Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.03.39

Jean-Baptiste Gourinat, Jonathan Barnes (ed.), Lire les stoïciens. Philosophie ancienne.   Paris:  Presses Universitaires de France, 2009.  Pp. vi, 234.  ISBN 9782130573739.  €15.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Ilaria L. E. Ramelli, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The small size and cost of this dense book should not be taken to suggest that it is not rich and of high scholarly profile. The contributors are experts and their treatments -- although limited to providing overviews and preparing readers ("like an appetizer", 2) for the Stoics' often difficult technical works -- are rigorous and clear, and sometimes original. They disclose the complexity of the Stoic philosophical system and reflect different approaches.

The book's structure is based on a synchronic view of the system, although diachronic developments are also taken into account. After an introduction, the book consists of two parts, which are based not on the traditional division of Stoicism into Old, Middle, and New (Roman Stoicism), which is problematic, especially for the demarcation of Middle Stoicism, but on a division into Hellenistic and Imperial Stoicism respectively. Nevertheless, the editors warn readers that periodizations, absent as they are from ancient sources, are "une fiction commode" (7). Within each part, individual chapters focus on the main branches of Stoic philosophy.

In the introduction, the editors rightly highlight the paradoxical nature of Stoicism and observe that the Stoics are the first philosophers who conceived their philosophy as a system and expounded it in an elaborated systematic form, but also insisted, following in Socrates' footsteps, on the necessity of practicing philosophy. The editors correctly remark that the division of the system into logic, physics, and ethics is not originally Stoic, but the Stoics had a peculiar way of explaining it, basing it on a division of virtue. The statement that the true Stoic extirpates his/her emotions (7) is correct in that it translates the Stoic idea of ἀπάθεια -- inherited by several Patristic philosophers --, but it should be borne in mind, with Margaret Graver,1 that Stoicism did not advocate the extirpation of προπάθειαι (which are not evil), or, even less, of εὐπάθειαι (which are good).

Gourinat and Barnes underline the fact that orthodoxy was less important for Stoicism than it was for Epicureanism, and that there were doctrinal developments over time; however, the Stoic system has constants, well summarized for the fields of logic, physics, and ethics (8-9). Gourinat and Barnes provide a history of the school and an outline of its representatives, with notes on the progressive disappearance of Stoic writings by the sixth century. For imperial Stoicism, Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius are included, but not "minor" Stoics such as Hierocles, Musonius, Cornutus, Persius, Lucan, or Chaeremon; some of these briefly appear later in the book. Finally, Gourinat and Barnes expound the main sources, distinguishing literal quotations from paraphrases and allusions. Separate treatments are devoted to the authors from whom most fragments in SVF come.

Gourinat treats epistemology (the part of logic that deals with the criterion of truth),2 rhetoric, and grammar. These all belong to 'logic', which has to do with λόγος (word, argument, and reason). Gourinat points out that the dialectic / rhetoric distinction was introduced by Zeno, but it is Chrysippus who shaped Stoic logic. Gourinat's exposition is clear and accurate. In the treatment of grammar (33), he tentatively accepts the Suda's characterization of Crates as a Stoic. He interprets the word κριτικός, by which Crates designated himself, as referring to a philologist devoted to the edition and study of texts. This is right, provided that this study is understood as involving wide-ranging exegetical issues, including philosophical interpretation.

Crivelli provides a careful account of Stoic dialectic, including propositions, arguments and modes, syllogisms, and sophisms. This is a difficult task given the catastrophic state of sources on Stoic logic. Gourinat offers a survey of Stoic physics, i.e. the investigation into the world and what is therein. The Stoics have no metaphysics; their physics includes ontology, since their "supreme genus" includes being and non-being, i.e., bodies and incorporeal realities. Gourinat argues that the Stoics arrived at the conception of incorporeal realities as non-beings because they transferred Plato's characterization of a being, as that which is susceptible to action and passion, to bodies.3 The exposition of palingenesis, ἐκπύρωσις, and ἀποκατάστασις is very good; Gourinat has already published on this.4 Origen is opportunely adduced as an important source.5 One more interesting point: on the basis of a study by David Sedley,6 Gourinat mentions the paradox known as "the growing argument", which involves the criterion of identity of a person: a person, during his/her growth, becomes a different individual, since his/her size changes.7

Sedley focuses on theology. Stoic cosmology is a rereading of Plato's Timaeus, with a momentous difference: the immanence of the Stoic god, which entails that theology is coextensive with physics. Sedley interestingly highlights the fact that Zeno took up Plato's argument in the Timaeus concerning the intelligence of the world, seen as a living being, only changing "intelligent" into "rational". For Plato and the Stoics, the world is animate. In his cosmological discussion, based on an analysis of Diogenes Laertius 7.65, Sedley raises an important question: the moral character of a person may be seen as a datum, a part of a situation ("external"), which one cannot change, rather than something that depends on one's choice ("internal"). This issue is pivotal to the fate / free will relationship, and the suggestion outlined seems to me close to the objection raised by Brennan in his review of Bobzien's book.8 The latter includes a detailed exposition of Chrysippus' compatibilism, according to which everything happens in accord with fate, but the moral agent is responsible for his/her deeds insofar as these are not forced by external coercion. The weak link in Chrysippus' argument is the question of what should be considered as external coercion: psychological factors, whose coercion can be regarded as external to the moral subject just as other external factors, may influence one's assent.

Bénatouïl, who has published a volume on Stoic ethics, and one related to it on some imperial Stoics,9 discusses ethics in his chapter on virtue, happiness, and nature. Stoic ethics is naturalistic and rigorous, a combination deemed paradoxical already in antiquity. The rigor was expressed in systematic expositions and demonstrations, following a methodical order. It is this (Chrysippean) order that Bénatouïl, unlike most modern scholars, aptly decides to follow. He thus treats impulses (touching upon the doctrine of οἰκείωσις); goods, evils, and ἀδιάφορα, relating respectively to virtue, vice, and what is neither virtuous nor vicious; passions (πάθη); virtue; the τέλος (moral end), i.e. living in accord with nature; the value ascribed to ἀδιάφορα and the selection (ἐκλογή) of what is preferable (ἀδιάφορα); and actions.

Husson too examines ethics, with a different focus: on καθήκοντα (of which a table is provided: 118) and κατορθώματα, which are perfect καθήκοντα; on passions, with the relevant classification, aetiology, and therapy; the wise, who, as Husson opportunely remarks, feel emotions which the Stoics called εὐπάθειαι and Husson translates "bons affects" (125), and are liable to προπάθειαι; the rarity of the sage; the possession of all good qualities and abilities by the sage alone; and the city. Thus, the essay covers politics as well. Attention is paid to Zeno's Republic, Platonic and Cynic influences upon it, and later developments in Stoic political thought. Husson renders πάθη as "passions". Terminology is important: "emotions" and "émotions", although widely employed to translate πάθη, may be misleading, in that they tend to cover εὐπάθειαι and sometimes προπάθειαι, and therefore suggest that the Stoic, who pursued ἀπάθεια, was called to extirpate these as well as πάθη, which is not the case. The Stoic sage is not without emotions, but does have good emotions, and extirpates bad emotions, i.e. passions.

Barnes deals with grammar, rhetoric, epistemology, and dialectic in Imperial Stoicism. He challenges the assumption that in this period there was no interest in logic. The main focus was ethics, but Epictetus and others cultivated logic; Epictetus recognized that logic is the basis of all philosophy. Moreover, logic was taught at school in every philosophy program. What is lacking in this period are true developments in logic, rhetoric, or grammar. The section on epistemology is almost entirely concerned with Epictetus. Barnes pointedly questions the idea that he changed the traditional theory of "pre-notions", but this is not a necessary interpretation of the scarce sources available. Epictetus is again the protagonist of the section on dialectics, but Barnes is quick to remark that he, like Seneca, followed the Peripatetic line in deeming it an instrument of philosophy, not necessary per se.

Algra treats cosmology and theology. As I mentioned, it makes good sense to consider them together, given Stoic immanentism and pantheism. As for physics, after remarking upon its close relationship to ethics in Stoicism, Algra focuses on its treatment in Seneca's Naturales Quaestiones (aetiology) and Cleomedes' Caelestia (cosmology), rightly underscoring the necessity of studying physics according to Seneca; Manilius also, I think, may deserve a mention: his poem is a Stoic hymn to the Logos and nature.10 Concerning Stoic theology, Algra accurately remarks that it is a mix of pantheism and theism: Marcus Aurelius emphasizes the former, Epictetus the latter. Another question dealt with is the soul's immortality: Epictetus is negative on this score, Seneca and Marcus are deemed more ambiguous. Algra also examines the critique of traditional cults in Seneca, who recommends that the wise participate in them, but with the awareness that they are prescribed by positive laws rather than pleasing the gods. I add that Cornutus, who disagreed with Seneca on the use of allegory in theology, also prescribes participation in cultic acts, in Compendium 35, after interpreting cults, myths, iconographical representations of deities, and the deities themselves allegorically.

Long studies how Stoic ethics evolved in the imperial age and in which respects it shows continuity with preceding theory. He observes the prevalence of ethics -- moral theory and practice -- in imperial Stoicism. Its common characters are identified with its being descriptive, hortatory, and therapeutic. The οἰκείωσις doctrine is finely expounded; the main text adduced is a fragment of Hierocles using the image of concentric circles. Long then treats the soul, the rejection of its tripartition in Old Stoicism, and the probable acceptance of Plato's tripartition by Posidonius, and examines Seneca, Letter 92, denying that the depiction of the soul's structure therein depends on Plato. The notion of προαίρεσις in Epictetus, he argues, does not contradict Chrysippus' determinism. In Marcus Aurelius, the use of πνευμάτιον to distinguish the human being's intellectual essence from its vital soul is interpreted as a rhetorical expedient rather than a Platonizing trait. Seneca's love for technical details of Stoic doctrine is rightly highlighted, just as Epictetus' choice of Socrates as a model (I observe that he was the disciple of "the Roman Socrates", Musonius), and Marcus Aurelius' cosmopolitanism.

Gourinat examines the wise in imperial Stoicism and philosophical exercises. Cato the Younger is adduced by Seneca as a model of the wise person, which leads to a discussion of suicide in Stoicism, admitted by Epictetus in case of a sign from the deity. Gourinat stresses Seneca's distinction (against Aristo) between decreta and praecepta, and Epictetus' and Marcus Aurelius' insistence on philosophy as ἄσκησις. Gourinat explains well how, among ἀδιάφορα, Epictetus seems to deprive "preferables" of value, but for him detachment does not mean insensitivity: exterior things are meaningless, but relationships with people must be cultivated according to καθήκοντα.

Veillard offers a good survey of Stoicism and politics at Rome. Among Stoic opponents to Nero, Thrasea, Burrus, Seneca, Musonius, Agrippinus, and Helvidius are listed (201 n. 4), to whom I add Cornutus, who was exiled by Nero, and arguably his disciple Lucan, whose death was caused by Nero. The point of departure of the essay is the philosophers' embassy of 155 BC and Diogenes of Babylonia's and Antipater of Tarsus' divergent views on politics. I agree with Veillard that their disagreement cannot simplistically be projected onto the opposition between the aristocrats and populares (who both had Stoic allegiances: Panaetius and Blossius). The evaluation of marriage by Antipater, followed by Hierocles and Musonius, is rightly underlined by Veillard, who draws on Gretchen Reydams-Schils' work,11 albeit with minor disagreements. Finally, Seneca's and Marcus Aurelius' political thought and praxis are examined. Seneca's De Beneficiis and De Clementia are discussed, as well as Marcus' success in applying Stoic principles to his political action, including his care for public education and dislike of gladiatorial combats. Veillard observes that an exception to his philanthropic practice was his persection of the Christians, deriving from his disapproval of Christian martyrs' irrational conduct. I note that he was probably influenced by the excesses of Montanism (which also explains the difference between his and Epictetus' judgment), and might have ceased from persecution.12

This is a complete survey of Stoic philosophy. A special treatment should perhaps have been devoted to allegory, which in Stoicism assumes a philosophical stance and is part of philosophy itself, as I have argued; in particular, it belongs to theology, according to Chrysippus' theorization.13

Notwithstanding this very partial shortcoming, this is a laudable and useful book, which excellently serves its declared purpose -- and exceeds it. This is more than an introduction for non-experts; it is also a clear and insightful synthesis for scholars in Stoicism, providing a comprehensive view of one of the most coherent and stable philosophical systems of antiquity (with a rich afterlife in modern times: this is the object of Gourinat's work elsewhere).14 This is a careful work: I found extremely few typos.15 Gratitude is due to the editors and authors of this rich book.

Table of Contents

Jean-Baptiste Gourinat - Jonathan Barnes, "Introduction"
Jean-Baptiste Gourinat, "Épistémologie, rhétorique et grammaire"
Paolo Crivelli, "La dialectique"
Jean-Baptiste Gourinat, "Le monde"
David Sedley, "Les dieux et les hommes"
Thomas Bénatouïl, "La vertu, le bonheur et la nature"
Suzanne Husson, "Le convenable, les passions, le sage et la cité"
Jonathan Barnes, "Grammaire, rhétorique, épistémologie et dialectique"
Keimpe Algra, "Cosmologie et théologie"
Anthony A. Long, "L'éthique: continuité et innovations"
Jean-Baptiste Gourinat, "La sagesse et les exercises philosophiques"
Christelle Veillard, "L'empreinte du stoïcisme sur la politique romaine"


1.   Stoicism and Emotion (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2007).
2.   προλήψεις are treated, on which see Henry Dyson, Prolepsis and Ennoia in the Early Stoa (Berlin / New York: de Gruyter, 2009).
3.   This, I note, is not the only example of how the Stoics received and transformed Plato's thought; to cite another, I mention their notion of νόμος ἔμψυχος: see my Il βασιλεύς come νόμος ἔμψυχος tra diritto naturale e diritto divino (Naples: Bibliopolis, 2006).
4.   "Éternel retour et temps périodique dans la philosophie stoïcienne", Revue philosophique de la France et de l'étranger 127 (2002) 213-227.
5.   I only add that Origen is also clear in underlining the differences between the Stoic conception of apokatastasis and his own. See my Apocatastasi (Milan: Vita and Pensiero, 2010), introduction.
6.   "Le critère d'identité", Revue de métaphysique et de moral 94 (1989) 513-533.
7.   This still constituted a problem for a Christian philosopher steeped in Platonism and Stoicism, Gregory of Nyssa. When he supports the identity of a person's earthly body with the same person's resurrected body in De Anima, the "growing argument" is a threat to the continuity of individual identity. See my commentary in my Gregorio di Nissa Sull'Anima e la Resurrezione (Milan: Bompiani-Catholic University, 2007); reviews by Panayiotis Tzamalikos, Vigiliae Christianae 62 (2008) 515-523, and Mark Edwards, Journal of Ecclesiastical History 60 (2009) 764-765.
8.   Susanne Bobzien, Determinism and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy (Oxford: OUP, 1998); review by Tad Brennan, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 21 (2001) 259-282: 268ff.
9.   Faire usage (Paris: Vrin, 2006); idem, Les Stoïciens III: Musonius, Épictète, Marc Aurèle (Paris: Belles Lettres, 2009).
10.   On Manilius see my Stoici Romani Minori (Milan: Bompiani, 2008), 1-688; Alexander MacGregor, "Which Art in Heaven", Illinois Classical Studies 29 (2004) 143-157, esp. 143-144; Katharina Volk, Manilius and His Intellectual Background (Oxford: University Press, 2009). That the study of physics is necessary according to Seneca, and necessary to ethics, is now also illustrated by Brad Inwood, "Why Physics?" in God and Cosmos in Stoicism ed. Ricardo Salles (Oxford: University Press, 2009) 201-233.
11.   The Roman Stoics (Chicago: University Press, 2005). For further demonstrations of how positive marriage was for Hierocles and Musonius, and associated by them with true goods not merely "indifferents", see my "Ierocle Neostoico in Stobeo," in Stobaeus: The Implications of His Doxographical Method, ed. G. Reydams-Schils (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010).
12.   As I argued in, respectively, "Montanismo e Impero Romano nel giudizio di Marco Aurelio" in Fazioni e congiure nel mondo antico, ed. M. Sordi (Milan: Vita and Pensiero, 1999), 81-97, and "Protector Christianorum (Tert. Apol. V 4)", Aevum 76 (2002) 101-112.
13.   See Allegoria (Milan: Vita and Pensiero, 2004), chapters 2 and 9, and Allegoristi dell'etá classica (Milan: Bompiani, 2007); see also Jean-Baptiste Gourinat, "Explicatio fabularum," in Gilbert Dahan-Richard Goulet (éds.), Allégorie des poètes, allégorie des philosophes (Paris: Vrin, 2005) 9-34.
14.   "La disparition et la reconstitution du stoïcisme," in G. Romeyer Dherbey and J.-B. Gourinat, Les stoïciens (Paris: Vrin, 2005) 13-28; F. Ogereau, Essai sur le système philosophique des stoïciens (1885) (reprinted Fougères: Encre Marine, 2002); Théodore Colardeau, Étude sur Épictète (1903) (reprinted Fougères: Encre Marine, 2004).
15.   E.g. ἄργος λόγος for ἀργὸς λόγος (96).

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