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The chapter traces statements on Cicero’s philosophical position from his earliest treatise (on rhetorical theory) to the philosophical works of the 40s bce, while attending to the literary form of Cicero’s oeuvre. It argues that Cicero’s stance is stable over time, that it exhibits a number of features that would warrant calling it mitigated skepticism, but that, given the way different Academic positions are conceptualized in Cicero’s texts, notably the Academica, his position is formally one of radical skepticism. The chapter tries to identify features of the evidence from Cicero which are distinctive compared to other texts (e.g. by Sextus Empiricus and Numenius), notably an unusual wealth of comments on the practice of Academic skepticism (i.e. on what being an Academic skeptic was like, at least on Cicero’s construal and to what extent it was compatible with being a fully functioning Roman of a certain social class and with a particular occupation).
The Academica is a dialogue completed in 45 BC, near the beginning of the second of the two phases in his life when Cicero produced – broadly speaking – philosophical dialogues. The work is devoted to epistemology, and specifically the question of whether there is empirical knowledge as the Stoics defined it, an issue which had been debated by Stoics and Academics since the third century BC. There are speakers for the Stoic side, in particular Stoic epistemology as adopted by Antiochus of Ascalon (previously an Academic sceptic, who then turned to dogmatism), and speakers who represent Academic scepticism. Each side advances arguments for its position, as well as offering a historical account of the Academic tradition as they construe it (only one of them is extant in full). Cicero published the work in two editions, changing the speakers and shifting the fictional date of the dialogue from 62 or 61 BC to a time near the date of composition. Of these, the second book of the first edition in two books and part of the first book of the second edition in four books are extant. While some modification of the material beyond the necessary changes of speakers and scenery is likely, there is little reason to suspect substantial differences in subject matter between the two editions.1
This chapter looks again at the Carneadean pithanon. It is proposed that in the Carneadean scheme an impression's initial persuasiveness, prior to any testing or scrutiny, is taken to be due to the fact that its propositional content is consistent with views antecedently held by the subject, and that an impression's phenomenal clarity is an enabling not a constitutive property of persuasiveness as conceived by Carneades. Alternative interpretations are rejected: that the initial persuasiveness of a persuasive impression is a brute fact, not capable of explanation; that it is exclusively or primarily due to the phenomenal clarity of an impression; or that it is linked to probability, pre-theoretical or otherwise. The argument is developed with reference to evidence from Sextus and then tested against evidence from Cicero; the Stoic conception of the pithanon is considered for comparison.
Although (or because?) it is a truism that Lucretius admits colloquial features in his De rerum natura, there are surprisingly few studies explicitly devoted to the language and style of this author, and certainly no book-length treatment exists as we have for a number of Latin poets. Commentators tend to note what they regard as colloquial usages, but are usually not free to pause and justify their assessment. The most substantial single publication on colloquialism in Lucretius to date remains that of Diels (1922), which is concerned primarily with morphological and lexical colloquialism and promises another study on syntactic colloquialism (Diels 1922: 59). Diels did not live to complete it.
Diels's general view was that the instances of colloquialism in Lucretius reflect the language of the farmers around whom the poet supposedly grew up and lived. At the time, scholars disagreed about the extent of the colloquial element in Lucretius' language (see Heinze 1924: 47; Ernout 1923: 155), whereas modern scholars are also likely to question the general explanatory rationale which underlies it. Moreover, it is fair to say that a certain disconnect has become the norm between scholars who are interested in details of Lucretius' language, at least when considered within the context of Latin usage in general and poetic usage in particular, and those who work on Lucretius as a literary or philosophical text and on what one might call his ideological position, whether it is within the didactic tradition, within the intellectual landscape of the Hellenistic period, or narrowly within the Epicurean tradition.
Readers have always acknowledged the comparatively clear macrostructure of De rerum natura 3. It begins with a prooemium in which is described the terrifying impact which the fear of death has on human lives, as well as the fact that Epicurus has provided a cure against this fear, namely his physical doctrines (1–93). Particular attention is paid to fears of an afterlife in which we have to suffer pain and grief in the underworld; cf., for instance, the programmatic lines 3.37–40 (translation by Ferguson Smith, which will be used throughout):
This prooemium is followed by a long passage (94–829) in which Lucretius explains the basics of Epicurean psychology and tries to show that the soul is (like the body) material and hence mortal; this last point is driven home with particular force in II. 417–829 where Lucretius lists twenty-five proofs for the mortality of the soul.
Around 87 b.c. during the turmoil of the first Mithridatic war, Philo of Larissa, head of the so-called Fourth Academy, fled from Athens to Rome. There he gave lectures on philosophical topics and taught rhetoric. His classes were attended by a young man called Cicero, who was inspired by him to include in a work on rhetorical theory, somewhat inappropriately, a fervent confession of scepticism to which he stuck for the rest of his life. Later Cicero claimed to be—as an orator—not a product of the workshops of the teachers of rhetoric, but of the spacious walks of the Academy. And he developed the ideal of the philosopher-orator. Scholars disagree whether the idea to bring philosophy and rhetoric together is Cicero's own invention or an adaptation from someone else, for instance Philo.
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