Cicero, they say, was a principled and virtuous man who used his oratorical gifts for the good of the state. In these essays, however, I see not so much virtue as the vanity, self-love, and indulgence of an aristocratic gentleman who is highly pleased with his own accomplishments and evidently believes that his achievements and public standing make him an authority on everything. Some of his philosophical ideas are interesting, but they would be more impressive if one felt that Cicero actually practiced them rather than merely regarding them as interesting dinner table conversation. He insists, for instance, that morality is necessary for happiness, and that a good man cannot fail to be happy. His interlocutor asks if a virtuous philosopher being tortured on the rack can be happy. Cicero answers affirmatively, but he is not convincing. His essay on friendship is more praiseworthy, but in all Cicero’s discussion of the good and virtuous life one smells his hypocrisy. Veritas et vanitas.
May 10 2014
On the Good Life by Cicero
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