Hortensius (partially found philosophical work by ancient Roman philosopher; 45 B.C.)

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Cicero, the writer of Hortensius.

Status: Partially Found

Hortensius was a "dialogue" (scripted conversation) written by Marcus Tullius Cicero, an Ancient Roman philosopher, named after Quintus Hortensius Hortalus, an associate and "friendly rival" of his. In this dialogue, Cicero, Hortensius, and Lucius Licinius Lucullus debate how to use one's free time in the best way.

However, despite the dialogue being very popular with people around the time, it has not survived to the 21st century in its full form.



Before Cicero started his work on Hortensius, he was hit by many unfortunate personal and political events. Firstly, Julius Caesar became both dictator and "consul" of Ancient Rome in 46 B.C, and began to change around parts of the Roman Senate (Cicero was a major Republican supporter of the Senate before Caesar was sworn into office).[1] Cicero also suffered greatly in terms of his personal problems. During the same year that Julius Caesar was sworn into office, Cicero filed for divorce from Terentia, marrying the young Publilia a year after. However, this relationship rapidly deteriorated, ending in another divorce.[2] As the final nail in Cicero's coffin, his daughter, Tullia, died in February of 45 B.C. after giving birth.[3]

This last event hit Cicero the hardest, and, in a letter he wrote to Titus Pomponious Atticus, he stated that the death of his daughter caused him to lose "the one thing that bound [him] to life".[4] He soon discovered that the only activities that kept him going in life were writing and reading. He traveled back to his Atura home, isolating himself from the world for a while. During this period of isolation, Cicero began to write Hortensius.[1]


The work takes place at either one of the homes/villas of Lucius Licinius Lucullus during an unknown ancient Roman holiday, and between 60-69 B.C. The work starts with Lucius inviting three of his friends in for a conversation; Cicero, Hortensius (the person), and Quintus Lutatius Catulus.[5]

This discussion between the men soon becomes one about leisure (otium in Latin). Hortensius claims that leisure is not something that requires a great amount of work to be achieved, but is things in which the mind can begin to relax and ease itself. The men soon move on to talking about what they do for leisure, in which Quintus stated he spends his time reading to relax. Lucius disagrees with Quintus' opinion, claiming that the best way to ease oneself is by studying history. Hortensius starts to argue that oratory (rhetoric, the art of persuasion) is the most superior of the arts. Quintus, however, disagrees, on the account that studying philosophy has many benefits.[6] Hortensius claims that philosophy only "explains one ambiguity by another".[5] Cicero himself soon joins this conversation, and also begins to argue that the study of philosophy is the best way to spend leisurely hours.[6]

Similarities To Other Works

It has been said that Hortensius was inspired by another Roman philosopher, Aristotle's, Protrepticus.[7] This other philosophical work inspired readers to begin taking a philosophical view on their lives, and was one of the most well-known and influential philosophical works of the ancient world. However, like Hortensius, Protrepticus is also known to have been lost, albeit being lost during the Middle Ages.[8]

Jakob Bernays, a German philologist, was the first to suggest that Protrepticus was the work that inspired Cicero to create Hortensius. Therefore, Bernays suggested that Hortensius could be used as an aid in reconstructing Protrepticus.[9] Ingram Bywater concluded in 1869 that Hortensius was indeed adapted from the outline of Protrepticus.[8] Hermann Alexander Diels, inspired by the efforts of Hermann Usener discovered a fragment of Hortensius that showed many similarities with a fragment from Protrepticus, thus causing him to conclude that Cicero's work depended upon Aristotle's.[8]


The Hortensius was received incredibly well by ancient Roman readers and was popular in its time.[10] The work is thought to have influenced many ancient Roman "thinkers", like Tacticus and Seneca the Younger from the silver age, Lactantius from the early Christian age, and Boethius, a philosopher from the early medieval age.[6] Early Christian students were also known to have studied Hortensius.[5] When a young Augustine was studying rhetoric in college, he read the work, was described as being "deeply moved" by it, and gained a great fondness for philosophy and helped him to pursue the subject of wisdom.[11]


However, despite the philosophical work's incredible popularity, Hortensius is only known to have survived in its entirety until the sixth century A.D.[1] Still, around one hundred fragments are known to survive.[12] Multiple snippets of the lost work are spread out in many writers' works, like Augustine, Lactantius, Servius, etc.[5] The works of Nonius Marcellus preserve the most snippets of Hortensius; however, John Hammond Taylor explained that these excerpts are extremely brief in length, and very difficult to understand, even when placed in context.[1] The possibilities of the full work surfacing are extremely slim due to its sheer age, and the fact that it has been lost since the sixth century.