Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.07.22

Anna-Maria Ioppolo, David N. Sedley (edd.), Pyrrhonists, Patricians, Platonizers. Hellenistic Philosophy in the Period 155-86 BC. Tenth Symposium Hellenisticum.   Napoli:  Bibliopolis, 2007.  Pp. 430.  ISBN 978-88-7088-536-1.  €40.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Diego E. Machuca, Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (Argentina) (
Word count: 1665 words

Table of Contents

This book is the latest publication deriving from the triennial Symposium Hellenisticum, whose tenth meeting took place in Rome, at "La Sapienza" University, in July 2004.1 The volumes of that conference series are characterized by the high quality of the contributions, which reflect the state of research at the time of writing; and the present book is no exception. It contains eight papers, which the editors have supplemented with a fine introduction, a chronological table, and indices of passages, ancient names, and modern authors.

In the introduction, Anna-Maria Ioppolo and David Sedley explain that the time span 155-86 BC was chosen because "it represents a crucial phase in the transformation of Hellenistic philosophy, yet also one whose internal dynamic is as yet little understood" (9). The transformation alluded to consisted in the decentralization of philosophy (in consequence of philosophers migrating from Athens to Alexandria, Rhodes, and Rome) and its need to adapt to the newly Roman world. The initial date of 155 BC corresponds to the embassy sent by Athens to Rome to appeal the fine imposed by the Roman senate for the destruction of Oropus. The ambassadors were the heads of the Stoa, the Academy, and the Peripatos, namely, Diogenes of Babylon, Carneades, and Critolaus, respectively. The lectures they delivered during their stay made a profound impact on their Roman audiences and marked the beginning of a strong interest in philosophy on the part of the Roman elite. For its part, the closing date of 86 BC corresponds to the end of Sulla's siege of Athens, which hastened the exodus of philosophers to other centers, thus decisively contributing to the decline of the city as the philosophical capital. The introduction offers a useful overview of the tensions internal to each philosophical school, the confrontations between schools, the formation of new philosophical alliances, and the reversions to tradition that characterized the transitional period covered by the volume.

The first essay, "Les philosophes grecs à Rome (155-86 AV. J.-C)", by Jean-Louis Ferrary, provides a detailed historical account of the penetration of Greek philosophy into the Roman world. Ferrary focuses on the embassy of the three scholarchs and the major impact that their lectures had within the Roman aristocratic and intellectual milieu. He also chronicles the stays of Greek philosophers in Italy and of Romans in Athens during the period under review and refers to the Academic Philo of Larissa's decision to flee to Rome in 88 BC, when Athens surrendered to Mithridates.

David Hahm's "Critolaus and Late Hellenistic Peripatetic Philosophy" examines the scanty evidence we possess about the thought of Critolaus, regarded as the only Peripatetic who was not affected by the philosophical degeneration that the Peripatos is usually deemed to have experienced during the second and early first centuries BC. Hahm maintains that the reconstruction of the position of Critolaus and his followers from the surviving reports shows that they were less interested in scientific study and in trying to resolve philosophical problems than in defending basic Peripatetic principles and attacking the doctrines of rival schools in public lectures and debates. Critolaus seems to have been above all an able polemicist who played an important role in discussions about the status of rhetoric, the nature of the goal of life, and the eternity of the cosmos. According to Hahm, such a practice explains why Critolaus' thought was disregarded by the Peripatetics from the second half of first century BC, for whom authentic "Aristotelianizing" consisted rather in the philological and exegetical study of Aristotle's newly recovered works. This condemned Late Hellenistic Peripatetic philosophy to be forgotten in its full scope and importance.

The next two chapters examine the views of the two main figures of the so-called Middle Stoa, namely, Panaetius and Posidonius. In "Panaetius' Place in the History of Stoicism with Special Reference to his Moral Psychology", Teun Tieleman opposes the widespread view according to which Panaetius introduced important innovations in Stoicism by incorporating Platonic and Aristotelian elements, thus inaugurating a new phase in the history of the school. Tieleman plausibly argues that a careful reading of the ancient testimonies shows that they do not actually support the claim that Panaetius modified certain Stoic doctrines under the influence of Platonism and Aristotelianism, but that he remained committed to the core of the Stoic tradition and was mainly a systematizer of its legacy -- as is seen particularly in his views on moral psychology.

For her part, in "Il concetto di ΟΥΣΙΑ nel pensiero metafisico e cosmologico di Posidonio: alcune considerazioni su F 92 e 96 EK (= 267 e 268 Th.)", Francesca Alesse reviews Posidonius' use of that concept particularly in the areas of cosmology and metaphysics, focusing her analysis on those two fragments. With respect to F 92, she discusses the different textual corrections and interpretations bearing upon the relation between the notions of ousia and hyle -- namely, whether they are identical or distinct and in what sense -- and proposes a reading that ascribes to Posidonius a position in line with his predecessors. As regards F 96, in which ousia is used to refer both to the material substratum of qualified objects and to substance devoid of quality, Alesse argues that Posidonius is defending the position of his predecessors but with the aim of responding to objections raised against it.

The next two essays are devoted to the chief representatives of what Sextus Empiricus and Diogenes Laertius call the New Academy, namely, Carneades and Clitomachus. In "Carneades' Classification of Ethical Theories", Julia Annas examines a division of ethical ends -- which is the base for a division of ethical theories -- ascribed to Carneades in Cicero's De finibus v 16-23, where its fullest version, containing nine positions, is preserved. Elsewhere in Cicero, the classification consists instead of seven positions: six of the nine options plus the Stoic theory. Annas identifies two uses of Carneades' classification: in the De finibus passage and at the end of [Archytas'] Ethical Education, all the positions are eliminated but one, to which the user of the classification is committed, whereas in the rest of the passages in Cicero it is employed in arguments which, from different starting points or assumptions, attack different positions without commitment to any one of those starting points or assumptions. Annas maintains that the latter use corresponds to Carneades' original intention, in conformity with the argumentative practice characteristic of the so-called skeptical Academy, whereas the former is to be explained by a dogmatic employment of his classification.

In her essay, "L'assenso nella filosofia di Clitomaco: un problema di linguaggio?", Ioppolo maintains that, although Clitomachus is usually considered to have been an unoriginal thinker who was little more than Carneades' spokesman, there were actually some differences between their outlooks. Clitomachus seems to have introduced certain modifications to Carneades' theory that there were degrees of probability, and to have distinguished two senses of the notion of epochê in order to reconcile the latter's position with Arcesilaus'.

In his paper, "Aenesidemus: Pyrrhonist and 'Heraclitean'", Malcolm Schofield is primarily concerned with solving what is probably the most difficult puzzle for the student of the history of ancient Pyrrhonism, namely, the so-called Heracliteanism of Aenesidemus -- the man responsible for reviving the Pyrrhonian tradition in the first century BC. This conundrum has recently received renewed attention from scholars, as is seen in the publication of Roberto Polito's and Brigitte Pérez-Jean's monographs.2 Schofield defends an interpretation according to which Aenesidemus' interest in Heraclitus is to be explained by his seeing an actual affinity between Heracliteanism and Pyrrhonism, and by his intending to show to the Stoics that such an affinity was much greater than that which they believed to find between their position and Heraclitus'. According to Schofield, at Pyrrhonian Outlines I 210-212, Sextus misinterprets Aenesidemus' view. For the affinity in question is not to be sought in the premise that contraries appear to hold of one and the same thing, from which Aenesidemus would have thought it reasonable to move to the Heraclitean conclusion that they do hold of one and the same thing. Rather, the affinity is to be found in the following principle of inference: "If and only if it is a common appearance that p, it is true that p". In Schofield's view, by noting such an affinity Aenesidemus was not subscribing to Heracliteanism or affirming that this philosophy and Pyrrhonism were compatible, but only claiming that "a Heraclitean could use a characteristically Pyrrhonian form of move from a report on how things commonly appear to people, to a conclusion about how they really are" (284). As far as I can see, the various reconstructions of Aenesidemus' view of the relationship between Pyrrhonism and Heracliteanism proposed by scholars, though in most cases ingenious and interesting, remain highly speculative, and we will never be able to determine what Aenesidemus' actual thinking was. The reason is simply that the available evidence is too scanty and imprecise to allow us to resolve such a conundrum.

The purpose of the final essay, "Philodemus and the Epicurean Tradition", by Voula Tsouna, is to show that Philodemus' discussion of ethics and moral psychology as well as his treatment of methodological, epistemological, and semantic matters are by and large in line with the views preserved in the fragments of his teachers Zeno of Sidon and Demetrius of Laconia and with those expounded in Epicurus' works. The reason for this general agreement is Philodemus' "reverential attitude" towards Epicurus, characteristic of the members of the school, and his consequent concern "with the consolidation of Epicurus' teachings and their accurate transmission to posterity" (343). In the course of her analysis, though, Tsouna also notes interpretations of the canonical doctrines and arguments intended to support certain Epicurean tenets that are to be ascribed to Philodemus himself, who had philosophical interests and objectives of his own.

All in all, this is a very fine volume where specialists in Hellenistic philosophy can find various approaches and interpretations that will certainly prompt further discussion.3


1.   The Eleventh Symposium Hellenisticum, devoted to the two books Against the Physicists of Sextus Empiricus, was held in Delphi in August 2007. Its proceedings are planned to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2009.

2.   See R. Polito, The Sceptical Road: Aenesidemus' Appropriation of Heraclitus (Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2004), and B. Pérez-Jean, Dogmatisme et scepticisme: L'héraclitisme d'Énésidème (Lille: Septentrion, 2005).

3.   I am grateful to Dale Chock for correcting my English.

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