Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Reading classics of Antiquity IX: Cicero

Cesare Maccari: (1840–1919): Cicerone denuncia Catilina, affresco di Cesare Maccari a Palazzo Madama in Roma che raffigura Cicerone mentre pronuncia una delle orazioni contro Catilina. Fresco. Palazzo Madama, Roma. Pubblico dominio. Wikipedia. Please do click to enlarge the image.

Cicero: Cato maior de senectute
Cato the Elder on Old Age. Written in Rome, the Roman Republic, 44 BC, in Latin. Originally published on papyrus in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines).

Cicero: Laelius de amiticia
Laelius on Friendship. Written in Rome, the Roman Republic, 44 BC, in Latin. Originally published on papyrus in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines).

Cicero: De officiis
On Duties / On Obligations. Written in Rome, the Roman Republic, 44 BC, in Latin. Published posthumously (Cicero was assassinated shortly after the assassination of Julius Caesar). Originally published on papyrus in the scroll format (in tomes / volumines).

Read in Finnish:
Cicero: Vanhuudesta / Ystävyydestä / Velvollisuuksista. Translated into Finnish from Latin and introduction written by Marja Itkonen-Kaila. Series: Antiikin klassikot. 275 p. Porvoo / Helsinki: WSOY, 1967.

I would sum up the message of Cato maior de senectute thus: old age is the best time in life. A humoristic paradox, it can be taken at face value, or as a brilliant demonstration of the ability of the master orator to defend even the most improbable case, or most philosophically, as a case of a man always completely at ease with himself – for him every age is the best time in life. We are truly alive only in the now, but the now is always the end of the past and the beginning of the future. It is great fun to read how Seneca, in the guise of Cato the Elder, refutes the four reasons to deplore old age (obstacles to action, losing the strength of youth, missing the pleasures of the senses, the vicinity of death) and turns them into advantages. One can interpret this as denial or as supreme affirmation.

 "True friendship can only exist between decent people" is the key sentence of Laelius de amiticia. What would be better than be able to talk about anything like only with yourself? Friendship brings more flair to success and less pressure on adversity. The opposite of friendship is the life of the tyrant who can never feel love and must live in constant suspicion. Nothing is more important than friends, true friends who are faithful, unwavering and with a strong character. The true friend is revealed only in danger. Pretense is the death of friendship; even enemies are more valuable than such friends, because enemies often tell the truth, but sham friends never. Virtue is the only guarantee of real friendship.

De officiis, published posthumously after Cicero's assassination, is his spiritual testament and one of the most influential books of all time, an inspiration to St. Thomas Aquinas, Petrarch, Erasmus, Melanchthon, Grotius, Locke, and Voltaire. Cicero discusses what is honorable and what is profitable and finds out that they are the same. The concrete historical context is the dictatorship of Julius Caesar against whom Cicero presents a profound criticism: the most magnanimous man can fail because of his lust for power. De officiis is a great philosophical study on the foundations of society, social life. Cicero's key concepts include εὐταξία / modestia / moderation and εὐκαιρία / occasio / occasion – the art of knowing when is the proper moment to act. In Book III, chapters 21–22 Cicero presents a compact criticism of exploitation: it makes human social interaction impossible because it inevitably cuts the bonds of human society. It is like one member of the body would try to suck the energy from other members; the whole body would suffer. "This, then, ought to be the chief end of all men, to make the interest of each individual and of the whole body politic identical. For, if the individual appropriates to selfish ends what should be devoted to the common good, all human fellowship will be destroyed." (Book III, Chapter 26). With the same argument Cicero defends philoxenia, the hospitality to strangers.

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