25 Life Lessons from Cicero on Living Well
Cicero (106BC — 43BC) was one of Ancient Rome’s most famous orators. He was also a statesman, lawyer, and philosopher who preceded the likes of Seneca, Epictetus, and Epicurus. His life came to an untimely end, beheaded without a whimper at the behest of Mark Antony.
Nonetheless, Cicero left us with wisdom for the ages — wisdom that I found myself resigning into recently when I read his On Living and Dying Well.
Below are 25 key takeaways from the book which, whilst presented mostly as one-liners, say enough to intuit significance and meaning from.
- Ensure harmony in all of your actions.
- Impulse should obey reason.
- Avoid wrongdoing.
- Live in accordance with your nature (SG: as opposed to general nature, which is what the Stoics urge).
- Overconfidence calls for training in reason.
- Be like Filip II, not Alexander the Great.
- Be modest, and seek balance in all things.
- Don’t be afraid to say what you think, just because it might make you unpopular (SG: something of vital importance in the current age of cancel culture)
- Use mild cures for mild ailments, and risky ones for major ailments.
- Renouncing office, if you are capable to hold office, is just fear of inconvenience and hard work (SG: to hide away from the work, if we are capable, is to do the world a disservice).
- Rid yourself of emotional disturbance.
- Great souls disregard externals and undertake useful projects.
- Knowledge without justice is cunning.
- Dangerous acts inspired by greed are brazen.
- Be consistent and truthful in your declarations (SG: I am not sure about this, as I prefer to hold strong opinions weakly, and change my mind upon the receipt of new disconfirming evidence).
- Seek knowledge.
- Apply talent where useful.
- Seek justice and generosity.
- Exercise caution in choosing people, as you would when procuring things (SG: Cicero says that we are careful when procuring things, but not people — Seneca said something similar about being careful with our money but not time).
- If we avoid worry we avoid virtue (SG: echoes of #10).
- Love of money is the greatest threat to friendship.
- We see integrity and virtue in people similar to ourselves.
- We live as briefly as little creatures when compared with the timeline of eternity (SG: meditate on the shortness of life to inspire you to action, and regulate your emotions).
- Whatever is born perishes.
- Stick to the skill you know.