In the history of Western aesthetics, Cicero made a groundbreaking differentiation between two categories of beauty, namely, dignitas and venustas. Starting with a critical examination of this set of concepts, this article argues that Cicero utilized the conceptual and linguistic resources from the second century BCE onwards to develop his aesthetic theory. He defended the masculine dignitas while making venustas — previously used to denote feminine or erotic beauty—an indispensable charm for elite men. The inherent gender and class conflicts within the two types of beauty demonstrated the dilemma facing the ideal orators in Cicero's mind amidst the social crises of late Republican Rome. Since Cicero's time, the meaning of venustas had gone through a semantic shift. It became a common term describing aristocratic men as well as works of art. In Cicero's writings, dignitas and venustas had not yet become independent aesthetic concepts; instead, they were subordinate to the writer's ethical and political concerns.


Rome, Cicero, aesthetics, dignitas, venustas

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