Greek philosophy of art, particularly the Stoics, has received some attention in recent years,1 but a general study of the problem of art in the whole Stoic philosophy has been lacking. So it is time, perhaps, for a synthesis. This is precisely the opinion of Mary-Anne Zagdoun (hereafter abbreviated Z.). In this book, she tries to demonstrate the existence of an authentic Stoic philosophy of art (9): “le nombre, l’intérêt et la diversité des fragments stoïciens se rapportant à l’art et aux beaux-arts montraient qu’il existait bien une philosophie stoïcienne de l’art et que la méthode la plus fructueuse pour l’étudier consiste à l’articuler autour des concepts les plus importants du stoïcisme” (37). This thesis gives form to her whole book.
First, the scope: this book is not an exhaustive study of the Stoic concept of
Then, the method: according to Z., our meager evidence forbids a study of Stoic philosophy of art organized philosopher by philosopher. She opts for a study by concepts, showing how the various fragments related to art focus on central concepts of Stoicism: her first part is about physics, the second about logic, and the third about ethics. Z. thinks this is a good way to sketch the evolution of Stoic philosophy of art (38).
In the introduction (9-43), Z. sets out an overview of the aim of the book (9-10) and clarifies some key concepts (
The first part (“Les fondements physiques de l’art”, 45-116) is divided into three chapters. The first chapter (“Art et nature”, 47-78) studies the basic elements of Stoic cosmology and their relation to art (the craftsman fire, 48-53, the pneuma, 53-56, gods, 56-59, emanation, 60-61, the thermon, 61-62, substance and the two
The second part (“Représentation artistique et langage”, 117-83) is also divided into three chapters. In the fourth chapter (“Arts et sensations”, 119-46), Z. focuses on the importance of sensation in the Stoic theories of art. She is thus led to study the role of sounds and colors in perception and art. Her discussion ends with an examination of Diogenes of Babylon’s “cognitive sensation” (
Like the two first parts, the third part (“Arts et sagesse”, 185-250) is divided into three chapters. Chapter seven (“Les arts, source de plaisir et d’émotion”, 187-213) focuses on aesthetic pleasure, passions and emotions: Z.’s discussion is not without merits, but it is less precise and informative than Richard Sorabji’s recent treatment of this topic.3 The same holds true of some passages in chapter eight (“La valeur éthique de l’art”, 215-37), where Z. studies the influence of art on the psychic life of man. Just one example: her connection between the Aristotelian catharsis and Stoicism (217, 221-22) is ill-founded, or at least very questionable—at any rate, she leaves in the dark her understanding of catharsis (152-53). Indeed if we stick to something reasonably close to Aristotle’s idea, and refuse to consider as catharsis any relief of emotion gained by arousing it, then we cannot find many references to catharsis in Stoicism, except perhaps one by Diogenes of Babylon.4 This comparative silence of the Stoics about catharsis needs explaining. The explanation, at least for later Stoicism, lies in the view which Seneca presents that the theatre, and the arts in general, do not stir up emotions at all but only first movements ( de ira 2. 2. 3-6): if the theatre cannot produce Aristotelian catharsis, then Aristotle’s theory needs no further discussion.5 This chapter suffers also from a compositional defect: Z. goes back over the notions of
The book ends with a conclusion (251-47) which resumes the main arguments of the work, a full bibliography (259-77) and some indices (279-304).
In certain respects, this book is disappointing. Though it contains almost nothing new on the Stoics, this is not at all a criticism: truth can be more important than originality, and Z.’s aim is to draw on her knowledge of a vast corpus of texts (ancient and secondary literature) to present a synthesis on Stoic philosophy of art. The problem lies elsewhere: it seems that Z. has not really dealt with her subject. Of course, her book makes clear that the Stoics had many things to say on Art, and that this topic deserves attention, but she doesn’t manage to show clearly and precisely the unity and evolution of the Stoic philosophy of art. What is really at stake in the Stoic philosophy of art remains often touched on, and not really explained in detail. I suspect her plan, which I find a bit schoolish, to be the source of this problem: her study embraces so many themes that it becomes impossible to deepen our understanding of the (often obscure) Stoic fragments related to art while accounting for almost all the basics of Stoicism. Z.’s discussions are then sometimes unsatisfactory, because her book is full of “self-censorship”: after some reminders, not necessarily unjustified, but often too long, of the basic principles of Stoicism, she stops her study before going into details, precisely when the readers wants more information. Two examples, among many others: 176, on potestas and
Self-censorship applies also at another level. Z. has written very insightful studies of Greek art,7 but in this book, she very rarely links her reflections on Stoicism with the ancient works of art. According to her, too much uncertainty surrounds the confrontation of works of art with philosophical texts. Therefore, “le retour aux textes philosophiques s’impose comme un préalable indispensable à une connaissance complète de l’oeuvre antique, qui pourrait alors reposer sur une confrontation des données archéologiques et des textes philosophiques” (10). This is an amazing claim. It is obviously impossible to understand works of art without a certain knowledge of the cultural context in which they are made—the philosophical ideas on art belonging to this context. But it is also true that one cannot understand philosophical texts about art without knowing what they are about—in this case, “Greek and Roman Art” (as far as this expression makes sense). There is a circularity here, but not necessarily vicious. Z.’s discretion on Greek art is thus surprising and unfortunate, because her few remarks on the relations between Stoic theories and Greek Art are probably the most interesting and original aspects of her book: the section on human body and beauty (90-95) is excellent, as well as her reflections on
In a word, this book has its good points and its bad. I don’t think it achieves convincingly the synthesis promised by Z., but it contains some excellent discussions which deserve attention. Misprints and careless mistakes:
13, l. 26,
1. Cf. for example M. Isnardi Parente, Techne. Momenti del pensiero greco da Platone ad Epicuro, Firenze, 1966, p. 287ff; F. E. Sparshott, “Zeno on Art: Anatomy of a Definition”, in J. Rist (ed.), The Stoics, Berkeley, 1978, p. 273-95; Cl. Imbert, “Stoic Logic and Alexandrian Poetics”, in M. Schofield, M. Burnyeat and J. Barnes (eds), Doubt and Dogmatism. Studies in Hellenistic Epistemology, Oxford, 1980, p. 183-216; Jaap Mansfeld, ” Techne : A New Fragment of Chrysippus”, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 24, 1984, p. 57-65; H.-J. Horn, “Stoische Symmetrie und Theorie des Schönen in der Kaiserzeit” ANRW II.36.3, 1989, p. 1454-72; E. Asmis, “The Poetic Theory of the Stoic “Aristo””, Apeiron 23, 1990, p. 147-202; M. Nussbaum, “Poetry and the Passions: two Stoic views”, in J. Brunschwig and M. Nussbaum (eds), Passions and Perceptions. Studies in Hellenistic Philosophy of Mind, Cambridge, 1993, p. 97-149. One should also mention the innovative editorial work on Philodemus’
2. Jaap Mansfeld, art. cit..
3. Cf. Richard Sorabji, Emotion and Peace of Mind. From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation, Oxford, 2000, especially ch. 5.
4. Cf. Richard Janko, “A First Join between P. Herc. 411+1583 (Philodemus On Music 4): Diogenes of Babylon on Natural Affinity and Music”, Cronache Ercolanesi 22, 1992, p. 123-9, on the account of Diogenes of Babylon in Philodemus De musica col. 69*, lines 1-12 Delattre.
5. Cf. Sorabji, op. cit., p. 294.
6. Another example: a sub-section in chapter five (166-68) and a section in chapter nine (242-50) are both entitled “L’interprétation stoïcienne de l’oeuvre d’art”.
7. Cf. Mary-Anne Zagdoun, Reliefs ( Fouilles de Delphes IV, 6), Paris, Diffusion de Boccard, 1977, La sculpture archaïsante dans l’art hellénistique et dans l’art romain du Haut-Empire, Paris, Athènes, Diffusion de Boccard, 1989.
8. Cf. also Mary-Anne Zagdoun, “Plutarque à Delphes”, Revue des études grecques 108, 1995, p. 586-92.
9. Cf. Mansfeld, art. cit., p. 62.