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De Officiis – work of Cicero’s life

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

De Officiis is Cicero’s essay divided into three books, in which Cicero explains his concept of the best way of life; how should the true Romans behave; and emphasizes the need to respect moral obligations. In addition, Cicero criticized Caesar and his dictatorship.

The work of the great speaker was written in 44 BCE in four weeks. It was his last year and he was 62 years old. Cicero was still an active politician, trying to counteract the revolutionary changes that were taking place in the Roman republic. Despite his efforts, the Republican system failed to revive even after the murder of Caesar. Cicero was killed on demand of Antony in 43 BCE.

The essay was written as a letter to his son – Cicero the Younger – who studied philosophy in Athens. Judging by its form, however, it aimed to attract a larger audience. The essay was published after Cicero’s death. The De officiis work has been characterized as an attempt to define an ideal civic attitude.

It is possible to see in the work which philosophies had the greatest influence on Cicero: Platonic school, Aristotle lyceum or stoics, Panaetius, a Greek philosopher of Mediostia, who came from Rhodes. In his treatise, Cicero argues that the lack of political rights corrupts moral virtues and emphasizes that the natural law regulates not only people but also gods. The speaker also encourages his son to imitate nature and wisdom, as well as to politics and warns against pleasure and laziness. Cicero’s essay is based mainly on anecdotes, which are much more than in his other works. In addition, it seems that the work is written in a less formal style, which may prove that Cicero wrote them in a hurry. Michael Grant, a British historian, said that Cicero had to treat De Officiis as a treatise of his life and a masterpiece.

Sources
  • Cytowska Maria, Literatura rzymska. Okres archaiczny, Warszawa 1996

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