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Marcus Tullius Cicero was born on January 3, 106 BC and was murdered on December 7, 43 BC. His life coincided with the decline and fall of the Roman Republic, and he was an important contributor in many of the significant political events of his time. His writings are a valuable source of information about those events.

Cicero was, among other things, an orator, lawyer, politician, and philosopher. Making sense of his writings and understanding his philosophy requires us to keep that in mind. He placed politics above philosophical study; the latter was valuable in its own right but was even more valuable as the means to more effective political action. The only periods of his life in which he wrote philosophical works were the times he was forcibly prevented from taking part in politics.

His writings give us a rich collection of wisdom and insight derived from a time when an affluent society was overcome with moral decay.

“Be sure that it is not you that is mortal, but only your body. For that man whom your outward form reveals is not yourself; the spirit is the true self, not that physical figure which and be pointed out by your finger.”

“If you aspire to the highest place, it is no disgrace to stop at the second, or even the third, place.”

“Natural ability without education has more often attained to glory and virtue than education without natural ability.”

“Never go to excess, but let moderation be your guide.”

“Cultivation to the mind is as necessary as food to the body.”

“When you wish to instruct, be brief; that men’s minds take in quickly what you say, learn its lesson, and retain it faithfully. Every word that is unnecessary only pours over the side of a brimming mind.”

“Every man can tell how many goats or sheep he possesses, but not how many friends.”

“The budget should be balanced. Public debt should be reduced. The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered, and assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome become bankrupt.”

“Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.”

“Where is there dignity unless there is honesty?”

“The function of wisdom is to discriminate between good and evil.”

“If we are not ashamed to think it, we should not be ashamed to say it.”

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”

“No one can give you better advice than yourself.”

“If you pursue good with labor, the labor passes away but the good remains; if you pursue evil with pleasure, the pleasure passes away and the evil remains.”

“While there’s life, there’s hope.”

“The higher we are placed, the more humbly we should walk.”

“That last day does not bring extinction to us, but change of place.”

“In a disordered mind, as in a disordered body, soundness of health is impossible.”

“A friend is, as it were, a second self.”

“The shifts of Fortune test the reliability of friends.”

“In honorable dealing you should consider what you intended, not what you said or thought.”

“Let the punishment match the offense.”

“It is foolish to tear one’s hair in grief, as though sorrow would be made less by baldness.”

“Friendship make prosperity more shining and lessens adversity by dividing and sharing it.”

“Let us not listen to those who think we ought to be angry with our enemies, and who believe this to be great and manly. Nothing is so praiseworthy, nothing so clearly shows a great and noble soul, as clemency and readiness to forgive.”

“History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.”

“The beginnings of all things are small.”