Even the Stoics Can’t Prove Their Own Doctrines

Cicero, Paradoxa Stoicorum. §2-4

“Cato – in my opinion the perfect Stoic – believes those things which hardly receive popular approval, and is part of that school of thought which makes no effort to cultivate the flower of oratory and avoids drawing out an argument, but rather achieves its end by using little, pointed syllogisms. But there is nothing so hard to believe that it cannot be rendered probable by speaking; nothing so horrible, so tasteless, which would not shine and even be ennobled by a bit of oratory. Since this is my belief, I have acted even more boldly than Cato, of whom I speak. While Cato – in that peculiarly Stoic way – spurned oratorical ornamentation when speaking even of the greatness of the soul, on self-control, on death, on every praise of virtue, on the immortal gods, on the dearness of the fatherland, I have playfully rendered all of these doctrines into commonplaces, though the Stoics can barely prove them in their schools.

Because their doctrines are rather wondrous, and certainly contrary to universal belief (they are even called paradoxes by the Stoics themselves), I wanted to try to see whether they might be brought out into the light (that is, into the forum) and, so to speak, to see whether they might be proven, or whether school speech differs fundamentally from popular speech. I was all the more pleased in writing these out, because the beliefs which they call paradoxes seemed to me to be Socratic, and by far the most true.”

Related image

Johann Michael Rottmayr, The Suicide of Cato. (1692)

Cato autem, perfectus mea sententia Stoicus, et ea sentit, quae non sane probantur in volgus, et in ea est haeresi, quae nullum sequitur florem orationis neque dilatat argumentum, minutis interrogatiunculis quasi punctis, quod proposuit, efficit. Sed nihil est tam incredibile, quod non dicendo fiat probabile, nihil tam horridum, tam incultum, quod non splendescat oratione et tamquam excolatur. Quod cum ita putarem, feci etiam audacius quam ille ipse, de quo loquor. Cato enim dumtaxat de magnitudine animi, de continentia, de morte, de omni laude virtutis, de dis inmortalibus, de caritate patriae Stoice solet oratoriis ornamentis adhibitis dicere, ego tibi illa ipsa, quae vix in gymnasiis et in otio Stoici probant, ludens conieci in communes locos. Quae quia sunt admirabilia contraque opinionem omnium [ab ipsis etiam paradoxa appellantur], temptare volui possentne proferri in lucem [id est in forum], et ita dici, ut probarentur, an alia quaedam esset erudita, alia popularis oratio, eoque hos locos scripsi libentius, quod mihi ista paradoxa quae appellant maxime videntur esse Socratica longeque verissima.

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