Towards the end of his life and his career as one of the leading politicians and orators in Rome, Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BCE-43 BCE) was exiled to his country house. It was a time of political turmoil in the capital of the empire, caused by the power-grab of Julius Caesar.
In the quiet of the countryside, Cicero began to write on philosophy. In On the Ends of Good and Evil, he set out to consider three major traditions of Greek philosophy - Epicureanism, Stoicism and a branch of Platonism proposed by Antiochus of Ascalon (promoting 'the happy life').
Using a form of the dialectical approach established by Plato in his Socratic Dialogues, Cicero introduces characters who propose each tradition, and then Cicero himself responds with a critical appraisal - a stimulating and engaging pattern.
De finibus bonorum et malorum (meaning also the 'final or ultimate aim' of good and evil) is a fascinating document. And, as suiting a man of the world (which Cicero clearly was), he comes to a preferred conclusion after surveying the three traditions. Interestingly, the work opens with an introductory passage in which Cicero explains why he is writing a work such as this, giving an intriguing insight into his time.
In Rome, he explains, the study of Greek philosophy was the preserve of Romans who read Greek, and translations of the originals into Latin were frowned upon by scholars. Cicero felt this lofty attitude should not be the case. The wisdom of the past should be open to everyone, he argues, and he proceeds to summarise the Greek philosophic traditions and offer critiques for the benefit of his fellow Roman citizens.
Translation by H. Harris Rackham.
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I recently read the book “Friends Divided” by Gordon S. Wood. In the book Wood made a point that Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BCE-43 BCE) was a favorite of both John Adams (1735-1826) and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and they quoted Cicero frequently. I have always enjoyed reading about Cicero, but I suddenly realized I have never read any of his books. Audible had this audiobook by Cicero written toward the end of his life while he was in exile at his countryside estate. Apparently, he did a great deal of writing during this period.
In this book Cicero discusses the philosophical views of Epicureanism and Stoicism. The book was written in 45 BCE. I wish that I had the skill to read this in Latin. This book was translated to English by Harris Rackham. I am always in awe of reading a book written so long ago and yet it is valid today. I found the method Cicero used in writing extremely helpful in understanding his debates. The way he had different friends and himself debate back and forth the various points of each philosophy made me feel I was sitting with him and his friends in a patio drinking tea/wine. It was such a delight to have Cicero at times include me in the conversation. This is how I spent my Christmas Day, sitting in a garden with Cicero discussing philosophy. Oh, it was such a pleasant day.
The book is just over nine hours. Derek LePage does a good job narrating the book.
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