Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.11.12 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.11.12

Philip Schmitz, "Cato Peripateticus" - stoische und peripatetische Ethik im Dialog: Cic. fin. 3 und der Aristotelismus des ersten Jh. v. Chr (Xenarchos, Boethos und 'Areios Didymos'). Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte, 113.   Berlin; Boston:  De Gruyter, 2014.  Pp. xii, 282.  ISBN 9783110337075.  $112.00.  

Reviewed by Andrew R. Dyck, Los Angeles (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

At the beginning of the narrative of Cicero, De finibus 3, Cato is introduced “surrounded by Stoic books” in Lucullus’ library at Tusculum (§7), and he promises that in the following discussion he will “explain the entire opinion of Zeno and the Stoics” (§14). Not surprising, then, that a good deal of scholarly reconstruction has been based on the premise that what Cato presents in Fin. 3 is orthodox Stoic doctrine. That premise is, however, false: what Cato presents is, rather, at important points, an amalgam of Stoic and Peripatetic teachings. That is the thesis put forward in this book, a lightly revised University of Cologne dissertation, and encapsulated in the paradoxical title Cato Peripateticus.

Schmitz focuses in particular on the doctrine of oikeiosis, which forms the starting point of Cato’s exposition. The term is notoriously difficult to translate; perhaps “acceptance as one’s own” might serve as a functional equivalent. This doctrine lays a basis in nature for the distinction between good and evil (individual oikeiosis) and social life (social oikeiosis) by tracing them back to the behavior of the newborn infant in accepting first its own body and the things that nurture it and promote its well-being, and extending to other persons: parents, relatives and the community in general. The doctrine was used somewhat differently by Stoics and Peripatetics, the latter emphasizing self-love as a basis and the goodness of the “natural advantages.”

Schmitz’ argument comprises “destructive” and “constructive” components, whereby the view that the treatment of oikeiosis in Fin. 3 is entirely of orthodox Stoic provenance is slated for destruction; Schmitz then proposes an identification for Cicero’s Peripatetic source.

Treating individual oikeiosis (§§16-19) and social oikeiosis (§§62-73) separately, Schmitz offers a thorough analysis that can serve as a philosophical commentary on these passages. That Cicero’s account of oikeiosis includes Peripatetic material is already received wisdom among close readers of Fin.,1 and not all of Schmitz’ points carry equal weight. Cicero was, after all, a literary artist and did not hesitate to rearrange his materials or reword them in keeping with his notions of good Latin style and his literary goals. Thus, the absence of a prominent role for Nature (personified) in Cicero’s account or the appearance of self-perception only in the penultimate sentence of §16 would not argue strongly for a Peripatetic source. On the other hand, the emphasis on self-love in this context is a telling index of Peripatetic influence (§§16-17), and in §65 abundance of pleasures would not be an enticement from a Stoic point of view. When all of Schmitz’ points are taken together, including the close parallels he is able to cite from the first Peripatetic doxography in Book 2 of Stobaeus, his case is overwhelming: it is hard to believe that anyone will again claim a purely Stoic source for the doctrine of oikeiosis in Fin. 3.

Having thus connected Cicero and the first Peripatetic doxography in Stobaeus, Eclogue 2, Schmitz further hypothesizes (after Meineke and others) that the latter was written by Arius Didymus. That Cicero depended directly on Arius was the thesis of Giusta but has been rejected on chronological grounds.2 Philippson had proposed Xenarchus, mentioned as the author of a Peripatetic theory of oikeiosis in the Mantissa of Alexander of Aphrodisias, as an intermediary source used by both Cicero and Arius. This thesis was rejected by Pohlenz as insufficiently grounded.3 Schmitz now seeks to revive Philippson’s theory (modified in that he adds Boethus, also named in the same passage of Alexander) with more detailed arguments.

In our sources the two types of oikeiosis are separately discussed. Schmitz thinks that they were originally connected, and that the “missing link” between them has, by chance, dropped out of all of our sources. The “missing link” he identifies is the fact that the love of children can be regarded as a kind of self-love since children are one’s alter ego; this is inferred from passages in the Nicomachean Ethics, a work which is known to have been used as a basis for argument by Xenarchus and Boethus (pp. 185-95).

The two oikeiosis arguments, individual and social, are, however, based upon different starting-points (the newborn vs. the parent with a child) and serve to ground different points. It looks as though individual oikeiosis was put forward by the Peripatos to promote its values (the “natural advantages”); “Cato” accommodates it not without some awkwardness (§22: ipsumque honestum — quod solum in bonis ducitur, quamquam post oritur [“and the honorable itself — which alone is counted among the goods, though it arises later”]). Social oikeiosis, on the other hand, grounds Stoic universalism, which is different from the city-state ethics of the Peripatos. There is thus no need to assume that the two versions of the oikeiosis argument were ever linked, let alone that Cicero had access to such a version and arbitrarily divided the two. As to the thesis that Xenarchus and Boethus were the source of both Cicero and Arius Didymus, this is a possibility but hardly demonstrable on evidence.

Why did Cicero insert Peripatetic elements into his ostensibly Stoic exposition of oikeiosis? Schmitz leaves open two possibilities: (1) Cicero was unaware that he was so doing, his sensitivity to school differences having been eroded by exposure to Antiochus’ teachings. (2) Cicero did not take the differences between the schools very seriously and inserted Peripatetic material to show that Cato’s objection to confusing the schools was pointless (p. 240). Neither of these explanations is convincing. (1) Cicero certainly knew, for instance, that pleasure was not a Stoic value but nonetheless inserted the point as a lure in §65. (2) If that was Cicero’s goal, he pursued it with such subtlety that only in recent times was the Peripatetic strain in the argument exposed — hardly a plausible procedure for Cicero, who was wont to aim at the immediate effect. I suspect that the text we have results from three factors: (a) as already mentioned, Cicero did not take seriously the differences between the schools; (b) as in Parad., he seeks to some extent to achieve a rhetorically effective presentation of Stoicism; thus the addition of pleasures at §65 would appeal to the ordinary reader, if not to the serious Stoic; the fact that the social life is pursued in spite of them thus makes the point rhetorically stronger; (c) Cicero desires to fold main points of the Stoic system into the exposition of individual oikeiosis (since this is the beginning of the exposition of Stoicism) even at the cost of some tension between the two goals (see above on §22).

Schmitz’ book is erudite (he has taken the trouble to learn Armenian in order to explore related material in Philo), and his careful demonstration of Peripatetic elements in Cicero’s two presentations of the doctrine of oikeiosis in Fin. 3 should place the use of a Peripatetic source beyond cavil. On the other hand, his reconstruction of an unattested single doctrine of oikeiosis connecting the two elements is not cogent, and the attempt to identify Cicero’s Peripatetic source is a possibility but undemonstrable.

Table of Contents

I. Einleitung: Fragestellung und Forschungsüberblick
II. Die individuelle stoische Oikeiosis und der Peripatos
III. Die soziale stoische Oikeiosis und der Peripatos
IV. Das Problem der Verbindung
V. Oikeiosis und Philautia
VI. Aufbau, Autorschaft und Datierung der ersten peripatetischen Doxographie bei Stobaios
VII. Cato Peripateticus? Xenarchos, Boethos und die erste peripatetische Doxographie bei Stobaios und die möglichen Quellen für Cic. fin. 3
VIII. Zusammenfassung der Ergebnisse


1.   Cf. O. Gigon and L. Straume-Zimmermann, M. T. Cicero, Über die Ziele des menschlichen Handelns (Munich / Zurich, 1988), 489-90.
2.   M. Giusta, I dossografi di etica vol. 1 (Turin, 1964), 201-4; contra M. Gelzer, Cicero. Ein biographischer Versuch (Wiesbaden, 1969), 295 n. 287.
3.   R. Philippson, “Das Erste Naturgemäße,” Philologus 87 (1932), 445-66, contra M. Pohlenz, Grundfragen der stoischen Philosophie (Göttingen, 1940), 42.

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