The Key Problem(s) in Cicero’s Preamble to The Nature of the Gods

The Nature of the Gods
Marcus Tullius Cicero

In his classic on The Nature of the Gods, Cicero identifies the key problem facing him as being “the question whether the gods do nothing, care for nothing, and take their ease detached from all concern with the care and government of the world: or whether on the contrary all things have been created and formed by them from the dawn of time, and will be ruled and governed by them to all eternity” (69–70).

The strict dichotomy that Cicero proposes between these two alternatives is certainly interesting, but each has its problems. According to Cicero, the first alternative undermines piety, reverence, and religion (70), and the second nearly amounts to “the gods[‘ . . .] creat[ing] all . . . things for the benefit of man” (71). Following the Academy’s method, if not its conclusions, however, Cicero finds it advisable to make his audience wait some time for his most (nearly) definitive thoughts on the matter (33–34, 74, 235).