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which takes place a few days before the sudden death (of a stroke or heart
attack) of the protagonist Crassus and the outbreak of the Social War, On
the Commonwealth represents a very precise moment, during a political
crisis the deleterious e¬ects of which could have been halted by the
protagonist had it not been for his sudden death. In that respect, both
Scipio and Crassus represent Roman equivalents for the Socrates of the
Phaedo, speaking inspired words at the very end of their lives.
The other participants in the conversation are also carefully selected.
Scipio™s principal interlocutor (at least in the surviving text) was his


closest friend in real life, Gaius Laelius, a man of considerable learning in
his own right; he is portrayed as an ironic and practical man, who
repeatedly returns the conversation from the higher philosophical ¬‚ights
of Scipio to the real world of Roman life. He is accompanied by his two
sons-in-law, Quintus Mucius Scaevola (the Augur) and Gaius Fannius;
the former (one of Cicero™s teachers) appears in Book ± of On the Orator
as an elder statesman and expert on law. Another ¬gure of the younger
generation is Publius Rutilius Rufus, who is said by Cicero to have been
his source for the conversation: a man of Stoic beliefs and rectitude, he
was exiled unjustly in the °s for extortion and spent the rest of his life at
Smyrna, in the province of Asia which he was convicted of having
mistreated. Quintus Aelius Tubero, Scipio™s nephew, was also a Stoic
and a man of serious scholarly attainments; his career was cut short
because he refused to compromise his philosophical beliefs in order to
win election. Three other ¬gures ¬ll out the cast: Spurius Mummius,
whose brother Lucius destroyed Corinth in the same year that Scipio
destroyed Carthage, is presented as a hardened defender of aristocratic
privilege; Lucius Furius Philus, one of Scipio™s closest friends, was a
public ¬gure of great integrity and learning, who is made unwillingly to
argue the case for injustice against justice; and Manius Manilius, one of
the leading legal experts of the second century, was considerably older
than any of the other participants and had been Scipio™s commanding
o¬cer in Africa in ± at the beginning of the Third Punic War. Taken as
a group, the participants in the dialogue represent what Cicero felt to be
the highest levels of intellectual and civic accomplishment in the second
century, and also represent three generations of Roman eminence: one of
the central concerns of On the Commonwealth is the way in which
knowledge of morality and tradition can be passed on and kept alive; in
viewing the conversation, the reader witnesses a living example of the
values and social behavior that Cicero most admired.
The dramatic structure and setting of On the Commonwealth are deeply
in¬‚uenced by Plato™s Republic: there too there is more than one gener-
ation (the old man Cephalus; Socrates and Thrasymachus as mature
men; Cephalus™ son Polemarchus and Plato™s brothers Glaucon and
Adeimantus of the next generation); there too the conversation takes
place on a festival; and there too the topic of justice is dealt with both as
an internal quality of individual morality and as an element of social
order. In Cicero™s sequel to On the Commonwealth, the un¬nished On the
Laws, a Platonic model is equally evident. In Plato™s Laws, the main


speaker is the Athenian Stranger, generally identi¬ed in antiquity “ and
by Cicero “ with Plato himself; it is set on a long summer day with a
contemporary date. Cicero™s equivalent presents himself as the main
speaker, with his brother Quintus and his close friend Atticus as inter-
locutors; the conversation takes place at Cicero™s ancestral home in
Arpinum, at an unidenti¬able date in the late µ°s. The primary di¬er-
ence between the two is that Plato™s Laws proposes laws not for the ideal
commonwealth of the Republic, but for a second-best society, while On
the Laws proposes the laws for the state which is de¬ned as best in On the
Commonwealth, namely the ideal constitution of Rome of the mid Repub-
lic, after the laws of the Twelve Tables of the mid ¬fth century. If one
ignores that di¬erence (as Cicero himself does), then the two pairs of
dialogues are precisely parallel: one in the historical past, one in the
present; the second a deliberate sequel to the ¬rst. In Cicero™s view, the
combination was meant to provide ¬rst a framework for establishing and
maintaining an ideal government (which he identi¬es with Rome) and
second the particular legal code and customs that would correspond to
that government. It is often suggested, with some plausibility, that the
nine-book version of On the Commonwealth that Cicero abandoned in
October µ would have included much of the material (if not the precise
format of a legal code) now found in On the Laws. In revising his plan, he
determined to compose two parallel dialogues in imitation of his Platonic
model. That model, however, is more formal than substantive: although
he quotes Plato frequently, the philosophical and political systems of
Cicero™s pair of dialogues owe far more to Aristotle and the Stoics than
they do to Plato.

On the Commonwealth
Although On the Commonwealth seems to have been a canonical text in
antiquity and was widely known until the ¬fth century , it cannot be
shown to have existed entire after that, and it survives only in fragmen-
tary form. The principal source for it “ and the only manuscript copy of
most of it “ consists of ±µ± leaves of a palimpsest, a manuscript written in
the fourth century but erased and reused for a text of Augustine™s
Commentary on the Psalms at the monastery of Bobbio near Milan in the
seventh century. Luckily, it was not erased very carefully, and the lower
text is almost entirely legible; it was discovered in ±± in the Vatican
library by Angelo Mai and published for the ¬rst time in ±, making it


the last major Ciceronian text to be printed. The surviving portion
represents roughly a quarter of the complete text; it contains most of the
¬rst two books (except for the opening of Book ± and the conclusion of
Book ), a small part of Book , and a few pages of Books  and µ. The
reconstruction of the remains of Books ± and  is virtually certain, but it
becomes increasingly tentative thereafter. Other sources, however,
supplement the palimpsest: not only are there a great many quotations in
lexicographic and grammatical handbooks, but On the Commonwealth
was used extensively by Lactantius in the Divine Institutes early in the
fourth century and by Augustine in City of God in the ¬fth. At roughly
the same date the Neoplatonist Macrobius used the Dream of Scipio (the
conclusion of On the Commonwealth) as the basis for a commentary which
expounds the basic tenets of Neoplatonism; his work, to which was
attached a text of the Dream itself, was widely read in the Middle Ages
and is preserved in a great many copies.
The various sources make reconstruction of the argument of On the
Commonwealth reasonably certain, if not always in great detail. The
dialogue was divided into six books; each pair of books was equipped
with a preface in Cicero™s own voice and represented one day of conver-
sation. The ¬rst two books deal with constitutional theory: Book ±
presents a traditional analysis (parts of which appear as early as
Herodotus and which is fully realized in Plato™s Statesman and Aristotle™s
Politics) of constitutions into three types (monarchy, aristocracy, democ-
racy) together with their degenerate counterparts, and argues that the
best form of government is in fact the so-called mixed constitution,
incorporating elements of the three good simple forms. The second book
applies this theory to Rome: Scipio describes the gradual development of
the constitution from the time of Romulus to the restoration of republi-
can government after the fall of the Decemvirate in µ°/, arguing
that the form of government in place thereafter (perhaps until nearly
Scipio™s own time) was in fact the best example of the best (mixed) type
of constitution.
Up to this point, the argument closely resembles that put forward in
Book  of Polybius™ Histories, a work that Cicero knew well by a man
whom Scipio himself also knew well. The constitutional theory of both
Cicero and Polybius draws on the work of Aristotle™s school, notably
Dicaearchus and Theophrastus, while the historical material of Book 
draws on Polybius and, in all probability, on the lost historical work of
the elder Cato, the Origines. Near the end of Book , however, the


argument (and philosophical sources) changed at just the point where the
manuscript becomes very fragmentary. Two things clearly take place in
the dialogue: there is a move from historical arguments about constitu-
tional form to arguments from nature (.); and there is similarly a
move from considering ˜˜good™™ government in terms of its practical
e¬ectiveness and stability to examining it in terms of its moral values
These topics occupy the second day of the conversation. Book 
contains what was undoubtedly the most famous section of the dialogue
in antiquity, a reformulation of the pair of speeches delivered by the
Academic Carneades in Rome in ±µµ  in which he had argued on
successive days that justice is essential to civic life and, conversely, that
injustice is essential. Cicero presented the arguments in reverse order:
¬rst Philus presents the case for injustice in Carneadean terms, and then
Laelius advances a very di¬erent argument in favor of justice. This
speech is unfortunately very fragmentary: but it is clear that Laelius
argued in Stoic terms from the existence of natural a¬ection to the
existence of natural and permanent moral values, and thus to natural law,
de¬ned as right reason and explained as a fundamental feature of the
structure of the cosmos itself. From that conclusion Scipio took the next
step, applying the idea of natural law to constitutional forms, demon-
strating not only that the degenerate forms of government (tyranny,
oligarchy, mob rule) are not properly called commonwealths at all, but
that only a constitution which embodies a just distribution of rights and
authority is legitimately so named, and hence that the Roman constitu-
tion itself, as described in Book , is the only proper, rather than the best,
form of government. In Book  the argument becomes too fragmentary
for convincing reconstruction; what is clear is that Stoic ideas are again
applied, this time as a solution to the problem of maintaining a just
government. Scipio apparently argues from the presence of natural
morality in humans (as a part of the moral Stoic cosmos) to an equation
between the traditional institutions of Rome and the natural moral code,
showing that such institutions are shaped and maintained by individuals
of exceptional ability who transmit these values to the people at large and
foster institutional morality through their example and actions. The ¬nal
day of conversation (Books µ and ) is almost completely lost except for
the Dream of Scipio with which it ended. It is clear from Cicero™s own
references to it and from a few fragments that these books were entirely
concerned with the training and function of the individual statesman; the


last book dealt with the role of the statesman in a crisis (in part, probably,
based on Theophrastus™ treatise on that subject), thus bringing the
conversation back to the initial occasion for the dialogue, the crisis in
Rome in ±. The Dream at the end provides a vision of the genuine and
posthumous rewards that await the true statesman, placing moral gov-
ernment and civic responsibility in a cosmic framework that corresponds
to the Myth of Er at the end of Plato™s Republic but “ as Cicero does
throughout On the Commonwealth “ making individual morality contin-
gent on the values of civic life and public service.
When the palimpsest of the ¬rst two books of On the Commonwealth
was discovered in ±±, Cicero™s work was criticized for its lack of
originality and for its irrelevance as a political theory. Both criticisms
have some validity, both because the portion of the text that was dis-
covered is not “ and does not claim to be “ particularly original (although
it is in fact one of the fullest accounts of the theory of the mixed
constitution and the earliest extant history of early Rome in Latin) and
because by the early nineteenth century the type of political argument
that Cicero made in those books had long been out of fashion. Not only
had traditional constitutional theory been replaced by arguments from
raison d™etat, but the links that Cicero makes between moral government
and individual virtue (less clear because of the condition of the text) were
equally out of favor. Had the text been known two or three centuries
earlier, it would have taken an honorable place with Cicero™s other works
of moral politics, particularly the treatise On Duties, in Renaissance
discussions of civic humanism and republican virtue. As it is, the de-
scription of the statesman in the Dream and various fragments preserved
by Augustine (such as the analogy of musical harmony and social concord
at .a) were widely known and cited long before the discovery of the
On the Commonwealth was the ¬rst, and perhaps the only, serious
attempt by a Roman to analyze the structure and values of republican
government and imperial rule. In adapting Platonic and Aristotelian
theories based on the small, self-contained, and relatively homogeneous
society of the polis to the conditions of the Roman imperium, Cicero made
use of Stoic ideas of the cosmopolis and of natural law to develop a
complex and ambitious argument, linking the traditional values and
institutions of republican Rome on the one hand to Aristotelian ideas of
civic virtue and on the other to the order of the universe itself. Stoic
moral theory made it possible for Cicero to construct an image of society


ruled not by a Platonic intellectual elite which alone had access to truth
through dialectic and the knowledge of the Forms, but by all those whose
recognition of their own moral capacities, as a part of a cosmic whole, led
them to contribute to the creation and preservation of a society which
re¬‚ected and incorporated the natural justice of the universe. As the
preface to On the Commonwealth and the Dream of Scipio make clear,
Cicero framed the dialogue as an exhortation to public service and an
explanation of the goals and rewards of civic life; he rejects Epicurean
withdrawal into private life as well as Platonic and Aristotelian ideas of
the superiority of contemplation to action. Political institutions, as in
Aristotle, serve not only political ends but moral ones; but in Cicero™s
universe they also provide a necessary link between social order and the
natural law. Perhaps the most striking argument in On the Commonwealth
is Cicero™s attempt in Book  to explain the traditional institutions of
Roman society in terms of Stoic moral theory, giving a philosophical
basis to inherited social practices. Similarly, by demonstrating that the
traditional Roman constitution was the only moral form of government
and grounding it in the ethical structure of the cosmos in Book , Cicero
o¬ers a philosophical justi¬cation for Roman imperialism and claims to
universal rule.
In this connection, however, it is important to recognize that Cicero is
very far from advancing an argument in favor of Roman nationalism or
exceptionalism, any more than the emphasis on the role of the statesman
is (as it has sometimes been understood) a call for monarchy. For both
national and individual behavior, Cicero™s cosmic framework supplies an
absolute standard with which to judge the moral worth of actions and, in
the case of nations, an indication of whether or not they deserve to
survive. Aristotle had argued that good governments are those in which
power is exercised in the interest of the governed rather than the rulers;
Cicero extends this to include rule over subject peoples as well and gives
a moral and political dimension to Aristotle™s ideas about natural slavery.
It is essential for Cicero that a commonwealth or an empire be above all a
moral community; he makes it very clear not only that lapses in moral
government will inevitably lead to political collapse, but also that Rome
itself, in both its internal government and its conduct of empire, has
fallen away from the standard which it once maintained.
Whether or not Cicero actually believed the cosmic and eschatological
framework which he constructed in On the Commonwealth is unanswer-
able; his lifelong adherence to Academic skepticism certainly raises


doubts. What is clear is that he found it a compelling means to stress the
moral values which he undoubtedly felt to be a necessary basis for the
conduct of government and which he knew “ as is clear from his
correspondence and other writings “ were sorely lacking in the public life
of his time, and the absence of which he believed, with some justi¬cation,
endangered the survival of republican government. The largely Stoic
theory which Cicero developed allowed him not only to provide a
respectable philosophical justi¬cation for Roman traditional behavior but
to use it to reveal how far Rome had declined from its previous virtue.
But if Cicero™s cosmology is not presented as an unquestioned justi¬-
cation for Rome™s universal rule, neither is his vision of early Roman
greatness a sign of simple-minded nostalgia. Although Cicero uses Stoic
theory to provide a rational explanation of the sources and structure of
traditional Roman government and institutions, he is completely aware
of the fact that the rationality and Stoicism are his own contribution, not
characteristics of the primitive rulers of early Rome. Laelius in an
important comment (.±“) points out that Cicero™s Romulus is a very
unlikely ¬ction. There is also an inherent tension in combining a teleo-
logical account of Rome™s rise to perfection with the philosophical
explanation of the immanent virtue of Roman government. The very
concept of world empire, central to the idea of Roman rule as the
representative of cosmic order, is called into question by the Dream, in
which the description of the universe reveals the physical and chrono-
logical limits “ and indeed questions the worth “ of Rome™s power and
glory. What is more, the mechanism for preserving republican virtue
itself against the pressures of corruption and decline inevitably involves
the use of extraconstitutional power to maintain the republican system.
Elizabeth Rawson rightly pointed out the similarity between Cicero™s
solution to the problem of decline and that of Machiavelli in the Discorsi:
the preservation of a virtuous republic necessarily entails violation of
republican procedures.
On the Commonwealth is the last known Roman literary or philosophical
work completed before the outbreak of the civil war between Caesar and
Pompey which e¬ectively ended republican government at Rome, and
Cicero was well aware that the social and political structure which he
idealized in his dialogue had collapsed: indeed, he says as much in the
preface to Book µ. What he o¬ers in On the Commonwealth is less a
practical program for political reform than a philosophical rationale for
what had been lost, together with an explanation of why it had failed. It is


an explanation based not on the economic and social changes in Rome that
had in fact placed intolerable stress on the structure of republican
government, but on Cicero™s belief in the moral obligations of statesmen
and of states. It was perhaps an unfashionable (and certainly ine¬ective)
approach to the problems of civic life even when it was written, and the
contradictions in Cicero™s own account seem to acknowledge that. In the
dialogue, Scipio is presented as the sole possible savior of ancestral virtue;
his sudden death only days after the dramatic date of On the Common-
wealth signals Cicero™s sense of the impossibility of maintaining the form
of government he so admired and his recognition that the ideal presented
in the dialogue was, like Plato™s Republic, an ideal and not reality.
Because the complete text of On the Commonwealth was lost between
about °° and ±±, its direct in¬‚uence on modern political theory is
virtually nonexistent. Nonetheless, portions of it, preserved by other
writers, were widely known. The Dream of Scipio was known and used by
eschatological writers (including Dante) throughout the Middle Ages
and (together with Macrobius™ commentary on it) was an important
source for cosmology and astronomy as well. Lactantius™ report of the
speeches against and for justice from Book  in Books µ and  of the
Divine Institutes was an important source in the Renaissance for knowl-
edge of the skeptical rhetoric of Carneades as well as for the concept of
natural law (more fully discussed in On the Laws; see below). Augustine™s
use in City of God of Cicero™s de¬nition of the commonwealth at ±. as
˜˜a concern of the people™™ (res populi) based on ˜˜agreement on law™™ (iuris
consensu) was cited frequently by medieval writers on politics and is
echoed as late as the seventeenth century. The signi¬cance of On the
Commonwealth, however, is far greater than its direct in¬‚uence. Cicero
attempted to place Aristotelian ideas about the ethical importance of civic
life within the Stoic framework of universal law, and he was the ¬rst
person to explore the tensions between the temporal limitations of
political achievement and the eternal goals to which such achievements
aspire. Augustine in City of God used Cicero™s framework to explain a
di¬erent politics and a di¬erent eternity; had he been able to read it,
Machiavelli too would have recognized what Cicero had achieved.

On the Laws
The history of On the Laws is in many ways the opposite of that of On the
Commonwealth. The latter was well known and studied in antiquity but


disappeared by the seventh century; On the Laws was far less widely read
in antiquity but had a great in¬‚uence in the Middle Ages and later. The
origin and early condition of the work are mysterious: alone among
Cicero™s major philosophical works, it is not mentioned a single time in
Cicero™s correspondence. It is generally assumed that it was conceived
and written in conjunction with On the Commonwealth, and in it Cicero
makes frequent allusions to the relationship between the two. It is not
complete: what survives in the manuscripts is the better part of three
books, with a large gap in the text of the third. It is clear, from one of the
few ancient quotations of On the Laws, that there were at least ¬ve books,
but there is no certainty at all as to how many were written or how many
were intended; a reference to midday in the fragment of Book µ suggests
that Cicero may have planned a work in eight books. Since it is almost
certain that most, if not all, of what survives was written before Cicero
departed from Rome in the spring of µ± , and since he does not
mention On the Laws in the catalogue of his philosophical works that
introduces Book  of his dialogue On Divination (completed shortly after
the assassination of Caesar in March ), it is evident that On the Laws
had not been completed by that time. It is possible, as some have argued,
that Cicero worked on the dialogue at the very end of his life, in , but
there is no correspondence surviving from that period and no compelling
internal evidence for revision; there is certainly no reference in the work
itself to any event after µ, and if it had been written later one would have
expected at least a veiled allusion to Caesar. On the whole, it is safest to
believe that Cicero left On the Laws incomplete in µ± and never returned
to it under the changed political circumstances of the °s. In that case, it
will have been made public shortly after his death: Cornelius Nepos, the
historian and protege of Cicero™s friend Atticus, clearly alludes to it in a
fragment of his treatise On Latin Historians, probably written in the late
In many respects On the Laws, though incomplete, is Cicero™s most
successful attempt at imitating the manner of a Platonic dialogue. Unlike
On the Commonwealth, it has no preface in Cicero™s own voice: the setting
“ on Cicero™s family estate in Arpinum “ is allowed to emerge from the
conversation, as often happens in Plato. Although much of the dialogue is
composed of long speeches by Cicero himself, it is a far more vivid and
realistic conversation than those of On the Orator and On the Common-
wealth, and the descriptions of the locale “ Cicero™s family home and the
landscaped woods and rivers on his property “ are compelling. Because

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