Category Archives: Philosophy

Cicero’s end: why did he just ‘let go’?

HOW EMOTIONS CAN DECIDE THE COURSE OF HISTORICAL EVENTS

The inglorious end of Cicero had always been a stain in the pages of Roman political history. He met his end out in the Italian countryside (near modern-day Gaeta), slaughtered by Roman sword.  Marc Antony saw the return of the proscription as an opportunity to eliminate his most powerful enemy. In the end, he had Cicero’s hands cut off and nailed on the rostra (the speakers’ platform) at the Forum. A symbolic but utterly barbaric act. Such was the end of the last honest defender of the Roman Republic and her democratic principles.

Marcus Tullius Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero
Marcus Antonius
Marcus Antonius

Escape or surrender?

The tragic events of that winter of 43 BC have been discussed quite thoroughly over the centuries. But there’s one detail that is overlooked:

-Oddly enough, most scholars ignore the fact that Cicero had the option to escape but in the end he didn’t. He could actually have saved himself by resisting arrest. Still, it was his decision to stay, even though he was in the act of fleeing! He offered himself to be put to death. -Why?

This appears to have been a spur-of-the-moment decision… Cicero knew that Antony was coming after him and he planned his escape beforehand. So it’s easy to understand that his aim was to continue his political struggle, defending the Republic.

Arch of Septimus Severus
Part of the Roman Forum. On the right of the Arch of Septimus Severus, is where the Rostra was located.

Sadness and grief

What made him change his mind and decided to give up after he was tracked? The most obvious answer is that he felt (for different reasons) so disappointed that he decided to give up. His bad psychological state can only be explained if we take into account an -otherwise neglected detail of Roman history of the period: the unexpected death of Cicero’s daughter, Tullia. Just a year earlier, in the winter of 47–46 B.C.E. he went through a painful divorce with his wife, Terentia. He re-married but his new wife was pathologically jealous of Tullia, a reality that saddened Cicero even more. The loss of his daughter in the following summer, was an event too tragic for him to cope with.

He was so grief-stricken that he couldn’t find comfort in anything. His two most favorite things in the world- books and friends- failed to provide him with any consolation. He tried very hard. His friends were worried. They tried to help as best as they could. Cicero threw himself into a sea of philosophy and books. Yet, nothing could ease the pain in his heart. His childhood friend, Titus Pomponius Atticus, tried to comfort him the best he could by inviting Cicero to his estate that included a huge library. All was in vain. Cicero declared, “my sorrow defeats all consolation”.

Cicero - Palace of Justice, Rome
Cicero – Palace of Justice, Rome

A moment’s decision?

The loss of his only daughter, his dear Tulliola as he liked to call her, made him care less and less about all the other things that he was passionate in the past. It’s easy to understand why he decided to finally give up. His whole perception of life had changed. For him, it made no sense to resist being arrested and to survive. ‘What’s the point?’ he must have asked himself when Antony’s executioner found him. His life had little purpose now, that’s why he ordered his servants not to resist and he let himself to be put to death.

His life had recently lost all meaning. How do we know? Cicero himself tells us in one simple phrase. He wrote to Atticus: “I have lost the one thing that bound me to life”.

Maybe this explains everything.

G. Kokkos

Plato was walking along the road…

…when a friend stopped him and said “My friend, I must tell you something bad I heard about one of your students.”

Plato said, “First answer me the three tests of knowledge. One, have you personally checked if this thing is true?” “No” the friend answered. “Then two,” said Plato, “Will this knowledge make me happier?” “No”. came the reply. “Then there is one final test to determine if I need this knowledge my friend.” said the master. ” Is it to my students’ advantage that I know it?” “Alas no.” came the reply.

“Then pass on your way my friend and do not tell me this thing.” said Plato and walked off smiling. This is why he was the greatest Philosopher of all, and also why he never found out that Aristotle was shagging his wife.

Epictetus

 

Epictetus (50-120AD)
Epictetus (50-120AD)

“Difficulties are things that show people who they really are!”
A slave born in Hierapolis that was to become a saint-like figure for the Greeks and the Romans. Poor, homeless he struggled with super-human energy and dedication to ease the pain of the sufferings of humanity through his teachings. One of his gratest fans was Marcus Aurelius himself!

Centuries later, the US Navy Admiral James Stockdale was able to retain his sanity during capture in a Viet Cong POW camp by relying on the philosophy of Epictetus…

Diogenes: Politically incorrect

John William Waterhouse: Diogenes [1905]
John William Waterhouse: Diogenes [1905]
An anecdote that involves the cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope (404-323 B.C.):

” When some strangers (visiting Athens) expressed a wish to see Demosthenes, he (Diogenes the cynic) stretched out his middle finger and said, “There goes the demagogue of Athens.”

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers. Book VI. Chapter 2. [34] 

So, there you go… The first recorded use of the middle finger!