The Offices

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Author: Marcus Tullius Cicero  | Date: 44 BC

XXIX. - Our actions should neither be rash nor careless, etc.- Watchfulness and consideration necessary for the subduing of the passions- Moderation to be observed in jests and diversions.

Every action therefore should be free, as from precipitancy and rashness on the one hand, so from all carelessness and negligence on the other; nor should anything be done, for which we cannot give a sufficient reason; which is almost the very definition of duty. In order to this the passions must be brought under the power of reason, so as neither through hastiness to run before its orders, nor through coldness and heaviness to disregard them when given; but all their motions must be so quieted and restrained, as to bring no uneasiness or disturbance to the mind: and from this calm and peaceable state of the soul arises that constancy and moderation we have mentioned; for when once the passions grow unruly and extravagant, and refuse to be guided in their desires and aversions by the rules of prudence, they will run without question beyond all bounds and measure; for they abandon and cast off their allegiance to reason, which they ought to obey by the constitution of nature. By this means are all things turned topsy-turvy; and not the mind only, but even the body also, put very much into disorder and confusion. Do but mark those who are inflamed with a vehement anger or desire; who are transported with fear, or an over-great joy; and you will see an alteration in their countenances, voices, gestures, and all their actions; which sufficiently gives us to understand (that we may return again to the duty now before us) how necessary it is to restrain and give check to the movements of the appetite, and to be always watchful and standing on our guard, that so we may neither be careless and inconsiderate, nor do anything rashly and at all adventures: for mankind were never designed by Nature merely to sport and idle away their time, but to follow after grave and serious studies, and business of greater importance than play is. Not but that jesting and diversion are allowable, provided we use them but as we do sleep, and other such necessary refreshments of nature, viz. after the discharge of our serious and more important duties. And even then we must see that our jesting be neither excessive nor immodest, but such as is handsome and becoming a gentleman; for as boys are allowed not all kinds of sports, but only such as have nothing that is vicious or ill in them; so in this jesting we should allow ourselves nothing but what is agreeable to honesty and good manners. We may therefore observe that jesting or merriment is of two sorts; the one clownish, abusive, scandalous, and obscene; the other handsome, genteel, ingenious, and truly pleasant. Of this kind are several instances to be met with, as in our Plautus, and the old Greek comedians; so in the writings of the Socratic philosophers: to which we may add the ingenious sayings of several men, such as are collected by the senior Cato, and usually go by the name of Apophthegms. There is no great difficulty then to distinguish between a genteel and a clownish jest; the one, if brought in at a seasonable time, and when a man’s mind is disengaged from business, is becoming for a gentleman; the other, for no man at all indeed, when base and unhandsome things are dressed up in filthy and obscene expressions. Our plays and recreations must also be kept within their due bounds; and care should be taken that we do not run out into great excesses, and suffer the pleasure which we take in them to carry us into anything that is base or unbecoming. Hunting, and the exercises of the Campus Martius, supply us with examples enough of creditable and manly recreations.

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Chicago: Marcus Tullius Cicero, "XXIX. - Our Actions Should Neither Be Rash nor Careless, Etc.- Watchfulness and Consideration Necessary for the Subduing of the Passions- Moderation to Be Observed in Jests and Diversions.," The Offices, trans. Thomas Cockman Original Sources, accessed August 15, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4UBN2SCR6CIIG8H.

MLA: Cicero, Marcus Tullius. "XXIX. - Our Actions Should Neither Be Rash nor Careless, Etc.- Watchfulness and Consideration Necessary for the Subduing of the Passions- Moderation to Be Observed in Jests and Diversions." The Offices, translted by Thomas Cockman, Original Sources. 15 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4UBN2SCR6CIIG8H.

Harvard: Cicero, MT, 'XXIX. - Our Actions Should Neither Be Rash nor Careless, Etc.- Watchfulness and Consideration Necessary for the Subduing of the Passions- Moderation to Be Observed in Jests and Diversions.' in The Offices, trans. . Original Sources, retrieved 15 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4UBN2SCR6CIIG8H.