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Latin Tuesday, and Cicero comes calling, or knocking, whatever your favorite metaphor is. Although, it is interesting that ‘one comes knocking,’ for the action of knocking implies that one is not coming, but standing still, at door or another obstacle, seeking entrance. Hence, to come knocking is a factual impossibility. Oh well, on to Latin.

Prima enim sequentem honestum est in secundis tertiisque consistere.
Anyone following [after] the first thing (place) is an honest man to be unaffected in second and third.
Toda persona persiguiendo el primer puesto es honesta al no ser afectada por la segundo o tercero.

I found this quotation today, by Cicero. It was striking to me, because a Roman was claiming that while aiming for the Sun it was okay to end up at the moon or the top of a mountain. I thought, well, how strange that was. Of course, I went looking for the original. My source stated (a rare thing these days) that Cicero had written this statement in his Ad M. Brutus. I have never read the work, so who knows, right? I had some issues finding the work online, but I finally came across Paradoxa Stoicorum ad M. Brutum. I had to laugh. Cicero was demonstrating the paradoxes of stoicism to his buddy M. Brutus (yep, the guy who participated in the assassination of Julius Caesar). In his introduction to the work, Cicero is demonstrating a major flaw of Stoicism. If we are to be content with what we obtain, he argues, then those aiming for the first position are honest men if they remain the same when not achieving it, ending second or third, and are unmoved by their failure to sadness or discontent. According to the stoics, one should stand strong despite the fate handed them by Fortune. This, argued Cicero, could be detrimental to Romans, because if one is to be content with what one is given (passive tense – a big no-no for the doer culture of Rome) then why should one try to do anything at all? This is the argument Cicero argues against in the fifty-three sections after his introduction. Whoops, we made something sempiternal when it was not meant to be.

The exact phrasing of the quotation does not exist in the work (there may be another work for Brutus out there I am not aware of), but it is fascinating that we would take such a concept and epitomize it in our time. What does that say about our culture? Are we settling for second or third place and, therefore, saying to ourselves that it is okay to fail in order to protect our sensitivities from the harsh realities of this world? I think so. Failure is a hard thing, it is a common thing as well. We will fail in life, that much is clear. I think stoicism sought to protect people by telling them that circumstances are what they are, and there is nothing we can do about that. However, what Cicero is missing is that the Stoic understood that. Stoicism wasn’t about the okayness of failing, it was about the persistent need to try. The stoics understood that failure was part of life, and yet they kept at it, because multiple failures would eventually lead to success.

I think Cicero, here (I can’t believe I am about to say this), falls victim to the age-old argument that if someone is okay after a major catastrophe in his or her life, then they must not care. Wrong. Couldn’t be more wrong.  Of course, I would have to read the rest of the work to find out if Cicero is actually right or wrong, but it is common in our day to minimize the grief or pain of others because they don’t seem to be suffering. We have lost the capability to emphasize, and in sympathizing, we do so only after the person has crumbled. A sad time for humanity indeed.

No. Pain can be internalized, suffering can be dealt with, that does not mean we have given up, settled, or surrendered; or that we feel nothing, for that matter. Poor Cicero here, victim to paraphrasing, seems to oppose the view that settling is a good thing. He, in fact, argues the opposite. Settling = Bad. Further, if the Stoics believe it, he says, they are wrong. Cicero’s conclusion is far more telling than his introduction if we are trying to divine the exactness of his meaning:

Soli enim possident res et fructuosas et sempiternas solique, quod est proprium divitiarum, contenti sunt rebus suis.
Only those men (who are rich – said int he previous sentence) are able to enjoy the things both fruitful and long-lasting (sempiternal), which are property of wealth, they are to be made content by their own things.

Those who seek, find. Only those who find are made content by the things they reap. In the end, it is the doing that matters – phew! I thought I would have to delete some posts. In this way, not only the rich can be considered rich, but also the poor who, if they have sought and found happiness in their position, can be considered rich (sed etiam inopes ac pauperes existinandi sunt). So do, reader; if you fail, keep doing. Never give in. Time will compensate you for your actions, the world is an extremely fair place, so is time and nature. Only if you feel satiated by the filling but not fulfilling second place of life will you fall victim to failure. Fail we will, but only in failing to learn from failure and settling do we truly become failures ourselves.

Valete!

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