In this paper, I demonstrate that in the Paradoxa Stoicorum, Cicero presents primary concepts of his philosophical corpus in miniature, and by construing his speech in a minute, Stoic manner, causes these philosophical ideals to resonate in Rome’s past, present, and future. By adopting the short, staccato language characteristic of Stoic argument, Cicero contracts his usual, exploratory dialectic into quick pinpricks (puncta: PS 2) of speech. This results in a sense of urgency and power through fewer words, and allows Cicero to express his philosophical ideals within the context of the rapid-fire exempla of positive historical figures. The Paradoxa Stoicorum becomes a complex microcosm of Cicero’s interpretation of Roman history and philosophy.
The Stoic paradoxes themselves are controversial, but Cicero uses them to express his own philosophical agenda and alludes to his own future and past philosophical works (Ronnick). I focus first on the introduction to the Paradoxa Stoicorum, in which Cicero provides the reasons for his present undertaking to his dedicatee, Brutus. Barbara Wallach has rightly postulated that one of Cicero’s goals in writing the Paradoxa Stoicorum is to prove that concepts of Stoic rhetoric are worthy of the consideration and use of the Roman orator. Cicero certainly shows the efficacy of this type of speaking in his paradoxes, but one of the pronounced effects of speaking in a Stoic manner is miniaturization: everything in his speech contracts, and although the sentences themselves are simple and short, their connection to one another becomes more intricate. Using Susan Stewart’s conception of the miniature as a guide, I show how Cicero immediately emphasizes the smallness of his work as a whole and explore the effect of this on the reader. Miniaturization carries the implications of complexity and dedicated craftsmanship. Although Cicero presents a type of recusatio at the end of his introduction, protesting the insignificance of his experiment, he simultaneously imbues the paradoxes with authority through associations with Cato the Younger, the Brutus, and Phidias’ statue of Athena. This last comparison is telling: he encourages Brutus not to conceptualize the Paradoxa Stoicorum as Phidias’ great statue of Athena, but to consider it as something from the same workshop (PS 5). This allows the reader to imagine a work on a diminutive scale, but at the same level of artistry. This work is small and experimental, yet significant, with the potential for complex feats of creative genius.
This complexity becomes clear in Cicero’s use of historical exempla, a strategy he employs in most of the paradoxes. The mastery of oratorical figures that Cicero displays in the Paradoxa is well attested (see Ronnick and Wallach). The use of exempla is also common in Cicero’s oratory. However, the Paradoxa display another dimension of using these venerable Romans to instruct a listener. In the first paradox, entitled quod honestum sit, id solum bonum esse, Cicero chooses to illustrate the relevance of this concept not with just one example, but with a list of bygone heroes throughout history. This catalogue of virtuous Romans, embedded in increasingly rapid rhetorical questions, enables Cicero to situate his philosophical ideas within the entirety of Roman history. The vastness of time from Rome’s foundation and the greatness of the heroes who established the city’s virtue are neatly contained in two paragraphs. With this strategy, Cicero utilizes the power associated with the names of heroes to inject his basic philosophical concepts with consequence. These allusions to the past highlight his concern for the present, which makes his later criticism of Clodius, a threat to Rome’s future, all the more resonant.
In his experimental use of the Stoic style of oratory, Cicero is able to illuminate complicated philosophical concepts in a short but elegant work. By situating his ideas in the span of Roman history, he increases their relevance and authority, and makes his shortest philosophical text representative of his conception of Roman history and philosophy.
- Stewart, Susan, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, (Durham and London, 1993).
- Ronnick, Michele V., Cicero’s Paradoxa Stoicorum, (Frankfurt am Main, 1991).
- Wallach, Barbara Price, “Rhetoric and Paradox: Cicero, Paradoxa Stoicorum IV,” Hermes 118.2 (1990) 171-183.