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On the Good Life

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Librarian Note: See Alternate Cover Edition HERE.

This volume brings together his tentative and undogmatic reflections on the good life, in which he discusses duty, friendship, the training of a statesman, and the importance of moral integrity in the search for happiness.

1. discussions at Tusculum (V)- 2. on duties (Ii) --
3. Laelius: On Friendship --
4. on the orator (I) --
5. the dream of Scipio--
Appendices: --
1. the philosophical works of Cicero --
2. the rhetorical works of Cicero --
3. principal Dates --
4. some books about Cicero.

384 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 47

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About the author

Marcus Tullius Cicero

4,149 books1,687 followers
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. Cicero is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.

Alternate profiles:

Note: All editions should have Marcus Tullius Cicero as primary author. Editions with another name on the cover should have that name added as secondary author.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 71 reviews
Profile Image for Cassandra Kay Silva.
704 reviews278 followers
June 2, 2011
One of the main issues that I think atheists have to contend with is the question "if there is no god, why be moral?" or to say that morality cannot exist without religion. This provides a lot of answers that are though old very sound to such an argument. He gives a lot of ideas why morality leads to happiness. Why people would choose virtue over vice and so forth, leaving religion out of the question. He offers stories of many in the town and those of popular favor (luckily I had just read Platos Gorgias before this one as I was able to get that reference). Whether or not you know these people he makes each case fairly well so that you can see the points that he is trying to convey. I think the major flaw with this work is his circular arguments, that don't seem to have any real outcomes (despite his seeming to be able to procure an outcome from them). This is both illogical and frustrating. Like I said the best part of this work is not his philosophical rants it is the stories that embody his messages that I think endure.
Profile Image for Stephen Heiner.
Author 1 book45 followers
June 12, 2017
Of course, Cicero never wrote a book called, "On the Good Life." Rather, this is a collection named such by a translator. The texts we consider in this little volume include:

Discussions at Tusculum
On Duties
Laelius: On Friendship
On the Orator
The Dream of Scipio

Each of these works has their highlights and while many of us remember Cicero as the major part of our third year Latin studies (rightfully so, his Latin is wonderful), he's also a great transmitter of Greek thought, not simply in repeating the best of what they said, but by also interpreting the sublimity of Greek thought through the lens of the ordered, propertied Roman world.

Some quotes worth pondering:

(quoting from the Menexenus) "The man who is entirely self-sufficient as regards all the necessary ingredients for leading a happy life, so that these do not in any way depend on other people's good or bad luck or danger at the uncertain mercy of someone else's fortune - he is the person who has found the right way to live. He has done so by making himself an exemplar of moderation, courage, and wisdom. Such a man, as his possessions wax and wane and his children are born and die, will obediently submit to the ancient maxim which directs him to avoid extremes either of joy or grief: for he will always limit his hopes to the things his own unaided efforts can achieve." (p. 72)

"When Lysimachus threatened to kill Theodorus, the philosopher replied, 'What a really superb achievement - to have acquired as much power as a poisonous beetle!'" (p. 114)

"...Socrates was perfectly right when he declared that there is a direct short-cut to winning a reputation: 'Make yourself the sort of man you want people to think you are.'" (p. 142)

"There are two ways of displaying these qualities, and helping those who are in need: either by personal services, or by money. The second way is the easier of the two, especially if you happen to be rich. But the first way is the finer and nobler, and more appropriate for a man of character and distinction. Both methods show the same generous desire to do a favor. But the former is merely a draft on one's financial capital, whereas the latter means drawing on one's own personal energies. Besides, drafts on capital tend to mean that the source of the generosity will in due course dry up. Generosity of this kind, in other words, is self-destructive: the more people you have given money to, the smaller the number you will be able to assist in the future. But if someone is kind and generous with actions involving his own personal abilities and efforts, the more individuals he assists the more helpers he can mobilize for further acts of assistance hereafter. Besides, he will have got into a habit of kindness, which will make him more prepared and better trained for performing similar services on a wider scale in the future." (p. 148)

(quoting Ennius) "'Good deeds, if badly placed, become bad deeds.'" (p. 154)

"Next, his questioner asked him what he thought of money-lending. But then he replied: 'You might as well ask me what I think about murder.'" (p. 171)

"When a man is overflowing with wealth and goods and all kinds of abundance, and has got hold of everything that money can buy - horses, slaves, splendid clothes, expensive plate - he will be very foolish if he fails to add friends to that list, since they are the finest equipment that life can offer. Besides, when it is material property that people are acquiring, they have no idea who is really going to benefit from these goods in the end; they cannot guess on whose behalf, ultimately, they have gone to all this bother. For possessions of this kind get passed on - they go to the next man whose turn it is to rise to the top. Friendship, on the other hand, remains a firm and durable asset. Indeed, even if a man does manage to keep his hands on fortune's transitory gifts, his life will still remain unhappy if it is empty and devoid of friends." (p. 205)

"The reason why bad men cannot be friends with good, and good men with bad, is because of the enormous gulf of character and tastes that yawns between them." (p. 214)
Profile Image for Jay Wright.
1,497 reviews3 followers
January 1, 2021
This is an interesting read in so many ways. First, how can one be happy? First he tries to define it, but basically he argues it comes down to being "good", doing your duty and wisdom. Then, he goes into duty which he considers all important. Chiefly he discusses duty to serve the State. He then discusses friendship and his views are interesting and frankly I agree with him. Then he discusses oratory which is really a discussion on how to effectively deliver a winning legal argument. As a lawyer, much of the discussion is accurate even today. Finally he discusses the afterlife. Clearly Cicero was an intelligent man. He creates discussions and basically reports what the learned people say. Interesting way of teaching. All in all, it is an enlightening book.
Profile Image for Claire.
1,474 reviews14 followers
April 1, 2020
The reason I could tell when I began this book so definitively is that I still have my purchase receipt. (Also on that sheet of paper is How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians which I finished considerably before this one for a reason you will find out for yourself when you pick these books up as well!)
Normally I don't know whenever it is I start these things.

ANYWAY behold! This is a work by M. Tully Cicero, one of the people about whom I made one of my favourite Halloween costumes! He is a good man. I studied him for a year in undergraduate school, enjoying fine delicacies late at night in Main Hall, about this time. It would have been yesterday, though.

I particularly was fond of his Discussions at Tusculum, but it's all worthwhile. You'll see.
Profile Image for Richard Munro.
73 reviews32 followers
July 5, 2016
I have probably read this book a dozen times. I have it in two editions. The introduction by Michael Grant (about 50 pages) is worth the price of this book. I have the original Penguin (which I have had for over 30 years) and I have a beautiful FOLIO edition. Curiously, the FOLIO edition lacks the appendices and index of the PENGUIN book (probably a cost saving measure). This is essentially an anthology of Cicero's philosophic and political essays. Michael Grant was a wonderful author and translator and his introductions and his original translations are masterful and clear. He was one of the greatest classicists of his time. I have read dozens of his books.
Profile Image for Danielle.
13 reviews5 followers
January 28, 2008
In a world where religiosity is often confused with 'goodness', it is always refreshing to read an ancient treatise on true 'goodness', and to realize that is aligns nicely with your own philosophy. Cicero states in a manner very difficult to refute that to attain those ideals that makes up the very best of humans automatically leads to happiness- courage, wisdom, and moral integrity.
Profile Image for Tina.
169 reviews8 followers
April 14, 2022
Generally a good read. Marketed like a "self-help rise&grind" book (and could easily be one) but the translation and excerpts chosen are really excellent.

Contains 4 excerpts from individual texts: The Tusculuans, On Duties, Laelius, On the Orator, and The Dream of Scipio. The surprise find was Laelius: On Friendship, which I think we could all learn from. Sharing some of my favorite quotes here:

"When there is real friendship, no element of falsity or pretence can possibly enter into the matter.
It cannot under any circumstances be derived from any calculation of potential profit. It comes from a feeling of affection, an inclination of the heart."

"When a man shows kindness and generosity, his motive in doing so is not just to exact repayment. We do not hire out our favours and charge interest for them: we behave kindly because that is the natural thing to do. The reason why we count friendship as a blessing is not because we are hoping for a material return. It is because the union is quite enough profit in itself."

"A wise man cannot possibly escape having any feelings of distress whatsoever - unless every trace of humanity has first been rooted out from his heart. Consequently, to remove friendship from our lives, just because it might bring us worries, would be the biggest possible mistake. For if we eliminate all human emotions, there is no difference left."

"When good and wise men enter into a friendship, they conduct it according to two rules. First, there must not be the slightest element of pretense or hypocrisy. Any decent person would rather hate openly than conceal his true thoughts behind an insincere expression. Secondly, a friend should be pleasant in conversation and manner, since these are things which add spice to any relationship. To be solemn and austere on all occasions may be impressive, but friendship ought to be something freer and more relaxed and more agreeable, paying greater attention to pleasant and amiable behaviour."

"People who enjoy being flattered are not really after virtue at all, but merely the outward semblance of virtue.A lot of people are less concerned to be virtuous than to look it."

"Friendship embraces everything worth pursuing by mankind - goodness, and fame, and peace of mind, and satisfaction: the things which make life happy when we have them, whereas without them there can be no question of happiness at all.... This happiness is the summit of our best ambitions. If we are to get it, we shall have to concentrate on raising our behaviour to the very highest standard that morality can achieve. If we fail to do this, we can achieve neither friendship nor, for that matter, any other worthwhile objective."

"If a man ascended in heaven and gazed upon the whole workings of the universe and the beauty of the stars, the marvellous sight would give him no joy if he had to keep it to himself. And yet, if only there had been someone to describe the spectacle to, it would have filled him with delight."

(My favorite part of all this is in the Translator's note where he disclaimed that the love Cicero talks of is not homosexual in nature but rather of statesmanship and love between fellow citizens. That's the Christian puritanism seeping in. I'm sure most Roman statesmen (in the Republic or the Empire) had no qualms about homosexuality. Or, really, makes distinctions between male platonic/sexual love)

(This makes for an interesting interpretation of writings on friendship and love in modern scholarship)
Profile Image for Vidar Alne.
20 reviews
January 17, 2021
Bokas tittel er "On the Good life" (Om det gode liv), men en bok med en slik tittel ble aldri skrevet av Cicero. Han skrev derimot en rekke tekster som tar for seg vennskap, dyder, dannelse, plikter etc. Oversetter Michael Grant har her samlet sammen en rekke forskjellige verk (eller utdrag fra verk), som han mener faller inn under det overordnede temaet det gode liv. Jeg synes han lykkes mer eller mindre med sin innsamling.

Antologier er gjerne en ujevn leseopplevelse. Det er også tilfellet med denne boka. Tekstene spriker fra filosofiske utlegninger om begreper som lykke og vennskap, til instruksjoner i talekunsten og metafysiske spekulasjoner om liv etter døden. Enkelte av tekstene er skrevet i dialogform, andre som brev/essay.

Vel, nok om bokas komposisjon. Hva så med innholdet? Cicero er en av de største tenkerne Romerriket frembrakte. Politikeren, taleren og filosofen fra senrepublikken har i over 2000 år inspirert og fascinert sine lesere. Det er knapt et samtidig emne han ikke befattet seg med. Enkelte av hans råd – særlig om talekunsten – kan med fordel følges den dag i dag. En taler bør gå frem på denne måten:

"First, he must think of what to say. Secondly, once this has been decided, he has to organize his material. Then he has to arrange it in the right order, and attach due weight to its various elements according to his estimation of their relative importance. His next task is to devise suitably embellished language to clothe the results of all this thinking. Subsequently, he must commit this form of words to memory. And then at last comes the time when he has to deliver the end product verbally. "

Et annet fascinerende aspekt ved boka er innblikket Cicero gir oss i sin samtid. For eksempel kunnskapen romerne hadde om indiske yogier:

"And in India, which I suppose is the wildest and most savage land of barbarians in the world. the men they call sages live naked every day of their lives, enduring all the snows and fierce winters of the Caucasus without showing the smallest sign of pain; and then at the last they hurl themselves voluntarily into the flames, and burn to death without uttering a sound. And Indian women, too. when the husband of one of them dies, compete with one another to decide which of their number he loved the best (because each man usually has more than one wife). Whereupon the woman who is proclaimed the winner, escorted by her relations, joyfully joins her husband on the funeral pyre, and the loser goes sadly away"

Det siste verket i boka har tittelen "Somnium Scipionis" (Scipios drøm) og inneholder et interessant innblikk i antikkens syn på nattehimmelen. I 146 f.v.t blir den store generalen Scipio Aemilianus oppsøkt av sin døde bestefar mens han sover utenfor byen Karthago. I drømmen tar bestefaren Scipio med seg til en plass høyt opp i stjernehimmelen. Derfra kan de både se ned på Karthago og samtidig skue utover universet. Det som følger er en beskrivelse av nattehimmelen: Verden består av ni sirkler. Helt ytterst ligger himmelriket hvor de som har tjent sitt land på en eksemplarisk måte tilbringer evigheten:

"That is the life which leads to heaven, and to the Company of those who, having completed their lives in the world, are now released from their bodies and dwell in that region you see over there, which the Greeks have taught you people on earth to call the Milky Way. And he pointed to a circle of light, blazing brilliantly among all the other fires."

Så følger planetene Saturn, Jupiter og Mars ("red and terrible to men upon Earth"). Midt mellom Jorda og Den himmelske sfære ligger så Sola.
"He is the prince, lord and ruler of all the other worlds". Sola blir betjent av Venus og Merkur.
"and the lowest sphere of all contains the Moon, which takes its light, as it evolves, from the rays of the sun. Above the Moon there is nothing which is not eternal, but beneath that level everything is moral and transient (except only for the souls in human beings, which are a gift to mankind from the gods). For the earth remains fixed and without motion; all things are drawn to it, because the natural force of gravity pulls them down."

Å lese Cicero kan være krevende – mannen er glad i det abstrakte – men like fullt givende. Det er et privilegium å kunne lytte til en så velartikulert person fra en annen tid. Man lærer både om både datiden og tiden man selv lever i når man er i «samtale» den lærde romeren.

On the Good life består av følgende verk:
1. Discussions at Tusculum (del fem)
2. On Duties (del 2)
3. Laelius: On Friendship
4. On the Orator (del 1)
5 The Dream of Scipio
Profile Image for Daniel.
45 reviews17 followers
December 29, 2017
On Friendship was incredible. On Duties was above average. Dream of Scipio was interesting. The Orator was unreadable.
Profile Image for Smiley .
774 reviews18 followers
August 17, 2015
I also longed to read Cicero's works since I have known that he was brilliant as a second-to-none orator and writer in the Roman world. Moreover, he was a true scholar dedicated to serve the Romans, not merely to serve his superiors for his materialist greed or political position/power.
We readers can learn a lot from his works written some 2,000 years ago as well as from his cool character and scholarly ways of looking at things or at any contemporary event then with unique wisdom and appropriate action.

Some of his quotes I like:
For since the best part of a man is his mind, that, surely, must be where the best, the supreme good you are looking for, is located. (p. 36)
Great deeds are not done by strength or speed or physique: they are the products of thought, and character, and judgement. (p. 167)
To be respected is the crowning glory of old age. (p. 184)
And then consider the activity which we call by the Greek name of philosophy. You will recall that the most learned opinion identifies this as the creator and mother of every other noble art. (p. 253)
I personally was always under the impression that, if virtue can be rationally taught at all, this has to be done by exposition and persuasion, and not by menaces and force and intimidation. (p. 329)
Profile Image for Erica.
193 reviews2 followers
April 1, 2020
I expected grand truths. What else from a writer whose works have survived so long, who's influenced so many philosophers and authors over centuries? Apparently not. I kept plowing through all the circular rubbish ("All good things are enjoyable. What is enjoyable deserves credit and pride; that is to say, it is glorious: and, if so, it must be praiseworthy. What is praiseworthy has to be morally good: therefore goodness means moral goodness" - ???) deciding that, "hey, if it's not making any sense, at least it gives me a window into the past". I finally had to give it up though - halfway through "Discussions at Tusculum". I do admire his humanistic outlook in the politically oppressive environment he was living in and maybe some things have been lost in translation, but is Western philosophy (setting aside the Greeks for a moment) seriously based on these nonsensical foundations?
Profile Image for Jeremiah.
51 reviews5 followers
July 10, 2022
Cicero's love for philosophy is infectious. I wish there was a modern english translation of all five parts of Discussions At Tusculum; this volume only includes a translation of the fifth part.
Profile Image for Oliver Bateman.
1,123 reviews59 followers
June 24, 2021
Michael Grant's a strong translator - a real translation machine, as it were, and a success in academia, to boot - and this selection of materials (complementing his prior works on Cicero's speeches and another volume of excerpts) delivers the goods. However, the way Penguin has mashed up Plutarch, Cicero, Seneca, et al. makes this stuff difficult to follow ("On Friendship," for example, appears in two editions, with two separate translators).

The Oxford editions offer more material but are a bit drier, and the innumerable Loeb volumes are clunkier yet more precise line-by-line translations (at least going off the Latin side-by-side materials).

There's no easy way to go through this sizeable body of work, but I do recommend this volume's translations of "On Duties (II)" and "On the Orator (I)" (the latter, in particular, is highly readable, extremely fast-paced, and thoroughly engaging - though this is largely because Cicero's works on rhetoric, being his area of genuine subject-matter expertise, outstrip his lively but somewhat rough-around-the-edges philosophical works (his speeches are probably the easiest way to master Latin declamation and translation, given how crisp that writing is - I'd recommend reading those in a side-by-side translation, although Michael Grant's translation is lively and relatively faithful to the original).
Profile Image for Andrew Post.
Author 1 book5 followers
March 23, 2021
Jeez, that was a real slog. I was hoping this translation of Cicero would be a bit more accessible. More to the point, though, I was hoping it would be a bit more...philosophical. Stoic, to be precise. I understood that Cicero was a close friend, or at least an associate, of Cato the Younger, a renowned Stoic and mortal enemy of Julius Caesar. Cicero, however, appears to have cherry-picked the best parts of Stoicism and other philosophical schools and combined them into a convenient sort of personal philosophy for himself, very little of which shines through in this collection of his surviving works at any rate. Though I'm glad to know where Cicero stood on, say, the subject of oratory and the necessary virtues and characteristics of a great orator, I do wish it hadn't taken me three months to absorb his writings on the subject.
January 30, 2022
(Partially Read. Completed sections: "On Duties," "On Friendship," and "The Dream of Scipio.")

It always feels strange giving an incredibly influential book that has survived thousands of years a lower rating since I don't feel qualified to judge it. This is one of those books that I personally didn't enjoy reading, largely because much of the motive for being moral here seems to come from how it benefits the self through reputation and others feeling indebted to you. It rubbed me the wrong way. Still, it is an intriguing insight into ancient Roman politics and culture and the writing itself is relatively straightforward. I am rounding this review up to three stars because I believe it is difficult to deeply evaluate a book that I had little time to read before moving on to the next, and that if I had read it more than once it may have proved to have more value to me.
281 reviews3 followers
Want to read
March 25, 2022
Cicero is a philosopher I have admired ever since being introduced to his "Scipio's Dream," which formed Book VI of his own version of the 'Republic'. In this book, there's general views from a selection of his surviving writings about his own interpretation of what the Good Life is and how one ought to live to gain the most fulfillment.

The opener is just a descriptor of his philosophical project and mission, as well as distinctions between philosophical and other modes of discourse. It was somewhat trite, perhaps not the best choice by the editors, but chosen I suppose to give some programmatic intent to Cicero's views.

Profile Image for louis.
58 reviews22 followers
August 15, 2021
The ancients tell us what is best; but we must learn of the moderns what is fittest. ~ Benjamin Franklin

Another confirmation for the Lindy Effect.

Cicero will teach you the methods to maximize knowledge, health and wealth.

The most valuable knowledge is always discovered last: but the most valuable knowledge consists of methods. ~ Nietzsche

I wanted to give it a five, but the middle part of the book is very boring and full of uninteresting anecdotes and gossip.
Profile Image for Seth.
Author 5 books24 followers
November 3, 2022
Interesting to see how Cicero takes Greek philosophy and adapts and translates it in a way that makes sense for Romans of his era. While little in Cicero is original, his is an important indirect avenue through which the Greeks come to influence Latin Christiandom, European new-stoticism, and American republicanism. His defense of the Roman republic and opposiiton to tyrannical rule remains especially relevant today.
Profile Image for Chris Timmons.
61 reviews
January 2, 2018
Cicero, or rereading him, has been a pleasure. Cicero is engaging company and has all the virtues of a serious writer: felicity of phrasing, acuity in judgment, learning, and even better and rare, a wisdom that rewards sustained engagement. He is an ever lasting gift of the gods.
Profile Image for Tom Bennett.
286 reviews
November 1, 2018
I found this in a pile of books in progress, with only The Dream of Scipio to read. Well worth a read.

In some ways, I came at On The Good Life in an unusual order - starting with Montaigne and then Sarah Bakewell’s How To Live.

And through the years, Cicero is as much a joy as you’d imagine.
December 13, 2020
I greatly enjoyed this sample of Cicero's writings. "On the Orator" seems a bit out of place and not in keeping with the general themes of the others selections. The kindle edition contained numerous small typos.
1 review
March 3, 2017
Awesome book on how to live a life worth living!
Profile Image for Zachary Rudolph.
160 reviews6 followers
January 1, 2018
“The seeds and causes of civil wars will always be with us for as long as people remember that blood-soaked spear in the Forum – and as long as they hope to see it come again.”
Profile Image for Searchingthemeaningoflife Greece.
657 reviews14 followers
January 29, 2019
"Προσωπικά, νομίζω ότι στη ζωή θα 'πρεπε να εφαρμόζεται ο κανόνας που ίσχυε στα συμπόσια των Ελλήνων: "Ή πιες ή φύγε". Αυτό είναι το σωστό."
1,178 reviews13 followers
May 1, 2019
My favorite section was the one on friendship.
Profile Image for Gilles Demaneuf.
54 reviews
December 29, 2019
Also the introduction in itself is worth the money! Perfect for an overview of the Greek philosophy schools and their impact on learnt society and government in Rome. Must be read.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 71 reviews

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