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Cicero and Archimedes' Tomb*

  • Mary Jaeger (a1)


In the Pro Archia Cicero writes that Alexander, looking upon the tomb of Achilles, cried out, ‘O happy youth, who found a Homer to sing your praises!’; words truly spoken, adds Cicero, since without Homer Achilles' tomb would have buried the great man's fame along with his body. And in the Tusculan Disputations he writes that the Athenian Themistocles, when asked why he spent his nights wandering about the city, replied that the trophies of Miltiades kept him awake. Juxtaposing one great man and the reminder of another, both anecdotes present vivid and memorable images of rivalry between the ambitious among the living and the high-achievers among the dead. A competition of this kind can be direct, between the man commemorated by a monument and the man viewing it, as are the rivalries of Alexander and Achilles, Themistocles and Miltiades, or it can be indirect, as in the Pro Archia, where with a sleight of hand Cicero replaces the rivalry between Achilles and Alexander with the competition between the Iliad and Achilles' physical monument. A great mound bears witness to Achilles' death at Troy, but the outburst of the competitive Alexander testifies that a poem is a better memorial than a tomb.


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An embryonic version of this paper was read at a conference titled ‘The Persistence of Memory’ at Harvard in the fall of 1995. I owe many thanks to Andrew Feldherr, Tom Habinek, Bill Keith, Christina Kraus, Michèle Lowrie, and the anonymous reviewers at JRS for their helpful comments on various drafts. Any errors that remain are my own.



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1 Cicero, Pro Archia 10.24: ‘“O fortunate”, inquit “adulescens, qui tuae virtutis Homerum praeconem inveneris!” Et vere. Nam, nisi Ilias illa exstitisset, idem tumulus qui corpus eius contexerat nomen etiam obruisset.’

2 Cicero, TD 4.44: ‘Noctu ambulabat in publico Themistocles cum somnum capere non posset, quaerentibus respondebat Miltiadis tropaeis se e somno suscitari.’ On this kind of competition, see also Suetonius, Div. lul. 7.1; Sallust, Bell. lug. 4.5–6; Anth. Lat. 708 (an epigram addressed by Germanicus to Hector's tomb); and Scipio Africanus' words at Livy 28.43.6: ‘Maximo cuique id accidere animo certum habeo ut se non cum praesentibus modo sed cum omnis aevi Claris viris comparent.’

3 So is a speech in praise of the humanities, of course. Famous expressions of this sentiment include Ennius, Ann. 404–5: ‘reges per regnum statuas sepulcraque quaerunt / aedificant nomen, summa nituntur opum vi’; and Horace, Odes 3.30.1–2: ‘exegi monumentum aere perennius regalique situ pyramidum altius’, as well as Odes 4.8.13ff. For further references see Skutsch, O. (ed.), The Annals of Q. Ennius (1985), 567–8.

4 See Fowler, D., ‘The ruin of time: monuments and survival at Rome’, ch. 9 of Roman Constructions (2000), 193217.

5 On auctor, see Heinze, R., ‘Auctoritas’, Hermes 60 (1925), 348–66; Béranger, J., Récherches sur l'aspect idéologique du principat (1953), 114–31; Galinsky, K., Augustan Culture. An Interpretive Introduction (1996), 1041. A good example of author becoming auctor is Livy 4.20.5–11, on the spolia opima and the restoration of the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius. Note the repetition of auctor with different meanings in the Livy passage, and see the discussions of Miles, G., Livy: Reconstructing Early Rome (1995), 40–7, and Feldherr, A., Spectacle and Society in Livy's History (1998), 75–7.

6 The Archimedes story usually follows the account of Cicero's popularity in Sicily and precedes the anecdote (Pro Plancio 64) in which Cicero tells how he learned, on his return from Sicily, that no one in Rome knew or cared where he had been. The following list includes both scholarly and popular biographies: Fuhrmann, M., Cicero and the Roman Republic, trans. Yuill, W.E. (1990), 37; Gelzer, M., Cicero: ein biographischen Versuch (1969), 29, 308–9; Habicht, C., Cicero the Politician (1990), 22; Haskell, H. J., This Was Cicero: Modern Politics in a Roman Toga (1942), 123–5; Lacey, W. K., Cicero and the End of the Roman Republic (1978), 1819; Rawson, E., Cicero: A Portrait (1975), 33–4; Sihler, E. G., Cicero of Arpinum: A Political and Literary Biography (1914), 64–5; Witley, A. F., The Tremulous Hero (1939), 168–9. On Archimedes, see Heath, T. L., Archimedes (1920), 15; Dijksterhuis, E. J., Archimedes (1987), 932.

7 See especially Brinton, A., ‘Cicero's use of historical examples in moral argument’, Philosophy and Rhetoric 21.3 (1988), 169–84, and Habinek, T., ‘Science and tradition in Aeneid 6’, HSCP 92 (1989), 223–55. For a catalogue of Cicero's exempla, see Blincoe, M. N., The Use of the Exemplum in Cicero's Philosophical Works, Ph.D. dissertation, St Louis University (1941). Oddly enough, Blincoe does not refer to the Archimedes story. On historical exempla and their social function, see M. Bloomer, Valerius Maximus and the Rhetoric of the New Nobility (1992), esp. 4–10 on Cicero.

8 A. E. Douglas characterizes them as ‘rhetorized’ philosophy rather than philosophical rhetoric. See ‘Form and content in the Tusculan Disputations’, in Powell, J. G. F. (ed.), Cicero the Philosopher (1995), 197218. See especially 198–200, with reference to TD 1.7. See also MacKendrick, P., The Philosophical Books of Cicero (1989), 165. Ann Vasaly puts it well when she concludes that Cicero's reliance on the concrete was ‘the Roman gateway to the world of ideas’, Representations: Images of the World in Ciceronian Oratory (1993), 257. Leeman, A. D., Orationis Ratio (1963), 206, also stresses the personal: ‘Just as Aristotle had combined his philosophy with rhetorical studies, Cicero wants to add philosophy to his oratory. Of course he could not ignore the age-old feud between rhetoric and philosophy. But ever since his De Oratore — as we have seen — he had tried to bring the enemies together. Rhetoric and philosophy are indeed two different things, he makes Crassus argue, but they should be combined in one and the same person' (emphasis added).

9 For a useful list of Cicero's philosophical works, see Powell, J. G. F. (ed.), Cicero the Philosopher (1995), xiiixvii. On the preface, see Douglas, op. cit. (n. 8), 207–9. For an introduction to Cicero's philosophical works, see Douglas, A. E., ‘Cicero the philosopher’, in Dorey, T. A. (ed.), Cicero (1965), 135–70, and Powell's, J. G. F. introduction in Cicero the Philosopher, 135. On Cicero's politics, see Habicht, C., Cicero the Politician (1990); Wood, N., Cicero's Social and Political Thought (1988).

10 Douglas, op. cit. (n. 8), 206; Habinek, T., ‘Ideology for an empire in the prefaces to Cicero's Dialogues’, Ramus 23.1–2 (1994), 58–9; idem, The Politics of Latin Literature: Writing, Identity and Empire in Ancient Rome (1998), 64–6. Habinek (64) observes, ‘Cicero makes it clear that what he is doing is not in fact Hellenizing his own practice, but rather Romanizing Greece’. Habinek points out the metaphors of illumination (inlustrandum) and guardianship (tuemur) in the opening passage. On the appropriation of Greek learning within Roman cultural norms, see Schmidt, P., ‘Cicero's place in Roman philosophy’, CJ 74 (19781979), 115–27. Schmidt (119) observes that in addition to imparting philosophical instruction, the literary form of the dialogue continues socio-cultural contacts by way of dedication, and in some cases even served as an obituary notice or laudatio funebris.

11 I use here a metaphor developed by Treggiari, S. in ‘Home and forum: Cicero between “public” and “private”’, TAPA 128 (1998), 123. Treggiari (3) argues against compartmentalizing Cicero's life and work into the conventional categories of public, private, philosopher, orator, and statesman: ‘The individual's experience is a continuum. Let us think of this in relation to physical space, indoors and outdoors. In Roman thinking about the house, public and private join up and overlap. The threshold of the house does not mark a barrier between public and private worlds, but a marker over which household members and non-members pass to go in or out.’

12 TD 5.1: ‘Nihil est enim omnium quae in philosophia tractantur quod gravius magnificentiusque dicatur.’ Note that in justifying his attempt to make this proof Cicero describes how it can be treated rhetorically. On the topic's position within the dialogue, see Douglas, op. cit. (n. 8), 208–9.

13 Syllogistic argument in 5.15–20; nicely outlined by Dougan, T. W. and Henry, R. M. (eds), Ciceronis Tusculanae Disputationes (1905), vol. 2, xxii–xxiii: the man who is under the influence of emotions such as fear is unhappy; men subject to none are happy; this tranquillity is produced by virtue, therefore virtue suffices for living happily. For a more detailed outline of the argument in Book 5, see H. A. K. Hunt, The Humanism of Cicero (1954), 116–24.

14 Cicero uses the same pair at De Republica 1.28: ‘Quis enim putare vere potest, plus egisse Dionysius tum cum omnia moliendo eripuerit civibus suis libertatem, quam eius civem Archimedem cum istam ipsam sphaeram, nihil cum agere videretur, de qua modo dicabatur, effecerit?’ Writing of Seneca, R. Mayer observes that two devices helped to impose some control on otherwise shapeless lists of exempla: a tendency to group exempla into threes, and the rhetorical crescendo, which determines the order of exempla within the list: Roman historical exempla in Seneca’, Entretiens Hardt 36 (1991), 141–69.

15 I follow here the text of Dougan and Henry, op. cit. (n. 13).

16 On digressio, see De Inv. 1.27; 51; 97; De Or. 2.80; 2.311–12; 3.203; Brutus 292; 322; Davies, C., ‘Reditus ad rem: observations on Cicero's use of digressio’, Rheinisches Museum 131 (1988), 305–15, and Canter, H. V., ‘Digressio in the orations of Cicero’, AJP 52 (1931). 351–61. The Pro Archia comes to mind again here since, as Canter (361) points out, the praise of Archias is one long digression beginning at 12: ‘Quaeres a nobis cur hoc homine delectemur …’, and concluding at 32: ‘quae a foro aliena iudicialique consuetudine et de hominis ingenio et communiter de ipsius studio locutus sum, a vobis spero esse in bonam partem accepta.’

17 MacKendrick, op. cit. (n. 8), 25, points out that: ‘The form of the Dialogues, as we have seen, is at least some of the time patterned on the traditional parts of a forensic speech. The recessed panel or ring-composition (A-B-C-D-C'-B'-A’) ideas patterned around a core, can be detected in the praise of philosophy (Tusc. 5.5; see Chapter 12 and n. 42). This is the kind of self-imposed restraint classical art thrives on.’

18 A ‘pleasing, but completely irrelevant, anecdote’: Cicero: Tusculan Disputations 2–5, ed. A. E. Douglas (1990), note to 5.64. The apparent irrelevance which marks this passage as a digression helps it fulfill its rhetorical function.

19 On the structure of the argument, see Douglas, op. cit. (n. 8), 197-204.

20 Plutarch, Marcellus 19.

21 This is how later artists represent Archimedes' death. See, for example, the charcoal by Daumier, Honoré in Laughton, Bruce, The Drawings of Daumier and Millet (1991), 51.

22 See also Livy 25.31.10; Plutarch, Marcellus 19.

23 In the dialogues Cicero uses indagare and the noun indagatio for inquiry, and the act of inquiry (Lucullus 127; De Finibus 5.58; De Officiis 1.15). At TD 5.5 he addresses philosophy, ‘O virtutis indagatrix expultrixque vitiorum!’ See Dougan and Henry, op. cit. (n. 13) on indagatrix. E. Fantham, Comparative Studies in Republican Latin Imagery (1972), 146-7, gives other examples of Cicero's personifications.

24 On the effect of the word order, see Heine, O. and Pohlenz, M. (eds), Ciceronis Tusculanorum Disputationum, Libri V, vol. 2, (1957), 131.

25 Plutarch, Marcellus 17. The ratio could also be that of their surface areas. Both are 2:3.

26 McGowan, E. P., ‘Tomb marker and turning post: funerary columns in the Archaic period’, AJA 99.4 (1995), 615–32. According to McGowan, columns are attested as grave markers in the Greek world, including Sicily, as early as the Archaic age. A sculpture on top of such a column might have particular relevance to the life of the person it commemorated: the column of Diogenes the Cynic, for example, was said to support a sculpture of a dog, a symbol of his philosophical school. Or such a sculpture might simply symbolize death, as does the figure of a siren on the column of Isocrates.

27 Simms, D. L., ‘The trail of Archimedes' tomb’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 53 (1990), 281–6, esp. 283–4.

28 cf. Plutarch, Marcellus 17.

29 For a columella as part of a deliberately understated tomb, see Cicero, De Leg. 2.66.

30 In fact, this is precisely how later artists portrayed the scene. See Simms, op. cit. (n. 27), 281–6, and Trapp, J. B., ‘Archimedes' tomb and the artists: a postscript’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 53 (1990), 286–8, with plates.

31 S. White has drawn attention to the dialogue's setting as that of Cicero's greatest and most recent grief: ‘Cicero and the therapists’, in Powell, op. cit. (n. 9), 219–46. See also the discussion by Erskine, A.: ‘Cicero and the expressions of grief’, in Braund, S. M. and Gill, C. (eds), The Passions in Roman Thought and Literature (1997), 3647. Treggiari, op. cit. (n. 11), discusses the stages of Cicero's grief in detail. On Cicero's withdrawal from active political life, see Habicht, op. cit. (n. 6), 68–86.

32 These are: Academica (45 B.C.); De Finibus (45 B.C.); Tusculan Disputations (45 B.C.); De Natura Deorum (45 B.C.); De Fato (44 B.C.); Cato Maior De Senectute (44 B.C.); Laelius De Amicitia (44 B.C.); De Officiis (44 B.C.). On the relative weight of political and autobiographical reasons for Cicero's writing philosophy, see Schmidt, op. cit. (n. io), 121–3.

33 cf. the beginning of the De Finibus, which is set in 79 B.C. Cicero regarded his quaestorship in Sicily as a milestone in his development: Brutus 318.6: ‘cum autem anno post ex Sicilia me recepissem, iam videbatur illud in me, quicquid esset, esse perfectum et habere maturitatem quandam suam.’

34 On exedi, see Dougan and Henry, op. cit. (n. 13), at 5.66. Cf. the use of edax in Horace, Odes 3.30.3, and Ovid, Met. 15.234, 872.

35 Once again this textual monument is particularly appropriate to its context. At the beginning of the TD (1.5) Cicero says the Greeks held geometry in the position of highest honour but that Romans have restricted the art to the purposes of measuring and reckoning: ‘in summo apud illos honore geometria fuit, itaque nihil mathematicis illustrius: nos metiendi ratiocinandique utilitate huius artis terminavimus modum.’ (‘C. denkt etwa an Archimedes’, Heine, at 1.5.) The tomb marker, then, serves as a terminus marking the boundary between the two. On the Roman attitude towards mathematics, see E. Rawson, Intellectual Life in the Late Roman Republic (1985), 156–69.

36 See Graff, J., Ciceros Selbstaufassung (1963), 4654.

37 On Cicero's approach to philosophical questions via history and traditional authority, see also Rawson, E., ‘Cicero the historian and Cicero the antiquarian’, JRS 62 (1972), 3345, esp. 34–8.

38 TD 1.61–4; 65: ‘quae autem divina? vigere, sapere, invenire, meminisse’. See also 1.66, 67, 70. On 1.62–4, see F. Yates, The Art of Memory (1966), 44–5. On ancient theories of memory in general, see J. P. Small, Wax Tablets of the Mind (1997); Vasaly, op. cit. (n. 8), 100–2. On the memory evoked by monuments, see Davis, H. H., ‘Epitaphs and the memory’, CQ 53 (1958), 169–76.

39 Cicero also uses the memory of a representation to initiate philosophical discussions. At De Legibus 1.1, Atticus recognizes the oak that he has read about often in Cicero's epic Marius: ‘lucus quidem ille et haec Arpinatium quercus agnoscitur saepe a me lectus in Mario’; and at De Rep. 6.10, the beginning of the Somnium Scipionis, Scipio recognizes the ghost of Africanus by its resemblance to his imago — his funerary bust: ‘Africanus se ostendit ea forma, quae mihi ex imagine eius quam ex ipso erat notior.’

40 Brinton, A., ‘Cicero's use of historical examples in moral argument’, Philosophy and Rhetoric 21.3 (1988), 165–84, discusses how Cicero pairs the man of pleasure, Thorius, with the man of principle, Regulus. Even though we might choose the existence of the former, we cannot help but admit that we would prefer the obituary of the latter’ (177–78); or, as Vergil represents it, having done what deserved a noble obituary gave entry to the Fields of the Blessed: Aeneid, 6.660–5, o n which see Habinek, op. cit. (n. 7), 231–8. See also K. Hopkins, Death and Renewal (1983), 226–55.

41 Famous examples include the Scipio epitaphs, Aeneid 6.660–5, and the elogia of the Augustan Forum.

42 Or, perhaps, a paradox. Michèle Lowrie draws my attention to Pro Archia 26: ‘ipsi illi philosophi etiam illis libellis, quos de contemnenda gloria scribunt, nomen suum inscribunt; in eo ipso, in quo praedicationem nobilitatemque despiciunt, praedicare de se ac nominari volunt.’

43 As Cicero argues in De Republica 1.28, mathematical discovery is as memorable an achievement as holding public office.

44 On Caesar as tyrant, see Wood, op. cit. (n. 9), 156–7.

45 Cicero, Ad Att. 12.15; 13.28. See Simms, D. L., ‘A problem for Archimedes’, Technology and Culture 30.1 (1989), 177–8. On Archimedes' defence of Syracuse, see Polybius 8.6; Livy 24.34.1–16; Plutarch, Marcellus 19.

46 Douglas, op. cit. (n. 8), 210–12.

47 Not only here, but also when he talks about the Greek esteem for mathematics in TD 1.5, and De Rep. 1.28.

48 Habinek, op. cit. (n. 7), 237.

49 E. Champlin, Final Judgments (1991), 9 n.16.

50 See De Legibus 2.48, on the laws concerning the person responsible for performing the rites for the dead: ‘heredum causa iustissima est; nulla est enim persona, quae ad vicem eius, qui e vita emigraret, propius accedat’; on the heir's responsibility and the concern for the upkeep of the tomb, see Champlin, op. cit. (n. 49), 169–82.

51 On inlustrare, see Habinek, op. cit. (n. 10, 1998), 64–5. Cf. Livy, Preface, 10. My thanks to Tom Habinek and one of JRS's readers for pointing out that, by using the verb excito, Cicero is rousing the dead as well as calling Archimedes from his studies. On conjuring the dead see B. J. Dufallo, Ciceronian Oratory and the Ghosts of the Past, diss. Los Angeles (1999). See also Horace, Odes 1.28.1–3 and Nisbet and Hubbard's extensive coments ad loc.

52 See, for example, TD 1.13, where Cicero invokes the tombs of the Metelli and the Scipiones to argue that the dead cannot be wretched.

53 On a similar but more extended use of topography in philosophical dialogue, see C. Osborne, ‘Eros, the Socratic spirit: inside and outside the Symposium’, Eros Unveiled (1994), 86–116, esp. 86–100.

54 Canter, op. cit. (n. 16), 351 n. 1, points out that one of the uses of digression identified by Cicero was to weaken or bury out of sight proofs upon which the prosecution relies (Part. Orat. 5.15). Michel, A., ‘Rhétorique et philosophie dans les Tusculanes’, REL 39 (1961), 158–75, esp. 164–5, observes the blend of philosophical and traditional Roman authority: ‘L'immortalité de l'âme, dont il s'agit ici, n'est point incontestable, mais on peut y croire, et s'appuyer alors sur l'autorité de Platon. Lorsque Cicéron voudra serrer de plus pres la vérite, il cherchera une opinion sur laquelle s'accordent non seulement les amis de Platon mais aussi ses adversaires. Il dira que la mort n'est point du mal. Cela, les Stoiciens l'ont admis tout en niant l'immortalité; les anciens Romains, sans se soucier de philosophie, ont montré eux aussi à la guerre leur indifférence à de pareilles craintes. Ici done, Cicéron peut faire converger tout les formes de probabilité: autorité des philosophes, raisonnements des dialecticiens, tradition populair de mos maiorum.’

55 See De Nature Deorum 1.6: ‘Nos autem nee subito coepimus philosophari nee mediocrem a primo tempore aetatis in eo studio operam curamque consumpsimus, et cum minime videbamur turn maxime philosophabamur.’ While at TD 1.1 Cicero says that he is returning to philosophy, the topic has been in his mind always: ‘… rettuli me, Brute, te hortante maxime ad ea studia, quae retenta animo, remissa temporibus, longo intervallo intermissa revocavi…’

56 When Cicero lists digression among rhetorical figures in De Orat. 3.203, he points out that its job is to please and then to return smoothly to the main topic at hand: ‘et ab re digressio, in qua cum fuerit delectatio, turn reditus ad rem aptus et concinnus esse debebit.’

57 Cicero's letters to Atticus about Tullia's shrine show that earlier in the year he had been very interested in memorials and the problems associated with them. See Att. 12.18, 19, 36. On tombs as reminders of the dead and of mortality, see TD 1.31; De Senectute 21 (Cato speaking, on old men's memories): ‘Nec sepulcra legens vereor, quod aiunt, ne memoriam perdam; his enim ipsis legendis in memoriam redeo mortuorum’; as reminders of the dead and of mortality, see also Varro, De Lingua Latina 6.49.

58 On the return to philosophy as a refuge rather than a pleasure, delectatio, see, for example, Fam. 6.12.5, 9.2.5, 13.28.2; for additional passages, see Graff, op. cit. (n. 36), 133. n. 23; Cicero also enjoys one of the fruits of old age, remembering past achievements: De Senectute 71 (Cato speaking): ‘Fructus autem senectutis est, ut saepe dixi, ante partorum bonorum memoria et copia.’

59 The anecdote fits into a particularly Roman view of argumentation, in which ‘both a technical argument and an exhortation are appropriate for consideration of moral matters’ (Habinek, op. cit. (n. 7), 247–8). Habinek need not have excepted the TD from the philosophical works in which he observes this phenomenon. Although employing a mode of discourse that is untraditional from a Roman point of view, Cicero emphasizes memory and example in a way that is very Roman. See also Beard, M., ‘Cicero and divination; the formation of a Latin discourse’, JRS 76 (1986), 3346.

60 See the extended development of this idea in the contemporary De Finibus 5.1–8.

* An embryonic version of this paper was read at a conference titled ‘The Persistence of Memory’ at Harvard in the fall of 1995. I owe many thanks to Andrew Feldherr, Tom Habinek, Bill Keith, Christina Kraus, Michèle Lowrie, and the anonymous reviewers at JRS for their helpful comments on various drafts. Any errors that remain are my own.

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Cicero and Archimedes' Tomb*

  • Mary Jaeger (a1)


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