Cicero (106-43 B.C.)

From De re publica (On the Commonwealth) (W.D. Pearman translation) References are to book and sections. This excerpt is from a section of De re publica often referred t0 as the “Dream of Scipio.”

VI.17. And as I gazed upon this more intently, "Come!" said Africanus, "how long will your mind be chained to the earth? Do you see into what regions you have come? See! the universe is linked together in nine circles or rather spheres; one of which is that of the heavens, the outermost of all, which embraces all the other spheres, the supreme deity, which keeps in and holds together all the others; and to this are attached those everlasting orbits of the stars. Beneath this there lie seven, which turn backwards with a counter revolution to the heavens; and of these spheres that star holds one, which men on earth call Saturn's star. Next is that bright radiance, rich in hope and healing for the sons of men, which is called Jove's star; then one fiery red and dreaded by the world, which you call Mars; next lower down the sun holds nearly the middle region, the leader, chief and ruler of the other lights, the mind and ordering spirit of the universe, of such magnitude that he illumines the whole and fills it with his light. With him Venus and Mercury keep pace as satellites in their successive spheres; and in the lowest zone of all the moon revolves lighted up by the rays of the sun. Now below these there is nothing more but what is mortal and transient except those souls which the bounty of the Gods has given to the sons of men; above the moon all is eternal. As for the earth, the ninth and central globe, it does not move but is the lowest point, and towards it all heavy bodies tend by their own gravity."

VI.18. And, as I gazed on these things with amazement, when I recovered myself: "What," I asked, "what is this sound that fills my ears, so loud and sweet?" "This," he replied, "is that sound, which divided in intervals, unequal, indeed, yet still exactly measured in their fixed proportion, is produced by the impetus and movement of the spheres themselves, and blending sharp tones with grave, therewith makes changing symphonies in unvarying harmony. For not only is it impossible that such vast movements should sweep on in silence; but, by a natural law, the outermost parts on the one side give a grave, and on the other a sharp sound. Wherefore the highest of all, the celestial zone equipped with stars, whose revolution is more swift, moves with a sharp, high note; while this one of the moon, as it is the lowest, with the deepest tone of all. For the earth, which is the ninth, remaining motionless is ever firmly planted in one spot, clinging closely to the centre of the universe. Now the revolutions of those eight spheres, of which two have the same power, produce seven sounds with well-marked intervals; and this number, generally speaking, is the mystic bond of all things in the universe, And learned men by imitating this with stringed instruments and melodies have opened for themselves the way back to this place, even as other men of noble nature, who have followed godlike aims in their life as men.

From De natura deorum (On the Nature of the Gods) (Francis Brooks translation) References are to book and section.

II. 6. Chrysippus [Stoic sage, 279-206 B.C.], again, speaks in a way which, though his own mind is a very keen one, he seems to have learnt direct from nature, rather than to have discovered himself. “For if,” he says, “there is something in nature which the mind, the reason, the strength, and the power of man would be unable to produce, surely that which does produce it is higher than man; now the heavenly bodies, and all those phenomena which observe an everlasting order, cannot be created by man; consequently that by which they are created is higher than man. And what could you say this was rather than God? For if there are no gods, there can be nothing higher in nature than man, since he alone possesses reason, and nothing can surpass reason in excellence. But that there should be a man who thinks that in the whole universe there is nothing higher than himself shows senseless arrogance. There is, then, something higher, and therefore there is assuredly a God.” Is it the fact that if you saw a large and beautiful house, you could not be persuaded, even if you did not see the master, that it had been built for the sake of mice and weasels,1 and would you not present the appearance of downright imbecility if you supposed that all this adornment of the world, all this diversity and beauty of the heavenly bodies, all this might and amplitude of sea and land, were a dwelling-place belonging to you and not to the immortal gods? Is not even this understood by us, that everything above is better, whereas the earth is lowest, and surrounded by the thickest air? For this very reason the same thing which we see to be also characteristic of certain districts and cities, namely an extra degree of sluggishness in the minds of the inhabitants owing to the denser quality of the atmosphere, has befallen the human race, through their having been placed upon the earth, that is, in the quarter of the world where the air is thickest.2 And yet, on the ground even of man’s intelligence, we ought to consider that there exists some mind of the universe, one that is keener than his and divine. “For whence,” as Socrates says in Xenophon, “did man get hold of the mind he has?” Why, if any one were to ask whence we derive the vital juices, the heat that is distributed through the body, even the earthy firmness of the flesh,1 and lastly the breath we draw, the answer is clear, that we have received one element from earth, another from water, another from fire, and another from the air which we take in with our breath.

II.7. And the element which surpasses all these, I mean reason, and if we care to express it by a variety of terms, intelligence, design, reflection, foresight, where did we find, whence did we secure it? Shall the universe possess all other qualities, and not this one which is of most importance? Yet surely in all creation there is nothing nobler than the universe, nothing more excellent and more beautiful. There not only is not, but there cannot even be imagined anything nobler, and if reason and wisdom are the noblest of qualities, it is inevitable that they should exist in that which we acknowledge to be supremely noble. Again, who can help assenting to what I say when he considers the harmonious, concordant, and unbroken connection which there is in things? Would the earth be able to have one and the same time for flowering, and then again one and the same time in which it lies rough? Or could the approach and departure of the sun be known, at the time of the summer and winter solstice, by so many objects spontaneously changing? Or the tides of the sea, and of narrow straits, be affected by the rising or setting of the moon? Or the dissimilar movements of the planets be maintained by the one revolution of the whole sky? It would be certainly impossible for these things to come to pass in this way, with such mutual harmony amongst all parts of the universe, if they were not held together by one divine and all-pervading spirit. And this position, if argued, as I intend to argue it, in a fuller and more flowing style, is better able to escape the cavilling of the Academics, whereas if expressed more briefly and concisely in syllogistic form, as it used to be by Zeno, it is more exposed to criticism. For just as it is either difficult or impossible for a running stream to be tainted, while this may easily happen to water that is confined, so the onward flow of argument sweeps away the detractions of the critic, while that which is confined within narrow limits has hard work to defend itself. These arguments, for instance, which are expanded by modern Stoics, used to be compressed by Zeno [founder of Stoicism, 335-263 B.C.] as follows:—

II.8. “That which exercises reason is more excellent than that which does not exercise reason; there is nothing more excellent than the universe, therefore the universe exercises reason”. In the same way it may be proved that the universe is wise, blessed, and eternal, for all objects that possess these qualities are more excellent than those which do not possess them, and there is nothing of greater excellence than the universe. By this means it will be proved that the universe is divine. He has also the following: “No part can be sentient where the whole is not sentient; parts of the universe are sentient, therefore the universe is sentient”. He goes further and urges his point in more precise terms. “Nothing,” he says, “that is inanimate and without reason can produce from itself a being that is animate and possessed of reason; the universe produces beings that are animate and possessed of reason, therefore the universe is animate and possessed of reason.” He also, as his habit frequently was, stated the argument in the form of a comparison, which was to this effect: “If melodiously piping flutes sprang from the olive, would you doubt that a knowledge of flute-playing resided in the olive? And what if plane trees bore harps which gave forth rhythmical sounds? Clearly you would think in the same way that the art of music was possessed by plane trees. Why, then, seeing that the universe gives birth to beings that are animate and wise, should it not be considered animate and wise itself?”

II.11. There is, then, an element which holds together and maintains the entire universe, an element, moreover, which is not without sensation and reason. For it is necessary that every element which is not isolated or simple, but which is joined and linked with something else, should have in itself some ruling principle, as, for instance, mind in the case of man, and in the case of animals something similar to mind, which prompts their desires. In trees, and in things which spring from the earth, the ruling principle is supposed to be placed in their roots. By ruling principle I mean the principle which the Greeks call ἡγεμονικόν, which cannot but hold, and which ought to hold, the highest place in each genus. Consequently the thing in which the ruling principle of the whole of nature is contained, must in the same way be the most perfect of all, and the most worthy of power and dominion over all existence. Now we see that in parts of the universe (for there is nothing in the entire universe which is not a part of the whole), sensation and reason exist. These qualities must therefore exist, and exist more vividly and to a greater extent, in that part in which the ruling principle of the universe resides. Consequently the universe must be intelligent, and the element which holds all things in its embrace must excel in perfection of reason; the universe, therefore, must be divine, and so must the element by which the whole strength of the universe is held together. This fiery glow which the universe possesses is also far purer, clearer, and nimbler, and on that account better fitted to arouse sensation, than this heat of ours, by which the objects known to us are preserved and made strong. Since, then, men and animals are maintained by this heat, and through it possess motion and sensation, it is absurd to say that the universe is without sensation, when it is maintained by a burning heat which is unmixed, and free, and pure, and at the same time in the highest degree vivid and nimble, especially considering that the heat which belongs to the universe is moved by itself and its own action, and is not stirred by anything distinct from itself, or by impact from outside. For what can be mightier than the universe, so as to act upon and set in motion the heat by which the universe is to be held together?

II.12. Let us hear Plato on this question, Plato, the god of philosophers, as he may be called. He holds that there are two kinds of motion, one self-imparted and the other derived, and that a thing which is self-moved by its own action is more divine than that which is set in motion by impact from something else. The former kind of motion he declares to exist in soul alone, and he is of opinion that it was from soul that the first principle of motion was derived. Consequently since all motion arises from the heat possessed by the universe, and since that heat is moved by its own action, and not by impact from anything else, it must of necessity be soul, by which means it is proved that the universe is possessed of soul. It may also be understood that intelligence exists in the universe, from the fact that the universe is undeniably of greater excellence than any form of being. For just as there is no part of our body which is not less important than ourselves, so the whole universe must be more important than a part of the universe. If that is so, the universe must be intelligent, for if it were not, man, who is a part of the universe, would, as participating in reason, necessarily be of more importance than the entire universe. If, again, we wish to trace the advance from the first and rudimentary stages of being to the final and perfect, it is to a divine nature that we must come. For we observe that the first things maintained by nature are those which spring from the earth, to which nature has assigned nothing more than protection by means of nurture and development. To animals she has given sensation, movement, an impulse, combined with a certain desire, towards what is beneficial, and an avoidance of what is hurtful. To man she has given more in having added reason, which was meant to regulate the desires of the mind, at one time allowing them their way, and at another holding them in check.

II.13. The fourth and highest stage consists of beings who are created naturally good and wise, in whom right reason in an unchanging form is innate from the beginning, that reason which must be regarded as more than human, and must be assigned to what is divine, that is, to the universe, in which this complete and perfect reason must needs exist. For it cannot be said that in any order of things there is not something final and perfect. Just as in the case of vines or cattle, we see that, unless some force interposes, nature arrives by a way of her own at perfection, and just as a certain attainment of consummate workmanship exists in painting and architecture and the other arts, so it is inevitable that in collective nature there should much more be a progress towards completion and perfection. Many external influences can prevent the other kinds of being from reaching perfection, but nothing can stand in the way of universal nature, because it itself limits and contains all kinds of being. That, therefore, must be the fourth and highest stage, which no force can come near. Now it is in that stage that universal nature has its place, and since it is the characteristic of that nature that all things should be inferior to it, and nothing able to stand in its way, it necessarily follows that the universe is intelligent, and more than that wise. Besides, what is more foolish than that the nature which embraces all things should not be declared supremely excellent, or that, being supremely excellent, it should not be in the first place animate, in the second possessed of reason and forethought, and lastly wise? In what other way can it be supremely excellent? For if it resembled plants, or even animals, it would not deserve to be considered of the highest degree of excellence, but rather of the lowest, while if it participated in reason, and yet were not wise from the beginning, the condition of the universe as compared with that of man would be the lower of the two. For man can become wise, but if the universe during the limitless course of past time has been destitute of wisdom, it will assuredly never acquire it, and will therefore be lower than man. Since that is absurd, the universe must be regarded as wise from the beginning, and as divine.

II.14. It was, indeed, an ingenious remark of Chrysippus that just as the cover was created for the shield, and the sheath for the sword, so all other things with the exception of the universe were created for the sake of something else, the crops and fruits, for instance, which the earth produces, for the sake of animals, and animals for the sake of men, as the horse for carrying, the ox for ploughing, and the dog for hunting and keeping watch. As for man himself, he was born in order to observe and imitate the universe, being in no wise perfect, but a particle, so to speak, of that which is, for it is only the universe to which nothing is wanting, and which is knit together on every side, and is perfect and complete in all its numbers and parts. Now since the universe embraces all things, and there is nothing that is not contained within it, it is perfect at every point. How, then, can that which is of most excellence be lacking to it? There is nothing more excellent than mind and reason, so it is impossible that these should be lacking to the universe. Chrysippus, therefore, is again right when he declares, adding instances, that in what is matured and perfect everything is of higher excellence, in a horse, for example, than in a colt, in a dog than in a whelp, in a man than in a boy, and in like manner that whatever is best in the whole world, must reside in something that is perfect and complete. As there is nothing more perfect than the universe, and nothing more excellent than virtue, it follows that virtue is an attribute of the universe. Human nature is not indeed perfect, yet virtue is attained in man, so how much more easily in the universe! Virtue, then, does exist in the universe, which is therefore wise, and consequently divine.