Category: Cicero

The limits of happily-ever-afterThe limits of happily-ever-after

“Even if those generations of men to come should care to hand down, in succession from father to son, the glory of each one of us; yet, still, owing to the deluges and conflagrations of the earth, which must happen periodically, we cannot acquire a lasting, much less an eternal renown. What does it matter that mention should be made of you by those who shall be born hereafter, when there was none among those who were born before you?” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, “The Dream of Scipio” (trans. Pearman)


“If nobody were to know or even to suspect the truth, when you do anything to gain riches or power or sovereignty or sensual gratification — if your act should be hidden for ever from the knowledge of gods and men, would you do it?” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis (trans. Miller)

Politics as usualPolitics as usual

“It is the error of men who are not strictly upright to seize upon something that seems to be expedient and straightway to dissociate that from the question of moral right. To this error the assassin’s dagger, the poisoned cup, the forged wills owe their origin; this gives rise to theft, embezzlement of public funds, exploitation and plundering of provincials and citizens; this engenders also the lust for excessive wealth, for despotic power, and finally for making oneself king even in the midst of a free people.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis (trans. Miller)

Walking the fine lineWalking the fine line

“Individual health is preserved by studying one’s own constitution, by observing what is good or bad for one, by constant self-control in supplying physical wants and comforts (but only to the extent necessary to selfpreservation), by forgoing sensual pleasures, and finally, by the professional skill of those to whose science these matters belong.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis (trans. Miller)

A balancing actA balancing act

“Those whose office it is to look after the interests of the state will refrain from that form of liberality which robs one man to enrich another. Above all, they will use their best endeavours that everyone shall be protected in the possession of his own property by the fair administration of the law and the courts, that the poorer classes shall not be oppressed because of their helplessness, and that envy shall not stand in the way of the rich, to prevent them from keeping or recovering possession of what justly belongs to them.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis (trans. Miller)

Banking on itBanking on it

“We must take measures that there shall be no indebtedness of a nature to endanger the public safety. It is a menace that can be averted in many ways; but should a serious debt be incurred, we are not to allow the rich to lose their property, while the debtors profit by what is their neighbour’s. For there is nothing that upholds a government more powerfully than its credit; and it can have no credit, unless the payment of debts is enforced by law.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis (trans. Miller)

What money can’t buyWhat money can’t buy

“The moral sense of to-day is demoralized and depraved by our worship of wealth. Of what concern to any one of us is the size of another man’s fortune? It is, perhaps, an advantage to its possessor; but not always even that. But suppose it is; he may, to be sure, have more money to spend; but how is he any the better man for that? Still, if he is a good man, as well as a rich one, let not his riches be a hindrance to his being aided, if only they are not the motive to it; but in conferring favours our decision should depend entirely upon a man’s character, not on his wealth. The supreme rule, then, in the matter of kindnesses to be rendered by personal service is never to take up a case in opposition to the right nor in defence of the wrong. For the foundation of enduring reputation and fame is justice, and without justice there can be nothing worthy of praise.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis (trans. Miller)

More than 47 percentMore than 47 percent

“If one defends a man who is poor but honest and upright, all the lowly who are not dishonest — and there is a large proportion of that sort among the people — look upon such an advocate as a tower of defence raised up for them. I think, therefore, that kindness to the good is a better investment than kindness to the favourites of fortune. We must, of course, put forth every effort to oblige all sorts and conditions of men, if we can.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis (trans. Miller)

The business of charityThe business of charity

“Now in rendering helpful service to people, we usually consider either their character or their circumstances. And so it is an easy remark, and one commonly made, to say that in investing kindnesses we look not to people’s outward circumstances, but to their character. The phrase is admirable! But who is there, pray, that does not in performing a service set the favour of a rich and influential man above the cause of a poor, though most worthy, person? For, as a rule, our will is more inclined to the one from whom we expect a prompter and speedier return. But we should observe more carefully how the matter really stands: the poor man of whom we spoke cannot return a favour in kind, of course, but if he is a good man he can do it at least in thankfulness of heart.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis (trans. Miller)

Not commerce as we now know itNot commerce as we now know it

“It will, moreover, befit a gentleman to be at the same time liberal in giving and not inconsiderate in exacting his dues, but in every business relation — in buying or selling, in hiring or letting, in relations arising out of adjoining houses and lands — to be fair, reasonable, often freely yielding much of his own right, and keeping out of litigation as far as his interests will permit and perhaps even a little farther. For it is not only generous occasionally to abate a little of one’s rightful claims, but it is sometimes even advantageous. We should, however, have a care for our personal property, for it is discreditable to let it run through our fingers; but we must guard it in such a way that there shall be no suspicion of meanness or avarice. For the greatest privilege of wealth is, beyond all peradventure, the opportunity it affords for doing good, without sacrificing one’s fortune.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis (trans. Miller)

Assuming we know the bees’ motivesAssuming we know the bees’ motives

“As swarms of bees do not gather for the sake of making honeycomb but make the honeycomb because they are gregarious by nature, so human beings — and to a much higher degree — exercise their skill together in action and thought because they are naturally gregarious. And so, if that virtue which centres in the safeguarding of human interests, that is, in the maintenance of human society, were not to accompany the pursuit of knowledge, that knowledge would seem isolated and barren of results. In the same way, courage, if unrestrained by the uniting bonds of society, would be but a sort of brutality and savagery.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis (trans. Miller)

Not a rhetorical questionNot a rhetorical question

“Who is so absorbed in the investigation and study of creation, but that, even though he were working and pondering over tasks never so much worth mastering and even though he thought he could number the stars and measure the length and breadth of the universe, he would drop all those problems and cast them aside, if word were suddenly brought to him of some critical peril to his country, which he could relieve or repel?” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis (trans. Miller)

Where is virtue to be found?Where is virtue to be found?

“If we are looking for mental enjoyment and relaxation, what pleasure can be compared with the pursuits of those who are always studying out something that will tend toward and effectively promote a good and happy life? Or, if regard is had for strength of character and virtue, then this is the method by which we can attain to those qualities, or there is none at all. And to say that there is no ‘method’ for securing the highest blessings, when none even of the least important concerns is without its method, is the language of people who talk without due reflection and blunder in matters of the utmost importance. Furthermore, if there is really a way to learn virtue, where shall one look for it, when one has turned aside from this field of learning?” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis (trans. Miller)

Justice, the great levellerJustice, the great leveller

“Men of high moral character were made kings in order that the people might enjoy justice. For, as the masses in their helplessness were oppressed by the strong, they appealed for protection to some one man who was conspicuous for his virtue; and, as he shielded the weaker classes from wrong, he managed by establishing equitable conditions to hold the higher and the lower classes in an equality of right. The reason for making constitutional laws was the same as that for making kings. For what people have always sought is equality of rights before the law. For rights that were not open to all alike would be no rights. If the people secured their end at the hands of one just and good man, they were satisfied with that; but when such was not their good fortune, laws were invented, to speak to all men at all times in one and the same voice. This, then, is obvious: nations used to select for their rulers those men whose reputation for justice was high in the eyes of the people. If in addition they were also thought wise, there was nothing that men did not think they could secure under such leadership. Justice is, therefore, in every way to be cultivated and maintained.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis (trans. Miller)

Such as our recent history can demonstrateSuch as our recent history can demonstrate

“The greater our prosperity, moreover, the more should we seek the counsel of friends, and the greater the heed that should be given to their advice. Under such circumstances also we must beware of lending an ear to sycophants or allowing them to impose upon us with their flattery. For it is easy in this way to deceive ourselves, since we thus come to think ourselves duly entitled to praise; and to this frame of mind a thousand delusions may be traced, when men are puffed up with conceit and expose themselves to ignominy and ridicule by committing the most egregious blunders.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis (trans. Miller)

You can check your ego at the door on your way outYou can check your ego at the door on your way out

“When fortune smiles and the stream of life flows according to our wishes, let us diligently avoid all arrogance, haughtiness, and pride. For it is as much a sign of weakness to give way to one’s feelings in success as it is in adversity. But it is a fine thing to keep an unruffled temper, an unchanging mien, and the same cast of countenance in every condition of life.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero, De Officiis (trans. Miller)