The Role of the Natural World in Cicero’s De re publica and De legibus

  • Elizabeth McKnight University College London


The present paper argues that, in both De re publica and De legibus, Cicero employs descriptions and images of the natural world to support and supplement the philosophical arguments of the two treatises. These descriptions and images variously provide visible or tangible analogies to Cicero’s more theoretical arguments, as well as positive exempla drawn from the lives of successful political leaders of the past; in some cases, they appeal to readers’ emotional attachment to their ancestral homes, their families and all that they hold dear, to engender support for Cicero’s defence of the Roman res publica, on which all these things depended. Resort to such devices is all the more necessary because, despite the range of the arguments that are advanced in the two treatises in support of Cicero’s favoured political model, it is unlikely that Cicero’s readers would have found the treatises’ philosophical arguments entirely persuasive on their own. I conclude that the close relationship between the ways in which these devices are used and explained in the two treatises confirms that both treatises form part of a single project, in which Cicero employs both formal philosophical and political argument and a range of other literary and rhetorical devices.


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Author Biography

Elizabeth McKnight, University College London

Elizabeth McKnight completed her undergraduate studies in Classics at the University of Oxford and her doctorate at University College London (UCL). Her doctoral thesis addressed the way in which Roman law is presented in the writings of Cicero, Livy, the younger Seneca and the younger Pliny.  She now teaches Greek and Latin language and literature in the Department of Greek and Latin at UCL

How to Cite
McKnight, E. (2023). The Role of the Natural World in Cicero’s De re publica and De legibus . Ciceroniana On Line, 7(2), 455-479.