On the Orator

On the Good Life

On the Good LifeOn the Good Life by Marcus Tullius Cicero
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Last December I sat myself a task of reading back through the philosophical canon, either re-reading some works or reading ones I never read before. I have taken it very slowly, as there have been so many other things to read as well.

In my library since college days were three paperback Penguin Classics of Cicero. Each an anthology of excerpts from varied writings of his. I decided to read one, and after asking for advice on Facebook, the consensus pooled around this one. While reading it this autumn, I have blogged about various things that interested me or provoked objections from me. These posts were mostly from the first two excerpts from Discussions at Tusculum and On Duties, which focused on general issues of the good life.

The final three excerpts were from On Friendship, On the Orator, and The Dream of Scipio. Much in Friendship was common to other ancient writings on the topic that I have encountered, good, noble sentiments about the value of friends to the good life.

On the Orator discussed the characteristics of a good speaker. This was through a dialogue and, at times, debate, among some learned Romans. At issue was whether an orator is simply a good speaker or someone who should be acquainted with a wide-range of knowledge. The excerpt here included much discussion of the law and the role of leading citizens in advocating in the courts.

The final excerpt was a most interesting piece, an imagined dream of Scipio Africanus the Younger, viewed at Cicero's time as the great, ideal statesman from the past (as we view Lincoln maybe). In this dream the young Scipio is visited by his grandfather, Scipio Africanus the elder, who informs him about the cosmological structure of the universe and what it takes to achieve heaven in the after-life. Primarily, one must be devoted to the state. The cosmology is interesting -- music of the spheres and the sort of worldview influential upon Dante and other medievals -- and there are some inspiring bits in the ethical instruction that I'm likely to post as excerpts on my blog.

I enjoyed the Cicero and will look forward to reading the other two volumes at later points in life (one must save some pleasures for the many years that await). Next up, Lucretius' Of the Nature of Things.

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