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 had followed the conventional form of a protreptic,[1] and taught that genuine human happiness is to be found by using and embracing philosophy.[2] The dialogue is named after Cicero's friend, the speaker and politician Quintus Hortensius Hortalus. The two other discussants are Quintus Lutatius Catulus and Lucius Licinius Lucullus. This meeting takes place in Lucullus' villa. While the dialogue was extremely popular in the ancient world,[3] the dialogue only survived into the sixth century AD. Today, it is extant in the fragments preserved by Martianus Capella, Servius, Nonius Marcellus, and Augustine of Hippo. Out of the four, Augustine preserved the largest portion of text, although the work is still considered lost.

History and composition[edit]

Biographical background[edit]

Prior to and during the time of the composition, Cicero experienced many hardships.

Politically, Cicero was at odds with Gaius Julius Caesar, who had become both dictator and consul in 46 BC. This meant Caesar was functioning as a de facto king, much to Cicero's chagrin.

Personally, Cicero had completed his divorce with Terentia in 51 BC.[5] It is theorized that in order to repay the dowry of Terentia, who came from a wealthy family,[6] Cicero married Publilia, a rich young girl in his ward, sometime between 46 and 45 BC.[7] However, his marriage to Publilia did not last long. In addition, Cicero's daughter, Tullia, whom he loved greatly,[8] suddenly became ill and died during the month of February in the year of 45 BC.

Due to these events, Cicero isolated himself in his villa at Astura, where he composed several works. In 45 BC, Cicero wrote the Hortensius,[9] the Academica, the De finibus, the Tusculanae Disputationes, Pro Rege Deiotaro,[10] De Natura Deorum, and the now-lost Consolatio.


The Hortensius was modeled on Greek protreptic literature and takes the form of a dialogue.[1] While taking the traditional form of a protrepeticus, Cicero divates from the traditional content as philosophy assumes a more ethical aspect, emphasizing its pragmatic and utiliarian nature.[12] However, According to F. J. Sheed, in the work, "Cicero attempts to persuade Quintus Hortensius Hortalus ... known for his defense of corrupted provincial governors, of the superiority of philosophy to sophistical rhetoric in facilitating genuine human happiness."[13]


The dialogue takes place at villa of Lucius Licinius Lucullus, between 65 and 60 BC, during an unnamed feriae – an ancient Roman holiday. In the dialogue, Quintus Lutatius Catulus admires the art in Lucullus' home, while Quintus Hortensius praises the skill behind the art. The discussion quickly becomes one about otium (Latin for leisure). Hortensius posits that the visual arts are suitable for such a usage of free time. Catulus, for the same reasons, begins to laud literature, especially tragedy and comedy. Lucullus interjects and promotes attending lectures and studying history as better use of otium. Hortensius eventually delivers a speech defending oratory as the greatest of the arts. Catulus responds by reminding him of the boons philosophy grants. Then, the character of Cicero chimes in to prove that philosophy is single-handedly the best of all the aforementioned skills.[14]

Thus, each of the four speakers defends a different branch of study: Catulus defends poetry, Lucullus argues in favor of history, the eponymous Hortensius defends rhetoric, and Cicero himself praises the virtues of philosophy.[9]

Relation to Aristotle's Protrepticus[edit]

Conventionally, it is held that in order to spread the wealth of Greek philosophy among the leading citizens of Rome, Cicero adapted and expanded upon Aristotle's Protrepticus.[13][16] Aristotle's Protrepticus was one of the most famous and influential books of philosophy in the ancient world. The work inspired its readers to appreciate a philosophical approach to life.[1]

The German philologist Jakob Bernays was the first scholar to suggest that Aristotle's Protrepticus inspired Cicero to write the Hortensius.[17] He further suggested that the Hortensius should be used as the base by which the Protrepticus could be reconstructed.[18] The English classical scholar Ingram Bywater agreed that Cicero had used the Protrepticus as the starting point of his dialogue.[19] Bywater also furthered the view, backed by the German philologist Hermann Usener, that both Boethius and Iamblichus had also structured their work on the Protrepticus.[20] Therefore, the relationships between their work and the Hortensius would only be consequential of using the same source. In addition, using Bywater and Usener, the German philologist Hermann Alexander Diels found a fragment of Hortensius in the Soliloquies of Augustine connecting the section to a fragment of the Protrepticus in order to strengthen the argument that Cicero did depend upon Aristotle.[21]


Even though the dialogue had been incredibly renowned and popular in antiquity,[3] it is probable the work only survived until the sixth century AD. Augustine, Boethius,[22] Lactantius were influenced by the work. Others have theorized that both Seneca and Tacitus were also influenced by it.[14]

What little is known 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".[9] The lines preserved by Augustine, on the other hand, are of great quantity and "of considerable interest", according to John Hammond Taylor.[9] It is known that the Hortensius survived into the Christian era as a schoolbook.[23] At the age of 17, through the generosity of his fellow citizen Romanianus,[24] Augustine went to Carthage to continue his education in rhetoric. At the age of 19,[25] he read the Hortensius there. He later wrote in Confessions that it left a lasting impression on him and moved him to embrace philosophy.[13][26][27]


The cover the 1908 Teubner edition of Cicero's complete works.

There have been several works of scholarship regarding Cicero's Hortensius. In 1890, the first standard critical edition of the fragments was the Teubner edition of Cicero (Pt. IV, Vol. III), edited by C. F. W. Mueller. In 1892, Otto Plasberg wrote a dissertation on the fragments.[9] In it, Plasberg provides a hypothesized order to the fragments, and supplies a Latin introduction and commentary. In 1958, Michel Ruch produced a fifty-three page thesis covering the influences, the date of composition, and structure of the Hortensius, while also examining its later influences and ultimate disappearance. In addition, the work reorganizes the fragments and provides each one with a French translation and commentary.[22] In 1962, Alberto Grilli produced Hortensius, the current standard edition for citation.[14][28] In 1976, Laila Straume-Zimmermann produced Cicero's Hortensius.[29]

Selected quotations[edit]

"Without doubt all of us wish to be happy."[30]

"Who is such a whirlpool as to wish his senses to be in constant turmoil caused by the greatest lusts, day and night, without respite? And who endowed with reason would not prefer a state free from the pleasure given us by nature?"[31]

"[Philosophy] not only succours us in the greatest matters, but also descends to the smallest."[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Rabinowitz 1957, 26.
  2. ^ a b Confessions III.4.7.
  3. ^ a b "Cicero (106—43 B.C.E.) | Hortensius". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved December 21, 2015. 
  4. ^ Haskell, H.J.:"This was Cicero" (1964) p.249
  5. ^ Susan Treggiari, Terentia, Tullia and Publilia: the women of Cicero's family, London: Routledge, 2007, pp. 76f.
  6. ^ Rawson, E.: Cicero p.225
  7. ^ Treggiari, op. cit., p. 133
  8. ^ Haskell H.J.: This was Cicero, p.95
  9. ^ a b c d e Taylor 1963, pp. 487–498.
  10. ^ http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/101/CiceroChron.pdf
  11. ^ Confessions III.4.8.
  12. ^ Rabinowitz 1957, 40.
  13. ^ a b c Augustine 2006, pp. 40–42.
  14. ^ a b c Mihai, C. Reconstructing Cicero's Hortensius. A note on fragment 43 Grilli (Philologica Jassyensia X, 1 (19) / 2014 Suppl.)
  15. ^ Rabinowitz, W. G.. Aristotle's Protrepticus and the Sources of its Reconstruction. University of California Press, 1957. Print. pg. 23.
  16. ^ Hutchinson & Johnson 2002, p. 2.
  17. ^ Rabinowitz, W. G.. Aristotle's Protrepticus and the Sources of its Reconstruction. University of California Press, 1957. Print. pg. 3.
  18. ^ Chroust, Anton-Hermann. Aristotle: New Light on His Life and On Some of His Lost Works, Volume 2 Routledge, 1973. Web.
  19. ^ Rabinowitz, W. G.. Aristotle's Protrepticus and the Sources of its Reconstruction. University of California Press, 1957. Print. pg. 5.
  20. ^ Rabinowitz, W. G.. Aristotle's Protrepticus and the Sources of its Reconstruction. University of California Press, 1957. Print. pg. 6.
  21. ^ Rabinowitz, W. G.. Aristotle's Protrepticus and the Sources of its Reconstruction. University of California Press, 1957. Print. pg. 10.
  22. ^ a b Taylor, John Hammond. 1960. Review of L'Hortensius De Ciceron: Histoire Et Reconstitution. The American Journal of Philology 81 (1). Johns Hopkins University Press: 94–99.
  23. ^ MacKendrick 1989, pp. 112–113.
  24. ^ Cummings 1997, p. 544.
  25. ^ Confessions VIII.7.17.
  26. ^ Cummings 1997, p. 685.
  27. ^ Russell 1976, p. 59.
  28. ^ "Hortensius (Book, 1962)". Worldcat. Retrieved December 21, 2015. 
  29. ^ "Cicero's Hortensius (Book, 1976)". Worldcat. Retrieved December 21, 2015. 
  30. ^ Rabinowitz 1957, 52.
  31. ^ Rabinowitz 1957, 46.
  32. ^ The Epistles of Seneca; XVII: On Philosophy and Riches. According to the footnote on page 108 in the Loeb Classical Library edition of the Epistles, translated by Richard M. Gummere, this quotation has been asserted as a part of the Hortensius.


  • Augustine (1991). Confessions. Trans. Chadwick, Henry. Hackett Publishing. ISBN 978-0-87220-816-2. 
  • Cummings, Mark, ed. (1997). Encyclopedia Americana. Grolier Incorporated. ISBN 0-7172-0129-5. 
  • Hutchinson, D.S; Johnson, Monte, eds. (2002). Aristotle's Exhortation to Philosophy: A Reconstruction of the Protrepticus. Cambridge University Press. 
  • MacKendrick, Paul (1989). The Philosophical Books of Cicero. Duckworth. ISBN 0-7156-2214-5. 
  • Rabinowitz, W. Gerson (1957). Aristotle's Protrepticus and the Sources of Its Reconstruction. University of California Press. 
  • Russell, Robert P. (1976). "Cicero's Hortensius and the Problem of Riches in Saint Augustine". Augustinian Studies. 7. doi:10.5840/augstudies197674. 
  • Taylor, John (1963). "St. Augustine and the 'Hortensius' of Cicero". Studies in Philology. 60 (3). JSTOR 4173424. 
  • Augustine (2006). Foley, Michael P., ed. Confessions. Trans. by Sheed, F. J. Cambridge: Hackett Publishing. ISBN 9780872208162. Retrieved 25 August 2012.