The mind in motion: Walking and metaphorical travel in the Roman villa

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Classical Philology, ISSN: 0009-837X, Vol: 101, Issue: 2, Page: 133-152

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Timothy M. O'Sullivan
University of Chicago Press
Arts and Humanities; Social Sciences; Cicero; Varro; De oratore; De finibus; Res rusticae; Roman villa; walking; ambulatio; travel; ancient philosophy; imagination; Italy; Classics
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Cicero’s De oratore imagines a conversation on eloquence among the leading Roman statesmen of the late second and early first century B.C.E., including L. Licinius Crassus and Q. Lutatius Catulus. As is typical in his early philosophical and rhetorical works, Cicero goes to great lengths to defend his choice of subject matter, and he transfers his anxieties to his characters, who frequently reflect in a rather self-conscious manner upon the form of the dialogue itself. On the morning of the second day of their discussion, for example, Crassus voices a concern that with their Socratic style of question and response, they might pick up some of the bad habits of the Greeks, who are only too willing to debate any point, any time, anywhere, ad nauseam. At this point Catulus interjects, disputing the notion that all Greeks behave in this manner; the best Greeks—by which he means politically active Greeks—confined their philosophical disputation to their free time, their otium. To strengthen his case, and to allay Crassus’ anxieties, he appeals to their surroundings; he draws particular attention to the portico of Crassus’ Tusculan villa in which they are walking as an especially appropriate setting for philosophical conversation (Cic. De or. 2.20):Yes, but even if you find those people rude who take no account of time or place or company—and so you should—surely you don’t think that this is an inappropriate place [sc. for conversation]? Here, where this portico in which we now stroll, and this palaestra, and so many places to sit evoke somehow the memory of the gymnasia and the philosophical disputes of the Greeks? Surely you don’t think that this is the wrong time, in this generous period of leisure, which we are so rarely given and which has been given to us just when we wanted it so badly? Surely you don’t think that people like us should be strangers to this type of discussion, we who think life is nothing without these pursuits?