jealousy of the soldier Thasos, who tries to storm the house of Thais. Only the servant Pythias seems upset by the rape, and she tries to get back at Parmeno for setting it up by telling him that they plan to execute the punishment for adultery on Chaerea which is castration; but instead he is allowed to marry Pamphila, while Thais puts herself under the patronage of Phaedria, who is persuaded by the parasite to share her with the generous Thasos.
Phormio was produced later the same year at the Roman games. The slave Geta explains that Phaedria, the son of Chremes, has fallen in love with a flute girl and needs 3,000 drachmas to buy her, because the pimp is about to sell her. While Demipho was away, his son Antipho was able to marry a young woman Phanium having no dowry, because the adventurer Phormio forced him to do so in a legal case as the closest relative of an orphan. When the avaricious Demipho returns, he tries to end his son's marriage by paying Phormio 3,000 to marry Phanium, Phormio getting the money for Phaedria. When Chremes learns that Phanium is his daughter by a second wife he had in Lemnos, he and Demipho try to keep it a secret; but Geta overhears them, enabling Phormio to blackmail Chremes into giving him the 3,000 even though he is not marrying Phanium now. As Phormio tells the wife of Chremes, she concludes that if her husband had two wives surely their son can have a mistress; she happily invites Phormio for dinner. Terence brought the stock characters and situations to life so well that Moliere adapted this play in Les Fourberies de Scapin.
The Brothers was produced in 160 BC and contrasts the strict parenting of Demea with the indulgence of his bachelor brother Micio, who is raising Demea's son Aeschinus. Micio allows Aeschinus a free rein so that he will not have to hide his misdeeds nor be restrained by fear; he believes in training his son to choose the right course freely by being a father but not a tyrant. Demea complains that Micio has spoiled Aeschinus, who has just broken into a house and carried off a girl. The pimp tries to get her back but reluctantly agrees to sell her to Aeschinus for what he paid for her. Ctesipho is afraid of his father Demea finding out, and so Aeschinus has done all of this for him and even taken them into his house. The mother of Aeschinus' girl-friend Pamphila, who is about to have his baby, finds out he has bought another girl and gets very upset. When Demea learns of this pregnant woman, he becomes even more contemptuous of his brother's failure as a father. Ironically he believes he is the first to know of these wrongs when he really has no clue of the truth, because his son is afraid of him.
Micio at first scares Aeschinus by telling him Pamphila must by law marry her next of kin, but then he makes his adopted son very happy by approving his marriage to her. Micio answers Demea's charges about morality by saying that older people tend to think too much of money. Then in a stunning reversal Demea says he has learned that affability and forbearance are better than black looks, and tired of money-grubbing and admiring the parental rewards of his brother, he suddenly becomes generous, tells the servant to break a hole between the houses to make it easier for the pregnant woman, approves of both marriages, urges Micio to marry Pamphila's mother, gives property to their relative, frees his slave, and buys the freedom of his former slave's wife; the point he says finally is to prove that what people thought was Micio's good nature is really weakness, indulgence, and extravagance. He is willing to let his sons squander their fortune and is ready to give advice if asked. Thus Terence reveals the value of liberal education with a cautionary note.
Lucretius was born about 100 BC, probably lived in Rome, and died about 55 BC. Little is known about his life, but he wrote a philosophical poem On the Nature of Things to promote the ideas of Epicurus. He began by calling upon life-giving Venus, by whose doing all nature teems with life, writing that this goddess instills love in all and is the guiding power of the universe enabling everything to grow in joy and loveliness. The poem prays that the brutal business of war may everywhere be lulled to peace; only Venus can bring mortals the blessing of tranquillity, for she can calm brutal Mars. Lucretius praised Epicurus for venturing in the mind to infinity and crushing superstition beneath his feet. He believed people are led astray by prophets, because they are haunted by the fear of eternal punishment after death.
In most of the poem Lucretius explained his theoretical ideas of a materialistic universe based on atomic particles. The physical atoms are eternal and cannot be reduced to nothing. He noted the specific power of generation that reproduces species. Physical things have properties that cannot be detached from them such as weight, heat, fluidity, and tangibility; but more abstract qualities like servitude and liberty, poverty and riches, war and peace he called accidents. The second book begins with exclamations of joy at being able to observe the afflictions of life from a quiet citadel, seeing only two values in life - a body free of pain and a mind free of worry and fear, enjoying pleasurable sensations. Lucretius acknowledged free will that originates in the heart or mind and then operates the limbs; this can clearly be distinguished from involuntary movement that comes from outside oneself.
His argument that living organisms can be produced from insentient material because worms swarm out of rotted earth has been proven false. He did acknowledge that we are all sprung from heavenly seed with the same father and all-nourishing mother; when death breaks up the conjunction of atoms, it does not annihilate these particles which return to heaven, while the material atoms are used again on earth. Nonetheless he gave several arguments that the mind and spirit die along with the organism. Lucretius wanted to release people from the fear of death and satirized the human quest for immortality through wealth and ambition that heaps carnage upon carnage; some even sacrifice their own lives as well as others' for ephemeral fame. He observed a vital breath of energy in the body and connected mind and spirit as a single substance made of very subtle matter which controls the body but also dissolves with its death. He believed that philosophy can enable humans to live a life worthy of the gods.
Lucretius argued that mind and spirit are born, grow, and die, noting how they are weakened by sickness and healed by medicine. He found no evidence for the mind and spirit having any power without the body. Death is not to be feared, because there is no consciousness then, like in sleep. Any hellish torments that exist are on earth during life. Jealousy can gnaw at one like birds, and the ambitious person constantly seeking high office is like Sisyphus pushing the boulder uphill. As an Epicurean Lucretius emphasized the sensations and gave elaborate explanations of how they work according to atomic theory. He did observe that action is initiated after the mind first foresees what it wills. He found the sexual passions of Venus can lead to frenzy, distraction, and suffering, and he recommended keeping away from seductive images and suggested men should concentrate on a woman's faults to avoid enticement. The way to be like the gods is to defeat the enemies of pride, meanness, lust, self-indulgence, and boredom.
Instead of seeking great riches, Lucretius praised a life of true philosophy with a modest livelihood enjoyed by a tranquil mind. The craving for power is an idle dream, and the struggle for status is beset with perils, likely to result in being cast down from a peak. Envy tends to strike those above the common level; a quiet life is better than lordship over kingdoms. It is better not to enter upon the bloody and sweaty path of ambition; kings are killed and trampled by the mob. In his brief survey of how civilization developed, he noted that people learned how to form a constitution based on rights and laws so that humanity worn out by violence and feuds could submit by their own free will to laws and institutions, producing a society with a distaste for violence whose equitable laws no longer tolerate angry vengeance. Now enjoying life's prizes is tempered by the fear of punishment, and those enmeshed in wrong-doing and violence have them recoil upon their initiator. Those who break the mutual compact may not have a peaceful and untroubled life. However, he did not appeal to the gods as a motive for good behavior, but he found true piety in contemplating the universe with a quiet mind. People are victims, because they fail to realize the limits of genuine pleasure; but they are driven on by discontent to the tumult of war.
The philosopher Lucretius admired (Epicurus) set bounds to desire and fear in order to attain the greatest good. People are as afraid in daylight as children are of the dark until their ignorance is dispelled by understanding the workings of nature. Ignorance of these phenomena drives people into superstitious beliefs that omnipotent gods control everything. Unless one purges the mind of notions that are unworthy of the gods and foreign to tranquillity, such beliefs in angry gods can do harm. Lucretius wrote,
This is not because the supreme majesty of the gods
can in fact be wronged,
so as to be tempted in a fit of anger to wreak a savage revenge.
No, the fault will be in you.
Because you will picture the quiet ones in their untroubled peace
as tossed on turbulent waves of anger,
you will not approach their temples with a tranquil heart;
you will not be able to admit into a breast at peace
those images emanating from a holy body
that bring to human minds their tidings of a form divine.5
Lucretius then explained as best he could the physical causes of natural disasters such as thunder, lightning, storms, earthquakes, volcanoes, and epidemics.
Catullus was born about 84 BC at Verona in Cisalpine Gaul and was raised there by his parents, who at least once entertained Julius Caesar; later he lived in an unfashionable suburb of Rome. In his passionate poetry Catullus was not afraid to satirize Pompey or Julius Caesar, as when he wrote, "Utter indifference to your welfare, Caesar, is matched only by ignorance of who you are."6 According to Suetonius, Caesar found his criticism damaging but nonetheless forgave him. Catullus felt like dropping dead when Nonnius became a magistrate, while he wrote that Caesar's supporter Vatinius committed perjury for the sake of a consulate. Catullus died about 54 BC, but a few years before that he traveled to Bithynia to visit the Roman governor Gaius Memmius, to whom Lucretius addressed his famous poem, and he returned sailing his own yacht.
The poetry of Catullus is passionate, erotic, and sensual, sometimes even crude. One short poem sums this up: "I hate and I love. And if you ask me how, I do not know: I only feel it, and I'm torn in two."7 In many poems he expressed his love for the sexually attractive Lesbia, whom scholars identify with Clodia, sister of Clodius and wife of Metellus Celer, who defeated Catiline's revolt in battle and was consul in 60 BC; Catullus probably met her shortly before her husband died the next year. Most of his poetry is short and epigrammatic, but his longer poems celebrate marriage and its sensual pleasures. Catullus translated a poem by the Alexandrian Callimachus praising Ptolemy III's wife Berenice. One poem consoled a friend after his wife died, during which Catullus lamented his own brother's death and told the story of Laodamia's passion for her late husband. Another poem has Attis castrate himself in his devotion to the mother goddess Cybele.
The longest poem of Catullus tells of the Nereid Thetis and Peleus, the parents of Achilles. A quilt is described that depicts Theseus slaying the Minotaur and escaping with Ariadne's help, his abandoning her on Naxos, and in divine retribution his forgetting to change the sail on his returning ship, which resulted in the suicide of his father Aegeus. The feelings of Ariadne are expressed as she calls Theseus an attractive captain "with a soul like a trap-door," for she took pity on him and was left alone. In conclusion Catullus lamented that gods and goddesses no longer reveal themselves to people, whose piety has fled and been replaced by loveless children, fratricide, and incest.
Virgil was born October 15, 70 BC and was well educated in Greek literature and Epicurean philosophy. During the civil wars he wrote the pastoral Eclogues. He complained that farmers were losing their land to the veteran soldiers of Antony and Octavian. When these two leaders made an alliance by marriage he prophesied a golden age of peace. However, he found that his songs did not avail amid the clash of arms any more than doves when an eagle comes. Yet he concluded that love conquers all and that we should yield to love. In the Georgics he praised and elucidated the agricultural life. Once again he protested the ravages of war.
Long since the courts of heaven
Begrudge us thee, our Caesar, and complain
That thou regard'st the triumphs of mankind,
Here where the wrong is right, the right is wrong,
Where wars abound so many, and myriad-faced
Is crime; where no meet honor hath the plough;
The fields, their husbandmen led far away,
Rot in neglect, and curvèd pruning-hooks
Into sword's stiff blade are fused and forged.
Euphrates here, here Germany new strife
Is stirring; neighbouring cities are in arms,
The laws that bound them snapped; and godless war
Rages through all the universe; as when
The four-horse chariots from the barriers poured
Still quicken o'er the course, and, idly now
Grasping the reins, the driver by his team
Is onward borne, nor heeds the car his curb.8
Marcus Tullius Cicero was born at Arpinum in central Italy on January 3, 106 BC. His wealthy father had him well educated with his brother Quintus in the house of Licinius Crassus, where he memorized the law code of the Twelve Tables. At age fifteen Cicero was initiated into manhood and put on the white toga. He studied law with two outstanding jurists, the elderly Mucius Scaevola the augur and after he died in 87 BC with his younger cousin of the same name, who was chief priest. There he met his closest friend Atticus. Cicero served in the army under Sulla against the Marsians in 89 BC, but apparently he did not like army life. Cicero wrote poetry, but he became renowned for his oratory as a lawyer and politician. Though not a patrician but a "new man" he attained political offices at the earliest possible legal age, being elected quaestor at 30, aedile at 36, praetor at 39, and consul at 42. For several years young Cicero was a keen observer of the lawcourts and political debates but held back from participating, mainly because he disliked the lawlessness and autocracy of Cinna's government 87-84 BC, just as forty years later he would withdraw from the dictatorship of Julius Caesar.
Cicero also held back during Sulla's regime until young Sextus Roscius could not find a lawyer to defend him against a parricide charge brought by Sulla supporters in 80 BC. One night in Rome while returning from a dinner party, the elder Sextus Roscius had been attacked and murdered. Although the deaths by Sulla's proscriptions had ended by then, it was arranged to add the name of Roscius to the list of enemies so that his property would be put up at public auction instead of go to his son. The estate was purchased by Chrysogonus for 2,000 sestertii, because no one would bid against this Sulla supporter. The dispossessed young Roscius went to the town council of Ameria to appeal to Sulla, but they were naively dissuaded from talking directly to Sulla by Chrysogonus. Roscius was charged with parricide, which carried the capital punishment of sewing the convicted murderer in a bag with a dog, rooster, snake, and ape before being thrown into the river.
Only the young Cicero would take his case against the powerful Sullans. He pointed out that the property of the late Roscius was worth six million sestertii, and while his client was suffering grief and destitution, the two murderers Capito and Magnus were sharing the Roscius farms with Chrysogonus, who had purchased them at such a ridiculously low price. On the night of the murder the Roscius son was in Ameria; but Magnus was in Rome, and Capito was the first to be informed of the murder by special messenger. Cicero was careful to say that Sulla did not have knowledge of these things; but it was courageous of him to take this dangerous case, and by his accusing the murderers and explaining their motivations Roscius was acquitted, yielding Cicero great acclaim. Plutarch wrote that Cicero left Rome after this out of fear of Sulla; but Cicero actually handled some other cases first, including defending the rights of a woman from Arretium in which he challenged Sulla's attempt to disenfranchise Etruscans.
In Athens Cicero studied with Antiochus at the Academy and with rhetoricians there, in Asia Minor, and in Rhodes, where he also studied with the philosopher Poseidonius. Cicero married Terentia, who bore two children. In 75 BC Cicero served as quaestor in western Sicily, where he conscientiously regulated the grain supply in a time of high prices. He successfully defended some Romans, who were charged in Sicily with indiscipline and cowardice in the army. Upon returning to Rome he was disconcerted to learn that his reputation for virtue had not spread that far. The next year Cicero became a senator and defended Scamander, who was convicted of attempting to poison Cluentius. Although lawyers could not take money legally, Cicero's advocacy gained him many friends and clients who would support his political career. His family fortune, although not huge, was adequate for his needs. In 70 BC his Sicilian friends asked him to prosecute Verres for having governed Sicily so corruptly for three years. Usually preferring to argue in defense, this was Cicero's first prosecution.
Cicero and his cousin Lucius spent fifty days collecting evidence in Sicily. Sulla had removed all but senators from the jury of the extortion court. The best orator of the day, consul elect Quintus Hortensius, was defending Verres, while money was mobilized against Cicero in his candidacy for the aedileship, which he managed to win without promising too many games. Cicero was not only contending against baskets of Sicilian money but also the most powerful Metellus family. The first defense tactic was to try to appoint the sympathetic Q. Caecilius prosecutor in place of Cicero, who had to argue before a judge that he was better qualified; the Sicilians had appealed to him, and for reasons of personal character, honesty, firmness, experience, ability, and training Cicero claimed he could do a better job. Next the defense hoped to delay the case to the next year when the magistrates elected would be more favorable; but Cicero cut short his opening speech and went straight to the evidence. After this first stage of the trial, Verres fled to Massilia and was condemned to pay a large fine. Cicero published not only the first two speeches he made, but what he would have said in the presentation of the detailed evidence.
In his opening statement Cicero appealed to the senators on the jury not to be bought off with the bribes of Verres and destroy what was left of the credibility of senatorial juries. Cicero argued that the corruption had become so bad that Verres had extorted money not only for himself and his protectors but in order to pay off the judge and jurors too. Inheritances were canceled; farmers were robbed; allies were treated as enemies; Roman citizens were tortured and executed; criminals were acquitted by bribery, while the just were condemned; harbors and cities were attacked by pirates and robbers; and Sicilians were starved to death. These charges would be supported from evidence of records, witnesses, and letters. He pleaded that people were losing faith in the courts, and in fact shortly after this trial the membership of the juries was reformed to include knights and the next wealthiest class; Pompey also had restored the powers of the tribunes. The question Cicero posed was whether a court of senators would convict a guilty man if he was rich. He appealed to the judge to let justice, honesty, principle, and conscience be his cause. Cicero concluded his opening speech by charging Verres with acts of brutality, lechery, and other crimes that included taking forty million sestercii from Sicily.
The grateful Sicilians sent Cicero gifts of livestock and farm produce, which he passed along to the Romans in lowered prices without profiting himself, as he was able to live comfortably on his wife's dowry and his inheritance. Cicero was elected praetor at the top of the poll, and he supported the Manilian law giving Pompey authority in the Mithridatic war which was strongly opposed by Catulus and Hortensius. Cicero temporarily left the court he presided over as praetor in order to defend Cluentius, who was accused of killing his stepfather Oppianicus six years before. This was the same Cluentius Cicero's client had been convicted of trying to poison in 74 BC, and most of his speech discussed that case, arguing that the judges had been bribed by Oppianicus and deducing fallaciously that if so, then his current client Cluentius could not have bribed them; but the truth seems to have been that both sides bribed judges and witnesses. Cicero later bragged about how he had deceived the judges; so it is assumed that he won the case and that his client was probably guilty.
Cicero sponsored a bill that increased the penalties for bribery, and in 65 BC he opposed the proposal of Crassus and Caesar to make Egypt a tributary province, although he did defend the tribunes Manilius, who fled, and Cornelius, who was acquitted. When the bribery decree was vetoed, Cicero responded with a sharp invective against Antonius Hybrida and Cataline. Cicero reached the pinnacle of power when defeating Cataline he was elected to serve as consul for the year 63 BC; it had been more than thirty years since a non-patrician, or new man, had been elected to this highest office. He arranged for his colleague Antonius Hybrida to be assigned to Macedonia, and Cicero himself declined Gaul so that he could stay in Rome.
In December before Cicero took office, the tribune Rullus, probably at the behest of Caesar and Crassus, proposed a bill to establish a commission with sweeping powers to give public land to the poor citizens. Cicero gave speeches against it in the senate, before the people's assembly, and to a mass meeting, arguing that the commissioners were given too much power by undemocratic means that assured the election of Rullus while excluding those absent like Pompey; the commissioners were unaccountable and could arbitrarily decide what public property could be sold in the entire empire, allowing the victims no remedy or recourse; valuable public assets like the Campania could be liquidated; whole provinces like Asia and Bithynia could be disposed of; Egypt could be taken over; and the profiteering would be extensive. Cicero's oratory was successful, and the bill was withdrawn; but Cicero had shown little concern for the poor, and he would again oppose land reform by Caesar in the years ahead.
When people became upset about a recent law reserving the first fourteen rows in the theatre for the knights, Cicero's oratory persuaded them to accept it. The conservative Cicero also resisted efforts to reduce or cancel debts, and his law that added the penalty of ten years' exile for bribery was aimed at the electoral tactics of populists like Cataline and Caesar. Cicero also opposed restoring the rights taken away from the sons of those proscribed by Sulla on the specious argument that any change of Sulla's enactments would threaten the whole republic.
When Rabirius was charged with treason for having killed Saturninus to stop an attempted coup in 100 BC and was going to be tried before Julius Caesar and his cousin Lucius, Cicero used his consulship to veto the proceeding. Rabirius was then indicted for capital murder and tried before the assembly; he was defended by Cicero, who considered it his duty as consul to take this case. At stake was the power of the senate to declare an emergency to give consuls unfettered power to quell a violent revolution. Cicero argued that it was in the public interest to maintain this bulwark of the nation; the consul must protect the lives and interests of the people. This method of the senate deliberately giving extra-legal power to the consul had replaced the previous appointments of dictators in earlier crises. Thus Rabirius deserved praise, not punishment, for taking up arms when asked to do so by the consul Marius in that emergency caused by the violence of Saturninus. If his client were convicted, the state would lose the ability to defend itself from violent revolutions.
Only given a half hour by the judge, the eloquence of Cicero was astonishing. First he lamented the possibility that as a punishment for treason a citizen might have been crucified on the field of Mars where voting occurred. He was glad to use his authority to stop that tyrannical procedure. Scaurus, the president of the senate, had issued the call to arms against Saturninus, and it was supported by the augur Scaevola and many other noble men as well as the consul Marius. Saturninus had actually had been killed by a slave named Scaeva, who won his freedom by that act. The weak point in Cicero's case was that the safety of Saturninus had been guaranteed.
In the current situation Cicero pointed out that no king or foreign power effectively threatened the Roman republic anymore, but the savagery and violence of their own passions in revolution was the peril they now had to face. Cicero boldly concluded by hoping that those who desired the safety of the state would uphold the proclamation, and he asked them never to use their votes to prevent him as consul from using it, or else they would be banning their future hopes of freedom, deliverance, and honor. A guilty verdict was prevented when Metellus Celer took down the red flag that flew over the assembly when it was meeting. In the ancient times removing the flag meant that the Etruscan enemies were approaching, and the assembly must adjourn in self-defense. Labienus could have renewed his prosecution, but he did not. This case foreshadowed the power the senate and consul Cicero would use to quell the Cataline conspiracy later that year.
Cicero had contemplated defending Catiline in an extortion case two years before; but when he heard that Catiline intended to have him murdered on election day in October 63 BC, consul Cicero postponed the elections. The next day the senate declared an emergency and gave absolute power to the consuls. Cicero doubled his guards and brought more troops into the city; on election day he even wore a breastplate under his robe. Catiline lost again, and after he learned of the conspiracy Cicero called another meeting of the senate at the temple of Jupiter. Catiline attended but was shunned by the other senators and sat alone. Cicero told Catiline that he had reason to execute him but would not do so. Cicero had learned about the conspiracy's plans to seize Praeneste and so had fortified it. Cicero was not only concerned that they would murder him, but now they conspired to burn down the city. If he had Catiline executed, the other conspirators would remain at large; Cicero hoped that they would leave the city with Cataline, removing the seeds of future evils. When Cataline tried to justify himself, the senators called him a traitor; the desperate man threatened to enflame all in a common ruin, and after conferring with his friends he fled to the camp of Manlius, who had organized a rebel army.
Cicero then explained the situation to the people in the forum, describing what he had done to counter this enemy and declaring that he would allow the other rebels to depart also. Most of these rebels were men desperate with large debts, and Cicero contrasted the virtues with their vices of wantonness, fraud, insanity, baseness, lust, iniquity, luxury, indolence, rashness, and destitution. Cicero portrayed himself as a general saving the many by punishing a few. The senate declared Cataline a public enemy and pardoned his followers who would return to duty by a specific date. The other consul Antonius was sent with an army after Cataline.
At this time Murena, who had just been elected consul, was accused of bribery by losing candidate Servius Sulpicius and Cato, who had been elected tribune. Murena was defended by three great orators - Hortensius, Crassus, and Cicero. Cato during the election had promised to prosecute the winner after seeing all the candidates corrupted by bribes. Cicero had supported his friend Servius Sulpicius and was now defending Murena against his own law; but he argued that in this crisis the duly elected consul must be allowed to serve for the national safety. Cicero had been compelled to be stern and severe in the Cataline conspiracy; but in this case his natural humanity and kindness could be displayed.
Cicero mostly discussed the characters of the candidates rather than the detailed charges. He praised Murena for his military record in Asia and credited Roman glory and power to its military prowess. He noted that when Servius began looking for witnesses to prepare a legal case before the election was even held, he gave the voters a signal that he expected to lose. Cicero chided Cato for being too austere and harsh in his Stoicism, never forgiving or showing mercy. Cicero argued that sometimes a philosopher can pardon or change an opinion if finding a better one. In keeping his promise to prosecute, Cato was threatening a decent and honest man with exile. Cicero pleaded that for the sake of peace, concord, and freedom both consuls must be allowed to serve and face the unresolved challenge of the Cataline conspiracy, for a tribune could block the election of a second consul. Murena was acquitted.
Cicero's spies learned that the conspiracy had approached the ambassadors of the Allobroges Gauls. With their cooperation he obtained sealed letters of the conspirators; and summoning the leaders, he had them arrested. When the senate met at the temple of Concord, the ambassadors testified; the letters were opened and read. The conspirators acknowledged their seals on the letters, and Lentulus, who confessed, was deposed from his office of praetor; all were detained. Cicero then went to the forum and told the people what had happened and how he had saved the city from a massacre and conflagration. The next day the senate rewarded the Gallic ambassadors; but rumors of plots to rescue the prisoners caused Cicero to place a garrison and recruit more forces, and before the senate he proposed their execution. Only Julius Caesar suggested imprisonment and confiscation of their property. Cicero argued that even though execution increased his own danger, it was for the sake of the Roman people. The rebellion had spread throughout Italy and even crossed the Alps; to distribute the prisoners in the towns, as Caesar proposed, would be cumbersome and dangerous. To get around the laws protecting citizens from execution without a trial Cicero argued that such enemies were no longer citizens. The senate agreed, and Cicero had the arrested conspirators executed on December 5 in 63 BC.
The tribune Nepos Metellus prevented Cicero from making a speech on the last day of his consulate, and so in taking his final oath he swore that he had saved his country. Cicero's popularity declined, as conflicts between the senate and the knights and between the "good" men he represented and the populists broke up the harmony of the orders he sought. While he was defending Publius Sulla, who was charged with complicity in the Cataline conspiracy, the prosecutor Torquatus accused Cicero of tyranny. Cicero had refused to defend and testified against Autronius on the same charge; but his client Sulla was acquitted.
The enemy who caused Cicero's exile was Clodius. This libertine, wanting to seduce Caesar's wife, had been caught in the house of that high priest during a sacred ceremony open only to women. His political ally Caesar did not prosecute Clodius but divorced his wife merely because people suspected her of adultery. Clodius was prosecuted for sacrilege, and Cicero's wife, jealous of her husband's attentions to the attractive Clodia, sister of Clodius, urged Cicero to testify that Clodius was in Rome on the day in question. This ruined the alibi of Clodius, but his bribery was sufficient to get the jury to acquit him anyway.
Cicero declined a position on Caesar's staff, criticized him, and considered retiring from politics. After being declared a plebeian so that he could be elected tribune, Clodius proposed a bill banning anyone who had executed a Roman citizen without a trial. Cicero put on black in mourning, as young ruffians of Clodius attacked him in the streets. Knights put on black in sympathy, and senators voted to do the same while surrounded by armed men of Clodius. Cicero appealed to Pompey for armed assistance, but in private retirement he refused to intervene. Advised by friends to depart, the day before the bill of Clodius passed the assembly in 58 BC Cicero went into voluntary exile.
Cicero went to Greece, as Clodius had his villas and home in Rome burned down. The emotional Cicero became dejected; the biographer Plutarch was surprised he did not take this change of fortune more philosophically. After the Clodius tribunate, senators and Pompey gathered popular support for the return of Cicero. Finally the senate decided they would not transact any public business until it was decreed; but resisting tribunes were wounded in the forum, and Cicero's brother Quintus was nearly killed. People from other cities organized, and Pompey drove the forces of Clodius out of the forum so that the people could vote to welcome Cicero back to Rome and to re-build his houses at public expense. Cicero rejoined the senate in the summer of 57 BC during a grain crisis and immediately proposed that Pompey should be put in charge of a board of 15 commissioners; he in turn named Cicero as the first commissioner. In November armed rowdies of Clodius drove off the workman re-building Cicero's house, burned the house of his brother Quintus, and made an incendiary attack on the house of Milo; Cicero predicted that Milo would kill Clodius.
In a trial the next year Cicero got Pompey's friend Sestius acquitted after he had been wounded in the riots over Cicero's recall when acting as a tribune. Cicero explained his own banishment and recall, while arguing for the "peace with dignity" he believed was the aim of the aristocrats (optimates). He criticized the terrorist tactics of Clodius and argued for self-defense. Cicero also launched an invective against the witness Vatinius and severely criticized Caesar's recent consulship. A month later in April 56 BC Cicero defended Caelius Rufus on five charges he suspected were caused by the notorious sister of Clodius, Clodia. Apparently Caelius had been her lover for a while after the poet Catullus. Caelius seems to have been acquitted too, as Cicero had regained his outspoken form. In the senate the next day Cicero assaulted Caesar's triumvirate when he proposed taking up the controversial Campanian land bill.
However, after meetings at Luca renewed the alliance of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus, Cicero's brother Quintus, who had promised the senator's cooperation when his exile was ended, was told that Cicero had better be careful. Cicero did not even attend the senate meeting to discuss the land bill; he voted to grant Caesar ten legates and money for more legions; and instead of arguing that Caesar be replaced in Gaul, he praised his accomplishments and suggested that consuls be sent to replace Piso in Macedonia and Gabinius in Syria, both of whom he castigated for corruption.
Cicero defended Caesar's Spanish henchman Balbus on a charge he had illegally assumed Roman citizenship. Balbus, also defended by Pompey and Crassus, had been granted citizenship by Pompey under the Lex Gellia Cornelia; but the Lex Papia had been passed in 65 BC to expel foreigners from Rome who lived outside of Italy in order to weaken support for Julius Caesar. Cicero argued that Rome had granted citizenship to numerous of its tribute-paying provinces and that freedom depended on an individual's right to keep or renounce citizenship. The optimates (meaning "best" whom Cicero usually supported) had attacked Balbus not for anything he did but because his friends were their enemies; these vicarious feuds were dangerous to the national harmony Cicero believed he was defending. When Pompey's governor in Syria, Gabinius, was acquitted for corruption, Cicero had testified against him; but reconciled with Pompey he was persuaded to defend Gabinius in a second trial, which resulted in his banishment. Cicero also defended Caius Rabirius, who was involved with Gabinius in corruption involving Ptolemy XII; Rabirius was acquitted.
Cicero was appointed a legate of Pompey for 53 BC, and late in that year he was elected into the college of augurs. In January 52 BC Clodius and about thirty armed horsemen attacked Milo and his family on the Appian way; in the scuffle Clodius was wounded, and according to Asconius the trial established that Milo then ordered him killed. In the delayed elections Milo had been running for consul and Clodius for praetor. In the resulting turmoil Pompey was chosen sole consul and ordered an investigation. In a hostile atmosphere surrounded by Pompey's troops Cicero tried to defend Milo but was so nervous he could hardly speak; Milo was convicted and went into exile at Massilia. Later Cicero published an eloquent defense speech in which he argued that violence is only justified to repel violence; the law allows one the right to defend oneself but condemns anyone for having a weapon in order to kill. After the death of Clodius, the tribune Plancus brought his body into the senate; when the people used the seats to burn the body, the senate house was burned down.
Cicero argued that Clodius had been plotting to murder Milo. His slave had even been caught with a dagger in the senate trying to kill Pompey. Pompey had ordered the investigation, not because the facts were in doubt, but because of circumstances that would indicate Milo was defending himself. Cicero asked the famous and brief question, "Who benefited?" (Cui bono?) Clodius had the motive, because he did not want the consulship of Milo limiting his praetorship. Cicero's letters show he was delighted that his enemy, who had banished him, was dead, and he marked a new liberty in his life from that day. Cicero even took the rare step for him of prosecuting one of the followers of Clodius.
After a law was passed requiring five years before consuls and praetors took up governorships after their term of office in order to reduce ambition and corruption, in 51 BC Cicero was appointed proconsul in Cilicia. He managed to keep Cappadocia friendly and protect Cilicia without going to war. Replacing the corrupt governor Appius Claudius, Cicero refused to accept gifts even from kings and reduced embezzlement considerably so that cities could regain financial stability. He investigated the magistrates and made them pay back the community for their peculations. When the Parthian threat faded, Cicero did use the military force he had mobilized to drive "robbers" from Mount Amanus. The aedile Caelius requested he send panthers for a show at Rome; but Cicero quipped that they had run off to Caria, because Cilicia was so peaceful panthers were the only creatures being attacked there.
As Cicero waited outside of Rome for the senate to decide whether to grant him a triumph, he attempted to mediate the impending civil war between Caesar and Pompey. He thought he had persuaded Pompey to make concessions, but he observed a strange madness for this worst calamity. When Caesar began to march his army through Italy without the shadow of an ideal, he criticized Caesar's justification of "honor" as having no moral right. How could it be right for his army to seize Roman towns without public authority? Cicero wrote that he would rather die a thousand deaths than entertain one thought of Caesar's "greatness." Cicero believed that both men aimed at personal domination and not the happiness of the community, commenting, "I know whom to flee, but I don't know whom to follow."9 He lamented that they would never have a free state as long as either one of those two men lived. In March 49 BC he tried to open negotiations for peace and civic harmony between the rivals. However, he saw peace excluded with victory bringing destruction to the conquered and slavery to the victors. On March 28 Caesar visited Cicero's house at Formiae and asked the senator to work for peace; but Cicero said that he would have to urge the senate not to approve an expedition to Spain nor the transport of armies to Greece; this was not what Caesar wanted to hear.
When Caesar left for Spain, Cicero sailed to join Pompey at Dyrrhachium. There Cato judged Cicero had made a mistake, saying he should have stayed neutral. Cicero had refused Pompey's offers of commands and made sarcastic comments in the camp. After Pompey's defeat at Pharsalia, Cicero went to Brundisium, where he waited a year for Caesar to return from Egypt and Asia. During Caesar's dictatorship Cicero made a speech for Claudius Marcellus in which he thanked Caesar. Then he defended Quintus Ligarius and Galatian king Deiotarus before the dictator himself, and the forgiving Caesar let them go even though he had drawn up the sentence for Ligarius before the trial. Retiring from politics, Cicero divorced his wife Terentia, quarreled with his brother Quintus, married a wealthy virgin, lost his beloved daughter Tullia when she died in childbirth, divorced again, and found consolation studying and writing books on philosophy.
Although Brutus was his close friend, Cicero was not invited to join the conspiracy against Julius Caesar. Immediately after the assassination Cicero urged Brutus and Cassius as praetors to summon the senate and assume leadership of the state, but against his advice they hoped to make an agreement with Antony. When a compromise was reached in the senate two days later, Cicero spoke for amnesty and reconciliation. Cicero complied with Antony at first but complained to his friends that Antony was doing what Caesar never permitted by forging memoranda in his name. Cicero could see another civil war coming, because Sextus Pompey was in arms in Spain; this time neutrality would not be safe, as he predicted a massacre of those who had rejoiced at Caesar's death. In June 44 BC the consul Dolabella in expectation of his governorship in Syria appointed Cicero to his staff so that he could travel freely. Cicero met with Brutus and his family at Antium and encouraged him to accept the grain commission to Asia, though Cassius considered it an insult and said he would not take up his in Sicily. Brutus said he wanted to return to Rome, but Cicero warned him that would not be safe; so Brutus took up his province of Macedonia instead.
Calpurnius Piso had been alone in criticizing Antony in the senate until Cicero returned. On the first of September 44 BC Antony castigated Cicero and threatened to tear his house down for not attending the session honoring Caesar as a god. The next day in Antony's absence Cicero began his series of speeches challenging Antony called "Philippics" after the orations Demosthenes had given in opposition to Philip II of Macedonia three centuries before. Cicero began by commending Antony for abolishing at least the name of dictatorship, which had attained the authority of regal power. Cicero said that he could not give any dead man the worship paid to the immortal gods. He complained of the notes of Caesar being ratified and asked if these were to annul his actual laws, such as that limiting the governorship of provinces. Revenues had been diminished by granting countless exemptions of a dead man. Most of all, he denounced Antony for his use of violence and arms. These should be used only for defense and not to injure those who had expressed their views on public issues. Ignorant of true glory, Antony wanted to have more power than the rest of the people. The fate of Caesar should have convinced him to prefer being loved instead of feared; Cicero exhorted him to change his mind. In turn Antony repudiated his friendship with Cicero and criticized his career.
Though he was risking his life, Cicero believed that he should not fail the commonwealth. His second Philippic was not delivered, but copies were sent to Brutus and Cassius. In November 44 BC Octavian Caesar wrote asking Cicero's advice whether to march on Rome with 3,000 veterans; Cicero concurred even though this privately raised army was clearly illegal. The 19-year-old wanted Cicero to work for him through the senate; yet both Cicero and his friend Atticus could see that Octavian's tyranny could be more solidly approved and would be bad for Brutus. In his third Philippic Cicero noted that to quell a mutiny at Brundisium Antony had executed 300 centurions and soldiers. Antony had been giving 300 denarii per man, but Octavian handed out 500 to levy troops. Cicero commended the Martian troops and fourth legion for deserting Antony to join Octavian. Cicero argued Antony must not be considered legally consul or else the troops of Decimus Brutus and Octavian were all criminals for opposing him; by not daring to move the senate against Octavian, Antony had admitted himself to be a public enemy. Cicero charged Antony with illegal plundering and encouraged the senate to regain their liberties Cicero was defending. Antony was leading only one mutilated legion into Gaul.
In January 43 BC Cicero argued that the people of Rome were not bound by the laws Antony had passed by violence and deceit, and he accused Antony of taking 700,000,000 sesterces from the Roman people to pay his debts, forging decrees, giving away kingdoms, and conferring citizenship and tax immunity in return for bribes. Cicero proposed that consul-elect Decimus Brutus be confirmed in Cisalpine Gaul, Lepidus be honored for preventing a civil war by making peace with Sextus Pompey, and military command be entrusted to Octavian. The senate agreed to these but persisted in sending envoys to Antony against Cicero's advice. Cicero continued to speak out as one keeping watch. He believed that the gods had granted Rome rulership of all nations and that in this extreme crisis the issue was whether they would be free or enslaved. Cicero argued that peace with Antony would be dishonorable and dangerous; and he wrote to Cassius that if he had been invited to the dinner on the Ides of March, there would not have been left-overs. After Antony sent back unacceptable terms, the senate declined to send a second embassy, declaring a state of "tumult" and Antony an adversary though not an enemy. Cicero proposed an amnesty for those deserting Antony before March 15, while anyone joining him after that would be considered a traitor.
In the tenth Philippic Cicero proposed that Marcus Brutus
be confirmed in his command of troops in Illyricum, Macedonia,
and Greece. The senate was persuaded to do this but refused to
confirm Cassius in Syria, though he soon defeated Dolabella. Cicero
dissuaded the senate from sending himself and others to negotiate
with Antony. Cicero
urged Lepidus not to compromise with Antony.
After Antony was defeated
at Mutina by the consuls, who were killed, and Octavian,
Cicero praised them in a funeral oration. Rome celebrated and
cheered Cicero, and Antony was declared an enemy. However, Lepidus
disregarded Cicero's advice, and facing mutinying troops, he joined
Antony; the Roman senate
declared Lepidus a public enemy too. Octavian
heard rumors that Cicero wanted to get rid of him. Cicero appealed
to Brutus and Cassius,
but they could not come. To Brutus
Everybody demands as much political power
as there is force behind him.
Reason, moderation, law, tradition, duty count for nothing -
likewise the judgment and views of the citizen body
and respect for the opinion of those who come after us.10
Octavian returned to Rome with his army and demanded that he be made consul even though he was not close to the required age. Some date the end of the republic on August 19 when the senate elected him consul. Plancus, who had been designated consul for 42 BC with Decimus Brutus by the late Caesar, gave his five legions to Antony and Lepidus. Deserted by his men, Decimus Brutus fled, was captured, and killed by Antony's order. Octavian marched his army north; as the senate repealed the decrees of Antony and Lepidus as public enemies, he joined them in a triumvirate. Antony insisted that Cicero be proscribed for death. Cicero tried to flee, but the ships were driven back by contrary winds. Finally Cicero's head and hands were cut off on December 7, 43 BC and displayed by Antony's order on the speakers' platform in Rome.
With the exception of a poem on his consulate, Cicero had been too busy writing speeches and letters to take up serious works until 55 BC after his return from exile and muzzling by the renewed power of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. Then he wrote On Oratory, which superseded his early writing on the subject. Cicero naturally considered political oratory a most important art and great service to the community. The emotions of the human spirit must be understood intimately and can be used to calm the feelings of the audience. Humor, wit, culture, and urbane charm are to be used along with a good memory of history, precedents, and the laws. Delivery depends upon body carriage, gestures, and changing intonations of the voice. Cicero set his dialog in 91 BC with the orators he admired as a youth - Lucius Licinius Crassus (his teacher), Marcus Antonius (grandfather of the triumvir), and others.
Crassus says oratory is most excellent for winning the good will of people and directing their inclinations. In free nations that enjoy peace this art reigns supreme. One person's eloquence can transform the impulses of a crowd, the consciences of judges, and the austerity of the senate; it can help the suppliant, lift those cast down, bestow security, imperil the free, and maintain human rights, defending oneself and challenging the wicked. The ability to communicate with words is the advantage humans have over the brutes and is what upholds individual dignity and the safety of the state. The augur Scaevola points out that it also can be used to damage the state. Crassus replies that the orator can rouse human hearts to anger, hatred or indignation or recall them from those passions to mercy. To achieve this the speaker needs profound insight into human nature and character and what motivates souls. One must have broad knowledge, be aware of the relevant facts, but also be able to shape and polish one's style in fluent speech. Antonius observes that many Greeks believed only the wise can be truly eloquent and virtuous.
Sulpicius Rufus wonders if there is an art of oratory, and Scaevola asks Crassus to respond as one whose eloquence has excelled in the seat of imperial power. Crassus begins with his belief that natural talent is the greatest contributor to oratory. Skill in invention, exposition, embellishment, and memory depend upon intelligence, and physical gifts are a ready tongue, ringing tones, strong lungs, vigor, and a suitable body and face. A good orator needs the subtlety of a logician, the thought of a philosopher, poetic diction, a lawyer's memory, and the voice and bearing of an actor. Training is also important though and requires enthusiasm and passionate desire. Diction should use correct Latin, be lucid, elegant, and fit the dignity of the topic with grace. Learning to control and train the voice, breathing, gestures, and the tongue depend on exertion as well as art. Learning pieces by heart can train the memory.
Crassus believes the orator should know human nature, ethics, how to arouse and calm human minds, history, government, and common law. Common law is defined as preserving the impartiality of statutes and customs in the concerns and disputes of citizens. Common law can be the basis for ethical discussions, because merit is coveted when fitting exertion wins high office, rewards, and honor, while misdeeds are punished with fines, degradations, imprisonment, scourging, banishment, and death. People learn not by debate to control their passions and their hands from taking what is their neighbor's but by the authoritative decisions of the laws. Crassus points to the Twelve Tables of laws which teach more than anything else, and he believes that Roman laws surpass those of Lycurgus, Draco, and Solon. He also mentions the elements of oratory as invention, style, arrangement, memory, and delivery.
Antonius agrees that the person expert in the statutes and customary law is qualified to advise others in lawsuits. The philosopher strives to know the significance, nature, and causes of everything human and divine in order to master a complete theory of right living. The orator needs this and the ability to use agreeable language with arguments that persuade in legal disputes and public debates. Yet Antonius warns against the orator getting into tactless philosophical discussions that are not relevant. Philosophers also sometimes disapprove of arguments that are rhetorically effective. He notes how Socrates defended himself as a teacher rather than a submissive prisoner and was condemned to death. For Antonius the orator does not need wide knowledge of law, but special points can be researched; one should not dissipate one's energy over too wide a field of study. He also believes that virtue can be taught by persuasion without the threat of punishment, force, and terror. Practice is important.
In the second book of On Oratory Cicero wrote that excellence in oratory depends not only upon training in speaking but in pursuing all knowledge as well. Crassus points out the value of leisure, because no one is free who is not sometimes doing nothing. Antonius states that the orator's duty is to arouse a listless nation and to curb its impetuosity. By eloquence the deceitful are destroyed, the just delivered, the virtuous encouraged, the vicious reclaimed, the wicked censured, the worthy praised, the lawless subdued, and the grieved soothed. Antonius agrees with Aristotle that rhetoric includes speeches of praising as well as forensic lawsuits and political deliberations. The Romans considered history as part of rhetoric, though Antonius says that telling the truth and the whole truth without bias or malice is most important. The historian should also estimate consequences, expose causes, and reveal the particulars in the lives and characters of renowned people. The orator's duty is to discuss good and evil in all its ramifications including the state, sovereignty, war, political science, and the customs of people.
Antonius considers most difficult the forensic arguments in courtrooms, where the ignorant often judge an orator's power. A good speech opens by winning the goodwill and attention of the audience, states the case plausibly, lucidly, and concisely, defines the issue, establishes points by evidence and argument, disproves opposing views, (some allow a digression for amplification), then sums up the case with a peroration. The art of speaking persuades in three ways: winning the favor of the listeners, instructing them and proving one's points, and arousing people's feelings; these require a gentle style, acuteness, and energy. Speech reveals one's character, and thus a gentle approach usually gains favor. The speaker must feel the emotions one wishes to excite. The love of the audience is won by upholding their interests or by working for what is good and useful. The arguments of the opponents need to be disproved, and emotions can be countered by their opposites.
Cicero has Caesar Vopiscus analyze the difficult subject of wit and humor, giving many examples. The use of these should be sparing and appropriate. Humor may derive from ambiguity, the unexpected, plays on words, quotations, taking words literally, allegory, metaphor, irony, antithetical expressions, comparison, caricature, understatement, ridicule, and personal retorts. Then Antonius resumes his discourse, emphasizing the importance of avoiding doing any damage to one's case. He suggests arranging one's strongest point first. Dignity is important, because everyone values moral worth as the highest goal even though expediency often wins the day. To move people from the latter to the former, an exhortation is often helpful. Praise can also be used.
In the third book Crassus discusses embellishing style by making language correct, lucid, ornamental, and appropriate. One should include the fullest supply of facts. In addition to praise, censure can also be used to make points. Knowledge can be expressed through inference, definition, and deduction. Inference discovers; definition explains; and deduction investigates consequences. Conduct can be discussed in relation to duty by viewing right and wrong, virtues and vices; or emotions can be swayed using exhortation, reproach, consolation, compassion, and by exciting or allaying feelings. Crassus concludes by discussing the use of metaphors and rhythm.
Cicero also analyzed speaking in On the Parts of Oratory in a dialog with his son. In 46 BC he had the leisure to review the orators of Greece and Rome in Brutus, a dialog with his friends Atticus and Marcus Brutus. Cicero lamented the current juncture when recourse was made to arms, and those who used them successfully were not using them beneficially. Of one thing he was certain: "No one has ever been made eloquent by war."11 The conditions which create eloquence are peace and tranquillity, the products of a state in good order. He noted how Aristotle observed that the courts were used in Sicily by people to get their property back after the tyrants were expelled. Cicero admired the skill of the Gracchi brothers even though he disagreed with their radical politics. Cicero also attempted to describe the perfect orator in a work dedicated to Marcus Brutus called The Orator.
Cicero began working on his Republic in 54 BC and completed it by 51 BC. Most of the manuscript was lost until much of it was discovered in the Vatican and published in 1822. The dialog is set in 129 BC with the Scipio circle of friends. This Scipio Africanus was the son of Aemilius Paulus, hero of the Macedonian war, and was adopted into the Scipio family. His heroics came in the final destruction of Carthage in 146 BC and of Numantia in 133 BC. Scipio opposed the land reform of Tiberius Gracchus and died mysteriously the year of this dialog. Scipio's circle had included the comic poet Terence, the satirist Lucilius, the Stoic philosopher Panaetius, and the historian Polybius, but his main interlocutor here is his close friend Laelius.
Cicero introduced his dialog on the state with his own views that virtue must be applied and that government is its highest use. He believed strongly in private property and suggested that a law of nature forbids it unless one knows how to use things wisely. Laelius observes that the Gracchi conception of the tribunate had divided people into two factions, but he hoped to bring about the union of the people with the senate. Scipio discusses the three main forms of government as monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, but he notes that these tend to degenerate into tyranny, oligarchy, and mob rule. Most societies reserve high offices to ancient families and the wealthy, except Athens and Rhodes allowed all free citizens to hold office. Law holds societies together and must be equally applied to all, but property cannot be equally distributed because of varying abilities. True aristocracy is rule by the best, but in their ignorance people tend to choose the wealthy or those from distinguished families. Scipio believes that riches, reputation, and power without wisdom and moderation result in shameless and insufferable arrogance. The difficulty of one man or the ignorant many ruling has tended to give power to a few.
Scipio applies the Pythagorean idea of the intelligence controlling anger, greed, ambition, and lust to governance of the state. In monarchy one bad king's injustice can ruin the state, as happened with Tarquin Superbus in Rome. Then the people can take over the government, but revolution can also oust a just king. Uncontrolled freedom can lead to chaos and the desire for a tyrant. A tyrant can be overthrown and replaced with constitutional government. Scipio recommends a combination of a royal element with some power given to the aristocracy, while referring certain matters to the people's judgment, resulting in some equality and strength. He suggests the Roman republic as a model in discussing the perfect state. In the second book Scipio describes how Roman institutions developed progressively through history, noting that Romulus kept order by imposing fines in sheep and cattle instead of inflicting corporal punishment. The early Romans at first chose their kings for their excellence and wisdom rather than by descent.
Next Scipio proposes to disprove that injustice is a necessary part of government while showing that a high degree of justice is essential to the state functioning well. Philus, who like the philosopher Carneades can discuss both sides of an issue, is assigned to talk about injustice in the state; he criticizes the Voconian law that restricted the right of women to inherit money. Laelius responds that a true and eternal law of reason summons all people to perform their duties and restrains them from doing wrong. The good are influenced by its commands but not the bad. Human legislation against this law is never morally right; to restrict it is not permissible; and it is impossible to annul it completely. Wars against reason are unlawful, and no war can be justified except to redress an injury or drive out an invader. According to Isidore of Seville, Cicero also added that no war is lawful unless it is officially declared. The soul rules the body like a king his subjects or a father his children; but it rules the desires as a master drives his slaves and as wisdom disciplines the passions and emotions. Yet it is not just when those who might be their own masters are subjected to another; this latter statement would make human slavery rather hard to justify.
Most of the fourth book of Cicero's Republic is on education and lost. Laelius notes how the Twelve Tables defined disagreement as "a controversy between persons who still preserve their good will toward each other;"12 thus neighbors may disagree with each other without quarreling as enemies. Scipio defines the goal of the ruler as the happiness of the citizens, making them secure in their resources, rich in wealth, great in renown, and distinguished in virtue. He believes that one who corrupts by using eloquence is worse than one who corrupts a judge with money, because the honest cannot be seduced by money but can be fooled by specious pleas. In the last book Cicero describes the ideal ruler as wise, just, self-controlled, and eloquent in order to control the people; he should understand law and know Greek literature.
As Plato concluded his Republic with the mystical tale of Er, Cicero ends his with a mystical dream. Scipio recounts how when he arrived in Africa in 149 BC and met Numidian king Masinissa, his grandfather, also called Scipio Africanus, appeared to him in a dream, predicting he would overcome Carthage in three years and later Numantia. In Rome he will find the republic in turmoil from another grandson (Tiberius Gracchus). Scipio might save the state if he can escape the godless hands of his family, implying that Cicero may have believed he was murdered by his wife Sempronia Gracchus. The elder Africanus assures him that all who save or benefit their country are assigned a special place in heaven, where they enjoy eternal bliss; for God, who rules the universe, is most pleased by societies that are united by law and right. Then Scipio saw his father Paulus coming toward him. Scipio wants to go to him, but his father tells him he must wait until he is released from the prison of the body. Humans born on earth are meant to guard that place, and he must not desert the tasks imposed by God. He should cultivate justice and loyalty to parents, kindred, and country.
The stars are described as much greater in size than the earth, which is the lowest of spheres. The real person is not the body but the soul, which is divine. The divine principle is what lives, feels, remembers, foresees, rules, guides, and activates the body, just as the supreme God rules the universe. Only the self-originating mover never ceases to move and is the source of all other motion. Beginning has no source but originates itself, and all other things arise from this beginning. Thus the self-originating mover can neither be born nor die. The noblest concerns of the soul are the security of one's country, and the soul disciplined in that work will fly to heaven; but those who are slaves of passion and by lust violate divine and human laws wander near the earth after they escape from the body, not returning to the divine abode for many ages.
Cicero wrote most of his Laws in 52 BC, but only the first three books are extant. He spoke for himself in a dialog with his brother Quintus and best friend Atticus. Cicero believed that law represented not only the highest reason, but that it was implanted by Nature, commanding people to do right and forbidding wrong. He found virtue only in humans as Nature developed to its highest point. Thus we are born for justice, and right is based not on opinion but Nature, because we are so like each other. The human race is bound in a unity, and knowledge of the principles of right living is what makes people better, bringing all together equally in a natural feeling of kindness, good-will, and justice.
Cicero noted that people pay the penalty for crimes, not so much through the decisions of courts, but they are tormented by remorse and a guilty conscience. Because of this natural sense of justice even the most brazen criminal attempts to justify a crime by some excuse or principle of right. "Now if even the wicked dare to appeal to such principles, how jealously should they be guarded by the good?"13 Cicero observed that pleasure, the counterfeit of good and mother of all evils, seductively corrupts people. He believed the good are virtuous for its own reward, and those who do right out of fear of punishment and for utility are not good but merely shrewd. Those sunk deepest into vice are not wretched because of the penalties or losses but because their nature is debased. Cicero recommended the Delphic counsel to know oneself, because it means knowing the divine element within as an image of God that will lead one to act in a way worthy of so great a gift and to acquire wisdom, which results in goodness and happiness.
In the second book on Laws Cicero elaborated his view that the principles of justice and law are natural and held that bad statutes nations put in force do not deserve to be called laws, implying they need not be obeyed any more than the rules of a gang of robbers. Most of the book discusses religious laws, beginning with approaching God in purity taken from Numa Pompilius and moving on to the Twelve Tables. He conservatively accepted Roman laws, including the prohibition of having any gods other than those of the state.
Cicero essentially described the Roman form of government in the third book. Quaestors, praetors, and consuls are elected and are then qualified to serve in the senate. Tribunes were established to check the power of the consuls, as the Spartans had set up ephors to oppose their dual kingship. Cicero was concerned that no one be appointed as an envoy having any motive other than for the national interest. He had hoped to abolish these delegations but did manage to get their tenures limited to one year. He recommended short speeches in the senate except in two circumstances. If harmful action is impending or if greater length is required to win others over on an important cause or to see that they are properly informed; then one might speak all day. He noted that Cato was good in both cases. In the assemblies Cicero warned against the use of any violence, which is opposed to justice and civic life. He advocated strict laws to control bribery by punishing violence with the death penalty, greed by a fine, and excessive ambition by public disgrace. After completing one's office, functionaries should explain their actions to the censors, who should publish a report.
In the last three years of his life Cicero devoted most of his time to studying and writing about philosophy and ethics. In 46 BC he discussed six paradoxes of the Stoics. They are:
1) that only what is morally noble is good;
2) that virtue is sufficient for happiness;
3) that any transgression or right action is equally bad or good;
4) that all fools are insane;
5) that the wise alone are free, and all fools are slaves; and
6) that only the wise are wealthy.
The wise do nothing against their will nor with regret nor by compulsion; but the wicked are enslaved because their abject spirit has no volition of its own. Those with excessive desires are needy and poor no matter how much money they have, while those who are content with what they have are rich.
In On the Ends of Goods and Evils Cicero compared the ethical views of the Epicureans, Stoics, and Academics. In the first book Torquatus states that Epicurus found the greatest good in pleasure and the greatest evil in pain. The wise reject some pleasures to attain greater pleasure and endure some pains to avoid worse pains. The Epicurean definition of pleasure includes mental pleasures that derive from physical ones and considers the absence of pain as the greatest pleasure. They use wisdom to reject desires that are unnatural and unnecessary while accepting some desires. Virtues like wisdom are useful for gaining the greatest pleasure and least pain. Temperance bestows peace of mind and soothes the heart. Courage removes fear and anxiety from the mind. Justice also brings mental tranquillity and does not cause harm. Mental pleasures can be more intense than sensory ones, and Torquatus concludes that a life of enjoyment is a life of virtue. They study natural science to understand death, avoid the terrors of religion, and find peace of mind.
Cicero criticizes Epicureanism himself by pointing out that pleasure is universally understood as an agreeable activity of the senses and that the absence of pain is not pleasure. He questions whether a sensualist can keep the desires within bounds, believing that desires should be uprooted completely. In making pleasure the highest good Cicero infers that there would be no action too base to be committed for the sake of pleasure provided one were guaranteed against detection. He believes that the most natural instinct in living creatures is not to seek pleasure but is self-preservation. He objects to the utilitarian view of virtues as means to the end of pleasure. After pointing out self-sacrificing heroes, he wonders who are the great Epicureans, who do not really seek virtue but only its appearance. No Epicurean could ever appeal to serve the public for the sake of pleasure. Although Cicero recognizes that in his life Epicurus valued friendship, his philosophy makes that a means to an end also. For Cicero friendship means loving someone as an end in itself, and to make someone a means to one's own pleasure is not really friendship.
Stoic ethics is presented by Cato and begins with the idea that love of self is the primary impulse to action, as can be seen with children. Stoics value what is in accord with Nature and living in harmony with that. Integrity gained by virtue is the greatest good, and they are indifferent to everything else, though they do exercise "preferences." They believe the universe is governed by divine will, and everyone is a universal citizen, though they recognize no rights for other animals. Cato also notes that friendship and justice cannot exist if they are not valued for their own sake. In conclusion he asks if it is true that only the good are happy, then what is more valuable than philosophy or more divine than virtue?
Cicero criticizes Stoic ethics for inventing a new terminology for an old philosophy which starts with the instinct for self-preservation. The Stoic contention that virtue alone is the greatest good would only be true for a creature who consisted solely of pure intellect; a more complete philosophy cares for the body as well as the mind. Cicero also disproves the notion that there are no degrees in virtue or vice with numerous examples from common sense. To maintain that the only good is integrity is to do away with care of health, property, politics, conduct, and duties, although Zeno did hold that some are to be selected or preferred over others.
Cicero dismissed the skepticism of the new Academy, because their failure to accept any knowledge prevented them from presenting any positive theory of ethics. However, he was won over by the philosophy of his teacher Antiochus, who went back to the old Academy ideas of Plato and Aristotle. These ideas are presented by Piso. They also believe good is living in accord with Nature but developed to its full perfection with all its needs and based on everyone loving oneself. People do not love themselves for the sake of pleasure but rather seek pleasure for themselves. Again self-preservation is fundamental. They analyze the mind as having abilities that are non-volitional, such as intelligence and memory, and abilities depending on volition, virtues such as prudence, temperance, courage, and justice. The Peripatetics expound the doctrine that virtue is the perfection of reason and that the end for humans is the perfection of one's whole being. To know ourselves is to know our abilities of body and mind and to actualize them fully. Thus external goods, like the health and concerns of the body, are important, though still subordinate to the mind and spiritual virtues.
Cicero questions then whether virtue alone can guarantee happiness, and Piso responds that it can, though not by itself complete happiness. Thus this philosophy avoids the absurdity of holding that a virtuous person suffering pain is completely happy.
In 45 BC Cicero discussed some philosophical and ethical issues in Tusculan Disputations in order to make Greek philosophical ideas more accessible to Romans. Cicero noted that Roman oratory had reached its zenith, and with the ending of the republic presciently he predicted it would soon come to nothing. He hoped that in those evil days there could be a birth of philosophy in Latin. Although inclined to Stoicism and definitely a critic of Epicurean hedonism, Cicero preferred the Peripatetic and Academic method of discussing both sides of every question, not only to find the truth but also as practice in oratory. The first book concerns death, and Cicero emphasized the views of Plato on the immortality of the soul. The second book takes up the problem of pain. He noted that the Latin word for virtue derives from the word for man and is related also to courage. For Cicero moral disgrace is much more evil than pain. Even in pain one can be master of oneself, for it is as though we have two selves - one to be master and one to obey.
In the third book Cicero examined stress in the emotions which he considered a disorder in the soul, holding that the wise could be free of this. Evils can lead to distress and fear, while pursuit of good can be perverted into lust and excessive pleasures. Anxiety and distress can be laid aside at any moment by realizing that they give no advantage and that indulging in them is useless. Distress in humans does not originate in an act of nature but is caused by judgment and belief in a grief the mind somehow considers is a duty to feel.
Neither does fear affect the wise, because it is only expectation of distress and so can also be removed. Not liable to these nor to lust and excessive pleasure, the mind of the wise will always be at peace. Under distress Cicero discussed envy, rivalry, jealousy, compassion, anxiety, mourning, sadness, troubling, grief, lamenting, depression, vexation, pining, and despondency. Fear included sluggishness, shame, fright, timidity, consternation, cowardice, bewilderment, and faintheartedness. Excessive pleasures mentioned are malice, rapture, and ostentation, and his category of lust contained the emotions of anger, rage, hatred, enmity, wrath, greed, and longing. Disturbance by pleasures and lust can be cleansed by realizing they are not good, and the disorders of distress and fear can be removed by understanding they are neither natural nor necessary.
In The Nature of the Gods Cicero compared the Epicurean, Stoic, and Academic ideas on religion. The history of Greek ideas on the gods is reviewed unsympathetically by the Epicurean Velleius, and the religious ideas of Epicurus are criticized at length by the Academic Cotta. Stoic ideas that God exists as the universe and providentially governs the world and cares for humans are presented by Balbus. He asks if reason, faith, virtue, and concord are found among people, where else could they have come from except from the gods? If humans have some measure of rationality and wisdom, the gods must have even more. Later Cotta responds to this by arguing that people may consecrate shrines to Reason, Faith, and Virtue, but we know that only within ourselves are they found. The prosperity of the wicked disproves the power of moral gods. Cicero continued the debate on religion in his next book, On Divination. Part of his book On Fate is also extant.
In 44 BC Cicero dedicated two short books to his friend Atticus - On Old Age and On Friendship. The elder Cato one year before his death at 85 in 149 BC is the main speaker in On Old Age; his listeners are Scipio Africanus and his friend Laelius. Cato observes that there are occupations for old people's minds even after their bodies are weak. He contends that they can still remember what is important to them, provided they retain their concentration and application. The old can teach the young and train them for various jobs. He suggests that the aged will be respected if they fight for themselves, maintain their rights, avoid dependence, and assert control over their own affairs. Old age often removes desires that lead to doing wrong; sensuality can ruin the good life. After campaigns of sex, ambition, rivalry, quarreling, and other pleasures have ended, the human spirit can return to live within itself. A major satisfaction comes from knowledge and learning. "To be respected is the crowning glory of old age."14 Faults people complain come from old age, such as being morose, petulant, and ill-tempered, are really faults of character. Cato considers old misers absurd to think they need more funds when the journey is nearly over. He finds consolation in immortality of the divine soul. If death is like sleep, then there is either unconsciousness or dreams that can be divine and see into the future. He feels leaving life on earth should be like leaving a hostel, not a home.
Laelius is the principle speaker in On Friendship, and the dialog is set only days after the mysterious death of Scipio in 129 BC. Cicero wrote that he learned of this conversation from his teacher Scaevola the augur. Scipio and Laelius were the best of friends and were considered the two greatest orators of their day. Laelius was called wise, and it was believed he helped Terence with his comedies. Laelius places friendship above every other human concern and believes it is only possible between good men. The sexism aside, goodness consists of living rightly according to nature. He believes that real friendship is between only two people or very few. It is an identity of feeling on all things strengthened by mutual goodwill and affection. The most satisfying experience is to have someone you can speak to freely as your own self on any subject. No barrier can shut out friendship, which can never be untimely nor in the way. Without it no house or city could stand or hold together.
Friendship does involve giving and receiving, but it is much more than calculations of profit. The Latin word for friendship (amicitia) derives from the word for love (amor). Goodwill is established by love, and goodness has an exceptional appeal towards affection. Kindness and generosity are not given to exact repayment. Favors are not hired out to charge interest. We behave kindly because it is natural. Friendship is a blessing, not because of hope for a material return, but because the union is a benefit in itself. Authentic friendship is lasting and depends on ethical behavior. To claim one did wrong for a friend is not an excuse, for true friendship comes from a mutual belief in each other's goodness. If one stops being good, how can friendship continue? Thus friends should not ask for anything that is wrong; if asked for such a thing, one should turn the application down.
Laelius criticizes the argument that freedom from cares cannot be achieved if one has worries of others and the idea that friendships should be cultivated not for affection but solely for mutual utility. Congeniality of temperament is the greatest incentive to friendship. A friend in need is a friend indeed. Two charges of fickleness are forgetting friends when one is doing well and deserting a friend who is in difficulties. Friends standing up to these tests are almost superhuman. This reliability comes from trust, and friendship improves with age like fine wine. Sometimes friendships need to be dissolved when interests or politics change, but Laelius considers it discreditable to let a friend become an enemy. Friendships embrace everything worthwhile, such as goodness, fame, peace of mind, and satisfaction. They raise our behavior to the highest standard of morality. If ethics is ignored, a friendship may be found wanting when put to the test. Laelius suggests testing a friend before becoming devoted, rather than being devoted first and then trying one.
Laelius disagrees with a quote from Terence that flattery can gain friends, while truth earns ill will. He believes flattery is tiresome; when it indulges a friend's misdeeds, it can contribute to his ruin. Worst is to spurn the truth and allow flattery to seduce one into doing wrong. Friends should be honest with each other, and anyone who cannot hear the truth, even from a friend, is a hopeless case. Hypocrisy is vicious and contaminates standards of truthfulness and thus is incompatible with friendship. Laelius concludes that no one can be a friend unless one is good, and that next to goodness friendship is the finest thing in the world.
Cicero's last book and major work on ethics was written to his son Marcus and was called On Duties (De Officiis). Cicero began with the principle that virtue should be desired for its own sake. The subject of duties involves explaining what is good and describing in precepts how our duty may govern our lives and actions. First, one should consider whether an action is honest; second, whether it is useful in supplying conveniences and pleasures; and third, how to resolve conflicts between honesty and profit. Cicero once again starts with the premise that every creature endeavors to preserve itself and that people have a natural affection for their own children and for other people. What sets humans apart is our search for the truth. Individuals also desire to be pre-eminent. Finally humans can use reason to order their lives with decorum. He gave his views of the four traditional Greek virtues he called prudence, justice, courage, and temperance. Prudence depends on knowledge of the truth.
Duty toward society Cicero divided into justice and beneficence or liberality. The first requirement of justice is not to harm others, although he excepted a reasonable retribution for an injury received. He also added respect for property. In serving and assisting one another we should follow Nature by mutually giving and receiving good turns by knowledge, industry, and wealth to preserve social love. Justice depends on being faithful to one's word and conscientiously keeping agreements. Injustice can be not only injuring others but not helping and defending them when one could. Injustice is caused by fear, an exorbitant appetite, greed for riches, and ambition for glory, honor, or empire. Some are afraid of offending others or bringing trouble upon themselves; others are negligent, idle, and mean or too taken up with their own concerns to help the oppressed, whom Cicero considered it a duty to save and protect. For an honest action to be virtuous it must also be done by choice with good will. Justice requires doing greater duties before lesser ones. Revenge and punishment should be limited, and the laws of war must be strictly observed by the government. War can never be just unless satisfaction is first demanded, and it is publicly proclaimed. Cicero seemed to allow wars for empire, though he believed they should be carried on with less animosity. Injustice can be by open force and violence or by fraud and subtlety, the latter hypocrisy being more odious to Cicero.
Liberality should not be prejudicial nor go beyond our means, and our kindness should be in proportion to a person's merits. People's needs ought to be considered even more than one's relationship to them. Because reason, communication, and love unite people in communities, we should share things produced for the common advantage and benefit of all. After humanity as a whole Cicero placed country, city, and family next. Without naming them he lamented those like Caesar and Antony, who had mangled and ruined their native country.
Cicero defined courage as a Stoic virtue fighting for justice and integrity. Robbing, plundering or injuring cannot be courageous because they are unjust. True courage secures and protects people from injuries. Courage and greatness should disregard outward goods and be willing to perform actions that are beneficial even if they are difficult or dangerous. Cicero felt we should free ourselves not only of fear and desire but also sorrow, joy, and anger so that the mind may be calm and undisturbed. Those in positions of public trust should not only be honest but qualified to manage their task. Cicero believed that wise actions at home can be more glorious than winning wars abroad, noting that the political reforms of Solon lasted, while the victory of Themistocles was a one-time event. War should never be undertaken with any other aim than of obtaining an honorable peace. Rashness and cruelty must be avoided, and greatness of spirit pardons many and only punishes those principally at fault. In government the safety and interest of the citizens is the greatest goal, and the good of the whole should be considered over the interests of any party. With discord and factions few may be left, who are concerned for the benefit of the whole. Cicero praised clemency and gentleness but noted the need for just severity when it is required to keep a city well governed. He admired and considered evenness of temper most brave.
The fourth virtue Cicero described as temperance, modesty, governing passions, and ordering all words and actions in time and place, resulting in grace, beauty, and decorum. The main thing is never to demean one's nature or bring shame. One should have a sufficient reason for every action. The young should respect elders, and the older may counsel the young with their wisdom. Cicero made it a general rule to be free of passions, which reject allegiance to reason. One may benefit by advice from others, but one should diligently observe what a people's real opinions are and what their reasons are for them. Cicero found some ways of getting money discreditable, such as usury and tax collection, which bring one hatred and ill will.
In the second book of On Duties Cicero discussed what is profitable. He had personally worked for the preservation of the republic, but he found no place for himself and his orations after one man (Caesar) seized the state; so he turned to philosophy. Cicero believed that what is honest and just is most profitable. People need to learn that ways of trickery and underhanded dealing are not as successful as acting justly and with integrity. Society is only possible because humans have learned to help and assist one another; thus laws and customs arose with equity and justice to regulate human conduct. None of the great men and military leaders could have accomplished anything without the support of many others. Cicero cited a book by the Peripatetic Dicaearchus, which showed that much greater ruin had occurred by human wars and seditions than by natural disasters, pestilence, famine, and wild beasts.
Wealth, honor, and power can be attained by kindness, by respecting virtue, by trust, by fear of authority, and by hope of gain; but it is far better to be motivated by love than by fear. Those who are feared are hated, and their power cannot last long. Loving ways are much more successful and enduring. Cicero looked back at the earlier history of Rome's empire when actions to protect allies and defend honor were more merciful than the later period of injustice and violence. Then Rome did not dominate the world but protected it. After cruelty was used against fellow citizens in the time of Sulla, people began to think that nothing could be unjust to allies. True glory comes from love of the people, their trust, and admiration. These are gained in the usual ways, but some use bountiful gifts to win over people. People will trust those who are wise and just. Justice is more important, because wisdom without it is suspected. Even robbers and pirates cannot be successful without being just to each other. How much more then is it required by a constitutional republic! Judges must find the real truth without bias, but an advocate may present an appearance. Liberality can be given by work or money, but actual service is far greater than money, which is best spent on public works such as walls, docks, havens, and aqueducts.
When we make a mistake from rashness or unwillingly, we must endeavor to make amends and repair the damage as best we can. The responsibility of a governor is to secure every individual's enjoyment and property and not to impose heavy taxes, especially for war. The conservative Cicero opposed land redistribution and the forgiving of debts, believing that society is held together by the faith that debts will be paid. He claimed that as consul he avoided this evil by resisting those who took up arms to excuse debtors.
For Cicero there was no real conflict between honesty and profit, because honesty is always the greater good. He considered it scandalous to prefer pretended advantage before duty and conscience. To plunder and destroy neighbors would be to dissolve society. Ills that affect one's body or fortune can never be greater than those of the soul. Thus we should all seek the same end and find our own interest in the good of the community as a whole. We all live equally under the same law of nature which makes it wrong to injure another. It is our duty to reject what might seem to be profitable at first if it is dishonest, because ultimately it is not really profitable. Nothing beneficial can be dishonest, and what is beneficial can never be dishonest. Just as one should not sell a house without informing the buyer of its defects, Cicero also held that a grain merchant knowing a shipment is coming should not gain a high price by not informing buyers of the situation. Cicero would banish lying from all business and commerce. Laws punish frauds after the action, but philosophy attempts to prevent them by teaching wisdom and using reason.
Unjust action can never be beneficial, because to lose one's integrity is to be changed into a brute. Cicero reprimanded Euripides for making an exception for a kingdom. Any man who calls this honest ambition is insane; for to justify subverting laws and liberty is to make what is the most detestable oppression seem glorious. Cicero gave examples to show how some conflicting duties can be decided. Even if one is entrusted with a large sum of money, one should not give it back if the person intends to use it for a rebellion against his country; for that would be to act against the public interest. Not every agreement should be kept if circumstances change. Everyone desires their own interest, but to separate profit from honesty is to pervert the first principles of nature. In choosing the lesser of two evils, how can any calamity be worse than injustice? So in a flurry of writing at the end of his life, Cicero attempted to enlighten humanity to the benefits of philosophy and ethics before he was ruthlessly murdered by the tyranny of Antony and Octavian, which destroyed the republic he had defended.
1. Plautus: The Comedies Volume III ed. David R. Slavitt
and Palmer Bovie, p. ix.
2. Plautus, The Merchant 819-824 tr. Charles T. Murphy.
3. Plautus, The Prisoners 313-316 tr. E. F. Watling.
4. Ibid., 359-360.
5. Lucretius, The Nature of the Universe, 6:71-80 tr. Ronald Latham.
6. Catullus 93 tr. Peter Whigham.
7. Ibid., 85.
8. Virgil, Georgic I:500-514 tr. James Rhoades.
9. Bailey, D. R. Shackleton, Cicero, p. 148.
10. Ibid., p. 273.
11. Cicero, Brutus 24 tr. Michael Grant.
12. Cicero, On the Commonwealth 4:8 tr. Sabine and Smith, p. 237.
13. Cicero, Laws 1:14:40 tr. C. W. Keyes.
14. Cicero, On Old Age 17:61 tr. Michael Grant.
This chapter has been published in the book Greece & Rome to 30 BC. For ordering information please click here.