Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.01.08 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.01.08

Jürgen Hammerstaedt, Pierre-Marie Morel, Refik Güremen (ed.), Diogenes of Oinoanda Epicureanism and Philosophical Debates. Diogène d’Œnoanda Épicurisme et controversies. Ancient and medieval philosophy - Series 1, 55.   Leuven:  Leuven University Press, 2017.  Pp. 321.  ISBN 9789462701014.  €90.00 (hb).  

Reviewed by Attila Németh, Eötvös Loránd University (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

The present volume is a first: the first collection of papers on Diogenes of Oinoanda, whose early second-century CE inscription, found in Oinoanda in 1884, contains an important summary of Epicurus’ teachings.1 The book stems from an unprecedented event, a three-day international colloquium on Diogenes’ polemic. Perhaps more importantly, it makes the ongoing discovery of Diogenes that is taking place in the scholarship, and the related debates, more accessible to a wider audience than ever before. Its scope is unusually wide considering that it combines the study of archaeology, architecture, epigraphy, history, language and Greek philosophy. This interdisciplinary range naturally stems from the nature of Diogenes’ inscription on stone, which originally contained an estimated twenty-five thousand words, only a quarter of which we now possess in the form of 299 fragments. The incompleteness of the inscription necessarily leaves much space for speculation, but the consequence of this, in this volume, is a satisfying convergence between the debates concerning the reconstruction of the text and the reconstruction of doctrines. The work is an excellent starting-point for anyone who wants to understand Diogenes and the part of the story of ancient Epicureanism that he represents, and an indispensable resource for the more serious scholar.

The book begins with an enthusiastic foreword by a pioneer of international work on Diogenes, Martin Ferguson Smith, in which he highlights the diverse interest and importance of the inscription. In the Preface, two of the three editors, Pierre-Marie Morel and Jürgen Hammerstaedt, underline the value of Diogenes not only as a precious resource for our knowledge of Epicurean philosophy, but as a testimonial to the ways in which philosophical theory and practice developed under the Roman Empire: an often-overlooked theme, which is also emphasized by Geert Roskam’s contribution later in the volume.

Martin Bachmann, to whose memory this volume is dedicated, offers an architectural history of not only the inscription, but also of the city of Oinoanda through urban development models and images, together with a research chronicle of the site. Since he himself participated in the most recent explorations conducted under the aegis of the German Archaeological Institute, his vivid account provides an arresting narrative of the survey results and activities carried on by the archaeologists, including the storehouse erected in 2010 for the protection of the stones of the inscription, and the planned virtual reconstruction of the Stoa wall on which Diogenes shared his message.

Jürgen Hammerstaedt, after reconstructing the structure and the extent of the inscription and orienting the reader to its general content, places Diogenes in the wider epigraphic context of Oinoanda and speculates that Diogenes’ inscription may have been a reaction to the so-called Demostheneia epigraph, which records the foundation of a musical festival and competition by C. Julius Demosthenes in 125 CE. Hammerstaedt thus indicates a further function for the inscription in its immediate historical context as a criticism of the local social elites.

Michael Erler’s subtle piece argues convincingly that a new fragment (NF 155) is best understood in the context of a standard Aristotelian argument against Middle Platonist argumentation concerning providence. Diogenes is thus seen recycling some Peripatetic reasoning against Plato. In the second part of his paper, Erler reconstructs Diogenes’ anti-legalist political utopia—the Epicurean version of Plato’s Kallipolis—based on what he appropriately calls the ‘Theological Physics-sequence’. Nevertheless, it still remains questionable whether we should also attribute Diogenes’ point of view to Epicurus and to all of his followers as Erler does, or rather see here some degree of originality (at least in interpretation) on the part of Diogenes.

Francesco Verde concentrates on how Diogenes dealt with the history of philosophy in a case-study of two fragments (fr. 5 and NF 155). In an analysis which is attentive to the smallest philological details, he shows that the Heraclitean idea of flux wrongly attributed by Diogenes to Aristotle and his school was the result of a hostile doxographical reconstruction, which Diogenes took over from one of his Epicurean sources. In the second part of his paper, he contextualizes NF 155 and attempts to identify its possible sources, but more importantly than the vexed questions of Quellenforschung, we learn about Diogenes’ polemical strategy.

Giuliana Leone draws our attention to the fact that Epicurus’ concerns with distant astronomical and meteorological phenomena are fully taken up by Diogenes in his inscription. She traces in the relevant texts an apparent controversy concerning the meteôra, and sets up a convincing framework to clarify Diogenes’ objectives and the lexical and stylistic forms of his polemics. Her intent is to show how and to what extent Diogenes diverged from Epicurus when he articulated his meteorological views in different contexts.

The following three contributions all address—amongst other matters—the controversy over whether fr. 33 targeted the Cyrenaics or the Stoics. Francesca Masi suggests that Diogenes was targeting both the Stoics and the Cyrenaics in this fragment. To defend her claim, she argues extensively for an attractive hypothesis that the Stoics misconceived and, thus, misrepresented the value Epicureans accorded to virtue, taking it only as a crude instrument for pleasure. Given the resemblance between the resultant understanding and the Cyrenaics’ position on virtue, Diogenes chose to utilize the Cyrenaic view as a point of reference in order to clarify and defend his own Epicurean position.

Voula Tsouna reassesses the evidence concerning fr. 49 in which Diogenes openly attacks Aristippus and fr. 33. David Sedley has taken the fragment to be a polemic against the Cyrenaics, and Tsouna cautiously concurs, though also giving a fair and thorough consideration to points raised by Martin Ferguson Smith. The fruit of Tsouna’s discussion is harvested when she introduces other fragments, never before discussed in this context, which she convincingly relates to Diogenes’ anti-Cyrenaic polemic. Jean-Baptiste Gourinat follows Diogenes’ polemic against the Stoics point for point, as it develops in the fragments including fr. 33 to cover a wide range of topics from physics to theology to ethics. His study reveals that Diogenes’ criticisms of Stoic positions in the inscription are often counter-attacks against the anti-Epicurean arguments put forward by the Stoics. Although it is difficult to tell how original Diogenes’ arguments are, Gourinat thinks that they were mainly original, which he justifies with reference to the atypical vocabulary used by Diogenes in constructing his arguments.

Turning to the Epicurean theory of dreams, Refik Güremen points out that Diogenes wanted to refute all superstitious beliefs about dreams by jointly criticizing the Stoic and Democritean interpretations of dream images. Güremen takes into account the intellectual framework in which Diogenes’ polemics appear, which is essentially connected to vital epistemological debates within and between the Hellenistic philosophical schools. He argues convincingly that confronting Democritus’ theory helped the Epicurean Diogenes to clarify his own standpoint. The upshot of his discussion is the clarification of the traditional line of defence the Epicureans took to answer a general sceptical reproach against the school.

Alain Gigandet is also interested in Diogenes’ theory of dreams, but he narrows his focus to Diogenes’ explanation of the mechanism of dream visions based on the Epicurean theory of eidôla. Gigandet’s provides an excellent analysis of a fragment of Epicurus’ On Nature and of the relevant passages in Lucretius about the physical process of sense-perception, a part of which he baptizes ‘frayage’ or ‘spawning’: that is the ‘path-making’ of the eidôla in the sense-organs. This analysis breaks new ground, but there is a missed opportunity to explain how this physical mechanism translates into the mental representation of dreams.2

Questions concerning politics and Diogenes’ relationship with his readers naturally arise. Pierre-Marie Morel addresses Diogenes’ attack on the harmful practices associated with political power, denouncing the Stoics’ idea of the state and justice. He sees Diogenes’ originality and genius in the way he rearranges and reformulates the apolitical dogmas of Epicurus, packaging them in a unique new style of political thought, which reflects an ambivalent relationship between the Epicureans and the politics of the city: mistrust and self-interest. Still, as Morel shows, Diogenes’ philanthrôpia or public spirit shines through his poetic skills and literary elegance.

Since Diogenes confronts no fewer than twenty rival philosophers or schools in the fragments discovered so far, Geert Roskam’s study of Diogenes’ polemical approach is an excellent way to round off this volume. Roskam considers the evidence for Diogenes’ different roles—as schoolmaster, as rhetorical polemicist and as a sober-minded philosopher—to carry out a fine analysis of his didactic, rhetorical and argumentative strategies within a case study centred on the ‘Theological Physics-Sequence’. His exegesis results in a better understanding of why Diogenes’ therapeutic philosophical prescription carved in stone had to be polemical at a time when the traditions of philosophy were still at least partially alive even among ordinary people.

The volume is exceptionally well produced and is practically without any typographical or grammatical errors. The illustrations and photographs are all very helpful and advance the reader’s understanding of the ongoing research and of the location, arrangement and the contents of the inscription. In particular, Jürgen Hammerstaedt’s tracing out by touch of a fragment of the inscription that was embedded in the foundations of a building, but accessible upside down after some digging, shows just how much some of these scholars are devoted to advance our knowledge of Diogenes (Fig. 9, p. 16).

This volume comprises a huge wealth of expertise and offers a broad presentation of the main directions of contemporary research on Diogenes. Although, as Roskam points out (p. 242), the central focus of its attention on polemics might potentially have led to emphasis only on the destructive message of Diogenes, these authoritative interpretations of the corpus engage the reader in the constructive side of his philosophy as well, offering a fascinating and richly detailed resource for anyone interested in not only Diogenes of Oinoanda, but his historical and philosophical milieu and that of Epicureanism under the Roman Empire,

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations IX
Martin Ferguson Smith, Foreword. The Importance of Diogenes of Oinoanda XI
Pierre-Marie Morel and Jürgen Hammerstaedt, Preface XIX
Martin Bachmann, Oinoanda. Research in the City of Diogenes 1
Jürgen Hammerstaedt, The Philosophical Inscription of Diogenes in the Epigraphic Context of Oinoanda. New Finds, New Research, and New Challenges 29
Michael Erler, Diogenes against Plato. Diogenes’ Critique and the Tradition of Epicurean Antiplatonism 51
Francesco Verde, Plato’s Demiurge (NF 155 = YF 200) and Aristotle’s Flux (fr. 5 Smith). Diogenes of Oinoanda on the History of Philosophy 67
Giuliana Leone, Diogène d’Œnoanda et la polémique sur les meteora 89
Francesca Masi, Virtue, Pleasure, and Cause. A case of multi-target polemic? Diogenes of Oenoanda, fr. 32-33 Smith 111
Voula Tsouna, Diogenes of Oinoanda and the Cyrenaics 143
Jean-Baptiste Gourinat, La critique des stoïciens dans l’inscription d’Œnoanda 165
Refik Güremen, Diogenes of Oinoanda and the Epicurean Epistemology of Dreams 187
Alain Gigandet, Diogène, Lucrèce et la théorie épicurienne de l’imaginaire. Fragment 9—De rerum natura IV 971-993 207
Pierre-Marie Morel, La Terre entière, une seule patrie. Diogène d’Œnoanda et la politique 221
Geert Roskam, Diogenes’ Polemical Approach, or How to Refute a Philosophical Opponent in an Epigraphic Context 241
Abbreviations used for Diogenes and other Inscriptions of Oinoanda 271
Bibliography 273
About the Authors 291
Index of Places 295
Index of Gods and Mythological Figures or Concepts 296
Index of Ancient Persons, Philosophical Schools and Concepts 297
Index of Persons of Modern Times 301
Index of Ancient Texts 304


1.   Cf. also Jürgen Hammerstaedt, Martin Ferguson Smith, The Epicurean Inscription of Diogenes of Oinoanda: Ten Years of New Discoveries and Research (Bonn: Verlag Dr. Rudolf Habelt, 2014). BMCR review 2016.07.38.
2.   Also cf. Francesca Masi’s excellent piece on the subject, which also focuses only on the physical aspect of perception: ‘Memory, Self and Self-Determination. The Mind-Body Relation in Epicurus’ Psychology’ in D. De Brasi and S. Föllinger, eds., Anthropologie in Antike und Gegenwart: Biologische und philosophische Entwürfe vom Menschen (Sankt Augustin, 2015), 203-30.

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