Although many may despise Cicero’s high style, I find it really rewarding most of the time. His ample and refined prose but also his tendency to (a balanced!) magnificence reach their peak when they describe the “chief systems”, like life in an associated community or, as here, the beauty and greatness of the universe and the certain existence of God. We can here appreciate his expertise in the use of rhetorical questions and of alternatives or additions in the questions themselves.
Tum Lucilius “Ne egere quidem videtur” inquit “oratione prima pars. Quid enim potest esse tam apertum tamque perspicuum, cum caelum suspeximus caelestiaque contemplati sumus, quam esse aliquod numen praestantissimae mentis quo haec regantur? Quod ni ita esset, qui potuisset adsensu omnium dicere Ennius:
Aspice hoc sublime candens, quem invocant omnes Iovem,
illum vero et Iovem et dominatorem rerum et omnia nutu regentem et, ut idem Ennius,
patrem divumque hominumque,
et praesentem ac praepotentem deum? Quod qui dubitet, haud sane intellego cur non idem sol sit an nullus sit dubitare possit; qui enim est hoc illo evidentius? Quod nisi cognitum conprehensumque animis haberemus, non tam stabilis opinio permaneret nec confirmaretur diuturnitate temporis nec una cum saeclis aetatibusque hominum inveterare potuisset. Etenim videmus ceteras opiniones fictas atque vanas diuturnitate extabuisse. Quis enim Hippocentaurum fuisse aut Chimaeram putat, quaeve anus tam excors inveniri potest quae illa quae quondam credebantur apud inferos portenta extimescat? Opinionis enim commenta delet dies, naturae iudicia confirmat.
“The first point,” resumed Lucilius, “seems not even to require arguing. For when we gaze upward to the sky and contemplate the heavenly bodies, what can be so obvious and so manifest as that there must exist some power possessing transcendent intelligence by whom these things are ruled? Were it not so, how comes it that the words of Ennius carry conviction to all readers –
Behold this dazzling vault of heaven, which all mankind as Jove invoke,
Ay, and not only as Jove but as sovereign of the world, ruling all things with his nod, and as Ennius likewise says –
father of gods and men,
a deity omnipresent and omnipotent? If a man doubts this, I really cannot see why he should not also be capable of doubting the existence of the sun; how is the latter fact more evident than the former? Nothing but the presence in our minds of a firmly grasped concept of the deity could account for the stability and permanence of our belief in him, a belief which is only strengthened by the passage of the ages and grows more deeply rooted with each successive generation of mankind. In every other case we see that fictitious and unfounded opinions have dwindled away with lapse of time. Who believes that the Hippocentaur or the Chimaera ever existed? Where can you find an old wife senseless enough to be afraid of the monsters of the lower world that were once believed in? The years obliterate the inventions of the imagination, but confirm the judgements of nature.”
Chosen by Emanuele Pezzani, Current PhD student (both BA and MA in Greek Philology, University of Pisa). Emanuele’s recommended translation is by H. Rackham.