Cicero: Military commands, phantom of glory and the ruin of one’s own country and personal downfall
From Tusculan Disputations
Translated by J.E. King
The seeds of virtue are inborn in our dispositions and, if they were allowed to ripen, nature’s own hand would lead us on to happiness of life; as things are now, however, as soon as we come into the light of day and have been acknowledged, we at once find ourselves in a world of iniquity amid a medley of wrong beliefs…[T]hen obviously we are tainted by vicious beliefs, and our revolt from nature is so complete that we come to think that the clearest insight into the meaning of nature has been gained by the men who have made up their minds that there is no higher ambition for a human being, nothing more desirable, nothing more excellent than civil office, military command and popular glory; it is to this that all are attracted, and in their quest for the honour which alone is the object of nature’s eager search, they find themselves where all is vanity, and strain to win no lofty image of virtue, but a shadowy phantom of glory. For true glory is a thing of real substance and clearly wrought, no shadowy phantom: it is the agreed approval of good men, the unbiassed verdict of judges deciding honestly the question of pre-eminent merit; it gives back to virtue the echo of her voice; and as it generally attends upon duties rightly performed it is not to be disdained by good men. The other kind of glory, however, which claims to be a copy of the true, is headstrong and thoughtless and generally lends its support to faults and errors; it is public reputation, and by a counterfeit mars the fair beauty of true honour. By this illusion human beings, in spite of some noble ambitions, are blinded and, as they do not know where to look or what to find, some of them bring about the utter ruin of their country and others their own downfall…
[T]his combative irascibility of yours, when it has got back home, what is it like with wife, with children, with household? Or do you think it useful there as in battle?
O philosophy, thou guide of life, o thou explorer of virtue and expeller of vice! without thee what would have become not only of me but of the life of man altogether? Thou hast given birth to cities, thou hast called scattered human beings into the bond of social life, thou has united them first of all in joint habitations, next in wedlock, then in the ties of common literature and speech, thou hast discovered law, thou hast been the teacher of morality and order: to thee I fly for refuge, from thee I look for aid, to thee I entrust myself, at once in ample measure, so now wholly and entirely. Moreover one day well spent with and in accordance with thy lessons is to be preferred to an eternity of error. Whose help then are we to use rather than thine? thou that hast freely granted us peacefulness of life and destroyed the dread of death.