BMCR 2006.12.19

Philosophy and Doxography in the Imperial Age

, Philosophy and doxography in the imperial age. Studi, 228. Firenze: L.S. Olschki, 2005. viii, 186 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 9788822254740 €20.00.

The present volume is a collection of the papers presented at a colloquium held in Rome in June 2002, the third in a series on ‘Philosophy in the Imperial Age’. It takes as its subject the relationship between philosophy and doxography — doxography having become in the last decade or so quite a fruitful subject of study, thanks not least to the labours of one of the participants, Jaap Mansfeld.1 Doxography, I think it is fair to say, remains a pretty low form of literature, but it certainly does have its interest and its importance, and they are well brought out in the present collection. My only cavil, as will become evident, is that not all the papers seem to focus of what I would regard as doxography proper, but rather on the use of previous authoirties in general. But perhaps I am being too restrictive in my understanding of what constitutes doxography.

The seven papers in the collection are as follows: David Runia, ‘A difficult chapter in Aetius, Book II, on cosmology’; Jaap Mansfeld, ‘From Milky Way to Halo. Aristotle’s Meteorologika, Aetius, and passages in Seneca and the Scholia on Aratus’; Aldo Brancacci, ‘Stobaeus Anthologium III 24′; Carlos Lévy, ‘Deux problèmes doxographiques chez Philon d’Alexandrie: Posidonius et Enésidème’; Dominic J. O’Meara, ‘Plotin “historien” de la philosophie’; Hansueli Flückiger, ‘The ΕΦΕΤΙΚΟΙ in the commentators’; Jean Pépin (sadly deceased before the volume appeared), ‘La quaestio De Ideis de saint Augustin et la doxographie platonicienne’. All of them make significant contributions to knowledge.

David Runia is concerned with recovering the form and the rationale of a chapter of Aetius, on the topic of the eternity (or otherwise) of the world (II 4, according to the arrangement found in Pseudo-Plutarch), from the various extant witnesses to it, Ps.-Plutarch, Stobaeus and Theodoret. After a detailed analysis of the order of doxai, highlighting in particular the idiosyncrasies of Stobaeus, who makes his own arrangements, he feels that he is able to present a probable original structure for the chapter, bringing out Aetius’ liking for the diaeresis as an instrument of organisation. It is a fine piece of work, but probably not easy listening at the time!

The same might be said for the excellent contribution of Mansfeld, which explores the degree of dependence of a group of ‘meteorological’ chapters of Book III of Aetius’ Placita (ch. 1-6 and 18) on Books I to III of Aristotle’s Meteorologika. A particular issue is the contrast made between phenomena which are real and those which are appearances, in which Aetius follows Aristotle, but gets some things mixed up, e.g. as to whether the Milky Way is an appearance resulting from our visual rays being reflected towards the sun (Aristotle) vs. the sun’s rays reflected against the heaven (Aetius). Mansfeld’s meticulous analysis teases out the details of Aetius’ use (and misuse) of his source.

Brancacci himself devotes a most useful study to a single chapter of Stobaeus (III 24), Περὶ συνειδότος, devoted to the topic of consciousness/conscience. It is an interesting chapter in many ways, and gives some insight into Stobaeus’ methods of composition. He begins by discussing a saying of Socrates, which is not from Plato and which B. considers may derive (albeit remotely) from Antisthenes, and shows how Stobaeus uses it as a sort of linchpin for the whole chapter. The use of passages from Isocrates is also of particular interest, as is that of a passage of Plutarch, Περὶ εὐθυμίας, which Stobaeus has probably excerpted himself.

Carlos Lévy, next, looks at some interesting passages of Philo of Alexandria, where he may or may not be making use of doxographic sources. Jaap Mansfeld has shown that Philo did make some use of doxographic sources, but he plainly read a good deal for himself. L. picks out a passage of the Legum Allegoriae II 99, a commentary on Gen. 49: 16-18, where he compares the passions to the four legs of a horse, and another from De Congressu 81, commenting on Gen. 16:3, where mention is made of the sleep of reason, and wishes to connect them with a reading of Posidonius, which I find not improbable. His other chosen example is that of De Ebrietate 169-71, where Philo is making use of the ten tropes of Aenesidemus. But again, this is hardly Philo making use of a doxography rather than of the source work itself, surely.

A somewhat different question arises with Plotinus, dealt with by Dominic O’Meara. Plotinus makes very little overt use of doxographic sources, but in two notable passages, at the beginning of Enneads IV 8, and in chs. 8-9 of V 1, he employs a selection of Presocratic doxai, from Heraclitus, Empedocles and Pythagoras, to form a background to a position that he wishes to highlight of Plato, in the one case the descent of the soul into the body, in the other the doctrine of three hypostases, and these have a dfistinctly doxographic appearance, though it is always possible that he derives these doxai from his own reading — they are utterances, after all, rather than doxai.

Hansueli Flückiger goes in search of references to ephectic arguments in a series of Neoplatonic commentators on Aristotle, Syrianus, Ammonius, Asclepius, Philoponus, Olympiodorus, Elias and David, mainly from their introductions to philosophy in general or from commentaries on the Categories. The main argument adduced is one against the possibility of philosophy at all, based on a claim that being belongs to the class of homonymous things, and therefore is indefinable and unknowable. This rather silly argument, however, serves a number of the Neoplatonic commentators, in their introductions to philosophy, as a basis for discussing what philosophy actually is. F. traces the efforts to refute the argument industriously back into the Middle Platonic period, but in the process seems to me to undermine the possibility that the source is ‘doxographic’; it seems just as likely to be derived from Pyrrho or Aenesidemus themselves.

Lastly, we have an essay by Jean Pépin on the use by Augustine, in his Quaestio de Ideis but also in the De vera religione and elsewhere, of a sequence of characteristic phrases to describe the Platonic Ideas and the realm of true being derived from various passages of Cicero, notably his translation of the Timaeus and parts of the Tusculan Disputations and the Academica, and the notable passage (8-9), at the beginning of the Orator; and in turn, on Cicero’s modes of translation of key phrases of Plato. Once again, though, this, though most interesting, seems to me to concern literary influences in general, rather than the use of doxographic sources in the narrow sense, which Augustine may or may not have made use of.

But I may just be missing the point here. At all events, it is a fine collection of essays by a distinguished roster of scholars. There is a useful bibliography, and indices of sources and proper names.


1. One thinks of such works as Prolegomena: Questions to be Settled before the Study of an Author, or a Text, 1994; Aetiana: The Method and Intellectual Context of a Doxographer, 1996 — with David Runia, also a participant in this gathering; and a host of articles.