25 Life Lessons from Cicero on Living Well

Cicero (106BC — 43BC) was one of Ancient Rome’s most famous orators. He was also a statesman, lawyer, and philosopher who preceded the likes of Seneca, Epictetus, and Epicurus. His life came to an untimely end, beheaded without a whimper at the behest of Mark Antony.

Nonetheless, Cicero left us with wisdom for the ages — wisdom that I found myself resigning into recently when I read his On Living and Dying Well.

Below are 25 key takeaways from the book which, whilst presented mostly as one-liners, say enough to intuit significance and meaning from.

  1. Ensure harmony in all of your actions.
  2. Impulse should obey reason.
  3. Avoid wrongdoing.
  4. Live in accordance with your nature (SG: as opposed to general nature, which is what the Stoics urge).
  5. Overconfidence calls for training in reason.
  6. Be like Filip II, not Alexander the Great.
  7. Be modest, and seek balance in all things.
  8. Don’t be afraid to say what you think, just because it might make you unpopular (SG: something of vital importance in the current age of cancel culture)
  9. Use mild cures for mild ailments, and risky ones for major ailments.
  10. Renouncing office, if you are capable to hold office, is just fear of inconvenience and hard work (SG: to hide away from the work, if we are capable, is to do the world a disservice).
  11. Rid yourself of emotional disturbance.
  12. Great souls disregard externals and undertake useful projects.
  13. Knowledge without justice is cunning.
  14. Dangerous acts inspired by greed are brazen.
  15. Be consistent and truthful in your declarations (SG: I am not sure about this, as I prefer to hold strong opinions weakly, and change my mind upon the receipt of new disconfirming evidence).
  16. Seek knowledge.
  17. Apply talent where useful.
  18. Seek justice and generosity.
  19. Exercise caution in choosing people, as you would when procuring things (SG: Cicero says that we are careful when procuring things, but not people — Seneca said something similar about being careful with our money but not time).
  20. If we avoid worry we avoid virtue (SG: echoes of #10).
  21. Love of money is the greatest threat to friendship.
  22. We see integrity and virtue in people similar to ourselves.
  23. We live as briefly as little creatures when compared with the timeline of eternity (SG: meditate on the shortness of life to inspire you to action, and regulate your emotions).
  24. Whatever is born perishes.
  25. Stick to the skill you know.