Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2016.07.16 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2016.07.16

Vladislav Suvák​ (ed.), Antisthenica Cynica Socratica. Mathésis, 9​.   Praha:  OIKOYMENH, 2014.  Pp. 437.  ISBN 9788072981946.  478 Kč.  

Reviewed by Christopher Moore, Penn State University (

These twelve papers constitute—I think—the first edited collection about Antisthenes ever published. It fuses a pair of surging interests in first-generation Socratics and in the roots and early expressions of Cynicism. The contributors, writing in English, French, Spanish, and Italian, come from across Europe and North America. The editor has written frequently on Antisthenes in Slovak, and the volume represents a near-final volume overseen by the late Aleš Havlíček at OIKOYMENH.

An accident of publication synchrony influences the assessment of this work, to its unfortunate disadvantage. It shares an official copyright date with Susan Prince’s newly available and quite wonderful Antisthenes of Athens: Texts, Translations, and Commentary (Ann Arbor, 774 pages). These two studies of Socrates’ earliest student occupy distinct orders of quality. The present volume lacks the unity, comprehensiveness, precision, clarity, and definitiveness of Prince’s. It has of course the virtues of an edited collection: idiosyncrasy of topic, interpretative variety, and range of scale. But lacking a topic index and any cross-referencing, its virtues have only qualified power. At least four chapters discuss the ἕν ἐφ᾽ ἑνός, for example, and each takes it up in its own way, but with no cognizance of the others.

The two-page “Forward,” serving as editorial introduction, justifies—with pleasing efficiency—the continued study of Antisthenes; but it does little to guide the reader to the nature or form of this particular study. Observing that Antisthenes bridges classical with Hellenistic Socratism while providing a counterpoint to Plato’s Socrates, it concludes only that “our effort is not systematic integration of Antisthenes into ‘the history of ancient philosophy’ … [but] to look for possible forms of ancient thought which help us to understand better not only the Socratic tradition but also ourselves and how we think about history.” I wish there had been at least a summary of the chapters to show their relations and overlapping territory. This would have drawn out the greatest appeal of the present volume, its hermeneutic plurality in the context of relatively few basic problematics. For, indeed, Suvák’s volume does a great service of drawing together a fresh set of conversation- starting approaches, with familiar topics and low barriers to entry.

I will now say at most a few few words about each of the chapters.

Pedro Pablo Fuentes González, “En Defensa del Encuentro entre dos Perros, Antísthenes y Diógenes: Historia de una Tensa Amistad” (11–71), argues that Antisthenes’ ability to lead a conversation is crucial for the intellectual connection between Socrates and Antisthenes.

Vladislav Suvák, “Antisthenes between Diogenes and Socrates” (72–120), aims to reconcile two portraits of Antisthenes, Xenophon’s and the one found in later doxographical writings. Xenophon’s Antisthenes is highly Socratic, and while autarkeia matters in this portrayal, as it definitely does in Hellenistic doxography, in the Athenian historian’s Symposium Antisthenes does not go in for such austerity, severity, or the praise of poverty as the Cynics do. The two images of the sophos, Heracles and Odysseus, have Socratic roots but, formulated as the polutropos, served as the basis for later thinking. Suvák ends his chapter by exhorting scholars to rehabilitate Antisthenes as an alternative mode of philosophizing outside the now-normative mode that follows Plato and Aristotle.

Giuseppe Mazzara, “La Logica di Antisthene Nell’Aiace e Nell’Odisseo” (121–167), addresses the major Antisthenic themes, of oikeios logos, antilegein, pragma, logos dêlôtikos, and so forth, in the context of the two speeches. This chapter includes both speeches in Greek and Italian translation.

Susan Prince, “Words of Representation and Words of Action in the Speech of Antisthenes’ Ajax” (168–199), vindicates her thesis that we can and should study the Ajax and Odysseus on their own terms, especially for what we can learn about logos. This is in contrast with the usual approach, which is to evaluate them on the basis of doxographical testimony from Antisthenes’ other works, testimony that, besides being fragmentary, has undergone polemical reduction from across Antisthenes’ corpus. Even though Ajax and Odysseus are fictions narrated by potentially unreliable personae, which might make “extracting theory” seem foolish, in fact nearly all the Socratic literature we know of is “fictional” with at times deliberately fallacious or problematic narrators, and so we face similar problems in all those works. Thus the fact that Antisthenes is Socratic tells in favor of our reading these fictional works philosophically.

Both Aldo Brancacci, “Filosofia e Retorica in Antistene” (200–225) and Claudia Mársico, “The Methodological Dimension of Antisthenic Philosophy and Some Platonic Reactions Against Homeric Criticism” (226–245), discuss Antisthenes’ analysis of the compound adjective polutropia found in Porphyry (SSR VA 187). Brancacci connects it to the language of sophists, philosophers, and wisdom in the early fourth-century Athens of Isocrates and Plato. Mársico finds in it an important source of context for understanding the Hippias Minor and Socrates’ criticisms of poetic interpretation.

Igor Deraj, “Socratic Investigation of Names: Toward an Exegetic Method?” (246–281), seeks to understand Antisthenes’ concern for linking language to reality by studying Xenophon’s portrayal of Socrates’ conversational method. Deraj concludes that for Antisthenes, this concern at the heart of pedagogy “has to be oriented primarily toward the ethical praxis and human action, which is always changing and aspectual.”

Louis-André Dorion, “Antisthène et l’autarcie” (282¬–307), argues that Diogenes differs absolutely from Antisthenes in the importance to Diogenes of a conception of autarchy and in the underlying animal model for it. He does so through four closely studied passages: DL 6.11, Xenophon’s Symp. 4.34–45, Lucian’s Dialogues of the Dead 21.3, and the Cynic Letter 8 to Aristippus.

Lívia Flachbartová, “Diogenes of Sinope as Socrates mainomenos” (308–350), takes as provocative Plato’s supposed label for Diogenes (DL 6.54). The chapter’s first half surveys the use of mania in Plato and Xenophon, yielding the unsurprising conclusion that the mainomenos lacks either reason or self-control. (Flachbartová explicitly excludes from consideration the apparently positive mania in the Phaedrus.) Its second half argues that Diogenes lacked neither. The chapter concludes, a little underwhelmingly, and with no apparent consequence for understanding Antisthenes, that Plato simply hurled “a shallow insult or scorn.”

Kajetan Wandowicz, “Did the Early Cynics Speak Against Homosexuality” (351–361), aims to refute the claim by Will Desmond, in his Cynics (BMCR 2009.08.36), p. 90, that “many [ancient] anecdotes clearly express Cynic disapproval of ‘Greek love.’” Wandowicz claims that none of the six anecdotes Desmond cites is decisive enough to countenance his claim. Somewhat bizarrely, given Desmond’s connection to the present volume, Wandowicz psychologizes Desmond, saying that “one cannot help but suspect that the author’s sympathies lie with Christian ethics.”

Dominique Bertrand, “Fuir les Cérémonies de la Table: La Posture Cynique de Charles Coypeau Dassoucy” (362–376), mentions Antisthenes only once, concerning his frugality as testified by the Diogenes in his Cynic Letter to Monimus. The chapter concerns the Cynic material in Dassoucy’s (1605–1677) Les Aventures.

Will Desmond, “Antisthenes and Hegel” (377–390), complicates Hegel’s influential assertion, in the Lectures on the History of Philosophy, that there is “nothing particular to say of the Cynics, for they possess but little Philosophy, and they did not bring what they had into a scientific system.” In this redemptive reception study, Desmond shows that, for Hegel, the Cynics appear “presumably as the most Socratic of the Socratics, and the culmination of the subjective turn that unites Sophists, Socrates and his successors.” Antisthenes especially manifested this one-sidedly ethical strand of thought, more valuable to us (and Hegel) as an example of “a highly cultivated and upright man.”

This volume includes an Index Locorum and Bibliography. The English is quite often incorrect.

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