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This chapter examines two aspects of Strabo’s self-definition, both of which are indirect and reveal the twin preoccupations with intellectual distinction and political utility, especially in connection with the value of Greek education for the Roman imperial project. The geographical aspect of Strabo’s self-definition inscribes him in a tradition whereby Asia Minor is the main source of intellectual capital, from where it flows largely towards Rome. Strabo’s philosophical self-definition ranges much more widely than the doctrines of the Hellenistic schools: the Geography opens with an argument aimed at demonstrating that geography is a philosophical pursuit, which appeals to a tradition of wisdom going back to Homer. Geography’s philosophical credentials also include ‘wide learning’ (exemplified primarily in technical mathematical knowledge), as well as manifold benefits under the general umbrella of the ‘art of living’. The chapter nevertheless argues that there is more than ‘pseudo-philosophisation’ in Strabo’s work, in the form of clear Stoic echoes, albeit not centred around the theme of divine providence, where Strabo makes innovative, ‘un-Stoic’ remarks.
This chapter examines the reception of Aristotle’s biological work from his immediate successors to Roman intellectuals in the late Republic and early Empire. The Peripatetics, notably Theophrastus and Eudemus, endorsed many hallmarks of Aristotelian biology (e.g. classification by differentiae in Theophrastus’ Researches into Plants), and their works on animals focused mainly on areas that were relatively underexplored by Aristotle, such as animal behavior and “character.” Readers and users of Aristotle’s biological works outside philosophical circles were mainly interested in the wealth of facts collected in the Historia Animalium especially, and much less in Aristotle’s causal investigations. The main product of this scholarly engagement with Aristotle’s biology was the Epitome by Aristophanes of Byzantium, librarian at Alexandria around 200 BCE: it does aim to collect facts arranged by individual animals, but it also shows an interest in the main problems raised in GA. In Rome, Lucretius and Cicero were able to draw on Aristotelian biology to bolster arguments for Epicurean materialism and Stoic providentialism respectively. Finally, it is noteworthy that the now-lost Dissections played an important role in the early reception of Aristotle’s biology, at least until Apuleius in the second century CE.
Diogenes Laertius offers a very brief overview of Potamo's doctrines, based on the traditional division of philosophy into logic (where epistemology played a central role), physics and ethics (compare D.L. 7.39–41, with reference to the Stoics). Within this scheme, the short report concentrates on Potamo's responses to the central issues on which one needed to articulate a position in order to declare allegiance to a particular school or venture a claim of doctrinal originality: the criterion of truth (epistemology); the first principles (physics); and the moral end (ethics). The few lines from Diogenes have to provide the bulk of our evidence for an assessment of Potamo's eclecticism and the type of approach to preceding philosophical traditions that this (self-) characterisation implies.
Recalling the programmatic report that Potamo ‘selected the doctrines (i.e. his doctrines) from each of the sects’, important questions that will come under consideration include (i) Which sects are understood in the rather vague expression ‘each of the sects’? (ii) Does Potamo select ideas from each of these equally, or is he influenced by some more than by others? (iii) Should we imagine his Stoicheiosis as an anthology of ‘approved’ (ἀρέσαντα) doctrines simply listed side by side, or as an attempt to make something out of the selected ideas by drawing connections and correlations? The information that Potamo was not simply a historian of philosophy but had introduced his own sect, which would require a programmatically distinct intellectual attitude of some sort, already points towards the latter option.
The capital of the Ptolemaic kingdom was the undisputed centre of intellectual life in the Hellenistic period. It benefited from active royal patronage that went beyond favouring gifted individuals in court, to include the establishment of permanent institutions devoted to learning and research. The achievements of scientists and literary scholars associated with the Museum and Library of Alexandria remained extremely influential for a long time after its heyday in the third century bc. There is therefore a striking contrast with the field of philosophy, where Ptolemaic Alexandria does not have anything as remarkable to offer.
There are two references to Potamo in Simplicius’ commentary on Aristotle's On the Heavens. Both come from his comments on the third book of the work, which contains Aristotle's discussion of the earthly elements, their number and properties, and is dominated by a critique of earlier theories. The first reference to Potamo is part of Simplicius’ discussion of Aristotle's views on the number of elements. Aristotle introduces the topic as follows: πότερον δὲ πεπερασμένα ἢ ἄπειρα, καὶ εἰ πεπερασμένα, πόσα τὸν ἀριθμόν, ἑπόμενον ἂν εἴη σκοπεῖν (‘the next thing would be to examine whether they are limited or infinite, and if they are limited, how many in number’, Cael. 3.4.302b10–11). More specifically, Potamo's intervention is related to the criticism of the view Aristotle ascribes to Anaxagoras, namely that there is an infinite number of entities, divisible into parts that are the same as each other and the whole (ὁμοιομερῆ), which Aristotle treats as equivalent to his elements. He argues that even on Anaxagoras’ view one need not postulate an infinite number: