Marcus Tullius Cicero

1.

{245} MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO was born at Arpinum, the native place of Marius [Note 1], in the year of Rome 648 (A.C. 106), the same year which gave birth to the Great Pompey. His family was ancient and of Equestrian rank, but had never taken part in the public affairs of Rome [Note 2], though both his father and grandfather were persons of consideration in the part of Italy to which they belonged [Note 3]. His father, being a man of cultivated mind himself, determined to give his two sons the advantage of a liberal education, and to fit them for the prospect of those public employments which a feeble constitution incapacitated himself from undertaking. Marcus, the elder of the two, soon displayed indications of a superior intellect, and we are told that his schoolfellows carried home such accounts of him, that their parents often visited the school for the sake of seeing a youth who gave such promise of future eminence [Note 4]. One of his earliest masters was the poet Archias, whom he defended afterwards in his Consular year; under his instructions he was able to compose a poem, though yet a boy, on the fable of Glaucus, which had formed the subject of one of the tragedies of Ęschylus. Soon after {246} he assumed the manly gown he was placed under the care of Scęvola, the celebrated lawyer, whom he introduces so beautifully into several of his philosophical dialogues; and in no long time he gained a thorough knowledge of the laws and political institutions of his country [Note 5].

This was about the time of the Social war; and, according to the Roman custom, which made it a necessary part of education to learn the military art by personal service, Cicero took the opportunity of serving a campaign under the Consul Pompeius Strabo, father of Pompey the Great. Returning to pursuits more congenial to his natural taste, he commenced the study of Philosophy under Philo the Academic, of whom we shall speak more particularly hereafter [Note 6]. But his chief attention was reserved for Oratory, to which he applied himself with the assistance of Molo, the first rhetorician of the day; while Diodotus the Stoic exercised him in the argumentative subtleties for which the disciples of Zeno were so generally celebrated. At the same time he declaimed daily in Greek and Latin with some young noblemen, who were competitors with him in the same race of political honours.

Of the two professions [Note 7], which, from the contentiousness of human nature, are involved in the very notion of society, while that of arms, by its splendour and importance, secures the almost undivided admiration of a rising and uncivilized people, legal practice, on the other hand, becomes the path to honours in later and more civilized ages, by reason of the oratorical accomplishments to which it usually gives scope. The date of Cicero's birth fell precisely during that intermediate state of things, in which {247} the glory of military exploits lost its pre-eminence by means of the very opulence and luxury which were their natural issue; and he was the first Roman who found his way to the highest dignities of the State with no other recommendation than his powers of eloquence and his merits as a civil magistrate [Note 8].

The first cause of importance he undertook was his defence of Sextus Roscius; in which he distinguished himself by his spirited opposition to Sylla, whose favourite Chrysogonus was prosecutor in the action. This obliging him, according to Plutarch, to leave Rome on prudential motives, he employed his time in travelling for two years under pretence of his health, which, he tells us [Note 9], was as yet unequal to the exertion of pleading. At Athens he met with T. Pomponius Atticus, whom he had formerly known at school, and there renewed with him a friendship which lasted through life, in spite of the change of interests and estrangements of affection so common in turbulent times [Note 10]. Here too he attended the lectures of Antiochus, who, under the name of Academic, taught the dogmatic doctrines of Plato and the Stoics. Though Cicero felt at first considerable dislike of his philosophical views [Note 11], he seems afterwards to have adopted the sentiments of the Old Academy, which they much resembled; and not till late in life to have relapsed into the sceptical tenets of his former instructor Philo [Note 12]. After visiting the principal philosophers and rhetoricians of Asia, in his thirtieth year he returned to Rome, so strengthened and improved both {248} in bodily and mental powers, that he soon eclipsed in his oratorical efforts all his competitors for public favour. So popular a talent speedily gained him the suffrage of the Commons; and, being sent to Sicily as Quęstor, at a time when the metropolis itself was visited with a scarcity of corn, he acquitted himself in that delicate situation with such address as to supply the clamorous wants of the people without oppressing the province from which the provisions were raised [Note 13]. Returning thence with greater honours than had ever been before decreed to a Roman Governor, he ingratiated himself still farther in the esteem of the Sicilians by undertaking his celebrated prosecution of Verres; who, though defended by the influence of the Metelli and the eloquence of Hortensius, was at length driven in despair into voluntary exile.

Five years after his Quęstorship, Cicero was elected Ędile, a post of considerable expense from the exhibition of games connected with it. In this magistracy he conducted himself with singular propriety [Note 14]; for, it being customary to court the people by a display of splendour in these official shows, he contrived to retain his popularity without submitting to the usual alternative of plundering the provinces or sacrificing his private fortune. The latter was at this time by no means ample; but, with the good sense and taste which mark his character, he preserved in his domestic arrangements the dignity of a literary and public man, without any of the ostentation of magnificence which often distinguished the candidate for popular applause [Note 15].

After the customary interval of two years, he was {249} returned at the head of the list as Prętor [Note 16]; and now made his first appearance in the rostrum in support of the Manilian law. About the same time he defended Cluentius. At the expiration of his Prętorship, he refused to accept a foreign province, the usual reward of that magistracy [Note 17]; but, having the Consulate full in view, and relying on his interest with Cęsar and Pompey, he allowed nothing to divert him from that career of glory for which he now believed himself to be destined.

2.

It may be doubted, indeed, whether any individual ever rose to power by more virtuous and truly honourable conduct; the integrity of his public life was only equalled by the correctness of his private morals; and it may at first sight excite our wonder that a course so splendidly begun should afterwards so little fulfil its early promise. Yet it was a failure from the period of his Consulate to his Pro-prętorship in Cilicia, and each year is found to diminish his influence in public affairs, till it expires altogether with the death of Pompey. This surprise, however, arises in no small degree from measuring Cicero's political importance by his present reputation, and confounding the authority he deservedly possesses as an author with the opinions entertained of him by his contemporaries as a statesman. From the consequence usually attached to passing events, a politician's celebrity is often at its zenith in his own generation; while the author, who is in the highest repute with posterity, may perhaps have been little valued or courted in his own day. Virtue indeed so conspicuous as that of Cicero, studies so dignified, and oratorical powers so commanding, will {250} always invest their possessor with a large portion of reputation and authority; and this is nowhere more apparent than in the enthusiastic welcome with which he was greeted on his return from exile. But unless other qualities be added, more peculiarly necessary for a statesman, they will hardly of themselves carry that political weight which some writers have attached to Cicero's public life, and which his own self-love led him to appropriate.

The advice of the Oracle [Note 18], which had directed him to make his own genius, not the opinion of the people, his guide to immortality (which in fact pointed at the above-mentioned distinction between the fame of a statesman and of an author), at first made a deep impression on his mind; and at the present day he owes his reputation principally to those pursuits which, as Plutarch tells us, exposed him to the ridicule and even to the contempt of his contemporaries as a "pedant and a professor." [Note 19] But his love of popularity overcame his philosophy, and he commenced a career which gained him one triumph and ten thousand mortifications.

It is not indeed to be doubted that in his political course he was more or less influenced by a sense of duty. To many it may even appear that a public life was best adapted for the display of his particular talents; that, at the termination of the Mithridatic war, Cicero was in fact marked out as the very man to adjust the pretensions of the rival parties in the Commonwealth, to withstand the encroachments of Pompey, and to baffle the arts of Cęsar. And if the power of swaying and controlling the popular assemblies by his eloquence; if the circumstances of his rank, Equestrian as far as family was concerned, yet almost Patrician from the splendour of his personal {251} honours; if the popularity derived from his accusation of Verres, and defence of Cornelius, and the favour of the Senate acquired by the brilliant services of his Consulate; if the general respect of all parties which his learning and virtue commanded; if these were sufficient qualifications for a mediator between contending factions, Cicero was indeed called upon by the voice of his country to that most arduous and honourable post. And in his Consulate he had seemed sensible of the call: "All through my Consulate," he declares in his speech against Piso, "I made a point of doing nothing without the advice of the Senate and the approval of the People. I ever defended the Senate in the Rostrum, in the Senate House the People, and united the populace with the leading men, the Equestrian order with the Senate."

Yet, after that eventful period, we see him resigning his high station to Cato, who, with half his abilities, little foresight, and no address [Note 20], possessed that first requisite for a statesman, firmness. Cicero, on the contrary, was irresolute, timid, and inconsistent [Note 21]. He talked indeed largely of preserving a middle course [Note 22], but he was continually vacillating from one to the other extreme; always too confident or too dejected; incorrigibly vain of success, yet meanly panegyrizing the government of an usurper. His foresight, sagacity, practical good sense, and singular tact, were lost for want of that strength of mind which points them steadily to one object. He was never decided, never (as has sometimes been observed) took an important step without afterwards repenting of it. Nor can we account for the firmness and resolution of {252} his Consulate, unless we discriminate between the case of resisting and exposing a faction, and that of balancing contending interests. Vigour in repression differs widely from steadiness in mediation; the latter requiring a coolness of judgment, which a direct attack upon a public foe is so far from implying, that it even inspires minds naturally timid with unusual ardour.

3.

His Consulate was succeeded by the return of Pompey from the East, and the establishment of the First Triumvirate; which, disappointing his hopes of political power, induced him to resume his forensic and literary occupations. From these he was recalled, after an interval of four years, by the threatening measures of Clodius, who at length succeeded in driving him into exile. This event, which, considering the circumstances connected with it, was one of the most glorious of his life, filled him with the utmost distress and despondency. He wandered about Greece bewailing his miserable fortune, refusing the consolations which his friends attempted to administer, and shunning the public honours with which the Greek cities were eager to load him [Note 23]. His return, which took place in the course of the following year, reinstated him in the high station he had filled at the termination of his Consulate, but the circumstances {253} of the times did not allow him to retain it. We refer to Roman history for an account of his vacillations between the several members of the Triumvirate; his defence of Vatinius to please Cęsar; and of his bitter political enemy Gabinius, to ingratiate himself with Pompey. His personal history in the meanwhile furnishes little worth noticing, except his election into the college of Augurs, a dignity which had been a particular object of his ambition. His appointment to the government of Cilicia, which took place about five years after his return from exile, was in consequence of Pompey's law, which obliged those Senators of Consular or Prętorian rank, who had never held any foreign command, to divide the vacant provinces among them. This office, which we have above seen him decline, he now accepted with feelings of extreme reluctance, dreading perhaps the military occupations which the movements of the Parthians in that quarter rendered necessary. Yet if we consider the state and splendour with which the Proconsuls were surrounded, and the opportunities afforded them for almost legalized plunder and extortion, we must confess that this insensibility to the common objects of human cupidity was the token of no ordinary mind. The singular disinterestedness and integrity of his administration, as well as his success against the enemy, also belong to the history of his times. The latter he exaggerated from the desire, so often instanced in eminent men, of appearing to excel in those things for which nature has not adapted them.

His return to Italy was followed by earnest endeavours to reconcile Pompey with Cęsar, and by very spirited behaviour when Cęsar required his presence in the Senate. On this occasion he felt the glow of self-approbation with which his political conduct seldom repaid {254} him: he writes to Atticus, "I believe I do not please Cęsar, but I am pleased with myself, which has not happened to me for a long while." [Note 24] However, this effort at independence was but transient. At no period of his public life did he display such miserable vacillation as at the opening of the civil war [Note 25]. We find him first accepting a commission from the Republic; then courting Cęsar; next, on Pompey's sailing for Greece, resolving to follow him thither; presently determining to stand neuter; then bent on retiring to the Pompeians in Sicily; and, when after all he had joined their camp in Greece, discovering such timidity and discontent as to draw from Pompey the bitter reproof, "I wish Cicero would go over to the enemy, that he may learn to fear us." [Note 26]

On his return to Italy, after the battle of Pharsalia, he had the mortification of learning that his brother and nephew were making their peace with Cęsar, by throwing on himself the blame of their opposition to the conqueror. And here we see one of those elevated points of character which redeem the weaknesses of his political conduct; for, hearing that Cęsar had retorted on Quintus Cicero the charge which the latter had brought against himself, he wrote a pressing letter in his favour, declaring his brother's safety was not less precious to him than his own, and representing him not as the leader, but as the companion of his voyage [Note 27].

Now too the state of his private affairs reduced him to much perplexity; a sum he had advanced to Pompey had impoverished him, and he was forced to {255} stand indebted to Atticus for present assistance [Note 28]. These difficulties led him to take a step which it has been customary to regard with great severity; the divorce of his wife Terentia, though he was then in his sixty-second year, and his marriage with his rich ward Publilia, who of course was of an age disproportionate to his own [Note 29]. Yet, in reviewing this proceeding, we must not adopt the modern standard of propriety, forgetful of a condition of society which reconciled actions even of moral turpitude with a reputation for honour and virtue. Terentia was a woman of a most imperious and violent temper, and (what is more to the purpose) had in no slight degree contributed to his present embarrassments by her extravagance in the management of his private affairs [Note 30]. By her he had two children, a son, born a year before his Consulate, and a daughter whose loss he was now fated to deplore. To Tullia he was tenderly attached, not only from the excellence of her disposition, but from her literary tastes; and her death tore from him, as he so pathetically laments to Sulpicius, the only comfort which the course of public events had left him [Note 31]. At first he was inconsolable; and, retiring to a little island near his estate at Antium, he buried himself in the woods, to avoid the sight of man [Note 32]. His distress was increased by the conduct of his new wife Publilia; whom he soon divorced for testifying joy at the death of her stepdaughter. On this occasion he wrote his Treatise on Consolation, with a view to alleviate his grief; and, with the same object, he determined on dedicating a temple to his daughter, as a memorial of her virtues and his affection. His friends were assiduous in their attentions; and Cęsar, who had treated him with extreme kindness {256} on his return from Egypt, signified the respect he bore his character by sending him a letter of condolence from Spain [Note 33], where the remains of the Pompeian party still engaged him. Cęsar, moreover, had shortly before given a still stronger proof of his favour, by replying to a work which Cicero had drawn up in praise of Cato [Note 34]; but no attentions, however considerate, could soften Cicero's vexation at seeing the country he had formerly saved by his exertions now subjected to the tyranny of one master. His speeches, indeed, for Marcellus and Ligarius, exhibit traces of inconsistency; but for the most part he retired from public business, and gave himself up to the composition of those works which, while they mitigated his political sorrows, have secured his literary celebrity.

4.

The murder of Cęsar, which took place in the following year, once more brought him on the stage of public affairs; but as our present paper is but supplemental to the history of the times, we leave to others to relate what more has to be told of him, his unworthy treatment of Brutus, his coalition with Octavius, his orations against Antonius, his proscription, and his violent death, at the age of sixty-four. Willingly would we pass over his public life altogether; for he was as little of a great statesman as of a great commander. His merits are of another kind and in a higher order of excellence. Antiquity may be challenged to produce a man more virtuous, more perfectly amiable than Cicero. None interest more in their life, none excite more painful emotions in their death. Others, it is true, may be found of loftier and more heroic character, who awe and subdue the mind by the grandeur of their views, or the intensity of their exertions. But {257} Cicero engages our affections by the integrity of his public conduct, the correctness of his private life, the generosity [Note 35], placability, and kindness of his heart, the playfulness of his wit, the warmth of his domestic attachments. In this respect his letters are invaluable. "Here," says Middleton, "we may see the genuine man without disguise or affectation, especially in his letters to Atticus; to whom he talked with the same frankness as to himself; opened the rise and progress of each thought; and never entered into any affair without his particular advice." [Note 36]

It must be confessed, indeed, that this private correspondence discloses the defects of his political conduct, and shows that they were partly of a moral character. Want of firmness has been repeatedly mentioned as his principal failing; and insincerity is the natural attendant on a timid and irresolute mind. On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that openness and candour are rare qualities in a statesman at all times, and while the duplicity of weakness is despised, the insincerity of a powerful but crafty mind, though incomparably more odious, is too commonly regarded with feelings of indulgence. Cicero was deficient, not in honesty, but in moral courage; his disposition, too, was conciliatory and forgiving; and much which has been referred to inconsistency should be attributed to the generous temper which induced him to remember the services rather than the neglect of Plancius, and to relieve the exiled and indigent Verres [Note 37]. Much too may be traced to his professional habits as a pleader; which led him to introduce {258} the licence of the Forum into deliberative discussions, and (however inexcusably) even into his correspondence with private friends.

Some writers, as Lyttelton, have considered it an aggravation of Cicero's inconsistencies, that he was so perfectly aware, as his writings show, of what was philosophically and morally upright and honest. It might be sufficient to reply, that there is a wide difference between calmly deciding on an abstract point, and acting on that decision in the hurry of real life; that Cicero in fact was apt to fancy (as all will fancy when assailed by interest or passion) that the circumstances of his case constituted it an exception to the broad principles of duty. Besides, he considered it to be actually the duty of a statesman to accommodate theoretical principle to the exigencies of existing circumstances. "Surely," he says in his defence of Plancius, "it is no mark of inconsistency in a statesman to determine his judgment and to steer his course by the state of the political weather. This is what I have been taught, what I have experienced, what I have read; this is what is recorded in history of the wisest and most eminent men, whether at home or abroad; namely, that the same man is not bound always to maintain the same opinions, but those, whatever they may be, which the state of the commonwealth, the direction of the times, and the interests of peace may demand." [Note 38] Moreover, he claimed for himself especially the part of mediator between political rivals; and he considered it to be a mediator's duty alternately to praise and blame both parties, even to exaggeration, if by such means it was possible either to flatter or frighten them into an adoption of temperate measures [Note 39]. "Cicero," says {259} Plutarch, "used to give them private advice, keeping up a correspondence with Cęsar, and urging many things upon Pompey himself, soothing and persuading each of them." [Note 40]

5.

But such criticism on Cicero as Lyttelton's proceeds on an entire misconception of the design and purpose with which the ancients prosecuted philosophical studies. The motives and principles of morals were not so seriously acknowledged as to lead to a practical application of them to the conduct of life. Even when they proposed them in the form of precept, they still regarded the perfectly virtuous man as the creature of their imagination rather than a model for imitation—a character whom it was a mental recreation rather than a duty to contemplate; and if an individual here or there, as Scipio or Cato, attempted to conform his life to his philosophical conceptions of virtue, he was sure to be ridiculed for singularity and affectation.

Even among the Athenians, by whom philosophy was, in many cases, cultivated to the exclusion of every active profession, intellectual amusement, not the discovery of Truth, was the principal object of their discussions. That we must thus account for the ensnaring questions and sophistical reasonings of which their disputations consisted, has been noticed by writers on Logic [Note 41]; and it was their extension of this system to the case of morals which brought upon their Sophists the irony of Socrates and the sterner rebuke of Aristotle. But if this took place in a state of society in which the love of speculation pervaded all ranks, much more was it {260} to be expected among the Romans, who, busied as they were in political enterprises, and deficient in philosophical acuteness, had neither time nor inclination for abstruse investigations; and who considered philosophy simply as one of the many fashions introduced from Greece, "a sort of table furniture," as Warburton well expresses it, a mere refinement in the arts of social enjoyment [Note 42]. This character it bore both among friends and enemies. Hence the popularity which attended the three Athenian philosophers who had come to Rome on an embassy from their native city; and hence the inflexible determination with which Cato procured their dismissal, through fear, as Plutarch tells us [Note 43], lest their arts of disputation should corrupt the Roman youth. And when at length, by the authority of Scipio [Note 44], the literary treasures of Sylla, and the patronage of Lucullus, philosophical studies had gradually received the countenance of the higher classes of their countrymen, still, in consistency with the principle above laid down, we find them determined in their adoption of this or that system, not so much by the harmony of its parts, or by the plausibility of its reasonings, as by its suitableness to the particular profession and political station to which they severally belonged. Thus, because the Stoics were more minute than other sects in inculcating the moral and social duties, we find the Roman jurisconsults professing themselves followers of Zeno [Note 45]; the orators, on the contrary, adopted the disputatious system of the later Academics [Note 46]; while Epicurus was the master of the idle and the wealthy. Hence, too, they confined {261} the profession of philosophical science to Greek teachers; considering them the sole proprietors, as it were, of a foreign and expensive luxury, which the vanquished might suitably have the duty of furnishing, and which the conquerors could well afford to purchase.

Before the works of Cicero, no attempts worth considering had been made for using the Latin tongue in philosophical subjects. The natural stubbornness of the language conspired with Roman haughtiness to prevent this application [Note 47]. The Epicureans, indeed, had made the experiment, but their writings were even affectedly harsh and slovenly [Note 48], and we find Cicero himself, in spite of his inexhaustible flow of rich and expressive diction, making continual apologies for his learned occupations, and extolling philosophy as the parent of everything great, virtuous, and amiable [Note 49].

Yet, with whatever discouragement his design was attended, he ultimately triumphed over the pride of an unlettered people, and the difficulties of a defective language. He was indeed possessed of that first requisite for eminence, an enthusiastic attachment to the studies he was recommending. But, occupied as he was with the duties of a statesman, mere love of literature would have availed little, if separated from that energy and breadth of intellect by which he was enabled to pursue a variety of objects at once, with equally persevering and indefatigable zeal. "He suffered no part of his leisure to be idle," says Middleton, "or the least interval of it to be lost; but what other people gave to the public shows, to {262} pleasures, to feasts, nay, even to sleep and the ordinary refreshments of nature, he generally gave to his books, and the enlargement of his knowledge. On days of business, when he had anything particular to compose, he had no other time for meditating but when he was taking a few turns in his walks, where he used to dictate his thoughts to his scribes who attended him. We find many of his letters dated before daylight, some from the senate, others from his meals, and the crowd of his morning levee." [Note 50] Thus he found time, without apparent inconvenience, for the business of the State, for the turmoil of the courts, and for philosophical studies. During his Consulate he delivered twelve orations in the Senate, Rostrum, or Forum. His Treatises de Oratore and de Republicā, the most finished perhaps of his compositions, were written at a time when, to use his own words, "not a day passed without his taking part in forensic disputes." [Note 51] And in the last year of his life he composed at least eight of his philosophical works, besides the fourteen orations against Antony, which are known by the name of Philippics.

Being thus ardent in the cause of philosophy, he recommended it to the notice of his countrymen, not only for the honour which its introduction would reflect upon himself (which of course was a motive with him), but also with the fondness of one who esteemed it "the guide of life, the parent of virtue, the guardian in difficulty, and the tranquillizer in misfortune." [Note 52] Nor were his mental endowments less adapted to the accomplishment of his object than the spirit with which he engaged in the work. Gifted with great versatility of talent, with acuteness, quickness of perception, skill in selection, art {263} in arrangement, fertility of illustration, warmth of fancy, and extraordinary taste, he at once seizes upon the most effective parts of his subject, places them in the most striking point of view, and arrays them in the liveliest and most inviting colours. His writings have the singular felicity of combining brilliancy of execution with never-failing good sense. It must be allowed that he is deficient in depth; that he skims over rather than dives into the subjects of which he treats; that he had too great command of the plausible to be a patient investigator or a sound reasoner. Yet if he has less originality of thought than others, if he does not grapple with his subject, if he is unequal to a regular and lengthened disquisition, if he is frequently inconsistent in his opinions, we must remember that mere soundness of view, without talent for display, has few recommendations for those who have not yet imbibed a taste even for the outward form of knowledge [Note 53], that system nearly precludes freedom, and depth almost implies obscurity. It was this very absence of scientific exactness which constituted in Roman eyes a principal charm of Cicero's compositions [Note 54].

Nor must his profession as a pleader be forgotten in enumerating the circumstances which concurred to give his writings their peculiar character. For, however his design of interesting his countrymen in Greek literature, however too his particular line of talent, may have led him to explain rather than to invent; yet he expressly informs us it was principally with a view to his own improvement in Oratory that he devoted himself to {264} philosophical studies [Note 55]. This induced him to undertake successively the cause of the Stoic, the Epicurean, or the Platonist, as an exercise for his powers of argumentation; while the wavering and unsettled state of mind, occasioned by such habits of disputation, led him in his personal judgment to prefer the sceptical tenets of the New Academy.

6.

Here then, before enumerating Cicero's philosophical writings, an opportunity is presented to us of redeeming the pledge we have given elsewhere in our Encyclopędia [Note 56], to consider the system of doctrine which the reformers (as they thought themselves) of the Academic school introduced about 300 years before the Christian era.

We shall not trace here the history of the Old Academy, or speak of the innovations on the system of Plato, silently introduced by the austere Polemo. When Zeno, however, who was his pupil, advocated the same rigid tenets in a more open and dogmatic form [Note 57], the Academy at length took the alarm, and a reaction ensued. Arcesilas, who had succeeded Polemo and Crates, determined on reverting to the principles of the elder schools [Note 58]; but mistaking the profession of ignorance, which Socrates had used against the Sophists on physical questions, for an actual scepticism on points connected with morals, he fell into the opposite extreme, and declared, first, {265} that nothing could be known, and therefore, secondly, nothing should be maintained [Note 59].

Whatever were his private sentiments (for some authors affirm his esoteric doctrines to have been dogmatic [Note 60]), he brought forward these sceptical tenets in so unguarded a form, that it required all his argumentative powers, which were confessedly great, to maintain them against the obvious objections which were pressed upon him from all quarters. On his death, therefore, as might have been anticipated, his school was deserted for those of Zeno and Epicurus; and during the lives of Lacydes, Evander, and Hegesinus, who successively filled the Academic chair, being no longer recommended by the novelty of its doctrines [Note 61], or the talents of its masters, it became of little consideration amid the wranglings of more popular philosophies. Carneades [Note 62], therefore, who succeeded Hegesinus, found it necessary to use more cautious and guarded language; and, by explaining what was paradoxical, by reservations and exceptions, in short, by all the arts which an acute and active genius could suggest, he contrived to establish its authority, without departing, as far as we have the means of judging, from the principle of universal scepticism which Arcesilas had so pertinaciously advocated [Note 63]. {266}

The New Academy [Note 64], then, taught with Plato, that all things in their own nature were fixed and determinate; but that, through the constitution of the human mind, it was impossible for us to see them in their simple and eternal forms, to separate appearance from reality, truth from falsehood [Note 65]. For the conception we form of any object is altogether derived from and depends on the sensation, the impression, it produces on our own minds ([pathos energeias, phantasia]). Reason does but deduce from premisses ultimately supplied by sensation. Our only communication, then, with actual existences being through the medium of our own impressions, we have no means of ascertaining the correspondence of the things themselves with the ideas we entertain of them; and therefore can in no case be certain of the truthfulness of our senses. Of their fallibility, however, we may easily assure ourselves; for in cases in which they are detected contradicting each other, all cannot be correct reporters of the object with which they profess to acquaint us. Food, which is the same as far as sight and touch are concerned, tastes differently to different individuals; fire, which in the same to the eye, communicates a sensation of pain at one time, of pleasure at another; the oar appears crooked in the water, while the touch assures us it is as straight as before it was immersed [Note 66]. Again, in dreams, in intoxication, in madness, impressions are made upon the mind, vivid enough to incite to reflection and action, yet utterly at variance with those produced {267} by the same objects when we are awake, or sober, or in possession of our reason [Note 67].

It appears, then, that we cannot prove that our senses are ever faithful to the things they profess to report about; but we do know they often produce erroneous impressions of them. Here then is room for endless doubt; for why may they not deceive us in cases in which we cannot detect the deception? It is certain they often act irregularly; is there any consistency at all in their operations, any law to which these varieties may be referred?

It is undeniable that an object often varies in the impression which it makes upon the mind, while, on the other hand, the same impression may arise from different objects. What limit is to be assigned to this disorder? is there any sensation strong enough to assure us of the presence of the object which it seems to intimate, any such as to preclude the possibility of deception? If, when we look into a mirror, our minds are impressed with the appearance of trees, fields, and houses, which are unreal, how can we ascertain beyond all doubt whether the scene we directly look upon has any more substantial existence than the former [Note 68]?

From these reasonings the Academics taught that nothing was certain, nothing was to be known ([katalepton]). For the Stoics themselves, their most determined opponents, defined the [kataleptike phantasia] (the phantasy or impression which involved knowledge [Note 69]) to be {268} one that was capable of being produced by no object except that to which it really belonged [Note 70].

Since then we cannot arrive at knowledge, we must suspend our decision, pronounce absolutely on nothing, nay, according to Arcesilas, never even form an opinion [Note 71]. In the conduct of life, however, probability [Note 72] must determine our choice of action; and this admits of different degrees. The lowest kind is that which suggests itself on the first view of the case ([phantasia pithane], or persuasive phantasy); but in all important matters we must correct the evidence of our senses by considerations derived from the nature of the medium, the distance of the object, the disposition of the organ, the time, the manner, and other attendant circumstances. When the impression has been thus minutely considered, the phantasy becomes [periodeumene] or approved on circumspection; and if during this examination no objection has arisen to weaken our belief, the highest degree of probability is attained, and the phantasy is pronounced unembarrassed with doubt, or [aperispastos] [Note 73].

Sextus Empiricus illustrates this as follows [Note 74]: If on entering a dark room we discern a coiled rope, our first {269} impression may be that it is a serpent—this is the persuasive phantasy. On a closer inspection, however, after walking round it ([periodeusantes]), or on circumspection, we observe it does not move, nor has it the proper colour, shape, or proportions; and now we conclude it is not a serpent; here we are determined in our belief by the [periodeumene phantasia], and we assent to the circumspective phantasy. For an instance of the third and most accurate kind, viz., that with which no contrary impression interferes, we may refer to the conduct of Admetus on the return of Alcestis from the infernal regions. He believes he sees his wife; everything confirms it; but he cannot simply acquiesce in that opinion, because his mind is embarrassed or distracted ([perispatai]) from the knowledge he has of her having died; he asks, "What! do I see my wife I just now buried?" (Alc. 1148.) Hercules resolves his difficulty, and his phantasy is in repose, or [aperispastos].

The suspension then of assent ([epoche]) which the Academics enjoined, was, at least from the time of Carneades [Note 75], almost a speculative doctrine [Note 76]; and herein lay the chief difference between them and the Pyrrhonists; that the latter altogether denied the existence of the probable, while the former admitted there was sufficient to allow of action, provided we pronounced absolutely on nothing.

Little more can be said concerning the opinions of a sect whose fundamental maxim was that nothing could be known, and nothing should be taught. It lay midway between the other philosophies; and in the altercations of the various schools it was at once attacked by all [Note 77], yet appealed to by each of the contending parties, if {270} not to countenance its own sentiments, at least to condemn those advocated by its opponents [Note 78], and thus to perform the office of an umpire [Note 79]. From this necessity, then, of being prepared on all sides for attack [Note 80], it became as much a school of rhetoric as of philosophy [Note 81], and was celebrated among the ancients for the eloquence of its masters [Note 82]. Hence also its reputation was continually varying: for, requiring the aid of great abilities to maintain its exalted and arduous post, it alternately rose and fell in estimation, according to the talents of the individual who happened to fill the chair [Note 83]. And hence the frequent alterations which took place in its philosophical tenets; which, depending rather on the arbitrary determinations of its present head, than on the tradition of settled maxims, were accommodated to the views of each successive master, according as he hoped by sophistry or concession to overcome the repugnance which the mind ever will feel to the doctrines of universal scepticism.

And in these continual changes it is pleasing to observe that the interests of virtue and good order were {271} uniformly promoted; interests to which the Academic doctrines were certainly hostile, if not necessarily fatal. Thus, although we find Carneades, in conformity to the plan adopted by Arcesilas [Note 84], opposing the dogmatic principles of the Stoics concerning moral duty [Note 85], and studiously concealing his private views even from his friends [Note 86]; yet, by allowing that the suspense of judgment was not always a duty, that the wise man might sometimes believe though he could not know [Note 87]; he in some measure restored the authority of those great instincts of our nature which his predecessor appears to have discarded. Clitomachus pursued his steps by innovations in the same direction [Note 88]; Philo, who followed next, attempting to reconcile his tenets with those of the Platonic school [Note 89], has been accounted the founder of a fourth academy—while, to his successor Antiochus, who embraced the doctrines of the Porch [Note 90], and maintained the fidelity of the senses, it has been usual to assign the establishment of a fifth.

Continue

Top | Contents | Volume Contents | Works | Home


Notes

1. De Legg. i. 1, ii. 1.
Return to text

2. Contra Rull. ii. 1.
Return to text

3. De Legg. ii. 1, iii. 16; de Orat. ii. 66.
Return to text

4. Plutarch, in Vitā.
Return to text

5. Middleton's Life, vol. i. p. 13. 4to; de Clar. Orat. 89.
Return to text

6. Ibid.
Return to text

7. Pro Muręna,11; de Orat. i. 9.
Return to text

8. In Catil. iii. 6; in Pis. 3; pro Sylla, 30; pro Dom. 37; de Harusp. resp. 23; ad Fam. xv. 4.
Return to text

9. De Clar. Orat. 91.
Return to text

10. Middleton's Life, vol. i. p. 42, 4to.
Return to text

11. Plutarch, in Vitā.
Return to text

12. Warburton. Div. Leg. lib. iii. sec. 3; and Vossius, de Nat. Logic. c. viii. sec. 22.
Return to text

13. Pro Planc. 26; in Ver. vi. 14.
Return to text

14. Pro Dom. 57, 58.
Return to text

15. De Offic. ii. 17; Middleton.
Return to text

16. In Pis. 1.
Return to text

17. Pro Muręnā, 20.
Return to text

18. Plutarch, in Vitā.
Return to text

19. [Graikos kai scholastikos]. Plutarch, in Vitā.
Return to text

20. Ad Atticum, i. 18, ii. 1.
Return to text

21. See Montesquieu, Grandeur des Romains, ch. xii.
Return to text

22. Ad Atticum, i. 19.
Return to text

23. Ad Atticum, lib. iii.; ad Fam. lib. xiv.; pro Sext. 22; pro Dom. 36; Plutarch, in Vitā. It is curious to observe how he converts the alleviating circumstances of his case into exaggerations of his misfortune: he writes to Atticus: "As to your many fierce objurgations of me, for my weakness of mind, I ask you, what aggravation is wanting to my calamity? Who else has ever fallen from so high a position, in so good a cause, with so large an intellect, influence, popularity, with all good men so powerfully supporting him, as I?"—iii. 10. Other persons would have reckoned the justice of their cause, and the countenance of good men, alleviations of their distress; and so, when others were concerned, he himself thought. Vid. pro Sext. 12.
Return to text

24. Ad Atticum, ix. 18.
Return to text

25. Ibid. vii. 11, ix. 6, x. 8 and 9, xi. 9, etc.
Return to text

26. Macrobius, Saturnalia, ii. 3.
Return to text

27. Ad Atticum, xi. 8, 9, 10 and 12.
Return to text

28. Ibid. xi. 13.
Return to text

29. Ad Fam. iv. 14; Middleton, vol. ii. p. 149.
Return to text

30. Ibid.
Return to text

31. Ad Fam. iv. 6.
Return to text

32. Ad Atticum, xii. 15, etc.
Return to text

33. Ad Atticum, xiii. 20.
Return to text

34. Ibid. xii. 40 and 41.
Return to text

35. His want of jealousy towards his rivals was remarkable; this was exemplified in his esteem for Hortensius, and still more so in his conduct towards Calvus. See Ad Fam. xv. 21.
Return to text

36. Vol. ii. p. 525, 4to.
Return to text

37. Pro Planc.; Middleton, vol. i. p. 108.
Return to text

38. C. 39.
Return to text

39. Ad Fam. vi. 6, vii. 3.
Return to text

40. Plutarch, in Vitā Cic. See also in Vitā Pomp.
Return to text

41. Vid. Dr. Whately in the Encyclopędia Metropolitana.
Return to text

42. Lactantius, Inst. iii. 16.
Return to text

43. Plutarch, in Vitā Caton. See also de Invent. i. 36.
Return to text

44. Paterculus, i. 12, etc. Plutarch. in Vitt. Lucull. et Syll.
Return to text

45. Gravin. Origin. Juris Civil. Lib. i. c. 44.
Return to text

46. Quinct. xii. 2. Auct. Dialog. de Orator. 31.
Return to text

47. De Nat. Deor. i. 4; de Off. i. 1; de Fin.; init. Acad. Quęst. init. etc.
Return to text

48. Tusc. Quęst. i. 3; ii. 3; Acad. Quęst. i. 2; de Nat. Deor. i. 21; de Fin. i. 3, etc.; de Clar. Orat. 35.
Return to text

49. Lucullus, 2; de Fin. i. 1-3; Tusc. Quęst. ii. 1, 2; iii. 2; v. 2; de Legg. i. 22-24; de Off. ii. 2; de Orat. 41, etc.
Return to text

50. Middleton's Life, vol. ii. p. 254.
Return to text

51. Ad Quinct. fratr. iii. 3.
Return to text

52. Tusc. Quęst. v. 2.
Return to text

53. De Off. i. 5. init.
Return to text

54. Johnson's observations on Addison's writings may be well applied to those of Cicero, who would have been eminently successful in short miscellaneous essays, like those of the Spectator, had the manners of the age allowed it.
Return to text

55. Orat. iii. 4; Tusc. Quęst. ii. 3; de Off. i. 1. Paradox. pręfat. Quinct. Instit. xii. 2.
Return to text

56. Article, Plato, in the Encyclopędia Metropolitana.
Return to text

57. Acad. Quęst. i. 10, etc.; Lucullus, 5; de Legg. i. 20; iii. 3, etc.
Return to text

58. Acad. Quęst. i. 4, 12, 13; Lucullus, 5 and 23; de Nat. Deor. i. 5; de Fin. ii. 1; de Orat. iii. 18. Augustin. contra Acad. ii. 6. Plutarch in Colot. 26.
Return to text

59. "Arcesilas negabat esse quidquam, quod sciri posset, ne illud quidem ipsum quod Socrates sibi reliquisset. Sic omnia latere censebat in occulto, neque esse quicquam quod cerni, quod intelligi, posset; quibus de causis nihil oportere neque profiteri neque affirmare quenquam, neque assentione approbare, etc."—Acad. Quęst. i. 12. See also Lucullus, 9 and 18. They were countenanced in these conclusions by Plato's doctrine of ideas.—Lucullus, 46.
Return to text

60. Sext. Empir. Pyrrh. Hypot. i. 33. Diogenes Laertius, lib. iv. in Arcesil. Vid. Lactant. Instit. iii. 6.
Return to text

61. Lucullus, 6.
Return to text

62. Augustin. contr. Acad. iii. 17.
Return to text

63. Lucullus, 18, 24. Augustin. contr. Acad. iii. 39.
Return to text

64. See Sext. Empir. adv. Log. i. 166., etc., p. 405.
Return to text

65. Acad. Quęst. i. 13; Lucullus, 23, 38; de Nat. Deor. i. 5; Orat. 71.
Return to text

66. "Tu autem te negas infracto remo neque columbę collo commoveri. Primum cur? nam et in remo sentio non esse id quod videatur, et in columbā plures videri colores, nec esse plus uno, etc."—Lucullus, 25.
Return to text

67. Lucullus, 16-18; 26-28.
Return to text

68. "Vehementer errare eos qui dicant ab Academiā sensus eripi; ą quibus nunquam dictum sit aut colorem aut saporem aut sonum nullum esse, [sed] illud sit disputatum, non inesse in his propriam, quę nusquam alibi esset, veri et certi notam."—Lucullus, 32. See also 13, 24, 31; de Nat. Deor. i. 5.
Return to text

69. [Hoi goun Stoikoi katalepsin einai phasi kataleptikei phantasiai sunkatatheso.] Sext. Empir. Pyrrh. Hypot. iii. 25. Vid. also Adv. Log. i. 152, p. 402.
Return to text

70. "Verum non posse comprehendi ex illā Stoici Zenonis definitione arripuisse videbantur, qui ait id verum percipi posse, quod ita esset animo impressum ex eo unde esset, ut esse non posset ex eo unde non esset. Quod brevius planiusque sic dicitur, his signis verum posse comprehendi, quę signa non potest habere quod falsum est."—Augustin, contra Acad. ii. 5. See also Sext. Empir. adv. Math. lib. vii. [peri metaboles], and Cf. Lucullus, 6 with 13.
Return to text

71. Lucullus, 13, 21, 40.
Return to text

72. [Tois phainomenois oun prosechontes kata ten biotiken teresin adoxastos bioumen, epei me dunametha anenergetoi pantapasin einai].—Sext. Empir. Pyrrh. Hypot. 1, 11.
Return to text

73. Cicero terms these three impressions, "visio probabilis; quę ex circumspectione aliquā et accuratā consideratione fiat; quę non impediatur."—Lucullus, 11.
Return to text

74. Pyrrh. Hypot. i. 33.
Return to text

75. Numen. apud Euseb. Pręp. Evang. xiv. 7.
Return to text

76. Lucullus, 31, 34; de Off. ii. 2; de Fin. v. 26; Quinct. xii. 1.
Return to text

77. Lucullus, 22, et alibi; Tusc. Quęst. ii. 2.
Return to text

78. See a striking passage from Cicero's Academics, preserved by Augustine, contra Acad. iii. 7, and Lucullus, 18.
Return to text

79. De Nat. Deor. passim; de Div. ii. 72. "Quorum controversiam solebat tanquam honorarius arbiter judicare Carneades."—Tusc. Quęst. v. 41.
Return to text

80. De Fin. ii. 1; de Orat. i. 18; Lucullus, 3; Tusc. Quęst. v. 11; Numen. apud Euseb. Pręp. Evang. xiv. 6, etc. Lactantius, Inst. iii. 4.
Return to text

81. De Nat. Deor. i. 67; de Fat. 2; Dialog. de Orat. 31, 32.
Return to text

82. Lucullus, 6, 18; de Orat. ii. 38, iii. 18. Quint. Inst. xii. 2. Numen. apud Euseb. Pręp. Evang. xiv. 6 and 8.
Return to text

83. "Hęc in philosophiā ratio contra omnia disserendi nullamque rem apertč judicandi, profecta ą Socrate, repetita ab Arcesilā, confirmata ą Carneade, usque ad nostram viguit ętatem; quam nunc propemodum orbam esse in ipsā Gręciā intelligo. Quod non Academię vitio, sed tarditate hominum arbitror contigisse. Nam si singulas disciplinas percipere magnum est, quanto majus omnes? quod facere iis necesse est, quibus propositum est, veri reperiendi causā, et contra omnes philosophos et pro omnibus dicere."—De Nat. Deor. i. 5.
Return to text

84. De Nat. Deor. i. 25. Augustin. contra Acad. iii. 17. Numen. apud Euseb. Pręp. Evang. xiv. 6.
Return to text

85. De Fin. ii. 13, v. 7; Lucullus, 42; Tusc. Quęst. v. 29.
Return to text

86. Lucullus, 45.
Return to text

87. Lucullus, 21, 24; for an elevated moral precept of his, see de Fin. ii. 18.
Return to text

88. [Aner en tais trisin hairesesi diatripsas, en te tei' Akademaikei kai Peripatetikei kai Stoikei.]—Diogenes Laertius, lib. iv. sub fin.
Return to text

89. "Quanquam Philo, magnus vir, negaret in libris duas Academias esse erroremque eorum qui ita putārunt coarguit."—Acad. Quęst. i. 4.
Return to text

90. De Fin. v. 5; Lucullus, 22, 43. Sext. Emp. Pyrrh. Hyp. i. 33.
Return to text

Top | Contents | Volume Contents | Works | Home


Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright © 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.