Wednesday, January 16, 2019


Gernot Michael Müller, Fosca Mariani Zini (ed.), Philosophie in Rom - Römische Philosophie? kultur-, literatur- und philosophiegeschichtliche Perspektiven. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, 358. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2018. Pp. vii, 531. ISBN 9783110488722. €129,95.

Reviewed by Wolfgang Polleichtner, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen (

Version at BMCR home site

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

Müller and Mariani Zini present us with a very useful collection of what can in general be called case studies on various topics and current trends in research in the field of Roman philosophy. As the title of their book indicates, the question of whether we can talk about a specifically Roman way of writing and dealing with philosophy also plays an important role for their Sammelband. In accordance with the general agreement between researchers that philosophy was received in Rome under specific historical and cultural conditions and actively developed further under exactly those auspices, Müller and Mariani Zini publish (with the one exception of Jörn Müller's contribution) the papers of a conference that was held at Beilngries in 2013. Roman philosophy never developed its own independent schools. The editors claim that what was typically Roman about philosophy in Rome was the reassessment of philosophy in general against the background of Rome's, and these Roman authors', sociological and cultural interests, including, but not limited to, the liking for questions relevant to practical daily life (14-15). This highly recommendable collection of essays has by and large restricted itself to late republican and early imperial times.

The introduction in itself includes a very thorough overview of current secondary literature. Even without the other chapters that follow, this review of the pertinent literature recommends the volume to anyone who desires greater familiarity with the field.

For the majority of the articles, the editors succeed in making their volume exceptionally coherent. Jolivet stresses the Roman interest in justifying why Greek philosophy and education was received and accepted in Rome, something they did when they talked about the embassies from Pergamon and Athens which were crucial for the introduction of philosophy to Rome. Sauer elaborates on this topic and characterizes the Roman interest in philosophy as the search for affirming and not so much for challenging Roman moral standards within the framework of Roman society. Sauer convincingly argues that some systematic weaknesses of argumentation in Roman philosophical works have their origins in that same motivation. Fuhrer's contribution also deals with these attempts of Roman philosophical authors to mold their identity as philosophers within and under the conditions of Roman society. According to G. Müller, Horace, too, fashions his identity as a poet and teacher of philosophy within the framework of the realities of his life. Tsuni's article argues in the same vein that Antiochus of Ascalon's teachings were attractive for members of the Roman upper class like L. Licinius Lucullus because they resembled to a certain extent the Roman way of talking about their mos maiorum through series of exempla. The importance of an elaborate ekphrasis of examples in Philodemus leads Delattre to his conclusion that Philodemus, too, recognized this Roman need and adapted his didactical methods of teaching Epicureanism to the Romans accordingly. This rhetorical device of accumulating examples and arguing about the same points in various ways can also be found in Lucretius' efforts to establish philosophy as a discipline of healing, as Erler shows. Powell and Steel argue that practical considerations for using philosophical thinking are also at the heart of Cicero's evaluation of the usefulness of philosophy in his own circumstances. Mariani Zini and Wiener take this therapeutic interest in philosophy in Rome even further. Mariani Zini recognizes it in Cicero's approaches to consolation in the Tusculan Disputations and Wiener in Seneca's attempt to overcome the image of the heartless Stoic. Wildberger demonstrates that Seneca also adapts the Greek understanding of ἔρως and φιλία between a wise man and a philosophical novice in a way that makes it more palatable to the Roman sense of decency. Likewise, J. Müller's very interesting piece on ἀκρασία in Seneca's Phaedra interprets this tragedy as philosophical case study of the possible consequences of psychological weakness of will. This interpretation of the Phaedra shows how Seneca reworked a literary motif to provide a didactic example for his philosophy. Gauly argues that the same trait of explaining current moral views in Rome through philosophy can be detected in Pliny the Elder's zoology. Nature not only shows general moral perspectives in life, but also even foreshadows Roman history, like Marc Antony's defeat. Even when Schirren shows that Quintilian looked at philosophy from the viewpoint of its usefulness for rhetoric and speeches, we see a Roman approach to philosophy.

While these previous chapters are parts of a wonderfully coherent discussion on Roman discourses about philosophy and its use, Lévy's study of the development of Cicero's use of temeritas and Reinhardt's article on the understanding of κατάληψις in Cicero and Augustine fit less well with the other contributions in this book. Convincing as the content of both articles is, it does not become clear in how far the results of these studies on specific problems of translations of individual words or phrases and the history of the meaning of certain words chime in with the overarching theme of the volume. The same is true about the concluding essay. Auvray-Assayas' article, as the editors themselves suggest, is supposed to show that Cicero became part of the philosophical heritage that he wanted to establish in Rome (32).

Two useful indices (nominum and locorum) conclude this massive and well produced volume. One minor flaw is that the table of contents lacks coherent editing. There is inconsistency in the use of upper and lower case in English titles; Latin words or titles of ancient works are not italicized; and so forth.

In sum, the editors present us with a very useful and widely coherent volume that keeps its promise. It sheds more light on the cultural, sociological, and literary conditions in Rome under which philosophy was adapted and appropriated not only by Romans, but also by Greek thinkers like Philodemus. The explorations into what is considered belletristic literature are especially appreciated, and indeed more could be done here. Just as Philodemus wrote On the Good King According to Homer, Crates of Mallus had already introduced the Romans to the exegesis of Homer. Philosophical thought informed literary works like Horace's poems or Seneca's Phaedra to a far greater extent than some would be prepared to admit. And as in the case of the Phaedra, these "interdisciplinary" considerations can lead to new discoveries or perspectives.

Table of Contents

Gernot Michael Müller, Fosca Mariani Zini: Einleitung, 1
I. Kultur und mentalitätsgeschichtliche Grundlagen der Philosophie in Rom
Jean-Christophe Jolivet: Philosophes et philologues helénistiques, ambassadeurs et héros culturels à Rome: le cas de Cratès de Mallos, 43
Jochen Sauer: Römische Exempla-Ethik und Konsenskultur? Philosophie und mos maiorum bei Cicero und Seneca, 67
II. Gesellschaftliche und literarische Rollenkonzepte für eine Selbstdefinition des Philosophen in Rom
Therese Fuhrer: Philosophische Literatur in Rom als Medium der Definition sozialier Rollen, 99
Gernot Michael Müller: Philosophie im Plauderton. Zum philosophischen Gehalt der Horazischen Episteln, 115
III. Griechische Philosophen und ihr römisches Umfeld im 1. Jh. v. Chr.
Georgia Tsouni: The ‚Academy' in Rome: Antiochus and his vetus Academia, 139
Danie Delattre: Philodème et le portrait moral dans le livre X des Vices ([LʼArrogance], PHerc 1008), 151
IV. Zum Verhältnis von Philosophie und Rhetorik in philosophischer Literatur und rhetorischer Theorie
Michael Erler: Beweishäufung bei Lukrez. Zum Verhältnis von Philosophie und Rhetorik in philosophischer Literatur, 175
Thomas Schirren: Wieviel Philosophie braucht der Redner? Zur Bedeutung der Philosophie in der Institutio oratoria des Quintilian, 189
V. Ciceros politische Philosophie und die Krise der römischen Republik
Jonathan G. F. Powell: Philosophising about Rome. Cicero's De re publica and De legibus, 249
Catherine Steel: Re publica nihil desperatius: salvaging the state in Cicero's pre-civil war philosophical works, 269
VI. Skeptizismus und Erkenntnistheorie bei Cicero und Augustin
Carlos Lévy: De la rhétorique à la philosophie: le rôle de la temeritas dans la pensée et l'œuvre de Cicéron, 285
Tobias Reinhardt: Cicero and Augustine on Grasping the Truth, 305.
VII. Argumentationsthechniken für eine Philosophie als Therapie: Cicero und Seneca im Vergleich
Fosca Mariani Zini: Argumentation als Trost. Bemerkungen über Ciceros Tusculanen, Buch I, 327
Claudia Wiener: Stoa ohne stoische Terminologie? Senecas Vermittlungsstrategien, 349
VIII. Elemente einer stoischen Anthropologie für die römische Gesellschaft des 1. Jhs. n. Chr. im Œuvre Senecas
Jula Wildberger: Amicitia and Eros: Seneca's Adaptation of a Stoic Concept of Friendship for Roman Men in Progress, 387
Jörn Müller: Senecas Phaedra: Stoisches Porträt einer akratischen Persönlichkeit, 427
IX. Philosophie und Naturkunde im 1. Jh. n. Chr.
Bardo Maria Gauly: Plinius' Zoologie und die römische Naturgeschichte, 469
X. Zu Rezeption und Überlieferung römischer Philosophie am Ausgang der Spätantike
Clara Auvray-Assayas: Lectures néoplatoniciennes de Cicéron: le témoignage du manuscript Reg. Lat. 1762 de la Bibliothèque Vaticane, 491
Index, 501
Index locorum, 507

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