Fathers and sons. Cicero’s ‘De Officiis.’

1. 15th c. manuscript containing Cicero’s De Officiis. Vaticanus Palatinus lat. 1534, fol. 1r. Image: wikimedia.

2. Cicero, De Officiis 1.1. Translated by Thomas Habinek 2012:

To my dear son Marcus: Now that you’ve spent a year listening to Cratippus (in Athens at that!), you must be well stocked with philosophical precepts and guidelines, thanks to the great authority of a teacher and a city that can supply you with theoretical knowledge and practical examples respectively. Still, I’ve always found it helpful to use both Latin and Greek, in philosophy as well as rhetorical exercise, and I’d advise you to do the same to develop equal competence in both languages. To that end, I believe I’ve done our countrymen a real service: those who read Greek in the original — as well as those who don’t — believe that they’ve gained something useful for both public speaking and personal moral deliberation.

3. Cicero, De Officiis 1.3. Translated by Thomas Habinek 2012:

And so, Marcus, I strongly encourage you to study both my speeches and my philosophical treatises, which are almost as numerous. The speeches are more forceful, but a mild and restrained style is worth developing as well.

4. Cicero, De Officiis 1.14. Translated by Thomas Habinek 2012:

It’s no small expression of the power of nature and reason that we alone among animate beings sense order, grace and measure in words and deeds. In the case of visual perception, no other animal recognizes beauty, charm and the interrelationship of parts. Carrying the analogy from eyes to soul, nature and reason consider it all the more important to preserve beauty, consistency and order in thought and deed. They are on their guard against ugly and effeminate behaviour, and against any and every lustful thought or action. From these qualities, honourable conduct, which is our goal, is forged and fashioned. Even if it doesn’t characterize the aristocracy, it’s still honourable, just as our truthful discussion, even if no one praises it, earns the praise of nature.

5. Cicero, De Officiis 1.56-57. Translated by Thomas Habinek 2012:

But of all human associations none is more remarkable or more secure than the friendship formed by good men who have similar modes of life. The goodness or integrity I often describe, if we actually observe it in others, inspires us and makes us friendly towards those who seem to possess it. And although every virtue is attractive and leads us to cherish its possessors, justice and generosity especially prompt this reaction Moreover, nothing is more lovable, more binding, than shared good morals. People who have the same pursuits and preferences come to derive as much joy from each other as from themselves. As Pythagoras says of friendship, one person is formed from several. The sense of community generated by free exchange of kindnesses is indeed great. As long as they are welcome and mutual, such benefits create a steadfast bond between those who share them.

When you make a complete mental inventory of all associations, none is more important or more precious than the bond joining each of us to the state. Parents are dear, children are dear, so are relatives and friends; but all affectionate relationships are encompassed by our country, and no good man would hesitate to face death for its benefit. Is there anything more outrageous than the monstrous behaviour of those who have ravaged their ancestral homeland with every kind of crime, and are and have been obsessed with its utter destruction?

6. Cicero, De Officiis 1.68. Translated by Thomas Habinek 2012:

For it isn’t consistent for a soul unbroken by fear to be broken by desire, or for a person who survives an ordeal undefeated by pleasure. So desire and pleasure should be avoided, and longing for money should be rejected. Nothing so marks a mean and narrow soul as love of riches; and nothing is more honourable and grand than to despise money, if you don’t have it — and if you do have it, to use it for acts of kindness and generosity. We should be wary even of desire for glory, as I have indicated. It destroys liberty, which ought to be the goal of any struggle on the part of great-souled men. There must be no pursuing military commands; on occasion they should even be turned down or laid aside.

7. Cicero, De Officiis 1.77. Translated by Thomas Habinek 2012. See Cicero’s poetry.

And so I affirm the saying, ‘Let weapons yield to the toga, let the military laurel give way to panegyric (cedant arma togae concedat laurea laudi),’ even though jealous scoundrels attack me for doing so.

8. Cicero, De Officiis 1.113-114. Translated by Thomas Habinek 2012:

Consider how much Ulysses endured in his years of wandering: his enslavement to women-if you can call Circe and Calypso women! -his eagerness to please in every conversation. Even at home he put up with abuse from slaves and serving-girls, in order to get, someday, what he was after. But the temperament of Ajax, was such, we are told, that he would have preferred to face death a thousand times rather than suffer as Odysseus did. Each of us who looks to their example will feel obliged to take account of our own sense of self, refusing to alter it or to test whether others’ practices suit us. What best suits each person is whatever is most his own.

As a result, everyone should get to know his own disposition and become a stern judge of his own good and bad behavior. Otherwise theatre people will seem to have more insight than we do. They select not the best dramas but those best suited to their talents… Will a wise man fail to recognize in life what an actor can see onstage (ergo histrio hoc uidebit in scena, non uidebit sapiens uir in uita)?

9. Henriette van der Blom, “A family exemplum.” Cicero’s Role Models (2010), p319:

‘Even so, it is striking that Cicero recommends a path other than that taken by himself. Might it be a recognition of Marcus’ talents as being weightier in military than in oratorical fields? Or is this recommendation a surrender to the general notion of military gloria as worth more than oratorical brilliance, in spite of Cicero’s own defence of oratory as equally important? Or is it simply a reflection of the context of civil war and political unrest in which Cicero wrote.’

10. Henriette van der Blom, Henriette van der Blom, “A family exemplum.” Cicero’s Role Models (2010), p319:

‘This is another hint to Marcus’ inherited paternal glory and to the fact that Marcus will always be known as the son of his father, whether taken positively or negatively. Cicero continues his discussion not by encouraging Marcus to pursue a civil career, but instead suggesting the military way. This suggestion comes in connection with Cicero’s discussion of the way in which homines novi usually climbed up in society, namely through military service. Cicero’s mention of Pompey’s praise of Marcus indicates, however, that Marcus wanted to follow the military way, even if civil war was making such a step problematic. This passage touches on the problems faced by homines novi, and young ambitious men in general, in their attempts to reach political offices and military glory during the civil war. Despite these difficult circumstances, Cicero manages to present Marcus as exemplary, which was a good way of gaining his son’s attention, but perhaps also an attempt to accord praise to the Tullii Cicerones among the broader audience of this work. Even so, it is striking that Cicero recommends a path other than that taken by himself. Might it be a recognition of Marcus’ talents as being weightier in military than in oratorical fields? Or is this recommendation a surrender to the general notion of military gloria as worth more than oratorical brilliance, in spite of Cicero’s own defence of oratory as equally important? Or is it simply a reflection of the context of civil war and political unrest in which Cicero wrote?’

11. Michele Kennerly, “Sermo and Stoic Sociality in Cicero’s De Officiis,” Rhetorica (2010), pp128-129:

As Catulus senior and junior both recognized, there were some Roman rhetorical situations in which it was unquestionably to the orator’s advantage to assume a conversational tone and regular Gaius stance. When an orator approached his audience in such a way and succeeded in identifying with them, he had aptly demonstrated an element of Stoic social oikeiosis. Social oikeiosis extends from a more basic sort of oikeiosis through which creatures adjust themselves to conditions and contingencies in ways optimal to (that is, in accordance with) their respective natures. Animals (human included) perceive themselves and “are conscious of their own constitution” from womb exit to tomb entrance. In his Letters, Seneca explains oikeiosis with reference to toddlers and tortoises. A tot, teetering in her first efforts to walk, might tumble repeatedly, but she will fight through tears and imbalance to stand on her two legs as nature intends. A tortoise rolled over onto its shell does not suffer in that position (though the tortoise might say otherwise, if it could), but nevertheless it strains itself to flip back onto its tummy, its natural stance. Each creature, by instinct or imitation, knows which positions or actions are appropriate to itself and which are alien. Social oikeiosis pertains to the nature of a creature’s interactions with others to whom it is related (by species, language, government, city, family, etc.). The Stoic Hierocles describes our other-orientation as resulting from our needs and nature as social animals. “For this reason,” he explains, “we inhabit cities; for there is no human being who is not part of a city. Secondly, we make friendships easily.By eating together or sitting together in the theatre . . .”;’


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