Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.08.40

Eckard Lefèvre, Panaitios' und Ciceros Pflichtenlehre. Vom philosophischen Traktat zum politischen Lehrbuch. Historia Einzelschriften 150.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2001.  Pp. 226.  ISBN 3-515-07820-7.  DM 84.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by J.G.F. Powell, Royal Holloway, University of London (
Word count: 2080 words

Cicero's philosophical works continue to attract substantial scholarly contributions. The De Officiis has recently benefited from a new text edited by Michael Winterbottom (Oxford Classical Texts, 1994) and a large-scale commentary by Andrew Dyck (Ann Arbor 1996). The monograph under review, which may perhaps be described not too misleadingly as a single-issue commentary, tackles head-on and in detail the question of the true relationship of Cicero's treatise to the work of his Greek predecessor (the more neutral word is preferable to terms like 'source' or 'model'), Panaetius. Why this needed to be done becomes apparent from consideration of the history of this question in modern scholarship, a history that can obviously be viewed from different standpoints.

For many nineteenth-century scholars, Cicero was primarily a quarry from which information about the lost Hellenistic philosophers could be extracted. Since Cicero in the De Officiis refers to Panaetius in clearer terms than those in which he often names his Greek sources elsewhere, it was assumed that he had in reality largely transcribed the work of Panaetius peri tou kathekontos, adding only a certain (probably minimal) literary superstructure. This notion was encouraged, perhaps, by the fact that Cicero complains of Panaetius's omissions, which, by an over-enthusiastic application of the maxim exceptio probat regulam, could be taken to imply that everything else Cicero says was there in Panaetius. The belief was held by some to an extent that could hardly be thought compatible with Cicero's own words in that very work, 'sequemur igitur hoc quidem tempore et hac in quaestione potissimum Stoicos, non ut interpretes, sed, ut solemus, e fontibus eorum iudicio arbitrioque nostro quantum quoque modo videbitur hauriemus' (cf. Lefèvre p. 10); not to mention other statements to similar effect in the De Finibus and elsewhere. The emphasis was placed entirely on 'sequemur Stoicos' without paying due attention to the qualification that follows in 'iudicio arbitrioque nostro' and 'quantum quoque modo videbitur' (phrases which, to the trained ear, have a clear Neo-Academic ring). Once the belief in Cicero's dependence on Panaetius became established, Cicero himself tended to fade from the picture and his words were quoted as though they were direct evidence for Panaetius himself. Occasionally there were obvious reasons for excluding a Panaetian origin for some point (for example, if Cicero himself said that it had been omitted by Panaetius), but these instances were regarded as exceptions. Cicero tended to be criticised for interpolating or misrepresenting the lost Greek original (cf. Lefèvre p. 9). Versions of the pan-Panaetian doctrine have survived into relatively recent decades: for example, F.A. Steinmetz (Die Freundschaftslehre des Panaitios, Wiesbaden 1967) more or less assumed it as a starting point for his investigations of the Stoic-based theory of friendship in the Laelius de Amicitia, and parts of De Republica have also been laid at Panaetius's door on the ground of similarities to the De Officiis.

Protests were raised against this source-critical method at least as early as 1936 (P. Boyancé, REL 14, 288-309) and gathered momentum after 1960 (cf. the survey by A. E. Douglas, Cicero, Greece & Rome New Surveys in the Classics, Oxford 1968, pp. 28-30). Ciceronians proclaimed with increasing insistence that Cicero was worth studying in his own right and not as a mere transcriber. Certain supposed evidence for Cicero's alleged transcriptional activities, especially the famous letter containing the phrase 'apographa sunt' (Ad Att. 12.52.3), was dismissed without much trouble; more attention than before was paid to Cicero's own programmatic statements, and stress was placed on the general implausibility of the idea that most of Cicero's philosophical texts are just translations from Greek; but much work remained to be done on the details, and scholarly progress was not, it has to be said, much helped by the dismissive tones in which the criticism of sources was referred to in the Anglo-Saxon world, usually under its German name of Quellenforschung, as though the whole idea of researching an author's sources were somehow an un-English activity.

With reference to De Officiis in particular, Andrew Dyck's commentary has recently reinstated a more cautious and rational approach to source-criticism (Dyck, pp. 18-21), recognising that it can be a useful tool of interpretation, and Lefèvre's method is in general terms similar. The difference between them is that Lefèvre is a great deal more sceptical of attempts to see Panaetius behind Cicero. Dyck, for all his caution, does not essentially question the opinion that most of the content of the De Officiis I-II (with certain obvious exceptions) is in some sense derived from Panaetius. For Lefèvre the onus of proof has to a great extent been shifted, so that a good reason is now needed for claiming a Panaetian origin for any item in the De Officiis. This quite fundamental shift of viewpoint could well be thought to necessitate a complete alternative commentary.

This, then, is source-criticism with a difference: it applies wide criteria involving Cicero's overall purpose in writing and the contrast between that and the likely purposes of Panaetius's lost work; and it aims systematically to uncover features of the Ciceronian text which might indicate a relationship with, or independence from, Panaetius. The conclusion is that relatively little of Cicero can be definitely or even, in many cases, at all plausibly pinned down to a Panaetian origin; while we cannot be very certain in detail about the characteristics of Panaetius' treatise on kathekonta, what we can tell from the (admittedly sparse) evidence suggests that it may have been quite different from Cicero's De Officiis in a number of ways, including, L. suggests, its overall philosophical aim. Cicero in making use of it had done exactly what he says --- i.e. followed it in some respects (notably the overall structure) for his own literary and didactic purposes but not copied or adapted it in detail: 'Panaetius, quem multum his libris secutus sum, non interpretatus' (Off. 2.60). The De Officiis, in fact, emerges as a largely original composition. Some Ciceronian colleagues may at this point be inclined to say that we should have known this already: the difference is that L. has not been content with a general common-sense answer to the question but has taken the trouble to argue the case fully from the evidence (although the detailed argument is, of course, informed by certain principles which are argued for on general grounds). The result is of considerable interest for the understanding of this text. Even if L.'s general and cumulative conclusions are not fully accepted, his discussion of details remains valuable and usually convincing and also provides a useful synthesis of the views of previous commentators.

L. begins (p. 11) from the observation that the De Officiis makes sense only as a work with strong political overtones. This is deduced from the dedication to Cicero's son Marcus and from the content of many passages where Roman politics do not so much provide examples to illustrate philosophical points as condition the whole direction of the argument. The question is raised (p. 12) whether, if one attempts to use the methods of source-criticism to reconstruct Panaetius from Cicero (casting aside obvious Ciceronian interventions), the result will in fact be a plausible reconstitution of a Stoic philosophical treatise. The structuring principles of the books of the De Officiis must be taken into consideration and analysed on their own terms -- an analysis which certainly reveals some Stoic influence (especially in the classification of the virtues) but also shows influence from Cicero's own rhetorical training and often from Roman legal thought as well. Finally, the importance of the third book must not be underestimated. Here Cicero was confessedly not following Panaetius, who did not fulfil his promise of writing on the potential conflict between (apparent) honestum and utile. This is taken to indicate that such questions were more important for Cicero than for Panaetius. The main part of the monograph examines the three books of the De Officiis in detail. The discussion of each book is divided into a longer 'Cicero' section and a much shorter 'Panaetius' section (book I: Cicero 63 pages, Panaetius 4 pages; book II: Cicero 45 pages, Panaetius 7 pages; book III: Cicero 51 pages, Panaetius 3 pages). The final section, headed 'Panaitios und Cicero', presents more general conclusions.

Certainty cannot be claimed for the views expressed as to the character of Panaetius's treatise, plausible though they may seem. The arguments are partly from general probability: as a Greek philosopher with well-attested theoretical and scientific interests, Panaetius is hardly likely to have given the 'investigation of the truth' such short shrift as Cicero gives it in Off. 1.18-19. Yet a treatise on kathekonta is already likely to have had a practical slant, and it is not obvious (to me) that Panaetius would have had to go extensively into the dianoetikai aretai in this particular context. From a Stoic's point of view as well as from Cicero's, the only issue about pure intellectual activity (for the non-wise person, that is) would have been the morality of applying oneself to it in the face of conflicting practical demands on one's time and energies. In fact it is not clear from the evidence what Panaetius's attitude might have been to the bios theoretikos vs. bios praktikos issue (L.'s footnote 238 on p. 45 sufficiently shows that widely varying views are possible). Cicero's view of the matter is often thought to be so philistine that no Greek philosopher could have come near holding it. But this may be to some extent in the eye of the beholder (conditioned as we all are by the archetypal opposition between philosophical Greeks and practical Romans). Making recommendations for the practical life choices of the non-wise, Panaetius might have said much the same. What evidence is there that he, any more than Cicero, would have recommended neglecting political or military matters in favour of geometrical theory? The fact is that we do not know, and we gain little from speculative assumptions either way. The merit of L.'s discussion is that it foregrounds the logic of Cicero's own message and refuses to explain Cicero's text as a bungled rehash of Panaetius.

Furthermore, one may doubt the sharp distinction made by L. between the two authors' purposes in writing. The notion that Panaetius's work was a purely general and theoretical textbook of ethics, with little or no political content, is based largely on an argument from silence: the absence elsewhere of explicit references to Panaetius' political philosophy (p. 191). But Panaetius, at least according to the dialogue of the De Republica (1.34), was 'peritissimus rerum civilium'; and in any case ethics and politics could not be so sharply distinguished in the ancient world (witness Aristotle). What ought to have been stated more positively is that Panaetius's notions of recommended conduct (including, where appropriate, political participation) must have been situated within the context of his own time and place. A prominent and much-travelled citizen of Rhodes in the second century B.C. with extensive connections inter alia with the Roman aristocracy could hardly have been merely an ivory-tower scholar. The fact that he seems to have refused multiple citizenship (fr. 27, cf. Dyck p. 23) does not mean that he was not interested in the politics of other states than his own; the comment at Off. 1.125 that peregrini should keep out of the politics of their host country is, of course, Cicero's. It is not irrelevant that the one actual fragment of Panaetius's Peri tou kathekontos preserved outside Cicero (Gellius 13.28, cf. L. pp. 189-90) is about politics, notably about the kind of character and attitude that politicians need in order to survive (a line of thought which strongly recalls what we know of the fragmentary later books of Cicero's De Republica, where there may indeed have been some Panaetian influence). On these issues there is still a good deal of scope for debate. L.'s views are at all events worthy of serious attention, and he has given the De Officiis a thorough re-examination which all concerned with Cicero's philosophy will find stimulating.

I append one practical criticism: while the book is easy enough to read continuously, it is difficult to refer to owing to the confusing system of subdivisions. A given section may bear a numeration such as C. I. 2. a.β. (a) and none of the levels of subdivision is distinguished by indentation. This difficulty is compensated for to some extent by the two indexes (nominum and rerum), which, the reader will be relieved to learn, use page numbers.

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