Philosophical life in Ciceros letters

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Part I History of Ethics. Part II Concepts and Problems.

Cicero | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Edward Craig. Marcus Tullius Cicero, elder son of a locally influential family in the town of Arpinum, moved to Rome in his youth to pursue a career in law and government. There he studied with several Greek philosophers, including the Academic Philo of Larissa, and after a brilliant legal debut he spent two years in Greece studying philosophy and rhetoric with Antiochus and the Stoic Posidonius.

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Upon his return he won election to a major office that brought lifelong membership of the Senate Rome's supreme governing body and soon established himself as the foremost advocate of the age. Elected consul Rome's chief executive office in 63 BCE, he suppressed an insurrection and was hailed his country's saviour.

But opponents contrived his exile in 58 BC, and when he returned the following year, he found his influence severely diminished. Turning to writing, he formulated and defended his political ideals in three pioneering dialogues. When Julius Caesar precipitated civil war in 49 BCE, Cicero sided reluctantly with the opposition as the lesser threat to Roman institutions.

Caesar's swift victory brought dictatorship, and Cicero, although granted clemency, was excluded from politics. Returning to writing, he championed free political discussion in a series of rhetorical works, then composed in twenty months a dozen works nine survive whole or in large part discussing central problems in Hellenistic philosophy.

Titus Pomponius Atticus

The political turmoil that followed Caesar's assassination in March 44 BC slowed, then halted this astonishing pace as he rallied resistance to Mark Antony's despotic designs. His campaign might well have succeeded had Antony not colluded with Caesar's adoptive heir, the future Augustus: Cicero was assassinated and his head impaled in the Forum where he had spoken so often and so eloquently. Cicero's extant works, although only part of his enormous output, comprise over fifty speeches, nearly a thousand letters to friends and associates, several works on rhetorical theory and practice, and twelve on philosophical topics.

This vast corpus, besides displaying great intellectual range and stylistic virtuosity, embodies Cicero's conviction that philosophy and rhetoric are interdependent and both essential for the improvement of human life and society. His oratory bears the stamp of his theoretical studies, and his treatises and dialogues are richly oratorical.

The philosophical works in particular unite the rhetorical techniques and ample style of Roman oratory with the analytical methods and conceptual apparatus of Greek philosophy in a unique fusion of eloquence and insight. All but one of these works are fictional dialogues. Some portray Cicero or eminent Romans of the previous century discoursing at length among friends; others, employing a format that reflects Roman political and legal practice but also the critical spirit Cicero admired in Plato and his sceptical heirs in the New Academy, present paired speeches for and against Epicurean and Stoic theories.

Composed for audiences unused to abstract theory and systematic analysis, the discussions lapse at times into earnest declamation, and the close questioning found in Plato's dialogues is rare.

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However, they are methodically organized and often incisive, and by presenting opposing views and arguments in clear and engaging terms, they dramatize the significance of fundamental problems and encourage critical reflection. Cicero's first philosophical works are three long dialogues that analyse and evaluate the political institutions and practices of contemporary Rome in the light of Greek theory.

The Politics of Cicero (video lecture)

Although largely conservative, they provided the first political theory in Latin and remain the most systematic ancient account of Roman government; while others described events, only Cicero advanced a structural analysis. Written when Rome's republican traditions were collapsing under unprecedented concentrations of economic and military power, these dialogues champion political liberty, rational debate and rule by law. Articulating the principles behind his lifelong goal of harmonizing Rome's competing interests in a just and stable 'concord of the orders', they propound a comprehensive vision of civil society directed by an elected elite schooled in rhetoric and philosophy, devoted to constitutional government and able to shape public opinion through effective oratory.

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Philosophical Life in Cicero's Letters

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    Walmart In the year 44 BC, Cicero was in his sixties — an old man by Roman standards — living on his farm outside of Rome removed from political power by the dictatorship of Julius Caesar. He turned to writing to ease the pain of exile and the recent loss of his beloved daughter. In a period of months, he produced some of the most readable and influential essays ever written on subjects ranging from the nature of the gods and the proper role of government to the joys of growing older and the secret to finding happiness in life. Among these works was a short essay on friendship dedicated to Atticus.

    How to Be a Friend — or in Latin De Amicitia — is arguably the best book ever written on the subject. The heartfelt advice it gives is honest and moving in a way few works of ancient times are. Some Romans had viewed friendship in mostly practical terms as a relationship between people for mutual advantage. Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle had written about friendship hundreds of years earlier.

    Indeed Cicero was deeply influenced by their writings.