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Topic #I69

Cicero, Discussions at Tusculum  Book V

 
22 March 2002

Scribe: Jessica Varrasso

 

 These minutes were not spoken; for another version, go to the spoken minutes.

 

 

            Friday's lecture began with an overview of the next two weeks of class.  Students were reminded of the upcoming lectures on Boethius.  Professor Hutchinson told the class that Boethius was complicated.  Boethius' work is an overview of previous Greek philosophy including Seneca, Cicero and various Christian philosophy.  Boethius was understood by Christians and by non-Christians alike, he was Christian although the class was informed that it was not necessary to know this to read and understand his work. Boethius'  is regarded as the last great philosopher of the ancient times and the first great philosopher of modern times.

 

            Professor Hutchinson then reminded the class of the upcoming final examination which is to occur on the third of May from 9am to 12pm.  The class was told to overview all material, but to focus primarily on material covered between January and April.  Also, Professor Hutchinson announced that at 5pm on the date of the examination there is to be a party at his house for class members.

 

     Wednesday's lecture is cancelled, however, Professor Hutchinson is organizing the performance of a newly translated play including volunteered casting from PHL 200 Y1 students.

 

            Cicero's work includes famous images which are seen recycled in the works of Boethius and Seneca.  Cicero was a Tuscan who did not disguise his Greek influence, in fact, Cicero advertised his Greek education. 

 

            Cicero's "Discussions At Tusculum" describes the tyrant of Syracuse Dionysius, born 430 BC, and ruled from 405 until his death in 367 BC.  Dionysius was a most regular friend to Plato who banqueted at his home quite often.  Dionysius's desires grew as his power became more unrestrained.  Dionysius's desire for friendship grew as well:

 

Although Dionysius was so deeply suspicious of disloyalty, he showed how much he missed having friends by the incident of the two disciples of Pythagoras.  One of these youths had been condemned to death, and the other was allowed to stand surety for his appearence.  But the first young man turned up punctually at the hour fixed for his own execution and released his friend from his pledge.  Dionysius's comment was this: ' I should give a great deal to be enrolled as the third partner in your friendship.

 

            And, indeed, to be without the company of friends, without the pleasures of social life, without anybody to talk to privately, was a truly deplorable fate, especially for someone who had received an excellent education since his earliest years and was a thoroughly cultivated person.  For Dionysius was an extremely keen musician, we are informed, and even a tragic poet (how good he may have been is beside the point, for in that art, more than any other, everyone seems entirely satisfied with his own efforts: I have never known a poet - and Aquinius was a friend of mine - who was not absolutely first class in his own eyes: that is how it is: you like your work, I like mine).  However, to go back to Dionysius, he was a man who denied himself every single one of the amenities of civilized life.  He lived with runaways and criminals and barbarians: no one who deserved or wanted freedom could possibly be a friend to Dionysius." (Cicero. On The Good Life.  Penguin, England: 1971. pg. 85-86)  Society and friendship is much deeper and more desireable than a life of power.

 

            Professor Hutchinson then moved on to a discussion about death and the anxiety of death.  One is often anxious about the prospect of death and the time and by what means death is going to come, but, as we were told, to be anxious about death is perfectly healthy and is, in fact, good to be anxious some of the time about death, but, that too much dwelling on death is a disagreeable experience.  Seneca commented that all of life is a rehearsal, but that there is only ever one performance.  Seneca also commented about asthma.  In ancient times there was no cure or treatment for asthma, if a person was asthmatic each breath during an attack could have been their last; the experience was a constant struggle between life and death.  Professor Hutchinson then reflected on an experience he had went through earlier that morning with his son who had an attack of croup.  Professor Hutchinson was prompted by his son's innocent "Daddy am I going to die?" with the thoughts of his sons own mortality.  Mothers and fathers are often faced with the realization, as Anaxagoras was, that they do not give birth to immortal children, that their children are just as mortal as parents are. 

 

            The class was questioned as to how we are supposed to rehearse remorse.  how are we to be ready for the deaths of those around us?  Professor Hutchinson suggested that we reherse once in a while, but not obsessively; it is not a good idea to lose self control.

 

            A student then commented that Cicero had lost a daughter.  Professor Hutchinson replied that Cicero had looked for consolation in ancient texts.  Crantor, a member of the Academy, in the early third century wrote a book called "On Grief" which was a treasure of arguments of consolation.  Consolation, it was said, was needed because the death of a friend is similar to the death of oneself.  A friend is a second self, Hutchinson said, and when that friend dies it is as if we (the friend) have died along with them.  And the fear and anxiety of death, subsequently is because 'you are your own best friend', in a self serving kind of way, we are afraid to lose ourselves the same way we are afraid to lose those loved ones around us.

 

 

            Professor Hutchinson commented that he had once written a paper on the Grateful Dead's lead singer Jerry Garcia, and that the name 'Grateful Dead' was very meaningful.  That in the entire span of the universe we have been given the chance to live, and when looking at death we should be grateful for that chance at life, not unhappy at the end of it.  Grateful to be dead is grateful to have lived.