An Essay On The Duties Of Man Analysis Meaning

De Officiis (On Duties or On Obligations) is a treatise by Marcus Tullius Cicero divided into three books, in which Cicero expounds his conception of the best way to live, behave, and observe moral obligations.

Origin[edit]

De Officiis was written in October–November 44 BC, in under four weeks.[1] This was Cicero's last year alive, and he was 62 years of age. Cicero was at this time still active in politics, trying to stop revolutionary forces from taking control of the Roman Republic. Despite his efforts, the republican system failed to revive even upon the assassination of Caesar, and Cicero was himself assassinated shortly thereafter.

The essay was written in the form of a letter to his son with the same name, who studied philosophy in Athens. Judging from its form, it is nonetheless likely that Cicero wrote with a broader audience in mind. The essay was published posthumously.

De Officiis has been characterized as an attempt to define ideals of public behavior.[2] It criticizes the recently overthrown dictator Julius Caesar in several places, and his dictatorship as a whole.

Contents[edit]

Although Cicero was influenced by the Academic, Peripatetic, and Stoic schools of Greek philosophy, this work shows the influence of the Stoic philosopher Panaetius.[3][4] The essay discusses what is honorable (Book I), what is expedient or to one's advantage (Book II), and what to do when the honorable and expedient conflict (Book III). Cicero says they are the same and that they only appear to be in conflict. In Book III, Cicero expresses his own ideas.[5] Michael Grant tells us that "Cicero himself seems to have regarded this treatise as his spiritual testament and masterpiece."[6]

Cicero claims that the absence of political rights corrupts moral virtues. Cicero also speaks of a natural law that is said to govern both humans[7] and gods alike.[8] Cicero urged his son Marcus to follow nature and wisdom, as well as politics, and warned against pleasure and indolence. Cicero's essay relies heavily on anecdotes, much more than his other works, and is written in a more leisurely and less formal style than his other writings, perhaps because he wrote it hastily. Like the satires of Juvenal, Cicero's De Officiis refers frequently to current events of his time.

Legacy[edit]

The work's legacy is profound. Although not a Christian work, St. Ambrose in 390 declared it legitimate for the Church to use (along with everything else Cicero, and the equally popular Roman philosopher Seneca, had written). It became a moral authority during the Middle Ages. Of the Church Fathers, St. Augustine, St. Jerome and even more so St. Thomas Aquinas, are known to have been familiar with it.[9] Illustrating its importance, some 700 handwritten copies remain extant in libraries around the world dating back to before the invention of the printing press. Only the Latin grammarian Priscian is better attested to with such handwritten copies, with some 900 remaining extant. Following the invention of the printing press, De Officiis was the third book to be printed—third only to the Gutenberg Bible and Donatus's "Ars Minor", which was the first printed book.[10]

Petrarch, the father of humanism and a leader in the revival of Classical learning, championed Cicero. Several of his works build upon the precepts of De officiis.[11] The Catholic humanist, Erasmus, published his own edition in Paris in 1501. His enthusiasm for this moral treatise is expressed in many works.[11][12] The German humanist, Philip Melanchthon established De officiis in Lutheran humanist schools.[11]

T. W. Baldwin said that "in Shakespeare's day De Officiis was the pinnacle of moral philosophy".[13]Sir Thomas Elyot, in his popular Governour (1531), lists three essential texts for bringing up young gentlemen: Plato's works, Aristotle's Ethics, and De Officiis.[14]

In the 17th century it was a standard text at English schools (Westminster and Eton) and universities (Cambridge and Oxford). It was extensively discussed by Grotius and Pufendorf.[15]Hugo Grotius drew heavily on De officiis in his major work, On the Law of War and Peace.[11] It influenced Robert Sanderson and John Locke.[15]

In the 18th century, Voltaire said of De Officiis "No one will ever write anything more wise".[16]Frederick the Great thought so highly of the book that he asked the scholar Christian Garve to do a new translation of it, even though there had been already two German translations since 1756. Garve's project resulted in 880 additional pages of commentary.

In 1885, the city of Perugia was shaken by the theft of an illuminated manuscript of De Officiis from the city's Library Augusta. The chief librarian Adamo Rossi, a well-known scholar, was originally suspected but exonerated after a lengthy administrative and judicial investigation. The culprit in the theft was never found. Suspicion fell on a janitor who a few years later became well-to-do enough to build for himself a fine house. The former janitor's house was nicknamed "Villa Cicero" by residents of Perugia.

De Officiis continues to be one of the most popular of Cicero's works because of its style, and because of its depiction of Roman political life under the Republic.

Quotes[edit]

  • ...and brave he surely cannot possibly be that counts pain the supreme evil, nor temperate he that holds pleasure to be the supreme good. (Latin: fortis vero dolorem summum malum iudicans aut temperans voluptatem summum bonum statuens esse certe nullo modo potest) (I, 5)
  • Not for us alone are we born; our country, our friends, have a share in us. (Latin: non nobis solum nati sumus ortusque nostri partem patria vindicat, partem amici) (I, 22)
  • Let us remember that justice must be observed even to the lowest. (Latin: Meminerimus autem etiam adversus infimos iustitiam esse servandam) (I, 41)
  • Let arms yield to the toga, the laurel defer to praise. (Latin: cedant arma togae concedat laurea laudi) (I, 77)
  • It is the function of justice not to do wrong to one's fellow-men; of considerateness, not to wound their feelings; and in this the essence of propriety is best seen. (Latin: Iustitiae partes sunt non violare homines, verecundiae non offendere, in quo maxime vis perspicitur decori) (I, 99)
  • Is anyone unaware that Fortune plays a major role in both success and failure? (Latin: Magnam vim esse in fortuna in utramque partem, vel secundas ad res vel adversas, quis ignorat?) (II, 19)
  • Of evils choose the least. (Latin: Primum, minima de malis.) (III, 102)

Resources and further reading[edit]

  • Why Cicero's De Officiis? By Ben R. Schneider, Jr. Professor Emeritus of English at Lawrence University.
  • Atkins, E. M.; Cicero, Marcus Tullius; Griffin, M. T., Cicero: On Duties (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought), Cambridge University Press (1991)
  • Cicero, Marcus Tullius; Grant, Michael, "Selected Works", Penguin Classics (1960)
  • Cicero, Marcus Tullius; Miller, Walter, "On Duties", Loeb Classical Library No. 30 (1913)
  • Cicero; Walsh, P. G., On Obligations, Oxford University Press (2001)
  • Dyck, Andrew R., A Commentary on Cicero, De Officiis, Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press (1996)
  • Griffin, Miriam T. and Margaret E. Atkins, Cicero. On Duties, Cambridge University Press (1991)
  • Nelson, N. E., Cicero's De Officiis in Christian Thought, University of Michigan Studies in Language and Literature 10 (1933)
  • Newton, Benjamin Patrick, Marcus Tullius Cicero: On Duties (Agora Editions), Cornell University Press (2016)

References[edit]

  1. ^Marcus Tullius Cicero and P. G. Walsh. On Obligations. 2001, p. ix
  2. ^Marcus Tullius Cicero and P. G. Walsh. On Obligations. 2001, p. xxx
  3. ^E.M. Atkins: Cicero: On Duties, p. xix
  4. ^Cicero, Miller: On Duty,
  5. ^Cicero, Grant: "Selected Works", p. 157
  6. ^Cicero, Grant: "Selected Works", p. 158
  7. ^E.M. Atkins: Cicero: On Duties, p. xxvi
  8. ^Cicero, Miller: On Duty, Book III. v. 23
  9. ^Hannis Taylor, Cicero: A Sketch of His Life and Works, A.C. McClurg & Co. 1916, p. 9
  10. ^'The first printed book was not Gutenberg's famed forty-two-line Bible but rather Donatus's Ars Mino, which Gutenberg, correctly sizing up the market, hoped to sell in class sets to schools.' Thus, Jürgen Leonhardt, "Latin: A World Language" (Belknap Press 2013) p. 99.
  11. ^ abcdCicero; Walsh: "On Obligations" pp. xliii–xliv
  12. ^Erasmus' Epistolae 152
  13. ^T.W.Baldwin, "William Shakspere's Small Latine & lesse Greeke", Vol. 2, University of Illinois Press, 1944, p. 590, Available online
  14. ^Sir Thomas Elyot, The Boke named the Governour, Vol. 1, Kegan Paul, Trench, & Co. 1883 pp. 91–94
  15. ^ abJohn Marshall, "John Locke: Resistance, Religion, and Responsibility", Cambridge University Press, 1994, pp. 162, 164, 299
  16. ^Voltaire, Cicero, Philosophical Dictionary Part 2 Orig. Published 1764

External links[edit]

Title page of Cicero's De officiis. Christopher Froschouer – 1560.
From a German edition – 1531

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, French Declaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen, one of the basic charters of human liberties, containing the principles that inspired the French Revolution. Its 17 articles, adopted between August 20 and August 26, 1789, by France’sNational Assembly, served as the preamble to the Constitution of 1791. Similar documents served as the preamble to the Constitution of 1793 (retitled simply Declaration of the Rights of Man) and to the Constitution of 1795 (retitled Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the Citizen).

The basic principle of the Declaration was that all “men are born and remain free and equal in rights” (Article 1), which were specified as the rights of liberty, private property, the inviolability of the person, and resistance to oppression (Article 2). All citizens were equal before the law and were to have the right to participate in legislation directly or indirectly (Article 6); no one was to be arrested without a judicial order (Article 7). Freedom of religion (Article 10) and freedom of speech (Article 11) were safeguarded within the bounds of public “order” and “law.” The document reflects the interests of the elites who wrote it: property was given the status of an inviolable right, which could be taken by the state only if an indemnity were given (Article 17); offices and position were opened to all citizens (Article 6).

The sources of the Declaration included the major thinkers of the French Enlightenment, such as Montesquieu, who had urged the separation of powers, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who wrote of general will—the concept that the state represents the general will of the citizens. The idea that the individual must be safeguarded against arbitrary police or judicial action was anticipated by the 18th-century parlements, as well as by writers such as Voltaire. French jurists and economists such as the physiocrats had insisted on the inviolability of private property. Other influences on the authors of the Declaration were foreign documents such as the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776) in North America and the manifestos of the Dutch Patriot movement of the 1780s. The French Declaration went beyond these models, however, in its scope and in its claim to be based on principles that are fundamental to man and therefore universally applicable.

On the other hand, the Declaration is also explicable as an attack on the pre-Revolutionary monarchical regime. Equality before the law was to replace the system of privileges that characterized the old regime. Judicial procedures were insisted upon to prevent abuses by the king or his administration, such as the lettre de cachet, a private communication from the king, often used to give summary notice of imprisonment.

Despite the limited aims of the framers of the Declaration, its principles (especially Article 1) could be extended logically to mean political and even social democracy. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen came to be, as was recognized by the 19th-century historian Jules Michelet, “the credo of the new age.”

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