De Divinatione

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Cicero: On Old Age On Friendship On Divination

Cicero (Author), W. A. Falconer (Trans.). (1923). Loeb Classical Library. ISBN 0674991702
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An Introduction to Roman Religion

John Scheid, Janet Lloyd (Trans.). (2003). Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253216605
English translation of La Religion des Romains (ISBN 2200263775). A must for all those who wish to know what the Religio Romana was and how it was practiced.
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Cicero: The life and times of Rome's greatest politician.

Everitt, Anthony. (2001). Random House. ISBN 037575895X
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Cicero's dialog in two books on the topic of divination, written after his De natura deorum. "The dialogue is represented as taking place between Cicero and his only brother Quintus, at Cicero's country home at Tusculum, about ten miles from Rome." [1]

The prevailing scholarly view has been that expressed by Fowler in his introduction to the Loeb edition of 1923: "[Cicero] became convinced that the commonly accepted belief in divination was a superstition which 'should be torn up by the roots.' He was himself an augur, and in his book On the Republic had written in favour of maintenance of the rites of augury and of auspices. But these practices were engrafted on the Roman constitution and he advocated their observance because of his belief in obedience to law and because, as a member of the aristocratic party, he thought augury and auspices the best means of controlling the excesses of democracy."[1]

This view is most succinctly summed up by Thayer: "Synopsis: He doesn't believe in it."[2]

In order to resolve the apparent conflict that exists between the ideas expressed elsewhere in Cicero's corpus in support of divination and the skeptical view expressed by Marcus in de divinatione, some have proposed a pragmatic cynicism on Cicero's part[3]

while others[4]

have suggested that he experienced a change of belief. 

Goar suggests not a change in belief between the writing of De legibus and De divinatione but a change in purpose. De legibus was meant " glorify the past, and, by so doing, to point the way back to sanity and order" while the intent of De divinatione is " destroy superstition without discarding belief... [H]e nowhere advocates the abolition of practice, and repeatedly affirms the tenets which concern the gods, providence, and so on." Goar concludes with the observation that "...if De divinatione become [sic] dangerous to the old religion centuries later when it was fighting for its existence against Christianity, that is a development which Cicero could not have foreseen. The work was never meant by its author to be an attack on the state religion. [5]

Beard proposes another reading, distinguishing the "Marcus" character from Cicero the man.[6]

Beard asserts that de divinatione, with its balanced structure, should be read as a whole, and points to its conclusion that specifically refuses to take sides[7]

"'It is characteristic of the Academy [says Marcus Cicero, at the very end of the work] to put forward no conclusions of its own, to approve those which seem most like the truth, to compare arguments, to draw forth all that may be said on behalf of any opinion, and without asserting its own authority to leave the judgement of those listening entirely free."[8]

De divination marks a milestone in Roman thought. Its author was fully expert in Roman religion as well as in Greek philosophy, two very different systems. In de divinatione the two are not as much integrated as juxtaposed. It is not the end of a conversation, but the beginning. "Its most striking positive feature is the fact that it is a dialogue about religion; that, over two books, an argument is sustained specifically on the subject of divination. This amounts to a clear indication of one of the most important religious developments of the late Republic. Not only was it a period characterized by intense interest in religion, ... but it was, more crucially, the period when 'religion', as an activity and a subject, became clearly defined out of the traditional, undifferentiated, politico-religious amalgam of Roman public life."[9]

The Text


Beard, M., 1986. Cicero and Divination: The Formation of a Latin Discourse. The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 76, pp. 33-46 (Retrieve from JSTOR)

Goar, R., 1968. The Purpose of De Divinatione. Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 99 pp. 241-248. The Johns Hopkins University Press. (Retrieve from JSTOR)

Linderski, J., 1982. Cicero and Roman divination. La Parola del Passato 37, 12-38

Linderski, J., 2007. Review of David Wardle (ed. & tr.), On Divination Book 1 in Scholia Reviews ns 16 (2007) 41.

Pease, A.S., 1920. Cicero. De Divinatione Libri Duo. Illinois Studies in Language and Literature 6, Urbana, Illinois.

Scheid, John and Lloyd, Janet (Trans.), 2003. An Introduction to Roman Religion. ISBN 0253216605 English translation of La Religion des Romains (ISBN 2200263775).

Schofield, M., 1986. Cicero for and against divination. The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 76, pp. 47-65

Wardle, D. (ed. & tr.), 2006. On Divination Book 1. Clarendon Ancient History Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pp. xii + 469. ISBN 0199297916 Review by J. Linderski: Website:


  1. 1.1 1.2 Introduction to the Loeb edition by Falconer.
  3. For "pragmatic cynicism", see e.g. Falconer, supra.
  4. E.g. Linderski 1982 cited in Beard.
  5. Goar pg. 247-8
  6. Beard, 1986, page 33, note 2
  7. Beard, op. cit. (n. 12, page 35) observes that Cicero repeats this ambiguous stand in de fato and applies it to both de divinatione and de natura deorum.
  8. De divinatione II, 150. Cum autem proprium sit Academiae iudicium suum nullum interponere, ea probare quae simillima veri videantur, conferre causas et quid in quamque sententiam dici possit expromere, nulla adhibita sua auctoritate iudicium audientium relinquere integrum ac liberum, tenebimus hanc consuetudinem a Socrate traditam eaque inter nos, si tibi, Quinte frater, placebit, quam saepissime utemur." "Mihi vero", inquit ille, "nihil potest esse iucundius."
  9. Beard, op.cit. p. 46

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