Go to the Index of 120 Philosophers Squared
Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC) was the classic Roman philosopher of human wisdom and the foundation of our modern world. To be content with what we possess is the greatest and most secure of riches.
To be rather than to seem.
The beginnings of all things they are small
A happy life consists in tranquility of mind.
He who has a garden and a library wants for nothing.
Cultivation of the mind is as necessary as food to the body.
What is sweeter than lettered ease?
Read at every wait; read at all hours; read within leisure; read in times of labor; read as one goes in; read as one goest out. The task of the educated mind is simply put: read to lead.
A room without books is like a body without a soul.
If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.
For of all gainful professions, nothing is better, nothing more pleasing, nothing more delightful, nothing better becomes a well-bred man than agriculture.
To add a library to a house is to give that house a soul.
A mind without instruction can no more bear fruit than can a field, however fertile, without cultivation.
For books are more than books, they are the life, the very heart and core of ages past, the reason why men worked and died, the essence and quintessence of their lives.
History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.
Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.
Not to know what happened before you were born is to be a child forever. For what is the time of a man, except it be interwoven with that memory of ancient things of a superior age? To be ignorant of the past is to be forever a child.
So it may well be believed that when I found him taking a complete holiday, with a vast supply of books at command, he had the air of indulging in a literary debauch, if the term may be applied to so honorable an occupation.
We are not born for ourselves alone
Life is nothing without friendship.
The life given us, by nature is short; but the memory of a well-spent life is eternal.
Friendship improves happiness, and abates misery, by doubling our joys, and dividing our grief.
A friend is, as it were, a second self. The shifts of Fortune test the reliability of friends.
Friendship makes prosperity more shining and lessens adversity by dividing and sharing it.
The man who backbites an absent friend, nay, who does not stand up for him when another blames him, the man who angles for bursts of laughter and for the repute of a wit, who can invent what he never saw, who cannot keep a secret — that man is black at heart: mark and avoid him.
Never injure a friend, even in jest.
Your enemies can kill you, but only your friends can hurt you.
As for myself, I can only exhort you to look on Friendship as the most valuable of all human possessions, no other being equally suited to the moral nature of man, or so applicable to every state and circumstance, whether of prosperity or adversity, in which he can possibly be placed. But at the same time I lay it down as a fundamental axiom that “true Friendship can only subsist between those who are animated by the strictest principles of honour and virtue.” When I say this, I would not be thought to adopt the sentiments of those speculative moralists who pretend that no man can justly be deemed virtuous who is not arrived at that state of absolute perfection which constitutes, according to their ideas, the character of genuine wisdom. This opinion may appear true, perhaps, in theory, but is altogether inapplicable to any useful purpose of society, as it supposes a degree of virtue to which no mortal was ever capable of rising.
Thus nature has no love for solitude, and always leans, as it were, on some support; and the sweetest support is found in the most intimate friendship.
Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.
Every man can tell how many goats or sheep he possesses, but not how many friends.
If we are not ashamed to think it, we should not be ashamed to say it.
What is morally wrong can never be advantageous, even when it enables you to make some gain that you believe to be to your advantage. The mere act of believing that some wrongful course of action constitutes an advantage is pernicious.
A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear.
It is a great thing to know your vices.
Nothing stands out so conspicuously, or remains so firmly fixed in the memory, as something which you have blundered.
The function of wisdom is to discriminate between good and evil.
To each his own.
We must not say every mistake is a foolish one.
We do not destroy religion by destroying superstition.
There is nothing so ridiculous that some philosopher has not said it.
“It is the peculiar quality of a fool to perceive the faults of others and to forget his own.”
A man of courage is also full of faith.
Ability without honor is useless.
Though silence is not necessarily an admission, it is not a denial, either.
When you wish to instruct, be brief. Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.
To teach is a necessity, to please is a sweetness, to persuade is a victory.
Where is there dignity unless there is honesty?
What one has, one ought to use; and whatever he does, he should do with all his might.
It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.
I am not ashamed to confess I am ignorant of what I do not know.
Knowledge which is divorced from justice may be called cunning rather than wisdom.
The enemy is within the gates; it is with our own luxury, our own folly, our own criminality that we have to contend.
Freedom is a possession of inestimable value.
Freedom is participation in power.
Liberty is rendered even more precious by the recollection of servitude.
Hours and days and months and years go by; the past returns no more, and what is to be we cannot know; but whatever the time gives us in which we live, we should therefore be content.
Time obliterates the fictions of opinion and confirms the decisions of nature.
Natural ability without education has more often raised a man to glory and virtue than education without natural ability.
Few are those who wish to be endowed with virtue rather than to seem so.
We must not only obtain Wisdom: we must enjoy her.
Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error
Dogs wait for us faithfully.
We are bound by the law, so that we may be free.
True law is right reason in agreement with nature;…it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions…It is a sin to try to alter this law, nor is it allowable to repeal any part of it, and it is impossible to abolish it entirely.
Trust no one unless you have eaten much salt with him.
Neither can embellishments of language be found without arrangement and expression of thoughts, nor can thoughts be made to shine without the light of language.
The famous Lucius Cassius, whom the Roman people used to regard as a very honest and wise judge, was in the habit of asking, time and again, ‘To whose benefit?”
Everyone has the obligation to ponder well his own specific traits of character. He must also regulate them adequately and not wonder whether someone else’s traits might suit him better. The more definitely his own a man’s character is, the better it fits him.
In this statement, my Scipio, I build on your own admirable definition, that there can be no community, properly so called, unless it be regulated by a combination of rights. And by this definition it appears that a multitude of men may be just as tyrannical as a single despot; and indeed this is the most odious of all tyrannies, since no monster can be more barbarous than the mob, which assumes the name and mask of the people. Nor is it at all reasonable, since the laws place the property of madmen in the hands of their sane relations, that we should do the very reverse in politics, and throw the property of the sane into the hands of the mad multitude.
In a republic this rule ought to be observed: that the majority should not have the predominant power.
“True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions.”
“Two distinctive traits especially identify beyond a doubt a strong and dominant character. One trait is contempt for external circumstances, when one is convinced that men ought to respect, to desire, and to pursue only what is moral and right, that men should be subject to nothing, not to another man, not to some disturbing passion, not to Fortune.
The second trait, when your character has the disposition I outlined just now, is to perform the kind of services that are significant and most beneficial; but they should also be services that are a severe challenge, that are filled with ordeals, and that endanger not only your life but also the many comforts that make life attractive.
Of these two traits, all the glory, magnificence, and the advantage, too, let us not forget, are in the second, while the drive and the discipline that make men great are in the former.”
“O philosophy, life’s guide! O searcher-out of virtue and expeller of vices! What could we and every age of men have been without thee? Thou hast produced cities; thou hast called men scattered about into the social enjoyment of life.”
I never cease urging peace, which, however unfair, is better than the justest war in the world.
A war is never undertaken by the ideal State, except in defense of its honor or its safety.
Endless money forms the sinews of war.
Let arms give place to the robe, and the laurel of the warriors yield to the tongue of the orator.
“When you are aspiring to the highest place, it is honorable to reach the second or even the third rank.”
“The countenance is the portrait of the soul, and the eyes mark its intention.”
While there are two ways of contending, one by discussion, the other by force, the former belonging properly to man, the latter to beasts, recourse must be had to the latter if there be no opportunity for employing the former.
As I give thought to the matter, I find four causes for the apparent misery of old age; first, it withdraws us from active accomplishments; second, it renders the body less powerful; third, it deprives us of almost all forms of enjoyment; fourth, it stands not far from death.
On the other hand, we denounce with righteous indignation and dislike men who are so beguiled and demoralized by the charms of pleasure of the moment, so blinded by desire, that they cannot foresee the pain and trouble that are bound to ensue; and equal blame belongs to those who fail in their duty through weakness of will, which is the same as saying through shrinking from toil and pain. These cases are perfectly simple and easy to distinguish. In a free hour, when our power of choice is untrammeled and when nothing prevents our being able to do what we like best, every pleasure is to be welcomed and every pain avoided. But in certain circumstances and owing to the claims of duty or the obligations of business it will frequently occur that pleasures have to be repudiated and annoyances accepted. The wise man therefore always holds in these matters to this principle of selection: he rejects pleasures to secure other greater pleasures, or else he endures pains to avoid worse pains.
Six mistakes mankind keeps making century after century:
Believing that personal gain is made by crushing others;
Worrying about things that cannot be changed or corrected;
Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it;
Refusing to set aside trivial preferences;
Neglecting development and refinement of the mind;
Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do.
There is so much common sense to an uncommon degree in Cicero that this post can only be an encouragement to go read him in a complete setting, rather than these loosely joined quotations.
To be content with what we possess is the greatest and most secure of riches. That sentiment is at the core of Stoic philosophy, and as several of the most famous of the Romans of Cicero’s era wrote in this vein, we must assume it was popular with many of the people of that time. It is a tragedy that their wisdom faded away with the rise of Christianity, and the system of unsubstantiated belief based in wishful thinking displaced rational observation of the natural world. People were willing to give up a well ordered tranquil life for the speculative promise of eternal perfect life after death. It is an absurd distortion of what Jesus said, in the Sermon on the Mount, to make those fantastic claims.
Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things. That is the basis of Cicero’s deep interest in books. Books contain the memory of what humanity has experienced and they give us a better picture of what we are and what we are capable of than we can possibly get from our personal experience of our immediate environment.
I can only exhort you to look on Friendship as the most valuable of all human possessions. Cicero writes of books as being his most valuable possessions, but that refers to inanimate ones and those are what he considers his friends too. The living friends are, at their best, even more valued because of the live interaction, which can lead to deeper more joyous understanding. We are by our inherited nature social animals evolved from immediate social interaction, and the friends in books are several steps abstracted by time, space, culture and death. Our friends in books can give us far wider range of experiences than our own, and our limited number of personal living friends, but these literary friends are living in the past which is gone and fixed, and we are in the present and the future, which is to come and is flexible.
A big mistake – Attempting to compel others to believe and live as we do. That is at the bottom of the list of quotes above, and it enhances my admiration for Cicero in that he makes his mind and its ideas freely available but does not force them on other people. When a governmental operation, no matter how seemingly honorable, forces ideas and behaviors upon people, over time the whole complex of institutions will toughen into a twisted morass of pain for everyone.