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The DIALOGUE ON FRIENDSHIP is addressed with peculiar propriety to Atticus, who, as Cicero tells him in his dedication, can not fail to discover his own portrait in the delineation of a perfect friend. Here, as elsewhere, Cicero has most judiciously selected the persons of the dialogue. They were men of eminence in the state, and, though deceased, the Romans had such veneration for their ancestors, that they would listen with the utmost interest even to the imaginary conversation of a Scævola or a Lælius. The memorable and hereditary friendship which subsisted between Lælius and the younger Scipio Africanus, rendered the former a suitable example. To support a conversation on this delightful topic, Fannius the historian, and Mucius Scævola the augur, both sons-in-law of Lælius, are supposed to pay a visit to their father immediately after the sudden and suspicious death of Scipio Africanus. The recent loss which Lælius had thus sustained, leads to an eulogy on the inimitable virtues of the departed hero, and to a discussion on the true nature of that tie by which they had been so long connected. Cicero, in early youth, had been introduced by his father to Mucius Scævola, and, among other interesting conversations which he thus enjoyed an opportunity of hearing, he was one day present while Scævola related the substance of the conference on Friendship, which he and Fannius had held with Lælius a few days after the death of Scipio. Many of the ideas and sentiments which Lælius uttered are declared by Scævola to have originally flowed from Scipio, with whom the nature and laws of friendship formed a favorite topic This, perhaps, is not entirely a fiction, or merely asserted to give the stamp of authenticity to the dialogue.
The TREATISE ON OLD AGE is not properly a dialogue, but a continued discourse delivered by Cato the censor at the request of Scipio and Lælius. It is undoubtedly one of the most interesting pieces of the kind which have descended to us from antiquity; and no reader can wonder that the pleasure experienced in its composition, not only, as he says, made him forget the infirmities of old age, but even rendered that portion of existence agreeable. In consequence of the years to which Cicero had attained at the time of its composition, and the circumstances in which he was then placed, it must indeed have been composed with peculiar
interest and feeling. It was written by him when he was sixty-three, and is addressed to his friend Atticus (who had nearly reached the same age), with a view of rendering their accumulating burdens as light as possible. In order to give his precepts the greater force, he represents them as delivered by the elder Cato, in the eighty-fourth year of a vigorous and useful old age, on the occasion of Lælius and the younger Scipio expressing their admiration at the wonderful ease with which he still bore the weight of years. This affords the author an opportunity of entering into a full explanation of his ideas on the subject, his great object being to show that by internal resources of happiness the closing period may be rendered not only supportable but comfortable. He enumerates those causes which are commonly supposed to constitute the infelicity of advanced age under four general heads: that it incapacitates from mingling in the affairs of the world; that it produces infirmities of the body that it disqualifies for the enjoyment of sensual gratifications; and that it brings us to the verge of death. Some of these disadvantages he maintains are imaginary, and for any real pleasures of which old men are deprived, he shows that many others more refined and elevated may be substituted. The whole work is agreeably diversified, and illustrated by examples.
The PARADOXES contain a defense of six peculiar opinions or paradoxes of the Stoics, something in the manner of those which Cato was wont to promulgate in the senate. These are, that what is morally right (honestum) is alone good; that the virtuous can want nothing for complete happiness; that there are no degrees either in crimes or good actions; that every fool is mad; that the wise alone are wealthy and free; and that every fool is a slave. The Paradoxes, indeed, seem to have been written as an exercise of rhetorical wit, rather than as a serious disquisition in philosophy, and each is personally applied to some individual.
The narrative, entitled SCIPIO's DREAM is put into the mouth of the younger Scipio Africanus, who relates that, in his youth, when he first served in Africa, he visited the court of Massinissa, the steady friend of the Romans, and particularly of the Cornelian family. During the feasts and entertainments of the day, the conversation turned on the words and actions of the first great
Scipio. His adopted son having retired to rest, the shade of the departed hero appeared to him in a vision, and darkly foretelling the future events of his life, encouraged him to tread in the paths of patriotism and true glory; announcing the reward provided in heaven for those who have deserved well of their country.
The circumstances of time and place selected for this dream, as well as the characters introduced, have been most felicitously chosen; and Cicero has nowhere more happily united sublimity of thought with brilliant imagination.
The letter, ON THE DUTIES OF A MAGISTRATE, is one of the most remarkable of the kind that has ever been penned. It was addressed by Cicero to his brother Quintus, on the occasion of his government in Asia being prolonged to a third year. Availing himself of the rights of an elder brother, as well as of the authority derived from his superior dignity and talents, Cicero counsels and exhorts him concerning the due administration of his province, particularly with regard to the choice of his subordinate officers, and the degree of trust to be reposed in them. He earnestly reproves him, but with much fraternal tenderness and affection, for his irritability of temper; and concludes with a beautiful exhortation to strive in all respects to merit the praise of his cotemporaries, and bequeath to posterity an unsullied name.