it for some time; and we infer that he published it soon afterwards, since in the following September he promises to send a copy to his friend Lentulus for the use of his son. He remarks to Lentulus that he has now almost entirely given up composing speeches, and has returned to his youthful love, the humane letters.
He had indeed for some time lived entirely withdrawn from public life, where even previously he had lost all power of influencing the course of affairs. In 63 b.c. the oligarchical party had been glad to make use of his legal and oratorical talents in the suppression of the conspiracy of Catiline; but they were not willing to make any sacrifices in order to repay him for his services, and in 58 b.c. they allowed Clodius to procure his banishment in punishment for the alleged illegality of his procedure in the Catilinarian affair. A year later Pompeius, finding Clodius more dangerous, again required Cicero’s assistance, and procured his recall from exile. He was warmly welcomed back by the public, but he was no longer of any political importance, although he still appeared in the law-courts, where he delivered some considerable speeches. In 55 b.c. however, when the imperium of the triumvirs was prolonged for five years, he withdrew from the courts as well as from the senate, and devoted his leisure to study, the first fruits being the present treatise.
Of its merits he himself took a high view; the tone in which he writes of it to Atticus (in the third extract above) is very different from the apologetic way in which ten years later he spoke about his philosophical works: these he referred to as ἀπόγραϕα, mere transcripts from Greek originals, that cost him
little labour. The present work is indeed worthy of the greatest of Roman orators, who regards oratory as of supreme practical importance in the guidance of affairs, and who resolves, while his mind is still vigorous and powerful, to devote his enforced leisure to placing on record the fruits of his experience, for the instruction of future statesmen.
The treatise is composed in the form of a conversation, though its method is very different from that of the dialogues of Plato. In those the conversational form is employed to convey the feeling of corporate research into complicated abstract questions, progressing towards the truth but not attaining it with sufficient certainty and completeness to justify its being expounded dogmatically; the positive results, so far as any can be elicited, are merely tentative. In Cicero’s dialogues on the contrary the facts in respect to the matter under consideration are regarded as already ascertained; doctrines are expounded as dogmatic truths, the dialogue form being adopted as a vivid method of exhibiting the many-sided nature of the subject and the departments into which a systematic treatment of it falls. If differing opinions about it are introduced, the parts of them that are valid are accepted and put together in a single system.
In the second of the passages quoted above Cicero describes the work as written ‘in the Aristotelian manner.’ Its manner is extremely unlike that of the works of Aristotle that have come down to us, which are rigidly scientific expositions, in places hardly more than outlines and enumerations of arguments, and which have been conjectured to be the Master’s actual notes for his lectures. We know