Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.09.35

Karin Mayet, Chrysipps Logik in Ciceros philosophischen Schriften. Classica Monacensia 41.   Tübingen:  Gunter Narr Verlag, 2010.  Pp. 340.  ISBN 9783823365815.  € 78.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Jula Wildberger, The American University of Paris (

Table of Contents

Karin Mayet presents a discussion of passages in Cicero’s Academica priora (2.75, 87, 92-8, 143) and De fato (12-17, 20-1, 23-6, 30, 38-9) which contain testimonia or fragments of logic – in the ancient Stoic sense of the word – that can be attributed without reasonable doubt to Chrysippus, either because his name is explicitly mentioned or because there are clear indications for his authorship in the respective context (12). The text selection is due to the fact that she wanted to delimit her explorations to Cicero’s philosophical writings, of which only these two works contain suitable fragments.1 The passages are discussed following the text, in the order given above, and complemented with summaries both at the end of each section and at the end of the book (227-60). It should be noted, however, that the section summaries sometimes hint at new points. Two appendices treat the structure of De Fato and the probable content of the lacunae in that work.

Mayet’s justification for her undertaking is that, apart from papyrus fragments, Cicero is our earliest source for Chrysippus’ writings on dialectic and that, as long as no new sources are discovered, only a “permanent continuation of interpretation” of existing sources can further our understanding of Chrysippus’ philosophy (11). Unfortunately, she does not achieve her ambitious aim to the degree that one might wish. This is partly due to the hybrid approach that riddles her undertaking.

The book is expressly not supposed to be an edition of selected fragments (12), nor does it present a close philological reading of the passages in question. Literary criticism also plays only a marginal role. Rather, it amounts to a running philosophical commentary that very systematically catalogs possible interpretations and raises relevant questions, supplies necessary background information about the issues involved, and proposes answers and the reading that appears best to the author. Mayet does not presuppose expert familiarity with the issues addressed in Cicero’s text. I often had the impression that I was taken along on the author’s own exploration of a field that was new to her. The discussion is perfectly comprehensible to the uninitiated, almost free of formal notations, and contains stretches of handbook-like elementary introduction. Especially if he appreciates a rather schematic approach with frequent summaries, a reader may use Mayet’s dissertation as an introductory book or as a commentary to accompany a close study of the Chrysippean passages. However, because of its selectivity, the book is not quite as helpful as a study tool as it could be. One would usually want to engage either with a whole work or with a topic on the basis of whatever work might be relevant for it. Mayet, on the other hand, discusses context only in passing and distributes introductions to relevant issues of Stoic and Chrysippean logic or physics into a number of digressions, whose placement is determined by the first appearance of a theme in the fragments being discussed.

The treatment itself also not always reliable. Mayet has read amply on the topic and quite thoroughly references the material she draws on, so that her book can serve as an introduction to current research. All the same, she has missed some important items, e.g. Livia Marrone’s edition of Chrysippus’ Logika zētēmata.2 Above all, there are too many errors and cases of infelicitous lack of terminological clarity. In the discussion of the sorites and the Liar, for example, it is not always clear whether Mayet is considering the epistemic problem of how one can clearly perceive whether a proposition is true or false or the logical question whether the proposition has a truth value at all. In her explanation of “keeping quiet” (ἡσυχάζειν), the expedient that Chrysippus proposes as a reaction to a sorites argument, Mayet distinguishes three possible forms of processing an appearance: assent, assent to the contrary (56: “stimmt er ihrem Gegenteil zu”) or “keeping quiet”. However, rejection of an appearance happens by just not assenting to it. Assent to the contrary would require a different appearance about that contrary fact. A confusion of indefinite and general (καθολικόν) proposition seems to have happened at 84 n. 199. The examples of propositions about the past that change their truth value given at 126 are propositions about a present state of affairs. When discussing the question whether the naturalis causa in Fat. 14 might be the protasis of an astrological theorem, or whether it could be a “sign” in the technical Stoic sense, Mayet disregards the ontological difference between causes, which are bodies, and propositions, which are incorporeal sayables (λεκτά).3 A similar ontological confusion is her assertion that the “network of ‘triggering causes’ is determined by fate (‘fatum-bestimmt’)” (190): the network of causes (all causes, by the way) is fate itself. Assent is called a property (ποιότης, 187); in fact it is an activity (ἐνέργεια) of the individual property of a person. Having, as it seems, studied only part of the Diogenianus fragment in Eus. P.E. 6.8, she overlooks the discussion of what is fated simply in 6.8.35 (205 n. 433). If she had taken this passage into account, she might not have developed a reading by David Sedley4 into an argument that the criterion for distinguishing something fated from a confatale is the internality or externality of the acts of volition involved in an event (214-21).

The expert reader, who is looking for original contributions to well-known problems, will find some out-of-the-box thinking that sometimes leads to interesting new points, even if one might not always be convinced in the end. For example, Mayet suggests that the criterion for judging the truth or falsity a proposition is the causa efficiens of that proposition (67, explaining Acad. 2.95 with a reference to Fat. 20. Her solution suffers, however, from lack of clarity: she somehow seems to infer from the existence of a cause [“Ursache”] that there is also a reason [“Grund”] for the truth of a proposition, without however clarifying the exact relation between the two (172-3).

Mayet follows a suggestion made to her by Wilfried Stroh to read quod ut pr<imum> positum est in Fat. 12. She adduces the Stoic definition of an implication (συνημμένον, S.E P. 2.189) to save the argument in that section: because of the required incompatibility (μάχη) between protasis and apodosis, it is “impossible” (ἀδυνατον) that the contradiction of the apodosis obtains. This is connected with her reading of Fat. 14, where she takes Cicero’s statement quamquam hoc Chrysippo non videtur valere in omnibus to mean that Chrysippus in principle endorsed a logical rule according to which the apodosis of an implication is necessary if the protasis is necessary (i.e. □p → q ├ □p → □q), but made some exceptions. Even if this is Cicero’s intended meaning, it cannot be what Chrysippus himself would have accepted. A logical rule that does not obtain in all cases is no logical rule at all. The phrase immediately following on the quoted sentence (sed tamen, si naturalis est causa cur in mari Fabius non moriatur, in mari Fabius mori non potest) is then also attributed to Chrysippus (138-41), who assumes that naturalis causa is equivalent to causa antecedens and as such some “physical phenomenon which is to be understood as lying outside Fabius’ person and outside the sphere of his influence” (136).

Mayet argues that for Chrysippus all propositions about the future were only possible (120-2) and also introduces a revised system of Chrysippean modal terms (overview at 196) in which what is possible is derived from (“leitet sich ab”) its “essential” internal cause and is not hindered by external causes. As a consequence, a proposition like “Socrates walks” is only non-necessary but not possible. Mayet arrives at this revised grid of modal operators on the basis of her equally idiosyncratic reading of the distinction of causes attributed to Chrysippus in Fat. 41 ff. (184-9): a causa adviuvans et proxima is understood as an external “triggering cause” (“auslösende Ursache”), while causae perfectae et principales are, according to her, “essential causes” since this type of cause is “that which constitutes the essence of its bearer” (186 n. 400: “die die Essenz des Substrats darstellt”).

It is regrettable that Mayet does not take her own working program more seriously and so does not try more energetically to glean new insights by making use of her qualifications as a trained Latinist to submit Cicero’s text to a close philological and literary analysis. This would have furthered our understanding of the transformation that a Chrysippean tenet or passage may have undergone when it was received and shaped by Cicero. Such an understanding, in turn, may have helped to solve some of the riddles she so energetically collects. There are glimpses of philological methodology, e.g. when Mayet compares Cicero’s argumentative method in Fat. 12-17, where he constructs a rhetorical straw man that is duly refuted, to similar techniques in Cicero’s speeches (164). For the most part, however, her readings are rather flat from a philological point of view, and in the discussions there are only passing references to the precise wording of Cicero’s text, even when a choice between different possible interpretations is to be made. A symptomatic example is the way in which Mayet finally decides between different readings of the Liar, which is presented in Acad. 2.95-8: She quotes a classification of four basic readings proposed by Bradley Dowden in his article on the “Liar Paradox” in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy and chooses that which seems closest to the gist of all the various ancient sources she has adduced.

All discussed sections are quoted fully in Latin but without translation or critical apparatus, and also in the discussions themselves textual criticism only occurs where it is absolutely unavoidable. There is not much consideration of the historical background to the dialogues or generic conventions, such as character roles in a dialogue, the distinction between author and persona or the possible function of the philosophica to fashion a certain public image of their author. Mayet often writes as if Cicero himself were faithfully reporting and rationally assessing what he has read and does not feel the need to consider irony or a rhetorical stance unless it virtually cannot be overlooked.


1.   Mayet also touches upon references to Chrysippus as a dialectician in De orat. 1.50, Orat. 115 and Rep. 3.12 and a reference to Chrysippus’ stance on Diodorus Cronus’ Master Argument (Fam. 9.4.1), but omits Div. 2.126 praesertim cum Chrysippus Academicos refellens permulto clariora et certiora esse dicat, quae vigilantibus videantur, quam quae somniantibus.
2.   Cronache Ercolanesi 27 (1997), 83-100. At least Mayet does not mention it in her very cursory discussion of PHerc 307 coll. 9-11 (69-70). She has made thorough use of Magnus Schallenberg, Freiheit und Determinismus: Ein philosophischer Kommentar zu Ciceros Schrift De fato (Berlin / New York: De Gruyter, 2008), which came out shortly before she completed her manuscript and features a rich bibliography as well. One of her preferred commentaries seems to be the unpublished dissertation by David P. Marwede, A commentary on Cicero’s De fato (diss. Baltimore, 1984). She does not cite the series of articles edited by Stefano Maso: Cicerone, ‘De fato’: Seminario internazionale, Venezia 10-12 Iuglio 2006, in Lexis 25 (2007). Since it might be a source of unconscious bias on the part of the reviewer, I should probably mention that Mayet seems to be unaware of my discussion of Fat. 20-1 and 28-30 in Seneca und die Stoa: Der Platz des Menschen in der Welt (Berlin / New York: De Gruyter, 2006), 321-31.
3.   Μayet is in principle aware of the difference, since she quotes and discusses sources to that effect later on (172).
4.   “Chrysippus on Psychophysical Causality” in J. Brunschwig and M. Nussbaum eds., Passions and Perceptions: Studies in Hellenistic Philosophy of Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 313-31.

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