homer apotheosis

Nam si quis minorem gloriae fructum putat ex Graecis versibus percipi quam ex Latinis, vehementer errat: propterea quod Graeca leguntur in omnibus fere gentibus, Latina suis finibus, exiguis sane, continentur. qua re si res eae quas gessimus orbis terrae regionibus definiuntur, cupere debemus, quo manuum nostrarum tela pervenerint, eodem gloriam famamque penetrare: quod cum ipsis populis de quorum rebus scribitur, haec ampla sunt, tum eis certe, qui de vita gloriae causa dimicant, hoc maximum et periculorum incitamentum est et laborum. quam multos scriptores rerum suarum magnus ille Alexander secum habuisse dicitur! atque is tamen, cum in Sigeo ad Achillis tumulum astitisset: “o fortunate” inquit “adulescens, qui tuae virtutis Homerum praeconem inveneris!” Et vere. nam nisi Ilias illa exstitisset, idem tumulus, qui corpus eius contexerat, nomen etiam obruisset.
(Cicero, Pro Archia 23-24)

For if anyone thinks that the glory won by the writing of Greek verse is naturally less than that accorded to the poet who writes in Latin, he is entirely in the wrong. Greek literature is read in nearly every nation under heaven, while the vogue of Latin is confined to its own boundaries, and they are, we must grant, narrow. Seeing, therefore, that the activities of our race know no barrier save the limits of the round earth, we ought to be ambitious that whithersoever our arms have penetrated there also our fame and glory should extend; for the reason that literature exalts the nation whose high deeds it sings, and at the same time there can be no doubt that those who stake their lives to fight in honour’s cause find therein a lofty incentive to peril and endeavour. We read that Alexander the Great carried in his train numbers of epic poets and historians. And yet, standing before the tomb of Achilles at Sigeum, he exclaimed,—”Fortunate youth, to have found in Homer an herald of thy valour!” Well might he so exclaim, for had the Iliad never existed, the same mound which covered Achilles’ bones would also have overwhelmed his memory. (tr. Neville Hunter Watts)


odilon redon, le rêve, 1904
Odilon Redon, Le rêve (1904)

Quid? illa duo somnia, quae creberrime commemorantur a Stoicis, quis tandem potest contemnere? unum de Simonide: qui cum ignotum quendam proiectum mortuum vidisset eumque humavisset haberetque in animo nave conscendere, moneri visus est, ne id faceret, ab eo quem sepultura affecerat; si navigavisset, eum naufragio esse periturum; itaque Simonidem redisse, perisse ceteros, qui tum navigassent. alterum ita traditum clarum admodum somnium: cum duo quidam Arcades familiares iter una facerent et Megaram venissent, alterum ad cauponem devertisse, ad hospitem alterum. qui ut cenati quiescerent, concubia nocte visum esse in somnis ei qui erat in hospitio illum alterum orare ut subveniret, quod sibi a caupone interitus pararetur; eum primo, perterritum somnio, surrexisse; dein, cum se collegisset idque visum pro nihilo habendum esse duxisset, recubuisse; tum ei dormienti eundem illum visum esse rogare, ut, quoniam sibi vivo non subvenisset, mortem suam ne inultam esse pateretur; se interfectum in plaustrum a caupone esse coniectum et supra stercus iniectum; petere, ut mane ad portam adesset, prius quam plaustrum ex oppido exiret. hoc vero eum somnio commotum mane bubulco praesto ad portam fuisse, quaesisse ex eo, quid esset in plaustro; illum perterritum fugisse, mortuum erutum esse, cauponem re patefacta poenas dedisse. quid hoc somnio dici potest divinius?
(Cicero, De Divinatione 1.56-57)

And who, pray, can make light of the two following dreams which are so often recounted by Stoic writers? The first one is about Simonides, who once saw the dead body of some unknown man lying exposed and buried it. Later, when he had it in mind to go on board a ship he was warned in a vision by the person to whom he had given burial not to do so and that if he did he would perish in a shipwreck. Therefore he turned back and all the others who sailed were lost. The second dream is very well known and is to this effect: Two friends from Arcadia who were taking a journey together came to Megara, and one traveller put up at an inn and the second went to the home of a friend. After they had eaten supper and retired, the second traveller, in the dead of the night, dreamed that his companion was imploring him to come to his aid, as the innkeeper was planning to kill him. Greatly frightened at first by the dream he arose, and later, regaining his composure, decided that there was nothing to worry about and went back to bed. When he had gone to sleep the same person appeared to him and said: ‘Since you would not help me when I was alive, I beg that you will not allow my dead body to remain unburied. I have been killed by the innkeeper, who has thrown my body into a cart and covered it with dung. I pray you to be at the city gate in the morning before the cart leaves the town.’ Thoroughly convinced by the second dream he met the cart-driver at the gate in the morning, and, when he asked what he had in the cart, the driver fled in terror. The Arcadian then removed his friend’s dead body from the cart, made complaint of the crime to the authorities, and the innkeeper was punished. What stronger proof of a divinely inspired dream than this can be given? (tr. William Armistead Falconer)



Qui vero non astrorum constitutionem, sicuti est cum quidque concipitur vel nascitur vel inchoatur, sed omnium conexionem seriemque causarum, qua fit omne quod fit, fati nomine appellant: non multum cum eis de verbi controversia laborandum atque certandum est, quando quidem ipsum causarum ordinem et quandam conexionem Dei summi tribuunt voluntati et potestati, qui optime et veracissime creditur et cuncta scire antequam fiant et nihil inordinatum relinquere; a quo sunt omnes potestates, quamvis ab illo non sint omnium voluntates. ipsam itaque praecipue Dei summi voluntatem, cuius potestas insuperabiliter per cuncta porrigitur, eos appellare fatum sic probatur. Annaei Senecae sunt, nisi fallor, hi versus:
“duc, summe pater altique dominator poli,
quocumque placuit, nulla parendi mora est.
adsum impiger: fac nolle, comitabor gemens
malusque patiar, facere quod licuit bono.
ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt.”
nempe evidentissime hoc ultimo versu ea fata appellavit, quam supra dixerat summi patris voluntatem; cui paratum se oboedire dicit, ut volens ducatur, ne nolens trahatur; quoniam scilicet “ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt.”
illi quoque versus Homerici huic sententiae suffragantur, quos Cicero in Latinum vertit:
“tales sunt hominum mentes, quali pater ipse
Iuppiter auctiferas lustravit lumine terras.”
nec in hac quaestione auctoritatem haberet poetica sententia, sed quoniam Stoicos dicit vim fati asserentes istos ex Homero versus solere usurpare, non de illius poetae, sed de istorum philosophorum opinione tractatur, cum per istos versus, quos disputationi adhibent quam de fato habent, quid sentiant esse fatum apertissime declaratur, quoniam Iovem appellant, quem summum deum putant, a quo conexionem dicunt pendere fatorum.
(Augustine, Civ. Dei 5.8)

But, as to those who call by the name of fate, not the disposition of the stars as it may exist when any creature is conceived, or born, or commences its existence, but the whole connection and train of causes which makes everything become what it does become, there is no need that I should labor and strive with them in a merely verbal controversy, since they attribute the so-called order and connection of causes to the will and power of God most high, who is most rightly and most truly believed to know all things before they come to pass, and to leave nothing unordained; from whom are all powers, although the wills of all are not from Him. Now, that it is chiefly the will of God most high, whose power extends itself irresistibly through all things which they call fate, is proved by the following verses, of which, if I mistake not, Annæus Seneca is the author:—
“Father supreme, You ruler of the lofty heavens,
Lead me where’er it is Your pleasure; I will give
A prompt obedience, making no delay,
Lo! Here I am. Promptly I come to do Your sovereign will;
If your command shall thwart my inclination, I will still
Follow You groaning, and the work assigned,
With all the suffering of a mind repugnant,
Will perform, being evil; which, had I been good,
I should have undertaken and performed, though hard,
With virtuous cheerfulness.
The Fates do lead the man that follows willing;
But the man that is unwilling, him they drag.”
Most evidently, in this last verse, he calls that fate which he had before called the will of the Father supreme, whom, he says, he is ready to obey that he may be led, being willing, not dragged, being unwilling, since the Fates do lead the man that follows willing, “but the man that is unwilling, him they drag”. The following Homeric lines, which Cicero translates into Latin, also favor this opinion:—
“Such are the minds of men, as is the light
Which Father Jove himself does pour
Illustrious o’er the fruitful earth.”
Not that Cicero wishes that a poetical sentiment should have any weight in a question like this; for when he says that the Stoics, when asserting the power of fate, were in the habit of using these verses from Homer*, he is not treating concerning the opinion of that poet, but concerning that of those philosophers, since by these verses, which they quote in connection with the controversy which they hold about fate, is most distinctly manifested what it is which they reckon fate, since they call by the name of Jupiter him whom they reckon the supreme god, from whom, they say, hangs the whole chain of fates. (tr. Marcus Dods)

* Cf. Homer, Od. 18.136-137:
τοῖος γὰρ νόος ἐστὶν ἐπιχθονίων ἀνθρώπων
οἷον ἐπ’ ἦμαρ ἄγησι πατὴρ ἀνδρῶν τε θεῶν τε.

…for the spirit of men upon the earth is just such as the day which the father of gods and men brings upon them. (tr. Augustus Taber Murray, revised by George E. Dimock)

See also this post.



This is part 3 of 3. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

Atque hoc praestantius mihi fuerit et ad laetitiam animi et ad memoriae dignitatem si in tua scripta pervenero, quam si in ceterorum, quod non ingenium mihi solum suppeditatum fuerit tuum, sicut Timoleonti a Timaeo aut ab Herodoto Themistocli, sed etiam auctoritas clarissimi et spectatissimi viri et in rei publicae maximis gravissimisque causis cogniti atque in primis probati, ut mihi non solum praeconium, quod, cum in Sigeum venisset, Alexander ab Homero Achilli tributum esse dixit, sed etiam grave testimonium impertitum clari hominis magnique videatur; placet enim Hector ille mihi Naevianus, qui non tantum “laudari” se laetatur, sed addit etiam “a laudato viro.” quod si a te non impetraro, hoc est, si quae te res impedierit (neque enim fas esse arbitror quidquam me rogantem abs te non impetrare), cogar fortasse facere quod non nulli saepe reprehendunt: scribam ipse de me, multorum tamen exemplo et clarorum virorum. sed, quod te non fugit, haec sunt in hoc genere vitia: et verecundius ipsi de sese scribant necesse est, si quid est laudandum, et praetereant, si quid reprehendendum est; accedit etiam, ut minor sit fides, minor auctoritas, multi denique reprehendant et dicant verecundiores esse praecones ludorum gymnicorum, qui cum ceteris coronas imposuerint victoribus eorumque nomina magna voce pronuntiarint, cum ipsi ante ludorum missionem corona donentur, alium praeconem adhibeant, ne sua voce se ipsi victores esse praedicent. haec nos vitare cupimus et, si recipis causam nostram, vitabimus, idque ut facias, rogamus. ac, ne forte mirere, cur, cum mihi saepe ostenderis te accuratissime nostrorum temporum consilia atque eventus litteris mandaturum, a te id nunc tanto opere et tam multis verbis petamus, illa nos cupiditas incendit, de qua initio scripsi, festinationis, quod alacres animo sumus, ut et ceteri viventibus nobis ex libris tuis nos cognoscant et nosmet ipsi vivi gloriola nostra perfruamur. his de rebus quid acturus sis, si tibi non est molestum, rescribas mihi velim; si enim suscipis causam, conficiam commentarios rerum omnium, sin autem differs me in tempus aliud, coram tecum loquar. tu interea non cessabis et ea, quae habes instituta, perpolies nosque diliges.
(Cicero, Ep. ad Fam. 22(=5.12).7-10)

There is a further reason why a place in your works as compared with those of other writers will bring my mind a more lively satisfaction and my memory more signal honour. You will confer upon me the benefit not only of your literary skill, as Timaeus did upon Timoleon or Herodotus upon Themistocles, but of your authority as a famed and admired public man, tried and notably approved in public affairs of the greatest moment. Not only shall I gain a herald, such as Alexander when he visited Sigeum said Homer was to Achilles, but a witness—the weighty testimony of a great and famous man. For I am of one mind with Naevius’ Hector, who delights, not in praise merely, but, he adds, ‘from one that praisèd is.’ Suppose, however, I am refused; that is to say, suppose something hinders you (for I feel it would be against nature for you to refuse any request of mine), I shall perhaps be driven to a course often censured by some, namely to write about myself—and yet I shall have many illustrious precedents. But I need not point out to you that this genre has certain disadvantages. An autobiographer must needs write over modestly where praise is due and pass over anything that calls for censure. Moreover, his credit and authority are less, and many will blame him and say that heralds at athletic contests show more delicacy, in that after placing garlands on the heads of the winners and loudly proclaiming their names, they call in another herald when it is their turn to be crowned at the end of the games, in order to avoid announcing their own victory with their own lips. I am anxious to escape these drawbacks, as I shall, if you take my case. I beg you to do so. In case it may surprise you that I urge you so earnestly and at such length now, when you have repeatedly promised me that you will compose the record of my public career, its policies and events, and spare no pains, my motive is, as I wrote in the first place, impatience. I cannot wait to see the world learning about me in my lifetime from your books and to enjoy my modicum of glory myself before I die. If it is not troubling you too much, please write back and tell me what you intend to do. If you undertake the case, I will prepare notes on all pints. If you put me off to a later date, I shall talk to you personally. Meanwhile, do not be idle: Give a thorough polish to the work you have in hand. And love me well. (tr. David Roy Shackleton-Bailey)



This is part 2 of 3. Part 1 is here. Part 3 is here.

Quod si te adducemus ut hoc suscipias, erit, ut mihi persuadeo, materies digna facultate et copia tua. a principio enim coniurationis usque ad reditum nostrum videtur mihi modicum quoddam corpus confici posse, in quo et illa poteris uti civilium commutationum scientia vel in explicandis causis rerum novarum vel in remediis incommodorum, cum et reprehendes ea, quae vituperanda duces, et, quae placebunt, exponendis rationibus comprobabis, et, si liberius, ut consuesti, agendum putabis, multorum in nos perfidiam, insidias, proditionem notabis. multam etiam casus nostri varietatem tibi in scribendo suppeditabunt plenam cuiusdam voluptatis, quae vehementer animos hominum in legendo tuo scripto retinere possit. nihil est enim aptius ad delectationem lectoris quam temporum varietates fortunaeque vicissitudines: quae etsi nobis optabiles in experiendo non fuerunt, in legendo tamen erunt iucundae, habet enim praeteriti doloris secura recordatio delectationem; ceteris vero nulla perfunctis propria molestia, casus autem alienos sine ullo dolore intuentibus etiam ipsa misericordia est iucunda. quem enim nostrum ille moriens apud Mantineam Epaminondas non cum quadam miseratione delectat? qui tum denique sibi evelli iubet spiculum, posteaquam ei percontanti dictum est clipeum esse salvum, ut etiam in vulneris dolore aequo animo cum laude moreretur. cuius studium in legendo non erectum Themistocli fuga interituque retinetur? etenim ordo ipse annalium mediocriter nos retinet quasi enumeratione fastorum: at viri saepe excellentis ancipites variique casus habent admirationem exspectationem, laetitiam molestiam, spem timorem; si vero exitu notabili concluduntur, expletur animus iucundissima lectionis voluptate. quo mihi acciderit optatius, si in hac sententia fueris, ut a continentibus tuis scriptis, in quibus perpetuam rerum gestarum historiam complecteris, secernas hanc quasi fabulam rerum eventorumque nostrorum; habet enim varios actus multasque mutationes et consiliorum et temporum. ac non vereor, ne assentatiuncula quadam aucupari tuam gratiam videar, cum hoc demonstrem, me a te potissimum ornari celebrarique velle; neque enim tu is es, qui, qui sis, nescias et qui non eos magis, qui te non admirentur, invidos quam eos, qui laudent, assentatores arbitrere, neque autem ego sum ita demens, ut me sempiternae gloriae per eum commendari velim, qui non ipse quoque in me commendando propriam ingenii gloriam consequatur. neque enim Alexander ille gratiae causa ab Apelle potissimum pingi et a Lysippo fingi volebat, sed quod illorum artem cum ipsis, tum etiam sibi gloriae fore putabat. atque illi artifices corporis simulacra ignotis nota faciebant, quae vel si nulla sint, nihilo sint tamen obscuriores clari viri. nec minus est Spartiates Agesilaus mihi perhibendus, qui neque pictam neque fictam imaginem suam passus est esse, quam qui in eo genere laborarunt; unus enim Xenophontis libellus in eo rege laudando facile omnes imagines omnium statuasque superavit.
(Cicero, Ep. ad Fam. 22(=5.12).4-7)

If I prevail upon you to undertake the task, I persuade myself that the material will be worthy of your ready and skilful pen. I fancy a work of moderate length could be made up, from the beginning of the plot down to my return from exile. In it you will also be able to make use of your special knowledge of political changes, in explaining the origins of the revolutionary movement and suggesting remedies for things awry. You will blame what you judge deserving of reproof and give reasons for commending what you approve; and if, according to your usual practice, you think proper to deal pretty freely, you will hold up to censure the perfidy, artifice, and betrayal of which many were guilty towards me. Moreover, my experiences will give plenty of variety to your narrative, full of a certain kind of delectation to enthrall the minds of those who read, when you are the writer. Nothing tends more to the reader’s enjoyment than varieties of circumstance and vicissitudes of fortune. For myself, though far from desirable in the living, they will be pleasant in the reading; for there is something agreeable in the secure recollection of bygone unhappiness. For others, who went through no personal distress and painlessly survey misfortunes not their own, even the emotion of pity is enjoyable. Which of us is not affected pleasurably, along with a sentiment of compassion, at the story of the dying Epaminondas on the field of Mantinea, ordering the javelin to be plucked from his body only after he had been told in answer to his question that his shield was safe, so that even in the agony of his wound he could meet an honourable death with mind at ease? Whose sympathies are not aroused and held as he reads of Themistocles’ flight and death? The actual chronological record of events exercises no very powerful fascination upon us; it is like the recital of an almanac. But in the doubtful and various fortunes of an outstanding individual we often find surprise and suspense, joy and distress, hope and fear; and if they are rounded off by a notable conclusion, our minds as we read are filled with the liveliest gratification. So I shall be especially delighted if you find it best to set my story apart from the main stream of your work, in which you embrace events in their historical sequence—this drama, one may call it, of what I did and experienced; for it contains various ‘acts,’ and many changes of plan and circumstance. Nor am I apprehensive of appearing to angle for your favour with the bait of a little flattery when I declare that you of all others are the writer by whom I desire my praises to be sung. After all, you are not ignorant of your own worth; a man like you knows better than to see sycophancy in admiration rather than jealousy in its absence. Nor am I myself so foolish as to ask any author to immortalize my name in glory but one who in so doing will gain glory for his own genius. Alexander the Great did not ask Apelles to paint his portrait and Lysippus to sculpt his statue in order to curry favour with these artists, but because he believed the work would redound to his own fame as well as theirs. Those artists, however, only made a physical likeness known to people unacquainted with the original; and even in default of such memorials famous men would lose none of their celebrity. Agesilaus of Sparta, who would not allow representations of himself in paintings or sculpture, is no less pertinent to my case (?) than those who took pains over the matter. Xenophon’s own little volume in eulogy of that king has achieved far more than all the portraits and statues under the sun. (tr. David Roy Shackleton-Bailey)



This is part 1 of 3. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.

Coram me tecum eadem haec agere saepe conantem deterruit pudor quidam paene subrusticus, quae nunc expromam absens audacius, epistula enim non erubescit. ardeo cupiditate incredibili neque, ut ego arbitror, reprehendenda, nomen ut nostrum scriptis illustretur et celebretur tuis; quod etsi mihi saepe ostendisti te esse facturum, tamen ignoscas velim huic festinationi meae; genus enim scriptorum tuorum etsi erat semper a me vehementer exspectatum, tamen vicit opinionem meam meque ita vel cepit vel incendit, ut cuperem quam celerrime res nostras monumentis commendari tuis; neque enim me solum commemoratio posteritatis ac spes quaedam immortalitatis rapit, sed etiam illa cupiditas, ut vel auctoritate testimonii tui vel indicio benevolentiae vel suavitate ingenii vivi perfruamur. neque tamen, haec cum scribebam, eram nescius, quantis oneribus premerere susceptarum rerum et iam institutarum; sed, quia videbam Italici belli et civilis historiam iam a te paene esse perfectam, dixeras autem mihi te reliquas res ordiri, deesse mihi nolui, quin te admonerem, ut cogitares, coniunctene malles cum reliquis rebus nostra contexere an, ut multi Graeci fecerunt, Callisthenes Phocicum bellum, Timaeus Pyrrhi, Polybius Numantinum, qui omnes a perpetuis suis historiis ea, quae dixi, bella separaverunt, tu quoque item civilem coniurationem ab hostilibus externisque bellis seiungeres. equidem ad nostram laudem non multum video interesse, sed ad properationem meam quiddam interest non te exspectare, dum ad locum venias, ac statim causam illam totam et tempus arripere, et simul, si uno in argumento unaque in persona mens tua tota versabitur, cerno iam animo, quanto omnia uberiora atque ornatiora futura sint. neque tamen ignoro, quam impudenter faciam qui primum tibi tantum oneris imponam (potest enim mihi denegare occupatio tua), deinde etiam ut ornes me postulem. quid si illa tibi non tanto opere videntur ornanda? sed tamen, qui semel verecundiae fines transierit, eum bene et naviter oportet esse impudentem. itaque te plane etiam atque etiam rogo, ut et ornes ea vehementius etiam, quam fortasse sentis, et in eo leges historiae negligas gratiamque illam, de qua suavissime quodam in prooemio scripsisti, a qua te flecti non magis potuisse demonstras quam Herculem Xenophontium illum a Voluptate, eam, si me tibi vehementius commendabit, ne aspernere amorique nostro plusculum etiam, quam concedet veritas, largiare.
(Cicero, Ep. ad Fam. 22(=5.12).1-4)

Although I have more than once attempted to take up my present topic with you face to face, a sort of shyness, almost awkwardness, has held me back. Away from your presence, I shall set it out with less trepidation. A letter has no blushes. I have a burning desire, of a strength you will hardly credit but ought not, I think, to blame, that my name should gain lustre and celebrity through your works. You have often promised me, it is true, that you will comply with my wish; but I ask you to forgive my impatience. The quality of your literary performances, eagerly as I have always awaited them, has surpassed my expectation. I am captivated and enkindled. I want to see my achievements enshrined in your compositions with the minimum of delay. The thought that posterity will talk of me and the hope, one might say, of immortality hurries me on, but so too does the desire to enjoy in my lifetime the support of your weighty testimony, the evidence of your good will, and the charm of your literary talent. As I write these words, I am not unaware of the heavy burden weighing upon you of projects undertaken and already commenced. But seeing that you have almost finished your account of the Italian War and the Civil War, and remembering that you told me you were embarking on subsequent events, I feel I should be failing myself if I did not suggest two alternatives for your consideration. Would you prefer to weave my affairs along with those of the rest of the period into a single narrative, or might you not rather follow many Greek precedents, as Callisthenes with the Phocian War, Timaeus with the War of Pyrrhus, and Polybius with that of Numantia, all of whom detached their accounts of these particular wars from their continuous histories? Just so, you might deal with the domestic conspiracy apart from wars against external enemies. From my point of view there seems little to choose, so far as my credit is concerned. But there is my impatience to be considered; and here it does make a difference, if, instead of waiting until you reach the place, you immediately seize upon that entire subject and period. Furthermore, if your whole mind is directed upon a single theme and a single figure, I can already envisage the great gain in general richness and splendour. Not that I am unconscious of the effrontery of what I am about, first in laying such a burden upon you (pressure of work may refuse me), and secondly in asking you to write about me eulogistically. What if the record does not appear to you so eminently deserving of eulogy? But the bounds of delicacy once passed, it is best to be frankly and thoroughly brazen. Therefore I ask you again, not mincing my words, to write of this theme more enthusiastically than perhaps you feel. Waive the laws of history for this once. Do not scorn personal bias, if it urge you strongly in my favour—that sentiment of which you wrote very charmingly in one of your prefaces, declaring that you could no more be swayed thereby than Xenophon’s Hercules by Pleasure. Concede to the affection between us just a little more even than the truth will license. (tr. David Roy Shackleton-Bailey)



Ergo hoc quidem apparet, nos ad agendum esse natos. Actionum autem genera plura, ut obscurentur etiam minora maioribus, maximae autem sunt primum, ut mihi quidem videtur et iis, quorum nunc in ratione versamur, consideratio cognitioque rerum caelestium et earum, quas a natura occultatas et latentes indagare ratio potest, deinde rerum publicarum administratio aut administrandi scientia, tum prudens, temperata, fortis, iusta ratio reliquaeque virtutes et actiones virtutibus congruentes, quae uno verbo complexi omnia honesta dicimus; ad quorum et cognitionem et usum iam corroborati natura ipsa praeeunte deducimur. omnium enim rerum principia parva sunt, sed suis progressionibus usa augentur nec sine causa; in primo enim ortu inest teneritas ac mollitia quaedam, ut nec res videre optimas nec agere possint. virtutis enim beataeque vitae, quae duo maxime expetenda sunt, serius lumen apparet, multo etiam serius, ut plane qualia sint intellegantur. praeclare enim Plato: “beatum, cui etiam in senectute contigerit, ut sapientiam verasque opiniones assequi possit” [cf. Plato, Nomoi 653a].
(Cicero, De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum 5.58)

It is evident, then, that we are born to act. There are many forms of activity, however: so much so that one may lose sight of the trivial amidst the more important ones. As to the most important, it is my view and that of the thinkers whose system I am discussing, that these are: the contemplation and study of the heavenly bodies, and of the mysterious secrets of nature that rational thought has the power to uncover; the administration of public affairs, or perhaps knowledge of its theory; and a way of thinking that displays practical reason, temperance, bravery and justice, and which manifests the other virtue too and the actions that flow from them. We may sum up this latter category under the single heading of “morality”. When we are fully mature, nature herself gives us the cue that leads us to understand and practise it. Everything has small beginnings, but grows greater by gradual progress. The reason for this is that when we are born we possess a certain delicacy and weakness which prevents us from seeing and doing what is best. The light of virtue and happiness, the two most desirable possessions of all, dawns rather late; and much later still a clear understanding of what they are. Plato puts the point very well: “Happy the one who even in old age has managed to acquire wisdom and true beliefs!” (tr. Raphael Woolf)