Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Cicero’s Reasons for Philosophizing on the Nature of the Gods

A first-century AD bust of Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero, at the beginning of his The Nature of the Gods, gives three reasons for which he labored with great energy to write the book. The three reasons are:

He has leisure. He had very little to do because the Roman Empire was under Caesar’s will and guidance. Cicero was a man of action and idleness was abhorrent to him, so he devoted himself to philosophizing on the nature of the Gods.

He wants to achieve something great for Rome. He wanted to bequeath to his Latin speaking countryman a complete encyclopedia of Greek philosophy.

He is suffering from great sorrow. Cicero’s great sorrow was not related to the political turmoil that the rise of Caesar has caused in his country, but to the death of his daughter Tullia. His two marriages had failed and when his daughter died in 45 BC, Cicero was devastated.

Here’s an excerpt from Cicero’s The Nature of the Gods:
But if any one asks what considerations induced me to make, at so late a date, these contributions to letters, there is nothing I can more easily explain. It was at the time when I was feeling the languor of inaction, and the condition of the state necessitated its being directed by the will and guidance of one man, that I reflected that philosophy ought, in the first place for the state’s own sake, to be brought before our fellow-countrymen. For I thought that it nearly concerned our honor and glory as a nation that so important and exalted a study should have a place in the Latin literature as well, and I regret my undertaking the less as it is easy for me to perceive how many persons’ enthusiasm I have aroused, not only for learning, but also for exposition. The fact is that several who had been trained in the Greek school were kept from sharing their learning with their countrymen by a doubt whether the knowledge that they had received from the Greeks could be expressed in Latin, but in this department I seem to have been so far successful myself as not to be outdone by the Greeks even in abundance of vocabulary. A second inducement for betaking myself to these studies was my unhappiness of mind in consequence of a great and serious blow dealt me by fortune. If I could have found any greater relief for this unhappiness I would not have taken refuge in this form of it particularly, but there were no means by which I could better enjoy relief itself than by devoting myself not merely to the reading of books, but also to an examination of the whole of philosophy. And all its parts and members are most easily recognized when questions are followed out in all their bearings in writing, for there is in philosophy a notable kind of continuity and connection of subject, so that one part seems to depend upon another, and all to be fitted and joined together. 
Some scholars are of the view that Cicero’s primary objective in The Nature of the Gods is ethical philosophy. They say that his aim was to correct the philosophical errors that are injurious to morality. But Cicero does not say that reason in his book.

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