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§ 1. Cicero as a writer on Philosophy. It is not necessary to give here any account of the life of Cicero and his labours as a politician and orator, since there are so many sources from which the student may obtain the information? We are only now concerned with Cicero as a man of letters; nor have we to do with his whole literary career, but merely with that portion of it which was devoted to the production of his series of works on philosophy, of which the Laelius forms a part2.
During his early life Cicero had studied with great enthusiasm and success all the learning of the Greeks, particularly in the two departments, then closely connected, or rather scarcely distinguished, of Rhetoric and Philosophy. He not only sought with great avidity the society of learned Greeks at Rome, but spent a considerable time in study at Rhodes and at Athens, which had become not merely the 'school of Greece'as Thucydides makes Pericles call her, but the school of the civilized world. During the whole of an exceptionally busy public life, Cicero devoted all his spare moments to reading and to the society of the learned. After his exile in 58 and 57 B.C. his part in politics, except for a brief period before his death, was played, and it is at this time that his great period of literary activity begins. In 55 he produced the work De oratore, in 54 the
1 The most attractive biography a politician only by accident; his of Cicero in English is that by
entire natural bent was towards Mr Forsyth.
literature. See the Introduction 2 To judge rightly of Cicero, it to my edition of the Academica. must be remembered that he was
De re publica (the characters in which are nearly all mentioned in the Laelius), in 52 the De legibus, all three works on a large scale, and entitled to rank as philosophical, according to ancient ideas?. All of them shew his continued acquaintance with the discussions current in his time of problems which would now be recognised as belonging to philosophy.
From 51 to 46 B.C. owing first to his absence in Cilicia, then to the civil troubles, Cicero almost ceased to write. But in the latter year he was reconciled with Caesar, and as the senate and law courts were closed against him on his refusal to compromise his political principles, he betook himself with greater devotion than ever to literature. He began to carry out a great plan for interpreting the best philosophical writings of the Greeks to his cultivated fellow-countrymen. Idleness he felt to be absolutely unendurable and it seemed to him that he could do his country no better service than by conferring on it a philosophical literature of its own. Hitherto those Romans who had studied philosophy at all had studied it in Greek. The only Latin philosophical literature was Epicurean, and putting aside the poem of Lucretius, which had scarcely then become famous, consisted entirely of books rudely written, which had however attained a large circulation?
Cicero made no claim to originality as a philosopher, or even to an entire and complete acquaintance with every detail of the Greek systems. His usual plan was to take one or two leading Greek works on the subject with which he was dealing, and to represent freely in his own language their subject-matter, introducing episodes and illustrations of his own. We shall presently see how this general plan was carried out in the case of the Laelius.
The first work written in 46 was the Hortensius, or De philo· sophia, now lost. It was founded on a lost dialogue of Aristotle, and set forth the advantages of studying philosophy. During
Almost every branch of learn. Academica, Introd. pp. xxviing was ranked under the head of xxix. philosophy. Strabo claimed that 3 Cf. Off. 1, 2 philosophandi one branch of philosophy was scientiam concedens multis, etc. geography
the same year Cicero completed several oratorical works, all extant, the Partitiones oratoriae, the Brutus or De claris oratoribus, and the Orator.
In the beginning of 45 Cicero lost his beloved daughter Tullia. He passed the whole year in retirement, trying to soothe his grief by incessant writing. In quick succession came the De consolatione, an attempt to apply philosophy to the mitigation of his own sorrow and that of others; the Academica, an exposition of the New Academic philosophy, advocating probability as the foundation of philosophy rather than certainty; the Definibus bonorum et malorum, a work criticising the chief views entertained concerning ethics; the Disputationes Tusculanae, treating of certain conditions necessary to happiness and morality; the De natura deorum, a work whose contents are sufficiently indicated by its title; the De divinatione, a discussion of the question whether the gods communicate with mankind by augury and the like; the Cato maior or De senectute; the Laelius or De amicitia ; the De fato, discussing Fate and Free Will; the Paradoxa, in which certain paradoxical opinions of the Stoics were set forth; the De officiis, a work on the practical application of moral principles to ordinary life. All these works are still extant, and were written almost entirely in the years 45 and 44. To the list must be added other works, of a rhetorical nature, such as the Topica and the De optimo genere dicendi, and some lost philosophical books, such as that De gloria.
The mental vigour and literary power exhibited by this series of works appears prodigious, when we consider their immense compass and variety and the generally high finish of their style, even though allowance be made for the fact that Cicero was giving in Latin the substance of Greek books with which he had been familiar from boyhood. In Cicero's Latin has lived a large portion of the post-Aristotelian philosophy, which was doomed to oblivion in the original Greek.
It is necessary, before we leave the general subject of Cicero's philosophical works, to state very briefly his philosophical views. Cicero called himself an adherent of the New Academy. It
must be clearly understood, however, that the New Academy taught no complete philosophical system. It simply proclaimed the view that in the field of knowledge certainty is unattainable, and that all the inquirer has to do is to balance probabilities against each other. The New Academic therefore was free to accept any opinions which seemed to him to have probabilities on their side, but he was bound to be ready to abandon them when anything came before him which would alter his view of the probabilities. The New Academic, then, not only might be, but could not help. being eclectic, that is he chose such views propounded by other schools as seemed to him to be most reasonable or probable at the moment. The three principal systems in Cicero's time were the Stoic, the Peripatetic and the Epicurean. With the last of these, whose supporters advocated in ethics the pursuit of pleasure, in science the doctrine of the atoms, in religion the complete inactivity of the gods, Cicero had absolutely no sympathy. In his time the other two schools, the Stoic and Peripatetic, were divided by comparatively unimportant differences. As regards ethics (in
of the ancients almost the whole of philosophy, which itself was defined as 'the art of living') the main question between the two schools was the amount of importance to be attributed to Virtue, the Stoics declaring that in comparison with Virtue, all other things sank into absolute insignificance, while the Peripatetics declared that they had a certain though infinitesimally small significance. Cicero generally takes the Peripatetic view, though with many leanings towards some of the details of the Stoic ethical system. The Stoic opinion that it was the duty of the wise man to abstain from public life, which the Peripatetics contested, Cicero decisively rejected.
§ 2. The scope of the Laelius. Our dialogue belongs to the ethical works of Cicero. The De finibus contains Cicero's view of the principles of morality, while the other ethical writings are concerned with the practical applications of those principles. The consideration of Friendship, to which the Laelius is devoted, occupied a large space in
ancient moral systems, though the topic is very little elaborated by modern philosophers. Particularly in post-Platonic times, when the freedom of Greek political life was extinguished, and men of culture had to find private outlets for their energy, was Friendship brought into prominence. Numerous treatises were specially devoted to it). A separate dialogue was given to it by Plato, viz. the Lysis, and two whole books of the Nicomachean Ethics (VIII. and ix.) by Aristotle. In the Laelius, however, the range of questions discussed is far narrower than was commonly the case with the Greek philosophers who wrote on the subject. The Greek piría included every form of association, even the relations of man to man, of citizen to citizen, of purchaser to buyer, and the like. Cicero, however, uses amicitia in a sense which is almost exactly that of the English 'friendship.' Nor does our author attempt that exhaustive discussion of all questions which had been raised or might be raised, touching Friendship in this narrower. sense, which we find in the two above-mentioned books of the Nicomachean Ethics. The practice of friendship is discussed almost to the exclusion of its theory. Cicero's treatise is indeed a kind of popular essay dealing with those aspects of the subject which could best be made interesting to readers in general. He again and again during the course of the dialogue emphasizes the practical character of the treatise. Indeed to have made it highly specujative would have ill suited the characters of the interlocutors. § 3. The structure, personages, and other circumstances of the
dialogue. Greek sources of the treatise. We have a statement by A. Gellius (lived about 115–165 A.D.) in his Noctes Atticae (1, 3, 10) that Cicero imitated in the Laelius a book of Theophrastus, entitled tepi pilías, which seems to have been the most famous of the many treatises on the subject. The imitation was, on the showing of Gellius, exceedingly free. Theophrastus gave his own views and wrote for philosophers; Cicero wrote for general readers and put his statements into the mouth of
i Merely taking the catalogues rate works on the subject by Crito, in Diogenes Laertius we hnd seja. Speusippus, Xenocrates, Aristotle.