Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.7.8

Andrew R. Dyck, A Commentary on Cicero, De Officiis. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996. Pp. xli+716. $69.95. ISBN 0-472-10719-4.

Reviewed by Andrew M. Riggsby, Classics, University of Texas at Austin,

No working Ciceronian nor, for that matter, student of almost any aspect of the late republic, needed D(yck)'s citations of Wilamowitz and Gigon on the topic to realize the need for a "modern scholarly commentary" on de Officiis (ix-x). Happily, that need has been met, now and for the foreseeable future, by D.'s massive new work. It consists of a bibliography (unusually extensive for a commentary), long introduction (56 pages), the commentary proper, five pages of addenda and corrigenda (often with significant new references), and a series of indices: topics, Latin words, Greek words, grammatical and stylistic features, authors (an enhanced index locorum), and proper names. Though good, the indices are necessarily the least satisfactory part of the work. However, this may soon be remedied, as a note promises future electronic publication of the commentary (p. 661)!

D. reasonably complains that previous commentaries are "inadequate for anyone seeking to follow closely the train of thought or place the argument within the history of philosophy (ix)." Accordingly, he has produced what is in the first instance a philosophical commentary. He takes pains not only to adduce parallels (and significant non-parallels) to individual passages, but to stop at intervals and preview the structure of large sections of the text. Cicero's argument is assessed for internal coherence and, to a lesser extent, general adequacy. There is also a good bit of historical information, both about Cicero's circumstances at the time of composition and about the prosopography and detail of the numerous exempla that illustrate the work. Grammatical and stylistic commentary is much sparser. Only in the last respect is the commentary somewhat disappointing. De Officiis is notable for its relatively colloquial style. This may be due in part to its hasty composition, but is perhaps also part of Cicero's increasingly practical concern to transmit important philosophical ideas, not least to his son. And this work does, after all, include our most extensive discussion of the virtues of sermo (1.132-5). It is unfortunate then that the stylistic commentary focuses primarily on notice of scattered uses of figurative language.1 Greater emphasis on this conversational character might also have produced a somewhat more sympathetic interpretation of the work's apparently wandering structure.

Even with a fine edition like Winterbottom's now available, the text of de Officiis is going to present problems to any interpreter. D. offers fairly full textual notes, but restricts himself to problems that are genuinely significant to the reading of the work. (The reader should note that the requirements of formatting the commentary itself have required a somewhat unusual use of {} to mark editorial deletions [p. 57, n.1].) In the case of this work the problem of interpolations is complicated by a text that was probably never fully polished and the possibility that it even retains authorial doublets which Cicero never got around to resolving (marked by, e.g., Winterbottom with double brackets). On the latter point, D. says "I have ordinarily felt insufficiently confident of my ability to discriminate between the words of Cicero and those of a learned reader possibly falling in with or imitating his tone to make much use of this category (54)." Fortunately, he does not, despite what one of the dust-jacket blurbs says, spend much time detailing "the treatise Cicero should have written but unfortunately did not write." A consequence of this very reasonable approach is that D. is perhaps quicker simply to delete than he might otherwise have been. He is certainly not, however, in any way a radical in this respect.

One important question about any commentary is who its audience is. D. describes this work as a "scholarly commentary (x)," and it is indeed designed to meet the needs of professional scholars. The section of the introduction "1. KAQH/KONTA and Their Place within Stoic Ethics" begins with the following sentence: "For the Stoics appetency (O)RECIW) has as its object KAQH/KONTA, appropriate acts that any person can perform; they have their origin (A)RXH/) in the 'natural advantages' (TA\ KATA\ FU/SIN), more or less equivalent to the 'external goods (2).'" A reader totally innocent of Stoic philosophy may want more help here. Similarly, the reference to the "second virtue (17)" (and the third and fourth) is likely to send some back through the introduction (in vain) to see what the first virtue is, and why none of them seem to have names. And someone who knows nothing of Roman law is not likely to learn just what stricti iuris and bonae fidei contracts are from reading the notes on pp. 567 and 570-1 nor grasp Cicero's understanding of ius gentium after reading p. 527 (contrast the fine, concise explanations of servitudes and mancipatio on p. 580). The commentary itself bristles with Latin, Greek, German, and (to a lesser extent) French and Italian. Even technical legal Latin is virtually never translated. D.'s stated plan is that "[a] note of excessive length and prolixity can actually block a reader's approach to the text. I have tried to come quickly to the point by citing the relevant ancient evidence, often verbatim, so that the reader can judge a question independently, and then draw conclusions as appropriate (x)." In principle this is a good idea, though in practice the goals of clear, concise exposition and of putting the evidence before the reader occasionally conflict.2 Overall, I suspect that even first and second year graduate students would use this work only with difficulty.

My heart sank when I saw the section of the introduction entitled "Panaetius, PERI\ TOU= KAQH/KONTOW, as Source for Books 1-2," and its declaration of interest in source-criticism. It must, however, be said that D. offers strong arguments for his approach (pp. 18-21). (1) There is clear external evidence that the bulk of the first two books is dependent on a single source (Att. 16.11.4). (2) Whatever the precise details of the composition, internal and external evidence also suggests that the work was written in a hurry. As a result one might expect that a distinction between what is translated and what is Ciceronian addition would be more meaningful in the case of this work than most of his others. In practice, D. looks for combinations of the several diagnostics offered on p. 20 for Ciceronian invention: passages not included in the explicit divisiones, exclusive use of Roman examples, contrast with basic Stoic principles, and clear political motivation. Finally, D. notes that the commentary is probably the best format for this kind of work and promises to avoid some of the problems of earlier source-criticism (circularity, disrespect for Cicero, self-containment). Particularly good is D.'s sober defense of the Ciceronian origin of 1.150-151 on the evaluation of various sources of income, pace Wilamowitz, Pohlenz, and Brunt.

It has become fashionable in the last few years to take Cicero seriously as a philosopher. It should already be clear from the above that D. participates in this movement. On the whole, this has been a very welcome development, but it has had a down-side. Once they have deemed Cicero a worthy interlocutor for Plato and Aristotle (or at least Posidonius and Panaetius), scholars tend to neglect his actual audience of Calpurnii, Claudii, Domitii, et al. Only a few have stressed that Cicero's program is not merely philosophical, but broadly cultural.3 D. shows clearly that he is aware of this side of Cicero's writings. See, for instance, his excellent summary of Cicero's over-all program on p. 31 or the way he traces Cicero's careful negotiation of the ethics of commerce against the background of Roman law in book III (primarily pp. 564-86). Nonetheless, the source-critical emphasis of the commentary leads him away from these issues most of the time. I will give several examples to show how this conventionally "philosophical" approach has shaped the commentary: the choice of professions, ethics and domestic architecture, and the translation of KAQH/KONTA by "officia."4

In the discussion of persona theory in book I, Cicero has a fair amount to say about one's choice of profession, the fourth persona (1.115-121). D. has a good discussion of the possibility (which he rejects) that the third and fourth personae are Cicero's own invention and of the ways in which choice of profession is or is not determined by the other personae. He seems, however, to take choice of profession as a given in real life -- "perhaps a human being's major act of social self-definition (287)." This is qualified in a footnote by reference to Panaetius' social situation: "In addition, if it is true that the specialization of professions was characteristic of Hellenistic society..., the resulting complexity of the problem may have moved Panaetius to devote to it as much attention as he does (though if Cicero's version is a reliable reflection of the original, Panaetius failed to do full justice to this complexity)." But as a matter of historical fact, we know that Cicero himself lived through a period which saw its own evolution of the role of specialized professions. Take, for instance, work that has been done on the role and status of Roman jurists and of writers of literature.5 (D. does in fact mention discussions of the changing situation of jurists, but only when Cicero himself explicitly raises the issue in another context [p. 454, ad 2.65].) Furthermore, it is arguable that the whole notion of specialized professions is one that Cicero polemicized for in this and other contexts, as against a more traditional notion of the "omnicompetent" aristocrat. Allowing for distribution of honors allows aristocrats to form relationships with each other that are complementary, rather than competitive (Habinek, n. 3 supra, 180-81). This view of "professions" then fits well with Cicero's more explicit program elsewhere of disabling destabilizing tendencies of traditional Roman ideology (pp. 31-33 and passim on gloria; cf. Long, n. 3 supra).

When Roman circumstances are brought into a discussion of Cicero's philosophica, it is usually by reference to politics in a narrow, personal sense. D. tends to read the politics of de Officiis in this way. For instance, consider how he treats Cicero's discussion of houses, illustrated by anecdotes about those of Cn. Octavius and M. Aemilius Scaurus (1.138-40); the issue in the text is calibrating the degree of splendor of a dwelling to fit the dignitas of the inhabitant. D. points out that Cicero here, in contrast to the main thread of his argument about decorum, conducts his discussion in terms of an actual social standard rather than an abstract moral one (nature). He then goes on to emphasize that this passage would have been supportive of Octavian, whom Cicero thought might serve as a useful counterweight to Antony, at a time when the young man was being criticized for ignobility.6 This observation is surely both correct and salient, yet it does not explain Cicero's lengthy and largely abstract discussion of the houses. On this topic the reader is advised in a single sentence: "[o]n our passage as a guide to Roman attitudes toward domestic architecture cf. Wallace-Hadrill, [Houses and Society] 4ff." The reader who consults this work may be surprised to discover that we know a fair amount about this subject from other sources, enough that they may serve as a "guide" to the reading of this passage as well as the other way around. Praise of Octavian was doubtless a bonus for Cicero as he wrote this passage, but presumably the point he makes is Roman "common sense" of general validity rather than an ad hoc construction. Similarly, Cicero's relationship with Atticus was certainly congenial ground for his defense of the idea of a MEGALO/YUXOW who was neither politician nor philosopher (p. 235, ad 1.92). Nonetheless, this move was again part of a general attempt to restrain the excesses of aristocratic competition and, in less technical form, it had arguably been part of his political program for some time that one should be able to opt out of the political fray with honor (Clu. 153-4, Sest. 98, Rab. Post. 16-18).

In both of the above cases it can be argued that, given the necessarily selective nature of a commentary, the commentator must be allowed his choice of emphasis. By and large this is true, especially when, as in the present work, that emphasis is clear and consistent. However, since most current scholarship tends to follow the same lines, it is useful to emphasize that D. has in fact made a choice here rather than simply following the only natural line of inquiry. Furthermore, there are cases where attention (or inattention) to the Roman context may affect our reading of individual passages, and so neutrality is impossible. The very title of the work provides an example. We know from Cicero's correspondence with Atticus (16.14.3) that the translation of KAQH/KONTA by officium was problematic. One of the problems, according to D, lay in "the special Stoic sense of KAQH/KONTA, directed toward fulfilling the rational nature of the human being, with officium made equivalent by Ciceronian fiat in this sense (7)."7 D. suggests that officium in this technical sense became a success in spite of possible interference from the ordinary usage of an apparently common ethical term. This is a plausible view, but one might also want to consider the possibility that it was precisely the conventional overtones of officium that made it attractive to Cicero. As D. himself notes, one of the great tensions within de Officiis is that between Stoicism's absolute standard of behavior (nature/reason) and a more traditional Roman view based on community evaluation. In particular, in passages which are most clearly Ciceronian additions to his Panaetian source, Cicero tends to slide from the former standard to the latter (cf. p. 315, ad 1.138-40, pp. 439-40 ad 2.55b-60). Might it not be the case that Cicero is trying to derive the benefit of some of the specifics of Panaetius' moderate Stoicism -- say, a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate glory or a defense of private property -- without necessarily accepting the underlying rationale for those positions? On this reading Cicero would have been attracted initially by Panaetius' interest in (philosophically) recuperating traditional values from within Stoicism, but then wanted to take the process one step further himself (cf. p. 35 on the underlying conservatism of de Officiis). This is a difficult question to address on the basis of D.'s commentary since, unlike the Greek Stoic background, the Roman ethical environment of de Officiis is never systematically analyzed or documented as such.8

This also leads us to the question of Cicero's relation to his major source. Consider the justification of war in book I. Many have detected a tension between the line Cicero takes on this initially (1.35, 36; war justified by self-defense) and a distinction he draws later between wars fought for glory and empire and those fought for the survival of the state (1.38). D. plausibly traces the former view but not the latter to Panaetius. He comments "[s]ome have thought to infer that even wars fought de imperio should be defensive in character; Cicero was certainly capable of thinking in such terms [speeches cited to this effect]. But it is by no means clear that Panaetius would have accepted this attempted harmonization of his theory with Roman practice.... In spite of his best efforts Cicero cannot bring Roman practice and Panaetian precept fully into line (147-8)." Why, though, should Panaetius' hypothetical approval be our guide to the success of Cicero's project? Cicero clearly was capable of making imperialistic wars "defensive," and in this he was hardly alone among Romans. Polybius (fr. 99B-W; cf. 36.2 and Diod. 32.5) had already noted that the Romans always had an argument about self-defense to justify their wars. Rome's habit of acquiring allies who might profitably be "defended" in later wars is part of the same pattern.9 In any case, no matter what one thinks about forms of Roman imperialism in general, Cicero was clearly capable of collapsing the distinction between wars of self-defense and those of expansion if he can say: Cum vero de imperio decertatur belloque quaeritur gloria, causas omnino subesse tamen oportet easdem quas dixi paulo ante iustas causas esse bellorum. That is, Cicero finds the "Roman" views of 1.38 compatible with the "Panaetian" views of 1.34-36, even though D. is likely right to suspect that Panaetius would have disagreed. What does this say about Cicero's use of his main source even where he is offering what looks like a fairly straight-forward translation? Even if he is not rewriting Panaetius, he may be rereading him. None of this undercuts the importance of D.'s source-critical approach, but it does greatly complicate the interpretation of his data.

That D. does not give systematic attention to the Roman moral context also means that that context is not always subject to the critique that a more articulated philosophical position should be (and is) exposed to in the commentary. In contrast to Cicero's praise of agriculture as the best way of making a living (1.151), D. says that "[i]n calling agriculture and hunting servilia officia (Cat. 4.1) Sallust no doubt meant to be provocative." Sallust is being provocative, but it is because he comes too close to telling the truth here. The traditional aristocratic romance of the land, attested as early as Cato, depends on the ambiguity of agrum colere. That is, it is based in large part on the false conflation of real-life landowners with legendary heroes who were farmers themselves, e.g. Cincinnatus, Atilius Serranus. Actually tilling the fields was clearly not suitable work for a second- or first-century aristocrat; recall the story of the consular candidate who ridiculed the peasant farmer for his calloused hands (Val. Max. 7.5.2).10 D. also seems to take Cicero's relative valuation of prosecution and defense primarily as a mere personal preference (p. 433, ad 2.50). Yet, as David has argued, defense was systematically granted higher prestige, and that this was part of a system of values that made it more difficult for "municipal" orators (including, ironically, Cicero) to succeed at Rome.11 In neither case (agriculture or advocacy) is Cicero's traditionalizing view even spelled out, so it can hardly be analyzed.

It is not uncommon for reviewers of commentaries to give a list of selected factual errors. I am not sure that that is a useful practice, and in any case such errors seem to be few and far between in the present work. I would, however, like to point out a few places where D. states as fact claims which are, at best, controversial and which touch on issues of broader significance. P. 210, ad 1.78: D. suggests that an earlier parallel to this passage was inserted in Cat. 4.21 in the process of editing for publication in 60 (Att. 2.1.6, cf. the comments at 2.1.3). Similarities and differences between the three passages perhaps suggest instead that Cicero made the statement originally in Cat. 4, Pompey later echoed it in different form (probably at Cicero's prompting), then Cicero quoted Pompey's version rather than his own so as to claim the support of the great general. In any case, the whole notion of this kind of editing of Cicero's speeches -- addition of significant passages to meet new needs -- is suspect in general, and particularly in the case of the supposed "edition" of the consular speeches.12 Pp. 289, 318, ad 1.116, 1.139: D. refers to "party spirit" and the "popular party." Historians today generally eschew the term "party" altogether on the grounds that it invites misleading modern readings. In any case it should not be used without at least an explanation of the author's sense of the term within Roman politics. P. 435, ad 2.50: D. mentions the letter "k" allegedly tattooed on the forehead of the calumniatores (see Rosc. Am. 57). Strachan-Davidson has argued that this punishment (usually, but perhaps wrongly, construed as branding) is fictitious.13 This matters because the penalty, if real, would be a striking example of corporal punishment against citizens. Finally, D. makes fairly free use of Cicero's philosophica as historical evidence -- for instance, de Oratore (pp. 18, 21), de Natura Deorum (p. 568), de Divinatione (p. 397), and de Officiis itself (p. 8, n.20). Cicero makes it clear in a letter that historical verisimilitude is not a major goal even in his contemporary dialogues.14 It would be strange to expect it then in those with historical settings. Let me give one specific example from de Officiis itself. D. rightly points out the broadly patrimonial character of the work (pp. 12-16); not only is it addressed from father to son, but from the father's generation to the son's. This seems to undercut D.'s rigorously literal interpretation of 3.121 which claims that the work stands in for a visit Cicero was not able to make to his son in Athens (especially as the supposed occasion for the work is not mentioned until the end of the text). This in turn affects the question of composition and the (in)dependence of Cicero on/from Panaetius.

To conclude, let me reiterate the first observation of this review. De Officiis has long demanded a commentary of extensive scope and ambition. This work is that commentary, and, barring sudden discovery of vast amounts of original Panaetius somewhere, it will not need to be replaced in the foreseeable future. While it should stimulate further work on de Officiis itself, it may be even more useful to scholars whose central interests lie elsewhere. It is easy to mislead oneself by quoting and using bits of Cicero's philosophica out of context. Commentaries like this (and Zetzel's on de Re Publica), which pay scrupulous attention to working out the arguments of Cicero's treatises on both large and small scale, give the casual reader of these works much surer footing in using them to construct their own arguments.


1. For instance, at p. 338, ad 1.151 and p. 479, ad 2.85 anaphora is "liturgical," but at p. 225, ad 1.88 it is encomiastic; both may be true, but neither is particularly explanatory. P. 317, ad 1.139 notes several figures (chiasmus, alliteration, polyptoton), but offers no suggestions as to why they should have been used here.

2. For instance, I would probably be prepared to take D.'s word for the varying order of wishes attributed to Theseus with regard to Hippolytus, and giving just the references would certainly suffice (pp. 129-30). And do we really need a third of a page of Isocrates to demonstrate that antiquity recognized different standards of behavior for common soldiers and generals (p. 211)?

3. E.g. T. N. Habinek, "Towards a History of Friendly Advice: the Politics of Candor in Cicero's de Amicitia," Apeiron 23 (1991) 165-85; idem, "Ideology for an Empire in the Prefaces to Cicero's Dialogues," Ramus 23 (1994) 55-67; A. A. Long, "Cicero's Politics in de Officiis," pp. 213-40 in A. Laks and M. Schofield, edd., Justice and Generosity (Cambridge 1995). The last is cited numerous times by D.

4. This point of view also leads to the occasional application of inappropriate standards for judging Cicero's arguments. At p. 542, ad 3.39 D. objects to Cicero's use of fateantur for his opponents' admission of wrong-doing in what they themselves do not believe is wrong. It is fair to point out the rhetorical device, but it is bizarre to suggest that Cicero "forget[s]" that the opposition have not accepted his own (Stoic) premises.

5. In general on increased "structural differentiation" see K. Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves (Cambridge, UK 1978) 74-96. Jurists: W. Kunkel, Herkunft und soziale Stellung der römischen Juristen (Graz 1967); B. Frier, The Rise of the Roman Jurists (Princeton 1985); A. Schiavone, Giuristi e nobili nella Roma repubblicana (Rome 1987). The former two are cited by D. For the choice of literature as a profession see Ovid Tr. 4.10.15-40. On the status of poets generally, see P. White, Promised Verse: Poets in the Society of Augustan Rome (Cambridge 1993) 5-14, 211-222. The salient point here is the increasing proportion of aristocrats not only among the ranks of literary producers generally, but even among more-or-less full-time writers.

6. And at the same time Antony was perhaps being criticized for possession of confiscated property of which he was "unworthy."

7. See also D.'s comments on the the extension of officium to duties outside one-to-one social relations (pp. 6-7, 136-7).

8. For a brief overview of the more traditional system see M. Roller, "Ethical Contradiction and the Fractured Community in Lucan's Bellum Civile," CA 15 (1996) 320-22 (and especially the references in n.6).

9. For some examples, see W.V. Harris, War and Imperialism in Republican Rome, 327-70 B.C. (Oxford 1979) 189, 197, 201-2, 211, 216-7, 222, 228. Obviously, this "self-defense" was often of a very formalistic sort. That the Romans were aware that claims of self-defense had a propaganda value is indisputable, but does not bear on the present point.

10. Of course, this supposedly cost him the election, but that merely illustrates the necessity of maintaining the fiction.

11. J.-M. David, "Les orateurs des municipes a Rome: integration, reticences et snobismes," pp. 309-323 in Les "bourgeoisies" municipales italiennes aux IIe et Ie siecles av. J.-C. (Paris 1983) (even before David [1992] cited by D. in his addenda).

12. Catilinarians: R. Cape, "The Rhetoric of Politics in Cicero's Fourth Catilinarian," AJP 116 (1995) 258-9. General: W. Stroh, Taxis und Taktik (Stuttgart 1975) 40-50.

13. Problems of the Roman Criminal Law (Oxford 1912), 2.139-42; cf. Levy, ZSS 53 (1933) 153-58.

14. See Fam. 9.8.1 on the morem dialogorum, in the context of the Academica. In that work Varro at least is given a part with which he was in general agreement, but Att. 13.12.3 points out that the original dramatis personae of that work were much less inappropriate, but were changed only for social reasons.