Hortensius (Cicero)

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Marcus Tullius Cicero, the author of Hortensius.

Hortensius or "On Philosophy" is a lost dialogue written by Marcus Tullius Cicero in the year 45 BC. The work taught that genuine human happiness is to be found by using and embracing philosophy. The dialogue is named after Cicero's friend, the speaker and politician, Quintus Hortensius Hortalus. The two other protagonists are Quintus Lutatius Catulus and Lucius Licinius Lucullus. This meeting takes place in Lucullus' villa. The dialogue survived into the sixth century AD, is extant only in fragments, preserved by Martianus Capella, Servius, Nonius Marcellus, and Augustine of Hippo. Out of the four, Augustine preserved the largest swath of text, although it is still fragmentary.

History and composition[edit]

The Hortensius was written during an unhappy time in Cicero's life. in 45 BC, Gaius Julius Caesar was serving as consul but was also acting as a de facto king much to Cicero's chagrin. Furthermore, Cicero's daughter, Tullia, had just recently died. Due to these great events, Cicero isolated himself in his villa at Astura, where he composed the now-lost Consolatio. It is believed that he also wrote the Hortensius at this time, as well.[1] The Hortensius was modeled on Greek protreptic literature and takes the form of a dialogue. The dramatic date for the piece is 62 BC, and it is set in the villa of Lucius Licinius Lucullus. In the dialogue, four speakers each defend a different branch of study: Quintus Lutatius Catulus defends poetry, Lucullus argues in favor of history, the eponymous Quintus Hortensius defends rhetoric, and Cicero himself praises the virtues of philosophy.[1] In order to spread the wealth of Greek philosophy among the leading citizens of Rome, Cicero adapted and expanded upon Aristotle's Protreptikos,[2][3] one of the most famous and influential books of philosophy in the ancient world, inspiring its readers to appreciate a philosophical approach to life.[4]


It is probable that the work survived until the sixth century AD. Some have theorized that both Seneca and Tacitus were influenced by it, and it has been confirmed that Lactantius and Boethius used it. What little we know of the Hortensius was preserved by Martianus Capella, Servius, Nonius Marcellus, and Augustine of Hippo. Of the four, Nonius Marcellus and Augustine preserve the most, although the lines preserved by Nonius Marcellus have been called "extremely brief and very difficult to place in a context".[1] The lines preserved by Augustine, on the other hand, are of great quantity and "of considerable interest", according to John Hammond Taylor.[1] It is known that the Hortensius survived into the Christian era as a schoolbook.[5] At the age of 11, Augustine had been sent to school at Madaurus, a small Numidian city about 19 miles south of Thagaste, where he read the Hortensius. He later wrote in Confessions that it left a lasting impression on him and moved him to embrace philosophy.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d Taylor, John (1963). "St. Augustine and the 'Hortensius' of Cicero". Studies in Philology (University of North Carolina Press) 60 (3). Retrieved February 10, 2014.  (subscription required)
  2. ^ Hutchinson & Johnson 2002 p. 2.
  3. ^ Augustine 2006, pp. 40–42.
  4. ^ Rabinowitz, W. G.: Aristotle's Protrepticus and the Sources of its Reconstruction, Berkeley, 1957.
  5. ^ MacKendrick 1989, p. 112–113.
  6. ^ Cummings 1997, p. 685.