It was a great and nail biting read, a thoroughly researched and splendidly written account of the life and times of Rome’s greatest politician. I was longing to read about this roman rhetorician since I came to know to about him from Charles Munger’s Almanac. An able & unscrupulous man, Cicero always abided by constitution and ethics in administrative business. Taught the world his public speaking skills and demonstrated how with speaking and administrative skills one can match the military backed power centers and machismo men. A real moniker & symbol lending credibility and reality to saying ‘Pen is mightier than sword’, in Cicero’s case it should perhaps be ‘Word is mightier than sword’. Eloquence, logic, persuasion and timing are main ingredients of a powerful speech and every such speech has turned the world for good or bad. Even in Cicero’s case, the same firepower talk lead to his ascension in senate and declension at the hands of Mark Antony. It reminds of Thiruvalluar’s couplet:
In flesh by fire inflamed, nature may thoroughly heal the sore;
In soul by tongue inflamed, the ulcer healeth never more.
The wound which has been burnt in by fire may heal, but a wound burnt in by the tongue will never heal.
Whatever they fail to guard, o’er lips men guard should keep;
If not, through fault of tongue, they bitter tears shall weep.
Whatever besides you leave unguarded, guard your tongue; otherwise errors of speech and the consequent misery will ensue.
My best chapter in the book was Philosophical Investigations where Cicero’s works for posterity were summarized and this reminds, it’s not eloquent speech but also a solid written treatise that leaves your legacy as talk dissolves in air but books remain for generations, even the former is fathomable when you penetrate mind and its faculties.
Cicero’s Works – notes from the book
Public speaking works Brutus and Orator - talks about minutiae of rhetorical theory
Supreme Good and Evil:
Epicureans say ‘It is good because its pleasant’. Stoics answer that ‘it is pleasant because it is good’. Cato (who killed himself as he can’t take the dictator Julius Caesar’s triumph of senate) is now given the task of representing the stoic view that virtue is what we naturally desire, which Cicero rebuts as not taking into sufficient account humanity’s lower faculties. Cicero argues that virtue will not necessarily produce happiness, if, as is admitted, pain is an evil. It ends on cautiously optimistic note: virtue outweighs everything and even if the good man is not supremely happy, he is on balance happy.
Conversations at Tusculum (his beloved villa at Tusculum):
- Grief is useless and should be out aside
- Right attitude and a philosophical cast of mind can alleviate misfortune and suffering
- Death is not evil but either change of place for soul or annihilation
- Physical suffering is of no real importance and can be bore with fortitude
- Mental suffering and distress, whether caused by mourning, envy, compassion, vexation or despondency, are acts of the will and can be eliminated by thoughtfulness, courage and self-control.
- The above applies to delight, lust and fear.
- The way forward is to distance oneself from the cares and desires of life
The Nature of Gods, Foretelling the future and Destiny:
Incensed by stoics commitment to the art, or pseudoscience , of divination, by which investigation into the future can make it possible to avoid unpleasant events, cicero thinks: Either future is subject to chance – in which case nobody, not even god, can affect it one way or the other — or it is predestined, in which case foreknowledge cannot avert it.
Atticus, his publisher friend bears due credits to bring his works promptly for endurance. It was a great story weaving with all great historical figures of Rome: From Caesar, Pompey, Brutus, Cassius, Octavian (Augustus Caser), Cleopatra and his family – wife Tullia and bother Quintus.
Cicero’s famous Latin triplets: Laudandum, ornandum, tollendum (roots –> laud, ornament, extoll) – meaning praises, honors, and the push. The last word had a double meaning to exalt and to get rid of. This was wittily quoted and jokingly said to Octavian by some.