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 . . .”;’


Cicero and Tiro.

1a. Slave collar with tag, origin unknown (4th-5th c. CE). National Museum of Rome, Baths of Diocletian. Image: Lisl Walsh on twitter, who notes a problem with the English didactic at the museum.

1b. Sandra Joshel, Slavery in the Roman World (2010), p119-120:

‘Troublesome slaves were marked on their faces with brands or, more likely, tattoos to identify them and the “crimes” for which they had been marked. When caught, some slaves had metal collars riveted around their necks: the collar had an engraving that identified the slave as a fugitive, and often requested his return to his owner. The tag on the [p120] collar from Rome reads: “I have run away: hold on to me. When you return me to my master Zoninus, you will get a gold solidus” (Selected Latin Inscriptions 8731). The use of these collars was common enough that the message could be abbreviated “TMQF” (tene me quia fugio) — Hold on to me since I flee (Selected Latin Inscriptions 9454).’

1c. Jerry Toner, The Roman Guide to Slave Management (2014), p76:

‘There is plenty of evidence for the sexual abuse of slaves. A combination of the powerful position that the master had over his slaves and their lack of basic rights means that this should not come as a surprise. The fact that the philosopher emperor Marcus Aurelius was proud of himself for resisting the temptations posed by two beautiful slaves suggests that this was not a course that most masters would have taken. There was little stigma attached in masters having sex with boys and adolescent males: all slaves were there for the master to take advantage of if he so wished, whatever their sex or age. Many masters would have been classified as paedophiles in the modern world. Unwanted slave pregnancies were sufficiently common to joke about. There is a hint of the resentment sexual abuse could cause in Petronius’ Satyricon (ch. 57), when a freedman notes that, “I bought freedom for the slave woman who had shared my bed, so that no one could wipe his filthy hands on her breast.” In the same work (ch. 75), Trimalchio says that he had as a boy become his master’s favourite for fourteen years, but defends it by saying, “I mean, what’s wrong with doing what your master wants?”‘

1d. Thomas Habinek, ‘Slavery and Class,’ in S. Harrison (ed.) A Companion to Latin Literature (2005), p385:

‘Slaves made Latin literature possible. In a broad sense, the productive energies of slaves and other dependent labourers generated the surplus that sustained the leisure, or otium, necessary (in the Roman view) for the production and consumption of literary texts. In a narrower sense, slaves and ex-slaves, functioning as readers, researchers, amanuenses, tutors, librarians, copyists, referees and critics were integral to the creation and circulation of texts and to the transmission of the various kinds of knowledge that informed them. Indeed, for all we know, a Roman author was no more responsible for the literary works attributed to him than a modern fashion designer can be said to have ‘made’ the clothing sold under his or her label. The Roman ego was expandable, not limited by the boundaries of a single body. Just as the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘you’ could signify ‘my slaves and I’ or ‘you and your slaves’, so in practice a slave performed as a prosthesis of his master, even when that master was an esteemed writer.’

2. Cicero, Letter to Quintus (3.1.19), 54 BCE. Translated by Shackleton Bailey.

After I had written these last lines which are in my own hand, your son came over to us for dinner, as Pomponia was dining out. He gave me your letter to read, which he had received shortly before — a charming, serious letter upon my word, in the manner of Aristophanes. I was quite delighted with it. He also gave me the other letter, in which you tell him to stick close to me and regard me as his teacher. How pleased these letters made him, and me likewise! He is the most charming boy, and no one could be fonder of me. I dictated the above to Tiro at dinner, in case the different handwriting may surprise you.

3. Quintus Cicero, Letter to Marcus (Fam. 16.16.1), 53 BCE. Translated by Shackleton Bailey.

My dear Marcus, as I hope to see you again and my boy and my Tulliola and your son, I am truly delighted with what you have done about Tiro, in judging his former condition to be below his deserts and preferring us to have him as a friend rather than a slave. Believe me, I jumped for joy when I read your letter and his. Thank you, and congratulations! If Statius’ loyalty gives me so much pleasure, how highly you must value the same qualities in Tiro, with the addition of literary accomplishments and conversation and culture, gifts worth even more than they! I have all manner of great reasons to love you, but this is a reason — the very fact that you so properly announced the event to me is a reason. I saw all that is you in your letter.

4a. Cicero, Letter to Tiro (Fam. 16.4.1, 4), 50 BCE. Translated by Shackleton Bailey.

You say the doctor has a good reputation, and so I hear myself; but frankly, I don’t think much of his treatments. You ought not to have been given soup with a weak stomach… [4] Take my word for it, dear Tiro, that nobody cares for me who does not care for you. Your recovery is most important to you and me, but many others are concerned about it. In the past you have never been able to recruit yourself properly, because you wanted to give me of your best at every turn. Now there is nothing to stand in your way. Put everything else aside, think only of your bodily well-being (corpori serui). 

cf. Seneca Ep. 92.33: nemo liber est qui corpori seruit. ‘No man is free who is a slave to his body.’

4b. Quintus Cicero, Letter to Tiro (Fam. 16.26). Uncertain place and date, although often dated to 44 BCE. Translated by Shackleton Bailey.

A second packet has reached me with no letter from you, and my thoughts have drubbed you (uerberaui te) with reproaches, though I say nothing. You cannot hope to escape punishment for this offence if you conduct your own case. You must call Marcus in and see whether he can prove you innocent with a speech long pondered in the watches of many a night. I really do beg of you — I remember how our mother in the old days used to seal up empty bottles, so that bottles drained on the sly could not be included with the empties—so you likewise write, even though you have nothing to write about, so that you are not suspected of having scraped an excuse to cover your idleness. Your letters always tell me things most true and agreeable. Love us and good-bye.

4c. Sandra Joshel, Slavery in the Roman World (2010), p11-12:

‘Letters to Tiro from Cicero, his brother Quintus, and his son Marcus testify to the family’s concern, care, and affection for Tiro. Congratulating his brother when he freed Tiro, [p12] Quintus remarks that Cicero preferred that Tiro be the family’s friend, not its slave (Fam. 16.16.1). Yet as the classicist Mary Beard points out, the brothers continue to play on the language of service and slavery in their letters to the free Tiro (2002). Encouraging Tiro to recover from an illness, Cicero orders him “to be a slave to his body,” meaning that he should put his body before everything else and take care of his health (16.4.4). In 44 BCE, Quintus makes a joke about flogging: he has, he tells the former slave, flogged Tiro in his mind for not writing him (16.26.1). Twenty-first-century readers may find it difficult to see the humor in a joke about whipping addressed to a former slave. About Tiro’s point of view, nothing is known.’

5. Pliny the Younger, Ep. 7.4.3-6. On Cicero and Tiro. Translated by Betty Radice.

While I was staying in my house at Laurentum I had Asinius Gallus’s works read aloud to me, in which he draws a comparison between his father and Cicero and quotes an epigram of Cicero’s on his favourite Tiro (in Tironem suum). Then, when I had retired for my siesta (it was summer) and was unable to sleep, I began to reflect upon the fact that all the greatest orators had amused themselves with this kind of writing and had seen merit in doing so. I set my mind to it, and, to my surprise, in spite of being long out of practice, I had soon expressed the very thought which had inspired me to write. This was the result:

Reading the works of Gallus, where he ventures
To hand the palm of glory to his father,
I found that Cicero could unbend his talent
To play with polished wit on lighter theme.
He showed how well the minds of mighty men
Enjoyed the pleasure of much varied charms:
Tiro, he says, defrauds and cheats his lover;
Kisses—not many—promised for a dinner
Are afterwards denied when night-time comes.
Why then conceal my blushes, fear to publish
My Tiro’s wiles and coy endearing favours
Whereby he heaps the fuel on my passion?

6. Beware the ‘happy slave’ narrative!! William C. McDermott, “M. Cicero and M. Tiro,” Historia (1972), p262-263:

‘In summary, we see in the evidence of the letters unique tribute to an admirable relationship between M. Cicero and M. Tiro. The essential nobility of Cicero’s character is well illustrated, and a picture of Tiro emerges – a very model of industry, learning, and devotion.’