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Search for Self in Other in Cicero, Ovid, Rousseau, Diderot and Sartre


Mary Efrosini Gregory

Search for Self in Other in Cicero, Ovid, Rousseau, Diderot and Sartre examines how these five theorists recognized that searching for self in an idealized other can lead to a variety of perversions. Cicero warned against seeking friends whom we regard as being everything that we are not: he advised to first be a good person and then to seek other. Ovid showed that Narcissus, who had no close friends to reinforce his identity, was oblivious to his own assets and tried to live vicariously through other. Rousseau explained why modern man, while seated in a theater, feels compassion and is transported by pity, anxiety and fear for the welfare of fictional characters as if it were his own. Diderot showed how the absence of self can be exploited by the powerful to reshape the minds of the weak. He proves that given the right environment and length of time, any one of us, like the victims in The Nun, could just as easily have his life ruined. Sartre reminds us that it is impossible to be-in-exterior. We see ourselves according to the way that others perceive us based on conditioning and prejudices. Sartre untangles the snarled web of misperception of self that arises from «the look» of the other.
This book addresses man’s growing understanding of the death of self in the mirror of other across the corridors of time – from Narcissus’ ancient pool, to Cicero’s Roman forum, to Rousseau’s Parisian theater, to Diderot’s convent in The Nun, to Sartre’s twentieth-century hell.


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1. Cicero 17


Chapter One Cicero If people think that friendship springs from weakness and from a purpose to secure someone through whom we may obtain that which we lack, they assign her, if I may so express it, a lowly pedigree indeed, and an origin far from noble, and they would make her the daughter of poverty and want.1 —Cicero, On Friendship (44 BC) Let us begin our examination of Cicero with a background review of his youth, cherished teacher and role model Scaevola, close friend Atticus, and contemporary political intrigue. It was these influences that caused him to reflect, later on in life, on self mirrored in other and on how far one should go in using one’s friends to promote self interest and the general good. When Marcus Tullius Cicero was sixteen, he assumed the toga virilis and his father introduced him to Quintus Mucius Scaevola the augur to re- ceive instruction in Roman law (90 BC).2 Scaevola was a prominent Roman jurist and came from a family of renowned lawyers that included the pontifex maximus.3 Scaevola died in 88 BC and so Cicero was under his tutelage for just two years. As Cicero attended the augur’s lectures, Rome was in the throes of revo- lution: the Samnites and other Italian tribes were waging war against Rome to gain a larger share of Roman suffrage. During this time the Roman orator Publius Sulpicius became tribune of the plebs and proposed reforms that re- sulted in a civil war between...

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