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Elizabeth Machen Palmer

Thomas Jefferson's Copy of Cicero

Marcus Tullius Cicero. Academica. Edited by John Davies. Cambridge, 1725.

In his "Academic books," Cicero presented the philosophical dialogues, his principal contribution to the debates between the Academics and the Stoics on the nature of knowledge. Since their inception in 45 B.C.E., the "Academic books" have led a complicated existence. Modern editions are based on fragmentary texts from two different manuscript editions published in Antiquity. John Davies's 1725 edition is important because he was the first editor to consult manuscripts in more than one hundred years and the first to use the now standard title of "Academica." This copy of Academica was part of Jefferson's retirement library and was purchased by Lewis H. Machen at the Poor Auction in 1829.

Jefferson read the works of Cicero throughout his life and valued him as a moral philosopher and prose writer. Fourteen Cicero titles were in the library Jefferson sold to Congress in 1815 and he acquired another seventeen titles for the library he formed in retirement. Ever critical of typographical errors in classical texts, Jefferson sometimes made marginal corrections in his copies. This copy contains Jefferson's handwritten corrections on ten pages, and was initialed by him at signatures "I" and "T." In a 1818 letter to a Boston publisher, acknowledging the gift of a new edition of Cicero's works, Jefferson bemoans the state of the classical press in the United States, and includes of list of the errors he has found in reviewing two hundred pages, an average of one in every thirteen pages, which he considers to be an improvement.




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