Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.08.19

Aldo Brancacci (ed.), Antichi e moderni nella filosofia di età imperiale.   Napoli:  Bibliopolis, 2001.  Pp. 390.  ISBN 88-7088-403-1.  €35.00.  

Contributors: J. Mansfeld, A. Brancacci, F. Alesse, D.P. Taormina, M. Isnardi Parente, A. Linguiti, M. Mignucci, L. Perilli, C. Lévy

Reviewed by John Dillon, Trinity College, Dublin (
Word count: 1097 words

This volume assembles the contributions made to the 2nd. International Colloquium on Philosophy in the Imperial Era held at Rome, under the auspices of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche in Sept. 2000. Brancacci had just the previous year (2000) produced a volume entitled 'La filosofia in età imperiale' in the same Elenchos series, and this is largely a follow-on from that. The title (as Brancacci himself recognises in the preface) promises somewhat more than it delivers, evoking as it does the quarrel of the ancients and the moderns in more modern times. There is no real 'quarrel' between the 'moderns' of the second and third centuries A.D. and their Classical and Hellenistic predecessors, and Brancacci does not wish to suggest this. There are, however, various interesting sorts of appropriation going on, and it is these that this volume of essays is concerned to explore.

The collection consists of nine papers, divided (somewhat unequally) into five sections. After an initial section on doxography, consisting of a massive, and most characteristic, treatise by Jaap Mansfeld, we have sections on Cynicism and Stoicism, Plotinus, Aristotelianism, and Empirical Medicine and Scepticism, all of which contain much that is useful. The work is rounded off with a good bibliography, followed by indices of sources quoted and of ancient names.

Mansfeld is, of course, more or less the world authority on the doxographic tradition and its complexities, and here he gives us a masterly tour through the tradition on Causes, as it appears in Pseudo-Plutarch (I 11) and in Stobaeus (I 13) -- both to be traced back, albeit cautiously, to Arius Didymus. We are also treated to a most useful discussion of the origins of the so-called 'metaphysic of prepositions', as a means of distinguishing the four (or five) types of cause deriving from the Platonic-Aristotelian tradition.

We turn next to two papers on the later Cynic-Stoic tradition, the one by Brancacci himself, 'La polemica antifatalistica di Enomao di Gadara', a fine study of how the late Cynic Oenomaus, in his Goêtôn Phôra, or 'Unmasking of the Witchdoctors', pours scorn on the determinism of Democritus and the theory of fate of Chrysippus; the other by Francesca Alesse, 'Il tema delle affezioni nell' antropologia di Marco Aurelio', involves, among other useful things, a most interesting discussion of the origins and analogues of the Emperor's doctrine of a tripartition of the individual into body, soul and intellect, sand his possibly Gnosticizing use of prosartâô to characterize the lower soul.

The essays on Plotinus are also useful, in varying degrees. Daniela Taormina, in 'Plotino lettore dei "dialoghi giovanili" di Platone', presents an exhaustive account of all possible reminiscences in Plotinus of the various early Socratic dialogues, in which he is generally felt to have had very little interest. This impression remains largely justified, but Taormina does demonstrate, I feel, that he had at least read them, to the extent of being able to borrow turns of phrase and occasional bits of doctrine from them. Her treatment of the Lysis is particularly enlightening in this regard (pp. 171-4). Margherita Isnardi Parente, 'Plotino lettore delle Epistole di Platone', has much less to report, having to confine herself very largely to his use of Ep. II 312E. As for Alessandro Linguiti, 'Plotino sulla felicità dell'anima non discesa', he gives a good survey of Plotinus' doctrine of the non-descended soul and its functions in his philosophy, concentrating chiefly on his ethical doctrine in Enn. I 4 -- a work that he has recently edited (Milano, 2000).

The contribution of Mario Mignucci, 'Alessandro di Afrodisia e la logica modale di Aristotele', representing the Aristotelian segment, is an extremely acute study, by one who is probably the chief expert in the fortunes of Aristotelian logic after Aristotle, of the (not entirely fortunate) critique directed by Alexander against Aristotle's theory of modal syllogisms. His exposition of Alexander's concept of 'actuality' (hyparkhon), as a contrary to possibility, along with necessity, I found most interesting.

The final segment of the collection comprises two essays on empirical doctors and sceptics. Lorenzo Perilli, in 'Menodoto di Nicomedia e i principi della medicina empirica', presents us with a very helpful survey of the evidence for the doctrines of the empiric doctor and sceptical philosopher Menodotus (one of Galen's many bugbears), who flourished in the first decades of the second century C.E. His doctrine of epilogismos, as a non-dogmatic supplement to sense-perception and memory in the diagnosis of illness, is something that I was glad to learn about. I do feel, by the way, against Perilli (and Deichgräber), that the restoration of Menodotus' name in a corrupt passage of Sextus Empiricus (PH I 222) has a lot to be said for it. A proper name is needed, to go with Aenesidemus; Menodotus is known to have written a large work on empiricism; and this passage would place him among those, such as Aenesidemus, who claimed Plato as a sceptic, which would serve to annoy Galen. At any rate, there is much else of interest here as Perilli includes also a discussion of the connexions between Peripateticism and medical empiricism, via the distinguished Hellenistic doctor Herophilus.

Most useful, also, is the concluding essay, from Carlos Lévy, 'Pyrrhon, Enesideme et Sextus Empiricus: la question de la légitimation historique dans la scepticisme'. Here Lévy addresses the question of the way in which the sceptics, like other Hellenistic schools, sought to claim intellectual antecedents for themselves among Classical and pre-Classical philosophers. He focusses first on the founder of the movement, Pyrrho, and his follower Timon, and shows how, in distinction from the Academic sceptics, they pick on Heraclitus and Democritus as suitable forefathers. As Lévy acutely suggests, a good reason why Arcesilaus, for instance, may not have wished to adopt Heraclitus is that the Stoics had already done so. Pyrrho had no such hang-ups. As for Democritus, he would be anathema to Platonists of any stripe. Aenesidemus, in the first century B.C.E., he goes on to show, also picked Heraclitus, but also sought to claim Plato himself (in this connexion, I am glad to see that Lévy agrees with me in accepting Menodotus in the Sextus passage, along with Aenesidemus). Lastly, he has many interesting things to say about Sextus' attitude to both Pyrrho and Aenesidemus. It is hard indeed to be a thoroughgoing sceptic -- there is always the danger of being dogmatic about one's scepticism, and Sextus is acutely aware of that!

All in all, this is a most stimulating collection of papers, though, as I say, the suggestion of conflict between 'ancients' and 'moderns' turns out to be somewhat misleading.

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