Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations

Ruins of the theater at Tusculum

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A series of short audio meditations on Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations, written in 45 BCE, when Cicero was 62 years old and had just lost his daughter Tullia in child labor. The Disputations address five topics from a Stoic perspective: On the contempt of death; On bearing pain; On grief of mind; On other perturbations of the mind; Whether virtue alone be sufficient for a happy life.

I.5-6: Cicero disputes with his friend about whether we should be afraid of the afterlife, and concludes that we will not exist, and therefore we will not be feeling anything. It is superstition that generates fears of death.

I.6: We seem to be awfully bothered by the fact that we will one day no longer exist. And yet, we didn’t suffer from the equally true fact that for a long time we didn’t exist.

I.7-8: Nature has presented us with this bargain: either not being born at all, or being born a mortal. Everything else is the fantasy of priests bent on scaring and controlling us, as Epicurus put it.

I.9: Cicero mentions a number of accounts of the nature of the soul, explaining that the Stoic take is that the soul is a physical attribute responsible for our faculty of judgment. And it perishes with us.

I.11: How, then, can you, or why do you, assert that you think that death is an evil, when it either makes us happy, in the case of the soul continuing to exist, or, at all events, not unhappy, in the case of our becoming destitute of all sensation?

I.13: Why exactly to we grieve when loved ones are gone? Is it about them, about us? Does it depend on what we think will happen to them after death?

I.30: For the whole life of a philosopher is, as [Socrates] says, a meditation on death.

I.34: Death, says Cicero, overtakes us quickly, and it is therefore endurable. It is the thought of leaving people and things behind that is painful. But the Stoics have a unique argument for why we should overcome that fear.