Time to wrap up our analysis of Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations, a series of five essays expounding on general themes of Stoic philosophy written in 45 BCE (the year before the assassination of Julius Caesar), while he was in temporary retirement in his villa at Tusculum, outside Rome. We have looked so far at contempt of death, bearing pain, grief of mind, and other perturbations of mind. Dulcis in fundo (the sweetest for last) is a disputation on whether virtue is sufficient for a happy life.
Cicero begins, as usual, by addressing his friend Brutus (eventual co-conspirator against Caesar), telling him that on this last day they will talk about Brutus’ favorite subject matter, and “endeavor to facilitate the proof of it.”
We have examined three of the five famous Tusculan Disputations by Cicero: on contempt of death, on bearing pain, and on grief of mind. The third of these letters written to his friend Brutus in 45 BCE, while Cicero was in his villa in Tusculum, outside Rome, conversing with some students, has the rather generic title of “on other perturbations of the mind,” i.e., those perturbations that do not arise from thoughts of death, experience of pain, or grief. It turns out to be a very interesting essay nonetheless.
As usual, Cicero begins with a preamble that has relatively little to do with the main topic, and yet which provides fascinating glimpses in the practice of philosophy in Ancient Rome. For instance: “The study of philosophy is certainly of long standing with us; but yet I do not find that I can give you the names of any philosopher before the age of Lælius and Scipio, in whose younger days we find that Diogenes the Stoic, and Carneades the Academic, were sent as ambassadors by the Athenians to our senate.” (III)
Cicero, bust in the Capituline Museums, Rome (photo by the Author)
Cicero wrote five Disputations while in his villa at Tusculum in 45 BCE. He had retired from politics after the death of his daughter, and spent the time in conversation with his students, explaining Stoic philosophy, even though he considered himself an Academic Skeptic. We have looked at the first two Disputations, on contempt of death and on bearing pain. The third one is devoted to the topic of grief.
Last time we examined the first of Cicero’s five Tusculan Disputations, on contempt of death. The Disputations were written in the year 45 BCE when Cicero had retired from public affairs and held a five-day retreat in one of his country villas, intent on discussing philosophical matters with his students. Although Cicero was an Academic Skeptic, these five essays are considered to be an attempt to popularize Stoic philosophy. Let’s take a look at the second topic, on bearing pain.
We have recently looked at Cicero’s Paradoxa Stoicorum, his treatment of so-called Stoic paradoxes, that is, some of those notions in Stoic philosophy that — while not actually logical paradoxes — seem to fly in the face of commonsense. Cicero also wrote five essays aiming at popularizing Stoic philosophy in Rome (even though he was an academic skeptic, not a Stoic), entitled Tusculanae Disputationes, composed around 45 BCE in his villa in Tusculum, in the Alban Hills near Rome.