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Cicero's Tusculan Disputations, IV. XXXII-XXXV.

[On Love]



XXXII. Close attention is sufficient to give anyone complete insight into the degradation of such delight. And just as those who are transported with delight at the enjoyment of sexual pleasures are degraded, so those who covet them with feverish soul are criminal. In fact the whole passion ordinarily termed love (and heaven help me if I can think of any other term to apply to it) is of such exceeding triviality that I see nothing that I think comparable with it. Of love Caecilius expresses the opinion:

     who him of Gods thinks not supreme
A fool is or of life no knowledge hath;
For Love has power whom he will to craze,
Make wise or senseless, cast disease upon,
But whom he will, make loved, desired and sought.

How glorious the reformation of life that poetry inspires! since it thinks love, the promoter of shame and inconstancy, fit for a place in the company of gods. I speak of comedy which would have no existence at all did we not approve of such shame. What does the leader of the Argonauts say in tragedy?

You for love's sake more than honour's have preserved me safe from harm.

What then? What a conflagration of woe this love of Medea's kindled! And yet in another poet she dares to tell her father that she has won for husband

Him whom Love had granted, who is stronger, better than a father.

XXXIII. But let us allow the poets to make merry, whose stories let us see Jupiter himself implicated in this shame. Let us have recourse to the teachers of virtue, the philosophers--who say that love has no part in debauchery and on that point are at daggers drawn with Epicurus, who in my belief is not in what he says much of a liar. For what is the so-called love of friendship? Why is it no one is in love with either an ugly youngster or a beautiful old man? For my part I think this practice had its origin in the Greek gymnasia where that kind of love-making was free and permitted. Well then did Ennius say:

Shame's beginning is the stripping of men's bodies openly.

And though such loves be, as I see is possible, within the bounds of modesty, yet they bring anxiety and trouble and all the more because they are a law to themselves and have no other restraint. Again, not to speak of the love of women, to which nature has granted wider tolerance, who has either any doubt of the meaning of the poets in the tale of the rape of Ganymede, or fails to understand the purport of Laius' language and his desire in Euripides play? What disclosures lastly do men of the highest culture and poets of supreme merit make about their own life in their poems and songs? What things Alcaeus, a man of bravery and of note in his country, writes about the love of youths! Of Anacreon I say nothing, for his work is all love-poetry. Above all, however, Ibycus of Rhegium was, it is clear from his writings, a passionate lover.

XXXIV. In fact we see that love in all the examples given is lustful. We philosophers have come forward (and on the authority indeed of our Plato whom Dicaearchus not unjustly upbraids) to attribute authority to love. The Stoics actually both say that the wise will experience love, and define love itself as the endeavor to form a friendship inspired by the semblance of beauty. And if in the actual world there is an instance of love free from disquietude, from longing, from anxiety, from sighing, then so be it! if you will; for such love has no element of lust; but our discourse is about lust. But if on the other hand there is some love, as assuredly there is, which must be reckoned as not removed or not far removed from unsoundness of mind, as for instance in the "Leucadian Girl":

       Ah! were there but some god,
Who would have care for me!

But in this case all the gods were to "have care" how he might enjoy the pleasures of love.

         Ah! me unhappy!

Nothing more true. With reason too the other:

     Art thou sane who rashly wailest?

Even his own family think him of unsound mind. Note what a tragic air of passion he puts on!

Thee, Apollo holy, help me, Neptune, thee great
     Lord I call,
You too, winds of heaven!

The whole universe, he thinks, will conspire to aid his love; Venus alone he shuts out as disdainful:

     For why am I to call you, Venus?

He says that goddess because of lust has no care at all: just as if in fact he were not moved by lust himself to do and utter such shamelessness.

XXXV. The treatment applicable to a man so victimized is to make it plain how trivial, contemptible and absolutely insignificant is the object of his desire, how easily it can either be secured from elsewhere or in another way, or else wholly put out of mind. Occasionally also he must be diverted to other interests, disquietudes, cares, occupations; finally he is frequently curable by change of scene as is done with sick people who are slow in making recovery. Some think, too, that the old love can be driven out by a new, as one nail can be driven out by another; above all, however, he must be warned of the madness of the passion of love. For of all disturbances of the soul there is assuredly none more violent, and so even if you be unwilling to accuse its actual enormities, I mean the intrigues, seductions, adulteries culminating with incest, the vileness of all which deserves to be accused--but to say nothing of these, the disorder of the mind in love is in itself abominable. For to pass over the excesses which mark its madness, what an intrinsic futility there is in the effects which count as ordinary!

                                   Outrages,
Suspicion, enmity, a patched up truce,
War, peace again. Should you by reason sure
Things unsure claim to do, no more you'll gain
Than should you try with reason to be mad.

Such inconsistency and capriciousness of mind--whom would it not scare away by its very vileness? This characteristic, too, of all disorder must be made clear, namely, that there is no instance where it is not due to belief, due to an act of judgment, due to voluntary choice. For were love a matter of nature all men would love, as well as always love and love the same object, nor should we find one discouraged by shame, another by reflection, another by satiety (Cicero, 407-15).



Cicero, Marcus Tullius (1945 c.1927). Cicero : Tusculan Disputations (Loeb Classical Library, No. 141) 2nd Ed. trans. by J. E. King. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard UP.



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