BMCR 2011.11.08

Temps et éternité dans l’oeuvre philosophique de Cicéron. Rome et ses renaissances

, Temps et éternité dans l'oeuvre philosophique de Cicéron. Rome et ses renaissances. Paris: Presses de l'université Paris-Sorbonne, 2010. 465. ISBN 9782840507154. € 18.00 (pb).

Readers of this journal will know Luciani as author of L’éclair immobile dans la plaine. Philosophie et poétique du temps chez Lucrèce (2000) and co-editor of Lactantius, De opificio Dei (2009). In this revised ‘thèse d’habilitation’ written at the University of Paris-Sorbonne under supervision of Carlos Lévy, she turns to Cicero’s philosophy of time.

In the Introduction Luciani shows that Cicero’s philosophy of time is ripe for study, having been neglected compared to the Greeks, Seneca or Augustine. Luciani devotes particular attention to the Tusculan Disputations, which she sees as uniquely combining the Platonic immortality of the soul with practical moral teachings (p. 382); indeed, the focus on Tusc. probably should have been signaled in the title. She thus joins the small group of authors who have recently moved Tusc. to the center of attention among Cicero’s philosophica.1

Part I describes Cicero’s attempts to anchor philosophical activity within a Roman context, with Chapter 1 giving a brief account of the staging of the Ciceronian dialogues in time and space with reference to De oratore and De republica. The argument here, it must be said, is neither comprehensive nor detailed enough to arrive at new results. Chapter 2 clarifies the peculiar status of Tusc. as a senilis declamatio on philosophical themes. Reversing the practice of his speeches, where he attaches the particulars of the case to general philosophical topics, Cicero here brings to bear (mostly Roman) particulars to prove general philosophical points, a strategy for enlarging the audience for philosophical writing in Latin. Since detailed argument is given to only one side, however, it seems dubious that Cicero’s method here should be called in utramque partem disputare, rather than contra thesim dicere (cf. p. 64n55 with literature).

Chapter 3 traces the philosophical debate over the vita activa and vita contemplativa and shows how at Rome this was superimposed on the traditional discussion of otium and negotium. Seeking to overcome the dichotomy, Cicero champions a vita composita with roots in the New Academy and Middle Stoa. At first this takes the form of an alternation between the two vitae, but by the time of Tusc. (45) he sees philosophical writing as a substitute for action (p. 95).

The last Chapter of Part I turns to the special place within Cicero’s intellectual development of Tusc., written at a time when he has abandoned hope of returning to politics and thus is prepared to see the practice of philosophy as a value in itself. She traces this evolution via the correspondence and Ac. Post. 11 but also rightly notes that even the Tusc. contain some pregnant political allusions (pp. 113-14). Though the Tusc. are sometimes scored for scenery and a cast of characters less vivid than are found in other dialogues, Luciani’s view that the main speaker and interlocutor are deliberately assimilated so as to show the self in dialogue (pp. 120-3) may go some distance toward meeting such criticisms. Luciani herself offers a different explanation for the etiolated character-drawing, however, namely that Cicero wants to emphasize the transformation of the self over time (p. 127); this might be a corollary but perhaps not the main reply to the critics. She could also have set the matter into the context of the general evolution of Cicero’s handling of the dialogue form from more elaborate to more spare. She sees Cicero’s view of time as a tension between timeless reason and the vicissitudes of tempora and seeks to reconcile these by means of the four personae theorized by Cicero, after Panaetius, in Off., which include both a persona imposed by reason and another imposed by circumstance. This is a possibility, though it is not clear whether the theory should be retrojected to Cicero’s thinking during the composition of Tusc. more than a year prior to Off.

Part II, dealing with time and eternity in Tusc., is the kernel of the book. After a somewhat dry marshalling of statistics on the use of tempus designed to show the relative importance of the term in Tusc. (ch. 1), Luciani turns to the treatment of death in Tusc. 1, much of which is derived, implicitly or explicitly, from Plato’s portrayal of Socrates in the Apology and Phaedo : hence Cicero’s emphasis on the ‘time of death’ as the decisive moment in a human life, the perpetuity of the time post mortem and the hope of eternity. She shows that he also enriches the argument from an unexpected source, namely the Epicurean picture of death as a punctum temporis (and therefore nothing to be afraid of).

She then turns to aeternitas, a word first attested at Inv. 1.39. In their etymological dictionary Ernout and Meillet suggested that the word was a Ciceronian coinage. Luciani argues that it is not. Beyond the general difficulty of proving a negative, however, it may be noted: even if the materials existed in the 2nd century for creating the term (viz., the adj. aeternus, the suffix -itas), that does not show that the occasion or linguistic gift for creating such a word existed (one thinks of Cicero’s picture at Tusc. 1.5-6 of the dismal state of earlier philosophical writing in Latin); nor is the self-conscious commentary of Cicero the consular on the coinages in his later philosophica necessarily a guide to the way he would have proceeded in Inv., a student work. Non liquet would seem, then, to be the appropriate conclusion about Cicero’s possible coinage of aeternitas. In any case, in substance Cicero’s view of time and aeternitas, both in Inv. and Tusc., matches, perhaps surprisingly, that of the Epicureans, as Luciani later shows (pp. 224-6).

In chs. 3 and 4 Luciani explores Cicero’s account of the soul and its similarities to and differences from that of the various philosophical schools. For all his ostensible homage for the master (most famously 1.39: errare mehercule malo cum Platone . . . quam cum istis vera sentire), he is only prepared to go a certain distance with Plato. A particular focus is Cicero’s phrase aeternitas animorum ( Tusc. 1.39; cf. 55, 80-1), which has no counterpart in any of Plato’s dialogues, Plato reserving ‘eternal’, as opposed to ‘immortal’, for the Forms. As a Neoacademic Skeptic, Cicero is uninterested in the Forms (he makes, e.g., only a weak use of the doctrine of ἀνάμνησις in constructing human memory as a gift from the gods: 57, discussed pp.208-9), so he has no need to reserve the predicate aeternum for them. Hence he feels no compunction about substituting aeternitas in an argument about the soul where Plato uses ἀθάνατος ( Tusc. 1.55 ~ Phaedr. 245e, cited by Luciani, pp. 190-1). It may also be relevant that Cicero uses immortalis in Tusc. 1 only as an epithet of the gods in a conventional exclamation (96); given that widespread usage, immortalis may have seemed to bear insufficient weight to be an object of philosophical inquiry (similarly Luciani, p.212). But if at 1.55 aeternitas seems a mere substitute for immortalitas, it carries its full force when Cicero comes to combat the Stoic theory of the soul (see below).

For all their differences, the Stoics and Epicureans were both monists and believed that the soul perishes either at the moment of death (the Epicureans) or subsequently (the Stoics). For Epicurus only the atoms can claim to be eternal; for the Stoics it is the world-soul/god that infuses the matter of the world that claims that predicate. Cicero dismisses, rather than refutes, the Epicurean view of the soul (77) but, as usual, takes the Stoics more seriously. Following a procedure often used in his forensic speeches,2 Cicero divides the arguments and refutes them separately so as to reduce their impact, arguing first that the soul is not a compound (71), later against the argument from inherited qualities that the soul is born and therefore must die (79); it is in connection with that argument that he reverts to doctrine of the soul’s aeternitas (80-1).

After a chapter on the human sense of time, Part III considers the role of tempus in Tusc. 2-5. Book 2 might have been entitled de dolore patiendo. Here Luciani emphasizes Cicero’s simile of the callus (2.36: pp. 274-8) that forms through hard work and thus reduces sensitivity to pain over time. Apropos of Books 3-4 on eradicating the passions, Luciani argues convincingly against Jackie Pigeaud that, beside reason, the medicina temporis plays an important role, as the Stoics, too, recognized, especially with regard to grief (Chrysippus’ concept of the πρόσφατον). The chapter on Book 5 first explores the paradox that Cicero adopts the Stoic view that virtue alone constitutes the summum bonum but yet holds that human happiness is achieved not instantaneously (as the Stoics thought) but by a process unfolding over time; Luciani explains that Cicero’s concern is with the ordinary human being, in Stoic terms the progrediens or προκόπτων, not the sage; the former is engaged in a progressive quest for wisdom and happiness (p. 361).

The treatment of Book 5 concludes with a discussion of the phrase used with reference to the sage studium . . . illius [sc. naturae deorum] aeternitatem imitandi ( Tusc. 5.70). Here Luciani pertinently asks ‘si l’âme humaine est effectivement éternelle, pourquoi le sage doit-il se contenter d’imiter l’éternité des dieux?’ (p. 370). She feels in the end constrained to posit three different types of Ciceronian eternity: one for the gods, another for the human soul and the tempus aeternum of the world (this phrase also occurs at Tusc. 5.70; p. 375). Perhaps, however, the answer to the problem is to be sought along different lines; here the solution can only be adumbrated, not argued in due detail. In the Platonic view adopted in Book 1 and in the Somnium Scipionis, the human soul is divine and its aeternitas is not distinguished from that of the gods (cf. Rep. 6.26 = 30 Powell: deum te igitur scito esse with following argument). Tusc. 5.70, on the other hand, is part of a Stoic argument that virtue alone is sufficient for happiness and derives from a Stoic or Stoicizing source (and hence recognizes only a limited immortality of the human soul); cf. my notes on Leg. 1.58-62 and 62, where the implications of the parallel passage in Tusc. are considered. Moreover, if this is so, the point would undermine Luciani’s thesis of the unity and progressive development of Tusc. as a whole.

Luciani’s work, then, like the Tusc. themselves, is an opus compositum, comprising both a word- study of aeternitas across Cicero’s philosophical corpus and an extended essay on Tusc. from a certain vantage point. In spite of the reservations indicated above, Luciani has produced a highly stimulating book that deserves to be closely studied by anyone interested in these issues.

Table of Contents

Pt. I Temps social et temps du moi
Ch. 1 Le temps dans la scénographie des dialogues cicéroniens
Ch. 2 Les Tusculanes ou la ‘temporalisation’ de la philosophie
Ch. 3 L’ otium philosophicum. Une légitimité à conquérir
Ch. 4 Temps et subjectivité dans les Tusculanes
Pt. II De tempus à aeternitas, un élan vers l’éternité
Ch. 1 Sens et emplois de tempus dans les Tusculanes
Ch. 2 Temps, mort et philosophie dans la première Tusculane
Ch. 3 Aeternitas. Terminologie et philosophie
Ch. 4 Aeternitas animorum. Sens et enjeux d’une formule
Ch. 5 Cicéron et la théorie platonicienne du temps
Ch. 6 Aeternitas et cosmologies hellénistiques
Pt. III Temps pathologique et temps thérapeutique
Ch. 1 Le sens du temps
Ch. 2 Le temps du corps
Ch. 3 Le temps de l’âme
Ch. 4 Temps et chagrin
Ch. 5 Temps et sagesse


1.Cf. I. Gildenhard, Paideia Romana. Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations (Cambridge, 2007); Cicero on the Emotions: Tusculan Disputations 3 and 4, tr. with commentary by M. Graver (Chicago, 2002); B. Koch, Philosophie als Medizin für die Seele. Untersuchungen zu Ciceros Tusculanae Disputationes (Stuttgart, 2006).

2.The point is argued in detail by W. Stroh, Taxis und Taktik (Stuttgart, 1975).