BMCR 2004.12.32

Marcus Tullius Cicero, Topica (edited with translation introduction, and commentary)

, , Topica. Oxford classical monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. xvi, 435 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.. ISBN 0199263469. $115.00.

(The author of this review apologizes for the delay in its completion and is grateful to BMCR’s referee for many stylistic improvements.)

It is a pleasant fact to note that in the last decades a number of large-scale, modern commentaries on some of the major works of the Ciceronian corpus have come to light. To mention only the most memorable: D. R. Shackleton-Bailey’s work on the letters, the recently completed Amsterdam commentary on De oratore, Andrew R. Dyck’s De officiis and De Legibus, G. Calboli’s Ad Herennium, Chr. Schäublin’s De divinatione. Unfortunately, whereas for other theoretical works such as the Orator one needs to refer back to much older commentaries, there is for the great majority of the speeches almost no help of this kind at all.1 With a more than century-old Teubner edition, two recent and uneven text editions and only one major source-research study of the late forties2 Topica has been one of the most neglected of the Ciceronian writings in modern scholarship, though in Late Antiquity and in medieval times it was studied vigorously and exerted a lot of influence. As Reinhardt (henceforth R.) rightfully notes in the very first lines of his preface, Topica tends to be regarded as a “marginal work”, despite the “centrality” of the treatise as “the theoretical crystallization of one aspect of Cicero’s personal understanding of rhetoric”. Indeed, the rehabilitation of the Topica as a basically rhetorical treatise, in the sense that it tackles the fleshing-out of a subject (inventio) far more than being purely “dialectical”, seems to be a particular aim and merit of R.’s work, apart from its philological value.

The book is divided into a long introduction on the Topica, the ancient loci-theory, the Peripatetic sources of the work, its legal aspects and its transmission (pp. 1-112); an edition of the Latin text with critical apparatus (supplemented with an “Appendix critica”) and facing English translation (pp. 115-175); the commentary (pp. 177-368); a short appendix on Cic. fam. 7, 19 (pp. 369-370); bibliography (pp. 371-412); indexes (pp. 413-435).

In the first part of his introduction R. illuminates the origins and background of what he calls “thetical rhetoric”, that is the combination of Aristotelian-Peripatetic argumentative theory (the loci-theory) with the division of the thesis represented by Philo’s Fourth Academy. R. adopts the older theory of von Arnim and Philippson, according to which Philo (not Antiochus) was the advocate of the rhetorical conception of thesis and hypothesis found in Topica, but he strengthens his argumentation with many points from the latest research.3 Philo had turned the Academic dialectical practice of in utramque partem dicere into a rhetorical exercise, and Cicero’s analysis of the thesis presented in de orat. 3, 107-118, as well as the third part (73-100) of the Topica are supposed to be largely based on now lost treatises of Philo. Despite the convincing discussion of R. which makes a strong case for Philo one has to admit that due to the great lack of primary sources definitive certainty in these matters can hardly be attained. A wider outlook however is to be preferred. The fact that Cicero in the passages taken from De orat. speaks only generally both of Peripatos and Academy seems not to exclude at least indirect influence from other sources, e.g. from Antiochus, whose knowledge and treatment of the theseis-theory have been well-known for over a hundred years.4

The second part of the introduction about the history of the loci-theory looks largely like an excursus, which might have appeared more appropiately as an article or a series of articles, especially because R. does not content himself with a rhetorical history of the subject or only with Cicero’s works but covers the period from the Rhet. ad Alex. down to Boethius and arrives at some original conclusions. For example, the view that in Aristotle’s Topica the topoi derive their existence and practical side from the propositional substructure of the treatise (though one could emphasize here the ambivalent but important role of the endoxa as a point of reference that combines both aspects) which lost ground in later theories to topical doctrine of invention is worthy of further investigation. Such is the case also with R.’s identification of the “argumentative” type of koinoi topoi in the Rhetoric as the one most representative in the Ciceronian Topica. Nevertheless, the distinction between inv. I 34-43, where according to R. (cf. also p. 213ff) methods of invention which were standard in schools of rhetoric, are applied and de orat. II and Topica, where Cicero supposedly operates more with abstract logical terms and rules, seems somewhat technical despite its usefulness for R.’s argument, as it tends to obscure the diverse scopes of the two works and is not based on a close reading of the passages.

Since there are hardly any direct sources on the loci-theory presented in the Topica between Aristotle and Cicero, R. in the third part of his Introduction takes up the task of re-examining the peripatetic doctrines of Alexander son of Numenios and Neocles excerpted by the Anonymus Seguerianus, a treatise from the Imperial age, and of tracing their congruence with Cicero. Through critical examination of the evidence, which he supplements in the commentary, R. identifies the Peripatetic (as well as Stoic) sources of Alexander with the last part (73-100) of Cicero’s Topica. On the other hand he rejects the affinity of the Ciceronian loci-theory to the one found in Themistius, who wrote a commentary of his own on Aristotle’s work, and in Boethius, who presented only a reduced form.

The fourth part of the Introduction deals with the legal aspects of the Topica. R. considers the treatise a Ciceronian contribution to the rationalization process of legal knowledge in the late Republic. After an opening section on the Roman formulary system, which due to the inflation of legal formulae in the first century was reaching an impasse, R. explains Cicero’s plan to classify all known legal material, such as formulae and responsa, under topic divisions. R. goes further to compare rhetorical vs. legal invention: despite the seemingly different methodologies and purposes of these two kinds of invention5 there is a common denominator, namely their hermeneutical and heuristic nature by which Cicero’s understanding of the loci becomes analytical and comes closest to an inofficial forerunner of modern causal analysis. This is altogether a very important issue to discuss; it makes R.’s continental scholarly interests obvious and ought to be treated in a somewhat larger scale on another occasion.6

As to the text, one has to admit that this edition is a considerable improvement in the new constitution of the textual tradition. Like previous editors of the Topica, R. assumes two main lines of transmission, the Leiden corpus β which includes the oldest but incomplete Voss. Lat. F84 (A) and F86 (B) as well as the additional folios β and the integri-group α which he considers the product of one common hyparchetype and in which he detects Boethian contamination. In the group of the integri he gives a prominent role to Einsiedlensis 324 from the tenth century, Leidensis 90 also from the tenth century and Sangallensis 818 from the eleventh century because of their valuable Boethian readings as well as their early age. Of twelve other manuscripts, the readings are often reported, and thus we arrive at a sounder critical basis than the eight integri used by Di Maria in 1994. A particular merit of fundamental importance is the treatment of the Boethian contaminations and emendations — virtually the first thorough attempt of this kind in the editorial history of the Topica. R. has used the Boethian contamination as a statistical criterion in order to rank the descendants of α according to their trustworthiness. In addition, he has compared the readings of the manuscripts to Boethian parallels, thus using the late antique commentary as an autonomous manuscript. While this original method of collation sometimes touches on only insignificant points (e.g. 42: “Graece nominatur” for “Graeci nominant”), in other instances it contributes essentially to a better understanding of the text and its problems (e.g. 2: “ratione et via” for “rationem via”; 37: “putat esse” for “esse putat”). Again in the large section called “The analysis of the tradition” (p. 96ff) there are some striking examples of editorial tact and judgement such as the discussion of C/1 (Cologne Dombibl. 191, from the eleventh century), which R. convincingly proves to be a descendant of the common source of the folios B/A and the Einsiedlensis 324, or of the descent of Vat. Reg. Lat. 1405 (s. xi) from B and β which according to the editor was cross-contaminated. R. shows a justified confidence in the corrections and readings contained already in the manuscript tradition (e.g. 9 where R. prints rightly “cum definitio adhibetur” [instead of “tum definitio adhibetur”, until now preferred by all editors] which is a correction contained in Voss. Lat. F84; 18: “adiungetur” instead of “adiungitur” or “adiungeretur”; 47: “diversa” in place of “adversa”; 49: “illa” in place of “alia”; 51: “inquiebat” instead of “inquibat”; 58: “et quidem” instead of “equidem”; 79: “quam” instead of “qua”). Otherwise he is rather sparing with bracketing (for exceptions cf. 25: “ad reperiendum”; 27: “Earum autem rerum quae non sunt”; 39: “genus est aqua pluvia”, 91: “rerum expetendarum”).

The extensive commentary is devoted mainly to textual and philological issues. R.’s considerable learning marks almost every page of his commentary, while his ubiquitous and apropos citation of reference works, previous editions, monographs and articles displays a sovereign command of the literature. Each new section of the commentary begins with a general, helpful introduction to its contents in the form of an essay which in particularly difficult or simply important passages can stand as a well-rounded treatise in itself (cf. the section on 6-8, p. 189ff, on 19-21, p. 232ff, or on 53-57 p. 305ff). Since a complete discussion is here neither possible nor appropriate, I will concentrate on a few points which seem controversial or are of more general interest (I give paragraph numbers according to R.’s edition):

1-5: R. convincingly argues that the prooemium’s story of Trebatius tracking down a “Topics of Aristotle” in Cicero’s private library may be based on a real incident and that the book in question may really have been a version of the Aristotelian Topica extant today. He also intelligently dismisses the “one-book thesis” which held that the book mentioned was Cicero’s source. Indeed there is more than one reason to accept that the prooemial narrative is a typically Ciceronian story, admittedly taking an actual event as its starting point but becoming blended with and assimilated to fictional and self-styling elements. These elements are the rhetor’s ignorance of Aristotle, which certainly reflects Cicero’s unswerving rejection of school-rhetoric; the placing of the Topica in the Aristotelian topoi-tradition; and the “facetious use of legal terminology”, which leads “to a stylization of the dedication of the book as a legal transaction” (p. 181).

26-34: R. admits that this section on Definitions may indeed be inspired by more than one source; he even believes “that Cicero has sensibly amalgamated pertinent material from different sources” (p. 259). He shows this very well in the matter of the Stoic interrelation between division and partition, which Cicero indeed may have been the first to accommodate to a legal context. However, the main ideas in this section, such as the distinction between “corporeal” and “incorporeal” objects as well as the Greek terminology used (ennoia, prolempsis), certainly derive from philosophical texts, and traditional research has done well to think of Antiochus. R.’s argument that the definition of the definition in 26 and the definition of genus and forma (in 31) “are phrased in a way that sounds Aristotelian” lacks in my opinion evidential cogency because it is at least probable (though admittedly difficult to prove) that Antiochus or any other of the Middle Platonists may have adopted Peripatetic material. R. is perhaps right to print again εἴδη in place of ἰδέας (preferred by Di Maria), but there are passages which show that Stoic ἔννοιαι and Platonic ideas were conflated, especially in Middle Platonism;7 the question is even more difficult to decide since ἰδέαι and εἴδη, which already Plato had occasionally used as synonyms, in the terminological and theoretical syncretism of Hellenistic philosophy were conflated and came to mean almost identical things in post-classical Greek.

53-57: R.’s introductory chapter is a valuable piece of work. After a general introduction to Stoic hypothetical syllogistics he explores the relationship between the terms μάχη and ἀκολουθία (Cicero’s repugnantia and consequentia respectively) and the three Indemonstrables. Referring to Aristotelian and Peripatetic rhetorical theories about the enthymeme is useful, too, though the supposed conjunction of Aristotle’s refutative enthymemes (Rhet. 2, 22, 1396b 23-28) with the Stoic arguments from contradiction ( ἐκ μάχης) is not very clear to me. In his attempt to explain the conflation of Stoic logical premisses with Peripatetic loci-theory R. takes for granted that the former were incorporated in rhetorical topics which due to their heuristic nature were susceptible to this kind of influence. In short, R. also at this point stresses the assimilatory power and supremacy of Aristotelian and Peripatetic rhetoric (a Leitmotiv in his argumentation) over influences of another kind (mainly Stoic or Antiochean). In my opinion, such logical terms as contradiction or consequence may have been autonomously developed in the frame of Stoic semiotics (one may remember here the “indicative” and “commemorative” signs used in medical theory as well as the συνάρτησις) and brought together with Aristotelian topics at a later time.8

There are only very few misprints,9 understandable for so detailed a scholarly work. In the huge (over 900 entries!) Bibliography I have found only two errors10 which cannot mar the excellent impression one gets from it. Nevertheless, its division in “Bibliography” proper (pp. 371-389) and “Further Reading” (pp. 389-412) — with subdivisions in “Historical” (pp. 389-390), “Legal” (pp. 390-395), “Philosophical” (pp. 395-403), “Rhetorical” (pp. 403-409) and “Other” (pp. 409-412) — is likely to be inconvienient to the reader, as e.g. Michael Frede’s publications are divided between p. 376 and pp. 397-398. A reader of “G. Striker, Aristotle and the uses of logic” (p. 386) has to search in the “Philosophical” amid several entry-groups to find that this essay is edited in the volume “J. Gentzler, Method in ancient philosophy, Oxford 1998” (p. 398). The subdivisions are also often overlapping, e.g. Schmidlin (p. 385) whose article could have been cited in the “Legal” as well. A unified “Bibliography” would save the reader time.

Despite this, this book is not only the most complete edition of Cicero’s Topica we have but also, due to the discussion which R. stimulates by his valuable work, a book which every Ciceronian or student of ancient rhetoric should study. Indeed, one can only wish to write a book as scholarly as this.


1. Some notable exceptions: D. H. Berry, Cicero Pro P. Sulla Oratio (edited with introduction and commentary), Cambridge 1996; Cl. Klodt, Pro Rabirio Postumo, Teubner: Stuttgart-Leipzig 1992; J. Adamietz, Pro Murena (mit einem Kommentar herausgegeben), Darmstadt 1989.

2. Friedrich W., M. Tulli Ciceronis Rhetorica, II, Leipzig 1891; Riccio Coletti, M. L., M. Tulli Ciceronis Topica, Chieti 1994; Di Maria G., Marci Tulli Ciceronis Topica, Palermo 1994; Riposati B., Studi sui Topica di Cicerone, Milano 1947.

3. Mainly from Ch. Brittain, Philo of Larissa. The last of the Academic Sceptics, Oxford 2001.

4. W. Kroll, Studien über Ciceros Schrift De oratore, RhM 58 (1903) 552-597.

5. A passage which indirectly but almost certainly says what R. (p. 67) wishes to find expressed in Cicero, namely that “the loci were after all a method of arguing in utramque partem on the same proposition”, is part. 51.

6. Considerable work on the relationship between legal and literary texts in terms of causal theory and theory of communication has been done by James Boyd White, Heracles’ Bow. Essays on the Rhetoric and Poetics of the Law, Univ. of Wisconsin Press 1985.

7. Cf. Stob. 1, 12, 3, 2ff. = Arius Did. fr. phys. 40p. 472 Diels = SVF 1 (1905), p. 19, (Zenon) fr. 65; [Plutarch], Plac. Philos. 882e = SVF 1 (1905), p. 19, (Zenon) fr. 65; Tusc. 1, 57-58.

8. A study of mine on the influence of Stoic semiotics on ancient argumentative and enthymematic theories will appear next year.

9. I have found only these: p. 22, note 8: “Brunschwig (1994)” [correct: (1996)]; p. 31: “…their logical independence on other propositions…” [correct: “…dependence…”]; p. 410: “LASSANDRO, D., review of Di Maria (1994), and Riccio Coletti (1994), BstudLat 25 (1955), 217-218” [correct: “…(1995)…”]; p. 411: “SCHÜTRUMPF, E., review of Wisse (1989), Gnomon 64 (1989), 579-583” [correct: “…(1992)…”].

10. p. 410: “LAUGHTON, E., review of Fraenkel (1968), JRS 60 (1970), 188-194”, but the reader looks in vain for Fraenkel (1968) in the Bibliography; the omitted title is: Ed. Fraenkel, Leseproben aus Reden Ciceros und Catos, Roma 1968. The second error: p. 372 “BEHRENDS, O. (1973), review of Bretone (1971), Gnomon 45: 793-797”, for which there is no Bretone (1971) in the Bibliography, but one may guess that this is the first edition of “BRETONE, M., Techniche e ideologie dei giuristi romani, Naples 1984” (p. 390).