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This webpage reproduces part of the
De Officiis


published in the Loeb Classical Library,

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(Vol. XXI) Cicero
De Officiis

Book I

p95 [26] 92 To revert to the original question1 — we must decide that the most important activities, those most indicative of a great spirit, are performed by the men who direct the affairs of nations; for such public activities have the widest scope and touch the lives of the most people. But even in the life of retirement there are and there have been many high-souled men who have been engaged in important inquiries or embarked on most important enterprises and yet kept themselves within the limits of their own affairs; or, taking a middle course between philosophers on the one hand and statesmen on the other, they were content with managing their own property — not increasing it by any and every means nor debarring their kindred from the enjoyment of it, but rather, if ever there were need, sharing it with their friends and with the state. Only let it, in the first place, be honestly acquired, by the use of no dishonest or fraudulent means; let it, in the second place, increase by wisdom, industry, and thrift; and, finally, let it be made available for the use of as many as possible (if only they are worthy) and be at the service of generosity and beneficence rather than of sensuality and excess.

By observing these rules, one may live in magnificence, dignity, and independence, and yet in honour, truth and charity toward all.

27 93 We have next to discuss the one remaining division of moral rectitude. That is the one p97in which we find considerateness and self-control, which give, as it were, a sort of polish to life; it embraces also temperance, complete subjection of all the passions, and moderation in all things. Under this head is further included what, in Latin, may be called decorum2a (propriety); for in Greek it is called πρέπον.2b Such is its essential nature, that it is inseparable from moral goodness; for what is proper is morally right, and what is morally right is proper. 94 The nature of the difference between morality and propriety can be more easily felt than expressed. For whatever propriety may be, it is manifested only when there is pre-existing moral rectitude. And so, not only in this division of moral rectitude which we have now to discuss but also in the three preceding divisions, it is clearly brought out what propriety is. For to employ reason and speech rationally, to do with careful consideration whatever one does, and in everything to discern the truth and to uphold it — that is proper. To be mistaken, on the other hand, to miss the truth, to fall into error, to be led astray — that is as improper as to be deranged and lose one's mind. And all things just are proper; all things unjust, like all things immoral, are improper.

The relation of propriety to fortitude is similar. What is done in a manly and courageous spirit seems becoming to a man and proper; what is done in a contrary fashion is at once immoral and improper.

95 This propriety, therefore, of which I am speaking belongs to each division of moral rectitude; and its relation to the cardinal virtues is so close, that it is perfectly self-evident and does not require any abstruse process of reasoning to see it. For p99there is a certain element of propriety perceptible in every act of moral rectitude; and this can be separated from virtue theoretically better than it can be practically. As comeliness and beauty of person are inseparable from the notion of health, so this propriety of which we are speaking, while in fact completely blended with virtue, is mentally and theoretically distinguishable from it.

96 The classification of propriety, moreover, is twofold: (1) we assume a general sort of propriety, which is found in moral goodness as a whole; then (2) there is another propriety, subordinate to this, which belongs to the several divisions of moral goodness. The former is usually defined somewhat as follows: "Propriety is that which harmonizes with man's superiority in those respects in which his nature differs from that of the rest of the animal creation." And they so define the special type of propriety which is subordinate to the general notion, that they represent it to be that propriety which harmonizes with Nature, in the sense that it manifestly embraces temperance and self-control, together with a certain deportment such as becomes a gentleman.

28 97 That this is the common acceptation of propriety we may infer from that propriety which poets aim to secure. Concerning that, I have occasion to say more in another connection. Now, we say that the poets observe propriety, when every word or action is in accord with each individual character. For example, if Aeacus or Minos said:

"Let them hate, if only they fear,"


"The father is himself his children's tomb,"

p101that would seem improper, because we are told that they were just men. But when Atreus speaks those lines, they call forth applause; for the sentiment is in keeping with the character. But it will rest with the poets to decide, according to the individual characters, what is proper for each; but to us Nature herself has assigned a character of surpassing excellence, far superior to that of all other living creatures, and in accordance with that we shall have to decide what propriety requires.

98 The poets will observe, therefore, amid a great variety of characters, what is suitable and proper for all — even for the bad. But to us Nature has assigned the rôles of steadfastness, temperance, self-control, and considerateness of others; Nature also teaches us not to be careless in our behaviour towards our fellow-men. Hence we may clearly see how wide is the application not only of that propriety which is essential to moral rectitude in general, but also of the special propriety which is displayed in each particular subdivision of virtue. For, as physical beauty with harmonious symmetry of the limbs engages the attention and delights the eye, for the very reason that all the parts combine in harmony and grace, so this propriety, which shines out in our conduct, engages the approbation of our fellow-men by the order, consistency, and self-control it imposes upon every word and deed.

99 We should, therefore, in our dealings with people show what I may almost call reverence toward all men — not only toward the men who are the best, but toward others as well. For indifference to public opinion implies not merely self-sufficiency, but even total lack of principle. There is, too, a difference between p103justice and considerateness in one's relations to one's fellow-men. It is the function of justice not to do wrong to one's fellow-men; of considerateness, not to wound their feelings; and in this the essence of propriety is best seen.

With the foregoing exposition, I think it is clear what the nature is of what we term propriety.

100 Further, as to the duty which has its source in propriety, the first road on which it conducts us leads to harmony with Nature and the faithful observance of her laws. If we follow Nature as our guide, we shall never go astray, but we shall be pursuing that which is in its nature clear-sighted and penetrating (Wisdom), that which is adapted to promote and strengthen society (Justice), and that which is strong and courageous (Fortitude). But the very essence of propriety is found in the division of virtue which is now under discussion (Temperance). For it is only when they agree with Nature's laws that we should give our approval to the movements not only of the body, but still more of the spirit.

101 Now we find that the essential activity of the spirit is twofold: one force is appetite (that is, ὁρμή, in Greek), which impels a man this way and that; the other is reason, which teaches and explains what should be done and what should be left undone. The result is that reason commands, appetite obeys.

29 Again, every action ought to be free from undue haste or carelessness; neither ought we to do anything for which we cannot assign a reasonable motive; for in these words we have practically a definition of duty.

102 The appetites, moreover, must be made to obey p105the reins of reason and neither allowed to run ahead of it nor from listlessness or indolence to lag behind; but people should enjoy calm of soul and be free from every sort of passion. As a result strength of character and self-control will shine forth in all their lustre. For when appetites overstep their bounds and, galloping away, so to speak, whether in desire or aversion, are not well held in hand by reason, they clearly overleap all bound and measure; for they throw obedience off and leave it behind and refuse to obey the reins of reason, to which they are subject by Nature's laws. And not only minds but bodies as well are disordered by such appetites. We need only to look at the faces of men in a rage or under the influence of some passion or fear or beside themselves with extravagant joy: in every instance their features, voices, motions, attitudes undergo a change.

103 From all this — to return to our sketch of duty — we see that all the appetites must be controlled and calmed and that we must take infinite pains not to do anything from mere impulse or at random, without due consideration and care. For Nature has not brought us into the world to act as if we were created for play or jest, but rather for earnestness and for some more serious and important pursuits. We may, of course, indulge in sport and jest, but in the same way as we enjoy sleep or other relaxations, and only when we have satisfied the claims of our earnest, serious tasks. Further than that, the manner of jesting itself ought not to be extravagant or immoderate, but refined and witty. For as we do not grant our children unlimited licence to play, but only such freedom as is not incompatible with p107good conduct, so even in our jesting let the light of a pure character shine forth. 104 There are, generally speaking, two sorts of jest: the one, coarse, rude, vicious, indecent; the other, refined, polite, clever, witty. With this latter sort not only our own Plautus and the Old Comedy of Athens, but also the books of Socratic philosophy abound; and we have many witty sayings of many men — like those collected by old Cato under the title of Bons Mots (or Apophthegms). So the distinction between the elegant and the vulgar jest is an easy matter: the one kind, if well timed (for instance, in hours of mental relaxation), is becoming to the most dignified person; the other is unfit for any gentleman, if the subject is indecent and the words obscene.

Then, too, certain bounds must be observed in our amusements and we must be careful not to carry things too far and, swept away by our passions, lapse into some shameful excess. Our Campus, however, and the amusements of the chase are examples of wholesome recreation.

30 105 But it is essential to every inquiry about duty that we keep before our eyes how far superior man is by nature to cattle and other beasts: they have no thought except for sensual pleasure and this they are impelled by every instinct to seek; but man's mind is nurtured by study and meditation; he is always either investigating or doing, and he is captivated by the pleasure of seeing and hearing. Nay, even if a man is more than ordinarily inclined to sensual pleasures, provided, of course, that he be not quite on a level with the beasts of the field (for some people are men only in names, not in fact) — if, I say, he is a little too susceptible p109to the attractions of pleasure, he hides the fact, however much he may be caught in its toils, and for very shame conceals his appetite.

106 From this we see that sensual pleasure is quite unworthy of the dignity of man and that we ought to despise it and cast it from us; but if someone should be found who sets some value upon sensual gratification, he must keep strictly within the limits of moderate indulgence. One's physical comforts and wants, therefore, should be ordered according to the demands of health and strength, not according to the calls of pleasure. And if we will only bear in mind the superiority and dignity of our nature, we shall realize how wrong it is to abandon ourselves to excess and to live in luxury and voluptuousness, and how right it is to live in thrift, self-denial, simplicity, and sobriety.

107 We must realize also that we are invested by Nature with two characters, as it were: one of these is universal, arising from the fact of our being all alike endowed with reason and with that superiority which lifts us above the brute. From this all morality and propriety are derived, and upon it depends the rational method of ascertaining our duty. The other character is the one that is assigned to individuals in particular. In the matter of physical endowment there are great differences: some, we see, excel in speed for the race, others in strength for wrestling; so in point of personal appearance, some have stateliness, others comeliness. 108 Diversities of character are greater still. Lucius Crassus and Lucius Philippus had a large fund of wit; Gaius Caesar, Lucius's son, had a still richer fund and employed it with more studied purpose. p111Contemporary with them, Marcus Scaurus and Marcus Drusus, the younger, were examples of unusual seriousness; Gaius Laelius, of unbounded jollity; while his intimate friend, Scipio, cherished more serious ideals and lived a more austere life. Among the Greeks, history tells us, Socrates was fascinating and witty, a genial conversationalist; he was what the Greeks call εἴρων in every conversation, pretending to need information and professing admiration for the wisdom of his companion. Pythagoras and Pericles, on the other hand, reached the heights of influence and power without any seasoning of mirthfulness. We read that Hannibal, among the Carthaginian generals, and Quintus Maximus, among our own, were shrewd and ready at concealing their plans, covering up their tracks, disguising their movements, laying stratagems, forestalling the enemy's designs. In these qualities the Greeks rank Themistocles and Jason of Pherae above all others. Especially crafty and shrewd was the device of Solon, who, to make his own life safer and at the same time to do a considerably larger service for his country, feigned insanity.

109 Then there are others, quite different from these, straightforward and open, who think that nothing should be done by underhand means or treachery. They are lovers of truth, haters of fraud. There are others still who will stoop to anything, truckle to anybody, if only they may gain their ends. Such, we saw, were Sulla and Marcus Crassus. The most crafty and most persevering man of this type was Lysander of Sparta, we are told; of the opposite type was Callicratidas, who succeeded Lysander as admiral of the fleet. So we find that another, no matter how p113eminent he may be, will condescend in social intercourse to make himself appear but a very ordinary person. Such graciousness of manner we have seen in the case of Catulus — both father and son — and also of Quintus Mucius Mancia. I have heard from my elders that Publius Scipio Nasica was another master of this art; but his father, on the other hand — the man who punished Tiberius Gracchus for his nefarious undertakings — had no such gracious manner in social intercourse [. . .], and because of that very fact he rose to greatness and fame.

Countless other dissimilarities exist in natures and characters, and they are not in the least to be criticized.

31 110 Everybody, however, must resolutely hold fast to his own peculiar gifts, in so far as they are peculiar only and not vicious, in order that propriety, which is the object of our inquiry, may the more easily be secured. For we must so act as not to oppose the universal laws of human nature, but, while safeguarding those, to follow the bent of our own particular nature; and even if other careers should be better and nobler, we may still regulate our own pursuits by the standard of our own nature. For it is of no avail to fight against one's nature or to aim at what is impossible of attainment. From this fact the nature of that propriety defined above comes into still clearer light, inasmuch as nothing is proper that "goes against the grain," as the saying is — that is, if it is in direct opposition to one's natural genius.

111 If there is any such thing as propriety at all, it can be nothing more than uniform consistency p115in the course of our life as a whole and all its individual actions. And this uniform consistency one could not maintain by copying the personal traits of others and eliminating one's own. For as we ought to employ our mother-tongue, lest, like certain people who are continually dragging in Greek words, we draw well-deserved ridicule upon ourselves, so we ought not to introduce anything foreign into our actions or our life in general. 112 Indeed, such diversity of character carries with it so great significance that suicide may be for one man a duty, for another [under the same circumstances] a crime. Did Marcus Cato find himself in one predicament, and were the others, who surrendered to Caesar in Africa, in another? And yet, perhaps, they would have been condemned, if they had taken their lives; for their mode of life had been less austere and their characters more pliable. But Cato had been endowed by nature with an austerity beyond belief, and he himself had strengthened it by unswerving consistency and had remained ever true to his purpose and fixed resolve; and it was for him to die rather than to look upon the face of a tyrant.

113 How much Ulysses endured on those long wanderings, when he submitted to the service even of women (if Circe and Calypso may be called women) and strove in every word to be courteous and complaisant to all! And, arrived at home, he brooked even the insults of his men-servants and maidservants, in order to attain in the end the object of his desire. But Ajax, with the temper he is represented as having, would have chosen to meet death a thousand times rather than suffer such indignities!

If we take this into consideration, we shall see p117that it is each man's duty to weigh well what are his own peculiar traits of character, to regulate these properly, and not to wish to try how another man's would suit him. For the more peculiarly his own a man's character is, the better it fits him.

114 Everyone, therefore, should make a proper estimate of his own natural ability and show himself a critical judge of his own merits and defects; in this respect we should not let actors display more practical wisdom than we have. They select, not the best plays, but the ones best suited to their talents. Those who rely most upon the quality of their voice take the Epigoni and the Medus; those who place more stress upon the action choose the Melanippa and the Clytaemnestra; Rupilius, whom I remember, always played in the Antiope, Aesopus rarely in the Ajax. Shall a player have regard to this in choosing his rôle upon the stage, and a wise man fail to do so in selecting his part in life?

We shall, therefore, work to the best advantage in that rôle to which we are best adapted. But if at some time stress of circumstances shall thrust us aside into some uncongenial part, we must devote to it all possible thought, practice, and pains, that we may be able to perform it, if not with propriety, at least with as little impropriety as possible; and we need not strive so hard to attain to points of excellence that have not been vouchsafed to us as to correct the faults we have.

32 115 To the two above-mentioned characters3 is added a third, which some chance or some circumstance imposes, and a fourth also, which we assume by our own deliberate choice. Regal powers and military commands, nobility of birth and political office, wealth and influence, and their opposites p119depend upon chance and are, therefore, controlled by circumstances. But what rôle we ourselves may choose to sustain is decided by our own free choice. And so some turn to philosophy, others to the civil law, and still others to oratory, while in case of the virtues themselves one man prefers to excel in one, another in another.

116 They, whose fathers or forefathers have achieved distinction in some particular field, often strive to attain eminence in the same department of service: for example, Quintus, the son of Publius Mucius, in the law; Africanus, the son of Paulus, in the army. And to that distinction which they have severally inherited from their fathers some have added lustre of their own; for example, that same Africanus, who crowned his inherited military glory with his own eloquence. Timotheus, Conon's son, did the same: he proved himself not inferior to his father in military renown and added to that distinction the glory of culture and intellectual power. It happens sometimes, too, that a man declines to follow in the footsteps of his fathers and pursues a vocation of his own. And in such callings those very frequently achieve signal success who, though sprung from humble parentage, have set their aims high.

117 All these questions, therefore, we ought to bear thoughtfully in mind, when we inquire into the nature of propriety; but above all we must decide who and what manner of men we wish to be and what calling in life we would follow; and this is the most difficult problem in the world. For it is in the years of early youth, when our judgement is most immature, that each of us decides that his calling in life shall be that to which he has taken a special liking. And thus he becomes engaged in some p121particular calling and career in life, before he is fit to decide intelligently what is best for him.

118 For we cannot all have the experience of Hercules, as we find it in the words of Prodicus in Xenophon; "When Hercules was just coming into youth's estate (the time which Nature has appointed unto every man for choosing the path of life on which he would enter), he went out into a desert place. And as he saw two paths, the path of Pleasure and the path of Virtue, he sat down and debated long and earnestly which one it were better for him to take." This might, perhaps, happen to a Hercules, "scion of the seed of Jove"; but it cannot well happen to us; for we copy each the model he fancies, and we are constrained to adopt their pursuits and vocations. But usually, we are so imbued with the teachings of our parents, that we fall irresistibly into their manners and customs. Others drift with the current of popular opinion and make especial choice of those callings which the majority find most attractive. Some, however, as the result either of some happy fortune or of natural ability, enter upon the right path of life, without parental guidance.

33 119 There is one class of people that is very rarely met with: it is composed of those who are endowed with marked natural ability, or exceptional advantages of education and culture, or both, and who also have time to consider carefully what career in life they prefer to follow; and in this deliberation the decision must turn wholly upon each individual's natural bent. For we try to find out from each one's native disposition, as was said above, just what is proper for him; and this we require not only in case of each individual act but also in ordering the whole course of one's life; and this last is a matter to p123which still greater care must be given, in order that we may be true to ourselves throughout all our lives and not falter in the discharge of any duty.

120 But since the most powerful influence in the choice of a career is exerted by Nature, and the next most powerful by Fortune, we must, of course, take account of them both in deciding upon our calling in life; but, of the two, Nature claims the more attention. For Nature is so much more stable and steadfast, that for Fortune to come into conflict with Nature seems like a combat between a mortal and a goddess. If, therefore, he has conformed his whole plan of life to the kind of nature that is his (that is, his better nature), let him go on with it consistently — for that is the essence of Propriety — unless, perchance, he should discover that he has made a mistake in choosing his life work. If this should happen (and it can easily happen), he must change his vocation and mode of life. If circumstances favour such change, it will be effected with greater ease and convenience. If not, it must be made gradually, step by step, just as, when friendships become no longer pleasing or desirable, it is more proper (so wise men think) to undo the bond little by little than to sever it at a stroke. 121 And when we have once changed our calling in life, we must take all possible care to make it clear that we have done so with good reason.

But whereas I said a moment ago that we have to follow in the steps of our fathers, let me make the following exceptions: first, we need not imitate their faults; second, we need not imitate certain other things, if our nature does not permit such imitation; for example, the son of the elder Africanus (that Scipio who adopted the younger Africanus, p125the son of Paulus) could not on account of ill-health be so much like his father as Africanus had been like his. If, then, a man is unable to conduct cases at the bar or to hold the people spell-bound with his eloquence or to conduct wars, still it will be his duty to practise these other virtues, which are within his reach — justice, good faith, generosity, temperance, self-control — that his deficiencies in other respects may be less conspicuous. The noblest heritage, however, that is handed down from fathers to children, and one more precious than any inherited wealth, is a reputation for virtue and worthy deeds; and to dishonour this must be branded as a sin and a shame.

34 122 Since, too, the duties that properly belong to different times of life are not the same, but some belong to the young, others to those more advanced in years, a word must be said on this distinction also. It is, then, the duty of a young man to show deference to his elders and to attach himself to the best and most approved of them, so as to receive the benefit of their counsel and influence. For the inexperience of youth requires the practical wisdom of age to strengthen and direct it. And this time of life is above all to be protected against sensuality and trained to toil and endurance of both mind and body, so as to be strong for active duty in military and civil service. And even when they wish to relax their minds and give themselves up to enjoyment they should beware of excesses and bear in mind the rules of modesty. And this will be easier, if the young are not unwilling to have their elders join them even in their pleasures.

123 The old, on the other hand, should, it seems, have their physical labours reduced; their mental activities p127should be actually increased. They should endeavour, too, by means of their counsel and practical wisdom to be of as much service as possible to their friends and to the young, and above all to the state. But there is nothing against which old age has to be more on its guard than against surrendering to feebleness and idleness, while luxury, a vice in any time of life, is in old age especially scandalous. But if excess in sensual indulgence is added to luxurious living, it is a twofold evil; for old age not only disgraces itself; it also serves to make the excesses of the young more shameless.

124 At this point it is not at all irrelevant to discuss the duties of magistrates, of private individuals, [of native citizens,] and of foreigners. It is, then, peculiarly the place of a magistrate to bear in mind that he represents the state and that it is his duty to uphold its honour and its dignity, to enforce the law, to dispense to all their constitutional rights, and to remember that all this has been committed to him as a sacred trust.

The private individual ought first, in private relations, to live on fair and equal terms with his fellow-citizens, with a spirit neither servile and grovelling nor yet domineering; and second, in matters pertaining to the state, to labour for her peace and honour; for such a man we are accustomed to esteem and call a good citizen.

125 As for the foreigner or the resident alien, it is his duty to attend strictly to his own concerns, not to pry into other people's business, and under no condition to meddle in the politics of a country not his own.

In this way I think we shall have a fairly clear view of our duties when the question arises what is proper and what is appropriate to each character, p129circumstance, and age. But there is nothing so essentially proper as to maintain consistency in the performance of every act and in the conception of every plan.

35 126 But the propriety to which I refer shows itself also in every deed, in every word, even in every movement and attitude of the body. And in outward, visible propriety there are three elements — beauty, tact, and taste; these conceptions are difficult to express in words, but it will be enough for my purpose if they are understood. In these three elements is included also our concern for the good opinion of those with whom and amongst whom we live. For these reasons I should like to say a few words about this kind of propriety also.

First of all, Nature seems to have had a wonderful plan in the construction of our bodies. Our face and our figure generally, in so far as it has a comely appearance, she has placed in sight; but the parts of the body that are given us only to serve the needs of Nature and that would present an unsightly and unpleasant appearance she has covered up and concealed from view. 127 Man's modesty has followed this careful contrivance of Nature's; all right-minded people keep out of sight what Nature has hidden and take pains to respond to Nature's demands as privately as possible; and in the case of those parts of the body which only serve Nature's needs, neither the parts nor the functions are called by their real names. To perform these functions — if only it be done in private — is nothing immoral; but to speak of them is indecent. And so neither public performance of those acts nor vulgar mention of them is free from indecency.

p131 128 But we should give no heed to the Cynics (or to some Stoics who are practically Cynics) who censure and ridicule us for holding that the mere mention of some actions that are not immoral is shameful, while other things that are immoral we call by their real names. Robbery, fraud, and adultery, for example, are immoral in deed, but it is not indecent to name them. To beget children in wedlock is in deed morally right; to speak of it is indecent. And they assail modesty with a great many other arguments to the same purport. But as for us, let us follow Nature and shun everything that is offensive to our eyes or our ears. So, in standing or walking, in sitting or reclining, in our expression, our eyes, or the movements of our hands, let us preserve what we have called "propriety."

129 In these matters we must avoid especially the two extremes — our conduct and speech should not be effeminate and over-nice, on the one hand, nor coarse and boorish, on the other. And we surely must not admit that, while this rule applies to actors and orators, it is not binding upon us. As for stage-people, their custom, because of its traditional discipline, carries modesty to such a point that an actor would never step out upon the stage without a breech-cloth on, for fear he might make an improper exhibition, if by some accident certain parts of his person should happen to become exposed. And in our own custom grown sons do not bathe with their fathers, nor sons-in‑law with their fathers-in‑law. We must, therefore, keep to the path of this sort of modesty, especially when Nature is our teacher and guide.

36 130 Again, there are two orders of beauty: in the one, loveliness predominates; in the other, p133dignity; of these, we ought to regard loveliness as the attribute of woman, and dignity as the attribute of man. Therefore, let all finery not suitable to a man's dignity be kept off his person, and let him guard against the like fault in gesture and action. The manners taught in the palaestra,4 for example, are often rather objectionable, and the gestures of actors on the stage are not always free from affectation; but simple, unaffected manners are commendable in both instances. Now dignity of mien is also to be enhanced by a good complexion; the complexion is the result of physical exercise. We must besides present an appearance of neatness — not too punctilious or exquisite, but just enough to avoid boorish and ill-bred slovenliness. We must follow the same principle in regard to dress. In this, as in most things, the best rule is the golden mean.

131 We must be careful, too, not to fall into a habit of listless sauntering in our gait, so as to look like carriers in festal processions, or of hurrying too fast, when time presses. If we do this, it puts us out of breath, our looks are changed, our features distorted; and all this is clear evidence of a lack of poise. But it is much more important that we succeed in keeping our mental operations in harmony with Nature's laws. And we shall not fall in this if we guard against violent excitement or depression, and if we keep our minds intent on the observance of propriety.

132 Our mental operations, moreover, are of two p135kinds: some have to do with thought, others with impulse. Thought is occupied chiefly with the discovery of truth; impulse prompts to action. We must be careful, therefore, to employ our thoughts on themes as elevating as possible and to keep our impulses under the control of reason.

37 The power of speech in the attainment of propriety is great, and its function is twofold: the first is oratory; the second, conversation. Oratory is the kind of discourse to be employed in pleadings in court and speeches in popular assemblies and in the senate; conversation should find its natural place in social gatherings, in informal discussions, and in intercourse with friends; it should also seek admission at dinners. There are rules for oratory laid down by rhetoricians; there are none for conversation; and yet I do not know why there should not be. But where there are students to learn, teachers are found; there are, however, none who make conversation a subject of study, whereas pupils throng about the rhetoricians everywhere. And yet the same rules that we have for words and sentences in rhetoric will apply also to conversation.

133 Now since we have the voice as the organ of speech, we should aim to secure two properties for it: that it be clear, and that it be musical. We must, of course, look to Nature for both gifts. But distinctness may be improved by practice; the musical qualities, by imitating those who speak with smooth and articulate enunciation.

There was nothing in the two Catuli to lead one to suppose that they had a refined literary taste; they were men of culture, it is true; and so were others; but the Catuli were looked upon as the perfect p137masters of the Latin tongue. Their pronunciation was charming; their words were neither mouthed nor mumbled: they avoided both indistinctness and affectation; their voices were free from strain, yet neither faint nor shrill. More copious was the speech of Lucius Crassus and not less brilliant, but the reputation of the two Catuli for eloquence was fully equal to his. But in wit and humour Caesar, the elder Catulus's half-brother, surpassed them all: even at the bar he would with his conversational style defeat other advocates with their elaborate orations.

If, therefore, we are aiming to secure propriety in every circumstance of life, we must master all these points.

134 Conversation, then, in which the Socratics are the best models, should have these qualities. It should be easy and not in the least dogmatic; it should have the spice of wit. And the one who engages in conversation should not debar others from participating in it, as if he were entering upon a private monopoly; but, as in other things, so in a general conversation he should think it not unfair for each to have his turn. He should observe, first and foremost, what the subject of conversation is. If it is grave, he should treat it with seriousness; if humorous, with wit. And above all, he should be on the watch that his conversation shall not betray some defect in his character. This is most likely to occur, when people in jest or in earnest take delight in making malicious and slanderous statements about the absent, on purpose to injure their reputations.

135 The subjects of conversation are usually affairs of the home or politics or the practice of the professions p139and learning. Accordingly, if the talk begins to drift off to other channels, pains should be taken to bring it back again to the matter in hand — but with due consideration to the company present; for we are not all interested in the same things at all times or in the same degree. We must observe, too, how far the conversation is agreeable and, as it had a reason for its beginning, so there should be a point at which to close it tactfully.

38 136 But as we have a most excellent rule for every phase of life, to avoid exhibitions of passion, that is, mental excitement that is excessive and uncontrolled by reason; so our conversation ought to be free from such emotions: let there be no exhibition of anger or inordinate desire, of indolence or indifference, or anything of the kind. We must also take the greatest care to show courtesy and consideration toward those with whom we converse.

It may sometimes happen that there is need of administering reproof. On such occasions we should, perhaps, use a more emphatic tone of voice and more forcible and severe terms and even assume an appearance of being angry. But we shall have recourse to this sort of reproof, as we do to cautery and amputation, rarely and reluctantly — never at all, unless it is unavoidable and no other remedy can be discovered. We may seem angry, but anger should be far from us; for in anger nothing right or judicious can be done. 137 In most cases, we may apply a mild reproof, so combined, however, with earnestness, that, while severity is shown, offensive language is avoided. Nay more; we must show clearly that even that very harshness which goes with our reproof is designed for the good of the person reproved.

p141 The right course, moreover, even in our differences with our bitterest enemies, is to maintain our dignity and to repress our anger, even though we are treated outrageously. For what is done under some degree of excitement cannot be done with perfect self-respect or the approval of those who witness it.

It is bad taste also to talk about oneself — especially if what one says is not true — and, amid the derision of one's hearers, to play "The Braggart Captain."5

39 138 But since I am investigating this subject in all its phases (at least, that is my purpose), I must discuss also what sort of house a man of rank and station should, in my opinion, have. Its prime object is serviceableness. To this the plan of the building should be adapted; and yet careful attention should be paid to its convenience and distinction.

We have heard that Gnaeus Octavius — the first of that family to be elected consul — distinguished himself by building upon the Palatine an attractive and imposing house. Everybody went to see it, and it was thought to have gained votes for the owner, a new man, in his canvass for the consulship. That house Scaurus demolished, and on its site he built an addition to his own house. Octavius, then, was the first of his family to bring the honour of a consulship to his house; Scaurus, thought the son of a very great and illustrious man, brought to the same house, when enlarged, not only defeat, but disgrace and ruin. 139 The truth is, a man's dignity may be enhanced by the house he lives in, but not wholly secured by it; the owner should bring honour to his p143house, not the house to its owner. And, as in everything else a man must have regard not for himself alone but for others also, so in the home of a distinguished man, in which numerous guests must be entertained and crowds of every sort of people received, care must be taken to have it spacious. But if it is not frequented by visitors, if it has an air of lonesomeness, a spacious palace often becomes a discredit to its owner. This is sure to be the case if at some other time, when it had a different owner, it used to be thronged. For it is unpleasant, when passers-by remark:

"O good old house, alas! how different

The owner who now owneth thee!"

And in these times that may be said of many a house!6

140 One must be careful, too, not to go beyond proper bounds in expense and display, especially if one is building for oneself. For much mischief is done in their way, if only in the example set. For many people imitate zealously the foibles of the great, particularly in this direction: for example, who copies the virtues of Lucius Lucullus, excellent man that he was? But how many there are who have copied the magnificence of his villas! Some limit should surely be set to this tendency and it should be reduced at least to a standard of moderation; and by that same standard of moderation the comforts and wants of life generally should be regulated. But enough on this part of my theme.

p145 141 In entering upon any course of action, then, we must hold fast to three principles: first, that impulse shall obey reason; for there is no better way than this to secure the observance of duties; second, that we estimate carefully the importance of the object that we wish to accomplish, so that neither more nor less care and attention may be expended upon it than the case requires; the third principle is that we be careful to observe moderation in all that is essential to the outward appearance and dignity of a gentleman. Moreover, the best rule for securing this is strictly to observe that propriety which we have discussed above, and not to overstep it. Yet of these three principles, the one of prime importance is to keep impulse subservient to reason.

40 142 Next, then, we must discuss orderliness of conduct and seasonableness of occasions. These two qualities are embraced in that science which the Greeks call εὐταξία — not that εὐταξία which we translate with moderation [modestia], derived from moderate; but this is the εὐταξία by which we understand orderly conduct. And so, if we may call it also moderation, it is defined by the Stoics as follows: "Moderation is the science of disposing aright everything that is done or said." So the essence of orderliness and of right-placing, it seems, will be the same; for orderliness they define also as "the arrangement of things in their suitable and appropriate places." By "place of action," moreover, they mean seasonableness of circumstance; and the seasonable circumstance for an action is called in Greek εὐκαιρία, in Latin occasio (occasion). So it comes about that in this sense moderation, which we p147explain as I have indicated, is the science of doing the right thing at the right time.

143 A similar definition can be given for prudence, of which I have spoken in an early chapter. But in this part we are considering temperance and self-control and related virtues. Accordingly, the properties which, as we found, are peculiar to prudence were discussed in their proper place, while those are to be discussed now which are peculiar to these virtues of which we have for some time been speaking and which relate to considerateness and to the approbation of our fellow-men.

144 Such orderliness of conduct is, therefore, to be observed, that everything in the conduct of our life shall balance and harmonize, as in a finished speech. For it is unbecoming and highly censurable, when upon a serious theme, to introduce such jests as are proper at a dinner, or any sort of loose talk. When Pericles was associated with the poet Sophocles as his colleague in command and they had met to confer about official business that concerned them both, a handsome boy chanced to pass and Sophocles said: "Look, Pericles; what a pretty boy!" How pertinent was Pericles's reply: "Hush, Sophocles, a general should keep not only his hands but his eyes under control." And yet, if Sophocles had made this same remark at a trial of athletes, he would have incurred no just reprimand. So great is the significance of both place and circumstance. For example, if anyone, while on a journey or on a walk, should rehearse to himself a case which he is preparing to conduct in court, or if he should under similar circumstances apply his closest thought to some other subject, he would not be open to censure: p149but if he should do that same thing at a dinner, he would be thought ill-bred, because he ignored the proprieties of the occasion.

145 But flagrant breaches of good breeding like singing in the streets or any other gross misconduct, are easily apparent and do not call especially for admonition and instruction. But we must even more carefully avoid those seemingly trivial faults which pass unnoticed by the many. However slightly out of tune a harp or flute may be, the fault is still detected by a connoisseur; so we must be on the watch lest haply something in our life be out of tune — nay, rather, far greater is the need for painstaking, inasmuch as harmony of actions is far better and far more important than harmony of sounds.

41 146 As, therefore, a musical ear detects even the slightest falsity of tone in a harp, so we, if we wish to be keen and careful observers of moral faults, shall often draw important conclusions from trifles. We observe others and from a glance of the eyes, from a contracting or relaxing of the brows, from an air of sadness, from an outburst of joy, from a laugh, from speech from silence, from a raising or lowering of the voice, and the like, we shall easily judge which of our actions is proper, and which is out of accord with duty and Nature. And, in the same manner, it is not a bad plan to judge of the nature of our every action by studying others, that so we may ourselves avoid anything that is unbecoming in them. For it happens somehow or other that we detect another's failings more readily than we do our own; and so in the school-room those pupils learn most easily to do better whose faults the masters mimic for the sake of correcting them.

p151 147 Nor is it out of place in making a choice between duties involving a doubt, to consult men of learning or practical wisdom and to ascertain what their views are on any particular question of duty. For the majority usually drift as the current of their own natural inclinations carries them; and in deriving counsel from one of these, we have to see not only what our adviser says, but also what he thinks, and what his reasons are for thinking as he does. For, as painters and sculptors and even poets, too, wish to have their works reviewed by the public, in order that, if any point is generally criticized, it may be improved; and as they try to discover both by themselves and with the help of others what is wrong in their work; so through consulting the judgment of others we find that there are many things to be done and left undone, to be altered and improved.

148 But no rules need to be given about what is done in accordance with the established customs and conventions of a community; for these are in themselves rules; and no one ought to make the mistake of supposing that, because Socrates or Aristippus did or said something contrary to the manners and established customs of their city, he has a right to do the same; it was only by reason of their great and superhuman virtues that those famous men acquired this special privilege. But the Cynics' whole system of philosophy must be rejected, for it is inimical to moral sensibility, and without moral sensibility nothing can be upright, nothing morally good.

149 It is, furthermore, our duty to honour and reverence those whose lives are conspicuous for conduct in keeping with their high moral standards, and who, as true patriots, have rendered or are now rendering p153efficient service to their country, just as much as if they were invested with some civil or military authority; it is our duty also to show proper respect to old age, to yield precedence to magistrates, to make a distinction between a fellow-citizen and a foreigner, and, in the case of the foreigner himself, to discriminate according to whether he has come in an official or a private capacity. In a word, not to go into details, it is our duty to respect, defend, and maintain the common bonds of union and fellowship subsisting between all the members of the human race.

42 150 Now in regard to trades and other means of livelihood, which ones are to be considered becoming to a gentleman and which ones are vulgar, we have been taught, in general, as follows. First, those means of livelihood are rejected as undesirable which incur people's ill-will, as those of tax-gatherers and usurers. Unbecoming to a gentleman, too, and vulgar are the means of livelihood of all hired workmen whom we pay for mere manual labour, not for artistic skill; for in their case the very wage they receive is a pledge of their slavery. Vulgar we must consider those also who buy from wholesale merchants to retail immediately; for they would get no profits without a great deal of downright lying; and verily, there is no action that is meaner than misrepresentation. And all mechanics are engaged in vulgar trades; for no workshop can have anything liberal about it. Least respectable of all are those trades which cater for sensual pleasures:

"Fishmongers, butchers, cooks, and poulterers,

And fishermen,"

p155 as Terence says. Add to these, if you please, the perfumers, dancers, and the whole corps de ballet.7

151 But the professions in which either a higher degree of intelligence is required or from which no small benefit to society is derived — medicine and architecture, for example, and teaching — these are proper for those whose social position they become. Trade, if it is on a small scale, is to be considered vulgar; but if wholesale and on a large scale, importing large quantities from all parts of the world and distributing to many without misrepresentation, it is not to be greatly disparaged. Nay, it even seems to deserve the highest respect, if those who are engaged in it, satiated, or rather, I should say, satisfied with the fortunes they have made, make their way from the port to a country estate, as they have often made it from the sea into port. But of all the occupations by which gain is secured, none is better than agriculture, none more profitable, none more delightful, none more becoming to a freeman. But since I have discussed this quite fully in my Cato Major, you will find there the material that applies to this point.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 § 70.

2a 2b Decorum, Cicero's attempt to translate πρέπον, means an appreciation of the fitness of things, propriety in inward feeling or outward appearance, in speech, behaviour, dress, etc. Decorum is as difficult to translate into English as πρέπον is to reproduce in Latin; as an adjective, it is here rendered by 'proper,' as a noun, by 'propriety.'

3 The universal and the individual; § 107.

4 The Greek palaestra, a public school of wrestling and athletics, adopted by the Romans became a place of exercise where the youth were trained in gestures and attitudes, a nursery of foppish manners.

5 Like Pyrgopolinices in the Miles Gloriosus of Plautus, or Thraso in the Eunuchus of Terence.

6 Members of Caesar's party were now occupying the houses that had been the homes of Pompey's friends. Antony, for example, lived in Pompey's house.

7 The ludus talarius was a kind of low variety show, with loose songs and dances and bad music.

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