Page images

imitation, bearing to it the same relation as rashness to fortitude, craftiness to prudence, and tending to blind and stupefy the conscience. The same idea seems to be implied in the phrase used (N. D. i 1) that a knowledge of theology is necessary ad moderandam religionem'. Again, as the evil deplored by both writers is the same, so is the remedy proposed, which is in a word the scientific theory of nature, religio quae est juncta cum cognitione naturae (Div. il 149), the physica constansque ratio, which is opposed to superstition in N. D. II 92, 11 63, Div. i 126 ; in the words of Lucretius i 146 hunc igitur terrorem animi tenebrasque necessest non radii solis neque lucida tela diei discutiant, sed naturae species ratioque. Further we find both writers agreed as to the fact, that the Divine existence is not inconsistent with the scientific theory of nature, and as to the origin of religious belief among mankind from the awe-inspiring phenomena of nature and the orderly movements of the heavenly bodies”.

From this point however the two writers draw apart. Cicero accepts as valid the above-mentioned grounds of religious belief and adds to them the general consent of mankind, the traditional faith of Rome, the marks of intelligence and of benevolence visible in the universe ; while he ridicules the solitary evidence on which Lucretius appears to build his theology, that of dreams, and shows how arbitrary and inconsistent is the Epicurean idea of the 'intermundian' gods. To the fortuitous concourse of atoms and the fortuna gubernans of Lucretius he opposes the providentia gubernans of the Stoics“. Lastly, while it is religio which is the curse of mankind according to Lucretius, with Cicero it is superstitio; over and over again he distinguishes the one from the other, as the lawful from the unlawful, the rational from the irrational, the holy from the unholy, and sums up in the words, ita factum est in superstitioso et religioso alterum vitii nomen, alterum laudis. The way in which he introduces his distinction has the air of remonstrance against a misuse of the word religio (N. D. 11 71), non enim philosophi solum (referring to

1 Lucr. 1 80 foll., N. D. 1 42, 11 70, Part. Or. 81 religionem superstitio imitatur, Cluent. 194 nocturna sacrificia sceleratasque ejus preces et nefaria vota cognovimus ; quibus illa etiam deos immortales de suo scelere testatur, neque intellegit pietate et religione et justis precibus deorum mentes, non contaminata superstitione neque ad scelus perficiendum caesis hostiis posse placari.

2 Lucr. v 1183-1240, N. D. in 16, Div. 11 148.

3 Tusc. i 30, Leg. i 24, Div. II 148, N. D. II 5, Leg. 1 25, Tusc. 1 68 foll., Lucr. v 1161 foll., N. D. 1 76 foll.

* Lucr. v. 107. N. D. 11 73, 93.

the Greek distinction between ευσέβεια and δεισιδαιμονία already established in the time of Polybius, who however does not altogether condemn the latter in vi 56), verum etiam majores nostri superstitionem a religione separaverunt ; while at the same time the fact that he thinks it necessary to claim the authority of ancient usage for his own distinction, may perhaps be regarded as an indication that it was not yet fully recognized. It was apparently unknown to the author of the treatise ad Herennium, who couples religio with ambitio and other passions which impel to evil (11 34); but it seems to have been observed by all later writers. Thus, while Lucretius always uses religio in a bad sense and never uses superstitio at all, his imitator Virgil reserves religio for what is laudable and speaks of vana superstitio veterumque ignara deorum (Aen. viii 187), and so Horace reckons tristis superstitio among the diseases of the mind (Sat. 11 3. 79). Perhaps it may be thought that the difference between Cicero and Lucretius is not a difference of meaning as to the word religio, but a difference of feeling and judgment as regards the facts denoted by the word. Such a view would be quite consistent with the supposition that Cicero's dialogue is intended in part as a protest against the doctrine advocated by Lucretius; but Lucretius himself asserts more than once that his doctrine is not hostile to religion, as Cicero would understand that word'. In either case it seems to me clear that, while agreeing with Lucretius as to the evils wrought in the name of religion, Cicero wished to make it plain to all men that these evils did not flow from religion rightly understood, but from its corruption, which he distinguished by the name of superstitio ; and that an indiscriminate attack on all that went under the name of religion was even more injurious to society than superstition itself.

Assuming then that Cicero had this double practical aim in writing his treatise, first to eradicate superstition, second, to show the importance of a rational religion ; and that he combines with this the speculative aim of completing his system and expounding to his countrymen the theological views of the leading Greek philosophers, we have next to consider how this design has been carried out? If we compare the impression produced upon us by reading the

1 Lucr. 1 80 illud in his rebus vereor ne forte rearis impia te rationis inire elementa...quod contra saepius illa religio peperit scelerosa atque impia facta, v 1198 nec pietas ulla est velatum saepe videri vertier ad lapidem atque omnes accedere ad aras,...sed mage pacata posse omnia mente tueri, 75 delubra deum placido cum pectore adibis.

poem of Lucretius or the 10th book of Plato's Laws with the impression produced by the Natura Deorum, I think it cannot be denied that the latter is far less impressive than either of the former. Cicero is a man of extraordinary ability cultivated to the highest pitch by an excellent education, with the widest tastes and sympathies, and a mind open, as that of few Romans has been, to all impressions of beauty and sublimity. But, considered as a philosopher, he has the misfortune to be at the same time a lawyer, an orator and a man of the world : in his philosophical treatises we are too often conscious of the author holding a brief, appealing to the populace, writing against time and amidst countless distractions, far removed from the whole-hearted concentration of a Plato or a Lucretius. We must not wonder therefore if Cicero's wide scheme contracts itself to the paraphrase or adaptation of two or three contemporary writings and the exposition and criticism of the Epicurean and Stoic theologies.

Contenting ourselves with this lower aim we ask again, how it has been accomplished ? Is the exposition clear, accurate and methodical, observing due proportion throughout? Are the arguments well set forth, the criticisms just and fair? Is the dialogue, as a whole, a finished work of art, like the dialogues of Plato? Before attempting to answer these questions I will quote the estimate given of Cicero's physical or theological treatises by two writers of antiquity. The first is Velleius Paterculus, who says dum hoc vel forte vel providentia vel utcumque constitutum rerum naturae corpus, quod ille paene solus Romanorum animo vidit, ingenio complexus est, eloquentia illuminavit, manebit incolume, comitem aevi sui laudem Ciceronis trahet (11 66); the second Macrobius, or rather the captious interlocutor in his Saturnalia (1 24, § 4), who is probably intended to be the spokesman of others, when he says Tullius, qui non minus professus est philosophandi studium quam loquendi, quotiens aut de natura deorum aut de fato aut de divinatione disputat, gloriam, quam oratione conflavit, incondita rerum relatione minuit. Modern readers will probably side with the latter view. While allowing that we have in this treatise a great deal of excellent sense admirably expressed, and that it is hardly possible to exaggerate its historical importance as contributing to our knowledge of the religious philosophy of the ancients, yet, regarding it as a whole, it is impossible to call it a work of art, it is impossible to say that the due proportions of the subject have been observed. Each of the three books is disfigured by an insertion which is foreign to the

same name.

argument and of singularly little interest in itself. The 1st is the historical sketch of previous philosophy from the Epicurean point of view, which is of much the same value, as if a historian of modern religious thought were to take his account of German philosophy from Mansel's Bampton Lectures. The 2nd insertion is Cicero's own translation of the Aratea ; the 3rd and the most incomprehensible of the three is the mythological section, in which he attempts to show that there were many separate deities confused under the

In speaking of these as insertions, I do not mean that the 1st and 3rd are exclusively due to Cicero and had nothing corresponding to them in the Greek original, but that in all three cases a very subordinate point has been allowed to swell out beyond all proportion, and that in order to make room for them, matters of real interest and importance have been either omitted or curtailed to such an extent as to become themselves unintelligible. Thus, how willingly should we have exchanged the first insertion, either for an intelligent and impartial review of the growth of religious philosophy, or for a fuller account of the life of the 'intermundian' gods; how willingly have dispensed with the Aratea in order to obtain more information as to the Stoic doctrine of the dealings of Providence with the individual, so cruelly cut down in the concluding paragraphs of the Second Book; above all how gladly should we have escaped from the futility of the mythological section, if we might thereby have secured space for a reply from Balbus, or even for a fuller statement of the Academic argument on such a question as the consistency of moral virtue with the Divine nature !

Taking the book however as it stands with its faulty proportions, what are we to say of the manner in which each separate part is done? The introduction, which gives the key-note to the whole treatise, is of special importance as expressing Cicero's own convictions in regard to the need of a true religious belief. 'A mere pretence of religion', he says (in reference to the Epicureans, but the same thing applies to an Academic like Cotta) 'is inconsistent with any true piety, and without piety faith and justice cannot exist and all society is subverted.' Piety is necessarily bound up with the belief in the providential government of the world ; there can be no such thing as worship, unless we believe that the gods are interested in men and are able and willing to benefit them. But we must be able to give a reason for our faith, and not embrace an opinion without investigation, merely on the authority of others. While the Stoics have performed an important service in exhibiting the evidences of design in the outward universe, the Academy has not been without its use in forcing us to look at both sides of the question, and insisting on probability as the guide of life, since absolute certainty is unattainable owing to the limitation of the human faculties.

The 2nd portion of Bk i contains the Epicurean polemic against the orthodox theology, Platonic and Stoic. It touches on many interesting points, but it does no more than touch on them ; its criticism is addressed as usual to the gallery, very much in the style of the altercatio with Clodius, of which Cicero writes with such complacency to Atticus (Att. 1 3), and for the most part consists of a series of exclamatory questions, which are assumed to be unanswerable, though the answer may be distinctly given in the words of the treatise criticized'. The more rational objections, such as those which turn on the possibility of Creation at a particular moment of time, on the motives which could be supposed to influence the Creator, on the imperfection visible in the work of Creation, are never directly met by succeeding speakers. No one seems to pay any attention to them. Just as it is afterwards with the Academic criticisms on the Epicurean and Stoic systems, there is no right of reply, no judicial weighing of opposing arguments, no honest endeavour to carry out even the principle of Carneades and ascertain precisely to which side the balance of probability inclines.

The review of the history of religious opinions contained in the following sections (SS 25—43) is, as I have already remarked, the great blot on this first book. It would be hardly going too far to say that, as regards the prae-Stoic philosophy, it does not contain a single strictly accurate statement or a single intelligent criticism. It may be said, this is the fault not of Cicero but of the Epicurean authority whom he follows; Cicero merely gives it as a specimen of Epicurean ignorance and prejudice. But if it was intended as an exposure of this sort, why is it that, so far from giving any hint to that effect, so far from correcting any of the blunders of Velleius, Cicero afterwards makes Cotta compliment Velleius on the accuracy of his sketch ? The real fact is that Cicero himself was in all probability unconscious of the inaccuracies which fill the historical section, and that some at least of these inaccuracies (as may be proved by a comparison with the fragments of Philodemus) arose from his own

1 See nn. on 1 19 illae quinque formae, $ 20 quod ortum sit,

« PreviousContinue »