Plato’s laws and Cicero’s De Legibus

Julia Annas

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

13 Scopus citations


As Cicero tells us, Plato's Laws is the literary model for his own work de Legibus, as is his Republic for Cicero's de Re Publica. In the case of the de Legibus, how much is the influence merely a literary one? At de Legibus 2.16-17 Cicero remarks that he has made what Plato calls a prooemium or prelude to the laws, and Quintus responds: I am very pleased that you are concerned with different issues and different ideas from Plato's. What you said earlier was quite unlike his approach, and the same is true of this introduction about the gods. As far as I can see, the only thing you imitate is his literary style. Cicero's reply appears to concede this point: Wish to imitate, perhaps. For no one is, or ever will be, able to imitate that. It is very easy to render the ideas; I would do that if I were not determined to be myself. Does Cicero the writer go along with Quintus here? In what we have of the dialogue Quintus often takes the position that Cicero the character argues against, and here Cicero the character concedes only that he is taking his own line and not merely translating Plato. Indeed Cicero the character opens Book 3 by saying, Well, then, I’ll follow, as I have from the start, the lead of that inspired man whom I praise more often, perhaps, than is necessary, because I regard him with something like veneration. (My italics.) Quintus is mistaken here, in fact, as I hope to show Major differences between Laws and de Legibus are obvious enough. To mention just three: Plato's lawgivers envisage themselves as setting up a new city which will need new legislation, while Cicero sees himself as returning to a purified version of an older legal system; Cicero is more concerned than Plato about proper forms of religious cult, sharing none of his punitive anxiety about ‘heretical’ theological beliefs; and while both see law as objective and as the form accessible to humans of divine reason in the cosmos, Cicero's account of this is Stoic rather than Platonic. Cicero is certainly trying to ‘be himself’ rather than to reproduce Plato.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAristotle, Plato and Pythagoreanism in the First Century BC
Subtitle of host publicationNew Directions for Philosophy
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781139096713
ISBN (Print)9781107020115
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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