Matt Forney
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Stoic Paradoxes by Cicero (Translated by Quintus Curtius)

stoic-paradoxesQuintus Curtius’ translation of Stoic Paradoxes manages to accomplish something that few books do: make a complex philosophy accessible to the average man.

People know about Stoicism in the loosest sense as a philosophy that encourages men to reign in destructive emotions and become resilient as a means of dealing with life’s challenges. Hell, “stoic” entered the English language as a word describing those who can endure hardship or tribulations without whining or breaking under stress. But as with all philosophical concepts borrowed from other peoples, Stoicism is much deeper than the popular imagination conceives it to be.

But how do you learn about Stoicism—or any philosophy, for that matter—without drowning in awkward translations or bad scholarship?

Stoic Paradoxes by Cicero is the perfect place to start. This new translation by Return of Kings contributor Quintus Curtius presents one of the classic texts of Stoicism in an easy to understand way. If you’re looking for a stimulating read that will turn your worldview on its head, Stoic Paradoxes is worth the money.

But this begs the question: why do we need a new translation of this work? Stoic Paradoxes has been translated into English before. Curtius explains in his intro, which also does an excellent job of summarizing both Stoicism and the value of Cicero’s work:

Translators are often known to complain about the dilemmas they face in rendering the thoughts and words of a writer from one language into another. The reader may be assured that this dilemma is very real. For the conscientious translator, there is a constant tension between faithfulness to the original text and readability in the target language. If the translator emphasizes too literal a rendering of his text, he risks producing something clumsy or opaque in the target language; but if he emphasizes a looser, “freer” rendering of the text, he risks producing something that departs too far from the original. So one must strike a balance between fidelity to the original text, and unambiguouscomprehension in English. The success or failure of a translation is based on this balance.

I’m far from fluent in ancient languages, but I’d say that Curtius nailed it with his approach. The main text of Stoic Paradoxes flows as smoothly as Coke down the chin of a fat kid, conveying Cicero’s ideas in concise yet intelligent language. To paraphrase a quote Chip Smith used about my friend Ann Sterzinger’s translation of Octave Mirbeau’s In the Sky, I expected the book to read like Curtius, but instead it reads like Cicero.

Further adding to this edition of Stoic Paradoxes is the extensive scholarship that Curtius has included alongside it. He doesn’t simply regurgitate Cicero’s words in a modern language; he includes several introductory chapters on his life and works as well as an extensive series of endnotes for those interested in studying further. Curtius’ efforts do an excellent job of easing the reader into the currents of Cicero’s thoughts:

He found himself back in Rome after his sojourn in Greece, and from that point devoted himself completely to law and politics. At the age of thirty he married his wife Terentia, a woman of likely patrician stock who provided Cicero the financial boost and connections needed to be a competitor in Roman politics. He enjoyed many years of domestic felicity with her, but financial troubles brought on by Cicero’s political tribulations ultimately doomed their marriage, and they divorced in 46. But that heartache was for the future. Beginning in 75, he had many years of successes, including being elected to several offices at the earliest age that candidacy was possible. First came a successful quaestorship in Sicily; when this ended he was hired by several Sicilian municipalities to prosecute a corrupt official named Caius Verres.

The main text of Stoic Paradoxes comprises about half of the book’s total length; while you can blast through the whole thing in about a day, Cicero’s words require careful study. What strikes me about Cicero’s presentation of Stoicism is how alien it is to modern sensibilities.

I don’t mean that Stoicism is difficult to understand; I mean it runs counter to how people today are expected to act.

In the modern West, men and women are expected to give in to their emotions at all times, to whine about their problems, and to turn molehills into mountains. Microaggressions, trigger warnings, and social justice witch hunts are the products of unrestrained emotion. Indeed, people in general—and women specifically—are so consumed by emotion that they’re starting to lash out in violence in order to further their left-wing agendas.

Mankind is devolving into a race of giant babies, constantly on the prowl for something new to be offended by.

Stoicism stands against the maelstrom of emotion and the arrogance of atheist materialism by teaching that the way to inner peace is through restraint. Only by curbing your worst instincts and living in harmony with nature can you become the best man you can be. Cicero argues for Stoicism with passion and logic, citing examples of how unrestrained emotion leads men to grisly ends:

Did these men think the only things worth pursuing in life were those things shallowly praiseworthy or appealing? Let those who mock this argument and judgment come now, and decide whether they prefer to resemble those who live in gleaming houses of marble, ebony, and gold, who have statutes, pictures, and embossed gold and silver ornaments, and Corinthian artworks; or if, rather, they prefer to be like Caius Fabricius, who neither had these things nor wanted them.

While it’s certainly possible to argue that Cicero goes too far in one direction, you can’t deny that our world could use some stiff upper lip. Stoic Paradoxes is a concise handbook for unlearning the mental pathologies that society forces upon you.

If I were to criticize Stoic Paradoxes for anything, it would be the inclusion of Cicero’s essay “Dream of Scipio.” It’s not part of Cicero’s original text; Curtius included it because it forms a “nice balance” with Stoic Paradoxes. While it’s certainly an interesting work, it clashes stylistically with the other essays in the book and feels out of place.

This is really a minor point, though. As a translation and a philosophical work, Stoic Paradoxes truly is a must-read for men. If you’re seeking masculine enlightenment and a counterpoint to mainstream society, Curtius’ book will kick your ass down the right path.

Watch the companion video to this review below:

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Read Next: Pantheon: Adventures in History, Biography and the Mind by Quintus Curtius