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Keeping up Appearances: Shame and Oratory in Cicero's Thought
Unformatted Document Text:  similar vein that we should strive for harmony in our actions. Achieving this harmony requires that we give special attention to the differences that exist in our individual natures. So distinct are our individual natures that, on occasion, what is seemly for one man is not for another. It was seemly for Marcus Cato to commit suicide in Africa, though it would have been unseemly for others (those captured in Africa) to do so. Those who were captured and did not commit suicide “had been more gentle in their lives, and more easy-going in their behavior” than Cato, who was known for his severity and austerity. Cato, by contrast, had been endowed by nature with “an extraordinary seriousness, which he himself had consolidated by his unfailing constancy.” Because Cato always abided “by his adopted purpose and policy,” he could not submit to Caesar and surrender; thus, he “had to die rather than to look upon the face of a tyrant.” 65 At this point in his argument, Cicero advances a general principle: “everyone ought to weigh the characteristics that are his own, and to regulate them, not wanting to see how someone else’s might become him; for what is most seemly for a man is the thing that is his own.” One must, then, learn one’s own talents and attributes – good and bad – and be a good judge of them, lest “it will seem that actors have more good sense than us.” Actors choose the roles that fit themselves best; they do not, however, “choose the best plays.” Thus, if we find ourselves thrust into situations “beyond our natural talents,” we should strive at least to minimize unseemliness, if not to act in a seemly fashion; similarly, we should avoid faults rather than try to “acquire good qualities that 65 Ibid. 112. 22

Authors: Kapust, Daniel.
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similar vein that we should strive for harmony in our actions. Achieving this harmony
requires that we give special attention to the differences that exist in our individual
natures. So distinct are our individual natures that, on occasion, what is seemly for one
man is not for another. It was seemly for Marcus Cato to commit suicide in Africa,
though it would have been unseemly for others (those captured in Africa) to do so. Those
who were captured and did not commit suicide “had been more gentle in their lives, and
more easy-going in their behavior” than Cato, who was known for his severity and
austerity. Cato, by contrast, had been endowed by nature with “an extraordinary
seriousness, which he himself had consolidated by his unfailing constancy.” Because
Cato always abided “by his adopted purpose and policy,” he could not submit to Caesar
and surrender; thus, he “had to die rather than to look upon the face of a tyrant.”
At this point in his argument, Cicero advances a general principle: “everyone
ought to weigh the characteristics that are his own, and to regulate them, not wanting to
see how someone else’s might become him; for what is most seemly for a man is the
thing that is his own.” One must, then, learn one’s own talents and attributes – good and
bad – and be a good judge of them, lest “it will seem that actors have more good sense
than us.” Actors choose the roles that fit themselves best; they do not, however, “choose
the best plays.” Thus, if we find ourselves thrust into situations “beyond our natural
talents,” we should strive at least to minimize unseemliness, if not to act in a seemly
fashion; similarly, we should avoid faults rather than try to “acquire good qualities that
65
Ibid. 112.
22


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