Cicero Latinised philosophy
Cicero pioneered the writing of philosophy in Latin rather than Greek:
In the Tusculans, the Academica, De Officiis,
De Divinatione, and De Finibus Cicero promoted Latin, in terms very like those of
modern linguistic nationalism, as a medium for intellectual discourse at the expense
of Greek, and exhorted his readers to follow him in transferring philosophy from
Greece to Rome. To choose to write philosophy at this time in Latin instead of Greek
was, as Cicero put it, a practical means of increasing Rome's intellectual prestige, a
campaign in which he invited his readers to enlist. But to whom was this appeal
directed? Who, to Cicero's mind at least, would have been useful in achieving this
political goal? From evidence in Cicero's letters to Atticus, we can largely retrace how
he disseminated these philosophical books, reconstruct to some degree their original
readers, and, most importantly, deduce the grounds on which Cicero selected them.
Cicero's choice of audience, and the manner in which he assembled it, throws an
interesting light both on his agenda in promoting Latin as a philosophical language
as well as on the Roman culture of publication.
Before we look at the means by which Cicero's books were disseminated, we must
look first, very briefly, at the linguistic politics of the Roman intellectual world in the
first century B.C., and review what Cicero thought he was achieving by writing philo-
sophy in Latin. Cicero pioneered the use of Latin prose as a vehicle for philosophy,
permanently expanding its supply of abstract vocabulary in the process. His own
linguistic facility permanently extended the expressive capacities of Latin, leaving it a
more supple, and more prestigious, medium of thought. Such is the point of an
elegantly turned compliment, preserved for us by Pliny the Elder, to Cicero from
Caesar himself: 'You have earned a laurel greater than that of any triumph, insofar as
it is greater to have extended the boundaries of the Roman mind than those of Roman power.'
(T. Murphy, 'Cicero's First Readers: Epistolary Evidence for the Dissemination of His Works', The Classical Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 2 (1998), pp. 492-505: 492-3.)
The whole credit for Latin's subsequent status as the main means of philosophical exposition, discussion, and debate can hardly be awarded to Cicero but he played a major role in Latin's later status as the lingua franca of philosophy in Western Europe.