The Tudor Cicero

Cicero, Marcus Tullius. (106-43 B.C.); Grimald, Nicholas, (1519-1562), translator

Marcus Tullius Ciceroes thre bookes of duties, to Marcus his sonne, turned out of latine into english, by Nicolas Grimalde. Wherunto the latine is adioyned. Cum priuilegio ad imprimendum solum

London: In Fleete strete within Temple barre at the signe of the hande and starre, by Rychard Tottil, 1558


Octavo: 13.5 x 9.5 cm. [par.]-2[par.]8, A-X8

SECOND EDITION of Grimald’s translation (1st 1556).

Bound in 18th-century speckled calf, gilt, with red morocco labels. A tall copy in fine condition aside from a short wormtrail affecting the text in the final signatures. A book now scarce in any edition. Provenance: Lionel Tollemache, 3rd Earl of Dysart.

I. Cicero in Early Modern England:

English schoolboys of the 16th century were required to write “themes”, a type of essay, usually on a moral topic. For this exercise, “it was acknowledged that there was no substitute for studying the writings of ancient authors, above all Cicero, who, as always (in humanist eyes), provided benchmarks for technique and moral teaching in one package. The [Ciceronian] text most often recommended and studied in school was ‘De Officiis’, often referred to in England as ‘the Offices’ of ‘the Duties’. At one level, this comprised three books of moral advice written specifically for his son, Marcus, then a student at Athens, on the behavior appropriate to his position and on the duties of a Roman gentleman. But at another, Cicero was writing a work of practical ethics in which he betrayed his concern with the social and political ambiguities of his age, and the difficulty of taking moral decisions when honorable conduct clashed with beneficial or expedient action. While schoolmasters focused on the first level, theorists and thoughtful adults looked more at the second. As a result, this became one of the most frequently reprinted classical works in early modern England.

“The bibliographical history of the ‘De Officiis’ is unusual in that at first there were more bilingual editions in Latin and English than in Latin alone. There was the version by Robert Wittington, publisher of many grammars in the 1510s, including ‘the thre books of Tullyes offyces’ in 1534 and 1540. This translation was criticized by Nicholas Grimald in his ‘Marcus Tullius Ciceroes thre bokes of duties’, which first appeared in English in 1556 but ran through seven English/Latin editions from 1558 [the edition offered here] to ca. 1600

“Grimald was highly regarded as a humanist scholar in his own day, not only for his Latin poems and plays, but also for his translations, paraphrases, and commentaries on a number of classical and humanist texts. Though closely associated with reformers under Edward VI, Grimald dedicated his ‘Duties’ to the Marian diplomat Bishop Thomas Thirleby, explaining that he himself had read Cicero’s text five times, noting new points each time, and had become so convinced that nothing indicated ‘the pathway to all virtue’ better, ‘only Scripture excepted’, that he wanted it to be available to more than just the best-educated reader.”(Ian Green, Humanism and Protestantism in Early Modern England, pp. 201-203 and ff.)

II. Cicero and the ‘De Officiis”:

"To have his program of moral philosophy accepted, Cicero needed to overcome much resistance. Roman culture was traditionally averse to philosophical, speculative thought, in which it saw an undue avoidance of duties towards the state and the community. The task Cicero took on was precisely that of demonstrating how, in profoundly altered times, the performance of those duties was not possible unless the philosophical thought of the Greeks had first been absorbed and reflected upon. In Panaetius, who had been able to furnish the Roman aristocrats with a model of life firmly rooted in their national usages, he was able to find a stable point of reference for a discourse that could move easily between theoretical thought and the enunciation of precepts valid for everyday life.

"The three books into which the ‘De Officiis’ is divided deal, respectively, with the honorable, the useful, and the conflict between them. For the first two books the source is the treatise ‘On Duty’ (Peri tou Kathekontos) by Panaetius of Rhodes; the third is a rather eclectic compilation from various sources. Panaetuis, who had been part of the circle of Scipio Aemilianus, had given Stoic doctrine a markedly aristocratic stamp. It is likely that the intended audience for his treatise was the Roman governing classes. He tried to free the doctrine from its rough, plebeian features and especially to soften its moral rigidity, so as to render it practicable for a wealthy, educated, and refined ruling class. Panaetius’s teaching was distinguished from the early Stoa chiefly by a positive judgment on the instincts: they should not be oppressed by reason, but rather corrected and disciplined by it. The traditional cardinal virtues of Stoicism—justice, wisdom, courage, and moderation—were reinterpreted so as to be seen as an organic development of these fundamental instincts." (Gian Biagio Conte, Latin Literature: A History)

STC 5281.8