Wednesday, January 29, 2020


Hermann Weidemann, Marcus Tullius Cicero. Über das Schicksal. Sammlung Tusculum. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2019. Pp. 379. ISBN 9783110471182. €49,95.

Reviewed by Andrew R. Dyck, Los Angeles

Version at BMCR home site

De fato is agreed to be the most sophisticated and challenging of Cicero's philosophical works. Any help with this text is therefore welcome, particularly if it is supplied by an expert.

The author of the volume under review, Hermann Weidemann, has long been associated with De fato, both as the supervisor of Magnus Schallenberg's dissertation and as the author of studies of problems in this and related texts.1 Here he presents his views systematically in the form of introduction, text, translation and commentary.

In contrast to early Tusculum volumes that began with the original text plus en face German translation, this one contains a detailed (75-page) introduction, in which the origin of the work, its background in the Hellenistic philosophical schools and its structure are clearly delineated. There are also sections on the related texts of Pseudo-Plutarch and Alexander of Aphrodisias and on the reception of De fato. What one misses in comparison with Weidemann's edition of Aristotle, Peri hermeneias, is a detailed account of the manuscript tradition. modern editions, and editorial principles.2

Though the Latin text is presented without a critical apparatus, Weidemann has devoted considerable thought to it. The constitution of the text will be the primary focus of this review.

The text transmitted at §17 reads: nam 'morietur Scipio' talem vim habet ut, quamquam de futuro dicitur, tamen ut id non possit convertere in falsum; de homine enim dicitur, cui necesse est mori. Here Cicero is reporting the views of Diodorus Cronus, whose 'tense logic' holds that past and future events are true at all times and thus necessary. The justification introduced with enim in the transmitted text is thus out of place. Weidemann wants to delete de homine enim . . . mori as a reader's insertion (pp.215-16). But it should be recalled that at this period Cicero is writing in 'leftover time' as he follows political events closely (cf. Div. 2.7, Fat. 1b, and his letters of the period; for the phrase, Leg. 1.9 [subsiciva tempora]). It seems therefore more plausible that this mistake is a result of hasty composition, as Sedley suggested.3

§27: et si tum non esset vera haec enuntiatio 'capiet Numantiam Scipio', ne illa quidem eversa vera est haec enuntiatio 'cepit Numantiam Scipio'. This is the way the text is ordinarily printed. Weidemann rightly objects that the unreal esset in the protasis demands another unreal subjunctive in the apodosis. He adopts (p.255) Montanari Caldini's (1980, 90) conjecture esset vera for vera est, unnecessarily: one of the principal witnesses, A, offers vera esset, which is just as good and is evidently the origin of B's vera est and thus very likely to be the transmitted text.

A little further down in the same chapter, there are two occurrences of 'instantia' that have caused difficulty: nam ut praeterita ea vera dicimus, quorum superiore tempore vera fuerit instantia, sic futura, quorum consequenti tempore vera erit instantia, ea vera dicemus. This is the way the text is ordinarily printed, with fuerit and erit, the readings of the editio princeps (Venice, 1471), replacing transmitted fuerunt and erunt respectively. Weidemann challenges the communis opinio by adducing the three passages where instantia occurs elsewhere in Cicero (Part. 37, Tusc. 4.11, 64) to argue that in our passage the word is the neuter plural participle of instare, not the abstract noun (p.247). At Part. 37 and Tusc. 4.64 we have substantivized participles of a common type ('things present'), as in the latter passage: instantia feruntur . . .contemnuntur sequentia, whereas at Tusc. 4.11 the participle serves as a subject complement: quae enim venientia metuuntur, eadem adficiunt aegritudine instantia. None of these 'parallels' involves a genitival limitation of instantia, which implies that it is an abstract. Now Latin abstracts can be used in the plural, but there is no parallel for the sense Weidemann claims: 'gegenwärtige Verwirklichungen' ('present fulfillments' or the like). That is why instantia in our passage has been taken as the singular abstract ('the fact of being present or impending': OLD s.v. 1, citing our passage), which, though not found elsewhere in Cicero, is in his contemporary Nigidius (apud Gel. 9.12.6). The unusual word will have caused scribes to take it as a plural and change the verbs to plural accordingly.4

At §39 the transmitted text reads: Democritus, Heraclitus, Empedocles, Aristoteles. Weidemann (pp.305-9) rightly objects that Aristotle is out of place in this list of determinists and could more easily count as a member of the libertarians, whose position is described (without an individual being named) in the sequel. He suggests that originally Empedocles was written twice but then replaced by Aristoteles. I suspect, rather, that after the description of the libertarians (altera eorum quibus videretur sine ullo fato esse animorum motus voluntarii) some words such as ut Aristoteles voluit dropped out by saltation, the omission was then noticed and the name Aristoteles added to the margin but falsely inserted in recopying. This hypothesis would remedy both the appearance of Aristotle's name in the wrong place and the omission of a named libertarian.

At §40 Weidemann has performed a service by calling attention to and defending the conjecture of Hamelin, whereby at the slight price of changing transmitted appetitum to appetitus in the phrase illa etiam quae appetitum sequuntur, he restores a logical sequence of arguments and an orthodox Stoic position and enables appetitus to have the same sense in §§40 and 41 (pp.311-21). In §41 he rightly defends the transmitted sint, changed unnecessarily to sunt in most recent editions (p.324). Similarly in the second sentence of §44, he rightly defends the second occurrence of neque, which is often bracketed by editors (pp.336-40).

At the beginning of §44, where two libertarian positions are distinguished, the former, opposed to Chrysippus, is said to be a 'different matter' (alia ratio), the latter in substantial agreement with Chrysippus. The problem is that, according to the transmitted text, there is no identifiable difference between the positions. Here Weidemann (pp.332-36) follows the proposal of J. H. Bremi, who wanted to insert non before fateantur. As transmitted, the relevant part of the sentence is as follows: si illi qui negant assensiones fato fieri, fateantur tamen eas non sine viso antecedente fieri, alia ratio est. Because of tamen, the main clause stands in an adversative relation to the protasis; Weidemann (p. 334) proposes (after Hamelin) construing tamen with fieri, but that is hardly the natural way of reading the Latin; cf. OLD s.v. tamen 1, citing examples of the postpositive use, as well as the following instance, in which it does relate to fieri: nec tamen fato fieri assensiones. The transmitted text provides an adversative relation of the clauses in that acknowledging that a visum ('impression') precedes an assent is a concession to determinists, who hold that an assent follows a visum, in contrast to the libertarians' general anti-determinism. There is also no obvious rhetorical point to the litotes non fateantur . . . non (if Cicero had wanted to achieve that sense, he would presumably simply have omitted the transmitted non). Unless a better solution can be found, we shall have to burden Cicero, writing in haste, with having muddled the argument.

At §46 Weidemann suggests that aliam be inserted before a te, Epicure to match a preceding aliam . . . a Democrito (p.355); this is well worth considering, an omission possibly prompted by saltation from a to a.

At the beginning of the last preserved sentence (§48) Weidemann's suggests <aut> num si atomis . . .; pp. 355-59) instead of nam si atomis . . .. But the combination aut num only occurs in Cicero when a question introduced with a question particle precedes (cf. PHI), which is not the case here. His suggestion can be saved, however, by omitting aut and simply substituting num for nam, which is more plausible anyway.

Though a usable commented English translation has been available for some time (Sharples 1991), German readers have had to make do with Bayer 1963/2000, which Weidemann's version now renders obsolete.5 This new version seems to me both idiomatic and faithful to the sense of the original, but a review by a native German speaker would be desirable.

Weidemann presents a philosophical commentary that often delineates the argument with the aid of formulas. The explanation of philosophical problems is generally lucid, informed by a careful consideration of the Latin terminology, the structure of the argument, the parallel sources (where available) and secondary literature. He points out gaps in the argument, showing, for instance, that the first of the rhetorical questions at the end of §6 is incomplete and ought to contain a reference to natural causes in order to motivate the conclusion implicitly drawn in the second rhetorical question (pp.171-72). Again, in the difficult section in which Cicero tries to show that Chrysippus' embrace of astrology contradicts his modal theory, Weidemann argues, with Kreter (2006) and against some other recent opinion, that both versions of Cicero's argument (§§12 and 14) are logically correct (p.186). He is also good on the 'Idle Argument', correcting and supplementing previous accounts and critically investigating the provenance and relevance of Cicero's examples (pp. 257-72).

The commentary is generally helpful in explicating the content. My only (minor) complaint is that some of the documentation could have been more generous. Thus, on pp. 170-71 Weidemann narrates the background for Cicero's examples of Daphitas and Philip of Macedon (Fat. 5) but never gives the reference to the primary source from which he drew the information (V. Max. 1.8 ext. 8-9), so that the reader without access to another commentary will be left in the dark.

If, then, the results of Weidemann's editorial work are mixed, he has provided a commentary that will advance the understanding of this difficult treatise.6


1.   Schallenberg 2008, esp. VIII; Weidemann lists his own contributions on pp.373-74.
2.   Weidemann 2015, 54-64. The brief note on other editions on p.160 hardly a substitute.
3.   Sedley 2005, 250-51.
4.   I will deal elsewhere with Weidemann's (unconvincing) explanation of the much discussed and emended text at the end of §35.
5.   Sharples 1991; Bayer 1963/2000, on the inadequacies of which cf., e.g., Groneberg 2009, 519 and n9.

Ax, W., ed. 1938. M. T. Cicero, De divinatione, De fato, Timaeus. Leipzig.
Bayer, K., ed., tr., comm. 1963/2000. Cicero, Über das Shicksal / De fato, latein-deutsch. Munich (4th edn. Düsseldorf-Zurich, 2000).
Giomini, R. 1975. M. T. Cicero, De divinatione, De fato, Timaeus. Leipzig.
Groneberg, M. 'Die Entdeckung des "schwachen" Wahrheitsbegriff durch Cicero bzw. Karneades'. Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie 56: 516-25.
Kreter, F. 2006. Kann Fabius bei einer Seeschlacht sterben? Die Geschichte der Logik des Kontingenzproblems von Aristoteles, De interpretatione 9 bis Cicero, De fato. Trier.
Montanari Caldini, R. 1980. 'Nota testuale ed esegetica al "De fato" ciceroniano'. Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica n.s. 4: 83-92.
PHI Classical Latin Texts. A resource prepared by Packard Humanities Institute (
Schallenberg, M. 2008. Freiheit und Determinismus. Ein philosophischer Kommentar zu Ciceros Schrift De fato. Berlin (= dissertation, Münster, 2004).
Sedley, D. 2005. 'Verità futura e causalità nel De fato di Cicerone'. In C. Natali and S. Maso, eds., La catena delle cause. Determinismo e antideterminismo nel pensiero antico e contemporaneo, 231-54. Amsterdam.
Sharples, R.W., ed., tr., comm. 1991. Cicero: On Fate (De fato) and Boethius: The Consolation of Philosophy (Philosophiae Consolationis) IV.5-7, V. Warminster.
Weidemann, H., ed., tr., comm. 2015. Aristoteles, Peri hermeneias. Berlin; Boston.

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