BMCR 2021.11.40

Body and soul in Hellenistic philosophy

, , Body and soul in Hellenistic philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. ISBN 9781108485821 $99.99.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The present volume is the outcome of the 14th Symposium Hellenisticum that was held in Utrecht from 18th to 22nd July 2016. It comprises a short introduction and eight essays on the interaction of body and soul in Hellenistic philosophy. All major schools are fairly represented: the opening chapters focus on the influence of medical theories on Peripatetic and Stoic philosophy, the middle part examines certain problematic aspects of Epicurean and Stoic psychology, while the concluding chapters explore psychological issues relating to the Hellenistic Academy and Cicero.

Sylvia Berryman reassesses the evidence regarding Strato and his alleged deviation from Peripatetic doctrine. She argues that, rather than being regarded as a deviant, Strato can be viewed rather plausibly as an empirically-minded Peripatetic who incorporated recent medical discoveries in his philosophy, without giving up the fundamental tenets of Aristotelian metaphysics. In particular, Berryman detects the aforementioned influence primarily in Strato’s views on three issues, namely the location of the hēgemonikon, the materiality of the soul, and the two-seed theory of reproduction. Regarding the seat of the hēgemonikon, which Strato positioned in the mid-brow (mesophruon), Berryman makes the plausible point that he would not have regressed to an encephalocentric theory like the one put forward by Alcmaeon—and criticized by Theophrastus—on purely theoretical grounds. Her suggestion that Strato’s opting for the mid-brow as the center of awareness reflects knowledge of the optic chiasma, even though ingenuous, rests on rather infirm textual grounds. In sum, Berryman develops her argument cautiously and is perfectly aware of its speculative nature, especially given the scarcity of evidence as well as the antecedent occurrences of pneuma in Aristotle and Theophrastus.

David Leith argues that Chrysippus’ treatise On the Soul may have been the source of the Aëtian placita report that Erasistratus and Herophilus placed the hēgemonikon in the membrane of the brain and the cerebellum respectively. Leith carefully reconstructs Herophilus’ analysis of motive capacity on the basis of a distinction between natural and voluntary motion: the former includes arterial pulsation and begins in the heart, whereas the latter originates in the brain and is carried out by the nerves. Next, Leith turns to Erasistratus who attributed distinct functions to the arterial, the venous, and the nervous systems: the former two, containing vital pneuma and blood respectively, originate in the heart and carry out functions such as digestion and nutrition, whereas the latter, containing psychic pneuma, originates in the brain’s meninges—or the brain, if we trust Galen’s report that Erasistratus later revised his view—and is responsible for voluntary motions. Leith argues persuasively that, contrary to what the Aëtian report would have us believe, there is no indication that either doctor held a systematic theory about the soul (“there is no sense of a hierarchy of systems here, or of the privileging of particular organs”, 45). He then proceeds to examine how the testimony may have arisen and suggests that Chrysippus discussed the nervous system in his treatise On the Soul because he perceived it as a potential threat against Stoic cardiocentricism. The chapter concludes with a discussion about Strato of Lampsacus’ positioning of the hēgemonikon in the mid-brow. Here Leith’s treatment is too telegraphic to be of real value.

Chapter 3 deals with Galen’s seemingly inconsistent claims that the capacities of the soul follow the mixture of the body and that bodily parts are adapted to the soul’s faculties. Philip van der Eijk highlights the key role Galen accords to the notion of krasis—the ratio of the mixture of the four elementary qualities hot, cold, dry, and wet—in explaining several psychological features of human beings, while he cites textual evidence that Galen envisaged causation as occurring both from the bottom up and from the top down. He thus resolves the tension between Galen’s incompatible views by showing that the materialism embedded in the theory of krasis is in the end “part of a larger, purposive natural arrangement” (86), according to which craftsmanlike Nature designs the bodily parts as instruments that align with the soul’s character, allowing all the while the possibility for individual psychological variation depending on factors such as the agent’s lifestyle or environment.

Francesco Verde examines sections 63-4 of the Letter to Herodotus with a view toward showing that at the time of its composition Epicurus had not yet developed the distinction between the rational and the non-rational part of the soul. Scholars who find such a distinction within the text endorse Woltjer’s emendation in section 63 of ἔστι δὲ τὸ μέρος to ἔστι δέ τι μέρος to match the Lucretian report about the nameless fourth nature in De Rerum Natura 3.241-2, attested also in Aëtius and Plutarch. Verde retains the manuscript tradition and adduces the testimonies of Demetrius of Lacon and Diogenes of Oinoanda to argue that the distinction in question reflects a later development in Epicurean thought.

In chapter 5, Francesco Ademollo discusses certain difficulties that arise from the Stoic doctrine that sees an analogy between the cosmic and the individual soul. Ademollo begins from a distinction between three different senses of “soul”—namely (A) the soul as pneuma that pervades an animal’s entire body, (B) one specific form that pneuma assumes within the animal (i.e. the eight-part ψυχή as opposed to ἕξις and τόνος), and (C) the hēgemonikon—and explores the problems that ensue when the analogy relation is construed as a part-whole relation, especially for sense (B). The author points to Xenophon’s Memorabilia 1.4 as well as Plato’s Philebus and Timaeus as potential sources for this conception of the relation between individual and cosmic soul, paying particular attention to Zeno’s father-offspring argument for proving that the cosmos is ensouled.

Christelle Veillard examines the inconsistency between what she terms the “Stoic pledge,” according to which moral agents are perfectly responsible for their mental acts, and the notion that the soul is a physical being that is influenced by irrational factors. Veillard focuses on the testimonies that deal with anathumiasis, i.e. the idea that soul comes from the vaporization of blood, at both the cosmic and the individual levels and concludes that the term owes as much to the Aristotelian as to the Heraclitean tradition. Noticing that the relation between the individual soul and the cosmos entails an exchange of intrinsic and extrinsic air through pneuma, the author discusses the Stoic view on the impact of climate on psychology: acknowledging the Hippocratean—and possibly also Aristotelian—background of the idea, she takes Cicero to task for mistakenly assigning to Chrysippus the view that the mind is determined by environmental conditions and correctly emphasizes the latter’s as well as Posidonius’ refusal to reduce psychological functions to geographical factors. Veillard takes up the relation between passion and erroneous judgment and stresses the insufficiency of inherited qualities for the acquisition of virtue stricto sensu; on the other hand, correct judgment can also fail to prevent a passion from occurring, thus signifying the importance of the development of good tension of the soul (εὐτονία) to secure virtuous action. She concludes with an examination of Posidonius’ and Diogenes of Babylon’s Platonizing views on the existence of a pre-rational soul and the way music can contribute to its proper development.

Jan Opsomer attempts a reconstruction of the Hellenistic commentary tradition on Timaeus 35a. The bulk of his argument builds on the hypothesis that Plutarch’s treatise De animae procreatione owes much to an exegetical tradition that started as early on as Aristotle and continued down to the times of Iamblichus. Opsomer argues that Plutarch inherited from this tradition several assumptions regarding Timaeus 35a, most importantly the belief that this passage is indispensable for a proper understanding of the soul as well as the idea that the soul’s primary functions are cognitive and kinetic. He begins his excursus from Aristotle De anima 1.2, 404b16-30, where Aristotle describes how Plato constructed the soul, and suggests that the various reports, such as that the soul or the animal itself is somehow related to the three dimensions or that the soul is self-moving number, may reflect the interpretive efforts of Plato’s followers at the time of the early Academy. Least contentious is the inference that Xenocrates and Crantor occupied themselves with Timaean exegesis since Plutarch explicitly ascribes to the former the belief that soul is self-moving number—even though he elsewhere attributes it to “the ancients,” and it is quoted as Pythagoras’ definition by Aëtius—and criticizes the latter for introducing matter in the soul. The author then turns to two later testimonies in Iamblichus and Proclus to connect Speusippus’ definition of the soul as what is extended in any direction with Aristotle’s comment about the presence of the principle of dimensionality in the soul. Most importantly, Opsomer examines extensively Posidonius’ engagement with Platonic exegesis: his definition of soul as the form of what is every way extended, constituted according to number that comprehends harmony is convincingly traced back to Speusippus, while the fact that Posidonius explored the cognitive and the kinetic functions of the soul as well corroborates the hypothesis that in developing his views the Stoic philosopher relied on an antecedent tradition. The chapter ends with a brief discussion of the post-Hellenistic commentaries of pseudo-Hipparchus and Timaeus Locrus.

In the last chapter, John P. F. Wynne returns to Cicero’s two arguments for the eternal duration of the rational soul formulated in the Tusculans and argues that Cicero conceived of the soul as sensing itself only inferentially, contrary to Augustine’s interpretation of the arguments as foreshadowing his own conception of the soul’s immediate self-awareness. The discussion revolves around the claims that: (a) even though the soul does not know its quality, it knows that it itself is and that it itself moves, and (b) since they have certain attributes that only simple, ungenerated, and indestructible things possess, minds must be of such a sort. Wynne explores how the Augustinian interpretation of Cicero’s first argument arose, speculating that it owes much to a commentary on Plato’s Phaedrus by Hermias of Alexandria: so explicated, the argument puts forward a conception of the mind according to which sensation of its own motion leads to its immediate self-awareness. The author, however, notices an inconsistency between this construal and the second argument: in the process of addressing the doubts of an imaginary objector, Cicero retorts explicitly that the soul does not see its own form but certain of its attributes. Wynne understands this claim as implying that the eye infers its own existence from sensing some of its attributes and bases his interpretation on a parallel in Tusculans I.70, where Cicero employs an argument from design to infer the gods’ existence. Despite ascribing to Cicero an equivocation on “seeing” as “sensing” and “inferring,” Wynne’s overall analysis coheres adequately with the textual evidence.

The volume is well edited, and the papers are of top quality. I noticed only the following errata: p. 97 “proposed Woltjer”, read “proposed by Woltjer”; p. 127 “this historical excursus begin start at the beginning” (unintelligible); p. 173 “an patent”, read “a patent”; p. 179, closing parenthesis missing after 154.26; p. 202 “take pains” read “takes pains”; p. 208 “try to imagine the body as they would”, read “try to imagine the soul as they would.”

Authors and Titles

Introduction, Brad Inwood and James Warren
1. Hellenistic Medicine, Strato, and Aristotle’s Soul, Sylvia Berryman
2. Herophilus and Erasistratus on the Hēgemonikon, David Leith
3. Galen on Soul, Mixture and Pneuma, Philip van der Eijk
4. The Partition of the Soul: Epicurus, Demetrius Lacon, and Diogenes of Oinoanda, Francesco Verde
5. Cosmic and Individual Soul in Early Stoicism, Francesco Ademollo
6. Soul, Pneuma, and Blood: The Stoic Conception of the Soul, Christelle Veillard
7. The Platonic Soul, from the Early Academy to the First Century CE, Jan Opsomer
8. Cicero on the Soul’s Sensation of Itself: Tusculans I.49-76, J. P. F. Wynne