BMCR 2007.07.02

Response: Ramelli on van Nuffelen on Ilaria Ramelli, Il basileus come nomos empsychos tra diritto naturale e diritto divino. Spunti platonici del concetto e sviluppi di et imperiale e tardo-antica

Response to 2007.06.21

Response by

I was grateful for the reviewer’s kind remarks in his review of my little book, but I confess that I was surprised to see the extent to which he focusses on what he would have liked me to write rather than on my chosen theme, which is one that has not, I think, been adequately investigated before. Exploring the Platonic roots of the notion of basileus as nomos empsukhos was quite enough for a slim volume, I would have thought, without my examining in detail “how the relation between the ruler and law was conceived in Plato, Hellenistic and Roman philosophy.” My aim was not to provide the history of the concept of nomos empsukhos throughout the centuries, nor to see how this concept functioned in the political thought of the Roman Empire, nor to study the Stoic influence on it, which represents the most widespread opinion and has been studied already. Instead, I was interested in suggesting something new and different, and I am glad that the reviewer recognizes that I argued successfully for it.

The specific criticisms in the review also seem to me to be misguided. For example, on the three objections concerning Archytas, I would say (1) that Archytas’ and Plato’s conceptions of divine law and the basileus are not different. Plato too believed in independent divine laws, which must be the model for the ruler, although he discovered them through the intellect, i.e. his truly divine faculty. (2) I do not argue for the link between Platonism and Pythagoreanism on the basis only of late imperial authors; the relation between Plato and Archytas is to be found e.g. already in Plato’s Seventh Letter, which, whoever its author, certainly dates to the fourth century. (3) I do not take a definitive position on whether Pseudo-Archytas’ On Laws and Justice is authentic and fourth-century, chiefly because it is a highly controversial matter; I do think it may be authentic, but I prefer to leave the question open and to point out what is most relevant to my argument, that is, that either way this is a writing influenced by Platonism rather than Stoicism, and it offers a clear attestation (perhaps the first) of the “nomos empsukhos.”

I note in my book that the Stoics I discuss are eclectic because that is relevant to my argument; I agree that the Platonists too whom I treat are eclectic to some extent, but the point is that the Stoics I discuss are far more eclectic than other contemporary Stoics (e.g. Epictetus) — in whom there are, significantly, no references to the concept of nomos empsukhos. As for Dio’s concept of law and kingship, I might have written a whole book on it, but, again, this simply was not my scope.

As for the Themistian fragment, of course it is an editio princeps and open to further analysis; it may not be authentic, but the arguments for this claim in the reviewer’s note 4 are, in my opinion, very far from being conclusive. I disagree that the style is not Themistian, since many parallels can be found with Themistius (even more remarkable are the parallels in thought). I disagree that the universal extention hyperbolically attributed to the empire under Theodosius fails to fit the historical reality, since this universalistic feature is present already, for example, in Eusebius, and is to be found e.g. also in Pacatus, under the same emperor (esp. chaps. 22,1 – 23,1); moreover, in the new fragment the universal extention of the emperor’s power is expressed as a wish rather than an accomplished achievement. I disagree that Themistius never calls the emperor theos, since he does so in two orations both addressed to Theodosius, where he ascribes to him theotês as well (Orr. 15.193C-D and 19.226-227A).

I am nevertheless grateful for the reviewer’s suggestions, and shall continue to meditate on them.