Monday, November 7, 2016


Jean-Baptiste Gourinat (ed.), L'éthique du stoïcien Hiéroclès. Hors-Série. Philosophie antique: problèmes, Renaissance, usages. Villeneuve d'Ascq: Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 2016. Pp. 175. ISBN 9782757412732. €22.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Rodrigo Pinto de Brito, Federal University of Sergipe (

Version at BMCR home site

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For those who like Classics and also enjoy puzzles, the History of Hellenistic and Late Ancient Philosophy can be a great fount of joy: first because very often one does not have complete primary sources, so it is necessary to rebuild the arguments of philosophers or schools; second because to rebuild these arguments one uses the results of research in other fields, such as history, archaeology, palaeography and papyrology. Thus, the joy is not only to piece together a thought from fragments, but also to provide the pieces.

Some recent examples of puzzles in the area of Stoic ethics are the "newly" discovered texts of Hierocles: Elements of Ethics (PBerol 9780) and some chapters of On Appropriate Acts (preserved by Stobaeus). And since Hierocles is "un auteur antique très jeune, puisqu'il est né en 1901" (p. 5), there is still a lot to be said about his thought, which can be very illuminating and furnishes important details on the Stoic doctrine of oikeiōsis, as well as on embryology, domestic economy and marriage.

So, organized by Jean-Baptiste Gourinat, we have L'éthique du Stoïcien Hiéroclès, a very complete and accurate work, which covers the majority of the features and issues of Hierocles' thought. The book is composed of revised versions of the papers presented in the second Rencontre Internationale de Philosophie Ancienne—which happened at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon in April, 2011—plus a general introduction written by Thomas Bénatouïl.

The introduction offers a brief history of the discovery of Hierocles' Elements of Ethics, and it also briefly shows how Hierocles' fragments in Stobaeus came to be considered as parts of another work called Peri kathēkontos, even though there are no testimonies to this title. Bénatouïl also presents the main themes of Hierocles' thought, relating them to the following papers: (1) Jean-Baptiste Gourinat's 'La gestation de l'animal et la perception de soi'; (2) Christopher Gill's 'La continuité de la perception depuis la naissance'; (3) Francesca Alesse's 'La représentation de soi et les différentes formes de l'appropriation chez Hiéroclès'; (4) Marcelo Boeri's 'L'oikeiōsis et les rapports avec les dieux selon Hiéroclès'; (5) Christelle Veillard's 'Hiéroclès, les devoirs envers la patrie et les parents'; (6) David Konstan's 'Hiéroclès, sur la famille et l'économie domestique'; (7) Ilaria Ramelli's 'Extraits du traité Sur le mariage de Stobée'. The papers are followed by the abstracts of the conferences, in both French and English.

The first paper, by Gourinat, aims specifically to analyze the columns I-III of Elements of Ethics, stressing the Stoic theory of animal generation, which is not a theme usually present in Stoic accounts of ethics, for the majority of these accounts start with the description of animals after they are born, not before. So Hierocles' Elements of Ethics is extremely important, since it is a Stoic text that clearly intends to show how the principle of oikeiōsis installs itself into the living beings after the rise of the soul, allowing sensations and impulses, hence self-perception and self-preservation. Although Hierocles' approach to embryology is sui generis, Gourinat emphasizes that it is orthodox, as compared with other accounts provided by Cicero, Diogenes Laertius and Plutarch.

Written by Gill, the second paper examines columns III-VI of Elements of Ethics, concerning animals' self-perception after their birth. Since animals, as well as human beings, are born with the ability of perceiving and improving themselves, it is natural for human beings to develop themselves until they are able to recognize the truth as the only good. And, unlike Plato and Aristotle, Hierocles did not think that ethical development depended on favorable initial conditions. Animals are psychophysical wholes, able to defend themselves and, in the case of human beings, to organize themselves to improve their possibilities of surviving and achieving the telos.

The third paper is by Alesse and on the Elements of Ethics coll. VI.29- IX.10. She presents two schemes and uses them to interpret this stretch of text. The first scheme (col. VI.27 to the end of col. VIII) is on how animals develop a self-representation to which they need to assent and which goes along with oikeiōsis. Alesse thinks that the assent given to self-representation is not only to the accuracy of the physical characteristics represented, but also to the value aggregated to these characteristics. The second scheme consists of the reduction of the different kinds of appropriation to one first kind, self-appropriation, which expands to include other beings, starting with immediate family.

Aiming to analyze Stobaeus (Eclog. I, 3.53. p. 63.6-27 Wachsmuth-Hense; I, 3.54, p. 64.1-14; II, 9.7, pp. 181.8-182.30), the fourth paper, written by Boeri, offers some interpretation of Hierocles on the duties of mankind towards the gods. The author starts with a portrayal of gods as creatures with unalterable and stable judgments, relating them to Stoic conceptions of virtues and knowledge. Thus, like the gods, sages are also unchangeable. So the gods cannot be responsible for the evil, but they can be responsible for things that human beings consider evil, such as natural disasters. Unlike ordinary people, sages understand the world order, and they know that even natural disasters are not bad in themselves. Indeed, vice is the only evil. Boeri argues that, if the gods are part of the cosmos and if the Stoic cosmopolis is constituted by the expansion of oikeiōsis, then, by oikeiōsis itself, human beings should recognize the gods as sharing the same community with them—the community of rational beings. And then they should honor the gods, for they are paramount examples of rationality and virtue.

In the fifth paper, Veillard examines the Stoic topic of the duties of human beings towards parents and country, as approached by Hierocles (Stobaeus, Eclog. III, 39.34, pp. 730.17-731.15; III, 39.35, pp. 731.16-733.6; III, 39.36, pp. 733.7-734.10; IV, 25.53, pp. 640.4-644.15). Veillard deals with the famous metaphor of the concentric circles, stressing and explaining how individual reason expands its concern through some kind of transference of affection: from the affection for itself, then embracing larger groups such as the family—starting with the parents, since they teach us how to love and they are our constant friends—, and then extending this affection towards the whole human kind. But even if the metaphor of concentric circles is the best known illustration of the expansion of oikeiōsis, it is grounded on a cosmic explanation: obedience to one's duties occurs through understanding that human beings are part of the transmission of the causal chain which has emanated from god since the creation of the cosmos and, since the cosmos is well ordered, human actions are appropriate precisely when they conserve order, including social order. Veillard's paper is very detailed and precise, and it also comments on the very structure of Hierocles' fragments as preserved by Stobaeus, as well as their problems, comparing them with doxography or texts of other conspicuous Stoic philosophers.

The sixth paper, by Konstan, is on duties towards relatives and analyzes Stobaeus' extracts on the relationship between brothers and sisters. Probably these extracts were part of Hierocles' On Appropriate Acts (Eclog. IV, 84.20, pp. 660.15- 664.18 and 84.23, p. 671.3-673.18). (Note that, oddly, chapter numbers from this point in the volume are given as for older editions of the Florilegium rather than following Wachsmuth-Hense.) The aim of the paper is to shed some light on the theme of "putting yourself in the place of the other", extending oikeiōsis. Konstan describes this process, first by the radical example of the slaves, second by the example of brothers and sisters. Konstan also emphasizes the differences between Hierocles' approach to sympathy and the Christian proverb which exhorts one "not to do to others what you would not like to be done to yourself". After that, there is a detailed description of the metaphor of concentric circles and of the role this metaphor plays in Hierocles' account of how the expansion of oikeiōsis occurs.

Finally, the seventh and last paper, written by Ramelli, aims to provide analysis of the five extracts of the work On the marriage, which was probably also part of On Appropriate Acts (Stobaeus, Anth. IV, 67.21-4, pp. 502.1-507.5; IV, 75.14, pp. 603.8-605.16; IV, 85.21, pp. 696.21-699.15). The article starts with Hierocles' arguments on the necessity of thinking of the issue of marriage as part of the wider issue concerning appropriate acts. An approach to these acts, in its turn, is crucial for thinking about the social oikeiōsis, and having a family and taking care of it are the starting points of this kind of oikeiōsis, i.e. the social one. After a brief account of the five extracts on marriage, Ramelli deals with the relationship between the concepts of oikeiōsis and kathēkonta, from the early Stoa to Hierocles himself. And to piece together these specific relations, Ramelli uses fragments and doxography from authors such as Porphyry and Cicero, comparing these fragments with Arius Didymus and stressing Hierocles' own position on this issue. After that, the comparisons are, on one hand, between Musonius Rufus and Hierocles—both comprehend marriage as homonoia and koinōnia, close to the traditional Stoic conception of friendship between sages—and, on the other hand, between Hierocles and Antipater, who share the same technical terminology and the emphasis on the marriage as kathēkon. As the result of the above-mentioned comparisons, we can identify what is original in Hierocles' thought on the topic of marriage.

As stated before, L'éthique du Stoïcien Hiéroclès is a very complete book, composed by very creative, well-written and precise papers on each major topic of Hierocles' thought. I sincerely hope it can help fill the gap on the issue of Stoic conception of oikeiōsis and also be that fount of joy for those who like Classics and puzzles.

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