Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Version at BMCR home site
Richard Sorabji, Robert W. Sharples (ed.), Greek and Roman Philosophy 100 BC-200 AD. 2 vols. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. Supplement 94. London: Institute of Classical Studies, University of London, 2007. Pp. xii, 720. ISBN 9781905670079; 9781905670086. £90.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Carl O'Brien, University College, Cork

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Following on from the sourcebook on the philosophy of the commentators on Plato and Aristotle from 200 to 600 AD, published by Sorabji in 2004 under the auspices of the Institute of Classical Studies, this collection of thirty-five articles concentrates on the period 100 BC to 200 AD, as the least accessible remaining period.1 This is a very significant collection with articles from some of the most important scholars currently active in the field of ancient philosophy, including Dillon, Runia, Opsomer, and Trapp, along with multiple contributions from both Sorabji and Sharples. The collection illuminates a period in which Rome began to adopt Greek philosophy. The first volume treats of the Stoics and Cynics, as well as the Epicureans, while the first section of volume two deals with the Platonists, Academics and Pythagoreans, followed by a section on the Peripatetics. A useful feature is a list of major figures from the school under consideration at the commencement of each section. While conference proceedings tend to be characterised by a degree of eclecticism (or selectivity), considerable thought has been displayed by the editors in producing an extremely comprehensive account of philosophical developments during this period. For example, there is a systematic account of Peripatetic views on fate and providence, soul and intellect, and emotion and happiness.

An area that has proved popular in recent scholarship is Stoic practical philosophy and its use as a way of life. The chapter by Sellars draws attention to interpretations by Hadot of philosophy as spiritual exercises and Foucault's view that it was an 'art of living'. It is useful that Sellars considers the validity of Hadot's and Foucault's assessments before evaluating the relative importance of philosophical doctrines (decreta) or precepts (praecepta) in mastering this art. After considering Seneca's insistence on the importance of both the theoretical and practical aspects of philosophy (p. 124), Sellars considers the application of the Handbook of Epictetus. Simplicus suggests that this was intended as preliminary training for the beginner before proceeding to the study of philosophy proper, while Sellars prefers the possibility that the Handbook served as an aid for advanced students attempting to integrate the concepts of the classroom into their daily lives.

A valuable complement to Sellars' chapter is Sorabji's subsequent article on developments in the Stoic concept of the self after 100 BC. The doctrine of the individual persona, for example that it was right for Cato to commit suicide in response to Julius Caesar's victory in the civil war, though this would not necessarily be the case for another person, provided a fresh impetus to Stoic concern with the individual. This is related to Epictetus' identification of the inviolable self as prohairesis, complicated by his recognition of more than one prohairesis. More expansive theories of self, such as Hierocles' extension to include society (p. 155), and Marcus Aurelius' denigration of the self to its composite matter (p. 160) are discussed. An additional paper by Sorabji treats of Stoic developments concerning emotion after 100 BC. After investigating Cicero's and Seneca's postulation of emotion as movement, he turns once again to Epictetus and his views on family love (p. 171). Contributing to the discussion on 'practical ethics', Gill provides a comprehensive analysis of Marcus' Aurelius' Meditations. Investigating Marcus' notions on psychology, ethics and his world-view (his belief in the primacy of necessity, providence or randomness), Gill persuasively argues that despite his individuality of approach, Marcus is not necessarily far from orthodox Stoicism (p. 187).

The focus on practical philosophy is completed by Trapp's article on one of the most distinct schools, the Cynics. After distinguishing the Cynic from the Epicurean position, Trapp characterises Cynicism as a type of aggressive primitivism (p. 191). He provides a triple justification for why concern with the Cynics should matter. Firstly, they successfully represented a distinct alternative to the other sects, and secondly, there is the related issue of their development of a characteristic mode of philosophical expression. Finally, there is the nature of their relationship to early Christianity. Trapp explores the first two aspects of this issue, questioning (though not completely rejecting) the notion that the 'diatribe style' was a Cynic-Stoic characteristic (pp. 196ff.). The more general question of whether the Cynics require rehabilitation is also considered; Trapp provides the example of a celebrated court case involving Demetrius of Corinth, who defended the obviously guilty Celer, seeking to find an element of Cynic principle which could explain his actions.

With only four articles, the Epicurean section is the smallest of the collection. Clay covers the writings of Demetrius of Laconia, not a region one normally associates with philosophy, though Demetrius is well-attested in ancient sources. While Clay outlines Demetrius' wide-ranging interests, he focuses particularly on his interest in philology. Tsouna discusses Philodemus' views on emotions, with a discussion of the role played by parrhêsia (frank speech) in Epicurean education and other methods used to treat vices and emotions.

Simon Trépanier reassesses the relationship between Lucretius' De rerum natura and Empedocles, commencing with an outline of the most important questions of recent Lucretian scholarship (pp. 243ff.). Based on the evidence of the Strasbourg papyrus, Trépanier works on the hypothesis that Empedocles expounded his philosophical system in a single poem (rather than two separate didactic epics). Empedocles' 'didactic plot' was that of a godlike master teaching his disciple how to attain a similar status; a position which leads Trépanier to argue for a distinction between a Homeric god and the Empedoclean version. Lucretius' debt is inherent in the external plots of the DRN, as that of a 'scientific quest' aided by a divine master, aiming at the eradication of ignorance, as well as his appropriation of the multiple-correspondence simile (p. 292). While Empedoclean influence on Lucretius is generally assumed, Trépanier's contribution is significant in correcting the oversimplification of the manner in which this Empedoclean model functioned.

Clay supplies a particularly valuable contribution on Diogenes of Oenoanda. In addition to an account of the excavation and publication history of the fragments, Clay usefully provides a diagram illustrating the location of each inscription on the Stoa wall (p. 285). What is noteworthy about this article is the sample of new fragments discovered in the 1997 excavation.

Platonists, Academics and Pythagoreans are treated together in the most extensive section. One certainly innovative article (though very much in the spirit of ancient philosophy) is Powell's on 'Cicero', which is formulated as a dialogue, with the author responding to questions concerning Cicero's philosophical development posed by Sorabji. Powell suggests that Cicero was led to Philo of Larissa because he offered a combination of advantages, such as intellectual pedigree, with no need to adopt a coherent philosophical position (p. 338). Cicero may also have been attracted by Neo-Academic methods, such as arguing in contrariam partem (against any thesis regardless of personal view) and in utramque partem (on both sides of any question). Powell regards a large part of Cicero's early philosophical activity as preparation for the courtroom, investigating the link between Cicero's scepticism (developed under the influence of Philo) and his choice of the dialogue form, suggesting that they were the result of gradual convergence, rather than one causing the other (p. 339). For Powell, Cicero cannot really be regarded as a philosopher, since not only was it not his main activity, but he did not make an original contribution to its development (p. 343). However, he does emphasise the value of Cicero as a philosophical writer, worth reading in this regard in his own right, rather than as a source for Hellenistic philosophy. The entire argument is laid out in a charming manner.

Jan Opsomer investigates Plutarch's dualism through an analysis of passages in which he mentions the Monad and Dyad as metaphysical principles. In Plutarch's interpretation of Timaeus 35A at De animo procreatione in Timaeo 1025D, he refers to 'dyadic' and 'monadic' forces, the ontological origin of Plato's Sameness and Difference (p. 381). Plutarch in his discussion on the human soul at 1026B-C refers to ancient dualistic thinkers, locating Plato within this tradition. Other important texts considered are De Iside et Osiride, De virtute morali, De defectu oraculum 428F-429A, and Quaestio Platonica 3, 1. Opsomer locates Plutarch's dualism within the context of derivation systems within the Old Academy and amongst Pythagoreanising Platonists (pp. 390f.), drawing upon this wide range of texts to argue Plutarch was concerned less with a metaphysical derivation system, then with adopting two coeval principles (p. 395).

John Dillon's article revisits ontological issues in Numenius, detailing some changes of opinion which he has had since the publication of The Middle Platonists.2 Dillon surveys the nature and activity of the first principle, its relationship with the second principle, the question of the Dreigötterlehre, and aspects of soul and matter. He revisits his prior conclusion that Numenius is considering the possibility that the Father may be superior to Being and Intellection (p. 397). Dillon advances the view of an evil 'material' soul existing at an individual, as well as at a cosmic, level (p. 402), before considering Numenius' criticisms of Pythagoreans who attempted to derive the Dyad from the Monad.

Numenius' subsequent influence on Origen is investigated by Kritikos, who considers the role of Platonism in Origen's understanding of Principles by surveying the most important texts in this context: Contra Celsum and De principiis, as well as Commentarii in Joannis. One valuable contribution of this paper is Kritikos' evaluation of the philosophical sources used by Origen, a task which necessarily requires use of subsequent testimony, given Origen's tendency not to mention philosophers by name (pp. 406 ff.). Origen is faced with the same problem as the Middle Platonists, the explanation of the activity of a transcendent God on the world, and identifies the Son as a mediator. Central to this role is a key aspect of Origen's Christology; the doctrine of the epinoiai (concepts of the Son based upon Biblical titles, pp. 411ff.). Kritikos observes the similarity between Numenius' distinction between a 'father and maker' and Origen's 'Father-Son' distinction, considering also Origen's doctrine of the Holy Spirit, which plays no role in creation.

This collection fulfils a double role: it provides some recent updates in the area of scholarship on ancient philosophy, but several articles also aim at correcting or modifying various assumptions. Once such article is David Runia's paper, arguing persuasively for the rehabilitation of Philo of Alexandria. Runia responds to Dodd's criticism of Philo's eclecticism by considering four developments which have aided the rehabilitation of Philo's reputation.3 (1) The recognition of Philo as a resource for the study of ancient philosophy, (2) the broader understanding of ancient philosophy (which has led to greater understanding of non-mainstream figures), (3) changes in methodology (such as the recognition that philosophy seeks firstly to solve problems rather than develop systems), and (4) a better understanding of Philo himself, are all cogent claims advanced by Runia for a more measured response to be taken towards Philo. Runia then addresses Dodds' use of Philo as a source for Neoplatonic philosophy, documenting the combination of philosophical and religious concerns to be found in Philo's doctrine of the transcendence of God.

The Peripatetic section is very extensive with a balance between articles on physics and ethics. The first article, by Robert Sharples, treats of summaries and commentaries on both Aristotle's esoteric and exoteric works. Sharples considers the turning-point marked by the edition of Aristotle's esoteric works produced by Andronicus of Rhodes, and considers the role of commentators such as Nicolaus of Damascus. Reinhardt's article focuses on the commentary tradition on Aristotle's Categories, culminating in Simplicius' edition. After a survey of the purpose of the Categories, explained by means of the Topics, Reinhardt focuses on the views of Andronicus of Rhodes and Boethus of Sidon, which can be accessed via Simplicius, drawing attention to the lack of elementary scholarly resources for these figures (such as a collection of Boethus' fragments, p. 513). Andronicus' criticism of the Aristotelian doctrine of categories, that the non-substance categories are distinguishable linguistically, but indistinguishable ontologically, is presented in relation to Boethus' response to such challenges. This may have been influenced by Stoicism, with Boethus connecting Aristotelian forms with Stoic peculiar qualities.

Barnes begins his article on Peripatetic logic by locating its position within philosophy (as the tool of philosophy, rather than as the proper object of philosophical study). The conservatism in Aristotelian logic during this period is related by Barnes to the contemporaneous production of commentaries, which is an essentially conservative activity (p. 533). Barnes turns to Aristotle's claim in the Prior Analytics A4-6 to have discovered fourteen valid moods, pointing out that he has overlooked more than half the possibilities (p. 534). Aristo of Alexandria was supposed to have added five further moods. Boethus' views on proof and perfection of the moods is discussed, and Barnes also includes an excellent discussion on the attempts by Sosigenes to understand mixed modal syllogisms (pp. 542ff.).

A second article by Barnes details attempts by Hellenistic Peripatetics to develop an epistemology for Aristotle, based upon certain salient passages scattered throughout his corpus. Barnes stresses the importance of a composite theory of judgment, combining the theory of the double criterion (use of both perception and thought to formulate a judgment), with that of the divided domain theory (use of either), in producing a theory of judgment which can be generally applicable. He finds evidence for the existence of such a theory in Ptolemy's Harmonics (pp. 558f.).

The issue of philosophical education is also covered. Griffin considers Seneca's pedagogic strategy, using evidence from the Letters and De beneficiis. In the Letters to Lucilius, the philosophical relationship proceeds from that of a master instructing his student with the aid of moral punch lines to a situation where Lucilius, as an active thinker, is able to aid his teacher, Seneca, to improve. An insight into education amongst the Platonists is provided by Tarrant. Tarrant considers the status of Platonist educators once there was no longer a central focal point, such as a scholarch. Through a consideration of the figures of Gaius, Albinus, Taurus and Alcinous, Tarrant considers the dialogues which played the chief role educationally: the Republic for the study of virtue, Timaeus (theology), and Meno (stages of education) amongst others. The Didascalicus of Alcinous, as the most substantial source for Middle Platonism, is examined, and Tarrant concludes that attempting to find a standard Middle Platonist education is as difficult as attempting to discover a single Middle Platonist doctrine (p. 465).

There are several interesting contributions which I have not treated, including an examination by Boys-Stones of Cornutus' often-overlooked Introduction to the traditions of Greek theology and its ethical orientation. However this is, I think, adequate for providing a general overview of the collection and its significance. The forty page bibliography, subdivided by school, thinker and topic is an additional invaluable resource. In terms of range and selection of articles, the editors have produced a level of comprehensiveness more usually associated with a monograph than with conference proceedings, and this supplement will be of interest to all scholars working in the field of ancient philosophy. These volumes will be complemented by planned sourcebooks on the Aristotelians, Epicureans and Stoics.

Table of Contents:

Volume I
Richard Sorabji, 'Preface', vii
Frequently used abbreviations, ix-xii
Richard Sorabji, 'Introduction', 1-32

Stoics and Cynics
Major Stoics and Cynics in the period 100 BC-200 AD, 34
I. Stephen White, 'Posidonius and Stoic Physics', 35-76
II. George Boys-Stones, 'Fallere sollers: the ethical pedagogy of the Stoic Cornutus', 77-88
III. Miriam Griffin, 'Seneca's pedagogic strategy: 'Letters and De beneficiis', 89-113
IV. John Sellars, 'Stoic practical philosophy in the Imperial period', 115-140
V. Richard Sorabji, 'What is new on the self in Stoicism after 100 BC?', 141-162
VI. Richard Sorabji, 'What is new on emotion in Stoicism after 100BC?', 163-174
VII. Christopher Gill, 'Marcus Aurelius', 175-187
VIII. Michael Trapp, 'Cynics', 189-203

Shortlist of known and suspected Epicureans, 206
IX. Diskin Clay, 'The philosophical writings of Demetrius of Laconia', 207-211
X. Voula Tsouna, 'Philodemus on emotions', 213-241
XI. Simon Trépanier, 'The didactic plot of Lucretius' De rerum natura and its Empedoclean model, 243-282
XII. Diskin Clay, 'The philosophical inscription of Diogenes of Oenoanda', 283-291

Volume II
Platonists, Academics and Pythagoreans
Major Platonists in the period 100 BC-200 AD, 295-296
XIII. Charles Brittain, 'Middle Platonists on Academic scepticism', 297-315
XIV. Harold Tarrant, 'Antiochus: a new beginning?', 317-332
XV. Jonathan Powell, 'Cicero', 333-345
XVI. Michael Trapp, 'Neopythagoreans', 347-363
XVII. Mauro Bonazzi, 'Eudorus of Alexandria and early imperial Platonism', 365-377
XVIII. Jan Opsomer, 'Plutarch on the One and the Dyad', 379-395
XIX. John Dillon, 'Numenius: some ontological questions', 397-402
XX. Angelos Kritikos, 'Platonism and Principles in Origen', 403-417
XXI. Harold Tarrant, 'Moral goal and moral virtues in Middle Platonism', 419-429
XXII. George Boys-Stones, 'Middle Platonism on fate and human autonomy', 431-447
XXIII. Harold Tarrant, 'Platonist educators in a growing market: Gaius; Albinus; Taurus; Alcinous', 449-465
XXIV. Michael Trapp, 'Neopythagoreans', 467-482
XXV. David Runia, 'The rehabilitation of the jackdaw: Philo of Alexandria and ancient philosophy', 483-500

Major peripatetics in the period 100 BC-200 AD, 503-504
XXVI. Robert W. Sharples, 'Aristotle's exoteric and esoteric works: summaries and commentaries', 505-512
XXVII. Tobias Reinhardt, 'Andronicus of Rhodes and Boethus of Sidon on Aristotle's Categories', 513-529
XXVIII. Jonathan Barnes, 'Peripatetic Logic: 100 BC-AD 200', 531-546
XXIX. Jonathan Barnes, 'Peripatetic epistemology: 100 BC-AD 200', 547-562
XXX. Richard Sorabji, 'Time, place and extracosmic space: Peripatetics in the first century BC and a Stoic opponent', 563-574
XXXI. Richard Sorabji, 'Modifications to Aristotle's physics of the heavens by Peripatetics and others, 100 BC to 200 AD', 575-594
XXXII. Robert W. Sharples, 'Peripatetics on fate and providence', 595-605
XXXIII. Robert W. Sharples, 'Peripatetics on soul and intellect', 607-620
XXXIV. Richard Sorabji, 'Peripatetics on emotion after 100 BC', 621-626
XXXV. Robert W. Sharples, 'Peripatetics on happiness', 627-637

Appendix. Diskin Clay, 'A partial census of known and suspected Epicureans', 639-643
Further reading, 645-685
General index, 687-697
Index of passages cited, 699-720


1.   R. Sorabji, The philosophy of the commentators 200-600 AD, A sourcebook, vol. 1 Psychology, vol. 2 Physics, vol. 3 Logic and metaphysics (London, 2004).
2.   J. M. Dillon, The Middle Platonists (London, 1977, 2nd ed. 1996).
3.   E. R. Dodds, 'The Parmenides of Plato and the origin of the Neoplatonic One', Classical Quarterly 22 (1928), 132 n. 1.

1 comment:

  1. I'm really surprised by the absence of one or more chapters on Pyrrhonism. And I'm also suprised by the fact that the reviewer doesn't say anything about this.


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