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Dossier : Des femmes qui comptent

Dossier : Des femmes qui comptent. Genre et participation sociale en Grèce et à Rome

Cicero on Greek Women Philosophers

Les femmes philosophes grecques chez Cicéron

Claudia Beltrão

Résumé

Cet article porte sur trois femmes philosophes grecques qui sont mentionnées dans les traités théoriques de Cicéron. Il s’agit d’étudier la façon dont l’auteur se réfère à elles, dans quels contextes et circonstances, afin de percevoir les mécanismes discursifs qui sous-tendent la mention de ces figures chez Cicéron. Considérer les brèves mentions d’Aspasie dans le De inventione, de Thémista dans le De finibus et de Léontion dans le De natura deorum nous permet de voir que l’éloge ou le blâme dépendent de l’argument qui est défendu ou critiqué dans chaque contexte argumentatif. Ces références à des femmes intellectuelles composent ainsi un tableau varié, chacune de ces références visant à produire un effet précis dans le discours de Cicéron.

Texte intégral

  • 1 On the prolific intellectual milieu in the late Roman Republic, see Moatti 1997; Feeney 1999; Rüpk (...)
  • 2 See, e.g., Academica 1.11, De finibus 1.10, Tusculanae 1.3.
  • 3 Key references for Cicero’s reappraisal are Glucker 1988; Lévy 1992 and Mansfeld 1999. On the reas (...)
  • 4 See especially Gildenhard 2007. On Cicero’s philosophical project, see Baraz 2012 and Bishop 2019.
  • 5 E.g., De officiis 3.13-15, 3.77, 3.81.
  • 6 Cicero’s characters are not convinced that their positions are misguided, and none of them is “def (...)

1Cicero actively participated in a creative intellectual milieu in the late Republican Rome, which gave rise to a remarkable literary production in a lively dialogue with the Hellenistic thought.1 In his theoretical work, Cicero states, not only once, that he intended to provide his contemporaries with a sophisticated and well-developed philosophical language and training.2 In fact, Cicero devoted a great deal of time and attention to these issues, creating a vast and consistent theoretical work.3 His impressive corpus, for reasons whose discussion goes beyond the scope of this paper, is the most complete that came to us and one of the most authoritative in the Western tradition. Cicero’s work is also unescapable to most of what we know about the late Roman republic, providing a vast body of information and entailing a whole range of approaches and questions. Even in his public speeches, philosophical themes are abundant, and Cicero champions philosophy as an appropriate activity to the Romans. However, his work shows a real tension between philosophy and the expected behaviour of a Roman nobleman.4 From this tension, he may derive his effort to “naturalise” Greek thought in Rome by writing dialogues in which prominent public figures, debating in their villae, overshadow any objections to philosophy, for their behaviour and ambitions differ from the life and behaviour of Greek thinkers. His characters are not full-time professional philosophers, nor lecturers or teachers like the Greeks of his time. They are senators, magistrates, public priests, that is, people highly recommended in the élite context of the Roman republic. They are all noblemen, and in Rome, it matters much who speaks. In almost all of his dialogues, Cicero was aligning firmly with Plato about the necessity of the noblemen to be intellectuals, with a high quality of intellect and propriety.5 His characters are amici and figures of authority, linking their philosophical conversations to a moment of otium when they are distant–voluntarily or not–from the urbs, without the political matters being forgotten.6

  • 7 See Griffin 1997, esp. p. 2-14, on the importance of analysing the whole philosophical project of (...)
  • 8 Eurykleia: celles qui avaient un nom (dir. Violaine Sebillotte et al., UMR 8210 ANHIMA). The inter (...)
  • 9 See Hine 2016, esp. p. 11-19, on the ways Cicero uses the term philosophus, -a, -i, and its nuance (...)

2Almost all of Cicero’s dialogues include apologies for his ingenious attempts to stake out a place for philosophy in the life of the Roman nobleman.7 However, which philosophy? Therefore, trying to get elements to answer this question within the framework of the Eurykleia’s project,8 this paper will deal with some mentions to names of Greek women philosophers in Cicero’s philosophica, asking for how they are presented and in what contexts and circumstances. Even the terminology is problematic, as it is not clear what philosophus actually means in Cicero’s time–a professional practitioner of a philosophical group, a lover of wisdom and other meanings.9 This question is beyond the scope of this paper; therefore, the term “philosopher” will have here a broad (modern) sense.

  • 10 The modern search for women philosophers has a long history–with different issues and approaches–s (...)

3The search for women philosophers is not a new issue, and it is well established that there were women in many philosophical schools and even extant books were attributed to them, albeit it is still difficult to detect their role in shaping doctrines, as the information about them is sketchy and biased.10 However, the main concern here is not what we can get from Cicero’s works to reconstruct any biographical information about these women, but to observe the discursive mechanisms structuring Cicero’s mentions to them, as these mentions are sparse though all but irrelevant. For the sake of concision, this paper will focus on just three of these mentions. The first one occurs at the very beginning of Cicero’s career, in De inventione, a rhetorical treatise written circa 84 BCE. The second and third ones are mentions in the most creative moment of his theoretical work, respectively in De finibus and De natura deorum, two philosophical dialogues dating from 46-45 BCE. Their pictures are quite different, as well as their meanings in Cicero’s arguments: Aspasia of Miletus and her critical reasoning by the young Cicero (Inv. 1.51-52), a brief mention to Themista (Fin. 2.67-68) and the ambiguous mention to Leontium (Nat. D. 1.93) in his sixties. These characters are significant devices in the construction of Cicero’s argument, which usually states the intellectual expertise of these women even when he deplores their ‘dubious morality’.

Cicero’s Aspasia, Themista and Leontium

4Let us see the first one: Aspasia in De inventione. Any appreciation, albeit brief, of Cicero’s point demands the observation of the whole section:

  • 11 Translated by H. M. Hubbell, LCL.

All argumentation, then, is to be carried on either by induction or by deduction. Induction is a form of argument which leads the person with one is arguing to give assent to specific undisputed facts; through this assent, it wins his approval of a doubtful proposition because this resembles the facts to which he has assented. For instance, in a dialogue by Aeschines Socraticus Socrates reveals that Aspasia reasoned thus with Xenophon’s wife and with Xenophon himself (cum Xenophontis uxore et cum ipso Xenophonte Aspasiam locutam): “Please tell me, madam, if your neighbour had a better gold ornament than you have, would you prefer that one or your own?” “That one”, she replied, “Now, if she had dresses and other feminine finery more expensive than you have, would you prefer yours or hers?” “Hers, of course”, she replied. “Well now, if she had a better husband than you have, would you prefer your husband or hers?” At this, the woman blushed. Nevertheless, Aspasia then began to speak with Xenophon (Aspasia autem sermonem cum ipso Xenophonte instituit). “I wish you could tell me, Xenophon”, she said, “if your neighbour had a better horse than yours, would you prefer your horse or his?” “His”, was his answer, “And if he had a better farm than you have, which farm do you prefer to have?” “The better farm, naturally”, he said. “Now, if he had a better wife than you have, would you prefer yours or his?” And at this, Xenophon, too, himself was silent. Then Aspasia: “Since both of you have failed to tell me the only thing I wished to hear, I myself will tell you what you both are thinking « quoniam uterque vestrum » inquit, « id mihi solum non respondit, quod ego solum audire volueram, egomet dicam, quid uterque cogitet ». That is, you, madam, wish to have the best husband, and you, Xenophon, desire above all this to have the finest wife. Therefore, unless you can contrive that there be no better man or finer woman on earth you will certainly always be in dire want of what you consider best, namely, that you be the husband of the very best of wives, and that she be wedded to the very best of men” (ut et tu maritus sis quam optumae et haec quam optimo viro nupta sit). In this instance, because assent has been given to undisputed statements, the result is that the point which would appear doubtful is asked by itself is through analogy conceded as sure, and this is due to the method employed in putting the question. Socrates used this conversational method a good deal (Socrates usus est propterea), because he wished to present no argument himself, but preferred to get a result from the material, which the interlocutor had given him–a result that the interlocutor was bound to approve as following necessarily from what he had already granted (Inv. 1.51-53).11

5The name of Aspasia appears in a quote of an unnamed dialogue by Aeschines of Sphettus. Cicero uses it as a positive example supporting the demonstration of an Academic method of argumentation supposedly derived from Aspasia herself (velut apud Socraticum Aeschinen demonstrat Socrates cum Xenophontis uxore et cum ipso Xenophonte Aspasiam locutam). In this dialogue, Aspasia deals with Xenophon and his anonymous wife developing an inductive argument based on information provided by her interlocutors that embarrass them. By their assent to the first terms, they necessarily have to agree with the conclusions, to which they assent in an uncomfortable silence.

  • 12 Inv. 1.55-56.

6Cicero’s De inventione covered the first part of a Greek-based rhetorical system. Aspasia appears in the Book 1, a book dedicated to establishing the general lines of oratory and the parts that every speech has to deal with, while the Book 2 develops arguments and style of particular kinds of speeches. Her example is located in Cicero’s explanation of the confirmatio, or proof, whose arguments are presented as divided into two types: inductio and raciocinatio (Inv. 51-60). One needs to observe that Cicero is not describing a rigorous type of logical reasoning, but a rhetorical one, that is appropriated to the courts and the forum. Under the term inductio, Cicero is describing what we call analogy, and under raciocinatio, he explains the enthymeme or ‘rhetorical syllogism’. At the beginning of the inductio’s discussion, after a brief definition of this form of argument, Cicero quotes the case of Aspasia. After some remarks about the characteristics and requirements of the argument by analogy, he presents a second example: the case of the prosecutor of Epaminondas who supposedly had applied this argument in a Theban court to win his case against the victorious commander who acted out of the law.12

7Aspasia and the anonymous Theban prosecutor illustrate the perfect use of an unbeatable but delicate argument, which demands excellent skills of logical thinking and rhetorical training. Therefore, Cicero mentions Aspasia in a wholly positive light. The fact that she is a woman does not play any role in the anecdote, although her argument allows us to observe a strict gender logic, since to Xenophon are offered a better horse and farm than his own, while his wife is invited to imagine “feminine fineries” (ornatum muliebrem) as jewels and dresses. In the passage, Aspasia’s name appears three times, there is no other word to speak about her than her own personal name, and she is linked to Socrates, a philosopher mostly quoted in a complimentary manner in Cicero’s whole work. They both are linked to the origins of the Academy, and Cicero clearly supports the Academic method of reasoning and argumentation in De inventione.

  • 13 Themista is also explicitly named by Cicero in a derisory passage of the invective against L. Calp (...)

8The second mention is Themista, as she appears in De finibus:13

  • 14 Translated by R. Woolf.

Either you must denigrate their actions, Torquatus, or you must give up your advocacy of pleasure. What kind of advocacy is it, what sort of case does pleasure have, if no witness or supporter can be found among those of greatest renown? On my side, the historical record brings forth people who spent their whole life striving for glory and were deaf to the call of pleasure. In your argument, history is silent. I have never heard Lycurgus mentioned in Epicurus’ school, or Solon, Miltiades, Themistocles or Epaminondas, all of whom receive due acknowledgement from other philosophers. Now that we Romans have begun to philosophize as well, our friend Atticus can supply us with a vast quantity of heroic names from his treasuries. Is it not better to speak of them than to fill countless volumes in praise of Themista? Let us leave that to the Greeks (nonne melius est de his aliquid quam tantis voluminibus de Themista loqui? sint ista Graecorum). We are indebted to them for philosophy and for all higher learning, but there are things that they may do which we should not. Consider now the dispute between the Stoics and the Peripatetics. The Stoics argue that there is nothing good except what is moral; the Peripatetics claim that there are certain bodily and external goods as well, even while attributing by far and away the greatest value to morality. Here we have a truly honourable contest, a tremendous clash. The whole dispute centres on virtue and its value. With Epicureans, by contrast, the cruder forms of pleasure seem to dominate the discussion, and Epicurus himself is the leading culprit (Fin. 2.67-68).14

  • 15 In fact, references to Themista are restricted to Cicero (Pis. 26 and Fin. 2.67-68), Diogenes Laer (...)
  • 16 Diog. Laert. 10.5.25-26 is another reference on that.

9Unlike Aspasia, references to the Epicurean Themista are very few in ancient literature.15 An early Epicurean along with her husband Leonteus, little is known about her, for whom Epicurus would have written a eulogy.16 In fact, in De finibus, of 54 names of Greek thinkers mentioned by Cicero from the fifth to the first century BCE, only Themista is a woman. As it is well known, Greeks of this period had a single personal name and could be further identified by a patronymic or their cities of origin, which was adopted by the Romans when referring to them. Thus, Cicero refers to familiar people to his audience and uses her personal name alone. One can safely consider that “Themista”, without any specification, was a well-known name for his Roman readers, as well as ‘Aspasia’ was.

  • 17 Fin. 1.29-36.
  • 18 Fin. 1.37-41.
  • 19 On the general lines of the De Finibus, see Lévy 2002, esp. xli-xlvi. See also Warren 2016 to an a (...)
  • 20 Epicureanism was indeed very successful in the late Republic, and Cicero had an in-depth knowledge (...)
  • 21 Cf. especially Lucullus 19-20, 43, 46-53, 78-86. See also Algra 2007.

10In De finibus Book 1, the Epicurean character Torquatus offers an account designed to reach the conclusion that pleasure is the summum bonum,17 followed by a characterisation of Epicurean pleasure as, in a word, the absence of pain.18 This is a dogmatic presentation of a natural good based in some kind of innate prolepsis of it, shared by new-borns and animals, as adult human beings have true of false beliefs acquired by education and socialisation. Those acquired beliefs interfere with the pursue of natural goods and produce pain and suffering.19 Nowadays it is well established that Cicero takes Epicureanism seriously but also that this doctrine is a useful controversial tool for Cicero’s point on the role of philosophy in Roman life, a point developed in a polemical atmosphere.20 To Epicurean thinkers, human knowledge is based on experience and its source is the sense perceptions, in an empiricist epistemology. To Cicero, however, sense perceptions are not entirely trustworthy. The New Academy has no belief in the certainty of sense perceptions due to the nature of the objects of cognition itself, or because of defects in human capacities of perception–despite that, a correct image of the things could be given by the senses, and this is a relevant point in the intellectual debate.21 Torquatus’ presentation insists in the role of the rational thinking and the understanding of the universe for the benefit of human life, and Cicero uses the very core of Epicurean argument to undermine this doctrine in the Book 2.

  • 22 On the question of Cicero’s accuracy about Epicurean thesis see, e.g., Maso 2015; Morel 2016 and W (...)
  • 23 See, e.g., Fin. 2.45 and Tusc. 4.7, in which Cicero presents Epicureanism as a tiny doctrine, popu (...)
  • 24 See Prost 2003, for whom Cicero’s fierce opposition to Epicureanism in the De finibus brings into (...)

11Whether Cicero’s accounts of Epicurean doctrine are accurate is not the primary concern here but the function of Themista in the structure and presentation of the argument.22 Knowing Epicurus’ doctrine quite well, Cicero presents the debate in a careful Epicurean vocabulary to the conclusion that Epicureanism must be rejected by their very statements.23 However, in Themista’s chapter, Cicero sharpens the criticism in an intensely personal discussion. In Cicero’s terms, Epicurus’ doctrine leads the noble Torquatus to undermine the deeds of his ancestors and his own cognomen. The reference to Cicero’s best friend Atticus is brilliant: both as a Roman and as a lover of Athens, Atticus can write up many cases of (male) heroism, while as an Epicurean he should reject them as misguided for the sake of logical consistency. By regulating moral conduct on pleasure, an unacceptable principle for Cicero, leading to an individualist way of life, Epicureanism scorns political values and undermines Roman morality. Therefore, Cicero in this chapter is prejudicially contrasting Epicurus’ praise of Themista (nonne melius est de his aliquid quam tantis voluminibus de Themista loqui?), for him an uneventful female life that does not deserve eulogy, with other thinkers’ traditional valuation of male public spirit and self-sacrifice for the common good. In sum, Epicureanism is unsuitable for a Roman nobleman and must also be rejected by their actions.24

  • 25 Cf. De natura deorum 1.11-12. An overview of the Academy can be seen in Brittain 2007. See also Fo (...)

12Moving to our third sample, it should be noted that most of Cicero’s mentions to Greek thinkers occur in his philosophical anthologies, usually presented by an Academic character. Thus, for a proper understanding of the meaning and the modalisation of these mentions, it is useful not only to consider the author’s theoretical line, but also to observe the role of these doxographies in his works, which are never neutral, but philosophically or rhetorically motivated. It is quite right that the main methods followed by Cicero–the disputationes in contrariam partem and in utramque partem without explicit commitment to any position–are more difficult to interpret than dogmatic positions.25 Cicero’s philosophical affiliation, on the one hand, explains the relevance of extensive anthologies in his work, for an Academic thinker would rigorously take them into account to argue for and against any issue. This method makes it possible to understand the merits and inconsistencies of different doctrines, as well as to evaluate different opinions by maintaining a certain distance from them, even those that may be temporarily endorsed as plausible. On the other hand, if the Academics valued the rigorous logical argumentation and rhetorical exposition, exploiting all the potential of verbal language, Cicero was an outstanding master of oratory. Thus, his work develops around ambiguities, creating paradoxical and controversial arguments. So, let us see Cicero’s reference to the Epicurean Leontium in the theological dialogue De natura deorum:

  • 26 Translated by H. Rackham, LCL.

Was it dreams like these that not only encouraged Epicurus and Metrodotus and Hermarchus to contradict Pythagoras, Plato and Empedocles, but actually emboldened a loose woman (meretricula) like Leontium to write a book refuting Theophrastus? Her style no doubt is the neatest of Attic, but all the same! (Leontium contra Theophrastum scribere ausast–scito illa quidem sermone et Attico, sed tamen). Such was the licence that prevailed in the Garden of Epicurus (tantum Epicuri hortus habuit licentiae). And yet you are touchy yourselves, indeed Zeno actually used to invoke the law. I need not mention Albucius. As for Phaedrus, though he was the most refined and courteous of old gentlemen, he used to lose his temper if I spoke too harshly; although Epicurus attached Aristotle in the most insulting manner, abused Socrates’ pupil Phaedo quite outrageously, devoted whole volumes to an onslaught on Timocrates, the brother of his own associate Metrodotus, for different from him on some point or other of philosophy, showed no gratitude toward Democritus himself, whose system he adopted, and treat so badly his own master Nausiphanes, from whom he had learnt a considerable amount. As for Zeno, he aimed the shafts of his abuse not only at his contemporaries, Apollodorus, Silus and the rest, but Socrates himself, the father of philosophy, he declared to have been the Attic equivalent of our Roman buffoons; and he always alluded to Chrysippus as Chrysippa (Chrysippum numquam nisi Chrysippam vocabat) (Nat. D 1.93).26

  • 27 For an overview of Epicurean theology, see Asmis 1999 and Algra 2007.
  • 28 On this question, see especially Balaudé 2004.

13Leontium’s name appears in Book 1, dedicated to the Epicurean theology. Epicurean philosophers argued that they had liberated human beings from religious fear and it is well established that Epicurean sources indicated a tension between traditional religious content and their philosophy.27 As in the case of ethics, Epicurean theology is based on their epistemology, especially on its notion of the prolepsis of the gods.28 However, they argued that this notion had been perverted or corrupted in the course of human history. Velleius, the Epicurean character, moves from an anthology of the philosophical debate about the nature, the form and the action of the gods–in fact, a vigorous refutation of philosophers’ opinions on the deities–, to a presentation of Epicurus’ positive doctrine on physics, human knowledge and the nature of the gods.

  • 29 Nat. D 1.10.
  • 30 Classen 2010 pointed out excellent questions on the form and function of Cicero’s philosophical an (...)
  • 31 Nat. D. 1.43-52, circa a fifth of Velleius’ account.
  • 32 Nat. D. 1.60: non modo philosophia dignem esset sed mediocri prudentia.

14Even if in his proemium Cicero had declared his commitment to the Academic principle that one should not look at the weight of personal authority but the value of the arguments,29 the anthology in De natura deorum is somewhat discrepant in his philosophical work, as it is presented by the Epicurean character, Velleius, not by the Academic one. This may have led to the most aggressive Ciceronian anthology.30 Likewise, Velleius presentation of Epicurus’ positive theology occupies only a few chapters of his discourse,31 very little when compared to the long explanation of Stoic theology by the character Balbus in Book 2, but also with the very extension of Velleius’ anthology. It follows the critique of Cotta, the Academic representative, a calculatedly sarcastic discourse demolishing Velleius’ arguments. To Cotta, if Epicurean theology is logically flawed in logical rigour and unverifiable, it also would not pass the scrutiny of common sense.32 Epicurean theology, in Cicero’s view, is dogmatic and inadequate in encompassing the great religious diversity of the world, unescapable for a Roman senator, and Cotta’s mentions to Epicurean philosophers are not pleasant at all.

  • 33 An article put up for sale, or a commodity is one of the senses of the word whose established mean (...)
  • 34 Fin. 1.16.

15Among more than fifty philosophers mentioned in Book 1, Leontium is the only female name. She appears in a pretty violent chapter of Cotta’s invective against Epicurus himself in which even Cicero’s former teacher, the Epicurean Phaedrus, was not spared. Cotta states not only the vulgar bad manners of Epicurus–especially the ingratitude towards his own masters–, but also the licentiousness of the Garden at all (tantum Epicuri hortus habuit licentiae). Leontium appears in a sound negative light as the meretricula–a sound pejorative Latin term to designate a woman–who dares to write a book against Theophrastus, even if her style is praised (scito illa quidem sermone et Attico). In modern times, it is often assumed that the only intellectual women in Greek antiquity were hetaerae, even without clear evidence to support this assumption. Nevertheless, the Latin meretrix does not have the moral ambiguity of the Greek ἑταίρα, the ‘female companion’, sometimes a very well educated foreign woman who is out of the Athenian rigid citizen hierarchy of our classical sources. Meretricula is a diminutive word with derogatory force, and the Roman meretricula is the worst–or the cheapest–of the goods in the market.33 It is also noteworthy that, at the end of the passage, Cotta attributes to Zeno the summit of misogyny, for supposedly quoting Chrysippus always as Chrysippa. This Zeno is presumably the Epicurean Zeno of Sidon, master of Philodemus and Cicero himself,34 who appears to be as disrespectful as Epicurus is. In this chapter, therefore, if Epicurus and his male followers are contested for being ungrateful, rude and arrogant, Leontium is qualified as a despicable meretricula. We can see here a “classic” way to attack a woman by reducing her to socially dysphoric sexual activities.

16Our samples are dissimilar mentions of Greek female thinkers, and one can ask for their meanings. These mentions have a function in Cicero’s work, and they were designed to produce different effects. Aspasia, in a technical treatise of Cicero’s youth, without any other designation than her personal name, is pictured as the best demonstration of an Academic sound argument praised by Cicero. Themista appears as a useful tool to reinforce Cicero’s powerful point on the moral and political weakness of Epicurus, whose doctrine necessarily leads to the abandonment of (male) public values and action. By her turn, the admittedly good-stylish Leontium appears in a biting argument against the inelegance and immorality with which Cicero blames Epicurus, and she is impugned as the “worst kind” of woman. In some way, it is immaterial if Aspasia was or was not a master of argumentation, if Themista’s thinking and role in Epicurus’ Garden was flawed or irrelevant, not even if Leontium was or was not a meretricula. They are constituting parts of Cicero’s argumentation. In other words, they are suitable materials with which Cicero made his cases.

Conclusion

  • 35 Cf. Inv. 1.1; De oratore 1.142-3, 3.60-1, Nat. D. 1.6.
  • 36 Cf. Rep. 2.3, 2.21-22, 2.59, Orat. 1.224, Or. 9-10, Opt. Gen. 6, Tusc. 1.7, 1.20, 5.34.

17Let us return to the question: which philosophy? Cicero puts on the scene debates among members of the élite, and their leading characters are the kind of wise nobleman Cicero recommends as his ideal, displaying a balanced combination of intellectual skills, religious expertise and political practice. Cicero presents them–and himself–as sophisticated learned men. Philosophy, for Cicero, is for the few and by the few, as it shapes his wise nobleman, and his philosophy has distinctive sources and agents: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the tradition of the Academy. In the Tusculanae 1.55, for example, Cicero nominates plebeii philosophi those whom he disagrees with. His perfect wise man is not only the one who is able to ponder the most relevant questions but to render his thought in an ornate speech, without losing sight of the res publica.35 The Academy, in a sense, is the philosophical correlate of senatorial debates, with the seniores in the spotlight. In the same way, Cicero applies the rank status of the Roman consularis to philosophers.36 Cicero advocates for a wise nobleman who combines the pursuit of wisdom and (a non-dogmatic) truth with a sound political commitment, aiming a free field for argumentation at Rome; hence the truth has to be open and has to be the fruit of a non-dogmatic debate. Cicero’s ideal Roman nobleman is the goal of his philosophical works, not real male or female Greek philosophers by themselves.

  • 37 E.g. Rep. 1.2, Tusc.1.2
  • 38 Eadem enim dicuntur a multis ex quo libris omnia referserunt: Tusc. 2.6.

18Cicero’s thinking is inherently political proposing virtues such as pietas, religio, iustitia and fides37 with nuances that escape to the topic discussed here. They are, after all, social virtues and have to be put into practice, or they die. With his controversies, Cicero fights to remove his ideal nobleman from what he considers as inferior thinking and acting. In doing so, he dismisses Epicurus and the multitudo of Greek and Roman male or female authors who based all knowledge on sense perceptions and wrote “an infinite number of repetitive and useless books”.38

  • 39 … mirifica Caerellia studio … philosophiae flagrans: Att. 13.21.2. See also Att. 12.51.3, 13.22.3, (...)

19Cicero does not blame any woman philosopher just for being a woman. As in the case of male philosophers, praise or reproach depending on the point to be defended in each argumentative context. Moving to Cicero’s letters, one can see complimentary mentions on women philosophers or philosophy’s lovers and practitioners as Caerellia, the wealthy friend of his and Atticus who appears in seven of Cicero’s letters, by “her wonderful enthusiasm for philosophy”, to give just an example.39 Consequently, each mention and each work must be understood in its own literary and intellectual context. Even so, that permits a useful tool for comparability between them. Cicero’s references to intellectual women give us a varied picture, not necessarily inserted in a controversial context. Nevertheless, it should be noted that praise usually occurs when the woman is in some way linked to the Academy or she is a Roman noble, just as pretty violent attacking are mainly directed at Epicurean philosophers–men or women. The Epicurean doctrine does not fit Cicero’s ideal nobleman as well as does not satisfy his criteria of philosophical rigour. In some way Aspasia, Themista, Leontium and any other philosopher Cicero mentions in his work are not real human beings; they are special building blocks of Cicero’s inventio.

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Glucker 1988: John Glucker, “Cicero’s Philosophical Affiliations”, in John M. Dillon, Anthony A. Long (ed.), The Question of “Eclecticism”. Studies in Late Greek Philosophy, Berkeley, p. 34-69.

Görler 1995: Woldemar Görler, “Silencing the Troublemaker: De Legibus 1.39 and the Continuity of Cicero’s Scepticism”, in Jonathan G. F. Powell (ed.) Cicero, the Philosopher, Oxford, p. 85-113.

Griffin 1997: Miriam Griffin, “The composition of the Academica. Motives and Versions”, in Brad Inwood, Jaap Mansfeld (ed.). Assent & Argument. Studies in Cicero’s “Academic Books”, Leiden, p. 1-27.

Hawley 1994: Richard Hawley, “The Problem of Women Philosophers in Ancient Greece”, in Léonie J. Archer, Susan Fischler, Maria Wyke (ed.), Women in Ancient Societies. An Illusion of the Night, London, p. 70-87.

Hine 2016: Harry Hine, “Philosophy and philosophi: From Cicero to Apuleius”, in Gareth D. Williams, Katharina Volk (ed.), Roman Reflections. Studies in Latin Philosophy, Oxford, p. 13-29.

Lévy 1992: Carlos Lévy, Cicero Academicus. Recherches sur les “Academiques” et sur la philosophie cicéronienne, Rome.

— 2002: Carlos Lévy, « Supplément à l’Introduction », Des termes extrêmes des biens et des maux. Livres I et II, Paris, p. xxxii-xlvi.

— 2017: Carlos Lévy, « Cicéron était-il un ‘Roman sceptic’ ? », Ciceroniana online Nuova serie 1-1. DOI: https://doi.org/10.13135/2532-5353/2201

Mansfeld 1999: Japp Mansfeld, “Theology”, in Keimpe Algra, Jonathan Barnes, Jaap Mansfeld, Malcolm Schofield (ed.), The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy, Cambridge, p. 452-478.

Maso 2015: Stefano Maso, Grasp and Dissent, Cicero and Epicurean Philosophy, Turnhout.

Ménage [1690] 2006: Gilles Ménage, Histoire des femmes philosophes, Paris.

Moatti 1997: Claudia Moatti, La raison de Rome. Naissance de l’esprit critique à la fin de la République, Paris.

Morel 2016: Pierre-Marie Morel, « Cicero and Epicurean Virtues (De Finibus 1-2) », in Julia Annas, Gábor Betegh (ed.), Cicero’s De Finibus. Philosophical Approaches, Cambridge, p. 77-95.

Pietra 1997: Régine Pietra, Les femmes philosophes de l’Antiquité Gréco-romaine, Paris.

Prost 2003: François Prost, « Aspects de la critique cicéronienne de l’épicurisme en De finibus II », Quaderni del dipertimento di filologia linguistica e tradizione classica 2, Torino, p. 87-111.

Rüpke 2012: Jörg Rüpke, Religion in Republican Rome. Rationalization and Ritual Change, Philadelphia.

Schofield 2013: Malcolm Schofield, “Ciceronian Dialogue”, in Simon Goldhill (ed.), The End of the Dialogue in Antiquity, Cambridge, p. 63-84.

Warren 2016: James Warren, “Epicurean Pleasures in Cicero’s De Finibus, in Julia Annas, Gábor Betegh (ed.), Cicero’s De Finibus. Philosophical Approaches, Cambridge, p. 41-76.

Woolf 2015: Raphael Woolf, Cicero, the Philosophy of a Roman Sceptic, London.

Zetzel 2013: James E. Zetzel, “Philosophy Is in the Streets”, in Gareth D. Williams, Katharina Volk (ed.), Roman Reflections. Studies in Latin Philosophy, Oxford, p. 50-82.

Notes

1 On the prolific intellectual milieu in the late Roman Republic, see Moatti 1997; Feeney 1999; Rüpke 2012; Woolf 2015, and Maso 2015.

2 See, e.g., Academica 1.11, De finibus 1.10, Tusculanae 1.3.

3 Key references for Cicero’s reappraisal are Glucker 1988; Lévy 1992 and Mansfeld 1999. On the reassessment of Cicero’s philosophica, see Görler 1995; Woolf 2015; Annas 2016 and Brittain 2016. For a consistent critique of the current idea of a sceptical Cicero, see Lévy 2017.

4 See especially Gildenhard 2007. On Cicero’s philosophical project, see Baraz 2012 and Bishop 2019.

5 E.g., De officiis 3.13-15, 3.77, 3.81.

6 Cicero’s characters are not convinced that their positions are misguided, and none of them is “defeated” in the debate since their differences of opinion are reconciled or left open for “future conversations” in the epilogues, even when Cicero explains his own ideas and positions. See especially Gildenhard 2007; Schofield 2013 and Zetzel 2013 on that.

7 See Griffin 1997, esp. p. 2-14, on the importance of analysing the whole philosophical project of Cicero for the understanding of its meaning both in philosophical terms and concerning Roman political context.

8 Eurykleia: celles qui avaient un nom (dir. Violaine Sebillotte et al., UMR 8210 ANHIMA). The international team is developing an innovative open-access database. Cf. https://eurykleia.hypotheses.org/

9 See Hine 2016, esp. p. 11-19, on the ways Cicero uses the term philosophus, -a, -i, and its nuances in his philosophical works. The same can be said about the designative “intellectual”. On what it means to be called philosophos in Graeco-Roman antiquity in a broad sense, see Barnes 2002. I will carefully consider this methodological question, also applied to Roman women, in a further study on Cicero and intellectuality (forthcoming).

10 The modern search for women philosophers has a long history–with different issues and approaches–since the Mulierum philosophorum historia by Ménage [1690] 2006 (new French edition). An outline of this search and its phases is beyond the scope of this paper. For an overview of the theme, see Pietra 1997 and, especially, Hawley 1994.

11 Translated by H. M. Hubbell, LCL.

12 Inv. 1.55-56.

13 Themista is also explicitly named by Cicero in a derisory passage of the invective against L. Calpurnius Piso. Cicero told us she wrote many books (tanta volumina, Pis. 63). It should be noted that, despite the pejorative tone of the comparison between Piso and Themista, the adjective applied to Themista is “wise”: neque vero contempsisti, sis licet Themista sapientior, sed os tuum ferreum senatus convicio verberari noluisti, Pis. 63.

14 Translated by R. Woolf.

15 In fact, references to Themista are restricted to Cicero (Pis. 26 and Fin. 2.67-68), Diogenes Laertios (10.5.25-26), Clement of Alexandria (Strom.4.121) and Lactantius (Div. Inst. 3.25).

16 Diog. Laert. 10.5.25-26 is another reference on that.

17 Fin. 1.29-36.

18 Fin. 1.37-41.

19 On the general lines of the De Finibus, see Lévy 2002, esp. xli-xlvi. See also Warren 2016 to an analysis of Cicero’s criticism of Torquatus’ argument in defence of pleasure as indicating epistemological inconsistencies in theory presented in Book 1, especially the fail in establishing a sound distinction between pleasure and painlessness as the summum bonum.

20 Epicureanism was indeed very successful in the late Republic, and Cicero had an in-depth knowledge of this doctrine. In addition to having studied with Phaedrus in Rome, Cicero himself is perhaps the leading source for the success of Epicureanism in Rome at that time, certainly with some rhetorical exaggerations, as in Tusculanae 4.7, in which he speaks of the “invasion of Italy” by the Epicureans (Italiam totam occupaverunt).

21 Cf. especially Lucullus 19-20, 43, 46-53, 78-86. See also Algra 2007.

22 On the question of Cicero’s accuracy about Epicurean thesis see, e.g., Maso 2015; Morel 2016 and Warren 2016.

23 See, e.g., Fin. 2.45 and Tusc. 4.7, in which Cicero presents Epicureanism as a tiny doctrine, popular with the unlearned multitude.

24 See Prost 2003, for whom Cicero’s fierce opposition to Epicureanism in the De finibus brings into play the notion of personhood Cicero wishes to promote. See also Auvray-Assayas 2006, esp. p. 87-139.

25 Cf. De natura deorum 1.11-12. An overview of the Academy can be seen in Brittain 2007. See also Fox 2007 on the characteristically way by which Cicero does not present a critical thinking in the first person, but through detached representatives of Hellenistic philosophical schools arguing for his own positions and against others in a dialogue form.

26 Translated by H. Rackham, LCL.

27 For an overview of Epicurean theology, see Asmis 1999 and Algra 2007.

28 On this question, see especially Balaudé 2004.

29 Nat. D 1.10.

30 Classen 2010 pointed out excellent questions on the form and function of Cicero’s philosophical anthology and teaching exposition in De natura deorum. For him, even in his philosophical dialogues, Cicero follows the style of composition of his forensic discourses. Classen’s main objective is to ask for Cicero’s rhetorical form in the philosophical teaching and the function he gave to this form in his argumentation.

31 Nat. D. 1.43-52, circa a fifth of Velleius’ account.

32 Nat. D. 1.60: non modo philosophia dignem esset sed mediocri prudentia.

33 An article put up for sale, or a commodity is one of the senses of the word whose established meanings invariably refer to the relation of payment for services or goods. See merx and its derivatives in the Oxford Latin Dictionary: Glare 1976, p. 1101-1102. In Cicero, this sense is quite perceptible in In Verrem 3.30: ... te coniux aliena capit, meretriculam docere.

34 Fin. 1.16.

35 Cf. Inv. 1.1; De oratore 1.142-3, 3.60-1, Nat. D. 1.6.

36 Cf. Rep. 2.3, 2.21-22, 2.59, Orat. 1.224, Or. 9-10, Opt. Gen. 6, Tusc. 1.7, 1.20, 5.34.

37 E.g. Rep. 1.2, Tusc.1.2

38 Eadem enim dicuntur a multis ex quo libris omnia referserunt: Tusc. 2.6.

39 … mirifica Caerellia studio … philosophiae flagrans: Att. 13.21.2. See also Att. 12.51.3, 13.22.3, 14.19.4, 15.1.4, 15.26.4, Fam. 13.72.1.

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Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro

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