An Ancient Guide to Good Politics: A Literary and Ethical Reading of Cicero's De Republica illuminates Cicero’s subtlety of craft and thought in his most painstakingly written dialogue. As Cicero—notable among ancient thinkers for his accomplishments as a statesman and as a philosopher—has enjoyed a resurgence of interest in recent decades, scholars are discovering in Cicero’s De Republica (On the Republic) an original, insightful, and relevant teaching on republicanism, liberty, leadership, and citizenship. Through a close reading of this work, Moryam VanOpstal highlights Cicero’s ingenuity in addressing age-old philosophical and political questions related to the best way of life, the relationship of justice and law, the founding of republics, the cycles of regimes, the guide of the republic, and the mixed regime. Instead of offering simplistic teachings on duty, power, and justice, Cicero presents us with reflections and puzzles that turn the question back to us, pointing us to deeper unities than the disparate appearances of things might suggest. VanOpstal shows that Cicero intended his dialogue as a provocation for us to live lives that are more fully characterized by noble thought and thoughtful deed.
Moryam VanOpstal is professor of history and government at The Cambridge School of Dallas.
A Note on Translation and Usage
Part 1: The Two Ways of Life
Chapter 1: Making Romans Reasonable (De Republica, 1.1-13)
Chapter 2: Unifying the Two Ways of Life (De Republica, 1.14-17)
Chapter 3: Socrates and Plato Come to Rome (De Republica, Book 1.13-33 and Book 6)
Chapter 4: Political Philosophy and the Unity of the Two Ways (De Republica, 1.20-64)
Chapter 5: How to Go to the Heavens (De Republica, Book 6, redux)
Part 2: Cicero’s Political Teaching
Chapter 6: On the Regime (De Republica, 1.20-64)
Chapter 7: The Cycle of Regimes (De Republica, Book 2)
Chapter 8: The Histories of the Kingship and the Republic (De Republica, Book 2)
Chapter 9: The Guide
Chapter 10: The Mixed Regime
Conclusion: The Meaning of Political Things
In this engaging book, VanOpstal guides readers through the fragmentary remains of Cicero’s treatise De republica (On the Republic), which was modeled loosely on Plato’s Republic. Cicero identified with the Platonic Academy—which in his day was skeptical about the possibility of attaining ultimate wisdom—and his dialogue reflects this philosophical modesty. VanOpstal comments sequentially on the text (or what remains of it) from beginning to end, pausing twice to discuss the concluding “Dream of Scipio.” VanOpstal reads carefully and writes clearly, and anyone interested in classical political thought and its possible contemporary relevance will find this book valuable and thought provoking. Recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty and general readers.
In this rich and deeply thoughtful commentary on Cicero’s great but fragmented political dialogue, VanOpstal has helped to fulfill a hope of scholars who participated in the renewal of respect for Cicero as a thinker over the last two generations. The hope was and is that accessible commentaries on individual works of Cicero would follow, commentaries built on the scholarship of the renaissance in Cicero studies. VanOpstal’s treatment of Republic is not only well-informed by this scholarship but is also marked by careful reading of Cicero’s text, exceptional attention to dramatic details and the literary aspects of the text, and philosophical reflections that reveal an author well-grounded in classical philosophy. “The Dream of Scipio” provides “the hermeneutical key” for VanOpstal’s commentary. He convincingly argues that Cicero unifies the active and contemplative life into one, where others have found an unresolvable tension. This commentary should be close at hand for the student disposed to explore the complexities and depths of Cicero’s Republic.
VanOpstal gives De Republica—Cicero’s central philosophic work—the careful reading it deserves. The result is a number of keenly perceptive insights into the dialogue, revealing Cicero to have been a devoted student of the philosophical tradition that began with Socrates, as well as a great philosopher in his own right.