Plutarch on Cicero
This Superbowl/Lincoln’s Birthday/Valentine’s day weekend, I took some leisure time away from all that to read some Plutarch.
I had read Plutarch's life of Cicero before, but finally got around to reading the parallel life of Demosthenes today. I found it really interesting. Both were magnificent rhetoricians who in a determined way attempted to save their Republican forms of government (Cicero from Ceasar, Demosthenes from the Macedonians). But Plutarch is seemingly harsh in his judgment of Cicero, saying in the comparison that he would "show his learning" much more than Demosthenes- as in show off.
The more I think about Cicero's own writings, I think he may have been showing off his learning to his fellow Romans for a good reason, that would not have been important for the circumstances Demosthenes' late Athenian republic. Philosophy was new to Rome, but not to Athens. And on so many different topics, Cicero attempted to rethink the Roman approach to incorporate the new Greek thinking. For example- rethinking the role of the poet in the society in "Pro Archia," rethinking the role of the statesman in the light of the cosmos in the “Dream of Scipio” section of his Republic, rethinking the role of religion in society in On the Nature of the Gods, rethinking the role of the philosopher in Rome in the The Laws (which is a big contrast with Old Cato's view of the place of the philosopher in Rome- get ‘em out of here!).
In my notes I took as a student of Leo Paul de Alvarez, he said that "Greece is a stand in for philosophy" in all the places it appears in Plutarch's life of Cicero, and that perhaps Cicero vacationed in Greece too much as Rome was falling apart. I would add though that the Republic was already going to fall apart one way or the other, Plutarch tells us in multiple lives (starting with the Gracchi).
So, in the American Republic of 2022: should we be more like Cicero or more like Demosthenes? Should we show out our learning to help the Republic rethink itself?