Bryn Mawr Classical Review 03.03.13


Malcolm Schofield, The Stoic Idea of the City. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Pp. 164. $44.95. ISBN 0-521-39740-8.


Reviewed by Brad Inwood, University of Toronto.

With this elegant monograph Schofield sets out to fill an important gap in recent work on early Stoic philosophy. He focusses on Zeno's Republic, a work for which very little primary evidence has survived; the sources we have for it are scattered, relatively late and often polemical in nature. Schofield recognizes the need for an exceptionally scrupulous method of work, and argues in his Introduction for "precisely the sifting and reconstruction practised by exponents of Presocratic philosophy" (p. 2). He is a keen practitioner of this craft, and uses information supplied by Sextus, Plutarch, Diogenes Laertius, and the other familiar sources for early Stoic thought, with great sophistication. For that reason alone this slim volume is a distinguished contribution to the field. The evidence is presented directly, without the filter of von Arnim's collection of sources (Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta), and translated clearly but accurately, accompanied by a discussion of textual or exegetical difficulties where needed. The Greekless philosopher or political theorist should face no unleapable hurdles.

The similarity between the spadework required for serious progress on the Presocratics and that needed for many Hellenistic philosophers is striking. It is worth remarking, though, on some important differences. What made Diels' doxographical revolution such a success for Presocratic philosophy was his demonstration that our surviving testimony about the Presocratics was very often traceable to a single ultimate source, the Opinions of the Natural Philosophers of Theophrastus. The chaotic variety of later doxographical material could often be reduced to relative order by acknowledging the central importance of Theophrastus' work. What makes the doxographical method different for Hellenistic philosophers is the absence of any such uniquely privileged funnel of information for later authors. Despite the importance of Arius Didymus and various other intermediate sources, the Hellenistic researcher faces much more often the possibility that a source could have had access to collateral lines of information or even to original documents. Jaap Mansfeld and his associates in Utrecht (whose work Schofield justifiably holds in high esteem) are certainly offering us substantial progress in the area of source criticism for the Hellenistic period. But there will, I suspect, always be a major difference between the nature of the results obtainable for the Presocratics and those we get for the early Stoics.

The plan and argument of this book are refreshingly direct. Chapter one attempts a reconstruction of the background and origin of the main block of information about Zeno's Republic in Diogenes Laertius' 'Life of Zeno,' arguing that a Pyrrhonian sceptic named Cassius cast his critique of Stoicism in a typically antithetical form, and that this form has shaped the report in Diogenes.

Chapter two tackles the theme of love as a central principal of the Zenonian city, arguing that Zeno intended to outline a utopian city unified by love and concord among its citizens, who would of course be wise. Schofield argues that Zeno's city was intended as what we might call a real utopian city, a sketch for a genuine community consisting of people living in the same location and interacting with each other, contrasting this view with what I would call (though Schofield does not) a metaphorical interpretation, under which the city discussed in Zeno's book was a revisionist moral ideal for "a society made up of the wise and good alone, wherever they are on the face of the earth" (p. 22). Of particular interest is the lengthy discussion (pp. 32-42) of the educational value of 'homosexuality' in Sparta (where it functioned as an important unifying element in a militaristic state) and the reflection of this social fact in Zeno's state, where eros of either sort (heterosexual or homosexual) serves to promote concord among the virtuous (pp. 43-46).

Chapter three opens with a lengthy and valuable discussion of Dio Chrysostom's logos Borysthenitikos (no. 36), carefully analysing the relative contributions to it of Platonic and Stoic thought. My only cavil here is that the argument for the Chrysippean character of sections 35-37 (pp. 88-90) is unconvincing; there is so much evidence of Platonic inspiration and such a strong possibility in Dio's speech of independent conflation of Platonic and Heraclitean themes with vaguely Stoic ideas that Schofield's source-critical argument that the synthesis of themes was the work of Chrysippus (and indeed that we have a new 'fragment' of Chrysippus' On Nature here) can be no more than one possibility among many. Schofield argues further and more convincingly that Chrysippus developed Zeno's genuinely political utopianism into something significantly different by putting it in the context of his providential cosmology, in part by way of Chrysippus' intense interest in Heraclitus; this discussion is a high point of the book.

The fourth and final chapter pulls together the argument of the book, and claims that it was Chrysippus who depoliticized Stoic political philosophy by turning it into a theory about the place of the rational agent in the providentially ordered world, rather than a proposal to establish an ideal city of the more concrete kind. Eight detailed appendixes (42 pages in all, nearly a third of the book) deal with a range of knotty particular issues, including the limited value as evidence of Plutarch's de Alex. Virt. 329ab.

In any detailed discussion of such badly documented philosophical works, the room for disagreement will be large. I confess that many small aspects of Schofield's argument leave me in doubt. This is seldom because anything more convincing can be advanced; usually it is because of the equipollence of alternative views. But there are points of more general significance for early Stoic political theory which need to be raised.

Schofield establishes, more clearly than most interpreters, the difference between genuinely political thought and ethical theory which exploits the language of political discourse or in effect reduces political theory to ethics. There is little doubt that later Stoicism turned to the latter kind of theory, which we might dub 'pseudo-political theory'. Schofield argues that Zeno practiced genuine political theory in a utopian vein, just like Plato, and that Chrysippus reinterpreted his work to turn it into pseudo-political theory. The difficulty with this case is not with the reconstruction of what Chrysippus believed (chapters three and four), but with the case made for the view that Zeno's Republic was indeed a work of genuine political theory. The strongest support for this view lies not in any particular piece of evidence, but in the presumed relationship between Zeno's Republic and the dialogue by Plato of the same name (see pp. 24-25). There is no doubt that Plato's ten-book dialogue was of crucial importance to Zeno as he composed his much shorter work. But it is less clear that someone imitating Plato must therefore have been writing genuinely political utopian theory. Real political theory clearly matters to Plato, and it is natural for many of us to assume, as Schofield does, that anyone reading the work would isolate that as the central theme of the work. But that thesis about Plato is itself controversial, since at least on the surface the dialogue announces that it is using political theory as a model for ethical theories, in order to make a powerful statement about the nature of the good life for an individual. If one were to concentrate on the closing paragraphs of book nine and on book one and the first half of book two, and to rely on those passages as a guide to the interpretation of Plato's most complex dialogue, one could well be drawn to read the entire work as a political metaphor for ethical views -- essentially the pseudo-political kind of approach Schofield correctly attributes to Chrysippus and later Stoics. Why should Zeno not have done this, especially under the influence of Cynic teaching (which, naturally, Schofield somewhat downplays)? In so far as Schofield relies on the argument that Zeno wrote the Republic with Plato' s dialogue in view to establish his case for the genuinely political nature of the work, he has succeeded only in pushing the problem back one step further. For we must then puzzle out, rather than assume, the correct reading of Plato's Republic and address the question of how Zeno should be supposed to have interpreted it.

Above I have pointed to one case in which a source-critical argument leaves the reader intrigued but unconvinced, the suggestion that Dio's speech contains a new fragment of Chrysippus. Let me discuss another instance of this type at greater length. Chapter one is largely taken up with an argument to the effect that the principal source for the report on Zeno's Republic at D.L. 7.32-34 (and for the report on Chrysippus at D.L. 7.187-189) is a systematic Pyrrhonian attack developed by one Cassius the sceptic.

Schofield begins by establishing, drawing on earlier research, that both reports stem from a common source and that this source must have been the Pergamene rhetorician Isidorus, using material from Cassius. It is quite reasonable to attribute most of the substantial material to Cassius rather than to Isidorus. Schofield would restrict Isidorus' personal contribution to the art-historical material (though he misstates himself in saying on pp. 7-8 that Isidorus alleges that "writers on painting know nothing about the painting of Zeus and Hera which Chrysippus claimed to be expounding"; it is the historia or interpretive story which Diogenes' text says was unknown to the writers on painting).

Since the source for these two critical reports appears to be a single sceptic, Schofield is in a position to reassess a key word in D.L. 7.34, antitethenai, correctly translated "set in opposition" by Schofield. Editors have usually retained the MSS reading, though translators have often assumed anatethenai, "restored". Wishing to retain the MSS reading and not to fudge the sense, Schofield proposes a novel interpretation of the role of Cassius in the generation and transmission of these reports. "Set in opposition" suggests "standard Pyrrhonist technique" (p. 8), and it is likely enough that some sceptic should indeed have tried to refute the Stoics by revealing internal contradictions in their work, though in broad outlines that strategy was also followed by critics other than Pyrrhonian sceptics: a form of it lies at the heart of Plutarch's critique. Schofield's argument, though, is that Cassius' attack was in a distinctively Pyrrhonian antithetical form, for that would explain the word antitethenai.

In section IV of chapter one Schofield sets out to reconstruct what he takes to have been the underlying set of Pyrrhonian antitheses which may have been behind the two reports in Diogenes Laertius. He begins with a text from Sextus Empiricus (PH 3.245-8 = M 11.189-94), not (it must be said) attributed to Cassius or to any specific predecessor, though probably taken over more or less intact from some prior source. There is some similarity in theme to the material in Diogenes Laertius, and the conclusion drawn from these similarities is that Cassius is the common source. This is possible enough, though at such junctures it is important to remember that Schofield provided no direct evidence to show that the material in Diogenes Laertius really was the work of Cassius; that was merely the result of a plausible argument. It was also merely a plausible suggestion that he was a Pyrrhonian sceptic, rather than an Academic. It was primarily the prospect of retaining the sense "set in opposition" for antitethenai which supported the Pyrrhonian option.

We are already, then, at the end point of some quite tenuous reasoning, and we arrive there with an obligation not just to show that Sextus covers the same themes touched on in the linked reports of Diogenes Laertius, but also to show that those reports can be plausibly interpreted as a set of Pyrrhonian antitheses extracted from Stoic materials. The topics at issue are: Education, Parent/child relations, Women held in common, Piety, Money, and Dress. The evidence we have about the Republic of Zeno covers all six topics, so that we now need to find evidence of other Stoic treatments of each topic which could have been adduced by a Pyrrhonian sceptic as being in antithetical conflict to the views found in Zeno's Republic. In contrast to Zeno's views on the abolition of coinage we can readily find "an obvious possibility of opposition" in Chrysippus' views on the acceptable ways of making money (p. 16). For two topics, the holding of women in common and standards of dress, Schofield is unable to find any candidate for an antithetical conflict. For piety, Zeno's prohibition of public buildings such as temples, law courts and gymnasia are presented as being in opposition to Chrysippus' views on the eating of the dead -- a feat only possible if one takes the report about public buildings as being particularly concerned with temples and then interpreting it in the light of Plutarch St. Rep. 1034b. To quote Schofield, "the sense of a contradiction between them is scarcely ineluctable, but is nonetheless not hard to contrive" (p. 16). In fact, it seems to me to require a lot of hard work and ingenuity to contrive opposition here.

That leaves two topics for which to find antithetical views. Zeno's views on parent-child relations (that among the non-wise parents and children are inimical to each other) are to be set in opposition to Chrysippus' permission of sexual intercourse between mother and son. This is not particularly convincing as a case of antithetical opposition, even if one allows for polemical motivation; Schofield describes it as "the possibility of an opposition" (p. 16). The last topic for which an opposition is needed is general education, which Zeno in his Republic said was useless. The proposed opposition here is even less convincing in its own right, being the Chrysippean erotic allegory about Zeus and Hera and Zeno's own views about love from his Art of Love and Conversations (D.L. 7.34). Schofield postulates this opposition (p. 17) and speculates about the kind of conflict Cassius might have developed.

How convincing is this argument that Cassius actually did develop a Pyrrhonian antithesis between positions taken by Zeno in the Republic and other attested Stoic views? Of the six possible headings, plausible antithetical conflict is found in one, a possibility in one, a contrivance in one, and nothing in two (though Schofield does speculate about why Cassius might not have bothered to develop them, p. 17); these oppositions taken together constitute the basis for a postulate in the last case. It is hard to judge this a convincing case for the use of antithetical method by Cassius. It is at best a suggestive possibility.

In the end one must return to the reason for this speculative endeavour: Schofield wished to support a Pyrrhonian reading for antitethenai and to avoid having to emend to anatethenai. To be sure, the supposed strategy of Cassius and the reading it supports are still possible; they would be stronger if the antitheses were more convincing, or if the texts from Sextus named Cassius as a source. But as it is, the path of least resistance and greatest plausibility is surely to emend the text at D.L. 7.34. The sequence of events discussed there involves (1) the excision by Athenodorus from books (plural, not just Zeno's Republic) of objectionable bits, (2) his getting caught in the act (phorathentos) and (3) getting in some sort of trouble, possibly legal in nature (kinduneusantos), and then (4) the dubious word, followed by (5) the closing summary: "so much about the athetized passages in Zeno". The natural thing for (4) would be a reference to the restoration of the excised bits; a relatively simple emendation to one word does the job. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the doxographical method as used here is somewhat forced; such speculations alert us to how complex the transmission of ideas may be, but do not significantly tip the balance of probabilities.

Schofield's treatment of Stoic political theory makes a very strong case about the general character of later Stoic thought on the matter and raises a new possibility for the interpretation of Zeno's Republic, though it is one which does not convince me. Despite the perils which inevitably attend the doxographical method in the history of philosophy, it sets a high and innovative standard for historical analysis. For all these reasons, and for the spare elegance of its prose, The Stoic Idea of the City deserves a warm welcome from the scholarly community.