De Re Publica (54-51 B.C.)- Cicero
[Cicero's Republic is partly modelled on the Republic of Plato (429-349 B.C.).]
The De Re Publica of Cicero is purportedly the record of a three day debate in B.C. 129 on the state and two books are assigned to each day. Cicero prefaces the narrative of each day with an introduction in which he speaks for himself.
Participants in Debate
1) Fannius, C., Consul in 122 B.C., follower of stoicism, historian and orator
2) Laelius, C., Close friend and associate of Scipio, consul in 140, promoter of the study of literature and philosophy.
3) Manilius, M'., Consul in149. Historian and legal scholar
4) Mucius Scaevola, Q., Legal scholar and patron of the young Cicero
5) Mummius, Sp., Satirist and extreme defender of optimate interests.
6) Philus, L.. Furius , Consul 136 B.C., orator
7) Rutilius Rufus, P., Politician admired for his honesty, dedicated to Stoicism.
8) Scipio Africanus Minor, P. Cornelius, 195-129 B.C. Outstanding military and political leader 149-129, captured and destroyed Carthage in 146 B.C., restored order after assassination of Tiberius Gracchus in 133 B.C. and mediated between the political factions. Died suddenly and mysteriously in 129.
9) Tubero, Q. Aelius, Scipio's nephew, tribune c. 129 B.C, legal scholar dedicated to Stoicism.
In the introductory passage Cicero argues, with illustrations from Roman history, that practical statesmen are morally superior to, and of more benefit to mankind than, the political theorists of the philosophical schools. With examples drawn from Roman history as well as from Greek history Cicero rebuts those who advocate withdrawal from public life because of its risks and dangers.
The debate starts with a discussion of the recent appearance of sundogs or parhelia, which leads on to a discussion of astronomy .This leads into a discussion of the value of learning in general. Laelius, while acknowledging the pleasure that the theoretical speculations of the Greek give, points out that they contribute little or nothing to the solution of the practical moral and political dilemmas that both individuals and states confront. It is time to put the theoretical aside and turn to the practical. He proposes that Scipio describe for them what he believes to the ideal political constitution.
Scipio begins with his definition of the state: the state [respublica] is the interests of the people [res populi]. The `people', however, is not just any collection of human beings assembled together in any manner whatsoever but rather the association of a substantial number of human beings bound together by agreement about justice and by a sharing of resources. The primary cause of this association is not so much weakness but a natural, as it were, herding together of human beings, for the human individual is not designed to be isolated or a solitary nomads but is so constituted that not even amid the greatest abundance of resources he is compelled by nature to associate with other human beings.
The people, as defined by Scipio, establish a settlement and recognise the need for government. There are three types, rule by one man, monarchy, rule by a limited group, aristocracy, rule by the whole people, democracy For Scipio, each form of government in its pure form has desirable characteristics but also inherent defects: monarchy and aristocracy are deficient in freedom while democracy fails to acknowledge and reward excellence. As history has shown, each pure form of government can deteriorate into an evil version of itself, monarchy into tyranny, aristocracy into oligarchy, democracy into anarchy. The best constitution, therefore is a mixed constitution which combines the virtues of each of the pure forms while avoiding their defects.
Scipio declares his preference for monarchy among the three pure types. He puts forward religious, philosophical, psychological and historical arguments in support of monarchy and attributes Roman opposition to monarchy almost entirely to the behaviour of the last Roman king.
Deterioration of the good pure forms of government into their evil opposites. Although Scipio maintains that monarchy is the best of the pure forms of government, he believes the ideal form is none of the pure forms but a mixed constitution which combines the virtues of each of the pure forms, the authority of monarchy, the wisdom of aristocracy, the freedom of democracy. He believes that the Roman constitution is just such a constitution and proposes to describe how this came about.
Scipio shows the implementation of the principles of the mixed constitution in the development of the constitution of the Roman Republic.
He quotes the opinion of Cato the Elder *1 that the superiority of the Roman constitution lay in the fact that, unlike the constitutions of the Greek states which were created by individual law-makers on theoretical principles it was the product of many generations of experiment and change to which many individuals and generations had contributed.
Scipio introduces many of the traditional details of the Romulus *2 legend and uses Romulus to exemplify the beginning of good government in the first of the pure forms, monarchy. He pays most attention to Romulus' choice of a site for his city away from the coast and attributes his choice to moral grounds - to protect the citizens of his new city from morally and culturally corrupting influences - and to reasons of ease of defense. He praises the establishment of the Senate as an important recognition of the value of achievement and experience in the management of the state and the prominence given to auguries in decision making . His discussion of Romulus' death and deification hints at the Romans' sense of being a chosen people.
Laelius praises Scipio for the way in which his account of the ideal state is derived from the reality of history and not from theory.
Scipio describes the achievements of the other Roman kings and summarises his account of origin of tyranny and begins an account of the ideal single ruler .
Scipio analyses constitutional developments in the early Republic. With the modification of the monarchy into an annual elected magistracy, the institution of the right of appeal and the enhancement of the authority of the Senate which Scipio implies was a means of `aristocratic' restriction on `democratic' freedom. He describes the struggle for greater plebeian rights. The crisis which resulted in the first Roman law code, the Twelve Tables is described.
Scipio declares that he has demonstrated a mixed constitution in action in the history of Rome. He speaks again about the character and duties of the ideal ruler and finally agrees that the next step in the discussion should be an examination of the nature of justice.
The discussion of justice is undertaken. The arguments for the position that the interests of the state are best advanced by its pursuit of unjust policies are presented by Philus. Laelius presents the opposing arguments and contends that no state can exist without justice. Scipio takes over the discussion and demonstrates that the debased forms of the three pure types of states destroy the state itself because of the absence of justice.
Scipio emphasises the importance of intellectual education over physical education and criticises the Greek practice of exercising naked. He agrees with Plato in the Republic on the immoral influence of the poets but criticises the satirical license given to the Greek writers of comedy and the prestige and high status accorded by the Greeks to actors. While reluctantly acknowledging some possible merit to the communistic sharing of property, he totally rejects the communisation of family life.
The narrative of the third day's discussion is preceded by an introduction from Cicero in which he laments the moral decline of the Romans and presumably in anticipation of the education and character of the ideal ruler as the topic of the day's discussion.
Cicero concludes his narrative, like Plato in the Republic, with a "myth", a visionary account of the glorious destiny that awaits the self-sacrificing statesman after his death.
9. You will recall that I went to Africa with the consul M. Manlius [149 B.C.] as military tribune to the Fourth Legion. At that time it was of great importance to me to visit King Masinissa *3 who was an intimate family friend for some very good reasons. When I called on him the old man embraced me tearfully and after a little while he raised his eyes to the heavens and said: "I give you thanks, Great Sun, and to you also, the rest of the Heavenly Beings, that before I depart from this life I see in my kingdom and in my house a P. Cornelius Scipio whose very name gives me renewed vigor. For never has the memory of that superb and unconquerable man *4 been absent from my mind." Then we discussed the affairs of his kingdom and the affairs of our Republic and the rest of that day was spent in animated conversation between us.
10. After a royal banquet we prolonged our conversation late into the night. This time the old man talked of nothing else except Africanus and recalled not only his achievements but also all that he had said. We eventually parted to go to bed and a deeper sleep than usual came on me possibly because I was exhausted by my journey and by having remained awake so late into the night. I believe that my dreaming of Africanus in that form which I know better from his image than from the man himself arose out of our conversation: our thoughts and conversations often produce images in our sleep as Ennius *5 wrote concerning Homer about whom in his waking hours he thought and spoke most frequently. When I recognized the image of my grandfather I shuddered but he said: "Be calm and put aside your fear, Scipio, and commit to your memory what I shall say.
11. "Do you see that city which I compelled to submit to the Roman people and which has now revived ancient rivalries and refuses to keep the peace?" (He was pointing to Carthage from a high and prominent place which was shining and clear in the full light of the stars). "You have come here while still barely a soldier to attack that city. Within two years you as consul will destroy it and you will gain for yourself that cognomen which you already have inherited from us. When you have destroyed Carthage you will have a triumph and will be censor. You will undertake commands in Africa, Syria, Asia and Greece. During your absence you will be chosen as consul for a second time and you will bring to an end a very important war and you will overrun Numantia. When you are being driven in your chariot to the Capitol you will discover that the Republic has been greatly disturbed by the policies of my grandson *6.
12. "In this situation it will be your duty to make available to your fatherland the light of your mind, your genius and your wisdom. Even now I see for you a somewhat uncertain fateful path. In the course of your years the sun shall have completed seven times eight turns and returns and when these two numbers (each of which is perfect but for different reasons) have completed in the circuit of nature the sum of years fated for you then the whole state will turn to you and to you alone and to your name. The Senate, all good men, all the allies and all the Latins will look to you and you will be the one man on whom the security of the state will depend. Indeed it will be proper at that time for you as Dictator to restore the Republic but only if you can avoid the sacrilegious hands of those close to you." At this point Laelius cried out and the others groaned aloud but Scipio himself laughed lightly and said: "Shush, I beg you. Do not wake me from my dream but listen to the rest for just a little while." *7
13. "In order that you may, Africanus, be even more assiduous in protecting the Republic, be assured that, for all who have protected their fatherland and have aided and advanced it, there has been allotted in heaven a special place where those blessed ones enjoy eternal life. To that first of gods who rules all the universe there is no earthly institution more pleasing than the assemblies and gathering of men ruled by law which are called cities and the rulers and protectors of these are sent from heaven and to heaven return."
14. At this point although I was frightened less by the fear of death than by fear of the attacks of my friends I asked him whether he himself and my father Paulus *8 and the others whom we consider dead were really still alive. "Indeed," he replied, "these men live and have flown away from the chains of the body as if from prison since what you call life is the real death. Do you not see your father Paulus approaching?" When I saw him I wept profusely but he embraced and kissed me and ordered me to cease weeping.
15. At last I restrained my weeping and was able to begin to speak: "O noblest and most excellent of fathers, since this life is the true life as I hear from the lips of Africanus himself why do I tarry on Earth, why do I not hurry from here to come to you?" "That is not the way of things," he said. "Unless the god whose temple is all that you see has freed you from the restraints of the body entry here cannot be opened to you. All men are born bound by this law that they should be the guardians of that globe which you see in the middle of this temple and which is called Earth. For this a soul is given them from the eternal fires which you call stars. These are rounded globes and are animate with divine minds and complete their circuits and orbits with miraculous speed. Because of this you and all pious men must retain your souls in the constraints of the body. Unless at the command of him who gave you that body you must not depart from the life of men since otherwise you would be perceived as a fugitive from the human condition assigned to you by god.
16. "Scipio, cultivate the virtues of justice and piety, as your uncle and I, your father, did. For when these virtues flourish in parents and their children they are also most active in the state. A life of that kind is the way to heaven and into the company here of those who have already lived but are now released from the body and occupy this place which you call as you learned from the Greeks the "Milky Way" and which you now can see ."
There was indeed a circle shining with a remarkable brightness among the flames. As I examined it everything seemed to be remarkably clear and wonderful. There were stars which we never see from here and their size was of such as I had never before suspected. The smallest of these, farthest from the heavens and closest to Earth, is the moon which shines with another's light. The spheres of the stars far exceeded the size of Earth. Indeed so small did the Earth seem to me that I was ashamed of our empire through which we touch as it were merely a point of it.
17. As I peered at the Earth more closely Africanus asked: "How long will your mind be fixed upon the ground? Do you not see what temple you have entered? All things are joined together in nine circles or, better, spheres. The outermost of these is the heavenly sphere which embraces all the others. It is the highest god himself who protects and contains all the others. In it also are the eternal revolving circles of the stars. Below it are the seven spheres which revolve with a contrary motion to that of the heavens. One of these spheres is that planet which people on Earth call Saturn. After it is the planet called Jupiter whose glow brings prosperity and health to men. Then the planet, red and threatening to the lands which you call Mars . Below it the sun occupies the region almost in the exact middle, the mind and guide of the universe, the first of all lights and their controller and of such a size that it pervades and fills all things with its light. It is followed as if by companions first by the circuit of Venus and then the circuit of Mercury and in the lowest sphere the moon revolves burning with the light of the sun. Below this there is only the mortal and destructible except the souls which the gods have given to the human race for above the moon all things are eternal. The sphere in the centre of all, the ninth sphere, is the Earth: it does not move and is the lowest and things are carried towards it because of their natural weight."
18. As I looked at these things I was dumbfounded but when I recovered myself I asked: "What is this great and so alluring sound which fills my ears?" He replied: "It is the sound which is produced by the motion of the spheres themselves. They are separated by unequal intervals but they are arranged in an exact proportion and the treble is moderated by the bass to produce variable sounds equally. Movements [of the magnitude of the movements of the spheres] cannot be performed in silence and nature brings it about that at one end of the universe they sound in the treble, at the other end in the bass. As a result the highest star-bearing circuit of Heaven whose movement is swifter moves with a treble, lively sound, the lowest, that is the lunar circuit, with the deepest bass. The Earth, the ninth sphere, remains motionless in one place and occupies the central point of the whole universe. The other eight orbits produce seven distinct sounds with their intervals since two of them [Venus and Mercury] move at the same speed. This number seven is almost the key to all things. Learned men have imitated it on strings and in songs and thereby have opened a passage-way for their return to this place like those others who devoted during their human lives themselves and their intellectual genius to the study of the divine.
19. "When however men's ears are filled with this sound they become deaf. Hearing is the dullest of our senses as can be seen from the fact that the people who live at the place where the Nile plunges down from very high mountains near the place called Katapouda have no sense of hearing because of the magnitude of the sound. Similarly the music generated by the revolving of the whole universe is so great that the ears of man cannot receive it. Again you cannot look directly at the sun since it will overcome your sense of sight with its rays."
20. Even as I was wondering at these things I kept turning back my eyes to the Earth. Africanus spoke: "I see that even now you still are thinking about the place and home of men. If ever it seems small to you, as it is, always think back on these heavenly realities and despise the merely human things. For what fame or glory can you look for from the speech of men? You can see that Earth is inhabited only in a few small regions and that in between these as it were blots there are large empty spaces. The inhabitants of Earth are so isolated from each other that nothing can pass between them. Some of them live in the same longitude as you but some in the opposite latitude, others in the same latitude as you but in the opposite longitude. From men living in this manner you cannot expect to win glory.
21. "You can see this same Earth surrounded and encircled by several zones. Two of these are separated from each other by the greatest possible distance and are upheld by the opposite poles of the Heavens. Both of them you can see are frozen while the central and widest zone is burnt by the heat of the sun. Two of the zones are habitable. The southern zone in which those who live there must walk upside down has no importance for the Roman people. Look now at the northern zone which you inhabit and mark how little of it involves the Romans. For the territory inhabited by you is confined by its northern and southern limits: it is surrounded by what you call the Atlantic or the Great Ocean. Even that you can see is very small for such a large name!
22. "These are the lands inhabited and known to you. Surely you do not think your reputation or the reputation of any Roman could escape these limits and climb the Caucasus Mountains which you can see or swim across the Ganges? Who will hear your name at the remaining regions, north, south, east or west? When you subtract these regions you can see in what near confines your glory wishes to spread itself. And for how long will those who do speak of us continue to do so?
23. "Moreover even if the children of future generations wish to hand on to posterity the fame of any one of us which they inherited from their fathers the floods and conflagrations which must occur at predetermined times make it impossible to attain even a temporary fame, much less an eternal glory. What does it matter that your descendants will be ignorant of you since your ancestors were equally ignorant of your deeds. Those ancestors were as many in number as your descendants will be and were certainly better men.
24. "Consider also that none of those who can hear of your reputation has a memory that endures for even a year. Men measure a year by the return of the sun, that is by the return of one star. When all the stars return at the same time to the place from which they began they restore the heavens to the same appearance and this occurs only at very long intervals. When that happens the true year can be said to be turning. In the course of that year I would not dare to say how many generations of men are contained. When the sun suffers eclipse in the same quarter of heaven and on the same day of the year as once it seemed to men to do at the time the soul of Romulus made his way here and when all the constellations have been called back to the positions they held then you may consider the years to have come full circle. But of that year scarcely a twentieth part has passed.
25. "If therefore you ever despaired of returning to this place in which good and outstanding men have all things, think of how little value is glory among men which can scarcely endure a small part of one year? If you wish to look aloft and consider this place and eternal home do not yield to the demands of the masses nor place the hope of your life in human rewards. Rather let virtue itself draw you to the true glory by its own light. Leave what others say about you to them. They will gossip anyhow and gossip is limited to those narrow regions which you see and never has any lasting power. A man's reputation is turned over by his death and is wiped out by the oblivion of posterity."
26. When he had finished, I said: "If for those who have deserved well of the fatherland a path as it were lies open to the entrance of heaven, now that such a great reward has been revealed to me, I shall strive all the harder although from my boyhood I have walked in your footsteps and the footsteps of my father and I have not been a disgrace to your fame." He replied: "Do you strive thus and bear this in mind that you are not mortal, only your body is. That appearance you wear is not you but simply a form which can be traced out by a finger. Know that you are god since god is any being who acts, who thinks, who remembers, who has foresight, who rules, controls and moves the body which it has command over in the same way as god rules the Universe. Just as the eternal god moves the universe which is partly mortal so does the immortal soul move the destructible body.
27. "For what is always in motion is eternal since it is necessary that what brings motion to something else and itself derives its motion from outside itself have an end of life when there is an end of motion. Only that which moves itself is never deserted by itself and is destined never to be deprived of motion. There is no source for the First Principle of things since it is from the Principal that all other beings come. The First Principle itself cannot derive from any other thing. What derives from something other than itself cannot be the First Principle. What was never derived can never cease to be. For if a First Principle were destroyed it will not be reborn from any other being nor will it create another First Principle from itself if it is the case that all things have their origin in the First Principle. So it happens that the First Principle of motion comes from that which is self-moving and can neither be created nor die. Otherwise all heaven would fall and all nature come to an end of necessity and would not find any other power by which it would be put in motion as it was impelled in the beginning.
28. "Since it is clear that what is self-moving is eternal, who can deny that the same nature is given to souls? Anything which is moved only by an external power is inanimate but the animate is moved by its own intrinsic motion. This is the nature and power proper to souls. And if it is the only self-moving being out of all the rest it is certainly not created and is eternal.
29. Make use of this soul for the highest ends. The highest concerns are for the safety of the fatherland and the man whose soul has been devoted to such concerns will fly more quickly to this place and to his true home. And he will do this even more swiftly if even during the time when he is in the body he will look outside himself and by contemplating the external universe separate himself from the body. But the souls of those who have given themselves over to the pleasures of the body have made themselves as it were their servants by obeying the orders and whims of desire. Such men violate the laws of both the gods and men. When their souls are separated from their bodies they flutter around the Earth and do not return to this place until they have endured many generations of suffering."
He departed and I was freed from my dream.
[Translated by Niall Mc Closkey © Niall Mc Closkey 1998]
*1. Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 B.C.), statesman and writer, was a vigorous advocate of traditional Roman values and outspokenly opposed to Greek influences. He is sometimes called `the Elder' to distinguish him from his great-grandson, Cato `the Younger' (95-46 B.C.) a bitter opponent of Julius Caesar and a renowned suicide.
*2. Traditionally Rome had seven kings: Romulus 753-715, Numa Pompilius 715-673, Tullus Hostilius 615-642, Ancus Martius 642-616, Lucius Tarquinius 616-579, Servius Tullius 578-535, Tarquinius Superbus 535.510. The expulsion of the kings in 510 was followed by the establishment of the Roman Republic.
*3. Masinissa (c. 240-148 B.C.), king of Numidia and ally of Rome in the Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.) and the Third Punic War (149-146 B.C.).
*4. Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major (236-184 B.C), Grandfather of the speaker and victorious over Hannibal in the Second Punic War.
*5. Ennius (239-169), Roman epic poet and dramatist.
*6. Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (c. 165-133 B.C), revolutionary tribune, assassinated by conservative senators.
*7. Scipio was called on by the Senate and the people to restore order in the aftermath of the Assassination of Tiberius Gracchus. Many attributed his sudden death at the height of the crisis to foul play.
*8. Lucius Aemilius Paulus (c. 220-160 B.C.), successful general and father of Scipio.
The Somnium Scipionis is the final passage of Cicero's De Republica. Written in six books between 54-51 B.C.,the De Republica discusses the nature of the ideal commonwealth. The work is in the form of a dialogue,purporting to be a recollection of a discussion held in 129 B.C. among some of the leading Romans of the day. The main figure in this group - and the narrator of the Somnium - is Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus.
Scipio Aemilianus was the son of Aemilius Paulus, the victorious general in the Third Macedonian War, and the grandson by adoption of Scipio Africanus, the conqueror of Hannibal. He was the commanding general when Carthage was defeated and destroyed in the Third Punic War. He was also known for his philosophical and literary interests, and was on intimate terms with many of the leading writers of his time, including Polybius, Terence and Lucilius.
In the Somnium, Scipio tells of a dream he had in which he was transported to the heavens and there met his late grandfather Africanus. Africanus explains to his grandson the physical structure of the universe and man's small place in it, and reveals to him the nature of the human soul and its fate after death.