Plotting in Cicero’s garden

library garden quote jpg

[Artwork by Laura Wilder,″]

I’ve been enjoying the spring garden: the early bloomers are out and we’ve started to plant our vegetables. It’s hard work keeping on top of it all–especially the weeds. But I like the physicality of it–getting my hands dirty and not thinking too much.

Nothing like Cicero’s garden.

The Roman statesman, orator and writer had slaves to maintain his beloved library and garden–where the only plotting going on was political.

Cicero’s infamous quote, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need”, was adapted from a letter he wrote requesting a meeting with friend Varro in 46 B.C. Here’s the literal translation:

“If you have a garden in your library”, he wrote to Varro, “everything will be complete.” (Cic. Fam. 9.4).

“Everything will be complete” for a productive meeting, he says, because the Roman garden was designed for thinking, philosophizing and discourse. It was, as Damon Young (author of Philosophy in the Garden) puts it, a “garden library“–rather than a library with a garden.

Cicero eventually lost his property, his library, and his life, at the hands of Mark Antony. He was executed in 43 B.C., just a three years after this famous quote was written.

I suppose I should be thankful that the only battle I have to wage is against a few million dandelions.



  1. Poor Cicero! He was so right, a garden and a library , well and a nice meal, some knitting too please. oh and let’s invite the family and friends as well…I am happy you ar enjoying spring! Xo Johanna

  2. True, it is all a matter of putting things into perspective. And for all intents and purposes, those are some bright and pretty dandelions – all probably part of their devilish disguise: to appeal to our sense of color and misplaced beauty. Because beauty can be found anywhere.

  3. It is only fair to Cicero to point out that he recommended treating your slaves as if they were employees – fair returns for a fair days work De Officiis I.41. And no dreamer, but an active honest statesman and provincial governor. Also just the man to talk with in a garden with books to hand.
    Jonathan Harlow

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s