Matteo Johannes Stettler

Cicero’s Hortensius in the Christian Tradition:

Lactantius and Augustine’s Apotreptics to Philosophy and Protreptics to Christianity

Judging from its reception and fortune, Cicero’s (now unfortunately lost) Hortensius was one of the most important dialogues in the Arpinite’s philosophical corpus. Structured as a προτρεπτικòς λóγος (‘protreptic discourse’), on the model set early on by Aristotle’s influential (and also lost) Protrepticus, this Ciceronian dialogue abides by many of the canons of this ancient literary tradition, in primis its intention to exhort the reader to embrace philosophy as an ars vivendi (‘art of living’), which makes of it, as Testard noted, nothing short of “un manifeste en faveur de la conversion à la philosophie.” Unsurprisingly, given its reliance on the Aristotelian protreptics, Cicero’s conception of the vita philosophica (‘philosophical life’) in the Hortensius itself involved the acquisition and use of theoretical knowledge, such as that provided by geometrical, and, above all, astronomical sciences (fr.s 80-83 in Grilli’s reconstruction). When it comes to the latter, as we shall argue, contra the contemporary scholarly consensus, Cicero’s exhortatio ad philosophiam (‘exhortation to philosophy’) is much more faithful to its Greek protreptic of reference (i.e., Aristotle’s Protrepticus) then writers of the Christian apologetic tradition – such as Lactantius and Augustine, in whose testimonies the Arpinite’s lost dialogues mostly survive – are to their Roman (i.e., Cicero’s Hortensius). As we shall suggest, we may ultimately account for such distance separating the Aristotelian fragments of Cicero’s Hortensius from Lactantius’ Divinae institutiones and Augustine’s Confessiones and Epistalae by invoking the apotreptic (w.r.t. philosophy) and protreptic (w.r.t. Christianity) intentions motivating the latter addresses: that is, the necessity of establishing Christian divine wisdom over the pagans’ natural wisdom and thereby presenting Christianity, as against philosophy, as the one and only viable way to a vita beata (‘happy life’).