Are the Romans Better Than the Greeks in Philosophy?

The 1590 Wechel edition of the works of Cicero.

Are the Romans better than the Greeks in Philosophy?

By Hanzhao Kuang


In a 2012 survey, Philosophy Now asked seventy-five academics to vote on the five most important/interesting philosophers from history. Among respondents, many Greek thinkers were popular choices: Aristotle came in first with forty-four votes and Plato ranked third with thirty-one votes. But Roman philosophers came short: Cicero, a famous Roman philosopher, received merely two votes, drawing with Epicurus. Cicero would not have approved of the survey results, especially the ranking of Greek philosophy over Roman philosophy. This article will provide a translation of the opening of Tusculanae Disputationes to demonstrate Cicero’s point of view.


Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes, 1.1

Although I was freed either wholly or in a great part from the labor of defense and the office of the senate at some point, I have brought myself back, Brutus, since you urge me with the greatest extent toward these pursuits (which are held in spirit, neglected by time, interrupted by a long period), I have called back, and since the reasoning and the teaching of all skills, which relate to the righteous path of living, are held together by the study of wisdom, which is called philosophy. I have thought that this thing is made clear for me by Latin literature, not because philosophy cannot be comprehended by the means of both Greek literature and teachers, but because it has always been my judgment that either we have discovered all things in themselves more wisely than the Greeks or that we have improved that which we have received from those people, things which they had, in fact, established as worthy, on which they elaborated.



Cum defensionum laboribus senatoriisque muneribus aut omnino aut magna ex parte essem aliquando liberatus, rettuli me, Brute, te hortante maxime ad ea studia, quae retenta animo, remissa temporibus, longo intervallo intermissa revocavi, et cum omnium artium, quae ad rectam vivendi viam pertinerent, ratio et disciplina studio sapientiae, quae philosophia dicitur, contineretur, hoc mihi Latinis litteris inlustrandum putavi, non quia philosophia Graecis et litteris et doctoribus percipi non posset, sed meum semper iudicium fuit omnia nostros aut invenisse per se sapientius quam Graecos aut accepta ab illis fecisse meliora, quae quidem digna statuissent, in quibus elaborarent.

Latin text:


Author’s Statement

Cicero is no doubt a great Roman rhetorician who created and preserved some incredible works in this field, including his famous speech: Oratio In L. Catilinam. However, the focus of this translation is on his later works of philosophy, written when he had already fallen from the peak of his political career. It is generally agreed that Cicero wrote the Tusculanae Disputationes sometime between July and August of 45 BC. During this time, Caesar held power in Rome as he was simultaneously the sole consul and elected dictator for the fourth time. Cicero, having no political power at hand, grieved both for friends who died in the civil war as well as for his daughter who died in childbirth. The purpose of this translation is not only to reconstruct Cicero’s words but also to attempt a recreation of his mood and style in the opening sentence of this work.


Hanzhao Kuang (College ’24), also known as Grant or Kangaroo, is a student at the University of Pennsylvania studying Classical Studies, Philosophy, Psychology, and Psychoanalysis.