How is Cicero’s understanding of the Gods in ‘De Natura Deorum’ different from that of Seneca’s idea of God? I am primarily concerned with Cicero.
Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz
If you read Cicero’s book, then you would know that it is simply a literary colloquy, in which a Stoic, a Skeptic and an Epicurean each present their views, mostly in conventional perspectives; and we may suppose that Cicero wrote this down initially for self-clarification, maybe with eventual publication with an added commentary at the back of his mind. But as it stands, the book tells us practically nothing about his own beliefs, because he doesn’t offer any personal comments. He is throughout a silent auditor, not a referee as one might have expected.
There is a fourth part of the book that differs significantly from the other three and is generally taken as the intrusion of an anonymous imitator; best forget it.
The case of Seneca is different. He was a busy writer of “consolatory epistles”, all dripping with moral sentiments derived from his Stoic allegiance. Concerning the gods, he shows a leaning towards a monotheistic conception, as some of his phrases on Jupiter reveal, e.g. “God is everything we can see and everything we cannot see. His magnitude is greater than we can conceive”, and so on. Some of the early Christian theologian saw in these utterances a premonition of the one and only God, and inevitably this resulted in a faked correspondence between him and St. Paul being manufactured.
But you said you preferred Cicero, and I can’t think of anything useful to add except that the book is still a good, though impersonal round-up of the general views of educated Romans in his time.