The classical Roman writer and politician, Cicero (106-43 BC), was a twofold influence on the young Augustine.
In reading Cicero, Augustine first lost his interest in taking up the Christian faith.
But later, through a love of wisdom in him that was inspired by Cicero, Augustine was attracted back to the Christian faith and to baptism by an inner calling that finally he could no longer resist.
The influence of Cicero then pervaded in both the thought and Latin writing style of Augustine until the day he died.
Augustine received his early education
in Thagaste and then in nearby Madaura, studying especially rhetoric
(the persuasive use of language) and Latin literature.
Augustine learned to read by studying the Roman poet Virgil (70-19 BC), and he learned to speak well by studying the Roman orator and politician, Cicero (106-43 BC).
In Carthage at about the age of nineteen Augustine fell in love with the concept of wisdom through reading the works of Cicero.
Augustine became great admirer of Cicero, acknowledging him as "the greatest master of Roman eloquence."
The book, Hortensius ("An Exhortation to Philosophy") was a dialogue written by Cicero in 45 BC, and named for Q. Hortensius Hortalus (c. 110-50 BC), a friend and fellow orator of Cicero. A full copy of Hortensius no longer exists, but there are 103 fragments or quotations of it quoted in later works - of which sixteen are in Augustine's writings.
The book was a protreptic. In other words, it was a treatise designed to inspire in the reader an enthusiasm for the discipline of philosophy.
The Hortensius was probably being used as an introductory manual or text book for the philosophy that Augustine was being taught.
On reading Hortensius by Cicero, a strong desire for true wisdom was awakened in Augustine. When he read this book, he tells us, "My spirit was filled with an extraordinary desire for the eternal qualities of wisdom .... I was on fire then, my God, I was on fire to leave created things behind and fly back to you, nor did I know what you would do with me; for with you is wisdom. But that book filled me with the love of wisdom (which is called philosophy in Greek)."
The above words from the Confessions
could in fact be partially describing the impact that Augustine realised in hindsight. As Augustine later realised, the Hortensius
taught him "to love wisdom itself, whatever it might be, and to search for it, pursue it, hold it, and embrace it firmly" (Soliloquies
(Continued on the next page.)