- Roman Reflections: Studies in Latin Philosophy eds. by Gareth D. Williams and Katharina Volk
This volume of thirteen essays originated in a conference on Latin philosophy at Columbia University, organized by the editors in 2012. The guiding principle was to examine how writing philosophy in Latin gave a distinctive character to Roman philosophical thinking. The conference was interdisciplinary, involving philosophers and literary scholars, some interested in ancient history as well. In publishing the papers, the editors had in mind as a model Philosophia Togata I and II, the second volume of which is almost twenty years old. More up to date, this volume also aims to fill gaps in the earlier enterprise by devoting one of the four parts to Seneca, not treated as a separate topic there, and by going beyond Porphyry in time. Organized chronologically, the book starts from the role of Pythagoreanism in the way Romans thought about their engagement with philosophy and ends with a look ahead to the way Augustine’s notion of a gulf between one’s own mind and all that is outside it opens the way to modern scepticism. Writers in Greek are [End Page 673] deliberately omitted, with the exception of Epictetus, whose portrait of the Roman senator Helvidius Priscus has an essay to itself.
Part 1 consists of a single chapter in which Harry Hine discusses attitudes to the term philosophus in the late Republic and early empire. Signifying a professional philosopher, the word was eschewed by Cicero, Seneca, and Pliny in describing themselves, but was later adopted by Apuleius. Hine traces this change to a growing acceptance of philosophy in Rome over time, but consideration should also be given to the higher social status of the earlier authors, who were Roman senators who would want to be thought of as gentlemen, not as professionals of any kind.
In part 2 on the late Republic, Volk treats the Roman tradition that Pythagoreanism was an Italian product, not a Greek import like the major philosophical schools from Plato into the Hellenistic period. James E. G. Zetzel makes the important point that philosophy at Rome was not confined to the villas of the elite but had penetrated to the lower reaches of society, as is reflected in Roman satire, notably Varro’s Menippean variety. In the essay that engages most closely with Latin as a philosophical language, Tobias Reinhardt examines the way videre/eri accommodates both illusory and veridical ways of seeing, being used by Lucretius and by Cicero in his Academica to make philosophical points about perception. He thus raises doubts about the “poverty of our native speech” mentioned by Lucretius. Chapter 5 re-evaluates Cicero’s attitude toward theoretical philosophy and physics. Here Gretchen Reydams-Schils notes the importance Cicero attributed to the notion of the community of gods and men under divine governance, for the social virtues he valued highly.
In part 3 on Seneca, Andrew M. Riggsby emphasizes the novelty of Seneca’s analysis of anger and of his demonstration that it is actually controllable. Seneca’s originality is again stressed in Matthew Roller’s treatment of his use of exempla: Seneca regards a praeceptor as necessary for their interpretation and for their better accommodation to Stoic ethics. Yelena Baraz, however, is critical of Seneca for ranking possible models of the sapiens, who is supposed to be an absolute supreme exemplum. Focusing again on Seneca’s sapiens, Williams highlights the influence of Lucretius on Seneca’s literary and philosophical presentation of greatness of soul. Finally, Margaret Graver confronts the puzzling admiration Seneca has for Epicureanism, exemplified in the maxims he quotes approvingly in his early letters. She takes this as an indication of Seneca’s self-confidence in his adherence to Stoicism, which, by contrast, needs to be grasped by reading whole philosophical works.
Part IV features Epictetus, Apuleius, and Augustine. Wolfgang-Rainer Mann fits Epictetus’s account of the encounter between the senator Helvidius Priscus and the emperor Vespasian into the tradition of confrontations between philosophers and despots...