Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.02.21

Woolf on Conybeare on Annas/Woolf.   Response to BMCR 2003.02.08

Response by Raphael Woolf, Philosophy, Harvard University (

While appreciative of C.'s generally positive comments on my translation of De Finibus, may I correct two small inaccuracies in her review? Firstly, there is a brief glossary on pp.xxxviii-xxxix, limited to cases where important Latin terms received different translations in different places (as was not the case with virtus, which was, I think, translated throughout as "virtue"). Secondly, the phrase tamquam a parentibus in 4.14 was not omitted in translation. "Pioneering predecessors" is not, as C. must have taken it, a lavish expansion of inventoribus, but a rendering of the whole phrase inventoribus tamquam ... parentibus. I accept that there is a case for preserving the simile rather than flattening it out as I did. The simile, though, is itself a little awkward. Cicero does not say that Zeno is breaking away from predecessors as from parents, but from founders (or "pioneers"). Thus tamquam ... parentibus specifies a relationship between Zeno and them for the first time rather than offering a vivid re-description of one already established. If one preserves the simile, what is its force? Since Cicero's main complaint against Zeno is that despite some perverse terminological novelties he was in substance no great innovator, it may be no more than a light-hearted jibe at the first Stoic as superficial adolescent rebel rather than doing anything so heavy-duty as "undermin[ing] ... the Stoic emphasis on parent-child relationships". It should be noted that the word Cicero uses for "parent" when talking in 4.17 (C. refers by a slip to 4.16) about the natural love of parent for offspring is not parens but procreator. A native reader would not therefore have seen as immediate a connection between the two passages as C's wording suggests. I suspect that C.'s own focus on issues of gender and family may have led her to mark the translation as an omission and to overestimate the significance of the simile, such as it is.

On those wider issues, I have neither the competence nor the inclination to take up ideological cudgels. But it is worth pointing out that the contrast that really interests Cicero (one might even say obsesses him from the first page of De Finibus to the last) is not that between man and woman (or parent and child) but between Greek and Roman. This is liable, if one wishes to go down that path, to represent the work's most striking lack of "relevance" for us moderns who (when not wearing specialist hats) will talk blithely of "Greco-Roman civilisation" and think of ourselves as (to some extent) its heirs. For Cicero it is a matter of defining Roman culture both by emulation of and in opposition to Hellenism. Thus he praises the legendary Roman heroine Lucretia in 2.66 while disparaging (in 2.68) praise for the Epicurean female role model Themista as typically Greek but unRoman. We may find it disconcerting that Cicero's example of female heroism is suicide in the wake of rape. But I am doubtful that C.'s favoured case of childbirth is allotted any greater moral significance in our culture than it was in Cicero's. So C. seems to me on shaky ground in adducing its lack of treatment as evidence of a questionable relevance on the part of De Finibus. Cicero indeed was all too aware of its perils. The cluster of treatises of which De Finibus forms a part was written to console himself after the death of his daughter, together with her baby, in childbirth (see Introduction, p.ix). If reason is needed for his reluctance to discuss childbirth here, might not this very concrete example be it?

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