By Timothy David Hill
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Extra resources for Ambitiosa Mors: Suicide and the Self in Roman Thought and Literature (Studies in Classics)
Fm Page 21 Monday, June 21, 2004 3:30 PM Introduction 21 interpretations was potentially conditioned by writings that were “fictional,” or not 68 strictly “realistic” in tenor. Finally, this study’s emphasis upon the discursive function of suicide in Roman culture implies that it will be, as far as possible, chronological in its organization. While it is true that Roman understandings of suicide exhibit a basic stability throughout the Late Republic and the Julio-Claudian Principate, the meaning of any individual death was necessarily a function of its perceived interaction with a previously defined cultural corpus of suicides and writings on suicide.
Cato’s discourse, in other words, concerns the means by which an individual’s subjective consciousness comes to be aware of his or her own objectively definable constitution. In Cato’s account, this realization occurs as a result of the individual’s ability to extrapolate from the character of his or her own desires to conclusions regarding the nature that gives rise to them. According to Cato, it is an observable fact that the first stirrings of the subjective consciousness are towards the preservation of the self, and that individuals upon birth therefore seek out those things that most immediately conduce to their own survival.
The first chapter of this book is as a result devoted to discussing the treatment of suicide found in the longer philosophical works of Cicero. This chapter is in many ways foundational for the rest of the book, and the thought of Cicero will be taken as a norm against which later developments will be contrasted. This may seem a curious approach given that Cicero was remembered in Rome more for his rhetoric than his philosophy, and that his philosophical works are rarely praised for their coherence or internal consistency.