Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.04.20

Woldemar Görler, Kleine Schriften zur hellenistisch-römischen Philosophie. Edited by Christoph Catrein. Philosophia Antiqua, XCV.   Leiden/Boston:  Brill, 2004.  Pp. 379.  ISBN 90-04-13736-X.  $144.00.  



Reviewed by John Dillon, Trinity College, Dublin (dillonj@tcd.ie)
Word count: 1531 words

This volume brings together articles of Woldemar Görler, a noted authority on Hellenistic philosophy and on Cicero in particular (author of Untersuchungen zu Ciceros Philosophie, etc.), seventeen in all (3 in English, 1 in French, the rest in German), covering the near-quarter century from 1977 to 2001. As such, it is very good to have. With a number of these articles I am already familiar, but with more I am not. Between them, they are illustrative of G.'s chief strengths and interests, to wit, the teasing out of knotty points in the philosophy of the Stoics and of the Stoicizing dogmatic Platonist Antiochus of Ascalon, and, in particular, the evaluation of the evidence of Cicero in these connections, together with the evaluation of Cicero as a philosopher.

The papers concerned are the following (it will not be possible to do justice to all of them, but I will endeavour to isolate the salient points of each):

(1) 'Ἀσθενὴς συγκατάθεσις: Zur stoischen Erkenntnistheorie' [1977];

(2) 'Pflicht und "Lust" in der Ethik der Stoa' [1983];

(3) '"Hauptursachen" bei Chrysipp und Cicero? Philologische Marginalien zu einem vieldiskutierten Gleichnis (De fato 41-44)' [1987];

(4) 'Ein sprachlicher Zufall und seiner Folgen. "Wahrscheinliches" bei Karneades und bei Cicero' [1992];

(5) 'Les "évidences" dans la philosophie hellénistique' [1997];

(6) Antiochos von Askalon über die "Alten" und über die Stoa. Beobachtungen zu Cicero, Academici posteriores I24-43' [1990];

(7) 'Zum virtus-Fragment des Lucilius (1326-1338 Marx) und zur Geschichte der stoischen Güterlehre' [1984];

(8) 'Storing up past pleasures: The soul-vessel-metaphor in Lucretius and in his Greek models' [1997];

(9) 'Cicero zwischen Politik und Philosophie' [1990];

(10) 'From Athens to Tusculum: Reconsidering the background of Cicero's De oratore' [1988];

(11) 'Cicero und die "Schule des Aristoteles"' [1989];

(12) 'Zum literarischen Character und zur Struktur der Tusculanae disputationes' [1996];

(13) 'Silencing the troublemakers: De legibus I 39 and the continuity of Cicero's scepticism' [1995];

(14) 'Cicero's philosophical stance in the Lucullus' [1997];

(15) 'Das Problem der Ableitung ethischer Normen bei Cicero' [1978];

(16) 'Sokrates bei Cicero' [2001];

(17) 'Dido und Seneca über Gluck und Vollendung' [1996].

We begin with three papers concerning details of Stoic doctrine and terminology. In the first, G. confronts the problem of the precise status of the concept of 'weak assent', in the process locking horns with such authorities as George Kerferd and Tony Long, who were inclined to identify this as a stage in the process of knowledge acquisition, prior to full synkatathesis. G. shows, I think, that things are more complex than that, and that the term even has two senses: first, the assent given to an impression that is itself too unclear to justify full assent; and secondly, the over-hasty assent to an impression that might be given by the non-sage, and which then might have to be revoked.

The second paper concerns the role of pleasure in Stoic ethics, arguing -- again most plausibly -- that pleasure, at least in its rational form as 'joy', khara, forms an important component of the life of the Sage.

The third paper turns to the problem of the terminological tangle, in the Stoic doctrine of Fate, resulting from Cicero's distinction in the De Fato between causae perfectae et principales and causae adiuvantes et proximae. Again, Long, Frede and others (including even the present reviewer) come under fire for misleading translations of these terms, but Cicero himself is not exempt from blame. G. analyses the relevant texts very well. The first class of causes are really just 'originatory', προκαταρκτικαί, like the volubility of the cylinder, while the immediate causes are in the nature of a 'push' administered by a particular sense-impression. Certainly such a distinction, for Chrysippus, cannot have been designed to mitigate the comprehensiveness of Stoic determinism, but it may have served the purpose of providing a framework for apportioning 'praise and blame', an area in which the Stoics could be -- and were -- subject to criticism.

We now move away from Stoicism proper to issues arising in other Hellenistic schools. First of all, a most useful discussion of the position of Antiochus of Ascalon in relation to the Old Academy and the Stoa, based on an analysis of the important passage of Cicero, Acad. Post. I 24-43, the exposition of 'Old Academic ' doctrine put into the mouth of Varro. G.'s points are generally well taken, but the one issue that he neglects to address (as, to be fair, does everyone else) is the possibility that Antiochus' account fits such a man as Polemon far better than it does Plato himself.

Next we have a fine analysis of Fr. 13 of the Roman satirist Lucilius, concerning the nature of virtue (his longest surviving passage, in fact), where G. explores the various aspects of Stoic doctrine which lie behind it, and suggests that Lucilius comes near to describing the Stoic telos.

Essay 8 turns to Lucretius' De rerum natura. G. acutely dissects a passage towards the end of Book III (931-965), in which Lucretius, in the context of seeking to dissolve the fear of death, compares the human mind to a vessel or jar, one which may be either sound or leaky. Such an image is not to be found in the surviving works of Epicurus, and G. traces it plausibly to at least a reminiscence of Plato's Gorgias, though possibly (I should say) via some product of the diatribe tradition.

The next eight papers concern various aspects of Cicero, and from all of them much may be learned. Paper 9 addresses the knotty question whether Cicero is primarily a lawyer and public man who turns to philosophy as a refuge from reverses in 'real life', or rather primarily a philosopher who strays into politics. G. finesses this most persuasively, suggesting that for Cicero it is a false antithesis. Even his teacher Antiochus urges him into public life, as a rhetorician fortified by philosophy, which was something that the Platonic school was at this stage concerned to produce.

In paper 10, G., building on earlier speculations by Hirzel and others, produces an excellent analysis of the proems and settings of, primarily, the De Oratore, but secondarily also the De Legibus, showing the subtle and complex ways in which Cicero makes use of Platonic models from the Phaedrus and the Phaedo. The figure of Crassus becomes both a philosophical hero on the model of Socrates and the Stoic Anaxarchus, and a symbol for Cicero himself.

In paper 11 (composed for a session of Bill Fortenbaugh's Theophrastus project in 1989), we turn to Cicero's knowledge and use of Aristotle's successors in the Peripatetic School. Here G. shows that, though Cicero knew the later Peripatetics perfectly well as historical figures, he has no interest in them as philosophers, the chief reason being that they do not fit into Antiochus' roll of honour of 'the ancients'.

Paper 12, by contrast, is an extended study of the Tusculan Disputations, arguing persuasively that Cicero knew well what he was doing in composing this most austere of his dialogues on a rhetorical model that had not previously been tried in Latin .

The next two papers, 13 and 14, are concerned with the ever-intriguing question of Cicero's philosophical allegiances, as between the sceptical New Academy (and most immediately Philo of Larisa) and the 'Old Academy' of Antiochus, the first taking its start from an interesting passage of the De Legibus, I 39, the second by means of a close analysis of Cicero's position in the Lucullus. G. is countering here efforts by such scholars as John Glucker and Peter Steinmetz to map Cicero's vacillations between these two positions. G. argues that Cicero never really lets go of either of them, but tries to get the best of both by maintaining that the practice of 'Socratic' dialectic is actually the best way of getting at the truth. And there I think I agree with him.

Paper 15 is a most useful study of Cicero's ethical position, focusing on the degree to which he is dependent on Stoic principles in two areas in particular, the distinction between utile and honestum, where, contrary to a modern (Kantian) perspective, what is morally correct is nonetheless always advantageous, in a higher sense; and the interesting feature of Stoic casuistry, according to which the Stoic Sage cannot be held to rigidly absolute rules of moral conduct.

In essay 16, G. probes the various uses to which Cicero puts the figure of Socrates, applying Socratic traits to various of his heroes, such as Scipio and Laelius, and finally, as G. acutely discerns, to himself.

And lastly, we have a fine study of Seneca's use of a quotation from the Aeneid -- the last words of Dido (4. 653ff.) -- to make a distinctively Stoic point about being satisfied with one's life. We are reminded of G.'s considerable expertise in the area of Latin poetry as well.

The volume is completed by a comprehensive bibliography of the author, and an index locorum. All in all, a very fine and useful collection of papers, well put together by his pupil Christoph Catrein for G.'s 70th birthday. Catrein is to be warmly congratulated on his initiative, which has put Cicero scholars much in his debt.

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