Cicero’s On Duties

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“Cicero, like thoughtful men of every age, knew that the reason vicious leaders like Caesar could rise to power was because the Roman population itself had been corrupted and no longer pursued the old virtues; a leader is, after all, a mirror of the people who choose him or at least allow him to retain power.” – Wes Callihan, Foreword to On Duties

Last Spring, I began the most lovely tradition: I had a morning coffee date with Cicero nearly every weekday morning. Sadly, that tradition came to a bittersweet end this morning when I turned the last page in my copy of Roman Roads Media’s new translation of Cicero’s On Duties. I say bittersweet because I didn’t really want my coffee dates to end, but I also appreciate how much this little book has stretched me and challenged my prejudices. While I always knew that Rome was a pagan empire, I never really understood how complex their view of ethics was nor how moral they considered themselves to be while behaving in ways Christians would consider profane. In coming to understand the wars over morality that Cicero and his peers engaged in, I grew to understand exactly how radical the Gospel must have seemed to Ancient Rome. And, of course, that made me reflect on how like that time this age is, and how radical the Gospel continues to be.

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I have wanted to read and know Cicero for many years. I love David McCullough’s biography of John Adams. When I read that tome in 2014, I noted how impressed Adams had been with Cicero. Ever since then I was watching for an opportunity to start some kind of Cicero course of study. I was delighted to discover that Roman Roads Media had a new translation of Cicero’s On Duties, and that Wes Callihan had penned the foreword. I have admired Wes Callihan since discovering “Old Western Culture,” and have come to respect his opinions on the classics. I was intrigued. (You can read my review of “Old Western Culture here.)

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When my copy arrived, I noticed two key things: the large pocket-size printing was perfectly unintimidating, and Cicero arranged his text into very short numbered points. I realized that this text could easily be divided into a short daily reading allowance and that it would give me a long and slow journey through Cicero’s thoughts. The text is divided into three “books,” and each book is subdivided into several dozen points which span an average of two pages each.
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Pairing Cicero with my Charlotte Mason reading plan, I could start each day with coffee, prayer, and some study of the classics. This suited my needs perfectly.

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