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 p. xi  Introduction to the
de Officiis

In the de Officiis we have, save for the latter Philippics, the great orator's last contribution to literature. The last, sad, troubled years of his busy life could not be given to his profession; and he turned his never-resting thoughts to the second love of his student days and made Greek philosophy a possibility for Roman readers. The senate had been abolished; the courts had been closed. His occupation was gone; but Cicero could not surrender himself to idleness. In those days of distraction (46‑43 B.C.) he produced for publication almost as much as in all his years of active life.

The liberators had been able to remove the tyrant, but they could not restore the republic. Cicero's own life was in danger from the fury of mad Antony and he left Rome about the end of March, 44 B.C. He dared not even stop permanently in any one of his various country estates, but, wretched, wandered from one of his villas to another nearly all the summer and autumn through. He would not suffer himself to become a prey to his overwhelming sorrow at the death of the republic and the final crushing of the hopes that had risen with Caesar's downfall, but worked at the highest tension on his philosophical studies.

The Romans were not philosophical. In 161 B.C. the senate passed a decree excluding all philosophers  p. xii and teachers of rhetoric from the city. They had no taste for philosophical speculation, in which the Greeks were the world's masters. They were intensely, narrowly practical. And Cicero was thoroughly Roman. As a student in a Greek university he had had to study philosophy. His mind was broad enough and his soul great enough to give him a joy in following after the mighty masters, Socrates, Plato, Zeno, Cleanthes, Aristotle, Theophrastus, and the rest. But he pursued his study of it, like a Roman, from a "practical" motive — to promote thereby his power as an orator and to augment his success and happiness in life. To him the goal of philosophy was not primarily to know but to do. Its end was to point out the course of conduct that would lead to success and happiness. The only side of philosophy, therefore, that could make much appeal to the Roman mind was ethics; pure science could have little meaning for the practical Roman; metaphysics might supplement ethics and religion, without which true happiness was felt to be impossible.

Philosophical study had its place, therefore, and the most important department of philosophy was ethics. The treatise on Moral Duties has the very practical purpose of giving a practical discussion of the basic principles of Moral Duty and practical rules for personal conduct.

As a philosopher, if we may so stretch the term as to include him, Cicero avows himself an adherent of the New Academy and a disciple of Carneades. He had tried Epicureanism under Phaedrus and Zeno, Stoicism under Diodotus and Posidonius; but Philo of Larissa converted him to the New Academy.

Scepticism declared the attainment of absolute  p. xiii knowledge impossible. But there is the easily obtainable golden mean of the probable; and that appealed to the practical Roman. It appealed especially to Cicero; and the same indecision that had been his bane in political life naturally led him first to scepticism, then to eclecticism, where his choice is dictated by his bias for the practical and his scepticism itself disappears from view. And while Antiochus, the eclectic Academician of Athens, and Posidonius, the eclectic Stoic of Rhodes, seem to have had the strongest influence upon him, he draws at his own discretion from the founts of Stoics, Peripatetics, and Academicians alike; he has only contempt for the Epicureans, Cynics, and Cyrenaics. But the more he studied and lived, the more of a Stoic in ethics he became.

The cap-sheaf of Cicero's ethical studies is the treatise on Moral Duties. It takes the form of a letter addressed to his son Marcus (see Index), at this time a youth of twenty-one, pursuing his university studies in the Peripatetic school of Cratippus in Athens, and sowing for what promised to be an abundant crop of wild oats. This institution gives force and definiteness to the practical tendencies of the father's ethical teachings. And yet, be it observed, that same father is not without censure for contributing to his son's extravagant and riotous living by giving him an allowance of nearly £870 a year.​a

Our Roman makes no pretensions to originality in philosophic thinking. He is a follower — an expositor — of the Greeks. As the basis of his discussion of the Moral Duties he takes the Stoic Panaetius of Rhodes (see Index), Περὶ Καθήκοντος, drawing also  p. xiv from many other sources, but following him more or less closely in Books I and II; Book III is more independent and much inferior. He is usually superficial and not always clear. He translates and paraphrases Greek philosophy, weaving in illustrations from Roman history and suggestions of Roman mould in a form intended to make it, if not popular, at least comprehensible, to the Roman mind. How well he succeeded is evidenced by the comparative receptivity of Roman soil prepared by Stoic doctrine for the teachings of Christianity. Indeed, Anthony Trollope labels our author the "Pagan Christian." "You would fancy sometimes," says Petrarch, "it is not a Pagan philosopher but a Christian apostle who is speaking." No less an authority than Frederick the Great has called our book "the best work on morals that has been or can be written." Cicero himself looked upon it as his masterpiece.

It has its strength and its weakness — its sane common sense and noble patriotism, its self-conceit and partisan politics; it has the master's brilliant style, but it is full of repetitions and rhetorical flourishes, and it fails often in logical order and power; it rings true in its moral tone, but it shows in what haste and distraction it was composed; for it was not written as a contribution to close scientific thinking; it was written as a means of occupation and diversion.

 p. xv  Bibliography

The following works are quoted in the critical notes: —


Acodex Ambrosianus. Milan. 10th century.

Bcodex Bambergensis. Hamburg. 10th century.

Hcodex Herbipolitanus. Würzburg. 10th century.

Lcodex Harleianus. London. 9th century.

a bcodices Bernenses. Bern. 10th century.

ccodex Bernensis. Bern. 13th century.

pcodex Palatinus. Rome. 12th century.

Editio Princeps: The first edition of the de Officiis was from the press of Sweynheim and Pannartz at the Monastery of Subiaco; possibly the edition published by Fust and Schöffer at Mainz is a little older. Both appeared in 1465. The latter was the first to print the Greek words in Greek type. The de Officiis is, therefore, the first classical book to be issued from a printing press, with the possible exception of Lactantius and Cicero's de Oratore which bear the more exact date of October 30, 1465, and were likewise issued from the Monastery press at Subiaco.

Baiter & Kayser: M. Tullii Ciceronis opera quae supersunt omnia. Lipsiae, 1860‑69.

 p. xvi  Beier: M. Tullii Ciceronis de Officiis libri tres . . . cum commentariis editi a Carolo Beiero. Lipsiae, 1820.

Erasmus; Melanchthon: M. Tullii Ciceronis Officia, diligenter restituta. Ejusdem de Amicitia et Senectute dialogi . . .: cum annotationibus Erasmi et P. Melanchthonis. Parisiis, 1533.

Ed.: M. Tullii Ciceronis Scripta quae manserunt omnia recognovit C. F. W. Müller. Teubner: Lipsiae, 1879. This edition is the basis of the text of the present volume.

Ernesti: M. Tullii Ciceronis opera ex recensione novissima. J. A. Ernesti; cum eiusdem notis, et clave Ciceroniana. Editio prima Americana. Bostoniae, 1815‑16.

Facciolati: M. Tullii Ciceronis de Officiis libri tres, de Senectute, de Amicitia, de Somnio Scipionis, et Paradoxa. Accedit Q. fratris commentariolum petitionis. Ex recensione J. Facciolati. Venetiis, 1747.

Fleckeisen, Alf.: Kritische Miscellen. Dresden, 1864.

Gernhard: M. Tullii Ciceronis de Officiis libri tres. Rec. et scholiis Iac. Facciolati suisque animadversionibus instruxit Aug. G. Gernhard. Lipsiae, 1811.

Graevius: M. Tullii Ciceronis de Officiis libri tres; . . . de Senectute; . . . de Amicitia; Paradoxa; Somnium Scipionis; ex recensione J. G. Graevii. Amstelodami, 1689.

Gulielmus; Gruter: M. Tullii Ciceronis opera omnia quae extant . . . emendata studio . . . J. Gulielmi et J. Gruteri. Hamburgi, 1618‑19.

Heine, Otto: M. Tullii Ciceronis de Officiis ad  p. xvii Marcum Filium Libri tres. 6te Aufl. Berlin, 1885.

Heusinger: M. Tullii Ciceronis de Officiis libri tres . . . recensuit adjectisque J. M. Heusingeri et suis annotationibus . . . editurus erat J. F. Heusinger. (Edited by C. Heusinger.) Brunsvigae, 1783.

Holden: M. Tullii Ciceronis de Officiis libri tres, with Introduction, Analysis and Commentary by Herbert Ashton Holden. 7th Edition. Cambridge, 1891. To his full notes the translator is indebted for many a word and phrases.

Klotz: M. Tullii Ciceronis Scripta quae manserunt omnia. Recognovit Reinholdus Klotz. Lipsiae, 1850‑57, 1869‑74.

Lambinus: M. Tullii Ciceronis opera omnia quae extant, a D. Lambino . . . ex codicibus manuscriptis emendata et aucta . . . Lutetiae, 1566‑84.

Lange: M. Tullii Ciceronis de Officiis lib. III. Cato Major vel de Senectute . . . Laelius vel de Amicitia . . . Paradoxa Stoicorum sex, Somnium Scipionis . . . opera C. Langii recogniti . . . ejusdem in hosce . . . libros annotationes. Cum annotationibus P. Manutii, etc. Antverpiae, 1568.

Lund: De emendandis Ciceronis libris de Officiis observationes criticae. Scripsit G. F. G. Lund. Kopenhagen, 1848.

Manutius: M. Tullii Ciceronis Officiorum libri tres: Cato Maior, vel de Senectute: Laelius, vel de Amicitia: Paradoxa Stoicorum sex . . . additae sunt . . . variae lectiones. (Edited by P. Manuzio.) P. Manutius: Venetiis, 1541.

 p. xviii  Müller, C. F. W.: M. Tullii Ciceronis de Officiis libri III. Für den Schulgebrauch erklärt. Leipzig, 1882.

Muretus: M. Antonii Mureti Scholia in Cic. officia. Mureti opera ed. Ruhnken. Lugd. Bat., 1879.

Orelli; Baiter; Halm: M. Tullii Ciceronis opera quae supersunt omnia, ac deperditorum fragmenta . . . Edidit J. C. Orellius (M. Tullii Ciceronis Scholiastae. C. M. Victorinus, Rufinus, C. Julius Victor, Boethius, Favonius Eulogius, Asconius Pedianus, Scholia Bobiensia, Scholiasta Gronovianus, Ediderunt J. C. Orellius et J. G. Baiter, Turici, 1826‑38). Ed. 2. Opus morte Orellii interruptum contin. J. G. Baiterus et C. Halmius, 1845‑62.

Pearce: M Ciceronis de Officiis ad Marcum filium libri tres. Notis illustravit et . . . emendavit Z. Pearce. Londini, 1745.

Stuerenburg: M. Tullii Ciceronis de Officiis libri III. Recensuit R. Stuerenburg. Accedit Commentarius. Lipsiae, 1843.

Unger: M. Tullii Ciceronis de Officiis libri III. Erklärt v. G. F. Unger. Leipzig, 1852.

Victorius, P.: M. Tullii Ciceronis opera, omnium quae hactenus excusa sunt castigatissima, nunc primum in lucem edita. 4 tom. Venetiis, 1532‑34‑36.

Zumpt: M. Tullii Ciceronis de Officiis libri tres cum selectis J. M. et J. F. Heusingerorum suisque notis. Scholarum in usum iterum edidit Car. Tim. Zumptius. Brunsvigae, 1849.

 p. xix  Bibliographical Addendum (1990)

Thayer's Note: The Bibliographical addendum remains under copyright. It lists the editions of Atzert (Teubner) and Testard (Budé), a translation by Higginbotham, a study by H. A. K. Hunt, and surveys by A. E. Douglas and S. E. Smethurst.

Thayer's Note:

a Insofar as we can trust a currency conversion over 2000 years; the writer of this 1913 introduction, in 2010, would have made the figure to be around $75,000 a year; a rich college kid indeed.

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