« PreviousContinue »
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
Usitato jam discendi ordine perveneram in librum quendam Ciceronis, cujus linguam fere omnes mirantur, pectus non ita. Sed liber ille ipsius exhortationem continet ad philosophiam et vocatur Hortensius. Ille vero liber mutavit affectum meum et ad te ipsum, Domine, mutavit preces meas, et vota ac desideria mea fecit alia. Viluit mihi repente omnis vana spes et immortalitatem sapientiae concupiscebam aestu cordis incredibili, et surgere coeperam ut ad te redirem. Aug. Confess. III 4.
ON THE DESIGN AND EXECUTION OF THE DIALOGUE.
CICERO's object in writing the De Natura Deorum was partly to complete his systematic exposition of Greek philosophy for the benefit of his countrymen'; but, as theology was in his opinion the most important as well as the most difficult branch of philosophy, determining the nature and even the possibility of religion, and thus involving the very existence of morality itself', this speculative motive was reinforced by practical considerations of the most momentous character. The greater part of mankind seemed to him to be crushed under the weight of a degrading superstition, from which they could only be delivered by the propagation of more rational views on the subject of religion. A few had been driven into atheism by the recoil from superstition; but religious belief was natural to man, and the real question at issue among thinking men generally was the nature and manner of life of those Divine Beings whose existence they were compelled to acknowledge. The Epicureans boasted loudly of what they had done to set men free from the fetters of superstition, but so far as they had succeeded in doing this, it was only by abandoning the belief in a providential government of the world and reducing religion to an empty form“. In fact their account of the Divine nature was so absurd that it was impossible to believe it could be seriously intended. The Stoic doctrine was far more worthy of consideration. It rested on a large induction of facts and supplied a very noble theory of morals and religion'. Still the Stoics bad laid themselves open to the criticism of the Academy, partly by their over-positiveness in doubtful matters, partly by their anxiety to find a justification for the popular belief in regard to divination and the multiplicity of gods. In his 3rd book Cicero states at length the Academic objections to the Stoic view, but concludes by avowing his own preference for the latter?
1 Div. 11 3, 4 ut nullum philosophiae locum esse pateremur qui non Latinis litteris illustratum pateret, cf. N. D. 1 9. 2 N. D. 11-4.
3 Div. 11 148–150. + N. D. 1 3, 117, 121.
5 N. D. i 123, III 3. M. C. III.
If we compare this treatise with one which had appeared about ten years before, as a posthumous work, edited by Cicero himself after the death of its author, I think we cannot doubt that the later treatise was written with distinct reference to the earlier. I allude to the poem of Lucretius, of which Cicero speaks in such high terms in a letter to his brother Quintus written in Feb. 54 B.C., about four months after the poet's death, Lucretii poemata, ut scribis, ita sunt, multis luminibus ingenii multae tamen artis, aud to which we find several allusions in this and other writings of Cicero. The avowed motive of both writers is the same, to deliver mankind from the yoke of superstition. If Lucretius describes the state of the world, unenlightened by Epicurus, in the words humana ante oculos foede cum vita jaceret in terris oppressa gravi sub religione, quae caput a caeli regionibus ostendebat horribili super aspectu mortalibus instans (1 63 foll.), and again faciunt animos humiles formidine divom depressosque premunt ad terram (vi 52); we find Cicero (Div. 11 148) deploring the evil in almost the same terms, nam, ut vere loquamur, superstitio fusa per gentes oppressit omnium fere animos atque hominum imbecillitatem occupavit...... Instat enim et urget et quo te cumque verteris persequitur, sive tu vatem, sive tu omen audieris, sive immolaris, sive avem aspexeris, si Chaldaeum, si haruspicem videris, si fulserit, si tonuerit, si tactum aliquid erit de caelo, si ostenti simile natum factumve quippiam ; quorum necesse est plerumque aliquid eveniat, ut numquam liceat quieta mente consistere. Perfugium videtur omnium laborum et sollicitudinum esse somnus. At ex eo ipso plurimae curae metusque nascuntur'. If Lucretius speaks of the everlasting punishments of Tartarus as the climax of those terrors which kept men all their lifetime subject to bondage', Cicero makes his Stoic repudiate this as a superstition which was at length felt even by the vulgar to be no longer endurable. It is true that Cicero does not in our dialogue go so far as to speak of crimes perpetrated in the name of religion, as Lucretius speaks of the sacrifice of Iphigenia : he is content here to show the folly and misery of superstition, and the inequity of the principles of action which it ascribes to the gods; but elsewhere he contrasts it with religion, as a spurious
1 N. D. 1 4, 121, 111 4.
3 See Munro's Lucretius Intr. p. 931 foll. and compare Lucr. 1 74 with Fin. II 102, Lucr. 11 1092 with Tusc. I 48, Lucr. 111 983 with Fin. 1 60, Lucr. IV 1070 with Tusc. IV 75, Lucr. vi 396 with Div. III 44. The passage to Quintus (11 10) is thus explained by Munro p. 108, “There seems to have been almost a formal antithesis between the rude genius of Ennius and the modern art. It is not then impossible that Quintus may so have expressed himself on this head, that Cicero may mean to answer 'yes, you are quite right in saying that Lucretius has not only much of the native genius of Ennius, but also much of that art which, to judge by most of the poets of the day, might seem incompatible with it'.” I should gather from the words which follow (sed, cum veneris, virum te putabo, si Sallustii Empedoclea legeris, hominem non putabo) that Quintus had announced his intention of reading the Empedoclea on his return to Rome: Cicero says if you accomplish your purpose I shall admire your manhood (strength of will), but not think so highly of your humanity (feeling and taste)'. If we are to make any change in the reading, I very much prefer the emendation sed, si ad umbilicum veneris, virum te putabo (implying that Cicero, notwithstanding his admiration for the poet, shared the feeling of most moderns in regard to the technicalities of the Atomic System) to the emendation adopted by Mr G. A. Simcox in his History of Latin Literature (1 p. 84) multae tamen artis si eum inveneris, virum te putabo; si Sallusti Empedoclea legeris, hominem non putabo, which he thus explains, «Cicero gives his brother credit for recognizing Lucretius' genius in the many splendid passages of his poem, hopes he is man enough to recognize his skill as well, and tells
him he will sink below humanity if he can read Sallust's Empedocles'. It is unnecessary to say more of this translation than that it loses the force of tamen and virum, as well as of the opposition between virum and hominem, I must caution my younger readers against trusting too implicitly to Mr Simcox where he touches on other points which concern our present treatise. The statement in i p. 80 that .Panaetius had adopted the orthodox doctrines of omens and oracles instead of the consistent and simple fatalism of the earlier Stoics' is exactly the reverse of the truth, as may be seen from the passages cited in p. xxi of my 2nd volume and the notes on 11 162, 163, 111 93, 95; and Posidonius was not a Peripatetic (as is stated in vol. 11 389) but one of the most famous of the younger Stoics.
1 For vates cf. N. D. 1 55 and Lucr. 1 102 tutemet a nobis jam quovis tempore vatum terriloquis victus dictis desciscere quaeres; for somnus Lucr. I 132, iv 33; for quieta mens the tranquilla pax animi of Lucr. vi 78, the suave mari magno of
Lucr. 1 107 foll., N. D. 11 5, 1 86 n.