This review refers to the work, -Cicero: On the Good
Life-, translated and with introductions by Michael
Grant (Penguin Classics).
What is to like about this collection of sections
of essays by Cicero? I personally favor very much
the excellent introductions by Michael Grant, as well
as the excellent thought and expression by Cicero.
Be aware that this volume contains parts of whole
works. The parts themselves are complete, but if one
is looking for the whole work, then one should look
to the Harvard/Loeb editions of Cicero. Michael
Grant has piloted several Penguin Classics volumes
of Cicero parts, so one will have to purchase several
volumes in order to get the benefit of Mr. Grant's
insights and translations.
But those introductions, the main "Introduction" to
this volume itself, as well as the "introductions"
to each of the selections are excellent. Michael
Grant not only gives you the historical and cultural
context for Cicero himself, but he also in the main
"Introduction" (as he does in other volumes he
superintends) gives you the historical and cultural
influence which follows after Cicero, the influence
of his works on later generations. In this particular
volume, Mr. Grant says that he starts first with
"indicating how important [these works] still are
for us today." "For Cicero, through these treatises,
has been the greatest of all conservers and trans-
mitters of cultural values, the greatest unifying
force of Europe, the shaper of its civilized speech."
That is tall praise indeed. And, when he gets
to the historical influence itself, Mr. Grant is
no less emphatic. "One of the very strongest forces
contributing to the ideals of the Italian Renaissance,
and thus to the whole intellectual, scientific, and
social development of western Europe, was Cicero's
thought as interpreted by Petrarch (d. 1374)."
So, if you have ever scratched your head, and/or
your mind, and/or your soul, and wondered just
what DOES constitute the good, moral, worthy,
excellent life, then Cicero is an invaluable
companion to help you quest in search for an
answer to that most important of quandaries.
Although "On the Good Life" is a hodgepodge of Cicero's essays, there are a few reasons why this book is a must buy. First, these are Cicero's words, some of the best writing to come from ancient Rome. Second, the essays are a great introduction to Cicero's immense collection of essays, speeches, and letters. His literary productive output was vast. Finally, Michael Grant's translation and introduction is of the highest quality.
A lot can be said about the selection of the essays - why would Michael Grant pick a Book Five (Discussions at Tusculum) and a Book Two (On Duties) instead of a complete collection of each? Where's the rest of these works? Frankly, it didn't matter to me. Once I began reading "On the Good Life" I was hooked. This book converted me into a lifelong Cicero fan and Grant's translations (through Penguin Classics) are my primary sources for his works. I have five Cicero books from Penguin Classics so far.
My favorite essay was "On Friendship." I would recommend it to anyone. It is wise, philosophical, and applicable to everyone even today. The rest of the essays were also fantastic with the exception - my opinion only - of "On the Orator." That I could have done without. It was a little too long and way too dry. I wish Michael Grant had squeezed in some other essay of Cicero's.
There are more comprehensive translations of Cicero but "On the Good Life" is a wise choice as a Cicero starter. If you enjoy classic literature and you haven't read Cicero, start here.