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Introduction to the De Re Publica

In the year 44 Cicero stated that he had written the Republic “when he held the rudder of the State.”1 This was true only in a comparative sense. In later years the period between his return from exile (57) and the outbreak of the Civil War (49) may well have seemed to Cicero one of activity in affairs of State, but it was in fact the transference of the “rudder” to the stronger hands of the First Triumvirate (59) that gave him the leisure to follow in the footsteps of his beloved Plato by composing a second Republic.

It was in 54 (probably in May) that the actual writing of the Republic was begun.2 But Cicero found its composition difficult, and the work was also delayed by frequent changes of plan. In October, 54, two books were finished and seven more planned; each book was to contain one day’s conversation. The speakers were to be Africanus the Younger, Laelius, and several of their friends. But when Cicero read the two completed books to

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his friend Gnaeus Sallustius, he was told that the work would be much more effective if he presented his views on the commonwealth in his own person, instead of putting them into the mouths of statesmen of an earlier age. This suggestion led Cicero to adopt the plan of making the work a dialogue between his brother Quintus and himself. But later on he completed the work in accordance with his original plan, except that the length of the fictive conversation was shortened to three days, and that of the work to six books, two for each day.1 Exactly when the work was completed we do not know. Atticus appears to have read it for the first time in 51,2 and Caelius Rufus wrote of its general popularity in the same year.3

The work is dedicated to the man in whose youthful company Cicero claims to have heard a report of the whole conversation from Publius Rutilius Rufus in Smyrna; the indications seem to point with some probability to his brother Quintus.4

The dialogue is assumed to have taken place during the Latin holidays of 129 b.c., in the garden of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus the Younger. Those present were Scipio, Gaius Laelius, Lucius Furius Philus, Manius Manilius, Quintus Allius Tubero, Publius Rutilius Rufus, Spurius Mummius, Gaius Fannius, and Quintus Mucius Scaevola.5

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DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.marcus_tullius_cicero-de_re_publica.1928