De Legibus


The De Legibus (On the Laws) is a dialogue written by Marcus Tullius Cicero during the last years of the Roman Republic. It bears the same name as Plato’s famous dialogue, The Laws. Unlike his previous work de re publica, in which Cicero felt compelled to set the action in the times of Scipio Africanus Minor, Cicero wrote this work as a fictionalized dialogue between himself, his brother Quintus and their mutual friend Titus Pomponius Atticus. The dialogue begins with the trio taking a leisurely stroll through Cicero's familial estate at Arpinum and they begin to discuss how the laws should be. Cicero uses this as a platform for expounding on his theories of natural law of harmony among the classes. The three remaining books (out of an indeterminate number, although Jonathan Powell and Niall Rudd in their translation for Oxford seem to argue that it may have been six, to bring it in line with the number in de re publica), in order, expound on Cicero's beliefs in Natural Law, recasts the religious laws of Rome (in reality a rollback to the religious laws under the king Numa Pompilius) and finally talk of his proposed reforms to the Roman Constitution.Whether or not the work was meant as an earnest plan of action is unknown. Cicero's basic conservative and traditionalist beliefs led him to imagine an idealized Rome before the Gracchi, with the classes still in harmony. From there, he reformed the worst points of the Roman constitution, while keeping the majority of it. Cicero's proposed constitution in Book Three must be seen as a renovation of the existing order, not a call to shatter the order and build anew. However, less than a decade after the accepted date for his beginning the manuscript, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, launching the civil war that would end the Republic.
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genre: essay
main subject: government

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