Portia’s Powerful Tongue: The Ethics of Lady Rhetoric in The Merchant of Venice

Posted Posted in Liberal Arts, Liberal Education

by Scott F. Crider

University of Dallas


When early modern Europeans searched for a myth of human nature, familial bond, and civil association, they found one in an early Ciceronian treatise on oratory, de Inventione, in which he offers an etiological myth of rhetoric, “the origin of this thing we call eloquence”:

For there was a time when men wandered at large in the fields like animals and lived on wild fare; they did nothing by the guidance of reason, but relied chiefly on physical strength; there was yet no ordered system of religious worship or of social duties; no one had seen legitimate marriage nor had anyone looked upon children whom he knew to be his own; nor had they learned the advantages of any equitable code of law.  And so through their ignorance and error[,] blind and unreasoning passion satisfied itself by misuse of bodily strength, which is a very dangerous servant.  At this juncture a man—great and wise I am sure—became aware of the power latent in man and the wide field offered by his mind for great achievement if one could develop this power by instruction.  Men were scattered in the fields and hidden in sylvan retreats when he assembled and gathered them in accordance with a plan; he introduced them to every useful and honorable occupation, though they cried out against it at first because of its novelty, and then when through reason and eloquence they had listened with greater attention, he transformed them from wild savages into a kind and gentle folk.[1]

For Cicero and his early modern heirs, the first orator established human being, familial bonds, and civil association by means of eloquence, and this founding is re-enacted during important moments of eloquence.  The gathering of humanity through eloquence establishes us as human, and that gatherer is an especially important human, imagined by Cicero and most of his humanist sons as a special man.

Throughout his career, Shakespeare is fascinated by the art of oratory.  Both trained in the English grammar school tradition of Latinate oratory and well-read in classical, continental and English rhetorics, he continually represents the action of artful speech in his plays, not only because dramatists cannot do otherwise, given that they have their characters speak, but also because this dramatist isolates and examines a number of the most important questions within the rhetorical tradition, exploring its nature, especially the ethical character of its power to move audiences to belief and action. [2]

The Merchant of Venice represents two societies which require renewed foundations: the multicultural commercial republic of Venice, whose economic and legal bonds are failing to bind its citizens, and the idyllic estate of Belmont, whose deceased patriarch is both thwarting and enabling his daughter’s marital bond.  When Shylock tries to explain in 4.1 of the play to a disguised Portia that he will not be persuaded to forsake the bond Antonio now owes him—“By my soul, I swear / There is no power in the tongue of man / To alter me” (4.1.237-39)[3]—the figure of speech provides me with the focus of my essay: Generally, the power of human speech, or the “tongue,” to “alter” audiences; specifically, the ethics of Portia’s “power” as Lady Rhetoric, both in Venice and in Belmont.[4]  That Portia is an effective rhetor in both lands is obvious, yet success is not the exclusive measure of the art of rhetoric.[5]  The question is this:  Is Portia’s “powerful tongue” ethically good?  The answer: In Belmont, yes; in Venice, yes and no.  Because of her ignorance of Venetian circumstances—especially the cultural tension between Christian and Jew in the city—she makes a mistake and sacrifices Shylock in order to save her husband’s friend, a sacrifice which qualifies, without ruining, the romance of the play, a romance achieved through her ethical rhetoric in Belmont.  Portia’s suasiveness is composed of two rhetorical actions, then, one tragic and one comic, and the relationship of the two establishes the play’s unity, a unity which confirms Samuel Johnson’s observation that Shakespeare’s plays are not, strictly speaking, either tragedies or comedies:

Shakespeare’s plays are not in the rigorous and critical sense either tragedies or comedies, but compositions of a distinct kind; exhibiting the real state of sublunary nature, which partakes of good and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled with endless variety of proportion and innumerable modes of combination; and expressing the course of the world, in which the loss of one is the gain of another; in which at the same time, the reveler is hasting to his wine, and the mourner burying his friend; in which the malignity of the one is sometimes defeated by the frolick of another; and many mischiefs and many benefits are done and hindered without design.[6]

Shakespeare exhibits the real nature of a generally good, but flawed rhetor who restores two decaying worlds, but only by accidentally destroying a man.  In Venice and in Belmont, as in any city, the destruction of the other often establishes a new order, an order that romance, though, cannot purify.  Our ethical persuasions do not efface our unethical ones; they simply define them as such, and the play’s mode of combination provides the definition.  Let me discuss the Renaissance figure of Lady Rhetoric, the principles of ethical rhetoric, and our particular rhetorical lady in both cities.

I. Powerful Lady Rhetoric, Over-Powered

In the European Renaissance, the art of rhetoric was, as always, a suspect study.  Let me isolate one feature of that anti-rhetorical tradition: the accusation that rhetoric is effeminate, and that its powers of transformation subvert good reason and stable order.  “Womanly” rhetoric was thought dangerous because, when practiced by men, it undermines their own masculinity; and because, when practiced by women over men, it emasculates the male audience and masculates the female orator.   Even so, though the art of rhetoric in the Renaissance was usually practiced by men, there were exceptional women orators—Elizabeth I, for example—and there is even a habit in the iconographical tradition of imagining persuasion itself as female.  Lady Rhetoric—or Persuasion—is a figure for the art of rhetoric, as we see in Figure 1.[7]  Here we see a woman in flowing gown holding a three-headed beast on a leash, a leash that also binds her.  Wayne Rebhorn offers two interpretations of the emblem.  First, the rhetor’s power here is both power over and over-powering; that is, she rules the audience, yet is herself constrained by that very power.  Second, the beast is of indeterminate character since, although it resembles Cerberus, it may be a version of Hydra, the many-headed beast that represents the mass audience of the art of rhetoric.  The indeterminate beast may figure the audience to which the orator must attend; then again, it may figure the three appeals of rhetoric—logos, ethos, and pathos—which correspond to the audience’s three faculties of reason, moral sense and emotion, or it might figure the three kinds of rhetoric: political deliberative, epideictic, and judicial.[8]  In either case, Lady Rhetoric’s command of the beast is a sign that she has the art of rhetoric, defined by Aristotle in the Rhetoric as “an ability, in each case, to see the available means of persuasion” (1.2.1).  This definition indicates that, with respect to an audience and an issue, the rhetor selects means to achieve the end of persuasion, that proximate end itself achieving more remote ends.  That selection of means and ends is a power.  However, she is persuaded as she persuades, and the rhetor’s power over an audience often obscures the audience’s power over the rhetor.  Lady Rhetoric is altered even as she alters.  The bond binding the beast is also binding her.

Her gender and her moderated power help illuminate my topic: a powerful female orator who is not always fully in command of her own oratory.  Many of Shakespeare’s heroines in the comedies are distinct instances of Lady Rhetoric, the allegorical figure transformed into a number of related, but highly individual fictional characters—Rosalind in As You Like It and Viola in Twelfth Night, for example, and certainly Portia.  These women are disguised as men, and, as a consequence of such disguises—Rosalind’s Ganymede, Viola’s Cesario, and Portia’s Balthasar—they are able to exercise their rhetorical powers in ways hardly imaginable for most actual women in the period: as a teacher, a counselor, and a lawyer, respectively.  Of course, husbands were conventionally supposed to govern wives to maintain proper domestic harmony, as we see in Portia’s own submission to Bassanio in Belmont in 3.2, the new husband now “lord / Of the fair mansion” she has been governing (166-7).  One begins to see just how adventurous Shakespearean heroines are, at least during courtship.  Be that as it may, since Shakespeare’s Lady Rhetoric is not only persuasive but also vulnerable, she offers an opportunity for our poet-player to examine an ethical situation—accidentally unethical rhetoric, rhetoric whose intention is not malice, yet whose effect is.[9]  Between the very different masteries of an Iago and a Prospero is a Portia, who allows Shakespeare to develop his ethics of rhetoric because, first, she makes a mistake in being mastered by unknown, Venetian circumstances, and, second, that error both darkens, yet reveals her Belmontian triumph when she courts and educates her husband.

II. An Ethics of Rhetoric

Shakespeare read Cicero in school, but only read about Aristotle in one of his favorite books—Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier—where one of the interlocutors, Ottaviano, provides an Aristotelian ethical test for a courtier’s counsel on behalf of his prince:

And because the praise of well-doing consisteth chiefly in two points— whereof the one is, in choosing out an end that our purpose is directed unto, that is good indeed; the other, the knowledge to find out apt and meet means to bring it to the appointed good end—sure it is that the mind of him which thinketh to work so, that his Prince shall not be deceived, nor led with flatterers, railers and liars, but shall know both the good and the bad and bear love to the one and hatred to the other, is directed to a very good end.[10]

For Aristotle and Castiglione, any instance of influence or counsel must employ meet means and a good end.  The Ciceronian formulation in de Inventione is in accord: the study of oratory must be accompanied by that of “philosophy and moral conduct,” he argues there, or the orator’s “civic life is nurtured into something useless to himself and harmful to his country” (1.1).  Let me add one requirement and refine the above two—three conditions suggested by Aristotle’s rhetorical understanding, conditions any instance of rhetoric must meet to be ethical.  First, the audience must be free to agree or disagree; that is, there can be no force involved which would compel assent.[11]  Second, the rhetor’s end must both be good and be freely agreed to be good by the rhetor and her audience.  And, third, the rhetor’s means to that end must be thought to be both good and true by the rhetor, and they must actually be so.  An audience freely persuaded to a good end through good and true means: this is the character of any ethical suasion.  What distinguishes the sophist from the rhetor for Aristotle is an ethical differential: “The sophist is such,” he argues, “not through ability, but through deliberate choice” (1355b18, emphasis added).  The ethical rhetor must have the power of discovering the available means of persuasion in the particular case, but she must also properly exercise ethical choice in the discovery and deployment of means toward end.  Portia’s legal rhetoric is unethical because it finally fails to meet the above conditions,[12] but her romantic rhetoric is so because it does.  Let me make good on that claim.

III. The Accident of Rhetorical Ignorance in Venice

Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric includes the demand that the rhetor know what “the particular case” is.  That is an ethical demand.  Remember that, in the Nicomachean Ethics, the first requirement of an act is that one discern the particulars of one’s situation: discernment precedes deliberation, choice, and action.  This is what he means when he argues that the ethical decision requires perception.[13]  To the degree one is ignorant of such particulars, to that degree one is not acting freely.  Ignorance is one of the causes of involuntary action, including involuntarily unethical action.  Granted, Portia’s Venetian rhetoric is not unethical throughout.  Her first appeal to Shylock’s mercy (4.1.181-201) is completely legitimate:

The quality of mercy is not strained.

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

’Tis mightiest in the mightiest.  It becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown.

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway.

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,

Though justice be thy plea, consider this:

That in the course of justice none of us

Should see salvation.  We do pray for mercy,

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy.  (4.1.181-199)

Her appeal here is logical, ethical, and emotional.  The logical appeal is supported by the topic of invention of definition.  The “quality” of mercy is its essence, which explains why, syntactically, Portia’s periods indicate either what “mercy” does—“It droppeth as the gentle rain,” “blesseth him that gives and him that takes,” and “becomes / The throned monarch better than his crown”—or what it is—“’Tis mightiest in the mighty,” “is enthroned in the hearts of kings,” and “is an attribute to God himself.”  As well, she marshals the topic of comparison by contrasting force and mercy, the king’s scepter with his heart.  By contrasting justice and mercy, she appeals to emotion, specifically the emotion of fear: “in the course of justice none of us / Should see salvation.  We do pray for mercy.”  Her definitions and comparisons also establish her own ethos since, after all, those who appeal to ethical principle—here that of mercy—are thought to embody them.  Her moving appeal to mercy is supplemented by one to self-interest—“Shylock, there’s thrice thy money offered thee” (224)—indicating that she has his interest in mind, as well.  The rhetor’s ethos, according to Aristotle in the Rhetoric, must be characterized by “practical wisdom, virtue and good will” (2.1.5), the last indicated by the rhetor’s concern for the audience’s good.  Her conclusion appeals to the emotion of fear, here the fear of judgment.  Aristotle argues that, while the emotional appeal is often abused (1.1.3-6), it is a legitimate appeal nonetheless, provided the emotion is in accord with the circumstances at hand (2.1-11).  All three appeals in her speech are ethically legitimate.

However, once Shylock refuses those appeals—“My deeds upon my head” (203)—Portia changes.  What distorts Portia’s rhetoric in 4.1 is ignorance: though she has certainly studied the law with Doctor Bellario with some, if not perfect, care, she does not understand “the particular case” of Antonio and Shylock, not seeing that Shylock’s desire to destroy Antonio is animated by a mistaken, but certainly understandable desire for revenge for past injustices.  The play convinces us that his revenge upon Antonio is occasioned by Jessica’s betrayal by juxtaposing in 3.1 Solanio and Salarino’s taunting of Shylock for having lost his daughter with Shylock’s encomium to Christian revenge.  When Portia enters the courtroom, claiming that she is “informed thoroughly of the cause” (4.1.170), her very next question indicates that her general knowledge has its limitations: “Which is the merchant here?” (171).  Throughout her exchange with Shylock, she appears not to realize that Antonio is Shylock’s professed enemy and cannot imagine Shylock has been the victim of Antonio’s hate crimes.  Shylock earlier narrated those crimes to Antonio himself:

Signior Antonio, many a time and oft

In the Rialto you have rated me

About my moneys and my usances.

Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,

For suff’rance is the badge of all our tribe.

You call me misbeliever, cut-throat, dog,

And spit upon my Jewish gaberdine,

And all for use of that which is mine own.

Well then, it now appears you need my help.

Go to, then.  You come to me, and you say

‘Shylock, we would have moneys’:  you say so—

You, that did void your rheum upon my beard

And foot me as you spurn a stranger cur

Over your threshold, moneys is your suit.

What should I say to you? Should I not say

‘Hath a dog money? Is it possible

A cur can lend three thousand ducats?’ Or

Shall I bend low and, in a bondman’s key,

With bated breath and whisp’ring humbleness,

Say this:  ‘Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last;

You spurned me such a day; another time

You called me dog; and for these courtesies

I’ll lend you thus much moneys’?  (1.3.103-125)

Antonio’s response indicates that this narration is true:  “I am like to call thee so again, / To spit on thee again, to spurn thee, too” (126-7).  Antonio and Shylock are, as Antonio reminded him when he took the loan, enemies (1.3.128-33).  If an audience has forgotten 1.3 by 4.1, Shakespeare reminds it in the later scene with Shylock’s question to Bassanio right before Portia enters:  “What wouldst thou have the serpent sting thee twice”? (4.1.68).  Portia, of course, has seen and heard none of this, which is the point.  What Shakespeare understands is that majorities have an ethical habit, having abused minorities, to desire not only justice, but even mercy from them, once minorities are in a position to respond to the abuse.  Because Portia is ignorant of the injustice, she cannot comprehend his desire for revenge, so she instrumentalizes Shylock to achieve her end of freeing Antonio and accidentally turns Shylock over to those who would revenge themselves upon him.  Shylock may fail to show mercy—“’tis not in the bond” (259)—but Portia shows neither justice before the law, since Jews in Venice are given legal rights but denied the means to effect them; nor equity, since full knowledge of Shylock’s situation would dictate, not that he be allowed to revenge himself upon Antonio, but that he and Antonio both be freed from their bond; nor mercy, since, had she known, she might very well have believed that Shylock should be shown more than equity.[14]  By the time Portia grows excited by her rhetorical victory—“The Jew shall have all justice” (4.1.317)—she is neither just nor equitable, arguably even denying the principles of her own earlier speech on mercy (181-202).  The latter end of her discourse forgets the beginning.

Portia fails all three conditions of ethical rhetoric.  First, Shylock is subject to a high degree of force; after all, he is compelled to convert to Christianity upon pain of death.  The Duke is very clear that if Shylock refuses Antonio’s “mercy” of theft and conversion, he will “recant / The pardon” of his (387-8).  Second, Portia’s end of saving Antonio is too limited, given the situation, since her goal ought to include human flourishing for all parties concerned.  Even Bassanio realizes, once Shylock is willing to accept the money, that there is no need to go any further:  “Here is the money,” he says, just before Portia says that “[h]e shall have nothing but the penalty” (4.1.316-317).  Third, her means in achieving this narrow end are sophistical.  She will allow Shylock to claim his pound of flesh, but not if it means shedding Christian blood (302-309), yet it is legally irrational to allow a right that cannot be exercised.  When she revenges herself upon Shylock on behalf of her adopted city, she accuses Shylock as a resident alien of having sought the life of a citizen (344-53), but that would necessarily imply that there is no equality before the law and that no resident alien could accuse any citizen of a capital crime without committing a crime, implications which would be, of course, sophistical nonsense if, as Antonio has earlier explained, Venice’s legal code is established by “the course of justice” offered to all of Venice’s inhabitants (3.3.26-31).  Portia is ignorant of the life of persecution Shylock has led at the hands of Antonio, seeing only the revenge, not the persecution being revenged.  She then turns Shylock over to the will of his enemies to confiscate his wealth and force his conversion, traces of both acts of injustice remaining throughout the play.

IV.  The Power of Courting and Altering Husbands in Belmont

Her legal rhetoric is not her only rhetoric, though, and her romantic rhetoric—as exhibited in the tests of the three caskets in Acts 1-3 and the ring in Acts 4-5—is ethical, both tests achieving and educating her husband-to-be, and meeting the standard of ethical rhetoric: 1) Bassanio is free; 2) her end of a good marriage to him is a good and agreed to be by both; and 3) her means to that end—here, the question becomes controversial—are certainly good, but are only arguably true.  Goodness concerns moral virtue; truth concerns intellectual.

You will remember that Portia’s choice in marriage is constrained by her father’s test of the caskets, and she does assist Bassanio in his choice of the lead casket.  We do not know for sure who sings “A Song the whilst Bassanio comments on the Caskets to himself,” as the First Folio directs in 3.2.  It is either Portia or one singing on her command.  Everyone notes the way the song pointedly rhymes with “lead”—“bred,” “head,” “nourishéd,” “fed.”  We ought to notice, as well, that the song has a moral about erotic desire, which is “engendered in the eyes, / With gazing fed; and fancy dies / In the cradle where it lies” (3.2.67-70), a moral Bassanio learns in his meditations upon the “shows” of gold and silver:  “The world is still deceived with ornament” (74).  He will not be: “But thou, thou meager lead / Which rather threaten’st than dost promise aught, / Thy paleness moves me more than eloquence” (104-6).  Is Portia’s education of Bassanio cheating?  I do not believe so.  Her father—“ever virtuous,” according to Nerissa (1.2.27)—would not imagine that the suitors would be deliberating alone; instead, he would foresee that his daughter, moved by preference, would deliberate with them.  He is a kind of absent Prospero, ensuring that his daughter’s future suitors would speak with his daughter—or at least listen to her sing—before marrying her.  No wise parent expects to be obeyed entirely when it comes to a child’s love life, knowing that marriage necessitates separation.  Portia’s father is no Capulet.  When Portia assists him, the persuasion involved is less the sophistry of deceiving a parent and more the rhetoric of deliberation with a spouse.  A beautiful woman is usually going to have to teach her chosen suitor to restrain his fancy when activated by her beauty.  Portia and her father know as much.

Her second test is more debatable; after all, she disguises herself to her husband and arguably “entraps” him into giving up the ring.  Let me defend both the disguise and the entrapment.  First, the disguise is not primarily intended to deceive Bassanio.  After all, she cannot practice her influence in the court without disguise, given the constraints upon women practicing law.  Ultimately, disguise in Shakespeare is a dramatic figure for the appeal of ethos or persona that is unavoidable in human speech.   Second, once disguised, she discovers that Antonio and Bassanio are closer than they should be, given that Bassanio has just married her.  While disguised, Portia hears her husband say to his close friend, “But life itself, my wife, and all the world / Are not with me esteemed above thy life.  I would . . . sacrifice them all / . . . to deliver you” (4.1.281-2).  Bassanio has a disordered understanding of the respective values of friendship and marriage, and his wife needs to persuade him toward an ordered understanding of it.  She may even suspect, as others in the play do, that Antonio’s love for Bassanio is more than friendship.  (The term of “love” between men in early modern England did not need to refer to homosexual desire; even so, it is worth noting that Antonio remains unmarried at the play’s close, a rarity for major characters at the end of comedies.) Bassanio has not been compelled to marry, but, once in its order, he must value its vows properly.  We must allow that Bassanio does not give over the ring at first, doing so only after being pressed by Antonio:  “Let . . . my love withal / Be valued ‘gainst your wife’s commandment” (446-7).  What the ring now figures is Bassanio’s broken vow.   He may not be a slave to erotic fancy, but he is not yet wise to the nature of marital vows.  In Shakespeare’s world, those vows supersede parental claims and male friendships, and young husbands had better lose their finger than their wedding ring.  Portia’s rhetorical end is good: to educate her husband to understand that the oath of marriage is a supreme speech act, one which, to use Portia’s metaphor, rivets the ring to his flesh with faith.  The ring is a sign of “faith.”  By refuting Bassanio’s excuse for the lapse of faith, she ensures that there will probably not be a future one.  Her end, then, is a good marriage for them, and that is certainly a human good shared by both.  The question then becomes whether her means to achieve that end are ethical since the test and the refutation withhold the truth from him.  One must distinguish between two forms of withholding the truth: In the first, the rhetor denies the audience the truth; in the second, she delays it.  The art of rhetoric demands good timing.  As Proverbs 15 would have it—the Hebrew text in accord with the Greek or Roman understanding of rhetorical kairos or decorum—“[A] word spoken in due season, how good it is!” (15.23).  Or, as Portia puts it, “How many things by season seasoned are / To their right praise and true perfection” (5.1.107-8).[15]  By season seasoning the truth is the essence of rhetorical power.  The ethical demand is that an audience must learn the truth; the rhetorical demand is that he learn it when it will be most persuasive.  My claim is quite strong, then: not that Portia uses unethical means to an ethical end, but that she uses ethical means to an ethical end.  Rhetorical prudence only resembles sophistry.  This becomes clear when we contrast Portia’s rhetoric in Venice with that in Belmont:  Shylock is forced, but Bassanio is not; Shylock is not included in the good of Portia’s end, but Bassanio is; and Shylock is the victim of legal sophistry, Bassanio the beneficiary of marital discretion.

One cannot extricate the two rhetorical actions in the play fully, of course, and the romance of 5.1 is made more sober, not only by the presence of Antonio—Shylock’s triumphant enemy, who re-establishes the bond between Portia and Bassanio— but also by that of Jessica and Lorenzo, now financial beneficiaries of her father’s degradation and the impending death of the “rich Jew” Nerissa mentions a mere fifteen lines before the play ends.  And, perhaps more importantly, the emphasis on the ring—Portia’s “first gift” to Bassanio (5.1.167)—reminds us of another ring, Leah’s first gift to Shylock, the parental ring Jessica and Lorenzo sold for a monkey once they escaped from Venice with her father’s treasure (3.1.111-116).[16]  The ring of romance resembles the ring of tragedy.  Bassanio’s venture in Belmont, we are reminded, was paid for by Shylock.  From this, one might deny the romance of the play, undermining it altogether with historical injustice.  That would be a mistake, not because the play effaces that injustice—it does not, instead vividly representing the personal and political cost for some of the happiness of others—but because “Shakespeare play’s,” as Johnson reminds us, “are not in the rigorous and critical sense either tragedies or comedies, but compositions of a distinct kind.”  In our ethics of rhetoric, we want a rhetor who is both good and always fully in command.  We want a Lady Rhetoric who binds, but is not bound, someone who does not makes mistakes.  But the rhetorical bond that binds all the marital, economic, and legal bonds of the play binds the very rhetor who holds it in her hands, wrapping itself around her gown.  The sweet doctor is herself poisoned, even as she delivers sweetness, not to all, but to so many in this highly distinct composition.

What Shakespeare finally understands is that ethical rhetoric is a difficult achievement.  In the ethical moment of disposing means to end, the rhetor is only imperfectly in command of a fallen world, and if this limitation can lead a woman of Portia’s moral and intellectual virtue to error in her sacrificing a tragic usurer to secure comic marriages, we ought not be overly confident in either the virtue of our own rhetoric or the exactitude of our own generic terms.  As Johnson would have it, a Shakespearean play “exhibits the real state of sublunary nature, which partakes of good and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled with endless variety or proportion and innumerable modes of combination.” Shylock’s sorrow underwrites, yet does not erase, Belmont’s joy, and the powerful tongue of this rhetorical lady is greatly responsible for both.[17]

[1] 1.2.  Trans. H.M. Hubbell, Loeb ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1949).  Cicero repeats the myth in his more mature de Oratore, trans. Sutton and Rackham, Loeb ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1942): “To come, however, at length to the highest achievements of eloquence, what other power could have been strong enough either to gather scattered humanity into one place, or to lead it out of its brutish existence in the wilderness up to our present condition of civilization as men and as citizens or, after the establishment of social communities, to give shape to laws, tribunals, and civic rights?  And not to pursue any further instances—well-nigh countless as they are—I will conclude the whole matter in a few words, for my assertion is this: that the wise control of the complete orator is which chiefly upholds not only his own dignity, but the safety of countless individuals and of the entire State” (1.8.30-34). De Inventione was the better known of the two works in early modern England.  The scholarship on rhetoric in the early modern period is large.  The best introductions are now Peter Mack’s Elizabethan Rhetoric: Theory and Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002), Heinrich F. Plett’s Rhetoric and Renaissance Culture (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2004), and the first half of Quentin Skinner’s Rhetoric and Reason in the Philosophy of Hobbes (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996), 1-211.  On rhetoric more generally, see Brian Vickers’ In Defense of Rhetoric (Oxford: Clarendon P, 1989).  On the myth of the rhetor-founder, see Wayne Rebhorn’s The Emperor of Men’s Minds: Literature and the Renaissance Discourse of Rhetoric (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1995).

[2] For Shakespeare’s own rhetorical character, the standard texts remain T. W. Baldwin’s William Shakspere’s Small Latine & Lesse Greeke, 2 volumes, (Urbana, 1944), esp. Vol. 2, 1-238, and Sister Miriam Joseph’s Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language (New York: Columbia UP, 1947).  See, as well, the following: Russ McDonald’s Shakespeare and the Arts of Language (New York: Oxford UP, 2001); Marion Trousdale’s Shakespeare and the Rhetoricians (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1982); and Brian Vickers’ “Shakespeare’s Use of Rhetoric” in A New Companion to Shakespeare Studies, ed. Muir and Schoenbaum (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1971), 83-98.  The following examine Shakespeare’s ethics of rhetoric specifically: McDonald, esp. “Words Effectual, Speech Unable,” 164-192; Peter G. Platt’s “Shakespeare and Rhetorical Culture” in A Companion to Shakespeare, ed. David Scott Kastan (Malden: Blackwell Publishers, 1998), 277-296; Plett, 415-433; Trousdale, 114-159; and Brian Vickers’ “‘The Power of Persuasion’: Images of the Orator, Elyot to Shakespeare,” Renaissance Eloquence: Studies in the Theory and Practice of Renaissance Rhetoric, ed. James J. Murphy (Berkeley: U of California P, 1983), 411-435.  On Shakespeare and “moral philosophy” generally, see Baldwin, Vol. 2, 578-616.  See David N. Beauregard’s Virtue’s Own Feature: Shakespeare and the Virtue Ethics Tradition (Newark: U of Delaware P, 1995) for an argument that Shakespeare was familiar with a tradition of “Aristotelian-Thomistic moral thought” (9).  On Shakespeare’s ethics of rhetoric, see my With What Persuasion: An Essay on Shakespeare and the Ethics of Rhetoric (New York: Peter Lang, 2009).

[3] The Oxford World Classics, ed. Jay L. Halio (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993), 4.1.237-239.  Hereafter, cited internally.

[4] The secondary literature on The Merchant of Venice is vast, and I have read only a small portion of it.  I am indebted to the following readings of the play: C.L. Barber’s Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1959), 163-191; Beauregard, 87-103; Allan Bloom’s Shakespeare’s Politics, with Harry V. Jaffa (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1964), 13-34; Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (New York: Penguin, 1998), 171-191; William C. Carroll’s The Metamorphoses of Shakespearean Comedy (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1985), 117-126; Lawrence Danson’s The Harmonies of The Merchant of Venice (New Haven: Yale UP, 1978); Jane Freeman’s “‘Fair Terms and a Villain’s Mind’: Rhetorical Patterns in The Merchant of Venice,” Rhetorica 20.2 (May 2002): 149-172; Harold C. Goddard’s The Meaning of Shakespeare, Vol. 1 (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1951), 81-116; David Lowenthal’s Shakespeare and the Good Life: Ethics and Politics in Dramatic Form (Lanham: Rowen and Littlefield, 1997), esp. 147-172; Platt, esp. 291-293; Norman Rabkin’s Shakespeare and the Problem of Meaning (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1981), 1-32; James Shapiro’s Shakespeare and the Jews (New York: Columbia UP, 1996); Barbara Tovey’s “The Golden Casket: An Interpretation of The Merchant of Venice” in Shakespeare as Political Thinker, ed. John Alvis and Thomas G. West (Durham, North Carolina: Carolina Academic P, 1981), 215-237; and esp. Martin D. Yaffe’s Shylock and the Jewish Question (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1997).  Freeman, Platt, and Yaffe discuss Portia specifically as a rhetor.

[5] In Aristotelian terms, success is its external, not its internal end because, having discovered all of the available means of persuasion, the rhetor may still fail.  The best rhetor is not always successful; the worst rhetor sometimes is.  See Eugene Garver’s Aristotle’s Rhetoric: An Art of Character (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1994), esp. 18-51, for a fine discussion of the distinction.

[6] “Preface to Shakespeare” in Samuel Johnson: Rasselas, Poems, and Selected Prose, ed. Bertrand H. Bronson (New York, 1971), 261-307. 266-267.  Johnson’s Preface is the best single piece of literary criticism on Shakespeare there is, and his notes are full of treasures.

[7] The figure comes from Rebhorn.  For his discussion of the gendered understanding of rhetoric, see 133-196; for his analysis of the figure, see 75-76.  One of the most famous representations of Lady Rhetoric comes from Martianus Capella’s De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, a mythological treatment of the trivium and quadrivium, trans. William Harris Stahl and Richard Johnson with E.L. Burge (New York: Columbia UP, 1977): “What countenance and voice she had as she spoke, what excellence of and exaltation of speech!” (156).  Plett discusses the iconographical history of representations of rhetoric (501-552), including Figure 1.

[8] On the three appeals and three rhetorical genres, see Aristotle’s Rhetoric, trans. George A. Kennedy, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford UP, 2007), 2.1-26 and 1.3-15, respectively.

[9] Shakespeareans usually classify a persuasion as either “good” or “bad,” without defining or complicating either.  Plett, for example, offers what he calls “a fourfold typology of the orator”: a good orator with either a good or bad character; and a bad orator with either a good or bad character (418).  This is helpful, and it distinguishes the art of oratory from the character of the orator; even so, it hardly does justice to Portia’s complex speech acts.

[10] Trans. Thomas Hoby, ed. Virginia Cox (London: Everyman Library, 1994), 296, spelling and punctuation modernized.  I am not as convinced that Shakespeare knows Aristotle as Beauregard; it seems more likely that he discovers “Aristotelian” thought in Cicero and Castiglione.  Even so, we can use Aristotle to increase our understanding of Shakespeare and the actions he represents.

[11] On rhetoric and force, see my With What Persuasion, 79-99.

[12] Yaffe makes the case that Portia is an ethical “statesman” throughout the play.  See esp. 46-87.  Though he and I disagree, I highly recommend his fine study.  On the difficulties and possibilities of being an ethical rhetor, see my With What Persuasion (145-178), where I examine Paulina in The Winter’s Tale.

[13] See the Nichomachean Ethics, 1109b23.  On the topic of such perception, see Martha Nussbaum’s “The Discernment of Perception” in Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (New York: Oxford UP, 1990), 54-105, and Nancy Sherman’s The Fabric of Character: Aristotle’s Theory of Virtue (New York: Oxford UP, 1989), esp. 13-55.

[14] Reflecting on the relationships between and among justice, equity, and mercy, one might say that justice requires strict symmetry without reference to particularities; equity, imperfect symmetry with reference to them; and mercy, asymmetry toward the object of mercy either with or without reference to them.  On the relationship between equity and mercy in Aristotle, see Martha Nussbaum’s Sex and Social Justice (New York: Oxford UP, 1999), esp. “Equity and Mercy,” 154-183; on that relation in both Aristotle and Shakespeare, see Beauregard.

[15] That the comment is occasioned by music indicates the musical nature of what is thought of as an Orphic art of rhetoric.  Interestingly, the play has one of the few mentions of Orpheus in his canon in  Lorenzo’s speech to Jessica (5.1.54-88) on “the sweet power of music” (79).  On the relation between music and rhetoric, see Plett, 366-412.

[16] Even the high romance of Bassanio and Portia’s casket scene (3.2) is qualified by the fact that it is framed with the scene in which Shylock learns from Tubal that his daughter stole and sold Leah’s gift to him (3.1) and the one in which he taunts Antonio (3.3).

[17] This essay was given as lectures in the University of Dallas’ Shakespeare in Italy program in Rome, lectures informed by discussions with Wayne Ambler and Dustin Gish; as a presentation at a forum on the play at the University of Dallas, refined by conversation with Joshua Parens and Martin Yaffe; and as a speech at the Athena Foundation, by invitation of Herschel and Dona Gower (now deceased), in conversation with Eileen Gregory.  I am grateful for all the three opportunities.  This essay is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Diane J. Crider, an eloquent lady from whom I learned to love the English language, a love that led me to Shakespeare.

Moral and Civic Liberty in Sallust’s Bella, and History as an Education in Virtue

Posted Posted in Liberal Education

by RoseMary Johnson

University of Dallas

Sallust’s historical monographs, the Bellum Catilinae and the Bellum Iugurthinum, have been described as “biased” and inaccurate, largely because he does not hesitate, when it suits his purposes, to make moral judgments about political figures and historical periods.1 2 Such a description mistakes the purpose of the Bella, which, like most ancient histories, is not intended to be an unimpassioned narration of facts. History was a moral genre in the classical period, not a scientific one, and the incorporation of moral judgments was therefore natural and appropriate; as Sallust explains in the beginning of the Bellum Iugurthinum, the purpose of recalling the achievements of the ancients is to inspire their descendants to imitate them (4.5-7). In his Bellum Catilinae and Bellum Iugurthinum, Sallust provides an analysis of the corruption of contemporary Rome and offers readers an explanation for Rome’s decay from freedom to slavery. Along with a diagnosis of the moral causes for this slavery, Sallust also offers a partial solution. Sallust carefully constructs the Bella as educations in virtue for talented young men, who have the potential to become either great statesmen or tyrants like Jugurtha. By training up virtuous and politically adept leaders, Sallust’s Bella have the potential to restore the freedom and greatness of Rome. The first part of this paper will explore Sallust’s understanding of the causes of Rome’s decay; the second part will consider how the Bella provide an education in virtue by impressing upon readers the consequences of virtue and vice; and the third part will show how Sallust’s Bella give readers experience in applying moral and political principles to practical situations. 


Freedom, both individual and political, is a major theme in Sallust’s historical monographs. Sallust’s description of human nature in the preface of the Bellum Iugurthinum is marked by radical confidence in man’s freedom to determine his own fate, for good or for ill. In fact, Sallust makes the daring claim that “the leader and ruler of the life of mortals is the mind” (“dux atque imperator vitae mortalium animum est”) [BI 1.3]. Because the human race is composed of soul as well as body, it is possible for mortal men to gain immortal glory through the “extraordinary achievements of the intellect” (“ingeni egregia facinora”) [BI 2.2]. That most men do not achieve this greatness is due not to the weakness of human nature, but to the sloth and base desires to which they have surrendered themselves. Sallust declares that man’s nature is so great and excellent that—far from being ruled by fate—human beings are the rulers of fate (BI 1.5). Of course, Sallust recognizes that human beings have only limited control over “the goods of the body and of fortune” (“corporis et fortunae bonorum”) but he insists that the attainment “to glory by the way of virtue” (“ad gloriam virtutis via”) cannot be given or taken away by fortune (BI 2.3, 1.3). In determining his own character and attaining glory through virtue, the individual possesses complete freedom.3

Sallust’s belief in the human capacity for greatness is the basis of his admiration for the republican form of government. Because men are by nature capable of greatness, the common good is best served, Sallust suggests, when all citizens are free to contribute to the res publica. A state ruled by equal laws instead of by tyrants—a state in which all men are able to exercise their moral freedom in the service of the common good—has the possibility of rising to incredible greatness, as Sallust says of Rome itself: “But it is incredible to recall in what a short time the city became great once liberty had been achieved” (“Sed civitas incredibile memoratu est adepta libertate quantum brevi creverit”) [BC 7.3]. Sallust is by no means a utopian, however. He knows that, despite their freedom to pursue glory through virtue, most men “descend to laziness and the pleasures of the body” (“ad inertiam et voluptates corporis pessum datus est”) until “their strength, time, and natural talent have disappeared through idleness” (“per socordiam tempus, ingenium diffluxere”) [BI 1.4]. Worse yet, the radical freedom of human nature makes possible the existence of brilliant and talented men, “with great strength both of mind and of body” (“magna vi et animi et corporis”), who choose actively to pursue evil (BC 5.1). Sallust makes this possibility frighteningly clear in the characters of Jugurtha and Catiline, who possess incredible natural talents but choose to direct them towards evil desires and murderous schemes. The same human freedom that makes possible the greatness of the Roman republic can also lead to conflicts so great they “[throw] into confusion all things divine and human and . . . [make] an end to civic pursuits.”4

Sallust’s historical monographs portray the devastation that is worked by Jugurtha’s and Catiline’s misuse of their freedom, but ironically, Jugurtha and Catiline are the ones who suffer the most from their crimes. Although they begin as free agents capable of achieving glory through virtue, they end up enslaved to their passions and to the train of evil events which they themselves have set in motion. For instance, at the beginning of the Bellum Iugurthinum, Jugurtha is portrayed as a daring and decisive leader, described as “fierce” (“acer”) and “warlike” (“bellicosus”) [BI 20.2]. By the end of the war, however, Jugurtha’s repeated reliance on treachery has reduced him to an indecisive5 and paranoid6 commander: 

He changed his routes and his commanders every day, now went forth against the enemy, now went into the desert; he placed hope in flight often and shortly afterwards in arms . . . (Itinera praefectosque in dies mutare, modo advorsum hostis, interdum in solitudines pergere, saepe in fuga ac post paulo in armis spem habere . . .) [BI 74.1] 

Treachery and bribery, which were his most effective weapons in the early part of the war, become his greatest fear. When a popular official is discovered to have plotted against the king’s life, Jugurtha is reduced to flattering the official with a gracious reply, not daring to express his displeasure for fear of provoking a rebellion (BI 72.1). His decision to use his freedom to enslave others has reduced him to flattering his own servants. 

Like Jugurtha, Catiline is also reduced to slavery by his passions.7 The desire to control the republic is said to “invade” or “seize” Catiline,8 and Sallust declares that his arrogant mind was “driven” (“agitabatur”) by “the poverty of his household and the consciousness of his crimes” (“inopia rei familiaris et conscientia scelerum”) [BC 5.7]. The description of how Catiline is tortured by his conscience is one of the most vivid in the book: 

For his filthy soul, hostile to gods and men, was able to find rest neither in waking nor in sleeping, his conscience so ravaged his terrified mind. Thence his bloodless complexion, his horrible eyes, his pace now fast, now slow; in short, there was madness in his features and his looks. (Namque animus impurus, dis hominibus infestus, neque vigiliis neque quietibus sedari poterat; ita conscientia mentem excitam vastabat. Igitur color ei exanguis, foedi oculi, citus modo modo tardus incessus, prorsus in facie voltuque vecordia inerat.) [BC 15.4-5] 

Besides the mental slavery which Catiline endures, he is also goaded by the debts resulting from his prodigality, which “were enormous through all the lands” (“per omnis terras ingens erat”) [BC 16.4]. Catiline’s bodyguard and friends are slaves to the same passions and crimes, since he purposely chooses as followers “all whom disgrace, poverty, [or] a guilty conscience hounded” (“omnes quos flagitium, egestasa, conscius animus exagitabat”) [BC 14.1-3]. 

Surprisingly, Catiline and his fellow conspirators agree with Sallust that their situation is a form of slavery. Catiline urges his followers to liberate themselves9 and Catiline’s lieutenant Manlius insists that they are fighting only for “liberty, which no good man relinquishes except along with his life” (“libertatem, quam nemo bonus nisi cum anima simul amittit”) [BC 33.4]. Ironically, whereas Sallust shows that the rebels are enslaved to their own passions and crimes, Manlius claims that their slavery is due to the injustice of the state in expecting them to pay their debts (BC 33.1). The liberty which the conspirators desire is license to squander their patrimony and indulge their passions without paying the consequences. This use of the word “libertas” is in direct opposition to Cato’s use of the word in his oration against the conspirators. Cato sets the context of his oration by describing the conspirators as men “who had prepared war against their own fatherland, parents, altars, and hearths” (“qui patriae, parentibus, aris atque focis suis bellum paravere”) [BC 52.3]. Urging his fellow senators to respond vigorously to the threat, he exclaims: 

“But by the immortal gods, I implore you—you who have always valued your houses, villas, statues, paintings more highly than the republic— if you wish to retain these things to which you cling, of whatever kind they are, if you wish to furnish leisure for your pleasures, bestir yourselves before it is too late, and administer the republic. I am not treating of taxes or injustices to our allies; our liberty and lives are in danger.” (“Sed, per deos immortalis, vos ego appello, qui semper domos, villas, signa, tabulas vostras pluris quam rem publicam fecistis; si ista, cuiuscumque modi sunt, quae amplexamini, retinere, si voluptatibus vostris otium praebere voltis, expergiscimini aliquando et capessite rem publicam. Non agitur de vectigalibus neque de sociorum iniuriis; libertas et anima nostra in dubio est.”) [BC 52.6] 

In this passage, Cato does not deny that libertas includes the freedom to enjoy villas, statues, and paintings, so long as they are lawfully possessed. Yet his understanding of libertas is placed within the context of fatherland, parents, altar, and hearth. For Cato, as for Sallust, true liberty consists of the freedom to pursue virtue, a virtue which could be summarized as the fulfilling of one’s duties to one’s parents, fatherland, and gods. As Sallust explains in the preface to Bellum Iugurthinum, such virtue makes one independent even of fortune: 

When the mind advances towards glory by the way of virtue, it is abundantly strong and powerful and renowned, nor does it need fortune, which of course can neither give nor take away honesty, industry, and other good things of character from anyone. ([Animus] ubi ad gloriam virtutis via grassatur, abunde pollens potensque et clarus est neque fortuna egret, quippe probitatem, industriam, aliasque artis bonas neque dare neque eripere cuiquam potest.) [BI 1.3] 

Since Catiline and his fellow conspirators are slaves to vice, not even the “legis praesidium”—the “bulwark of the law” which ensures civic liberty and for which they claim to be fighting—can give them true freedom (BC 33.5). 

Marius’ letter in defense of the conspirators is paralleled by Memmius’ speech in the Bellum Iugurthinum, in which he urges the commons to defend their rights against the oppression of the nobles. The rhetoric and arguments of Marius and Memmius are similar, but Sallust makes it clear that the commons have a just grievance against the nobles, while Catiline and his conspirators do not.10 Despite this fundamental difference between the two pieces of rhetoric, Memmius’ oration is helpful for understanding one of the premises assumed by Marius in his shorter letter. When Marius equates the conspirators’ supposed struggle for liberty with a struggle for the legis praesidium, he makes rhetorical use of the idea that political liberty depends on just laws.11 Correspondingly, the importance of law in safeguarding political liberty is the underlying principle which determines most of the arguments and rhetoric of Memmius’ speech. For instance, Memmius’ primary accusation against the nobles is that they have undermined the laws and hijacked the legitimate offices of the republic for their own ends. He describes their tyranny as the times “when kingdoms, provinces, laws, rights, courts, war and peace—in short, all things divine and human— [are] in the hands of a few men” (“cum regna, provinciae, leges, iura, iudicia, bella atque paces, postremo divina et humana omnia penes paucos erant”) [BI 31.20]. Significantly, Memmius explains to his audience that he does not urge them to defend their rights by violence, but to address the corruption in the senate through legal investigations (BI 31.18). As long as the commons possess a degree of political power, it is “more unbecoming for [the commons] to have inflicted [violence] than for [the nobles] to have suffered [it]” (“magis vos fecisse quam illis accidisse indignum est”) [BI 31.18]. Since law is the best defense of liberty, violent secession, which overturns the law, should be used only as a last resort.12 After all, even though their forefathers “twice occupied the Aventine with arms in a secession in order to obtain their rights and establish their sovereignty” (“parandi iuris et maiestatis constituendae gratia bis per secessionem armati Aventinum occupavere”), Memmius says, “in truth, not law but the will of the [nobles] put an end to both slaughters” (“utriusque cladis non lex verum lubido eorum finem fecit”) [BI 31.17, 31.7]. 

Sallust certainly agrees with Memmius that just laws are necessary for the establishment of liberty in a society. In his description of the founding of Rome, he emphasizes the importance of law and of legitimate authority for ensuring a free society, whether it be a monarchy or a republic.13 However, Sallust also makes it clear that legis praesidium is not enough for liberty, because genuine freedom depends on the possession of virtue. If an individual or a nation lacks good morals, not even the best laws can protect it from slavery to passion and crime. Consequently, Sallust declares that early Rome was just and good as much because of the nature and morals of the people as by their laws: “Therefore good morals were cultivated at home and abroad. . . . justice and honesty prevailed among them not because of laws so much as by their nature/character” (“Igitur domi militiaeque boni mores colebantur. . . . ius bonumque apud eos non legibus magis quam natura valebat”) [BC 9.1]. Freedom was lost not because of a defect in Roman laws, but because of the decline of Roman virtue, when “the nobility began to exchange their dignity, and the people to exchange their liberty, for inordinate desire, [and] every one for himself cheated, robbed, plundered” (“coepere nobilitas dignitatem, populus libertatem in lubidinem votere, sibi quisque ducere, trahere, rapere”) [BI 41.5]. 

The importance of virtue as the foundation of Roman greatness is a point to which Sallust returns again and again, not only in his comments as a narrator but also in the words and deeds of his characters. In fact, Sallust specifically says that his portrayals of Cato and Caesar are intended to be examples of how “the extraordinary virtue of a few citizens” (“paucorum civium egregiam virtutem”) was the foundation of Rome’s greatness (BC 53.4). As Cato explains in his oration against the conspirators, 

“Do not suppose our ancestors made a great republic out of an insignificant state by arms. . . . But there were other things which made them great, which we do not have at all: industry at home, a just rule abroad, a free mind in taking counsel, not burdened by crime and lust.” (“Nolite existumare maiores nostros armis rem publicam ex parva magnam fecisse. . . . Sed alia fuere, quae illos magnos fecere, quae nobis nulla sunt: domi industria, foris iustum imperium, animus in consulundo liber, neque delicto neque lubidini obnoxius.”) [BC 52.21] 

Cato and Caesar may be the only models of virtue in Sallust’s two historical monographs, but the Bella are full of negative models, the most obvious being Catiline and Jugurtha themselves. The corrupt senators in the Bellum Iugurthinum are other examples of how individual vice leads to political slavery. Bribed by Jugurtha, most of the senators support Jugurtha’s seizure of the kingdom of Numidia, which the late King Micipsa had divided between his sons, Adherbal and Hiempsal, and Jugurtha, the illegitimate son of Micipsa’s brother. Although the exiled Adherbal appeals to the senate in person to avenge Jugurtha’s murder of Hiempsal and seizure of the kingdom, most of the senators “with influence, voice, in short in all ways, were striving on behalf of the crime and outrage of a foreigner as if for their own glory” (“gratia, voce, denique omnibus modis pro alieno scelere et flagitio sua quasi pro gloria nitebantur”) [BI 15.2]. Instead of punishing Jugurtha for his crimes, the senate re-divides the kingdom between Adherbal and Jugurtha, a move which simply encourages Jugurtha’s lust for power. The senate does eventually declare war on Jugurtha, but only once he has made himself the sole ruler of Numidia after torturing and killing Adherbal. Jugurtha is defeated only with great difficulty, in a war that was “great and violent and attended by diverse victories” (“magnum et atrox variaque victoria”) [BI 5.1]. 

After his first dealings with the senate, when Jugurtha saw that, contrary to his fears, the senate was practically rewarding him for his crimes, “he regarded as certain what he had received from his friends in Numantia—that in Rome, all things are for sale” (“certum esse ratus, quod ex amicis apud Numantiam acceperat, omnia Romae venalia esse”) [BI 20.1]. This is the second time the phrase “omnia Romae venalia esse” is used in the Bellum Iugurthinum, and it will appear again when Jugurtha employs still more bribery to thwart Memmius’ attempts to reform the corrupt senate (BI 33-4).14 In one of the most memorable lines of the book, Sallust relates: 

But after [Jugurtha] had gone out of Rome, it is held that, after looking back at the city frequently in silence, he finally had said, “A city for sale and soon to perish if it finds a buyer!” (Sed postquam Roma egressus est, fertur saepe eo tacitus respiciens postremo dixisse, “Urbem venalem et mature perituram, si emptorem invenerit!”) [BI 35.10] 

The image evoked by these lines is of the Roman republic transformed into a slave in the market, to be purchased by the highest bidder. Rome has fallen from being the ruler of the world to being a slave at the beck and call of foreign powers. As Memmius tells his audience, “the republic is for sale at home and abroad” (“domi militiaeque res publica venalis fuit”)—not only is there oppression within the republic by the different factions, but any foreign nation with enough wealth can purchase the consciences of the nobility and drive the Roman people to their own destruction (BI 31.25). The private vices of the citizens are destroying not only their own moral liberty but also the liberty of the Roman republic. 


Despite the negative tone of Sallust’s narratives, he did not write the Bella simply to complain about contemporary Roman society or to condemn his contemporaries for their corruption and licentiousness. On the contrary, Sallust sees his Bella as offering at least a partial solution to the problems of his day. This is made clear by his preface to the Bellum Iugurthinum, in which he says that even his critics, if they reflect, must judge that “greater gain will come to the republic from [his] leisure”—that is, from the time Sallust spends writing history—“than from the activities of others” (“maiusque commodum ex otio meo quam ex aliorum negotiis rei publicae venturum”) [BI 4.4]. Sallust explains this statement by telling how the great leaders of Rome were inspired to pursue virtue by the memory of the achievements of their ancestors: 

For I have often heard Quintus Maximus and Publius Scipio, besides other famous men of our state, who were accustomed to speak thus: when they regarded the images of their ancestors, their soul was exceedingly kindled for virtue; to be sure, [they did not mean] that either the wax or the figure had such power in them; rather, this flame springs up in the breast for extraordinary men because of the memory of the deeds accomplished [by their ancestors], nor is it extinguished until [their own] virtue has equaled the fame and glory of [their ancestors]. (Nam saepe ego audivi Q. Maxumum, P. Scipionem, praeterea civitatis nostrae praeclaros viros solitos ita dicere, cum maiorum imagines intuerentur, vehementissume sibi animum ad virtutem accendi. Scilicet non ceram illam neque figuram tantam vim in sese habere, sed memoria rerum gestarum eam flammam egregiis viris in pectore crescere neque prius sedari, quam virtus eorum famam atque gloriam adaequaverit.) [BI 4.5] 

In this passage, “memoria rerum gestarum” literally means “the memory of the deeds accomplished [by their ancestors].” However, the phrase “res gestae” is regularly used in Latin as a synonym for “history” because the historian gives an account of “things accomplished.” By using this phrase, Sallust is comparing his history of the Jugurthine War with the wax images that inspired virtue in the great men of the past. Through his account of the res gestae of previous eras, Sallust hopes to inspire his readers to pursue virtue, in order to undo at least in a small way Rome’s slavery to luxury and sloth. 

Sallust’s metaphor of history as a wax figure that inspires virtue by “memoria rerum gestarum” is eloquent and memorable, but the immediate charm of the image can conceal the full extent of Sallust’s reflection on education. A careful study of the Bella reveals that Sallust is constantly reflecting on different types of education and eventually outlines his own theory of the ideal education for potential leaders. Sallust’s interest in education is most evident in the preface to the Bellum Catilinae: 

But for a long time there was conflict among mortals whether military affairs were benefited more by strength of body or by excellence of mind. For before you begin, there is need of deliberation, and when you have consulted, there is need of prompt action. . . . Accordingly, in the beginning kings took different courses, some training the mind, and others the body. . . . in the end, by danger and affairs it became clear that the mind is more powerful in war. (Sed diu magnum inter mortalis certamen fuit vine corporis an virtute animi res militaris magis procederet. Nam et prius quam incipias, consulto, et ubi consulueris, mature facto opus est. . . . Igitur initio reges . . . divorsi pars ingenium, alii corpus exercebant. . . . demum periculo atque negotiis compertum est in bello plurumum ingenium posse.) [BC 1.5-2.2] 

Sallust continues by explaining that mental excellence is also of primary importance in peace, but unfortunately most rulers yield to intellectual sloth as soon as the danger of war is past. 

That Sallust believes it is more important to train the mind than to train the body should surprise no one, given his comment in the Bellum Iugurthinum that “a handsome appearance, great wealth [and] strength of body in addition, and all other things of this sort decay in a short time; but the splendid achievements of the intellect are immortal like the soul” (“praeclara facies, magnae divitiae, ad hoc vis corporis et alia omnia huiuscemodi brevi dilabuntur, at ingeni egregia facinora sicuti anima immortalia sunt”) [BI 2.2]. Sallust’s reflections on the relative value of different educations go well beyond such elementary observations, however, especially in his descriptions of the early training of the various characters in the Bella, and in the speeches of several characters. 

Sallust’s descriptions of Marius’ and Jugurtha’s educations are particularly significant in light of his emphasis in the preface of the Bellum Catilinae on training the intellect. Sallust speaks approvingly of Jugurtha’s purely physical education: 

When [Jugurtha] had first grown up . . . he did not give himself over to be corrupted by luxury or sloth, but as is the custom of that race, he rode, he cast the javelin, he competed at full speed with his age-fellows . . . in addition, he spent much of his time in hunting . . . (Qui ubi primum adolevit . . . non se luxu neque inertiae corrumpendum dedit, sed, uti mos gentis illius est, equitare, iaculari, cursu cum aequalibus certare . . . ad hoc pleraque tempora in venando agere . . .) [BI 6.1] 

Sallust gives a similarly positive portrayal of Marius’ education: 

[W]hen first he reached the age capable of military service, he trained himself in active service, not in Greek eloquence nor in the elegance of the city; thus among good arts his unspoiled mind soon matured. ([U]bi primum aetas militiae patiens fuit, stipendiis faciundis, non Graeca facundia neque urbanis munditiis sese exercuit; ita inter artis bonas integrum ingenium brevi adolevit.) [BI 63.3] 

Later in the book, when addressing the commons which have elected him to the office of consul, Marius claims that his industry, fortitude, and moderation are due to the practical, military education he received. He expresses his scorn for “Greek letters” (“litteras Graecas”), commenting, “it was little pleasing [to me] to learn them, since with respect to virtue they had profited their teachers not at all” (“parum placebat eas discere, quippe quae ad virtutem doctoribus nihil profuerant”) [BI 85.13-14, 32-33].15

Strangely enough, Sallust agrees with Marius to a certain extent. Roman or Numidian military training are excellent ways to gain habits of fortitude, industry, and moderation, as well as an understanding of military strategy, which could be critically important for a Roman leader. Considering how many of their contemporaries gave themselves over to debauchery and idleness, the education that Marius and Jugurtha received was comparatively excellent. Nevertheless, the fact that Marius was driven headlong by his ambition for the consulship (BI 63.6) and that Jugurtha became a cruel and ruthless tyrant is evidence that the physical and practical education of a soldier is insufficient for virtue—and therefore, insufficient for leadership. 

Besides evaluating the worth of military training, Sallust also explores the value of an education in Greek eloquence. His conclusion is that training in Greek letters— even if combined with military discipline—is also insufficient for producing virtuous statesmen, although the rhetorical power it gives one is certainly important for leadership.16 Sulla is the example Sallust provides of a military leader who was also trained in Greek letters. Sallust explains that Sulla “was extremely well-versed equally in Greek and Latin letters, with an incredible mind . . . eloquent, clever, and quickly a friend” (“litteris Graecis et Latinis iuxta atque doctissume eruditus, animo ingenti . . . facundus, callidus, et amicitia facilis”) [BI 95.3]. Nevertheless, Sulla was “desirous of pleasure but more desirous of glory” (“cupidus voluptatum sed gloriae cupidior”), vices which are inconsistent with Sallust’s vision of a virtuous leader (BI 95.3). As his final verdict, Sallust refers to the dictatorship which Sulla would later exercise, saying, “For the thing which he did later, I am uncertain whether one should be ashamed or rather grieved to treat of it” (“Nam postea quae fecerit, incertum habeo pudeat an pigeat magis disserere”) [BI 95.4]. In the end, neither military training nor Greek letters nor a combination of the two is sufficient for virtuous leadership. 

Sallust’s critical evaluation of military training and Greek letters demonstrates just how much he expects from his Bella in terms of an education in virtue. Despite his comparison of history to the waxen images of one’s ancestors, Sallust did not write his histories as inspiring stories of virtuous leadership. Rather, he wished to construct texts that not only incite the soul towards virtue but also actively train the soul in political prudence, just as military discipline trains the body in strength and Greek letters train the mind in intelligence. In light of the political context in which Sallust was writing, it is probable that his intended audience is ambitious young men who have the potential for virtuous leadership but are in danger of succumbing to desire for regnum, or tyrannical power. Sallust knows from experience the power which “corrupt ambition” (“ambitione corrupta”) can have over inexperienced youth, and he also knows that corrupt statesmen like Catiline especially try to attract talented young men as their followers (BC 3.4, 14.4-6). Both the Bellum Catilinae and the Bellum Iugurthinum were written within the first four years after Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC. During this period of political upheaval, as Octavian and Marcus Antonius struggled for control of Rome, it would be all too easy for ambitious young men to be corrupted by the bribery and power-struggles around them. At the same time, virtuous leaders were desperately needed during this transition period from republic to empire. The future of Rome depended upon the formation of potential leaders. 

Sallust’s “Speech to Caesar”—a work which, if authentic, was probably delivered in 46 BC, two years before Caesar’s assassination—makes explicit Sallust’s concern for the education of the young. The oration as a whole is remarkable for its foreshadowing of themes in the Bella, especially in its insistence that “every man is the architect of his own fortune” (“fabrum esse suae quemque fortunae”) and its description of how the desire for luxury and riches leads to personal slavery and to a corrupt political order in which civic offices are venalia, “up for sale” (“Speech” 1.2, 8.2-3).17 Sallust devotes the first half of the oration to advice on conducting war in a merciful way; the second half, to establishing peace in Italy. To do this, Sallust declares that it is necessary to check the current customs, namely, 

that mere youths think it most sweet to waste their own and others’ substance [and] deny nothing to their lust and the soliciting of others, and that they consider this conduct to be virtue and greatness of soul, and judge decency and restraint to be the same as weak-mindedness (ut homines adulescentuli sua atque aliena consumere, nihil libidinei atque aliis rogantibus denegare pulcherrimum putent, eam virtutem et magnitudinem animi, pudorem atque modestiam pro socordia aestiment). [“Speech” 5.5] 

Sallust continues: “if the pursuits and habits of young men remain the same, assuredly that extraordinary fame of yours, along with the city of Rome, will soon perish” (“sin eadem studia artesque iuventuti erunt, ne ista egregia tua fama simul cum urbe Roma brevi concidet”) [“Speech” 6.1]. Besides illustrating Sallust’s knowledge of human nature in appealing to Caesar’s ambitious nature as well as his desire to preserve Rome, this sentence shows what importance Sallust placed upon the education of the young. This concern, which dominates the second half of the oration, a few years later led him to write the Bella as educations in virtue for young leaders. 

As noted above, Sallust begins the Bellum Iugurthinum by comparing his history to the wax images that incite great men to imitate the virtue of their ancestors. However, a fundamental difference between the wax images and the historical characters that Sallust describes in his Bella is that the former are models of virtue, while the latter are mostly models of vice. In fact, even Caesar and Cato, Sallust’s supposed models of virtue, do not receive unambiguous praise.18 The explanation for this cannot be that Sallust had few great men to portray in such a corrupt era, because he could have chosen any historical period to write about. Rather, the Bella strongly resemble cautionary tales intended to warn young men away from the temptation to tyranny. From his reflections on human nature, Sallust seems to have concluded that fear of the tyrant’s fate would be more effective in motivating the soul towards virtue than desire for virtue itself, however gloriously portrayed. And indeed, if Sallust’s vivid descriptions of Catiline’s and Jugurtha’s psychological and political ruin do not convince his audience of the undesirability of regnum, or tyrannical power, nothing will.19

Although Sallust does not give unambiguous examples of characters who have achieved glory through virtue, Sallust is quite thorough in his description and praise of this glory.20 After all, if he succeeds in convincing ambitious young men of the undesirability of the life of a tyrant, it is important that he provide them with another, more noble goal to pursue. Accordingly, Sallust begins both the Bellum Catilinae and the Bellum Iugurthinum with praise for the capacity of the human intellect to achieve glory through virtue: “For the glory belonging to riches and beauty is fleeting and frail; virtue remains illustrious and imperishable” (“Nam divitiarum et formae gloria fluxa atque fragilis est, virtus clara aeternaque habetur”) [BC 1.4]. This glory can be achieved in many ways. Sallust declares that “the arts of the mind by which the highest fame is prepared are many and diverse” (“multae variaeque sint artes animi, quibus summa claritudo paratur”); both the commanding of an army and the writing of histories are ways of advancing “towards glory by the way of virtue” (“ad gloriam virtutis via”) [BI 1.2, 2.4].21

Nevertheless, of the many ways in which human beings can achieve glory, Sallust argues that public office is undesirable in such corrupt times. The only way one could reform the state, he declares, is by force, which is “unfitting” (“importunum”) to use against one’s “fatherland or parents/subjects”22 (“patriam aut parentes”), especially since “all changes in the affairs of state foretell slaughter, exile, and other hostile things” (“omnes rerum mutationes caedem, fugam, aliaque hostilia portendant”) [BI 3.2]. Sallust is responding to potential critics of his decision to withdraw from public affairs. He explains that, instead of wasting his time “greet[ing] the populace and seek[ing] favor with banquets”23 (“salutare plebem et conviviis gratiam quaerere”), he is devoting himself to “the so great and so useful labor” (“tanto tamque utili labori”) of recording the history of the Roman people (BI 4.3). Since Sallust writes the Bella in order to train young leaders in political prudence, his withdrawal from active political life is not a withdrawal from concern for the Roman state. Rather, the leisure he has gained allows him to write the Bella as attempts to reform the morals of the Roman people by education instead of by force. 


Curiously, Sallust’s praise of the private life and his scorn for useless political activity are not recurring themes in either of the Bella. Once he has defended his own withdrawal from public affairs, he does not seem interested in dissuading others from engaging in political life. Instead, he devotes himself to constructing his histories in such a way as to give future political leaders the proper education for their difficult task. The Bella are texts that prompt their readers to engage in moral reasoning about the political situations portrayed in the histories. Even Sallust’s writing style plays a part in developing readers’ attentiveness. Un-Ciceronian in the extreme, Sallust’s style is characterized by brevitas, variato and inconcinnitas—that is, brevity, variety, and dissymmetry. He achieves these effects by a heavy use of archaic terms and spellings, a conscious employment of non-parallel structures (e.g., pairing an adjective with a prepositional phrase), a bold use of grammar and syntax in ways contrary to common usage, and extensive use of ellipsis and asyndeton. The result is abrupt, rapid prose that keeps the reader on his toes by its unexpected twists and turns. 

More important than his writing style is Sallust’s way of presenting the events in the Bella. Sallust’s most effective tool for educating his readers in political prudence is the many speeches in the Bella. There are six orations or letters in the Bellum Catilinae24 and seven in the Bellum Iugurthinum25, and each is highly persuasive in terms of its rhetoric. Nevertheless, Sallust hardly ever comments on the speeches, not even to prevent readers from being deceived by sophistical rhetoricians. In fact, after the contradictory speeches of Caesar and Cato in the Bellum Catilinae (BC 51, 52), Sallust actually praises both characters at length. Only careful political reasoning can enable the reader to judge between Caesar’s and Cato’s diametrically opposed arguments regarding how to deal with the conspirators. The two speeches of Catiline (BC 20, 58) and the letter of Manlius (BC 33) place readers in a similar quandary because their claim to be fighting for liberty introduces readers to the debate over the nature of true freedom. Although the rhetoric which Catiline and Manlius use makes their arguments initially persuasive, what they mean by “libertas” is dramatically opposed to Sallust’s understanding of freedom by and for virtue. 

In the Bellum Iugurthinum, the speeches require the reader to compare the speaker’s words with his deeds. This necessity is made clear by King Micipsa’s deathbed speech. Although Micipsa emphasizes the affection between him and Jugurtha and the need for friendship between Jugurtha and his own sons, Sallust’s readers know that Micipsa is speaking insincerely. In fact, Micipsa had sent the young Jugurtha to the Roman war in Numantia in the hope that his valor or the ruthlessness of the foe would lead to his death (BI 7.2). It is only as a last resort, in an attempt to satisfy Jugurtha’s ambitious nature, that Micipsa eventually makes Jugurtha co-heir with Adherbal and Hiempsal. Adherbal’s speech and letter to the Senate cannot be taken at face value, either (BI 14, 24). Adherbal’s excessive flattery and submission to the Senate is more likely to be due to the danger he finds himself in from Jugurtha than from an actual command from his father to think of Numidia—which was not a province, but an ally of Rome—as belonging to the Senate and of himself as merely its manager (BI 14.1). Marius’ speech to the commons cannot be trusted any more than the speeches of Micipsa and Adherbal. For instance, Marius refers to the clumsiness of the nobles in conducting the war with Jugurtha (BI 85.45-7), but Sallust’s readers know that Marius was a loyal lieutenant of Metellus, the current general in Numidia, until Metellus made fun of Marius’ ambition to be consul (BI 64.1-4). After that, Marius set about actively to undermine Metellus’ reputation (BI 64.5-65.5). To gain popularity among the commoners, Marius does not hesitate even to risk the success of the war by relaxing discipline among the soldiers (BI 64.5). Knowing what they do about Marius’ character, Sallust’s readers will think twice before believing Marius when he declares, “for me, who have spent my entire life in exemplary conduct, to act correctly has now, out of habit, turned into my nature” (“mihi, qui omnem aetatem in optumis artibus egi, bene facere iam ex consuetudine in naturam vortit”) [BI 85.9]. 

Sallust also uses other techniques to prompt readers to develop political and moral judgment. For instance, he often describes several possible motives for characters’ actions, thus requiring the reader to consider which possibility is most likely.26 For instance, in chapter 82 of the Bellum Iugurthinum, after describing how Metellus wept when he heard of Marius’ election to the consulship, Sallust says: 

This behavior some ascribe to arrogance, others think that a noble mind had been inflamed by insult; many, because the victory that was already achieved had been snatched from his hands. To us it is sufficiently understood that he was tormented more by the honor given to Marius than by his own injury, and he would not have endured such distress if the province, taken from him, had been handed over to someone other than Marius. (Quam rem alii in superbiam vortebant, alii bonum ingenium contumelia accensum esse, multi, quod iam parta victoria ex manibus eriperetur. Nobis satis cognitum est illum magis honore Mari quam iniuria sua excruciatum neque tam anxie laturum fuisse, si adempta provincia alii quam Mario traderetur.) [BI 82.3] 

Similarly, in chapter 19 of the Bellum Catilinae, Sallust offers two explanations for why Gnaeus Piso was slain by the Spanish cavalry under his command: 

There are some who say thus, that the barbarians had not been able to endure his rule, which was unjust, arrogant, and cruel; but others hold that those horsemen, who were old and faithful retainers of Gnaeus Pompey, had attacked Piso by his will; they point out that the Spaniards had never before committed such a crime, but had patiently endured many harsh commanders before. We will leave this matter undetermined. (Sunt qui ita dicant, imperia eius iniusta, superba, crudelia barbaros nequivisse pati; alii autem equites illos Cn. Pompei veteres fidosque clientis voluntate eius Pisonem aggressos; numquam Hispanos praeterea tale facinus fecisse, sed imperia saeva multa antea perpessos. Nos eam rem in medio relinquemus.) [BC 9.4-5] 

By prompting readers to ponder the many possible motives for characters’ actions, Sallust slowly but surely leads them to a deeper understanding of human nature. 

Another way Sallust educates his readers is by phrasing descriptions in paradoxical ways. For instance, after recounting the siege and capture of Jugurtha’s treasure fortress in the mountains, Sallust concludes, “Thus Marius’ rashness was set straight by chance, [and] he acquired glory out of an error” (“Sic forte correcta Mari temeritas gloriam ex culpa invenit”) [BI 94.6]. He then leaves it to the reader to decide whether Marius should be commended for attacking this virtually impregnable fortress. After all, the siege would have been a pointless waste of lives and resources if one of Marius’ men, collecting snails on the rocky slopes of the mountain, had not discovered a way up to the plateau behind the fortress. In another chapter, Sallust presents his readers with a seeming moral dilemma in his description of Marius’ decision to burn the town of Capsa and slaughter the adult inhabitants even though the town had surrendered—an act contrary to the law of war. 

This crime against the law of war was not perpetrated by the avarice or wickedness of the consul, but because the place was advantageous to Jugurtha [and] hard to access for us, [and because] the race of men was fickle, unfaithful, and had previously been controlled neither by kindness nor by fear. (Id facinus contra ius belli non avaritia neque scelere consulis admissum, sed quia locus Iugurthae opportunus, nobis aditu difficilis, genus hominum mobile, infidum, ante neque benificio neque metu coercitum.) [BI 91.5-7] 

Were Marius’ reasons sufficient to justify disregard for the laws of war? Sallust leaves this implicit question unanswered, since he wants his readers to grapple with it for themselves. As future leaders, Sallust’s readers will themselves be faced with cases in which the arguments for disregarding moral principles will seem compelling and urgent. In such situations, previous experience in holding fast to moral principles is critically important. 

Still more importantly, leaders must develop the forethought to avoid situations in which disregarding moral principles will seem to be the only option. Sallust does not directly condemn Marius for cruelty, but he repeatedly emphasizes Marius’ lack of forethought in attempting to attack Capsa at all. Not only was Capsa a well-fortified town, but it was in the middle of a desert full of deadly serpents. Sallust compares Marius’ attack on Capsa to Metellus’ successful attack on Thala—a town that was also located in the middle of the desert—but he does so not in order to make the plan seem less impossible but in order to explain the origin of the “very great desire” (“maxuma cupido”) that seized Marius—namely, the desire to gain as much glory as Metellus (BI 89.6). In fact, the comparison of Capsa with Thala reveals just how rash Marius’ plan was. Whereas there were several springs of water outside the walls of Thala, the only water at Capsa was inside the walls. Consequently, even if Marius and his men were able to cross the desert, they would have to defeat Capsa immediately or risk dying of thirst. Not only would they be unable to lay seige to Capsa the way Metellus did to Thala, they would not even be able to retreat back across the desert, since they had no supply of water. Sallust admits that Marius “arranged the enterprise carefully enough under the circumstances” (“pro rei copia satis providenter exornat”) [BI 90.1]. Nevertheless, the enterprise which Marius had chosen was such that Sallust says the consul was “depending, I suppose, on the gods, for it was not possible to provide sufficiently against such difficulties by counsel” (“credo dis fretus, nam contra tantas difficultates consilio satis prouidere non poterat”) [BI 90.1]. 

The gravity of Marius’ responsibilities to his soldiers and to the Roman people makes it difficult to see how depending on the gods could be a sufficient substitute for mature forethought. Not only does he ignore the consequences of failure, he also ignores the consequences of success. The only way Marius could defeat Capsa is by taking it by surprise and forcing it to surrender immediately. Since Capsa was so difficult to access, however, there would be almost no way to ensure its loyalty once it surrendered. If he allowed the inhabitants to live and they returned to Jugurtha—and Capsa was one of the towns most loyal to Jugurtha—it would be impossible to conquer them again, since Marius’ first victory was due to surprise. Even leaving a garrison in the town would be insufficient since there would be no reliable way to send reinforcements if the city rebelled. In other words, if Marius defeated Capsa, he would have to choose between transgressing the law of war and relinquishing any permanent advantage he might have gained from the victory. Certainly, he would still have achieved his personal goal of obtaining glory and impressing the enemy and his own men, and he could also take a great deal of booty. Nevertheless, only the permanent defeat of Capsa could produce the long-term, practical benefits that would justify his rash attack on Capsa and conceal the fact that he had risked his men’s lives simply to establish his own reputation. 

By comparing Marius’ attack on Capsa to Metellus’ attack on Thala, Sallust reveals that the seeming moral dilemma in which Marius finds himself is of his own making. If Marius had exercised forethought and considered the consequences both of victory and (what was more likely) of defeat, it is to be hoped that he would not have attacked the town at all. As it was, Marius’ initial rashness puts him in a position in which the only way he can take advantage of his victory is by committing an atrocity. Sallust recounts the incident in a way that allows the readers to experience just how strong the temptation can be to transgress moral principles for personal or state reasons. Hopefully, thoughtful readers of the Bellum Iugurthinum will be struck not only by the dangerous power of such temptations, but also by the possibility of using forethought to avoid situations in which one will be tempted to betray one’s moral principles. If one has trouble remaining faithful to principle, one should be all the more careful to avoid such situations. The account as a whole reveals the importance of moral as well as political and military forethought. 

The examples given above reveal what an extensive education Sallust’s Bella can provide for potential leaders. Unlike an education consisting solely of military training or Greek eloquence, Sallust’s education is designed to prepare young men for virtuous leadership. The narrative structures of the Bella, recounting as they do the rise and fall of Catiline and Jugurtha, impress upon readers the consequences of virtue and vice, both for the individual and the state, and communicate Sallust’s most urgent message: that the fortune of princes changes with their character (BC 2.5). Sallust’s nuanced portrayals of the different characters in the Bella educate his readers in human nature, and the many speeches in the Bella train readers to discern a person’s true character beneath insincere rhetoric. Finally, through his portrayals of the prudential judgments which leaders must make, Sallust gives his readers experience in applying moral and political principles to practical situations. 


By developing his readers’ moral and political acumen in his account of the wars with Catiline and Jugurtha, Sallust hopes to educate a new generation of leaders capable of preventing such wars in the future. For Sallust, peace is the primary goal of government, and thus the main goal of his education as well. The importance of peace in Sallust’s understanding of the art of politics is clear in his speech to Caesar. The speech can be divided into two parts; in the first, Sallust offers Caesar advice for war (sections 1-4) and in the second, advice for peace (sections 5-8). Even the section on war is directed towards peace, however. Sallust’s advice to Caesar on how to conclude his war with Pompey is to exercise mercy so that his victory will be followed by a just and lasting peace (“Speech” 3.1-3). In the second half of his speech, Sallust gives Caesar advice for how to maintain peace once it is attained. That Caesar desires peace, Sallust treats as obvious, since “wise men wage war for the sake of peace, they endure labor in the hope of leisure. Unless you make that firm, what does it matter to be conquered or to conquer?” (“sapientes pacis causa bellum gerunt, laborem spe otii sustentant. Nisi illam firmam efficis, vinci an vicisse quid retulit?”) [“Speech” 6.2]. To establish Rome in firm peace, Sallust declares, it is necessary to establish harmony among citizens by casting out “licentiousness of expenditure and plundering” (“sumptuum et rapinarum licentiam”) [“Speech” 5.4]. The most important thing is for Caesar to “keep vicious occupations and evil desires away from the young” (“ut pravas artis malasque libidines ab iuventute prohibeas”) so that “the young man may devote himself to honesty and industry, not expenditures and riches” (“iuventus probitati et industriae, non sumptibus neque divitiis studeat”) [“Speech” 6.4, 7.2]. For this purpose, Sallust suggests that Caesar check the love of money and luxury by making a law preventing men from living outside their means. Caesar’s task, Sallust declares, is “strengthening the republic for the future, not by arms alone and against the enemy, but—what is far, far more rugged [a task]—in the good arts of peace” (“in posterum firmanda res publica non armis modo neque advorsum hostis, sed, quod multo multoque asperius est, pacis bonis artibus”) [“Speech” 1.8].27 

As noted above, Sallust’s “Speech to Caesar” was probably delivered in 46 BC, three years after Caesar crossed the Rubicon and two years before his assassination. The Bellum Catilinae, in contrast, was published soon after Caesar’s assassination and Sallust’s own retirement from public affairs, probably in 44 BC, and the Bellum Iugurthinum was published after the Bellum Catilinae, around 41 BC. Sallust’s analysis of Rome’s decay is the same in all three works: Rome is enslaved, he explains, to the greed and licentiousness of its own citizens. Although man’s nature is capable of incredible greatness, when individuals become slaves to vice, neither their own liberty nor the liberty of the state can endure for long. Although Sallust’s diagnosis of Rome’s malaise remains the same, the solution he offers to Caesar is different from that which he embodies in the Bella. Whereas in the Bella he attempts to reform the morals of Roman youths through an education in virtue, in the “Speech to Caesar” he proposes the enactment of a law to check the greed and license of young Romans by preventing them from living outside their income. To be sure, the fact that Sallust is addressing a political leader in his “Speech to Caesar” may be a sufficient explanation for why he proposes a political solution instead of a cultural solution. However, during the period between the speech and the publication of the Bella, he may also have become disillusioned with political methods of reforming Roman morals. Certainly, his attempts in the “Speech” to dampen Caesar’s ambition and warn him against ruling the state for his own benefit instead of for the good of the Roman people were unsuccessful. Regardless, by the time Sallust wrote the Bella he was convinced that an education in virtuous leadership, such as that he provides in his histories, could do more good than the political efforts of his contemporaries. Just as justice had prevailed in early Rome more because of good morals than because of laws, so Rome’s greatness would be restored not by political measures but by cultivating “the good arts of peace” (BC 9.1, “Speech” 1.8). 

Works Cited

Batstone, William. “The Antithesis of Virtue: Sallust’s Synkrisis and the Crisis of the Late 

Republic.” Classical Antiquity 7.1 (April 1988): 1-29. 

Cassius Dio Cocceianus. Dio’s Roman History. Translated by Earnest Cary. New York: Loeb

-Harvard U P, 1914. http://data.perseus.org/citations/urn:cts:greekLit:tlg0385.tlg001.perseus-grc1:43.9 

Hands, A.R. “Sallust and Dissimulatio.” The Journal of Roman Studies 49.1-2 (1959): 56- 60. 

Kadleck, Stacie. Email conversation. University of Dallas. 10 Dec. 2012. 

Last, Hugh. “On the Sallustian Suasoriae.” Classical Quarterly 17.2 (April 1923): 87-100. 

—. “On the Sallustian Suasoriae II.” Classical Quarterly 17.3/4 (Jul-Oct 1923): 151-162. 

Sallust. Sallust. Trans. J.C. Rolfe. Cambridge, MA: Loeb-Oxford U P, 1931.

A Reading of Augustine’s “Confessions” and Its Implications for Education

Posted Posted in Liberal Education

William A. Frank 

University of Dallas 

Truth is that by which what is manifests itself. ––On True Religion 36. 

Because of its most sweet and happy contemplation of you, it firmly checks its own mutability. Without any lapse from its first creation, it has clung fast to you. ––Confessions 12.9.9 

It is silent to one, but speaks to the other. Nay rather, it speaks to all, but only those understand who compare its voice taken from outside with the truth within. ––Confessions 10.6.10 

Truth is loved in such wise that men who love some other object want what they love to be the truth . . .––Confessions 10.23.34 

Your best servant is he who looks not so much to hear from you what he wants to hear, but rather to want what he hears from you. ––Confessions 10.26.37 

We also, who are spiritual as to the soul, being turned away from you our light, were sometimes darkness in this life. ––Confessions 13.2.3 

I delighted in truth, in such little things and thoughts about such little things. I did not want to err. ––Confessions 1.20.31 

This book changed my affections. ––Confessions 3.4.7 

In his Confessions Augustine fashions an account of the first thirty-four years of his life. He situates moments of his personal story within the dynamic whole of the cosmos as he comes to understand it through his exegesis of the book of Genesis. At the time he composed and published the Confessions, some ten to twelve years after the last historical events narrated in it, Augustine was the bishop of Hippo. However, the Confessions is not primarily a book about the author’s past. He is just as concerned that his readers follow him in his present meditations on the Word of God as with their interest in how the Word brought him to where he now is. In effect, we encounter two Augustines. First, there is the Augustine narrated, the boy and young man whose actions and thoughts and feelings are brought forth out of memory. Second, there is Augustine who is the mature, teaching bishop writing his confessiones and situating the biographical parts within the larger “speech act” of the whole of his work. It is the overarching intent of the text as a whole that carries implications for understanding the meaning and practice of education. 

  1. A Reading of the Confessions 

Confessio Augustine’s mode of discourse 

As an entry to the meaning of the Confessions, I shall begin with remarks on its mode of discourse. Augustine’s approaches in the genre and structure of his text are notably distinctive. In comparison with the philosophical tradition, he is doing something new and unprecedented. 

Confessio—as to the character of his mode of discourse, James J. O’Donnell captures well its peculiarity: “It begins abruptly, with speech directed to a silent God— but speech chosen from the words of God himself. . . . This opening can give rise to the disconcerting feeling of coming into a room and chancing upon a man speaking to someone who isn’t there. He gestures in our direction and mentions us from time to time, but he never addresses his readers.” O’Donnell continues, “as a literary text, conf. resembles a one-sided, non-fiction epistolary novel, enacted in the presence of the silence (and darkness) of God.”1 What stands out in O’Donnell’s parody, is the image of a man’s direct address to an unseen and unheard interlocutor, spoken with the conceit of other interested hearers listening off on the sides and out of the picture. The mode of discourse is not accidental to Augustine’s meaning. “Confessio” is the name for the way he makes his meaning clear, draws his hearers and readers into what he says, and appeals to them for their assent. It is a term whose ordinary meaning for us is distant from Augustine’s original intention. He has located the engagement of mind and reality within the interiority of the inquirer’s heart and mind, and he understands the truth as freely entering into the scene from without and above both the material world and the immaterial soul. His “staging” of truth’s manifestation is an essential condition for the personal drama of the search for wisdom. Augustine’s rhetorical form contrasts starkly with the public form of the Greek philosophical mind, evident in the classical traditions of Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and Epicureans, in which wisdom is achieved in the philosophers’ conversations in the agora, the academy, the stoa, or the gardens. In the classical philosophical form inquiring minds become manifest to one another as reality becomes evident to them in their common inquiry. By contrast, Augustine’s conceit has it that God’s hidden knowledge of reality and of Augustine is the source of both reality and Augustine’s knowing. “My confession is made in silence before you, my God, and yet not in silence. As to sound, it is silent, but it cries aloud with love. Nor do I say any good thing to men except what you have first heard from me; nor do you hear any such thing from me but what you have first spoken to me” (10.2.2).2 The written word of the Confessions represents the third intention, as it were. What we read are words that Augustine first intends for God, and those words, more primarily intended in direct discourse with God, Augustine himself first receives from God’s original word to him. Our only access to God’s discourse with Augustine is through Augustine’s personal testimony in his confessions

We recall Augustine’s very first words (which in fact are themselves words of Divine Revelation, Ps 47:2; 95:4; 144:3): “You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and to your wisdom there is no limit.” (1.1.1). O’Donnell writes: “strictly speaking these two lines contain a complete confession . . . that renders the remaining 78,000 or so words of the text superfluous.”3 There is a perspective on the world in which the fullness of truth and wisdom is expressed in these 15 Latin words: magnum es, domine, et laudabilis valde. Magna virtus tua et sapientiae tuae non est numerus. In the first two sentences Augustine has said enough; it is, from a certain point of view, the sufficient confession. The spoken word achieves its end in such praise. The witness of praise is the sempiternal hymn of the heaven of heavens. It is also the end for which God created men and women. 

Yet Augustine continues through the following 78,000 words. From what perspective, therefore, are the opening words not a sufficient confession? In the case of mankind, the disordered loves of sinfulness shut down that praise. The thirteen books are Augustine’s account of God’s action in the restoration of that praise. The witness of his own sinfulness and God’s mercy is also one of the modes of Augustine’s confession. What Augustine writes in the Confessions is his self-understanding before the mirror of God or the truth of his life in the light of God’s Word. The truth of God’s merciful love rouses in him the mixed strains of sorrow, gratitude, and praise for God’s greatness. And because this account is spoken by a presiding bishop and shared in confident love with those who would recognize in it God’s word, they too join in the confessions of sorrow for sin, gratitude for mercy, and praise of the greatness of God. Augustine’s confessions, in sum, represent a complex “speech act” that establishes on the basis of truth a community of love, both between God and man, and man and man. They are a paradigm of Christian wisdom. 

The divine creator’s freedom lies at the basis of the truth about reality and the accessibility of Augustine’s knowledge of it. In addition, Augustine’s decision to become a “philosopher” in the Christian order of things, requires on his part a dramatic act of freedom. Many of these points are expressed in an instructive formulation of Thomas Prufer: “Augustine is paradigmatic for the theological form of mind in contrast to the Greek philosophical form.” For the Christian theological mind, “questioning comes to rest in a freedom which could choose other than it does. If God were to choose that creatures not be, then all that “being” would mean would be God alone. On the other hand, for creatures to be is for them to be, without remainder or reserve, chosen by and manifest to another. There is no privacy: man is because he is manifest to another. But this publicity to God is as hidden as God Himself, unless God’s eloquence manifests Him as our public and as the friend who confirms us in our knowledge of ourselves and one another.”4 In other words, if we grant that the human excellence which the Greeks called arête and the Romans virtus was achieved and manifest within a common public and a common world,5 Augustine has radically transformed the conditions of publicity and worldliness for human excellence. The most essential condition is God’s free decision to create, to reveal, and to restore. Augustine’s responsive freedom is the second condition. He achieves his wisdom in conversation with God and he acquires his moral strength—his continence and steadfast love—in the interior encounters with God. From within this interior status his subsequent public confession builds up the bonds of unity and draws members of the community into a common wisdom. 

Development through the thirteen books 

On first look, the structure of the Confessions’s thirteen books strikes one as odd. We see the first nine books governed straightforwardly by the lineaments of Augustine’s biography, from his infancy to his baptism and the death of his mother. Then the tenth book elaborates an account of memory as part of an analytical description of the hierarchy of being and the upward way of the mind’s search for God. Just when it seems that Book Ten should bring the whole work to a conclusion (at 10.26.37), it opens up to a ranging discussion of the structures of sin. The final three books, under the rubric of a commentary on the Book of Genesis 1.1 – 2.2, take up a wide variety of topics, such as the Trinity, consciousness of time, principles of scriptural hermeneutics, and the office of the bishop. 

Certain themes play a systematic role throughout the work as a whole. Of special interest are the restless heart (for instance at 1.1.1; 5.2.2; 13.1.1; 13.8.9; 13.37.52); dispersion of soul: “I spent my self upon the many” (2.1.1), “deafened by the clanking of my mortality . . . I wandered farther away from you and you let me go. I was tossed about and spilt out in my fornications; I flowed out and boiled over in them” (2.2.2); “my life is a distention or distraction . . . dissipated in many ways upon many things” (11.29.39); and continence: “there appeared to me the chaste dignity of continence” (8.11.27), “by continence we are gathered together and brought back to the One, from whom we have dissipated our being into many things” (10.29.40); “in you may my scattered longings be gathered together” (10.40.67); and the concept of cleaving to or holding fast: “See where a man’s feeble soul lies stricken when it does not cling to the solid support of truth” (4.14.23), “I was not steadfast in enjoyment of my God: I was borne up to you by your beauty, but soon I was borne down from you by my own weight” (7.17.23), “True it is that [the heaven of heavens] suffers no temporal changes which so clings to the immutable form that, although itself mutable, it is not changed” (12.19.28), “‘Be light made,’ and light was made, and every obedient intelligence in your heavenly city had cleaved to you and found rest in your Spirit, which is borne unchangeably over every changeable thing” (13.8.9). 

The common themes and distinctive particulars of the Confessions are situated within an overarching dynamic pattern of the rational or intellectual creature’s corrective or recovering ascent toward God as Truth and light from a prior tendency of descent and dispersion amidst the darksome depths (for instance, 2.10.18; 11.29.39; 13.8.9; 13.10.11; 13.14.15;). At the end stands the condition of steadfast love and praise of God. Augustine’s personal narrative follows such a pattern of descent (bks 1-5) and ascent (bks 5-9).6 So also does the “heaven of heavens” reflect the dynamic structure in the very first moment of creation (12.9.9; 12.11.12; 12.15.19-21). 

In mankind’s case, the upward movement represents the rectification of disordered love. Establishing the proper ordering of the love of creatures and the love of the Creator is the ultimate task for rational, intellectual creatures. In a poignant reflection on the tortuous path he had travelled in following out the impulses of his own disordered loves, Augustine confesses: “Too late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new, too late have I loved you. Behold, you were within me, while I was outside: it was there I sought you, and, a deformed creature, rushed headlong upon these things of beauty which you have made. You were with me, but I was not with you. . . . You have called to me, and have cried out, and have shattered my deafness. You have blazed forth with light, and have shone upon me, and have put my blindness to flight.” (10.27.38). The implicit narrative is generated from the interaction of two vectors: Augustine’s headlong embrace of the beauties of creation – which on the face of it seems nothing bad – and God’s ongoing solicitude and illumination which Augustine in his thirty-four years of life has only lately acknowledged. He depicts God’s word as shattering a deafness and his light as putting to flight a blindness. It’s important to realize that the deafness and blindness are conditions willed by Augustine himself. He did not want God in the picture, at least not on God’s terms. “I preferred to think that even you were mutable, than that I was not that which you are” (4.15.26). 

God’s absence in Augustine’s life represents a personal achievement to filter out the objective reality of God’s presence. There is a pattern or logic to the blocking of God’s reality from one’s life, which Augustine calls the three forms of temptations. They are the manifold pleasures of the flesh, vain curiosities of the intellect, and the proud ambitions of the will (10.30.41; 10.31.47; 10.35.54; 10.36.59). Later he characterizes them as the “motions of a dead soul” (13.21.30). They are also the agents of forgetfulness by which the disordered, inconstant heart hides the Truth from itself (10.2.2). One might think of them as the directive forces of the soul’s dissipation in its descent from God.7 Throughout the narrative sections of the Confessions Augustine presents himself being entangled in the different forms of sin in the variety of their manifestations. We also witness the drama of his systematic liberation from their chains one by one.8 The culminating moment of this long process of liberation occurs in the garden at Milan. There after an interior battle over his heart by his “lovers of old” (8.11.26) and “the chaste dignity of continence” (8.11.27), Augustine decides to love God wholeheartedly, to prefer altogether the love of God to the range of past loves that had claimed parts of his soul, as it were, to the exclusion of God. With that decision, “a peaceful light streamed into my heart, and all the dark shadows of doubt fled away” (8.12.29). 

Truth in the Confessions 

The themes of truth and Augustine’s theory of illumination are too large even for this overly ambitious essay. But we must at least gesture in their direction in order to understand the essential rational component in the restless heart and the paths it leads us into. 

From the start, man is a creature of desire, and he is especially drawn to pleasing and beautiful things. Unless one becomes a man of judgment, however, he becomes subject to the things he loves. Judgment enables one to question his loves. As Augustine puts it: to both the unreflective and reflective man a given beautiful thing appears the same, yet “it is silent to one, but speaks to the other. Nay rather, it speaks to all, but only those understand who compare its voice taken from outside with the truth within” (10.6.10). In other words, having judgment is here a matter of being able to question and hear the beauty in what we love. Judging, however, is a matter of comparing the given external manifestation of beauty with truth that appears only interior to the mind. In effect, it is through judgment that desires are brought into scrutiny under the light of truth. 

One might reasonably ask: Why submit to an examination of one’s immediate pursuits and enjoyments? What’s the advantage? What’s the motivation? Augustine answers that everyone is drawn to happiness as the dominant, governing object of desire, and, furthermore, that “joy in the truth is the happy life” (10.23.33). It seems, therefore, that the early impulses that draw us to the beauties of the external world need not be resistant to the light of truth which judgment opens out onto our loves. 

Yet this inward and upward turn to truth is not without its intellectual and moral challenges. Morally, the exposure of our passions, desires, choices is unsettling. Augustine put it in the strongest term at the Confessions’ great moment of decision: “I still hesitated to die to death and to live to life, for the ingrown worse had more power over me than the untried better. The nearer came that moment in time when I was to become something different, the greater terror did it strike into me” (8.11.25). Because exposing our “love-life” to the judgment of truth is so personally difficult, we have practiced tactics for avoiding it, in the ways we’ve already discussed. Here it is important only to add that the overall strategy of avoidance involves the willful manipulation of truth: 

Truth is loved in such wise that men who love some other object want what they love to be the truth . . . and because they do not want to be deceived, they refuse to be convinced that they have been deceived. Therefore they hate the truth for the sake of that very thing which they have loved instead of the truth. (10.23.34) 

Personal decision holds the keys to the sort of Truth and Wisdom sought by the philosophical and theological mind. 

Intellectually, judgment is also difficult. It is just not easy to think beyond sensible, material, changeable realities. Grasping what is absolute or what is universal and necessary demands refined powers of abstraction. Augustine describes the process in his theory of illumination. Let me offer a basic synthesis through the eyes of Etienne Gilson.9 As Augustine understands it, the mind is active. Not only does it animate the body and produce sensation as prompted by the body, more importantly, “it is active in regard to the particular images engendered by sensation; it gathers, separates, compares them and reads the intelligible in them. But then something appears in the mind which cannot be explained either by the objects which the mind ponders or by the mind itself which ponders them, and this is the true judgment and the note of necessity which it implies. The judgment of truth is the component the mind must receive because it lacks the power to produce it itself.” (Gilson, 87) Divine illumination comes into play when ideas are held as truth that men ought to hold. It explains the sources of the universality and necessity of knowledge. Included here are our judgments that empirical particulars are beautiful. Similar ideas, independent of empirical particularity, include the good, the true, number, equality, likeness, and wisdom. As ideas, these notions are to be thought of not so much as content, but as concepts that provide the grounds for universal and necessary judgments, and as such they transcend what is given in them on empirical grounds. Nor could they be generated out of the created mind’s mutable, fallible resources. “Experience and not illumination tells us what an arch or a man is; illumination and not experience tells us what a perfect arch or a perfect man ought to be” (Gilson, 90). 

In the Confessions we find Augustine’s characteristic pattern of reasoning at 7.17.23 as well as at 9.10.24, and in the sequence stretching though 10.6.8-10.26.37. His earlier De libero arbitrio 2.3-15 develops the argument in an elaborated form. Later in De trinitate 8.3, 9.6-7, he develops an especially interesting version, already adumbrated in Confessions 9.10.25. Inevitably, attractive objects appeal under the guises of truth or beauty. Augustine first spends himself on corporeal objects, then he turns inward and invests in furnishings, affections, and judgments of the mind. Objects of the external and internal spheres, however, offer only limited, temporary satisfaction. Finding no steady satisfaction in either of these two spheres, he enters into the final sphere by virtue of God’s illumination and his own wholehearted decision to face the light. 

A new context for ongoing confessio – Book Eleven. 

It can seem that the autobiographical narrative of the first nine books is sufficient for an understanding of the Confessions. It certainly suffices in the experience of many readers. Yet the final four books make up almost half of the whole. And there is a reason for the continuation. First of all, Augustine is acutely aware of the contingent status of his chaste continence. He is still susceptible to the temptations of lust, curiosity, and pride. The last half of Book Ten can be read as his examination of conscience on just this point. Moreover, he, Augustine the author-bishop, wants to deepen and extend his confessio. He desires to praise God even more for his greatness. 

Up to this point in the Confessions (that is, up through Book Ten), the provocation of Augustine’s confessio has been the manifestation of God in the narrative thread of his life, from birth to baptism. Now, at Book Eleven, it is Scripture that provides the evidence – the manifold in which God’s Providence becomes manifest. We could say that there is still a biographical basis for the speech that carries through the next three books. But it is a slender thread, at least by contrast to the way narration dominates the preceding books. In 11.2.2 Augustine self-consciously represents himself in his office as a bishop, charged with preaching the Word and celebrating the Eucharist (perduxisti praedicare verbum et sacramentum tuum dispensare). He now finds it necessary10 to devote precious hours to meditating on the law of the Lord and to let his understanding and his ignorance be the occasion of his confession. In short, Augustine wants to understand the Scriptures (“May your Scriptures be my chaste delight”) and to put them to the service of fraternal charity. He feels deeply the fleeting character of time. And his meditations will take time, for God’s Scriptures consist of many pages, filled with difficult and secret meanings. Yet he speaks directly to God, confident that God will give what he desires: “Grant what I love, for I love in the truth, and this too have you given to me.” He couches his desire in the suggestive poetry of Scripture: “Nor are those forests to lack their harts, who will retire therein, and regain their strength, walk about and feed, lie down and ruminate. Lord perfect me, and open those pages to me. Behold, your voice is my joy.” In the last three books, Augustine will become the hart feeding on the forest vegetation (Ps 28:9). 

In sum, Augustine will meditate on Scripture and confess to God and before the community of mankind the glory of God manifest in his Word. As he puts it, “ Let me confess to you whatever I shall find in your books, and let me ‘hear the voice of praise,’ and drink you in, and consider ‘the wonderful things of your law,’ from the beginning, wherein you made heaven and earth, even to an everlasting kingdom together with you in your holy city.” We might wonder whether in fact Augustine intends to confess what he finds in the whole of Scripture since he plans to explicate only the first chapter of Genesis. In fact, yes, he does so intend, insofar as his typological reading allows him to see the whole present in the beginning.11 

Augustine ends his introduction (11.1.1 – 2.4) with a prayer to the Father calling upon the mediation of the Son. The Son, which is to say the Word, mediates between the Father and mankind two ways: (1) “through him you sought us when we did not seek you, and sought us so that we might seek you”–the theo-logic of the narrative of Books 1-10; and (2) “through whom you have made all things . . . through whom you have called to adoption a people of believers” (11.2.4)—the theo-logic of creation as well as the through-line of the history of Israel. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are concealed in the Word. It is this knowledge and wisdom that Augustine seeks in the books of Scripture. It is also the Truth and Wisdom that he will teach from his episcopal office. 

Although Book Eleven is famously devoted to the consideration of time, interpreters’ decided focus on the nature of time is in some way a distraction from Augustine’s chief concern. After an original account of time (or is it timing?) as the distension of mind, Augustine transitions to considerations of the ascent to Truth against the human condition of distension of personhood. The argument rests on a parallelism: distension of the mind gives us the experience of time by sustaining the continuity of the passage of “presence” from non-being of the future into the non-being of the past. The present is given continuity and duration by attention of the present, anticipation of the future, and memory of the past. The things remembered, “contuited,” and anticipated leave residues or images in the mind which the mind holds together—as we experience, for example, the simple apprehension of the expression “Deus creator omnium” or in one’s recitation of, say, Psalm 95. In both cases there is a sustained governing intention that overarches and unites “before” and “after” in the temporal sequence. Were we unable to hold on to the first syllable until the last has been sounded, we would experience no word or enunciation. Each discrete syllable would disappear on its utterance and no whole word or expression would form. Analogously, any human person can lose himself in the moral distension of his personhood. The fullness of human existence is achieved in contingency, experienced as the gathering and sustaining of the unity of a dispersed self. This moral achievement parallels the metaphysical achievement of one’s existence in the creative (“let it be”) and gathering (“come to me”) sustenance of divine love. Anxiety over hovering non existence is the condition of the experience of our personal contingency. On the one hand, anxiety derives from the need to trust in God’s creative, sustaining love, and on the other hand from our own willfulness. The task is not the futile attempt to sustain the temporal whole of one’s existence, but to transcend temporality and enter into the region of eternity: “gather together . . . to follow the One: (11.29.39), that “I may flow altogether into you” (11.29.39). By setting up the eternal sphere in a radical transcendent relation to the immanent (temporal) sphere as part of the God-gifted human experience of the continent heart, Augustine finalizes the most essential understanding of God as Creator of heaven and earth. The creator does not know his creation in a temporal modality: “it is not as emotions or senses are distended in the expectation of words to come and in the memory of words just past in our experience of the singing or hearing of well-known psalms”—not in this fashion does God know his creatures (11.31.41). 

In short, human life is inevitably conditioned by distention or distraction. Given our temporality, we human beings can move in one of two ways: either (1) steady attention can lead to an anticipation or foreshadowing of eternity, or (2) our distention can be nothing more than the distraction of dissipation. In this context, Christ (the Son) mediates between the Father (One) and men (Many). Through Christ we are able to apprehend the Father, even as we are gathered together from our former dissipation of self in order to follow the One. This transforming of the intellect and the will is an extension . 

Philosophical insight or mystical intuition is not the way of Christianity. Even if Augustine may have encountered God in the philosophical reflection and mystical conversations of Books 7, 8, and 9, it is not the way of Everyman. Nor are they anymore the ways that Augustine encounters God’s Word. God is encountered in Scripture and in the Sacraments. The goal is to be brought into Divine Life. We have the mediation of Christ – as Word of Scripture and Priest/Victim of the Eucharist. For the member of the Christian community the task is for the soul to not release itself in dissipation, but to be gathered into the One. This will happen in the Christian life of the Church. 

Heaven of heavens in Book Twelve and the Word’s polysemy 

The content of Book Twelve interprets the first two verses of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and the darkness was upon the face of the deep (in principio fecit deus caelum et terram. terra invisibilis erat et incomposita, et tenebrae erant super abyssum.).” Augustine first of all (cc. 2-13) establishes his own “best reading” of the text. He understands the lines to signify the creation of the intellectual heaven, the “heaven of heavens,” and the “proto-earth” which is invisible and without form—both realities created by God prior to the numerated days of creation (12.13.16). The notion of “the heaven of heavens” interests us because it establishes at the outermost reaches of the created universe a standard for the restless heart’s conversion to Truth (13.2.3 – 3.4). 

Secondly (cc. 14-32), he introduces methodological considerations that conclude to a legitimate plurality of true interpretations of the same one text. He explains that in one and the same text, God reveals his truth to many hearers, but in ways such that the meaning which the different hearers receive through the text need not be identical. But they must be true meanings of the one text and intended for the individual hearer by God. Augustine has lovely ways of recommending his account of the polysemeous character of divine scripture. For instance, he speaks of how for pious but simple, untutored minds an especially literal understanding of the words function like a nest that protects the featherless birdling (12.27.37). Whereas, by contrast, for the sophisticated and learned hearer, God’s words are no longer the nest, but the shady bowers of the greenwoods where one might “see the fruits that lie therein and joyously fly about, and pipe songs and look carefully at them and pluck them” (12.28.38). Augustine wants to resist firmly a dogmatic insistence upon one of many legitimate interpretations. As he sees it, such insistence springs from self-will. Such insistence does not come from dogmatic interpreters “because they have a divine spirit and have seen in the heart of your servant what they assert, but [rather] because they are proud and have not known Moses’s meaning but love their own, not because it is true, but because it is their own (12.25.34).” It is easy to hear the echo of Augustine’s prior discussion of the willfulness by which we conceal the truth from ourselves (10.23.34). Within the community of interpretation, one must guard against those who would limit God’s word from being heard truly in the several strains that communicate with the simple and subtle alike. “Amid this diversity of true opinions, let truth itself beget concord” (12.30.41). 

Episcopal office and Book Thirteen 

The continuation of Augustine’s confessio in the last book takes the form of a complex allegorical interpretation of the seven days of creation. The interpretation is led by a literal recall of the Creator’s formative work in each day. Each day’s work is then paralleled by an account of the stages of spiritual conversion by which all spiritual beings are called back toward the rest and peace of life with God. The allegorical turning of the ontological creative formation to the moral redemptive conversion results in a depiction of the work of the Church with especial attention to the role of the preacher, the minister of the Word.12 

Within the allegorical vision of Book Thirteen, it is the function of the Sacred Scriptures “to extend to man in the cosmos the illuminating, converting speech of the Word in human language” (DiLorenzo, 80). The process begins with God’s “fiat lux” on the first day, in which “Spirit . . . dwells in us, because he was mercifully borne above our dark and fluid inner being” (13.14.15). This illumination represents “the archetype of Sacred Scripture itself” in which we witness “the unfolding of salvation history of the Church, a history which, furthermore, includes . . . Augustine’s own life story.” (13.12.13). The allegorical interpretations of the next five days portray the conversion of mankind in the temporal universe (Di Lorenzo, 79). On the second day, the allegory has it that God, “through the ministry of mortal men” stretches out the divine Scriptures like a firmament over the nations of world (13.15.16-18). Augustine confesses that there are no other “books which so destroy pride . . . I do not know any such pure words (casta eloquia) which so persuade me to make confession and make my neck meek to your yoke, and invite me to serve you without complaint.” (13.15.17). On the sixth day, Augustine situates the divine Spirit’s transforming light in the contemporary life of the Church’s ordained ministry. In the allegorical understanding God reveals how the eternal Word perfects the lives of those among the community of the baptized, and in their midst we see how the Word works through the Church’s ordained ministers, its predicatores. As he is writing these words, Augustine is decidedly self-conscious of his own conduct of his office as bishop. DiLorenzo describes well Augustine’s self understanding at the end of the Confessions

The new rhetoric of the predicator requires him to seek God so that his soul may be empowered by the Word to produce spiritual life in others. To Augustine, then, the work of the sixth day of Genesis figures the perfecting of spiritual life through the predicators. As they are perfected, so do they perfect. The way is twofold: (1) by continence, (2) by renewal of mind. (p. 85-86) 

This is really not the makings of the classical philosopher. But it is the manifestation of one responsible before the Truth and active in the search for Wisdom in the Christian dispensation. We could call it Christian philosophy, if we wish. 

In sum 

Augustine’s autobiographical narrative and his interpretation of Genesis 1.1-2.2 belong to the same “speech-act,” the same confessio. They issue from Augustine’s silent, interior discourse with God. They reflect on and they express the insistent presence of God’s Word in his life, as a youth on the way to conversion and baptism and as the active bishop of Hippo. He understands his personal encounters as an instance of an immense movement coursing throughout creation. His confessiones are themselves moments in that movement. They are the predicator’s words mediating the divine Word within the community of Christian believers. Confession is the indispensable way of Christian wisdom. It is how Wisdom and Truth enter into and form the human community in the Christian dispensation. 

  1. Implications for Education 

The notion of education employed in this essay is an expansive one. It does not confine education to schooling. All human beings are educated, though not all are schooled. Education signifies the process, concerted activity, or achievement that befits or capacitates one for a more perfect or complete performance of some desirable or wished-for activity. In a broad sense, education is indispensable in becoming, for better or for worse, the kind of man, woman, friend, or citizen that each of us becomes. In a narrow sense, it is through education that one learns to read and write, the musician learns to play the instrument, the surgeon to perform heart operations, the minister to counsel his flock. We are born into the world completely dependent upon the care and good will of others. It takes many years to acquire the adult measure of physical, emotional, and intellectual maturity. Although conditioned by some natural necessities, it is a complex of individual and societal deliberations and choices that directs the process of education. 

At the center of the process lies the student’s desire for an increase in his or her own being and belonging in the world. The undeniable desire for increase that is part of the learner’s personal make-up must reflect some attunement to the projected or promised achievements of education. It is of the utmost importance that the direction that this desire for increase takes should be a direction that ultimately reflects the student’s own free decision. Here we touch upon the role of the learner’s personal freedom as an ultimate condition for education, especially for the sort of education that matters most. One of the paradoxes of education is that “others”—parents and elders in one’s community, stewards of the culture’s resources invested with authority—work toward their wards’ independence, their personal judgment and freedom. The implied bond of trust, fraught with the potential for manipulation and betrayal, stands as a primary concern for the understanding and practice of education.13 

Drawing implications for the practical understanding of education from the Confessions can proceed from two perspectives. First, one might ask how one educates men and women of faith, those who are the members of the Christian community. This concern seems to be one that immediately preoccupied Augustine during the period of his life when he was cogitating and writing the Confessions. Secondly, one might look to the autobiographical, narrative sections of his confessiones and examine the steps of his own education on the way to his conversion and baptism. Are there pedagogical, curricular, or theoretical lessons to be learned, particularly applicable to the teaching of the unbeliever or the nominal Christian? The first way is the more important in that it establishes the end of education. It directly brings men and women into the experience of wisdom. The second way is perhaps the more necessary, for it would establish the predispositions toward participation in the community of Christian wisdom. Consideration of Augustine’s analysis of the intellectual, moral, and societal impediments that he encountered may prove to have relevance beyond his unique historical case. Likewise, in his education as a boy and youth, we may find positive contribution to the formation of a mind and heart disposed to love of God. In what follows let me propose some recommendations that would seem to follow from Augustine’s Confessions

  1. Sacred Scripture forms the outer skin of human cultures (13.15.16-18). It teaches the first truths about God and the human person. It is accessible to all mankind under two conditions: (1) one must have the ears to hear, which is a function of one’s free decision to break from the self-will of concupiscence and pride, and (2) it must be preached, though everyone is disposed to it in principle by a congenital love of truth and desire for happiness. Scripture speaks a language accessible alike to the simple and the subtle, the unschooled and the schooled. The spirit of this hearing of God’s Word does not point directly to the historical critical study of the Bible, though such study will have its indispensable place in the schooling of the learned. Rather, to use the words of Joseph Ratzinger, it hearkens “to a voice greater than man’s [which] echoes in Scripture’s human words; the individual writings [Schrifte] of the Bible point somehow to the living process that shapes the one Scripture [Schrift].” Attending to Scripture in this spirit is a “personal search for ‘the face of the Lord’ (Ps 27:8).”14
  2. Nourish simple beginnings in the pedagogy of desire.15 Foster delight in the truth of even simple predications, wonder at the ingenuity of nature, the attractions of beauty in art and nature, pleasure in poetry and song, love of knowledge, joy in friendship’s loving others and being loved by them. These initial, simple joys provide hard evidence of depths of the heart and of broader horizons for life. Augustine’s remarks on his friendships are instructive. He recalls a conversation with his good friends Alypius and Nebridius (6.16.26). He marvels that with respect to his cognitive life, he was intellectually blind to the idea of “virtue and beauty that must be embraced for its own sake” although in the practical order of personal experience he had no doubt that he “loved these friends for their own sakes, and that [he knew] that they in turn love me for my own sake.” Later he describes quizzing corporeal things; “to all the things that stand around the doors of my flesh I said: ‘Tell me of my God!’ With a mighty voice they cried out, ‘He made us!’ My question was the gaze I turned on them; the answer was their beauty.” (10.6.9) 
  3. Interiority and silence. In a fundamental sense Christian wisdom is first experienced in listening for God’s word. It takes place in the silence of one’s heart. Silence here means the literal absence of noise, but it more importantly signifies a mental space free of distractions or practical anxieties. 
  4. Conversation. Augustine was led into deeper realizations primarily through his conversations. Books seemed to have played a lesser, more supportive role. Conversations and personal exchanges that stand out are manifold. Let me signal a few of the more prominent among them: the ongoing conversations with the unnamed friend who dies, dialogues with Faustus, disputes with Alypius and Nebridius, exchanges with Vindicianus and Nebridius, consultation with Simplicianus in Milan, and reflections with Monica at Ostia. 
  5. Books and schooling. Cicero’s Hortensius, the books of the Platonists, the books of the sacred Scriptures played decisive roles in Augustine’s conversion; they inspired, corrected, and informed him at crucial moments of his life. He was gifted with a splendid mind, superb memory, and a studious disposition. His parents set him up with good teachers in good schools. He mastered the various requirements of Latin grammar, classical rhetoric, and Aristotle’s Categories. He acquired some competence in mathematics, music, and the teachings of natural science. He also had a broad acquaintance with Latin poetry and drama and the books of Mani. If I understand him correctly, he saw in all of these studies little of intrinsic worth. At their best they were mostly useful and, in some respects, necessary. He believes that in his case the usefulness of these studies was largely misused in feeding his wanton pleasures, vanities, and vain curiosities. They led him astray (4.16.30). The point here is not to condemn books and liberal studies. However, he does not see in them something of intrinsic worth to be studied for their own sake. Their undisputed usefulness is a mixed blessing that can as easily serve the interests of the soul’s dispersion as its continence. 
  6. Philosophy. The books of the Platonists, in effect, classical metaphysics, led Augustine to the recognition of incorporeal truth, precisely what he needed to make a clean intellectual break from Manichean materialism (7.9.13; 7.20.26). One gets a taste of their effect in the dialectical ascents described at 7.10.16 and 7.17.23. What we might consider Augustine’s “mastery” of classical philosophy, however, puffed him up with presumptive knowledge (7.20.26). It was the Sacred Scriptures, and in particular the Apostle Paul, that checked his presumptive pride and stirred him to piety and a humbled heart (7.21.27). From pedagogical and curricular points of view, the intensive study of philosophy may be necessary for some, as it was for Augustine, but its tendency to feed pride and a spirit of self-sufficiency needs to be checked by the Christian pedagogy of humility. Despite his expressed reservations, however, philosophy’s role in education should not be considered simply accidental to this or that person’s preparation for the life of grace. First of all, it is philosophy that originally constitutes the ideal of the life of the mind and its rational pursuit of truth. Augustine’s understanding of his conversion in the garden, and much that lead up to it, inhabits a logical space first carved out in Socrates’ “examined life.” As I have written elsewhere, “The examination Socrates has in mind requires a measure of withdrawal from the passions that tie us to the ordinary loves of our life. The logical space created in this withdrawal encompasses two realities: the self’s interiority and glimmerings of transcendent truth.” The philosophical cast of mind, I believe, is an artifact of culture. And it should be among the first ends of education. “Truth makes difficult demands on personal being. Because the human heart suffers a profound contrariety at its core, the self’s existential interests conflict with its essential teleology. Human life, in its individual and corporate forms, plays out the conflict of power under the sway of self-will and power subordinating itself to a transcendent truth. In favor of truth’s cause lies the intrinsic beauty of truth itself and mankind’s innate, even if inconstant, susceptibility to its allure.” It is hard to see how Augustine’s Christian mind is conceivable except as a transformation from within a prior philosophical mind.16
  7. Patience and Trust. Learning, and especially moral education, has something in common with courageous action. It is a common mistake to think that progress in courage aims at eliminating fear. We can be tempted to identify fearlessness as a mark of courage. But in a real sense, courage embraces fear. One who is courageous is intensely aware of the harm that threatens him or her, and the consequent feelings of fear will be essential to the experience. The point of courage is not to not feel fear, but to not permit such feelings to deter one from doing what ought to be done. Similarly, an essential part of moral education aims not so much to prevent temptation and moral error, for responsibility for sinfulness and wickedness will be part of everyone’s life. The biographical dimensions of Augustine’s confessiones grow out of his profound moral realism. Following the example of Augustine’s extended conversion, the point is to recognize our moral failures and not permit them from finally deterring us from advancing in the moral life. Parents, teachers, elders in general can be too preoccupied with the prevention of moral failures in their wards. In the face of inevitable moral failure, it is important for youth to have habits and dispositions for calling upon the resources of their own inner life and as well upon the counsel of friends and elders. The care of others and one’s own inner resources that I have in mind are the sort that cause us to ask “Now, how shall I respond to that?” or as a friend of mine is fond of putting it, “What’s the lesson here?” One can only ask such questions so long as care has been taken to install well in advance and to maintain active lines of reflective communication. Much like the father in the Gospel parable of the prodigal son, parents, teachers, and elders must learn to release those under their care to their freedom. This sort of care requires trust in the young person’s responsible agency and patience in the process of finding one’s way. One sees in the Confessions Augustine’s progressive recognition and ownership of his personal responsibility for wicked actions. Ingredient in the narrative are the works of patience and trust on the part of friends and elders. I think it fair to say as well that patience and trust are also hallmarks of God’s relationship with Augustine throughout his Confessions.

Cicero on Education: The Humanizing Arts

Posted Posted in Liberal Education

Walter J. Nicgorski1 

University of Notre Dame 

Early in Book V of his Tusculan Disputations Cicero gave what has become a classic expression of the Socratic turn of philosophy. 

But from the earliest philosophy to the time of Socrates, who sat under Archelaus, a disciple of Anaxagoras, motion and number were explored as well as the origin and destiny of all things; those philosophers zealously inquired after the sizes of the stars, the distances between them, their paths and all heavenly phenomena. Socrates was the first to call philosophy down from the heavens, to set it in the cities and even to bring it into the household; he compelled it to inquire into life and character and issues of good and evil [de vita et moribus rebusque bonis et malis] (Tusc. 5. 10-11).2

Cicero sought in himself and in the young whom he attempted to influence a continuing Socratic renewal as philosophers of the household and political community, extending even to an unpopular willingness to learn from “those Greeks.” Inquiry was to arise from the moral horizon of ordinary life and in the ordinary language of public life. 

The question of how to educate arises in this horizon from an interest in how to live rightly and how to order our communities rightly. So it is our question too, a living question, and not one that is merely historical. Principles and/or segments (mini-treatises) on education have been an important part of classical writings on politics from the beginning. This feature is most memorably found in Plato’s treatment of the education of guardian-rulers in his Republic. One might quite compellingly argue that there is no need for Plato’s authority to see the significance of education for regime development and regime maintenance; rather it is a matter of common sense. Citizen education and leadership education have been important concerns for democratic theorists from John Dewey to this very day. Some of us marvel that there can be so much public concern with the needed technical capacities of people for the modern world and so little concern with the capacities of citizens to give moral and political direction to modern political communities and states. Our liberal republics cry out for a leadership that is richly educated and capable of the necessary moral leadership. 

Plato’s authority was great for Cicero even as he insistently maintained his independence from him in some respects.3 That authority, in this case, goes hand-in-hand with his Roman-inflected common sense that calls out for some explicit attention to education. Our task here is to seek greater completion of Cicero’s political theory by supplying the guidance for education that appears to have been lost in segments of his De Re Publica that were not recovered with Cardinal Mai’s substantial finding early in the nineteenth century of the long missing text.4 This effort for a greater completion, sufficient reason though it is for pursuing Cicero on education, does not exhaust the reasons for seeking to know better this dimension of his thought. Cicero in his own person has served in the Western tradition, recurrently from the Church Fathers on, as exemplar in many respects of the educated and responsible citizen-statesman as well as moral teacher. Quite independent of political theory, his thoughts on education, whether reflected in or drawn from his own educational experience, appear to be worth gathering and exploring in the light of our own need for models or for the elements that would allow us to construct principles and directions for models appropriate for our time. Cicero is, in many respects, a model as well as a conveyor of models. 

Let us approach this search initially working within and then out from that dialogue of Cicero where the lacuna regarding education is most explicit, namely De Re Publica. This is also Cicero’s first philosophical work as such, setting aside for now his rhetorical works (which often have significant philosophical aspects) such as De Oratore and much earlier, his De Inventione. De Re Publica (54-51 B.C.) comes at a transition point between Cicero’s life being dominated by the ascent and then the troubles of his active political life and the intensive philosophical writing of essentially the last decade of his life. That former part of life includes much of the oratorical achievement that critically assisted his political ascent, and understandably his first reflective writings are about the art of rhetoric and the orator. This divide, which De Re Publica can be seen to mark in his life, is not one in which the two sides or two periods of his life are mutually exclusive. Cicero has a philosophical disposition and a love for philosophy throughout his life. Cicero tells us so not only later in life,5 but also in his first extant writing, De Inventione, an exercise on a branch of the art of rhetoric done in his late teens or early twenties that already manifests this disposition and love.6 In that latter period of life, one generally of forced withdrawal to the work of writing, Cicero’s political interests and strivings are hardly absent; were they so, he might not have lost his life in the violence of the disintegrating Republic. His way of life at that point is but a half-chosen one; with the political forum and the active sphere of politics largely closed to him, he chooses to write in order to educate those to follow.7 

The De Re Publica has been, of course, the political theorist’s primary book of Cicero, for reasons, no doubt, of its direct engagement of political themes already introduced by the great Greek theorists, Plato and Aristotle, but likely also because some of its topics such as natural law, consent of the people, the mixed and balanced constitution are often seen as anticipatory of, if not contributory to, the American constitutional tradition.8 This text shows in its two prologues to its very first book9 the struggle to defend a Socratic focus for discussion over against more speculative and theoretical topics. The practical focus on the need and usefulness to understand a model of the best constitution and then the principle of justice which it entails becomes a way of drawing Romans to philosophical inquiry for Cicero, as it seems it was for Scipio and Laelius, admired statesmen of the century before, whom Cicero cast as personae in this dialogue. A Socratic redirection is at work, likely more naturally attractive to the Romans than it was originally to the Greeks, for the Romans, that is, if there must be philosophy at all. 

This is not the occasion to follow the unfolding of De Re Publica in detail,10 but suffice it to say that the dialogue moves to defend a conception of the best constitution that is captured largely but not entirely in the Roman Republic as developed to about the time of Scipio and Laelius. Critical to this process of development and to maintaining a stable and just political order in the face of ever-changing circumstances is the leader, the princeps, the statesman, the rector or first citizen. The qualities of prudence and devotion to the commonweal that marked some of the better Roman kings are among the chief qualities Cicero would want in the republican statesman for his time and the future, whether that statesman operated as a consul, tribune or member of the Senate.11 Cicero chooses not to follow Plato in portraying an imaginary political community as the best constituted regime; rather, he wants to focus attention on existing political structures and the real, if not perfect, achievements in those structures and practices. Cicero’s is a city in time rather than one in speech, and that city in time is necessarily dynamic in the balances of elements it strikes and in its potential for change for worse or better. All depends on leadership, and even the qualities of the citizens depend on leadership rather than simply determine that leadership. This interactive, cyclical process Cicero specifically invokes at the start of Book V. This was, of course, a lesson not lost on Plato; even as his philosopher-rulers were to hold a conception of the best city ever in mind, he counseled that their most important trust was to care for the education of the community. Cicero ever points to model statesmen and perfect orators as the vehicles to whatever improvement is possible in changing circumstances. If he can be said to have an imaginary model, it is that man of prudence, the true leader, that man for all seasons and challenges. 

So, how would Cicero have his true statesman, his prince we might say, educated? Given a republic and one without impenetrable class barriers, how would Cicero have all citizens educated? All citizens, after all, represent the pool from which republican leaders could arise, do they not? What then would the De Re Publica have said about the education of such men? More fully and aptly put, this question must be, what can we say that the text likely said on the basis of the fragments, how the missing segment is approached, and on the basis of other aspects of this dialogue? Our method will be to attend to what we can learn on education from this dialogue and then to move on to De Legibus, which he apparently worked on (but did not complete to the point of circulation) simultaneously with his writing and rewriting12 his De Re Publica, and then to the De Oratore completed just before Cicero undertook De Re Publica. At that point, some topics will have emerged that with our commentary might contribute to a fuller understanding of Cicero’s conception of education. 

Book IV of De Re Publica, that is, the collection of fragments usually taken to constitute Book IV, is where education in the just and best republic is apparently considered. Given what has preceded in this dialogue, that education would above all have been shaped and measured by its capacity to draw out the talents and to draw forth in public service philosopher-statesmen of the likes of Scipio. Though the fragments offer very little to go on and surely very, very little that one might be assured of, there are among the fragments and in passages elsewhere in the dialogue indications not only on the basic thrust of Book IV but also on a framework for Cicero’s educational thinking. The framework drawn alone from De Re Publica is an interpretive aid in understanding the part of education that Book IV appears to cover, but it gains credibility as we come to find how well it is supported and embellished throughout the writings of Cicero and becomes then an even more reliable framework for interpreting Cicero on education. 

After Scipio in Book II (64) has carried his review of Rome’s development into the republican period and thus carried his listeners close to the actual instantiation of his model of the best regime, his young nephew Tubero, taking advantage of a pause in the historical narrative, asks to learn about the training (disciplina), customs (mores) and laws (leges) that enable Romans like himself to constitute and to conserve the kind of political community Scipio has embraced. Scipio indicates that these matters will be treated at an appropriate point in his discourse, and it is reasonable to infer that Book IV was to be the place. What we have of Book IV suggests that the focus and emphasis in handling these matters was on early or pre-adolescent education. 

Another statement of Scipio made in his discourse in Book I (28) provides a suggestion of a framework in which to see the entire educational process, if not the entire task of politics. This statement reflects the perspective gifted him in the Dream of Scipio (the Dream having occurred earlier in real time, but yet to be recounted in this dialogue). Here Scipio claims that only those are truly human who “are perfected in the arts befitting humanity” (qui essent politi propriis humanitatis artibus). What is suggested is a developmental process, possibly one that moves from simple, almost bestial beginnings to a peak of philosophical discourse. Though there is significant support for Cicero’s attraction to such an understanding early in De Inventione and in De Oratore 1. 32-34, both penned before De Re Publica, this dialogue also contains such a view of anthropological development in the early and somewhat fragmented pages of Book III. As in those prior treatments, reason and speech are here shown interacting toward the end of their mutual development and with the effect of pulling human beings together and out of their solitary isolation.13 The other fuller sources for this developmental theory more clearly introduce the role of talented and dedicated leaders who draw this early process along. Here in Book III’s apparent prologue and Cicero’s direct voice, it is noted that the art of reason appears to develop an art of numbers and hence measurement, finds itself in touch with the eternal, and draws people to study the motions of the stars and the regularities of time. It seems a basis for astronomy is suggested. After a missing portion of the text, reason’s development is seen to reach an apparent peak where it is led to inquire into the right way of living, a peak surpassed only when joined with experience in service of the political community. Note should be taken that reason’s peak reflects the Socratic turn, inquiry into moral and hence political matters. 

This is quite consistently Cicero’s position when we come on passages throughout his works suggestive of a hierarchy about matters to be learned. The passage at this point in Book III can draw the reader back to the second prologue of Book I, the preliminary discussion of the dialogue Cicero reports, for in this early exchange revolving around the phenomenon of the two suns there seems a friendly struggle between Scipio’s being drawn to the highest things as objects of delight and divine-touched fulfillment and Laelius’s insistence (1,33) that all the boyhood studies developing reason and speech are aimed at the highest arts which are those concerned with understanding and serving the political community. Laelius apparently wins the day with Cicero, for not only does the dialogue take the turn he wishes, but when we encounter Cicero’s thinking in his last philosophical work, De Officiis, his treatment of the inclination to knowing and to wisdom is marked by disciplining that tendency in the direction of practical wisdom rather than letting it flourish and delight in the fine points of metaphysical and mathematical inquiry.14 Justice there is truly the queen of the virtues. Scipio, again here in the early exchanges of De Re Publica, is himself defending the wider understanding of the cosmos as a critically useful perspective in the knowledge of man and his communities, in his development of an appropriate humanity. He is not unmoved by the Socratic pull or focus. Again, remembering that the Dream has occurred at an earlier point of life, during Scipio’s active military career, one must notice that while the Dream has treated Scipio’s ears,15 sight and intellect to a tranquillity of order and delight that is a promised reward, the message of his grandfather in the Dream comes down to be that of Laelius and Cicero himself most regularly, namely, embrace the human order in which you live and make sure you fulfill your responsibilities there. 

It appears that Cicero is working with an understanding of human development in which education in the appropriate arts is the mode of development. It extends from the necessities that the powers of reason and speech allow humans to attain or attain more readily, to the art of arts that might direct all endeavors to the good of the community. It appears that the focus of Book IV is, above all, on training or learning (disciplina), which we might call, with some textual justification, arts preparatory in a process of development. The overall developmental framework then might be seen in three essential stages with somewhat blurred rather than sharply distinct divisions. The stages are: 

  1. the preparatory arts aimed at developing the essential human powers of speech (expression) and reason, the latter inclusive of the reason of mathematics; during this process there is exposure to music and the riches of literary studies and history;
  2. the professional arts, notably law and rhetoric, arts useful for citizenship and public service;
  3. the art of arts, that concerned with ordering all the others toward the communal good, namely developed prudence or practical reason; one must suppose that such moral growth as this represents is going on all along from stage one and into the decision implied in stage 2.

This theory of stages, derived more from across Cicero’s writings than simply from De Re Publica, cannot then decisively resolve the question raised earlier about the limits or range of what would have been offered in Book IV or the related question of whether the expectation for Book IV, namely that it would address the training, customs and laws requisite for the good regime, is applicable to more than the preparatory arts of pre-adolescent education. It seems likely, however, that that triad of training, customs and laws describes an approach to early education more than it would the study and practice of rhetoric or of law and surely more than the ascent to philosophy through friends and/or teachers. 

Particulars of Cicero’s Texts 

Let us turn now to the actual fragments of Book IV for what light they give on the nature and range of the Book’s contents. With respect to an educational direction, the Book represents an appeal to old Roman traditions (4:12) in explicit contrast to Greek views and practices (4:3) and specifically Platonic ways such as those of his Republic. However much Cicero (Scipio) shares the essential political teaching of Plato, he seems to have pointedly rejected the Platonic formulations for early education even as Scipio’s friends note his reluctance to single out Plato for criticism. He rejects a uniform, legally sanctioned system of education. It would seem, indeed, to be pre-adolescent education that is at issue here. The old Roman traditions are what led to the excellent men of the past, like Cato and Scipio. There is some evidence that such education is to be family-centered with appropriate freedom and flexibility with respect to the availability of local schools; it is to be governed more by general customs than general laws (4:3).16 Earlier in the dialogue, Scipio is portrayed praising his father for the care he took with his education; in doing that, Cicero replicates his own explicit gratitude to his father for his education. Scipio’s actual words here (1:36) are notable in the context of this paper: he speaks of his strong desire for knowledge from boyhood (a pueritia) enriched by liberal (non illiberaliter) studies. Surely that gratitude, in Cicero’s case if not in both, might have had in mind, at least in part, opportunities given for education for more advanced learning with notable teachers and, in effect, apprenticeships whether in the home or outside of it, opportunities such as Cicero had within his home and then in being sent to Rome and later to Athens by his father. However, again it is more likely that most in mind in these cases is the basic education that disposed Cicero and Scipio to want such opportunities and prepared them to take advantage of them. 

Within these few pages of fragments that constitute Book IV, there is criticism of Greek ways of using gymnastic and apparent criticism of their handling the censorship of poets, but no clear indication what Cicero might have been advocating in those areas.17 It is likely that Cicero’s Scipio would have spoken about both these areas at this point, for both were at the center of Greek discussions of early education. Elsewhere in Cicero, notably in Pro Archia, there is evidence of the role of letters or literature including poetry in his early education. Later in his Brutus (205, 207) Cicero described Lucius Aelius as a man of great learning in Greek and Roman literature and Roman as well as general history.18 Only Varro, in Cicero’s view, surpassed Aelius in such wide and significant learning. In his adolescence Cicero sought to learn from Aelius who also composed speeches but had no desire to be an orator in his own right. Then Cicero comes to mention a highly regarded orator, Curio (213-14), who was deficient in his view by being devoid of any of the noble arts (honestarum artium); among these according to Cicero are poetry, oratory, history and law inclusive of that of public right or political philosophy. Within the Roman family’s nourishing of reason and expression, the most essential arts, there was apparently the understandable desire to expose the young in exercising those arts to beautiful writing, to rich, chiefly patriotic, historical accounts and even to logical exercises. This was a kind of stocking the mind richly, even as the essential arts were exercised. Likely there was something comparable for the arts of number and music in those early years. At De Oratore 3. 58, Cicero has Crassus note that poetry, music, mathematics and dialectic or logic all have a part in forming the young for virtue and humanitas. Later in that same Book III of De Oratore, the range of the liberal arts, likely in Cicero’s view, is highlighted in the boasting of the Sophist Hippias. They include geometry, literature, poetry and music. Later in his Tusculans (1.4-5), Cicero highlights how public honor and desire for fame encourage development of the arts; he exemplifies this with the arts of music and number, marks for the Greeks he says of being truly educated. 

So it appears that Book IV’s treatise on education would primarily have covered pre-adolescent years and emphasized the preparatory arts for young men born to the freedom of citizenship (4:3, disciplinam puerilem ingenuis). Recall the passage at 2.64 where Tubero’s observation led us to believe that we would learn in Book IV of the training, customs and laws that would shape education and human development in the best regime. What has emerged from close and focused inquiry of De Re Publica is some sense of the nature of this training and that it would be governed more by custom than by uniform and rigid laws. There is perhaps no real tension between Tubero’s expectation that the educational discourse to follow consider the role of law and the fact that the role of law with respect to this level of education is said to be nil or minimal. After all, should we encounter someone who asks us to speak of government’s role in regulating a certain kind of business or in regulating speech and we respond by saying there should be no regulation at all, we have met the request. The role of law with respect to early Roman education may be so minimal that it should, in Cicero’s expectations, but enforce the respect for customs in the leading families and specifically the role of the father. However, such an interpretive harmonization on the role of law cannot overcome the challenge of two other texts of Cicero which necessarily leave readers uncertain just how law in Cicero’s view was to operate with respect to education. 

Back in the third book of De Re Publica (3.7), in Cicero’s direct voice in his prologue, the importance of law and established ways (leges et instituta) in developing the potential in humans is stressed in tandem with what certain wise men do directly through “words and arts” (verbis et artibus). It is likely that this is a formulation, more respectful than some earlier ones in the dialogue, of the ways of philosophers, those who often teach in quiet corners rather than enter the political fray and shape the ways of the political community. Though this passage elevates the importance of what is one through laws, once again it may be that in the case of early education that law as such is to be gentle, respectful of family ways and of customs. Law’s ways would be to back off, as it were. This harmonizing interpretation is facilitated by the fact that instituta is frequently best translated as customs or mores. So in the case of early education, what revered leaders have done is more in shaping customs than passing strict and uniform laws; it is interesting to note that at 5.1-2, in another prologue of Cicero, he provides a fascinating account of what he regards as the best dimension of Roman history, namely what has been called (above, p. 5) “the interactive cyclical process,” the dialectic between leaders and customs, each shaping the other in turn as generations come and go. Custom rather than law is what is made prominent in this description, and adaptable prudent leadership is implied. 

What then might law contribute directly beyond its indirect nourishing of certain customs is a question that returns when we turn our attention to the extant portions of Cicero’s De Legibus, a dialogue written it seems in close conjunction with De Re Publica but never circulated in Cicero’s lifetime and possibly not completed. It is a dialogue in which the personae are Cicero himself, his brother Quintus and his dear and long-term friend Atticus. There are powerful discussions in Books I and II about the foundations of law and the idea of natural law to which we will shortly have reason to turn. Yet, the point of the work according to Cicero is, following Plato in a sense, to complement the portrayal of the best regime in De Re Publica with a set of basic laws that are suitable. Cicero’s proposed laws often reflect but sometimes seek to improve upon existing laws and practices. At one point in Book III (10, 28) Cicero is found presenting a fundamental law about the character of men called to serve in the Senate, men whom he explicitly expects to hold up as models for all citizens. In his commentary on this provision he remarks (29) how difficult it will be to have men of such character available unless this is done through a certain kind of education and training (educatione quadam et disciplina). He then adds that he may “perhaps” say something about this if a place and time can be found for it. Atticus emphasizes the importance of this prospect, noting that it will have a place in the systematic treatment of law which Cicero is undertaking and there is time aplenty. Yet this consideration of education and training never happens in what follows of the extant remainder of De Legibus. So it appears that the laws Cicero is formulating were to have something to say about education and training. Strangely, as in De Re Publica, the text that would bear directly on this matter is lost to us. Just what the laws would say and at what level or levels of human development a legal approach would do some good remains unknown to us. Perhaps it is not unreasonable to infer, given the moral nature of the goal Cicero has here, that Cicero would be seeking to shape and direct young plants unto virtuous ways. 

Legal Education 

Despite the loss of the texts that would allow a more specific understanding of how Cicero thinks law should impact education, law commands considerable attention in Cicero’s writings and represents one of Cicero’s own major fields of study. Though he likely considered law in the course of his boyhood education at home and in Arpinum where learning the Twelve Tables and learning Roman civic foundations would have been part of historical/literary studies, he begins a kind of formal apprenticeship in law as in rhetoric when sent to Rome at some point after his sixteenth year. It appears that his focus on law and rhetoric is a conscious choice of himself and his father, a choice of empowering oneself to enter Roman politics. Through defending and prosecuting, law used with eloquence is a grand instrument of empowerment; through these arts Cicero built his network of friends and allies and advanced his political career as he had seen others do before him. Cicero at times wrote about the interdependence between success in the law and that in rhetoric which he calls eloquence or true eloquence. Given what orators are called to talk about whether in the court or in assemblies, knowledge of law is requisite for the full understanding that can supply genuine eloquence. At the same time, eloquence is more difficult to attain than mastery of the law, and eloquence has a wider sphere and greater usefulness in general (Off. 2.66). From his first writings as a young man Cicero recognized that legal knowledge, or any knowledge or virtue for that matter, is inert when not supplied with the power of eloquence. It is eloquence that can persuade not just a jury in a case but also a public assembly to a policy or a law, such as a law bearing on education, that helps attain the common good. It is eloquence that can exhort to action and even to the pursuit of wisdom that is philosophy. So legal education clearly is instrumental education, especially when joined with rhetorical education and its fruit, eloquence. Perhaps, the supplying of an instrumental art is the very character of professional education. 

It seems important to notice that Cicero does use the term art (ars) to speak of knowledge of law and legal matters (De Or. 2. 142); he does so not nearly as often as he applies the term to rhetoric and eloquence. Yet he writes at times of the learning or training (disciplina) in the law (Leg. 1.17) and a kind of system of the laws (ordo legum, Leg. 3.30), descriptions that suggest the organization of an art. Possessing the art of law, like other arts, implies a mastery of its nature such that one can teach it effectively (Leg. 2.47), and it seems clear that it is among the good arts (bonae artes) that retired statesmen (including Cicero in part) would find satisfaction teaching (Senec. 29). It seems the art of law like that of rhetoric (on which Cicero is explicit in this respect) follows nature and is derivative from experience (De Or. 2.356). This can help us understand that the mode of education in law was above all to sit under, work with and observe good lawyers in action, the mode of apprenticeship (Brut. 304ff.). Art seems to be understood by Cicero as a way of holding in a methodical and ordered way what we know about a sector of human experience. It is the reason or ratio represented in a certain body of knowledge and would necessarily make it accessible, usable and teachable (De Or. 1. 186-88; Off. 1.19).

Cicero consistently indicates his great respect for the ordinary knowledge of law, that is such knowledge as that bearing on property disputes and inheritances. The ordinary art of law is seen to contribute to order and peace in the political community. Though aware that this ordinary art of law is the more marketable and hence profitable (Fin. 1.12, now as then, we might add), Cicero advises his students of the law and friends in the law that there is something more important and ultimately more critical to the art of law, that is, a knowledge of the very foundations of law. The true mastery of law resists being consumed by the concerns of ordinary law and entails a seeking for the wisdom that allows a perspective on the nature of the whole and hence on an understanding of the self as well as the ground and role of law. It is at the end of Book I of De Legibus (58-62) that Cicero eloquently shows that the first fruit of a search for the foundation of law is an answer to the Socratic search for direction in life and thus entails self-understanding. This is the kind of understanding that leads to proper use of the art, providing in effect moral guidance that all arts need, including the art of rhetoric and that of legislating, both mentioned in this key passage. 

Law may be an art, but could we consider it one of the artes humanitatis, the arts that are conducive to the possession of the quality, humanitas, that is, the arts that mark the man of prudence, the statesman on whom Cicero’s best constitution depends? Law as an art is like any art that entails a grasping of the rationale of a sector of experience; it entails the classifying and organizing capacities of reason. Like any art, to educate in the law involves an exercise in and likely a development of reason, the human’s distinguishing feature. That minimalist feature of any art means a contribution is being made to human development, to human excellence. Education in the law is on the path to humanitas. But law, like any art, can drop off that path by a failure of misuse, by not being used in accord with nature, a fuller conception of nature that is, than the part of nature a specific art, like law, is based on. 

Thus, the search for self-understanding in the context of the whole of nature, the search emphasized by the Socratic turn, is critical if law is to be an instrument of humanitas for the individual or for the community. The fruit of that search is to give both the process of the study of law and then the use of the legal art, proper direction and priorities. Such fruit would provide both the necessary grounding of law and the basis for integration of it with all significant human activities. The inquiries into the foundations of law that Cicero makes in Books I and II of De Legibus provide instances where the fruit of the Socratic search is linked with the function of the art of law. Such a linking would be hypothetically possible for any art, something as mundane as building aqueducts. Just as any art involves the practice and development of the human’s rational capacities, so each and every art must be wedded to proper purposes. Law, however, when well directed makes a more significant contribution to attaining humanitas than most arts, for in itself it is usually a highly sophisticated rational system (for Cicero, more so than history, but less so than rhetoric) and beyond that, it empowers one to do justice in court cases and in making founding laws as well as in ordinary legislation. Law then is not just an art but a critical and significant human art. Well-directed legal service represents the work of a free person serving a free community; an art so serving freedom could quite properly be called a liberal art. Law has now and then and only ambiguously held this title since the time of Cicero; this is in contrast to the assured status of rhetoric as a liberal art. Cicero saw both as critical to human, truly human, development; they represent artes humanitatis. These are first-order professions because they are so critical to attaining and maintaining justice in community and thus to having communities that facilitate their humanizing impact on all members. 

Rhetorical Education 

We have already been drawn into the topic of education in the art of rhetoric and its fruit, genuine eloquence, by what was noted above of the parallels and differences from legal education. In fact, Cicero has written much more and has written more explicitly about the art of rhetoric than the art of the law and that fact has perhaps contributed importantly to its relatively secure place among the liberal arts through Western history. Thus all that has been said about the nature of an art and its representing an exercise of reason and a step toward a full humanitas is of course applicable to the art of rhetoric. There is some evidence that Cicero’s own study of rhetoric began before his being sent to Rome, and that his literary studies at and around home, such as with Archias, moved into early rhetorical training. We know from De Inventione that he is writing about the art of rhetoric likely around his twentieth year. In that first and substantial dialogue he wrote, De Oratore, there is considerable and subtle discussion about the very art of rhetoric and what it can and cannot contribute to oratorical excellence. Just how elaborate and detailed the art should be and how much one should be constrained by it in actual performance as speaker are explored. There is a strain in the discussion that downplays the significance of the art as a way to success as an orator. We encounter the delightful twist that the greatest art as a persuasive speaker is to conceal art, to appear artless. As in the case of law, Cicero is more interested in the example of great achievers, in this case, orators (De Or. 1. 23) than in the technical aspects of rhetorical manuals. Overall, however, just as he respects the concerns of ordinary law, he knows the ordinary rhetorical art contributes to and is likely a condition of the greatest achievement in the field. 

Knowing the law might seem an inert and quite limited state when compared with possession of the rhetorical art, Cicero appreciated that rhetoric and its fruit, eloquence, has a wider field of application and is capable of engaging all matters as topics.19 Insofar as that is true, it would be among the reasons that rhetoric is more difficult than law and thus it represents a greater development of human reason as an art (De Or. 1. 186). Furthermore, rhetoric is both a body of knowledge (types of arguments, character of audiences, etc.) and a utilization of that knowledge in effective persuasion. The art then entails a certain understanding as well as effective expression (primarily in speech at the time). “Delivery, delivery, delivery – delivery is everything” represents one of the capsule summaries of rhetoric Cicero knew. It can be said that the art of rhetoric exercises and develops both reason and speech (expression or language), and it is in that sense that it is already a truly significant art among arts which as arts do contribute to human development and hence to the humanitas that marks the peak of that development. Perhaps to call law an art requires, even if Cicero is not clear on this point with respect to legal knowledge, that we include the use of the knowledge of law, e.g. in counseling, in judging, in legislating. Thus the art is truly possessed when legal knowledge is actually used effectively. We must, however, notice that the using of law usually entails using rhetoric (Orator, 12, 13, 141). That can bring home to us the range and the greater significance of rhetoric as well as the interdependence of the fundamental human arts. 

Yet just as in the case of law, rhetoric needs to serve a proper end, needs a larger perspective grounded in the nature of things if it is to stay on the path to realizing humanitas for its possessor as well as for those it works upon. For Cicero this is the big issue concerning rhetoric, namely, its need for philosophical guidance. He is insistent on this from the first pages of his first extant writing, De Inventione, to his last writing De Officiis. This concern shapes and dominates his greatest rhetorical writing, De Oratore. There in his own voice (1.5) he asserts his long-standing position that true eloquence is the fruit of the arts of the most prudent of men (prudentissimorum hominum artibus).20 Later Crassus, likely Cicero’s spokesman in the dialogue, will complain of the separation between those teaching the right principles of living and those teaching the principles of speaking (3. 57-58). The orator needs the knowledge that is the fruit of the Socratic turn to be truly complete as orator, the perfect orator (3. 122-23). In a sense the orator needs to know all things to rise to his peak, but most importantly he needs to know moral and political philosophy that might provide some direction for his life and his art. It is philosophy that yields prudence that is the art of arts for Cicero.21 

Fusion of the Arts: Educating the Model Statesman 

Beyond the preparatory arts nourished along with appropriate literary and historical studies, the statesman needs the great arts of law and rhetoric; if he is to be the greatest or a model, he needs the most perfected forms of those arts. To possess those perfected forms would take him far toward his own completion or perfection in the political art, for in each case the perfected forms call for a joining of a philosophical understanding of self and community in the context of the whole of nature. It is this understanding and the moral direction it can yield to which the Socratic turn points. Thus in turning the legal artist to the foundation of law and in turning the orator toward comprehensive understanding and especially moral and political philosophy, Cicero, with sandals on his feet and in Roman toga, is urging the Socratic turn toward a common critical point. It is the same point to which the political art itself is pointed when at the end of Book II of De Re Publica the critical question of justice is raised, then to be pursued, it seems primarily by Laelius, in the badly fragmented Book III that follows. This, however, is clear, that all arguments about model or better and worse regimes, constitutions and institutions turn on whether there is a true justice in the very nature of things. Cicero’s Crassus in De Oratore (3.21) spoke of the unity of the free and human arts. That unity is especially and importantly manifest in the shared need for a conception of the good for self and community grounded in the nature of things. Without such, arts empower simply to create a chaos of conflicting self-interests. Without such, one cannot really make sense of the idea that there are arts appropriate to our humanity. To be entirely without these arts is simply not to be human.22 With all these arts culminating in the wisdom that is the art of arts, one is fit to be the model statesman. 

Finally, it seems important to comment on two ideas that have been around in scholarship and reflections on Cicero and that would likely be the source of objections to this paper’s emphasis on the philosophical dimension of Cicero’s model statesman. Both are inclined to detract from taking seriously, or as seriously as this essay does, the significance of the Socratic turn and its fruit in wisdom, as formative for Cicero and his thinking. The objections focus around what I will call (1) a soft interpretation of humanitas and (2) an insistence that Cicero’s thought is more the product of a rhetorical culture than a philosophical one. Each of these positions and the hypothetical objections I suggest they likely would spawn requires proper engagement in a full paper. Despite the apparent congeniality of these objections with such ill-informed attacks on Cicero the philosopher as found in the famous Roman historian, Theodor Mommsen, these objections can and do at times come from people who positively appreciate the overall achievement of Cicero and his political orientation. 

Should humanitas be understood primarily as possessing the characteristics of an upper class Roman? A smooth civility, a graciousness? Or could it mean, as we often do, humane in the sense of decent and “understanding” in such a way as to be disposed to be compassionate and merciful? Or could it mean, as I have used it in this paper, the completeness of the human virtues ordered and guarded by reason developed into prudence? In this way, humanitas is taken as full human development, a peak expected of one who is to lead other humans, one who is a model statesman. Cicero is most often credited with introducing and emphasizing the term and concept of humanitas to our Western discourse. In his extant writings, he uses the term well over 200 times, most but not all of which are instances where the meaning is the distinguishing quality of the well-ordered soul of full virtue. It should be kept in mind that “kindly,” “humane,” and “gentlemanly” ways may often, or at least sometimes, be the byproduct though not the essential character of such a soul. That Cicero’s use of humanitas was predominantly as invoked in this essay is confirmed in one of Cicero’s earliest commentators, Aulus Gellius in the second century. Gellius then already detected the stronger, richer, moral meaning that Cicero placed in humanitas, writing, 

That humanitas does not mean what the common people think, but those who have spoken pure Latin have given the word a more restricted meaning. . . . 

Those who have spoken Latin and have used the language correctly do not give to the word humanitas the meaning which it is commonly thought to have, namely, what the Greeks call [philanthropia], signifying a kind of friendly spirit and good-feeling towards all men without distinction; but they gave to humanitas about the force of the Greek [paideia], that is, what we call eruditionem institutionemque in bonas artes, or “education and training in the liberal arts.” Those who earnestly desire and seek after these are most highly humanized. For the pursuit of that kind of knowledge, and the training given by it, have been granted to man alone of all the animals, and for that reason it is termed humanitas, or “humanity.” . . . That it is in this sense that our earlier writers have used the word, and in particular Marcus Varro and Marcus Tullius [Cicero], . . . almost all the literature shows.23

Cicero’s great achievement as an orator and his substantial writings on rhetoric make it understandable that his philosophical work would be seen by some as somehow incidental to or even derivative from and clearly subordinate to his attachment to rhetoric. To criticize Cicero as merely a rhetorician or as one giving his readers a “rhetoricized philosophy” goes at least as far back as the Petrarchan period of the Renaissance. In the last half century, Jerrold Seigel, Otto Bird and Bruce Kimball have all associated Cicero with a rhetorical tradition in the West, one often at odds with the philosophical and scientific traditions.24 Seigel has written not unreasonably in this vein that “[T]he whole structure of Cicero’s philosophical culture was shaped by the rhetorical foundation of his thought.”25 Less plausible is James Zetzel’s incidental interpretation of De Oratore as teaching that rhetoric is “the master art to which philosophy, at least ethics, should be subordinated.”26 Such interpretations can be contested with an examination and weighing of the De Oratore and other writings of Cicero that have been invoked in this essay. More important even in speaking to this entire way of viewing the relation of rhetoric to philosophy in Cicero is the need to understand the nature of the philosophy Cicero contends is controlling and directive of all the arts. It is philosophy that grows from the needs his Socratic turn highlights. It is a philosophy that yields a wisdom of practical assurances built on a Socratic and Academic skepticism. 

In closure, I turn to celebrate in more detail than the earlier citation, the closing section of Book I of De Legibus (58-63). This section is more than the eulogy of philosophy which it is often recognized to be; it shows an integration and hierarchy of the various kinds of learning that Cicero found significant. It presents philosophy as a pursuit of “knowing ourselves,” a knowledge that can aid us, like a bountiful mother, in grasping the law in nature which will be a divine gift toward attaining all true goods.2727Through self-knowledge, including the spark of the divine and the inclinations to the good within, the human is capable of identifying the virtues, including that master virtue of prudence. A sharper eye in these matters and a greater overall assurance come with the practice of piety and an understanding that sees the self in a larger, divinely ordered whole. Then one develops reason even further to defend the sense of self and the whole which has been attained, and one comes to develop and utilize rhetoric in ruling, making laws and punishing. Cicero has described an ascent from moral perplexity to a sense of the human good and then an equipping of the self to serve that good and the political community that fosters and protects it. This is a framework for politics and education in which philosophy is seen to take its directive role, a philosophy that rises from the ordinary horizons of household and citizenship.

Six Essential Dialogical Virtues

Posted Posted in Liberal Education

by Dr. Jeffrey Lehman

University of Dallas


Why engage in Socratic conversation? Certainly, one seeks through Socratic conversation to encounter truth, goodness, and beauty. Beyond this encounter, however, effective Socratic conversation also brings about changes in the souls of those who practice it. Among its other advantages, engaging in Socratic conversation is an excellent way to encourage the cultivation of what may be called “dialogical virtues.”[1] These virtues arise when one applies oneself consciously and deliberately to the demanding practice of Socratic conversation. Another way of putting it is to say that through engaging in Socratic conversation, we place ourselves in an good position to develop not only desirable character traits but also habits of thought and speech that will serve us well in all of our pursuits as human beings seeking to know ourselves, the cosmos, and its Creator. As with other acquired virtues and habits, these things develop neither spontaneously nor without considerable effort. If we do not have them in mind beforehand and actively attempt to foster them while engaged in Socratic conversation, we should have little confidence that these character traits and habits of thought and speech will come to be in us with the depth and richness they could have, had we intentionally pursued them. What follows is a brief description of six essential dialogical virtues.

Wisdom: In a previous post I outlined the differences between intellectual and moral virtues. Socratic conversation at its best should include a cultivation of both. Among the intellectual virtues, wisdom has preeminence. Speaking of this preeminence, Hugh of St. Victor opens his Didascalicon, a work on the study of reading, with the following reflections on wisdom:

Of all things to be sought, the first is that Wisdom in which the Form of the Perfect Good stands fixed. Wisdom illuminates man so that he may recognize himself; for man was like all the other animals when he did not understand that he had been created of a higher order than they. But his immortal mind, illuminated by Wisdom, beholds its own principle and recognizes how unfitting it is for it to seek anything outside itself when what it is in itself can be enough for it. It is written on the tripod of Apollo: γνῶθι σεαυτόν, that is, “Know thyself,” for surely, if man had not forgotten his origin, he would recognize that everything subject to change is nothing (1.1).[2]

From this rich passage, two items are of greatest interest for our purposes. First, in referring to the “Form of the Perfect Good,” Hugh is borrowing a phrase from Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, wherein the phrase alludes to Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity. Thus, we see that Hugh (and Boethius before him) follows Augustine in grounding man’s knowledge of himself in a knowledge of God, and specifically of Christ, the Incarnate Word. Putting this together with the accounts of wisdom we find in Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, we see that this Wisdom, the “first” of “all things to be sought,” is a knowledge of God as the first Cause and final end of all things, and He has made Himself known through the Incarnation. Thus, when man attains wisdom, he comes to see himself and the created order in light of God, Who created, orders, and sustains all things in existence, and Who redeems fallen mankind in order to reestablish loving communion with Him. This knowledge of God and of oneself and all else in relation to God is the ultimate intellectual goal of all Socratic conversation pursued under the light of the Christian faith.[3] Second, note well how Hugh appropriates and elevates the Delphic injunction to “Know thyself” by understanding it in light of the Incarnation.

Humility and Charity—The Beginning and End of Socratic Conversation: In terms of the moral virtues, humility is the foundation of Socratic conversation and is vital to its ongoing flourishing. In general, the Greeks had no clear conception of humility as a virtue. And yet, anyone familiar with Plato’s dialogues is aware of something like this virtue operating in the words and deeds of Plato’s greatest characters. We need only remind ourselves of the character Timaeus in the dialogue named after him to see a clear instance of this.[4] Following the Judeo-Christian tradition, Augustine was convinced that humility was in a sense the foundation of all learning. Hugh, sometimes called the “second Augustine,” explains humility as the foundation of all learning: “Now the beginning of discipline is humility. Although the lessons of humility are many, the three which follow are of especial importance for the student: first, that he hold no knowledge and no writing in contempt; second, that he blush to learn from no man; and third, that when he has attained learning himself, he not look down upon everyone else” (3.13).[5]

Let us consider each of these lessons of humility as they pertain to the sort of teaching and learning made possible through Socratic conversation. First, the one engaged in Socratic conversation must be humble enough to “hold no knowledge and no writing in contempt.” If students begin ill-disposed to learn from a reading or other great work, it should not be at all surprising that they will get little to nothing out of their study. Second, especially while actually participating in Socratic conversation, it is crucial that the student “blush to learn from no man”—that is, he must be willing to learn from not only the text(s) under consideration, but also from his peers. Finally, once he has acquired learning, the one who not only learns the principles and practice of Socratic conversation but who remains true to them will “not look down upon everyone else.” Thus, the snobbish elitism that we discussed in a previous post involves a decided departure from humility, the ground of Socratic conversation and, as it were, its constant guide and guard.

If humility is the beginning of Socratic conversation, what sets it on the right path and keeps it true to itself, charity—i.e., love—is its lifeblood and ultimate end. Throughout the Western tradition, authors have drawn out the implications of philosophy as the “love of wisdom.” What starts as a Socratic quest for wisdom leads us to the God Who is Wisdom, Truth, and Love. This God, in turn, calls us to share in His divine life by loving Him and all other things for His sake. Since this is so, Socratic conversation pursued under the light of the Christian faith is consciously and unabashedly conducted in charity. Rather than seeing the Socratic quest for wisdom as somehow at odds with the Christian pursuit of love, great authors of philosophical dialogues such as Augustine, Boethius, and Thomas More, invite us to see the latter as fulfilling, completing, and perfecting the former. Indeed, Socratic conversation only reaches its full potential when infused with divine love, which elevates it and enables those who practice it to make headway toward union with the God Who is Love.

Other Indispensable Dialogical Virtues—Courage, Patience, Kindness: While many additional dialogical virtues could be mentioned, we will conclude this essay with a brief account of some of the most indispensable among them—courage, patience, and kindness.

That courage is a vital dialogical virtue should not surprise us. Throughout Plato’s Socratic dialogues, Socrates embodies courage in the pursuit of the truth and exhorts others to follow his example. It takes true courage to expose oneself to the winnowing effect of Socratic conversation. As harvested grain used to be thrown into the air so that the light chaff would blow away, leaving the weighty kernels, so in Socratic conversation our ideas are constantly being winnowed by the give-and-take of the dialectical exchange—only what has logical weight remains. To defend a position always involves the possibility that if we are in error, our position will be revealed as inadequate. Nevertheless, we are not our positions; and provided we can have the humility and courage required to revise our positions, we have nothing to lose and much to gain from being proven wrong. Another way in which courage is required for effective Socratic conversation has to do with the sheer difficulty of the task. Engaging in such conversations is arduous work; it is all too easy to get tired or to become fainthearted in the pursuit, especially when we see the interest or engagement of others around us flagging. Even so, it is at these very moments that mustering the courage to continue is most crucial.

Patience, or its absence, can make or break a Socratic conversation. Given that everyone must remain alert and actively pursue the truth together in order for the conversation to go where it must, it is not hard to see how tempers may flare or participants may get impatient with one another. Such hotheadedness is counterproductive, as it clouds our judgment, thereby making it more difficult for us to find the truth. Furthermore, since the very mode of progress in Socratic conversation is slow, stepwise, and often “circular,” patience helps all involved to stay the course and get the most out of the conversation. Although not a showy virtue, patience constantly reminds us of our fallen human nature and of our own individual imperfections so that we may respond with understanding to the imperfections of others. As its etymology implies, patience is a kind of suffering; and the more we are able to “suffer” the limitations and imperfections of others in Socratic conversation, the more we will be able to see with them beyond all our shortcomings.

Of all the virtues we have discussed, kindness is arguably the least understood and the most underestimated—especially in Socratic conversation. In a culture where being kind is often equated with being nice, and being nice is nearly a vacuous notion, it shouldn’t surprise us that kindness is held in such slight regard. In reality, however, kindness is a powerful virtue. It looks to the needs of others and meets them, at times without being asked (and yet also without being annoying or officious). Kindness in human relations bears a resemblance to the providential care that God shows for all creatures. It studies a situation, sees a need, and supplies for the need in a straightforward and unpretentious way. When tempers begin to flare or when morale starts to wane, it may share a peaceful word or make a harmless jest in order to defuse the rising tension or to encourage others to press on in good cheer. Where a true spirit of kindness pervades a Socratic conversation, all are at ease and take delight in the common challenge before them. When a kind person corrects you in Socratic conversation, you experience the presence of charity gently directing you toward what is true, good, and beautiful.

[1] For lack of a better term, I call such virtues dialogical rather than dialectical (since dialectical has various technical meanings that would likely confuse the reader) or Socratic conversational virtues (inelegant, to say the least, and hardly preferable to the much simpler dialogical virtues).

[2] Hugh of St. Victor, The Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor: A Medieval Guide to the Arts, translated with an introduction and notes by Jerome Taylor (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), preface. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations of Didascalicon are from this edition.

[3] At this point, we could proceed to give accounts of understanding and knowledge as intellectual virtues. Instead of doing so, we will move on to the moral (and theological) virtues that enliven and perfect Socratic conversation.

[4] “Wherefore, Socrates, if in our treatment of a great host of matters regarding the Gods and the generation of the Universe we prove unable to give accounts that are always in all respects self-consistent and perfectly exact, [do not be] surprised; rather we should be content if we can furnish accounts that are inferior to none in likelihood, remembering that both I who speak and you who judge are but human creatures, so that it becomes us to accept the likely [story] of these matters and forbear to search beyond it” (Timaeus 29c/d).

[5] Didascalicon, pp. 94-95.

Liberal Education: A Working Definition

Posted Posted in Liberal Education

by Dr. Jeffrey Lehman

Put in simplest terms, classical education is an education for freedom. That is why for most of the Western tradition from its origins to the present day, the majority of authors have used the term liberal education to denote what is often called classical education in our time. In this brief article, when I use the term liberal education I do not intend to make a distinction between it and classical education. Instead, I employ the term in order to bring to light the essential nature of what commonly goes by the name classical education among K-12 educators in the United States today.

Any reasonable practice of education is grounded in a philosophy of education, and central to any philosophy of education is one’s understanding of the human person. According to the greatest thinkers who have written on liberal education in the Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian tradition, human beings are created by God to know themselves, the created order, and their Creator. They are endowed with natural faculties that empower them—to the extent each is able—to grasp the true, the good, and the beautiful. The human mind by nature hungers for knowledge of the truth; it is what nourishes the mind, as food nourishes the body. Since nature does nothing in vain, the very possibility of education is based upon the confidence we can have of coming to know the truth. Simply knowing the truth is not sufficient, however. The one who encounters the truth must come to recognize the vital connection between acknowledging the truth with one’s mind and choosing the good through the free choice of one’s will.[1] Knowing the truth, willing the good, and apprehending the beautiful lead to true human happiness. In the Christian tradition, all this is possible only through a willing cooperation of human nature with divine grace.

Since the human will is essentially involved, freedom is a vital condition for such happiness. Without freedom, we exist in a state of slavery. Even if we are free of external, physical bonds, we may nevertheless be fettered by internal bonds, such as disordered passions, false judgments, or even simple ignorance of our own nature and end. Education, properly understood and faithfully practiced, can contribute substantially to living a free and fully human life. For centuries philosophers have made a distinction between freedom from and freedom for. When we seek to avoid some evil, undesirable thing, we seek freedom from it, whether it be poverty, ill health, shame, or anything else. Even if we have freedom from all such things, we are still not free in the second sense. When we seek freedom for, we wish to acquire all those things that truly perfect our nature; we desire not only the absence of what causes us true pain and suffering—the destruction of what we are—but also the presence of those perfections that make our nature all that it is meant be.

These “perfections” are called virtues, and among the virtues we distinguish between moral and intellectual virtues. Of the four traditionally identified as cardinal (i.e., “hinge”) virtues, justice, fortitude (or courage), and temperance (moderation) are moral virtues because they dispose us to live morally good lives. Intellectual virtues, such as wisdom, understanding, knowledge (“science” broadly construed), and prudence, are called virtues because of a resemblance they bear to moral virtues. Although “virtues” only in a qualified sense, intellectual virtues are nevertheless superior to moral virtues.[2] Among the intellectual virtues, wisdom has pride of place, since it involves knowledge of the highest causes (see Aristotle’s Metaphysics, I.1). As Thomas Aquinas explains (following Aristotle), “it belongs to the wise man to put things in order. This is because wisdom is the highest perfection of reason, whose business it is to know order. For, although the sense powers know some things absolutely, it belongs to the intellect or reason alone to know the order of one thing to another.”[3] This knowledge of causes and the order of all things is that by means of which we know not only this or that truth, but how the many truths acquired through the various disciplines fit together into a well-ordered, integrated whole.

By coming to know the truth, we are liberated from ignorance and false opinion. Knowing the truth about our nature—its strengths and its weaknesses, its capacities and its limitations—enables us to make progress in the life-long endeavor of self-rule. Those capable of self-government are able to live freely, directing their whole being to contemplation and action, to thinking and acting in accord with the way things really are. So there is a fundamental, crucial connection between a well-ordered education and the good life.

As its etymology implies, liberal education is the education of a “free person,” that is, one who is willing and able to live a life that is truly free in the ways we have been outlining.

In order to orient and to commence the journey toward that worthy end, liberal education has for centuries begun with the liberal arts: the trivium (“three ways”) of grammar, logic, and rhetoric; and the quadrivium (“four ways”) of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. The trivium comprises the basic arts of the word. The student’s formation begins with a fundamental understanding of words and how they signify and relate to one another (grammar) and continues with the relation of propositions to form arguments (logic) and finally to the employment of words to persuade others in various ways (rhetoric). The arts of the quadrivium are the four basic arts of number, or quantity. As words are the way human beings communicate with one another, so numbers are an important way we come to understand our world, discerning its intelligibility in a rudimentary way through quantities as well as their qualities and relations to one another. Numbers reveal the intelligibility of the cosmos and point in various (but nevertheless certain) ways to its Creator.

From the modest beginnings one can make through a study of the liberal arts, liberal education opens up to a broad array of disciplines—mathematics, natural science, literature, history, politics, philosophy, and theology. These and other related studies have developed over the history of the Western tradition as a natural outgrowth from the fundamental truths seen through the liberal arts. Since all these disciplines and the liberal arts themselves are ultimately grounded in the truth, students can confidently pursue a liberal education, knowing that it all has its source and origin in God, who is Truth (John 14:6).

Summing up, then, I propose the following as a working definition of liberal education:

Liberal education is the pursuit of wisdom through a cultivation of intellectual virtue and an encouragement of moral virtue by means of a rich and ordered course of study, grounded in the liberal arts, ascending through humane letters, mathematics, natural science, and philosophy, and culminating in the study of theology, yielding informed self-rule and a well-ordered understanding of human nature, the cosmos, and God.[4]

[1] The classic text on free choice of the will is St. Augustine’s De libero arbitrio voluntatis (On Free Choice of the Will).

[2] The reason for this superiority has to do with what part of human nature each type of virtue perfects. The moral virtues perfect the appetitive powers (the source of desires, wishes, etc.) while the intellectual virtues perfect reason, which is the specific difference, or distinguishing characteristic, of man. Thus, since reason is superior to the appetitive powers, so too the intellectual virtues are superior to the moral.

[3] Aquinas, Commentary on Nicomachean Ethics, lect. 1, ed. Leonine, pp. 3-4.

[4] This working definition is the product of delightful conversations that I’ve had with my former colleagues, Daniel Coupland and Benjamin Beier, at Hillsdale College; and with my current colleagues, Matthew Post and John Peterson, at the University of Dallas. I am deeply indebted to all of them and grateful for their insights and encouragement. Of course, any infelicities of style or inaccuracies of substance are my own.

Today’s Trivium: The Comeback of Classical Education

Posted Posted in Liberal Arts, Liberal Education

by Alyssan Barnes

It is a little known secret—though it should be no secret at all—that classical education has been making a comeback of late.  In some circles, classical education needed no revival, for its life was never really in danger; for instance, at the undergraduate level, schools like St. John’s College, Columbia University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Dallas have quietly continued, to greater or lesser degrees, to carry the torch of classical learning.  The revival I speak of began in the 1980s, and it has been taking place chiefly at the primary and secondary levels.  True to its name, today’s classical movement has brought the liberal arts, particularly the “trivium” (the arts of grammar, logic and rhetoric), front and center.  And while classical education has been growing within a variety of sub-groups—parochial schools, charter schools, and homeschools—in American education, it remained more or less on the fringes of the mainstream until fairly recently. 

In 2010, however, this secret return of classical education went public with the New York Times op-ed by Stanley Fish titled “A Classical Education: Back to the Future.”1 Therein Fish, one of America’s best known public intellectuals, tells the story of what he considers the finest school that he has experienced firsthand.  He writes, “[A]lthough I have degrees from two Ivy league schools and have taught at U.C. Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Columbia and Duke, Classical High School (in Providence, RI) is the best and most demanding educational institution I have ever been associated with.”2 The education he received there as a high school student—one that, to most of his readers, will sound “downright antediluvian, outmoded, narrow and elitist”3—propelled almost a hundred percent of its graduates to go on to attend college, even though many, like Fish, were the first within their families to earn a high school diploma.  Fish goes on to cite three recent books, each one making the case for a return to an education that otherwise seems passé.  The first of these books, The Core: Teaching Your Child the Core of Classical Education, is by the CAO of Classical Conversations, Leigh A. Bortins; the second is Martha Nussbaum’s Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities; the third is Diane Ravitch’s The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.  The fact that, as Fish notes, “[t]hree more different perspectives from three more different writers could hardly be imagined”4 highlights the various ways in which interest in classical schooling is being revived and suggests that it will continue to make waves in American education.  But why was it abandoned in the first place?  And what led to its recent revival? 

The Beginning of the End of Classical Education

The tale of classical5 education and its decline in the United States is spun in various ways.  One version traces its American demise to John Dewey (1859-1952), champion of a “progressive” education that attempted to replace more traditional educational forms of his day—forms that drew heavily and generally on the Western heritage—with a pedagogical model in favor of what lay ahead.  Progressive education sought to prepare students for democratic citizenship, self-consciously casting off the study of impractical disciplines such as philosophy, of “dead” languages like Latin and ancient Greek, and of particular literary texts that had long been part of the unquestioned canon.  Another version of the turn away from these older forms of education looks to Horace Mann (1796-1859), who died the year that Dewey was born.  Mann (himself a one-time tutor of Latin and Greek at Brown, his alma mater) is considered the “Father of the Common School Movement,” a movement that expanded public education first in Massachusetts and later throughout the nation.  According to this interpretation, the contemporary impulses for standardization and enculturation begin with Mann.  A third version of the story goes further back, pinning the rap on America’s founders, men like Thomas Jefferson, whose lives marked an ideological turn from the liberal to the practical arts.  The concern for utilitarian education and the suspicion of book learning that shows up in the writings of men like Jefferson, even though his own formation was indubitably classical, is identified by Eva Brann as the beginning of the end, in the American context at least, for traditional learning.6 

But, as far back as Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), the lament could be heard regarding the eclipse of an older style of learning that highlighted the study of the liberal arts.  Writing in the early 1700s, Vico saw in his own time a departure away from the ancient classical tradition and toward the sciences.  In On the Study Methods of Our Time (1709), Vico begins by pointing out the new vision Francis Bacon has offered in proposing, as Vico puts it, the “new arts and sciences [that] should be added to those we already possess” and the ways that “we may enlarge our stock of knowledge, . . . so that human wisdom may be brought to complete perfection.”7 Doubting that Bacon’s proposal will be able to deliver on its promise of achieving perfect wisdom, Vico continues, asking, “Which study method is finer and better, ours or the Ancients?’”8 He then goes on to suggest that, whereas the new arts and sciences offer a kind of precision, certainty, and clarity, the new study methods lack a place for what he finds to be just as valuable: common sense, imagination, ethics, philosophy, and eloquence.9 Concerning this newer sort of education, Vico maintains, “We devote all our efforts to the investigation of physical phenomena because their nature seems unambiguous; but we fail to inquire into human nature which, because of the freedom of man’s will, is difficult to determine.” 10 For Vico, then, the study methods of the ancients might be said to be more modest, for they do not promise certainty; however, they also are more fundamental in that they take into account human purposes.

In fact, Vico’s vision for the place of these new studies anticipates that of more recent thinkers, including Albert Einstein, who, more than two hundred years later, agreed that science furnishes only means, not ends:

What hopes and fears does the scientific method imply for mankind?  I do not think that is the right way to put the question.  Whatever this tool in the hands of man will produce depends entirely on the nature of the goals alive in this mankind.  Once these goals exist, the scientific method furnishes means to realize them.  Yet it cannot furnish the very goals. . . .    

     Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem—in my opinion—to characterize our age.11

These remarks, written in 1941 during World War II, attempted to draw attention to the dependence of science upon the character of its users.  That is to say, for Einstein formation is to be considered before transformation, or, to put it differently, the one who wields technology must first be correctly molded before he or she begins to shape the world.

The Turn Back: World War II and the Call for Educational Reform

Einstein’s questioning of the scientific impulse of his own day, an impulse that was not answerable to anything outside itself, only became more important as the atrocities of World War II slowly came to light.  That great international conflict proved a critical moment to a number of thinkers, many of whom would later echo in various ways Einstein’s concern for the aimless progressive tendency of the scientific and technical education being offered students.  In 1943, while the war was still being fought beyond the borders of North America, The Humanities after the War was published,12 a collection of essays discussing the role that the humanities might have in education when the war finally came to an end.  That volume points out that the inhumanities faced in World War II—a war characterized by “an expert barbarism misusing science”13—exposed the importance of preserving goods that the humanities might singularly make possible.  One particular contributor to that volume, Roscoe Pound, insisted that a distinction be made between subjects of study that are foundational and those that are in the “superstructure” of education; while the former help to impart wisdom, the latter rely upon a previously acquired wisdom in order to operate (22).

To various thinkers, then, World War II offered a critical moment for the reconsideration of the place of education in forming students.  In the 1948 publication of The Impact of the War upon American Education, one of a series of reports commissioned by the Committee on War Studies, I. L. Kandel concludes that the war revealed the important role education can play in shaping values and how that role had increasingly been ignored in times leading up to the war (189).  Kandel writes,

The literature on college education, which began to appear as soon as the war broke out in Europe and which mounted in volume as the war progressed, attacked the absence of a sense of direction and purpose in education; and, in emphasizing the importance of liberal education in general and of the humanities in particular, sought to re-emphasize the urgent need of the guidance of values if education was to make its contribution to the preservation of the democratic ideal. (188) 

That is to say, the war revealed that the goods and values of a civilization cannot merely be assumed or remain inherited capital; rather, they must be rediscovered and embraced anew by each generation, and education plays a unique role in that reappraisal. 

In mentioning “the literature” being written on education, Kandel may have had in mind that produced by intellectual luminaries of the day, many of them temporarily turning from their areas of specialization to address the educational concerns of their historical moment.  According to Alan Jacobs, the list of such figures included Mortimer Adler, W. H. Auden, C. S. Lewis, and Jacques Maritain, to name only a few.14 In 1942, C. S. Lewis delivered the first of three lectures in Newcastle that would evolve into The Abolition of Man, a treatise on education that, as its title suggests, regards applied science cut off from universal values as the undoing of the human.  W. H. Auden’s 1943 Phi Beta Kappa address at Swarthmore College, a talk he titled “Vocation and Society,” addressed similar concerns, and serves as the prosaic companion to his later and better known poetic work The Age of Anxiety, published in 1947.  In “Vocation and Society,” Auden  urges students to approach their education not in terms of securing future creature comforts but rather in terms of falling in love or of making a vow; education, he suggests, is a matter of the soul waking to consciousness.15  Also in 1943, in the Terry Lectures at Yale University, Jacques Maritain evoked a similar theme, beginning his talks by saying that, although education naturally aims at the particular—“a particular child belonging to a given nation, a given social environment, a given historical age”16—the fact that a child is a human child must be the first educational consideration.  Those talks took human nature as their theme, enabling Maritain to explore the ontological purpose of education over and against an education with no articulated or defined purpose whatsoever.  In other words, Maritain was seeking to offer an alternative to a type of education that approaches the human solely with a scientific view.17  The title of the 1943 Terry Lectures was published as Education at the Crossroads, with, again, World War II serving for Maritain as the crucial event that demanded a radical reappraisal of the means and ends of education.18  Finally, Mortimer Adler was especially prolific during the first half of that decade,19 publishing no fewer than five books whose titles suggest their prompting by the second World War: The Philosophy and Science of Man: A Collection of Texts as a Foundation for Ethics and Politics (1940), How to Read a Book: The Art of Getting a Liberal Education (1940), A Dialectic of Morals: Towards the Foundations of Political Philosophy (1941), How to Think About War and Peace (1944), and The Revolution in Education (1944).  These years, then, were a critical period in which various thinkers were considering the type of education needed after World War II, for it was a decade marked by similar, though apparently unassociated, impulses to revive a kind of education that was in danger of being abandoned.  These diverse calls for educational reform, and for a revival of what may generally be called “classical education,” planted the seeds that would not bloom for nearly forty years.20

While general calls for reform were issuing from a variety of scholars and artists, two non-Americans—one in England, at the height of her influence, and the other in Canada, at the outset of his own—happened upon the same rather specific educational concept, namely, that of the trivium (the language arts of grammar, dialectic or “logic,” and rhetoric).  Those two writers were the English essayist, novelist, and Dante scholar Dorothy Sayers and the North American media theorist Marshall McLuhan.  In 1943, McLuhan received his Ph.D. from Cambridge without being required, because of the dangers imposed by the War, to travel back to England for his oral defense.21  His dissertation, The Classical Trivium: The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time, remained unpublished until 2006.  Consequently, it would likely have been unknown to Sayers in 1947, when she delivered a talk dealing directly with a form of education patterned on the trivium.  Addressing an audience at Oxford, Sayers delivered a lecture entitled “The Lost Tools of Learning,” later published as an essay by the same name.  That address has arguably become more important to contemporary classical educators than any other single work, being taken up by education reformers in the final two decades of the twentieth century.

In “The Lost Tools of Learning,” Sayers explores an alternative to modern education, one that she finds in the trivium of the medieval world, a syllabus of learning that Sayers believes offers a more promising educational alternative in turning out informed students who think clearly and communicate effectively.  Sayers takes up the three language arts of the trivium in an innovative—perhaps even unorthodox—way, seeing them as stages of developmental psychology that she nicknames “the Poll-Parrot, the Pert, and the Poetic,” respectively.22  The Poll-Parrot stage is that of the young child who memorizes easily, parroting back information but finding “critical thinking” difficult.  The Pert stage corresponds roughly with the early teenage years, in which youngsters delight in arguing, possessing a black-and-white view of even complex issues.  Students who pass to the Poetic stage become concerned with self-expression; they experience an awakening of the imagination that Sayers maintains is “usually dormant during the Pert age.”23  She goes on to define grammar, logic, and rhetoric not as subjects but as “methods of dealing with subjects”; rather than curricular content to be learned, the three language arts become, as Sayers’s title suggests, the “tools of learning” necessary for the training of the mind.  In this understanding, every subject studied would have its own inherent grammar (its basic content to be mastered), logic (its ordered relationships), and rhetoric (its effective expression).  For Sayers, the arts of the trivium are the arts of learning itself, and they line up neatly with a child’s developmental growth.

Before mapping out a suggested syllabus for each of the three stages, Sayers acknowledges the near futility of her efforts to revisit the trivium as a model for education: “It is in the highest degree improbable that the reforms I propose will ever be carried into effect.”24  Today, however, it is “classical” education that has, by and large, taken up Sayers’s gauntlet, while McLuhan’s has yet to exert any influence on trivium-based education.25

Today’s Trivium

If there is a single identifiable moment that marks the recovery of Sayers’s ideas, it must be the year 1981, the year that saw the opening of Logos School in Moscow, Idaho.26  The founder of that school, Douglas Wilson, explains that he took up Sayers’s challenge and started the private school so that his own children could have the type of education described in that 1947 Oxford address.27  Ten years later Wilson published Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning (1991), a book that sparked nationwide interest in Sayers’s interpretation of trivium-based education.  Today, the new brand of “classical” schools pepper the United States, growing in number every year and ranging from Protestant private schools to non-sectarian homeschool co-ops, and from Catholic schools revamping their curriculum in order to boost dwindling enrollment to public charter schools promising a radical educational alternative.  The state of Texas alone, for instance, has at least 68 private classical schools of various stripes and organizational structure28 and has begun opening classical charter schools, as well.  Furthermore, to cater to classical schools and to the growing demand for curriculum and teacher training, various presses and organizations have formed.29  

At the forefront of the movement in classical education is the Association of Classical and Christian Schools (ACCS), founded in 1994.  The ACCS now has over 250 member schools and serves more than 40,000 students.30  The ACCS website offers compelling statistics illustrating the academic performance of their students as compared to their public, religious, and independent school counterparts.  For example, in the chart titled “SAT Performance Relative to College & Career Readiness Benchmark,” a combined score of 1550 is the benchmark for the three SAT tests.  In results for 2015, public school students scored an average of 88 points below the benchmark, religious schools 46 points above, and independent schools 99 points above.  ACCS schools exceeded the benchmark by 237 points.  As for the ACT, average composite scores for the nation were 21.0 in the year 2015; ACCS schools earned an average of 26.2 that year.31  Inspired by the vision and the success of these mostly Protestant classical schools, the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education [ICLE] was formed in 1999, hosting its first conference in the summer of 2013.32  The ICLE website lists 88 Catholic schools33 that now teach a classical curriculum reminiscent of the educational syllabus that flourished in cathedral schools during the medieval era. 

Private schools are not alone in this revival of classical education.  According to a 2012 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 1.8 million children were homeschooled that year in the United States, a number that has steadily been on the rise.34  Home educators, whose reasons for opting out of both public and private education,35 often choose a classical curriculum, devising their own plan using such resources as The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, first published in 1999.  Now in its fourth edition with Norton, and with more than half a million copies sold, the book—a much revered “canonical” resource within classical circles—offers over 700 pages of curriculum guidance.  Both families and schools draw heavily from the book, and one of its authors, Susan Wise Bauer, is a popular speaker at events hosted by homeschool and classical education groups, groups like Classical Conversations, which began in 1997.  Classical Conversations works in tandem with homeschool families by offering weekly classes across the nation.  In the United States, approximately 105,000 students are currently being served by the 2,300 learning communities throughout the United States; to date, 189 of those communities are in the state of Texas alone.36  Furthermore, “university-model” K-12 schools 37 are also on the rise, and many of them specialize in a classical curriculum; the National Association for University Model Schools now boasts 31 university-model affiliate schools in Texas alone.38

Private schools and homeschooling families are two of the major players in classical education, but there is a third group emerging: classical charter schools.  Great Hearts Academies, whose byline is “Classical Education, Revolutionary Schools,” began in 2004.39  A network of 28 schools in Arizona and Texas, the Great Hearts Academies network served approximately 14,000 students in the 2016-17 school year.40  These schools are nonreligious, no-cost public schools that accept students through a blind lottery system.  Additionally, their academies receive much fewer tax dollars per child than traditional public schools,41 but their academic results surpass those of their public school counterparts.42  For example, the composite SAT average for graduating classes 2012-16 was 200 points above the national average.43  A similar group of classical charter schools, a project of the Barney Charter School Initiative and Hillsdale College, have also started to open around the nation; their mission is to open fifty schools by 2022.44  A final example of an open-enrollment charter school is Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, Colorado.45  The official ACT report for Ridgeview in 2014 was posted online, showing an average composite of 25.7 for Ridgeview Classical students on the ACT compared to an average composite of 20.6 for the state as a whole.  English scores in particular were the most divergent, with Ridgeview averaging 27.2 compared to a Colorado state average of 19.9.46

Each of the above groups—private schools, homeschool students, and public charter schools—adds a particular flavor to the “classical” education they offer.  That is to say, private schools couple classical schooling with religious learning, the homeschool sector orients classical education around the character of each particular family, and public charter schools tend to promote classical education for the preparation of civic leadership.  Whatever their differences, however, certain elements remain generally consistent throughout the various branches.  “Classical,” for these newer groups, could be said to mean four things.  The first of these is, unsurprisingly, the study of “classical” languages—regularly Latin and occasionally Greek—and literature.47  These studies almost always begin prior to high school, and in some institutions, may begin as early as prekindergarten.  Because more than half of English vocabulary can be traced to Latin, the philosophical commitment to the teaching of a classical language means that these students have various practical advantages, as well: according to the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages (NCSSFL), Latin students outperform all other students on the verbal portion of the SAT.  The NCSSFL also notes that 75-80% of the vocabulary of Romance languages is derived from Latin48; thus, the study of Latin allows students to acquire third and fourth languages more easily, as well. 

Second, “classical” generally suggests an attitude of respect for traditional texts, so-called “great books.”  The reading of old books is nothing new for classical education; historian H. I. Marrou, for example, claims that the whole of Greek education pivoted on a single work: Homer’s Iliad (xiv).49  Mortimer Adler, whose lifelong campaign was for the teaching of great books, has deeply influenced the leaders of the contemporary classical school movement.  In fact, Adler’s 24-member Paideia Group of the 1980s proposed to reform the United States K-12 public schools in their entirety; their vision was that public school education at large would adopt a curriculum grounded in the classics, resulting in education that would be “general, not specialized; liberal, not vocational; humanistic, not technical.”50  In Adler’s 1984 publication The Paideia Program: An Educational Syllabus,51 he offers an extensive list of recommended readings, which Geraldine Van Doren, a Paideia Group member, sees as the “backbone of a Paideia School.”52  Van Doren continues, arguing that the books included in the list “deserve to be called important, beautiful, difficult, and profound.”53  Although Adler and his colleagues did not fulfill their vision to reform public schooling before the end of the twentieth century, Adler’s ideas on great books education are commonly referenced in the publications of today’s classical schools.54 

Third, classical schools have what would appear to be curricular oddities compared to a typical public school.  Writing is often taught using various forms of progymnasmata exercises, hearkening back to Hermogenes’ rhetorical exercises; imitation—copying the style or structure of great literary or rhetorical works55—is generally emphasized, rather than individual creativity on the part of the student.  Reviving the rhetorical canon of memory, classical schools exercise students in copious memorization, such as poetry recitations and lists of dates, facts, and personages.  Another such curricular distinctive is the chronological teaching of history through its major eras.56  It is typical, for example, that second graders in a classical school would spend an entire academic year studying a significant time and place in history—say, for example, ancient Egypt.  Third graders may then focus on the study of Greece and Rome; fourth graders may move on to learn about the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; and fifth graders would complete the cycle by focusing on the modern and contemporary world.  In many classical schools, that cycle would be repeated, with middle school and high school students returning to the same historical units/epochs, studying them a second time both in greater detail and in a way that corresponds to their respective developmental stages.

Teaching the trivium as developmental stages is perhaps the most unusual distinguishing characteristic of today’s classical schools.  Almost all contemporary classical schools take seriously Sayers’s interpretation of the trivium in terms of developmental psychology; thus, their educators attempt to tailor pedagogy to a student’s particular stage.  For example, schools are often divided into “grammar school,” “logic school,” and “rhetoric school,” divisions that correspond roughly to the elementary, junior high, and high school years.  At each stage, teachers offer instruction in pedagogically distinct ways.57  Besides boasting instruction in formal English grammar, a grammar school emphasizes rote memory, for instance, as well as narration, dictation, and the aforementioned imitation; logic schools will highlight debate in many of their classes (science, history, et al.), while offering separate courses in formal and informal logic; students in rhetoric schools study formal rhetoric,58 of course, but they are typically asked to apply their rhetorical training to their written compositions and oral presentations, often ending their studies with a lengthy thesis that must be publicly defended.  The developmental interpretation of the trivium serves as the backbone in a number of books within these classical circles, such as Perrin’s An Introduction to Classical Education: A Guide for Parents, Wise Bauer and Wise’s The Well-Trained Mind, and Wilson’s Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning.  Curriculum presses such as Veritas Press and Memoria Press also tend to divide their entire curriculum according to the three stages. 

A Third Wave?

In a 1981 treatise on classical education, David Hicks claims, “Classical education is not, preeminently, of a specific time or place; rather, it can be recognized by its distinct spirit and form.”59  In this quotation, Hicks identifies both a desire of contemporary classical educators and a potential contradiction that lies within their project as it is currently conceived.  That tension, as it has developed, is the heavy dependence upon what has been dubbed the “Sayers Insight,”60 the innovative developmental interpretation of the trivium’s liberal arts as distinct stages of learning.  But leaders in the classical revival are not unaware of this fact; Susan Wise Bauer, for example, recognizes that the type of education that is actually being offered today is not so much classical as it is “neo-classical education.”61  In fact, the movement appears to be going through something of a second wave, as books like Wisdom and Eloquence (2006) and The Liberal Arts Tradition (2013) have questioned the trivium as a developmental model and offer suggestions for changes in the neo-classical curriculum.  But the Sayers Insight still holds sway, and it is unlikely that things will change any time soon, for the three-stage approach seems to have proven itself an effective teaching strategy in many of the places where it has been adopted. 

Nonetheless, this developmental model, while still predominant, is—from the perspective of the trivium’s very long history—the novelty.  Other, older accounts of the trivium can serve as foils to Sayers’s developmental model, offering a fuller vision of how the liberal arts shaped education over the centuries prior to 1947.  A helpful example of an alternate interpretation can be found in Sister Miriam Joseph’s book The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric, first published in 1937.  Joseph offers a version of the trivium as comprising three arts: the art of symbol (grammar), the art of thinking (logic), and the art of communicating (rhetoric).62  Notably, Joseph’s interpretation of the trivium as comprising three arts, rather than stages, predates Sayers’s developmental reading.  Moreover, her interpretation falls more in line with the traditional conception of the trivium than does Sayers’s, revealing that it is Joseph’s conception of the trivium—as arts, not stages—that holds sway throughout much of its history, with the Sayers Insight being the latecomer. 

But another important conception of the trivium lies unexplored.  As mentioned earlier, Sayers and Marshall McLuhan happened upon the trivium in the same decade, and as her essay was sparking the current classical education resurgence, McLuhan’s dissertation remained unknown and unpublished until 2006.  Within that dissertation—and in signature style—McLuhan takes an altogether original view of the three language arts, calling them “rival sisters.”63  By this he means that grammar, logic (“dialectic”), and rhetoric are more than subjects of study; they are, rather, different perspectives on reality, each one jockeying for dominance within a given age.  McLuhan, then, is able to offer an alternate—one critic calls it “postmodern”64—reading of the history of the trivium.  Little concerned with the structure of education in these periods, he seeks instead to determine which of the language arts can be identified as preeminent over the other two at a given historical moment.  Strikingly, McLuhan collapses the Greeks and the Romans together, considering their era one in which rhetoric and grammar ruled over dialectic, hemming in the “middle” art of the trivium.  Indeed, because of its groundless nature, dialectic requires the guidance of grammar and rhetoric in order to keep the trivium in balance.  McLuhan, then, sets the abstracted means of knowing—dialectic—at odds with grammar and rhetoric, whose union he sees represented in Cicero. 

McLuhan’s privileged mode is grammatical; he understands “grammar” not to be merely the study of parts of speech but rather as the art of making and interpreting symbol, an art which has been historically ignored in the more recognizable opposition between dialectic and rhetoric.  That very rivalry is identified by Stanley Fish as a war between foundationalism and anti-foundationalism, or between homo rhetoricus (“rhetorical man”) and homo seriosus (“serious man”),65 terms he adapts from Richard Lanham’s The Motives of Eloquence.  Indeed, from this perspective, Fish looks back upon the rhetorical tradition and sees the strains of rhetoric and dialectic at odds, with one alternately more prominent than the other.  What Fish does not discuss, however, is a third possibility, that of homo grammaticus (“grammatical man”), and it is McLuhan’s insights into the nature of grammar, and the distinct forms of knowledge that it allows, that are most promising for the contemporary proponents of the trivium.

The comeback of classical education potentially has a third wave ahead, then, one that takes seriously the insight of McLuhan, whose construal of the language arts as rival personalities offers a new way of thinking about the trivium.  That is, the three language arts may actually be unique kinds of knowing, each with an inherent potential to overpower her “sisters.”  As contemporary classical education moves through what is being called its second wave, leaders in the movement might take the “McLuhan Insight” to heart, considering how the forms of trivium-based education being offered can be dominated by a particular art.  That is, an education dominated by, say, dialectic can reinforce students’ commitment to foundational truths, but it can do so at the risk of raising up abstractionists; conversely, rhetorical education can prepare students to articulate and defend goodness in the world, but their desire to succeed in such efforts could come at the expense of a growing comfort with anti-foundationalism.66  No doubt, the rich tradition awaits a fuller recovery.  McLuhan’s contribution, then, allows one to look beyond the trivium as a developmental model.  Instead, classical educators might ask an important question of their schools: Which rival sister of the trivium dominates the others?

View bibliography

Annotated Bibliography on Liberal Education

Posted Posted in Liberal Education

Louise Cowan. “The Necessity of the Classics.” http://heritagepodcast.com/wp-content/uploads/The-Necessity-of-the-Classics-Louise-Cowan.pdf

  • Main Point: Cowan argues that the classics are necessary, because “To remake oneself in the image of something that calls to greatness demands a heroic tradition displaying heroic models.” 
  • Structure: After tracing the history of the words ‘classics’ and ‘poetry’, Cowan discovers the Greek and Hebrew roots in the American tradition; then she defines the canon of classics in the Greco-Roman tradition and attributes the notion of ‘heroic’ to them; after which she argues that “our poetic heritage gives imperishable form to the heroic aspiration”; and finally she points to the loss of the classics in modern curricula as a loss, not of cultural literacy, of the full breadth of the human spirit and sensibility.
  • Insightful Quotation: She most insightfully points out that “when the Greeks spoke of poetry, they meant not so much a graceful polish of style, an artful use of language, as an entire cast of mind. Poiesis was considered to be a making process governed by mimesis, the envisioning, or imagining, of fictional analogies, a kind of knowing different from philosophy or history and yet occupying an irreplaceable position in the quest for wisdom.”
  • Relevance to the Liberal Arts: This essay is relevant to the liberal education because she defines the end goal of the liberal education as “to give form to this creative impulse in human culture.”

Russel Hittinger. “Integrated Humanist.” https://www.firstthings.com/article/2017/11/an-integrated-humanist

  • Main Point: Hittinger diagnosis the flaws of American higher education, especially the early specialization in college and high schools and the lack of formation required for the study of the liberal arts.
  • Structure: After showing that American high education is in a disastrous state, he diagnosis two problems through the lives of two humanists: specialization and a lack of moral and emotional formation that are prerequisites for the liberal arts; and he concludes by suggesting an integrated education is not possible at a fractured university, but it may be possible on a smaller scale school.
  • Insightful Quotation: When diagnosing the lack of moral formation, Hittinger points out that Plato’s gymnastics and music prepare one for a liberal arts education: “The first art [gymnastics] assists our natural inclination to gain control over the external senses of the body; the second [music] aims to integrate the internal senses, which are the seat of emotions.”
  • Relevance to the Liberal Arts: Hittinger shows what is required for a liberal education, namely, an integrated curriculum where all the parts work in harmony and a moral and emotional formation from gymnastics and music.
Dorthea Sayers. “The Lost Tools of Learning.” https://gbt.org/text/sayers.html
  • Main Point: Sayers claims that an adapted medieval curriculum will provide modern students with the tools of learning that modern education lost.
  • Structure: After pointing out many of the modern educational mistakes, Sayers outlines the medieval curriculum of a liberal arts education, then proposes an adapted syllabus for modern times.
  • Insightful Quotation: She concludes her address: “What use is it to pile task on task and prolong the days of labor, if at the close the chief object is left unattained? It is not the fault of the teachers–they work only too hard already. The combined folly of a civilization that has forgotten its own roots is forcing them to shore up the tottering weight of an educational structure that is built upon sand. They are doing for their pupils the work which the pupils themselves ought to do. For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain.”
  • Relevance to the Liberal Arts: Sayers both highlights the importance of the Trivium for the cultivation of the mind and maps the development of the Trivium with the development of a child’s capacities.
Thomas Aquinas College. “A Proposal for the Fulfillment of Catholic Liberal Education.” https://thomasaquinas.edu/sites/default/files/a-proposal-forthe-fulfillment-of-catholic-education.pdf
  • Main Point: This document that founded Thomas Aquinas College contains an articulate exposition of the means and ends of a Catholic liberal education.
  • Structure: The structure of this proposal begins by diagnosing the crisis in the Catholic college; then asks if Faith can illumine understanding and what is academic freedom, both of which help to define a Catholic education. Next it explores who is the Catholic teacher and what liberal education is as a whole and the order of its parts. Lastly, it connects the liberal education to the Christian Faith, asserts that there is a present need for a genuine liberal education, and outlines the Thomas Aquinas College curriculum.
  • Insightful Quotation: “To be sure, in modern times, liberal education is usually identified with the liberal arts, but traditionally they are distinguished. Liberal education names the whole procedure of the philosophic life, including the study of wisdom itself; liberal arts, on the other hand, properly names seven introductory disciplines which though intrinsically of lesser philosophic interest are “certain ways by which the lively soul enters into the secrets of philosophy.” (Hugh of St. Victor)
  • Relevance to the Liberal Arts: This document shows the dangers of specialization for an integrated education and also shows a path to unify education by ordering the study of disciplines toward wisdom, with Catholic theology having the best insight.
Jacques Maritain. “The Aims of Education.” Education at the Crossroads. https://www.amazon.com/Education-at-Crossroads-Terry-Lectures/dp/0300001630
  • Main Point: Maritain’s main point is to define the aims of education based on a philosophical-religious understanding of man.
  • Structure: After defining the philosophical-religious understanding of “man as an animal endowed with reason, whose supreme dignity is in the intellect; and man as a free individual in personal relation with God, whose supreme righteousness consists in voluntarily obeying the law of God; and man as sinful and wounded creature called to divine life and the freedom of grace, whose supreme perfection consists in love”, then distinguishing between “personality” and “individuality”, Maritain goes on to define the primary aim of education as “the conquest of integral and spiritual freedom to be achieved by individual person, or, in other words, his liberation through knowledge and wisdom, good will, and love” and the secondary aim as “[s]haping man to lead a normal, useful,and cooperative life in the community, or guiding the development of the human person in the social sphere, awakening and strengthening both his sense of freedom and his sense of obligation and responsibility”, and continues to identify who educates in the educational spheres (the family, school, state, and church) and the extra-educational spheres (work, friendship, customs, law, behavior, art, poetry, and liturgy). Throughout the essay, Maritain identifies seven common misconceptions of education, from pragmatism to intellectualism, from scientism to voluntarism.
  • Insightful Quotation: Maritain distinguishes between the personality and the individuality of man so that education can address both. He says, “Now it should be pointed out that personality is only one aspect or one pole of the human being. The other pole is––to speak the Aristotelian language––and individuality, whose prime root is matter. This same man, the same entire man who is, in one sense, a person or a whole made independent by his spiritual soul, is also, in another sense, the material individual, a fragment of the species, a part of the physical universe, a single dot in the immense network of forces and influences, cosmic, ethnic, historic, as laws we must obey…. I should like to observe now that a kind of animal training, which deals with the psychophysical habits, conditioned reflexes, sense-memorization, etc., undoubtedly plays its part in education: it refers to material individuality, or to what is not specifically human in man. But education is not animal training. The education of men is a human awakening. Thus what is of most importance and educators themselves is a respect for the soul as well as for the body of the child, the sense of his innermost essence and his internal resources, and a sort of sacred and loving attention to his mysterious identity, which is a hidden thing that no techniques can reach. And what matters most in the educational enterprise is a perpetual appeal to intelligence and free will in the young” (9-10).
  • Relevance to the Liberal Arts: Maritain’s essay lays the philosophical foundation of a liberal education, namely who a liberal education liberates and for what does a liberal education liberate for.
Jacques Maritain. “The Dynamics of Education.” Education at the Crossroads. https://www.amazon.com/Education-at-Crossroads-Terry-Lectures/dp/0300001630
  • Main Point: Maritain maintains that an education must begin with the developing dynamisms of the child that a teacher must cultivate in a developing way.
  • Structure: After emphasizing that education is an art, the teacher an artists, and the student the object, Maritain points out that education is awaking a student not the force-feeding knowledge––therefore, education adapts itself to the developing dynamisms of personality and individuality; then he outlines five dispositions to actively foster in education (love for the truth, justice, existence, work, and others); and finally he establishes four fundamental rules for the teacher (foster the fundamental dispositions, center attention on the inner depths of personality and its preconscious spiritual dynamism, foster internal unity of the working of the hands, the head, and the heart, and give the student mastery of reason over the things learned before moving on).
  • Insightful Quotation: “Encouragement is as fundamentally necessary as humiliation is harmful. A mere prohibition of evil-doing is less affection than illumination about the good that this evil-doing will spoil. The real art [of teaching] is to make the child heedful of his own resources and potentialities for the beauty of well-doing” (39).
  • Relevance to the Liberal Arts: Maritain outlines an education that liberates toward their proper end the basic dynamisms of a child through the active fostering of dispositions by the teacher.
Jacques Maritain. “The Humanities and Liberal Education.” Education at the Crossroads. https://www.amazon.com/Education-at-Crossroads-Terry-Lectures/dp/0300001630
  • Main Point: Maritiain attempts to outline a liberating education from childhood to graduate school that develops according to the development of a person.
  • Structure: After making Beauty the central object of a childhood curriculum, he makes Truth the central object of adolescent studies (not specialized truths to be memorized, but rather the truth and beauty of the meaning of a liberal art); and  lastly, he addresses the university’s universal teaching and the higher institutes of learning’s specialization.
  • Insightful Quotation: “I would like to add That beauty is the mental atmosphere in the inspiring power fitted to a child’s education, and should be, so to speak,The continuous quickening and spiritualizing contrapunctual base of that education. Beauty makes intelligibility pass unawares though sense-awareness. It is by virtue of the allure of beautiful things and deeds and ideas that the child is to be led and awakened to intellectual and moral life” (61). “The object of education is to see to it that the youth grasps this truth or beauty [of the meaning of learning the liberal arts] by the natural power and gifts of his mind and natural intuitive energy of his reason backed up by his whole sensuous, imaginative, and emotional dynamism” (63).
  • Relevance to the Liberal Arts: Maritian’s treatment of the liberal education highlights that a liberal arts education is not a specialized education in the humanities, but a general education in the human condition through the lenses of the arts and sciences, which shows the truth and beauty of the meaning of each discipline, rather than the technical knowledge of each discipline.
Aristotle. Politics. XII.13-XIII.7. https://socialsciences.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/aristotle/Politics.pdf
  • Main Point: Aristotle claims that a liberal education, studies not only for utility but for itself, fits the freeman and remedies the faults of nature.
  • Structure: After discussing education in general, such as the means, ends, and effects, Aristotle explores the subjects of education, namely reading, writing, drawing, gymnastics, and music (poetry).
  • Insightful Quotation: “There can be no doubt that children should be taught those useful things which are really necessary, but not all useful things; for occupations are divided into liberal and illiberal; and to young children should be imparted only such kinds of knowledge as will be useful to them without vulgarizing them. And any occupation, art, or science, which makes the body or soul or mind of the freedman less fit for the practice or exercise of virtue, is vulgar; wherefore we call those arts vulgar which tend to deform body, and likewise all paid employments, for they absorb the mind. There are also some liberal arts quite proper for a freeman to acquire, but only in a certain degree, and if he attend to them too closely, in order to attain perfection in them, the same evil effects will follow” (1337b4-18).
  • Relevance to the Liberal Arts: Aristotle’s criteria as to what counts as a liberal art is, although its study may be useful to achieve some end, it should be studied as an end in itself, because it is an exercise in moral and intellectual virtue.
St. John Paul II. Fides et Ratio. http://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091998_fides-et-ratio.html
  • Main Point: JPII’s main claim is that faith and reason, religious revelation and secular learning, theology and philosophy, are not opposed, but rather are united and give valid access to the truth of reality.
  • Structure: After distinguishing the different methods and contents of faith and reason and comparing the similar interest in the “path of life”, JPII acknowledges the limitations of reason’s access to the truth and faith’s unlimited access, then he runs through the history of philosophy and theology’s ever-increasingly intimate relationship, which culminates in St. Thomas Aquinas’ philosophy and theology and is damaged by modern philosophy; next he defines the Church’s corrective and directive engagement with philosophy; then he addresses the modern “crisis of meaning” where philosophers no longer ask what is the meaning of life; next he lists the most prominent philosophical errors, like nihilism, pragmatism, and scientism; lastly he applies everything he has said to practices of specific groups of people, such as theologians, philosophers, and educators.
  • Insightful Quotation: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves” (1); “The segmentation of knowledge, with its splintered approach to truth and consequent fragmentation of meaning, keeps people today from coming to an interior unity” (85); “I believe that those philosophers who wish to respond today to the demands which the word of God makes on human thinking should develop their thought on the basis of these postulates and in organic continuity with the great tradition which, beginning with the ancients, passes through the Fathers of the Church and the masters of Scholasticism and includes the fundamental achievements of modern and contemporary thought” (85).
  • Relevance to the Liberal Arts: St. John Paul II shows how both theology and philosophy seek the same “path of life”, but theology seeks through faith and philosophy through reason. Together, they give unique and mutually helpful insight into the Truth. Thus, a full liberating education will not neglect the two paths that lead to the truth of the Creator and His creatures, and that truth will set the students free.
Sister Miriam Joseph. “Chapter 1: The Liberal Arts.” The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric. https://media.evolveconsciousness.org/books/consciousness/The%20Trivium%20-%20The%20Liberal%20Arts%20of%20Logic,%20Grammar,%20and%20Rhetoric%20-%20Sister%20Mirriam%20Joseph.pdf
  • Main Point: Sister Miriam Joseph defines the liberal arts as intransitive, that is, regardless of their usefulness, they are desirable for their own sake and increase the worth of their possessor because their study provides the knowledge and skill to read, write, speak, listen, and think, which are all necessary for a liberal education.
  • Structure: After defining the liberal arts as “the seven branches of knowledge that initiate the young into a life of learning,” she distinguishes between the trivium and the quadrivium; then she distinguishes between the useful arts seeking useful goods, the fine arts seeking pleasurable goods, and the liberal arts seeking valuable goods; next she shows how a in a true liberal arts education “the student is to relate the facts learned into a unified, organic whole”; lastly she explains that the trivium provides a “discipline of mind inasmuch as mind finds expression in language.”
  • Insightful Quotation: “Rhetoric is the master art of the trivium, for it presupposes and makes use of grammar and logic; it is the art of communicating through symbols ideas about reality” (9).
  • Relevance to the Liberal Arts: Sister Miriam Joseph recovers for a modern classroom the classical model of the liberal language arts. She is original in her discovery of how grammar, logic, and rhetoric educate one in writing, reading, speaking, and listening.
Fr. James Schall, S.J. “A Student’s Guide to Liberal Learning.” https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2017/07/students-guide-liberal-learning-james-schall.html
  • Main Point: Fr. James provides sound advice to the collegiate learner who seeks not passing opinions, but what is; his concrete advice, if followed, surely will set a student onto a path of life-long learning.
  • Structure: Fr. James orders his article around two prerequisites to a liberal education is a modern university: self-discipline and personal library.
  • Insightful Quotation: “The best place to begin for any young man or woman today can be stated in two steps: 1) the step of self-discipline and 2) the step of a personal library; both of these together will yield that freedom which is necessary to escape academic dreariness and to discover the wonder of reality, of what is. Even at its best, of course, learning means we need a lot of help, even grace, but we are here talking about what we can do ourselves.”
  • Relevance to the Liberal Arts: Fr. James shows in a simple manner the moral foundation that true learning requires and the intellectual wisdom that is found in the great books. He presents the liberal education as a lifelong process, only begun in college.

St. Bonaventure. Retracing the Arts to Theology. https://canvas.uchicago.edu/courses/10171/files/826972 

  • Main Point: Bonaventure shows how theology permeates and illuminates all the other arts with Divine light, and, is the highest kind of light, and how God ordained all the branches of knowledge for the knowledge of Scripture
  • Structure: After citing St. James epistle on the perfect gifts of God, Bonaventure examines how Sacred Scripture reveals the source and purposes of external light (mechanical skills and arts), lower light (sense perception), inner light (philosophical knowledge), and higher light (grace and Sacred Scripture).
  • Insightful Quotation: “And thus it is clear how the manifold Wisdom of God, which is revealed in Sacred Scripture, lies hidden in all knowledge and in all nature. It is clear also how all divisions of knowledge are handmaids of theology and it is for this very reason that theology makes use of illustrations and terms pertaining to every branch of knowledge. It is likewise evident how wide is the luminous way and how in everything which is perceived or known, God Himself lies hidden within. And this is the advantage of all the sciences, that in all faith is strengthened, God is honored, character is formed, consolation is derived from union of the spouse with her beloved, a union which takes place through charity, to the attainment of which the whole purpose of Sacred Scripture, and, consequently, every illumination descending from above, is directed–a union without which all knowledge is vain because no one comes to the Son except through the Holy Ghost who teaches us all truth, who is blessed forever and ever. Amen” (468-9).
  • Relevance to the Liberal Arts: In this short yet wise work, St. Bonaventure shows how the liberal arts and liberal education find their true source and true end in theology, while at the same time he outlines the order of all the arts and the most essential aspects. This work should be read by every classical and Christian educator

C. S. Lewis. Democratic Education. http://www.tlchrist.info/cs_lewis.htm#deducation

  • Main Point: Lewis claims that an education that will preserve democracy must be aristocratic, must be for the few boys who can and want to learn.
  • Structure: After showing the deviations of democracy and a democratic education, Lewis shows the kind of boy that will flourish in a democratic education and preserve a democracy.
  • Insightful Quotation: “A truly democratic education — one which will preserve democracy — must be, in its own field, ruthlessly aristocratic, shamelessly “highbrow”. In drawing up its curriculum it should always have chiefly in view the interests of the boy who wants to know and who can know (with very few exceptions they are the same boy). The stupid boy, nearly always, is the boy who does not want to know. It must, in a certain sense, subordinate the interests of the many to those of the few, and it must subordinate the school to the university. Only thus can it be a nursery of those first-class intellects without which neither a democracy nor any other State can thrive.”
  • Relevance to the Liberal Arts: Lewis’s claim shows the difficulty and the necessity of the liberal education in a democracy.

St. Basil. To the Young on How to Profit from Pagan Literature. https://www.ccel.org/ccel/pearse/morefathers/files/basil_litterature01.htm

  • Main Point: St. Basil critiques and defends pagan literature for the benefit of the Christian.
  • Structure: In the ten parts to his letter, he begins with why he offers his advice, what are the true goods that eye of the soul can see; then he compares pagan teachings with biblical teachings; next he gives practical advice on how to benefit from pagan literature; lastly, he summarizes all the teaching that the pagans offer.
  • Insightful Quotations: “So we also must consider that a contest,12 the greatest of all contests, lies before us, for which we must do all things, and, in preparation for it, must strive to the best of our power, and must associate with poets and historians13 and orators and with all men from whom there is any prospect of benefit with reference to the care of our soul” (II). “It is for this eternity that I would exhort you to acquire travel-supplies, leaving no stone unturned, as the proverb has it, wherever any benefit toward that end is likely to accrue to you” (X).
  • Relevance to the Liberal Arts: For the Christian wondering whether it is beneficial to read pagan poets, historians, and orators, who instruct the young in the liberal arts, St. Basil not only encourages this kind of study, but even suggests that it is a necessary training for the young’s faith to be strong. The examples and exhortations from vice to virtues are worth studying.

“2013 Catholic Classical Schools Conference.” The Institute for Catholic Liberal Education.  Accessed 11 July 2017. https://www.catholicliberaleducation.org/2013-info–slideshow.html.

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Adler, Mortimer J.  Introduction to The Paideia Program: An Educational Syllabus

Edited by Mortimer J. Adler.  New York: Macmillan, 1984.

“Affiliate Classical Charter Schools.”  Hillsdale.edu.  Accessed 13 July 2017. https://www.hillsdale.edu/educational-outreach/barney-charter-school-initiative/classical-charter-schools/.

Auden, W. H.  “Vocation and Society: Phi Beta Kappa Address, 1943.”  Swarthmore.edu

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Brann, Eva T. H.  Paradoxes of Education in a Republic.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.

Buck, Paul H., John H. Finley, Raphael Demos, Leigh Hoadley,Byron S. Hollinshead,

Wilbur K. Jordan, Ivor A. Richards, Phillip J. Rulon, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Robert Ulich, George Wald, Benjamin F. Wright.  General Education in a Free Society: Report of the Harvard Committee. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1945.

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Fish, Stanley.  “A Classical Education: Back to the Future.”  NYTimes.com (New York, NY), 07 June 2010.  https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/a-classical-education-back-to-the-future/.

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Maritain, Jacques.  Education at the Crossroads.  1943. Reprint.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971. 

Marrou, Henri Irénée.  A History of Education in Antiquity.  Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1956. 

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Pound, Roscoe.  “The Humanities in an Absolutist World.”  In The Humanities after the War, edited by Norman Foerster, 10-25.  Princeton: Princeton, UP.  1944.

Redford, Jeremy, Danielle Battle, and Stacey Bielick.  Homeschooling in the United States:

2012.  Washington: U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics, 2017. https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2016/2016096rev.pdf.

“Ridgeview Classical Schools: At a Glance.”  RidgeviewClassical.com.  Accessed 13 July 2017. https://www.ridgeviewclassical.com/about.

Sayers, Dorothy.  “The Lost Tools of Learning.”  Appendix A in Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education, by Douglas Wilson, 145-64.  Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991.

“Statistics at a Glance.”  Association of Classical & Christian Schools.  Accessed 11 January 2017.  https://classicalchristian.org/statistics-at-a-glance/.

Strate, Lance.  “War and Peace among Rhetoric, Grammar, and Dialectics: On Marshall

McLuhan’s The Classical Trivium.”  Explorations in Media Ecology 6, no. 3 (2007): 221-26.

“The Academy.”  HBU.edu.  Accessed 13 July 2017.  https://www.hbu.edu/the-academy/.

“The Role of Latin In American Education: A Position Paper from the National Council of State Supervisors of Foreign Languages.”  The Classical Outlook 80, no. 4 (2003): 147-49. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43939650.

Van Doren, Geraldine. ” English Language and Literature.” In The Paideia Program: An Educational Syllabus, edited by Mortimer J. Adler, 59-70. New York: Macmillan, 1984.

Vico, Giambattista.  On the Study Methods of Our Time.  Translated by Elio Gianturco.  1708. 

Reprint.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990.

Watson, Martha. “The Place of Marshall McLuhan and Thomas Nashe in the Learning of Their Time.”  Explorations in Media Ecology 6, no. 3 (2007): 207-14.   

Wilson, Douglas.  “A Review of Wisdom and Eloquence.”  Classis 14, no. 4 (2007): 1-4. http://1042.web11.elexioamp.com/filerequest/3685.pdf.

About our Journal: Editorial Statement

Posted Posted in Liberal Education

Arts of Liberty is an interdisciplinary, academic journal dedicated to the comprehensive study of liberal education in its speculative, historical, and practical dimensions. 

Speculatively, the journal aspires to recover, deepen, and cultivate an authentic understanding of the kind of education that liberates and perfects human nature.  As such, it seeks contributions that not only deepen our understanding of the liberal arts as arts, but that actually help to accomplish such liberation within the various liberal arts.  Essays, for example, on the role of rhetoric, geometry, or philosophy in liberal education are as welcome as contributions that illuminate some aspect of rhetoric, geometry, or philosophy that is crucial to a liberal education. 

Historically, the journal is interested in contributions which situate or manifest some important aspect or truth central to a liberal education.  These could be reflections on the nature of liberal education as articulated by some significant thinker within the tradition, or a study of some great work of literature, art, or architecture that expresses some important truth about man.  Thus, the journal is not interested in history merely for history’s sake, but for the sake of a deepening understanding of the way in which human beings have been and are liberated through the perfection of their rational nature. 

The journal’s practical goals are twofold.  First, it seeks to be a venue where teachers of the liberal arts can share and receive helpful insights about how to teach the liberal arts in the classroom more successfully.  The journal hopes to become an ever greater resource for rich ideas and relevant material that will make teaching the liberal arts a more rewarding experience both for the teacher and the student.  Second, the journal places great value upon exploring the role of liberal education in contributing to the common good of a political society.  We hold that a free society requires liberally educated citizens.  As such, we are interested in contributions that articulate and explore the relationship between the liberal arts, on the one hand, and authentic law and good citizenship, on the other.

Augustine on the Use of Liberal Education for the Theater of Life

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Liberal Education

by Michael P. Foley,

Among the attributes that conspire to make the plays of William Shakespeare the best of their kind in the English language, we should surely count Shakespeare’s sensitive appreciation of the interplay between theatrical performance and human living.  When Shakespeare’s characters proclaim that “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players” or that “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage,” they are declaring a truth that rises above the level of a self-congratulating plug by members of the actors’ guild.  Stage plays not only imitate the drama of life and are derived from it, but make life itself a kind of play.  This parallel was recognized long before Shakespeare.  According to Michael Davis, Aristotle’s Poetics is a profoundly political book about the isomorphism of stage-acting and political action, that is, human action conducted before others.[1]  Aristotle recognized that drama, more than any other art form, “reflects the distinction between doing and looking at doing—between acting and reflecting” that is so essential to the complex genealogy of human deeds.[2]  Indeed, Davis argues, the title of Aristotle’s little work, Peri Poiêtikês, would be better translated On the Art of Action.[3]

And lest these implications of Shakespeare and Aristotle appear too arcane, we need only look to three memorable quotes from political history.  During the 1980 presidential campaign Ronald Reagan was asked by a reporter whether an actor could be president.  Reagan quickly replied: “How can a president not be an actor?”[4] Decades earlier, President Franklin D. Roosevelt told Orson Welles that they were “the two best actors in the world.”[5] And centuries before that, Suetonius writes, the dying words of Augustus Caesar were a citation of a conventional ending in Roman comedies: “The play is done; applaud!”[6]

But would St. Augustine of Hippo also agree that there is an affinity between theater and life, especially man’s life as a zōon politikon or political animal? One would certainly not expect him to, for Augustine is usually numbered—and not without good reason—among the theater’s detractors rather than its admirers.  After analyzing Augustine’s major discussions of theatrical drama, Donnalee Dox concludes that he held “theater and theatrical representation” to be “fundamentally incompatible with a Christian view of the world” because: 1) “theatrical shows encourage bad behavior” (lust, etc.), 2) “theater is rooted in pagan religion,” and 3) “theatrical representation interferes with Christians’ ability to know God.”[7]  Hard-pressed to disagree, scholars who advance a more positive assessment of Augustine’s thought on the theater usually feel compelled to portray him as a bifurcated thinker, torn between two different poles.  What those poles are depends on the commentator.  Jonas Barish praises Augustine’s “sympathetic attention” and patient disentanglements for transcending Plato’s blurry broadsides,[8] but he faults Augustine for harboring a “residual Manicheism” that undermines the Bishop of Hippo’s psychological sophistication.[9]  James K. A. Smith, on the other hand, posits a fissure between an alleged residual Platonism in Augustine and his Christian beliefs in creation and incarnation.[10]  Though Barish and Smith’s diagnoses differ, both essentially render Augustine a mild schizophrenic in order to salvage a sunnier account of the theater from his writings.

There is no denying Augustine’s rejection of contemporary theater.  Nevertheless, it is the burden of the first part of this essay to demonstrate that in his earlier writings and possibly throughout his life, Augustine understood the theater as a metaphor for life in all its psychological and political complexity, for better and for worse.  Once this metaphor has been brought to light, it will be left to establish in the second part how the liberal arts can, in Augustine’s view, contribute to playing one’s part well in the theater of life.  Our chief focus will be On Order and the Soliloquies, the last two of the four so-called Cassiciacum dialogues, written during the autumn and winter of AD 386/387 while Augustine was preparing for baptism.  By rubbing these two sticks together,[11] we will illuminate a path towards an Augustinian understanding of the liberal arts as valuable aids for acting on the world stage.

I. Life and Theater in the Soliloquies

The Soliloquies, which consists of a direct discourse between Augustine and Reason, stands apart from its sister works in the tetralogy.  Whereas the first three Cassiciacum dialogues are written in the form of a Ciceronian dialogue, the Soliloquies, as will be shown below, is written as a kind of a theatrical play.  Augustine keeps his first-person narrative remarks to a bare minimum, thereby lending to the text a script-like quality.  He also refers to Reason as “two-faced” (bifrons), a possible allusion to the two masks that he himself is wearing in order to “perform” this dialogue before the reader (see 2.10.18).[12] Such a performance is distinctive in the philosophical and theological literature of antiquity, but it is not without precedent in the theater, which began in ancient Greece as a single actor soliloquizing on stage and only eventually became a dialogue between two or more actors.[13]  Moreover, the “performance” in the Soliloquies is redolent of Roman pantomime, which typically featured a single actor taking on more than one role with the use of different masks and sometimes with a single two-sided mask.[14]  That Augustine has essentially created a new genre by combining theatrical and philosophical convention suggests at the very least that he views theater as a useful metaphor or tool for philosophizing.[15]

This suggestion is corroborated and expanded beyond the philosophical life to all human living in an important passage that reveals the theatricality not only of the Soliloquies but of life itself.  At 2.7.14, Augustine has just expressed shame for having earlier conceded a point rashly.  Instead of simply moving on with their investigation, Reason addresses his feeling of shame with a single-paragraph response, the brevity of which is inversely proportionate to its significance.  It is this paragraph that reveals for the first time the title of the work and the reason for its distinctive method:

It’s ridiculous for you to be ashamed, as if we hadn’t chosen for this very reason the sort of discussion which, because we are speaking with ourselves alone, I want to be called and written down as The Soliloquies.  This is certainly a new name, and perhaps an unrefined one at that, but it is sufficiently suitable for indicating the gist of what we are doing.  In fact, since there is no better way of seeking the truth than by questioning and answering, and since hardly anyone can be found who isn’t ashamed of being refuted in a disputation (and for that reason it’s almost always the case that the matter under discussion, one that’s off to a good start, is booed off the stage by the rowdy hullabaloo of stubbornness; and all the while souls are being ripped apart, mostly out of sight but sometimes out in the open)—I most calmly, in my opinion, and agreeably decided to seek the truth with God’s assistance by means of being questioned by my very self and giving answers to myself.  Consequently, if at any time you have rashly tied yourself up in knots, there’s nothing to fear in returning to them and loosening them; for otherwise one could never get out of them.[16]

Gently chastising Augustine for his shame, Reason mentions two horns of a dilemma.  On the one hand, the best way for the human mind to seek the truth is dialectically and discursively, in a disputation that involves vigorous discussion with others.  On the other hand, human beings have a low threshold for making a mistake in front of each other, since the appearances they wish to maintain for the sake of good standing are compromised when a failing of theirs is exposed.  Put differently, the desire to know the highest things––things human and divine[17]––benefits from being exercised politically (that is, in community), but man’s political instinct to excel in the eyes of others means that his fear of being shamed often takes precedence over his fear of being ignorant.  We would rather be thought fools and remain silent than open our mouths and remove all doubt, even though the principal way to learn is by opening our foolish mouths and confessing our need for learning.  This fear of being exposed as a fool even turns into a hatred of the truth, as Augustine explains in the Confessions:

They love truth when it enlightens them, they hate truth when it accuses them.[18] Because they do not wish to be deceived and do wish to deceive, they love truth when it reveals itself, and hate it when it reveals them.  Thus it shall reward them as they deserve: those who do not wish to be revealed by truth, truth will unmask against their will, but it will not reveal itself to them.  Thus, thus, even thus, does the human mind, blind and inert, vile and ill-behaved, desire to keep itself concealed, yet desire that nothing should be concealed from itself.[19]

The villainous role of sinful thumos

The source of this double desire for self-concealment and self-exaltation is known in Plato’s writings as thumos, the spirited part of the soul as opposed to its appetitive and rational parts.  Augustine does not use a single Latin noun for thumos but employs different terms for it, especially in its sinful state.  In the Confessions he calls sinful thumos the lust for holding first place (libido principandi)[20] and the pride of life (ambitio saeculi);[21] in On True Religion it is the haughtiness of temporal domination (dominationis temporalis fastus);[22] and in the City of God it is famously referred to as the lust for dominating (libido dominandi).[23]  At Cassiciacum Augustine describes it as a “puerile showing-off of talent” (ingenii puerilis jactantia) and the love of victory over the love of discovering what is right and true.[24]

The effect of thumotic sin on rational inquiry is grim.  As Reason explains in the Soliloquies, even a discussion among friends that starts off auspiciously, initiated by the pure desire to know, can fall prey to egotistical derailing.  One need only think of an altercation in the third Cassiciacum dialogue (On Order) between Augustine’s two pupils as an example, where Augustine refers to their disruptive jockeying for supremacy instead of searching for knowledge as a pest “lowest in rank yet more injurious than all the others: that of toxic emulation and vain boasting” (1.10.30; emphasis added).

Significantly, it is theatrical imagery that Reason uses in the Soliloquies 2.7.14 to describe this phenomenon.  The undisciplined outcry of stubbornness “explodes” (explodat) good discussion, a word that literally means to drive someone off the stage with hissing, clapping, or booing.  Taking this metaphor to its logical conclusion, it may be said that Reason understands human living and its disordered thumotic demands as a kind of theater.  The world is a stage in which thumos in its sinful state wars against reason’s yearning to know and to exercise rational control, a control which alone can make thumos reasonable and useful.  Our personal eagerness to come off well in the drama of our lives, to be good performers adored and esteemed by our audience, overshadows our curiosity about what is on the other side of the curtain.  The desire to know reality, our only hope for escape from the theatrical house of mirrors in which our obsession with reputation places us, is booed off the stage by that very obsession.  J. Elsner has written that Roman society was a “panopticon of spectatorship,”[25] a world of seeing and of being seen in which daily life is constituted by a “sequence of performances, rehearsed or extemporaneous.”[26] True, but Reason’s broader point here is that every human society is a panopticon of spectatorship, including Elsner’s and our own.  Life’s theatricality, to offer a more contemporary similitude, is comparable to a conversation on an internet service like Skype, where the caller is not only looking at another person on the screen but at a smaller window which simultaneously shows how he or she is being perceived by the other person.[27]

One of the consequences of all this play-acting, Reason tells Augustine in the Soliloquies 2.7.14, is an irrational stubbornness.  We become attached to our opinions precisely because they are our opinions, and we resolutely defend them when they are challenged, lest we lose face.  These opinions are “undisciplined” or inconditus (crude, unformed, disordered), but that does not matter to us: if they are discredited we react furiously, like wounded animals.[28] Our souls are “ripped apart” by the correction or rejection of our opinions, Reason says, even though we are usually clever about hiding the wound “out of sight.” Our bruised thumos grows violent, either rising up and demanding vengeance “out in the open” or angrily sulking and plotting retribution for another day.  But the real casualty is not the adversary who slighted us in the first place but our own capacity for dispassionate rational inquiry.  Following Reason’s thespian metaphor, we may say that what is supposed to be a comedy, a story with a happy ending, becomes a tragedy fraught with violence committed in the dark.

The Soliloquies as therapeutic theater

Reason’s metaphor, however, also reveals something about the Soliloquies itself.  This novel mode of writing––so novel that it elicited a neologism for its title––is itself a form of theater meant to correct the destructive theatricality of life.  Soliloquizing as Augustine has defined it, then, is not so much a rejection of all theatricality but a substitution of one kind of theater for another.  Among other things, the theater of soliloquizing involves the practical suggestion to be unashamed of admitting one’s flaws and returning to any question that one has “tied up in knots” (2.7.14).  Christian humility is an effective antidote to the theatrics of humankind’s lust for playing the prima donna, although it does not dissolve one’s ties to the theater of life tout court.  Rather, it effects a reorientation of one’s acting and feeling.  Later as a bishop Augustine would recall an incident involving an extremely poor Christian usher who discovered a money bag containing almost two hundred gold coins and who, upon tracking down the owner, refused to accept even a modest finder’s fee.  When the owner, indignant that he could not show his gratitude, refused to take the money, the poor man distributed it all to the other poor, making sure that not a single coin entered his own house.  Summarizing the drama between the two men, who were each in their own way trying to be honorable, Augustine declares, theatrum mundus, spectator Deus: “the world is a theater and God is the audience.”[29] The alternative to the political theater of life is not withdrawing from the political and communal, but living the drama of one’s life as if God were the only spectator, the only critic that mattered.  Such a life would involve not only perfectly harmonizing one’s inner feelings and desires with one’s outer actions but a total conformity of both the inner and the outer man to the will of God.  As a kind of therapeutic exercise for the soul (see 1.13.23 and 2.20.34), the Soliloquies is intended to be an aid towards this new kind of acting and feeling upon the cosmic stage, a conversion and purification of thumos in the service of the reasonable and the good.[30]

II.  Theater and the Liberal Arts

At this point we may ask how the liberal arts are relevant to an Augustinian notion of life as theater.  The answer is not initially obvious.  For Augustine, the liberal arts are ineffective in taming our monstrous thumos that seems ever bent on self-projection rather than self-knowledge.  By themselves, the seven liberal disciplines are morally impotent and incapable of combating sin.[31]  Worse, they even pose a moral danger of their own insofar as their beguiling beauty can detain the soul from seeking higher things.  In the Cassiciacum dialogues, it is Augustine’s pupil Licentius who falls prey to this trap, having become obsessed with poetry (part of the art of grammar) to the detriment of his progress in philosophy;[32] and something similar can be said about Augustine himself when he was Licentius’ age.

Still, the liberal arts do at least serve as a reminder of some of the components of a moral life, such as self-restraint and harmony.  In the first dialogue Against the Academics, Augustine tells Licentius that there should be a consistency between the ordering of one’s loves and the ordering of one’s verses (2.4.10).  Years later a disappointed Augustine would write a letter to his former pupil, who was continuing to obsess in vain about his poetry, and ask him: “What is your golden tongue to me when your heart is iron?”[33]  Even when not treating of ethical issues per se, the liberal arts disclose what in the dialogues is called modus or limit, and knowing and practicing the right limit in desire or action is crucial to living life well.[34]

The seven liberal arts are also incapable of identifying the Divine Spectator by themselves, let alone augmenting our love for Him.  Although the liberal disciplines are ordered to philosophy and theology as preliminary steps to what will perfect the liberal mind, they do not, of themselves, lead to the crucial cognitional breakthrough that differentiates sensible and intelligible reality and thereby enables the mind to understand that God is spirit rather than body.[35] After years of studying the liberal arts, for instance, Augustine still remained mired in his carnal conviction that God was a sort of shiny body and he a particle broken off from it.[36]  That said, the liberal arts, when directed properly, can be a powerful means of effecting the intellectual conversion towards intelligible reality that Augustine considers to be central to the philosophical and theological life, which is why examples from the liberal arts, chiefly geometry, figure so prominently in his dialogues like the Soliloquies.[37]

Finally, the liberal arts by themselves cannot identify the true religion (not even philosophy can do that), although neither are they per se opposed to it.  In the Confessions we learn that Augustine’s liberal education facilitated his turn towards God and the Church only indirectly, helping him to recognize the logical fallacies and factual errors of Manicheanism and thereby freeing him to pursue the true.[38]

Now is not the time to disentangle Augustine’s complex attitude to the liberal arts or the ways in which his views may or may not have changed as he grew older.[39] What we can at least point out is that even the Augustine at Cassiciacum, the author who takes an ostensibly more sanguine view of the disciplines than he does later on, recognizes them as good but susceptible to abuse and insufficient on their own in successfully making a student become morally good and intellectually wise.  However, when incorporated into a broader education that is guided by an architectonic science like philosophy or theology, the seven liberal arts become less dangerous and more efficacious—or to continue with our thespian metaphor, they help the soul hone the art of playing its God-given role in life, whatever that may be.  One need only think of the impact of Cicero’s Hortensius on Augustine’s moral imagination or the books of the Platonists on his intellectual horizon to see the regal role that philosophy can play in elevating and strengthening the liberal arts.  And that role is even more spectacular when filled by theology, which through divine revelation further expands the vistas of philosophical inquiry and purifies it of any errors it may have committed; indeed, philosophy is impotent in fully finding what it seeks without God’s assistance and self-communication.[40]

Augustine does not explicitly depict the liberal arts as aids in the theater of life, but his politically-sensitive treatment of the disciplines at Cassiciacum, when held up against the backdrop of his architectonic and theatrical framework of soliloquizing, finds fresh meaning in the broad metaphor of life as a theatrical performance.  It was Boethius who was responsible for the now-common terms trivium and quadrivium for the two divisions of the liberal arts,[41] but it was Augustine who first explicitly made the division.[42] Whereas Boethius introduces the concept of a quadruvium (sic) in a technical treatise on mathematics,[43] Augustine introduces his division in a discussion on the kind of life and education one would need to have in order to be happy and wise.[44] Augustine tells his interlocutors that there are three categories of the “reasonable”: “One is in deeds directed to some end; the other is in speaking; the third is in delighting.”[45] He goes on to explain that the first category pertains to morality while the second and third refer to the liberal arts.  Specifically, the category of speaking comprises the trivium of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric, while the category of delighting comprises the quadrivium of music, numbers, geometry, and astronomy.

Although Augustine by no means reduces either the trivium or the quadrivium to the merely political, he nevertheless describes their significance vis-à-vis life in the res publica.  This is especially the case with respect to both the origin and purpose of the trivium.  The arts of speaking were drawn out “by a certain natural chain into the society of those with whom reason itself was held in common,” a claim that echoes Balbus’ depiction of speech as “enchaining” men and women into the society of justice, law, and the city in Cicero’s De natura deorum 2.59.148.  Grammar emerges from the human need to communicate one’s thoughts to others, for otherwise “there could not be a very strong association” between individuals.  And if grammar is the art of organizing language, dialectic is the art of organizing thinking and knowing; it is the pursuit and study of “the very power by which [reason] produces” arts such as grammar.[46]  Significantly, Augustine refers to this branch of the liberal disciplines as “dialectic” (dialectica) rather than “logic” (logica), a Platonic-Stoic-Ciceronian term that retains a more interpersonal connotation.  And significantly, the only other proper noun that Augustine uses in the Cassiciacum dialogues for this art of knowing is “disputation” (disputatio),[47] a term that he also associates with debate or dialogue (On Order, for instance, is called a disputatio[48]).  Finally, once reason organizes the “devices and tools” by which it can operate more profitably, there arises the political problem of communicating the truths discovered with the aid of these tools to a multitude that is not only ignorant of but often hostile to them.  Rhetoric, then, is the art of translating the advice of the wise to the generally “foolish” masses by “stirring up” their emotions in such a way that it leads them to reasonable courses of action and reasonable opinions (2.13.38).  Augustine uses a politically-charged “bread-and-circus” image of imperial agents throwing treats to plebeians as the point of comparison for reason’s dissemination of its good counsel through the somewhat “impure” power of rhetoric.[49] His assessment of rhetoric here echoes the political philosophy of Cicero, who characterizes eloquence rather than rational demonstration as the single best way to make the populace submit to justice without recourse to violence;[50] for eloquence is singularly “capable of moving the sensibility of the multitude.”[51] Indeed, Augustine identifies “teaching correctly”—that is, successfully communicating truth or goodness to at least some fellow citizens on a level that is most beneficial to them—as the goal of the entire trivium (2.12.35).

The quadrivium, on the other hand, is characterized as a decisive series of “steps” that build a “path” to the “happiest contemplation of divine things” (2.14.39), steps that lead the soul above and beyond the world of the sensible—and the political.  Music is the transition from sound per se to the numerical (that is, intelligible) underpinnings of sound (2.14.39–2.14.41); geometry is the study of number and dimension with respect to visible beauty; astronomy is the study of number and dimension with respect to heavenly bodies in motion (2.15.42); and number is the study of number alone (2.15.43).  All of these disciplines are studied as intrinsically choiceworthy and increasingly delightful, yet that does not mean they lack any practical advantage.  Astronomy, for instance, can be instrumental in exposing false religion, as when Augustine was able to draw from his knowledge of this science to reject the fables of Manichean astrology.[52]  And thoughtful reflection on the notion of unity in mathematics, Augustine opines, can lead to a better understanding of the human soul and its immortality (2.15.43–16.44).  Towards the end of On Order, Augustine praises Pythagoras for passing on “the discipline of ruling the republic” as the very last thing to be taught and only to the best of men (presumably, those who have completed a liberal education of the kind he has just finished describing), not simply to those who have completed the trivium.[53] Obviously, such praise also bespeaks the political value of all of the liberal arts in readying the soul for the weightiest responsibilities of political life, even if the proper ends of those arts are not, strictly speaking, political.

Augustine’s larger point in book two of On Order, then, is not to establish a sharp dichotomy between the trivium and quadrivium in which the former is politically useful and nothing more and the latter is politically useless (in the Aristotelian sense of the word) and nothing less.  Rather—to translate these remarkable passages into the language of the theater—Augustine appears to be saying that while the trivium is primarily although not exclusively beneficial in learning how to deliver one’s lines, the quadrivium is primarily although not exclusively useful for knowing what lies beyond the stage or the play itself.  While the trivium, among other things, equips men and women with tools to be political in the best and highest sense of that word, the quadrivium, among other things, teaches them to reach beyond the polis for their ultimate guidance and fulfillment—a reach that, paradoxically, makes them better actors in both senses of the word.  Put differently, the liberal arts can be useful in cultivating both the political and the trans-political aspects of human nature as it struts and frets its appointed hour before the final curtain call.  In the words of the Irish dramatist Seán O’Casey, “All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed.” The liberal arts, grounded in and guided by both moral and religious excellence,[54] can help remedy this ill-preparedness.

Augustine, of course, uses mildly political rather than overtly theatrical terminology for the liberal arts in the Cassiciacum corpus, but it is telling that the theatrical terminology of the Soliloquies has (as we have already seen) political overtones, and thus there is a possible interplay between liberal education, political life, and theater.  Further, by being the last of the Cassiciacum dialogues, the Soliloquies invites us to reconsider what we have learned from the earlier works in light of the paradigm now being disclosed to us.  There is even an internal progression that points to such a hermeneutic.  In On Order Augustine is the dominating Socratic figure who speaks on behalf of reason’s activities; it is he, not Reason himself, who explains how Reason fashioned each of the disciplines, and it is he who concludes this explanation with an imaginary monologue by a personalized Soul, thereby anticipating the role of a personalized Reason.[55] In the sequel that is the Soliloquies, Augustine now assumes a subordinate role while Reason, speaking in his own and more authoritative voice, discloses the theatrical model of soliloquizing by which the various strands of the earlier dialogues may be more fruitfully revisited and reviewed.


In On Order, after Augustine has finished his discourse on morality, the liberal arts, and the worship of God, his friend Alypius erupts into praise:

You have truly brought it about . . . that we not only have no doubt about the memory of the most learned and great men (which, on account of the magnitude of their deeds, sometimes seemed incredible), but we can even swear on it if necessary.  For what is it that you have disclosed to us today, almost before our very eyes? . . .  You have pointed out the rules of life and not so much the paths of knowledge as its broad field and limpid seas, as well as where the very sanctuaries of truth are.

Like Firminus and Marius Victorinus, whom Augustine praises for using their liberal education to glorify God,[56] Augustine himself vigorously put his own education in the service of his Catholic faith, despoiling as much pagan wisdom as he could[57] and conducting himself on the global stage with an eye to his heavenly audience and destination.  Although such acting is more conspicuous during his tenure as the bishop of Hippo, it was apparently evident, if we are to attach any weight to Alypius’ kind words, in a nascent form even when he was a catechumen.  One of the greatest examples of a Christian use of the liberal arts in the theater of life before this great globe dissolves at the end of time may therefore be the very life and writings of Augustine.

[1] Aristotle, On Poetics, trans. Seth Benardete and Michael Davis (South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press, 2002).

[2] Ibid., xvii-xviii.

[3] Ibid., xiii.

[4] Edmund Morris, “Five myths about Ronald Reagan,” Washington Post, 4 February 2011, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/04/AR201102…, retrieved 10 May 2012.

[5] Barbara Leaming, Orson Welles: A Biography (New York: Viking Press, 1985), 293.

[6] Life of Augustus 99.

[7] Donnalee Dox, The Idea of the Theater in Latin Christian Thought: Augustine to the Fourteenth Century (University of Michigan Press, 2004), 12.

[8] Jonas Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), 54-55.

[9] Barish, 60.

[10] “Staging the Incarnation: Revisioning Augustine’s Critique of Theatre,” Literature and Theology 15:2 (June 2001), 123-39.

[11] This image is borrowed from Plato, Republic 434e.

[12] In addition to the section in this essay on the Soliloquies as Therapeutic Theater, see Michael P. Foley, “The Theatrical Meaning of the Soliloquies,” Journal of Early Christian Studies (summer 2014), forthcoming.

[13] See Paul Kuritz, The Making of Theatre History (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall
1988), 24.

[14] Augustine’s familiarity with the conventions of pantomime are evident in On Order 2.11.34.  For more on pantomime, see “Pantomimus,” in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd ed., eds. N.G.L. Hammond and H.H. Scullard (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 776-777; “Pantomimus,” in Oskar Seyffert, Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, eds. Henry Nettleship and J.E. Sandys (New York: Meridian, 1957), 457.  For the use of a two-sided mask, examples of which have been found in the ruins of Pompeii, see Quintilian, Institutes 11.3.74; Pollux, Onomasticon 4.144.  A significant difference, of course, between the “pantomime” of the Soliloquies and the pantomime of the Roman stage is that the latter was a ballet-like dance where the meaning was communicated visually.

[15] “Philosophizing” (philosophari) is a word that Augustine uses to denote the central activity being recorded in the Cassiciacum dialogues (Against the Academics 2.3.8).

[16] All translations of the Latin texts of Augustine are, with the exception of a citation of Frank Sheed’s translation of the Confessions, mine.

[17] See Against the Academics 1.6.16.

[18] See Jn. 3:20.

[19] Confessions 10.23.34, trans. F.J. Sheed, ed. Michael P. Foley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2005).

[20] Confessions 3.8.16.

[21] Confessions 10.30.41.

[22] On True Religion 38.71.

[23] City of God 1.30.

[24] See Against the Academics 1.3.8.

[25] Jas’ Elsner, “Caught in the Ocular: Visualizing Narcissus in the Roman World,” in Echoes of Narcissus, ed. Lieve Spaas (NY: Berghahn Books, 2000), 105.

[26] Rabun Taylor, The Moral Mirror of Roman Art (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 20.

[27] See Patrick Downey, Desperately Wicked: Philosophy, Christianity, and the Human Heart (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 74-89.

[28] See Academica 2.3.8, where Cicero mentions people defending their own position rather than inquiring into the truth.

[29] Sermon 178.8.  Since this incident occurred when he was still living in Milan, it may have still been a fresh memory when he penned the Soliloquies.  The theatrum to which Augustine refers is likely that of a gladiator game or chariot race, but it still contains the notion of a performance made for the sake of others.

[30] For a fuller treatment of the Soliloquies’ theatrical character, see Foley, “Theatrical Meaning.”

[31] See Confessions 4.16.30.

[32] See Against the Academics 2.3.7; On Order 1.2.5.

[33] Epistle 26.4.  See also Seneca: “You teach me how the treble and bass are in accord with each other and how a harmony is produced form the different notes of the strings.  Instead, make it so that my soul is in harmony with itself, and let not my plans be out of tune.  You show me what the sorrowful keys are.  Instead, show me how to refrain from making a sorrowful sound in the midst of adversity” (Epistle 88.9).

[34] See On the Happy Life 2.8 and 4.31-32 for a discussion on limit and the surprisingly “fruitful” virtue of frugality.

[35] For this cognitional breakthrough, see Confessions 7.10.16-17.23.

[36] Confessions 4.16.31.

[37] See 1.4.9-5.11, 1.8.15, 2.19.33, 2.20.35.

[38] See Confessions 6.5.7.

[39] For a survey of this topic, see Augustine and the Disciplines: From Cassiciacum to Confessions, eds. Karla Pollman and Mark Vessey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Ryan N.S. Topping, Happiness and Wisdom: Augustine’s Early Theology of Education (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2012.)

[40] See Confessions 7.21.27.

[41] Henri-Irénée Marrou, “Les Arts Libéraux dans l’Antiquité Classique”, in Arts Libéraux et Philosophie au Moyen Âge, Actes du Quatrième Congrès International de Philosophie Médiévale

(Paris: Vrin, 1969), 18-19.

[42] Ilsetraut Hadot, Arts liberaux et philosophie dans la pensée antique (Paris, 1984), 101.

[43] De institutione arithmetica 1.1.

[44] For the purpose of the discourse in which Augustine’s schema of the liberal arts occur, see On Order 2.8.25.

[45] On Order 2.12.35.

[46] On Order 2.13.38.

[47] For dialectic as “the disputatious art,” see Soliloquies 2.11.19, 2.11.21, 2.14.25, 2.15.27, 2.18.32, 2.19.33, and On Order 2.18.47.

[48] On Order 2.20.54.  See also On Order 1.2.5, 1.3.9, 1.7.20, 1.8.25, 1.9.27, 1.11.31, 2.1.1, 2.2.7, 2.3.8, 2.5.14, 2.9.27, 2.10.29, and 2.16.44.

[49] “The part of itself [reason] filled with more need than purity that would do this, its lap heaped high with treats that it would scatter to the people so that they would deign to be led for their own good, it called ‘rhetoric’” (On Order 2.13.38).

[50] See On Rhetorical Invention 1.2.3.

[51] On Oratorical Classification 23.79.

[52] See Confessions 5.3.3-6.

[53] On Order 2.20.54.

[54] See Augustine’s description of the “order of living”—which involves a life of virtue, good friends, and a worshipful faith, hope, and love of the true God—as a crucial part of the happy life and a complement to the “order of education” in On Order 2.8.25 and 2.20.52.

[55] On Order 2.18.48-19.50.

[56] Confessions 7.6.8 and 8.2.3, respectively.

[57] See On Christian Doctrine 2.40.60.