Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Virtues of Cicero: The De Inventione

MOST OF THE WORKS OF THE STOIC philosophers have been lost. What we do have is mainly fragmentary evidence and the secondary sources of Diogenes Laertius, Plutarch, and Stobaeus. However, the Stoic doctrines were popular with the Romans, and we find their doctrines, we may assume faithfully expressed, in the works of the Roman stoics, Cicero and Seneca being perhaps the most important.

One of the works of Cicero (106-43 B.C.) to which we may turn for discussion of the virtues based upon Stoic principles is his De inventione.  That youthful work was written (in Latin) circa 87 B.C.  In it, as in his other works, Cicero adopts the Chrysippian model of the four principal or cardinal virtue (we might view them as the genera), with a whole panoply of subordinate virtues that are species of the four genera.  The four principal virtues--prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice--together constitute the sum total of duty (kathēkon (καθήκον), officium), but they are filled out, as it were, with these subordinate virtues.

Although Cicero wrote of the virtues in other works, in particular his De officiis, a work whose very title incorporates the sum total of the virtuous life and the product of the virtues, the De inventione is important because it, more than any other work,* is the source that fed the medieval writers and their virtue taxonomy.  From Cicero's lips, as it were, to the ears of Philip the Chancellor, St. Albert the Great, and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Bust of Cicero

Cicero's De inventione is a manual of rhetoric,** and it is only as an aside that it handles the virtues.  Cicero distinguishes between intrinsic and extrinsic goods.  The intrinsic good is called the "honorable good," the bonum honestum.  Ultimately, the bonum honestum is the fruit of virtue.  Extrinsic goods or bona utilia are things that are extrinsically good (such as money) or things that are intrinsically neutral but useful.  These extrinsic goods or intrinsic but neutral goods are the handmaidens as it were of the intrinsic good, the bonum honestum.

For Cicero, virtue is "a habit of the mind in agreement with the way of nature and reason."  Nam virtus est enim habitus naturae modo atque rationi consentaneus.  (De inv., 2.159)  This is a classic Stoic definition.  It stresses the interior component (habit or habitus), being something of the mind, something interior, and unconcerned with consequences or external actions.  The notion of "agreement" (consentaneus)   coincides with the Greek Stoic Zeno's famous formula of harmonious living with nature, the "to live in agreement" ( to homologoumenos zēn ).  The standards to which the habit conform are nature (natura) and  that reason (ratio) which lies behind nature.  Here, the natura-ratio notion is a direct adoption of the physis-logos formula of the Greek Stoics.

It is within this notion of a greater law of reason that is found within nature that the virtues must be understood.  In the next posting, we shall look at the virtues as Cicero understood them in his De inventione.  But it should never be forgotten that the concept of virtues presupposed a natural law, a law found in nature which was ultimately based upon a reasonable order, an ordo rationis.

*Other works that informed the medieval scholastics included lists by the Greek Aristotelian Andronicus of Rhodes (1st century B.C.) known as De passionibus and the Somnium Scipionis of Cicero by Macrobius. But these did not have the influence of Cicero's De inventione.
**"Invention" is the discovery of or coming upon (invenire) of arguments, one of the five traditional components that governed the rhetorician's art.  The others were arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.

1 comment:

  1. Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.