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On the Good Life (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

Marcus Tullius Cicero , Michael Grant
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 30, 1971 0140442448 978-0140442441
For the great Roman orator and statesman Cicero, the good life' was at once a life of contentment and one of moral virtue and the two were inescapably intertwined. This volume brings together a wide range of his reflections upon the importance of moral integrity in the search for happiness. In essays that are articulate, meditative and inspirational, Cicero presents his views upon the significance of friendship and duty to state and family, and outlines a clear system of practical ethics that is at once simple and universal. These works offer a timeless reflection upon the human condition, and a fascinating insight into the mind of one of the greatest thinkers of Ancient Rome.

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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)

About the Author

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC), Roman orator and statesman, was born at Arpinum of a wealthy local family. He was taken to Rome for his education with the idea of a public career and by the year 70 he had established himself as the leading barrister in Rome. In the meantime his political career was well under way and he was elected praetor for the year 66. One of the most permanent features of his political life was his attachment to Pompeii. As a politician, his greatest failing was his consistent refusal to compromise; as a statesman his ideals were more honorable and unselfish than those of his contemporaries. Cicero was the greatest of the roman orators, posessing a wide range of technique and an excpetional command of the Latin tongue. He followed the common practice of publishing his speeches, but he also produced a large number of works on the theory and practice of rhetoric, on religion, and on moral and political philosophy. He played a leading part in the development of the Latin hexameter. Perhaps the most interesting of all his works is the collection fo 900 remarkably informative letters, published posthumously. These not only contain a first-hand account of social and political life in the upper classes at Rome, but also reflect the changing personal feelings of an emotional and sensitive man.

Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (September 30, 1971)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140442448
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140442441
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.1 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
62 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wise choice as a Cicero starter July 29, 2002
Although "On the Good Life" is a hodgepodge of Cicero's essays, there are a few reasons why this book is a must buy. First, these are Cicero's words, some of the best writing to come from ancient Rome. Second, the essays are a great introduction to Cicero's immense collection of essays, speeches, and letters. His literary productive output was vast. Finally, Michael Grant's translation and introduction is of the highest quality.
A lot can be said about the selection of the essays - why would Michael Grant pick a Book Five (Discussions at Tusculum) and a Book Two (On Duties) instead of a complete collection of each? Where's the rest of these works? Frankly, it didn't matter to me. Once I began reading "On the Good Life" I was hooked. This book converted me into a lifelong Cicero fan and Grant's translations (through Penguin Classics) are my primary sources for his works. I have five Cicero books from Penguin Classics so far.
My favorite essay was "On Friendship." I would recommend it to anyone. It is wise, philosophical, and applicable to everyone even today. The rest of the essays were also fantastic with the exception - my opinion only - of "On the Orator." That I could have done without. It was a little too long and way too dry. I wish Michael Grant had squeezed in some other essay of Cicero's.
There are more comprehensive translations of Cicero but "On the Good Life" is a wise choice as a Cicero starter. If you enjoy classic literature and you haven't read Cicero, start here.
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Old Tully Can be a Bit Overbearing July 21, 2000
This is not one of those tomes I return to frequently, but when I do I am usually rewarded with a precept or an insight I overlooked the first time or which I have subsequently forgotten. Tully never let his mind drift off into the clouds. He is the arbiter of common sense and reason, above all, reason. He is a lawyer through and through. He will argue his case and expects no rebuttal. If in a given epistle, friend or foe should pose an objection to his line of reasoning, rather than engage in protracted debate, as Socrates might, Cicero delivers a few pithy rejoinders and the matter is settled:
"Cicero: ' Ah, you're trying to refute me by quoting things I've said or written myself. That's confronting me with documents that have already been sealed! You can reserve that method for people who only argue according to fixed rules. But I live from one day to the next! If something strikes me as probable, I say it; and that is how, unlike everyone else, I remain a free agent.'" Easy for him to say, and adroitly skating around any further discussion of the subject. Case closed! And if you come at me tomorrow, I may employ an entirely different line of reasoning. This is one reason Cicero used to be required reading for debate students.
Actually that is Tully at his least didactic, as his entire raison-d'etre was to teach. And his texts, coming down to us primarly in epistolatory form, do instruct us how to behave, how to interact, how to be civilized and live according to the Aristotelean Golden Mean. Luckily, they weren't sealed up as his law documents were. Virgil's ideal of "pietas" was derived in large part from Roman fathers of Cicero's ilk.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars CICERO THE SUPERB December 4, 1999
By A Customer
Cicero's brilliance shines like a beacon though two thousand years. This book gives his thoughts on what qualities make up a good statesman,citizen, and friend. His simple yet profound thoughts are outstanding. Your time is never wasted reading Cicero.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "A Good Dose of Practical Philosophy" May 1, 2002
The works that comprise Michael Grant's rendition of Cicero's "On the Good Life" are: "The Tusculum Disputations (V)", "On Duties (II)," "On Friendship," On the Orator," and "The Dream of Scipio." These works expound upon the very essence of the highest good--namely the highest morality--and lay down a clear system of practical, applied ethics for the aspiring youth, statesman, orator, or sage. Cicero, furthermore, attempts to use these virtues to the direct benefit of the individual citizen and ultimately to the dignity of the Commonwealth. The sheer stateliness of these treatises will be enough to attract and excite scholars and, in a word, enlighten students seeking to grasp a general view of the works of one of the greatest philosophical popularizers in history, the immortal Marcus Tullius Cicero.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To Italy! To Cicero! July 25, 2007
It's always a joy to return to the works of one Marcus Tullius Cicero. He was Rome's greatest orator, and anyone who has ever read his works can certainly see why. In the present work he discusses the concepts of friendship, moral virtue, one's duty to the state, one's duty to one's friends (and what to do when these come into conflict), oratory and the famous "Dream of Scipio." I have little doubt that Dante used the latter as inspiration for the 3rd canticle of his DIVINE COMEDY (Paradise).

In reading of Cicero's thoughts on morality, it's easy to discern the influence that Cicero had on Immanual Kant. Kant extrapolated and expounded on a lot of Cicero's basic ideas. The dialogue on friendship is a good complement to the writings of what Plato & Aristotle had to say on the subject.

The works are translated and edited by the venerable Michael Grant of Cambridge university. I consider myself pretty well read when it comes to the personages of antiquity. Still, Cicero loves to name-drop and frequently his allusions are beyond my grasp. That's where our good buddy Michael Grant comes in. Grant's footnotes do a terrific job of clarifying who Cicero is referring to, and makes Cicero's writings far more cohesive & easier to understand. I would gather that Grant's elucidations would even be apt to assist people with doctorates in history who wish to engage the Roman writer.

There is one mannerism of Cicero's that is bound to rub a lot of readers the wrong way, and that is his being convinced that the world revolves around Rome. In this way, he reminds me of how modern day New Yorkers believe that the world revolves around NYC. It is helpful, however, to remember that in his day the world basically DID revolve around Rome.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Its OK
Overall, a decent look at why moral behavior is necessary for personal good life and the good life of the state. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Al
4.0 out of 5 stars New to Cicero
Overall, I'm finding this book a very interesting. The only reason that I'm not giving it 5 stars is because I was expecting more insight into Cicero's politics... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Oliver
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the single best introduction to Cicero
This is the single best introduction to Cicero. This is an anthology of Cicero's prose writings by the late historian Michael Grant. I have read this book at least a dozen times. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Richard Munro
3.0 out of 5 stars it's ok but his logoc is sometimes faulty
he drones on and on and on. It would have been better to read a synopsis . This will definately cure your insomnia
Published 17 months ago by Virginia L. Lipke
4.0 out of 5 stars Happiness through service before self?
In Cicero's view, happiness was a by-product of a life led virtuously (or the 'good life' of the title). Read more
Published on November 26, 2011 by Peter Monks
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome Cicero
This is an exceptional work by an outstanding Roman civic leader of talent and dedication. I was first acquainted with Cicero through his Cataline Orations which I read in Latin in... Read more
Published on October 12, 2009 by Dennis K. Taylor
5.0 out of 5 stars Take a break and refresh your mind...
What strikes me as kind of funny is that I would like to frame this review as "take a step back from the current political chaos, and listen to a voice of wisdom from long ago. Read more
Published on August 8, 2009 by Geoff Puterbaugh
5.0 out of 5 stars Great anthology
I found this book to be a great introduction to Cicero's works. This work does not contain any of his famous speeches but rather a few of the essays he composed while in exile in... Read more
Published on September 29, 2008 by Christopher R. Travers
4.0 out of 5 stars Cicero--Statesman and Philosopher
One thing to note about this book is that it is a collection of selected chapters from Cicero's works. The only work that is complete is "On Friendship". Read more
Published on July 15, 2008 by T. Hooper
4.0 out of 5 stars Cicero
When people talk about the moral construct of our society, it's nice to occationally look back at some of the great thinkers of the past to see how they looked at morality. Read more
Published on March 17, 2006 by Stephen Tobolowsky
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