Classics Panaetius of Rhodes
by
Francesca Alesse
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0218

Introduction

Panaetius of Rhodes was a Stoic philosopher of the 2nd century BCE. A pupil of the Stoic scholarchs Diogenes of Babylon and Antipater of Tarsus, he was himself at the head of the Stoa, probably beginning in the year 129 BCE. He played a central role in connecting Stoic philosophy and Roman culture, thanks to his relations with the group of politicians and intellectuals gathered around Scipio Africanus Aemilianus (or Scipio Africanus Minor, b. 185–d. 129 BCE). Scholars have often presented Panaetius as the initiator of, or the main contributor to, a new phase of Stoic philosophy called “Middle Stoicism.” This phase is said to be characterized, in short, by a decisive preference for moral casuistry and for rules available to ordinary people, the replacement of cosmic periodic destruction with the thesis of the eternity of the world, and the Platonic-Aristotelian idea of the human soul as divided into rational and nonrational components. It is necessary to take into account that the division of the history of Stoicism into “Early” Stoicism (from Zeno to Chrysippus, or to Diogenes, or to Antipater), “Middle” Stoicism (from Diogenes/Antipater, or from Panaetius, to Posidonius), and “Late” Stoicism (or the Imperial Stoa, represented by Musonius, Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius) is a modern categorization. Nonetheless, according to several ancient sources, the 2nd-century BCE Stoics introduced some modifications, and Panaetius in particular is described as a great admirer of Plato and Aristotle and a Stoic who adopted some ideas from the Academy and Peripatos (Herculaneum Papyri [PHerc] 1018, column 61). Since the late 20th century, scholars have disputed the novelty of Panaetius’s philosophy, claiming for him a substantial orthodoxy. However, it is a matter of fact that Panaetius’s fortune in late Hellenism and the early Imperial age was due to the reception of his philosophy as a partial renewal of ancient Stoicism, and this suggests at least that Panaetius was seen as a true Stoic but not entirely in line with his school. Another issue in Panaetian studies is the presence of his works into later literature (above all, Cicero, Plutarch, and Seneca). This trend of studies, particularly successful during the first half of the 20th century, has declined in the 2nd half of the 20th century because it can hardly be supported by uncontroversial arguments. Nonetheless, there are cases in which it can be prosecuted, at least for Cicero’s De officiis Books I–II, which Cicero himself claims to have composed on the footsteps of Panaetius’s On Duty.

Biography

The evidence on Panaetius’s biography is not abundant, even though his reputation was high during his life. We are informed about his writings, thought, and social relations from several bio-doxographical reports as well as philosophical works, while some epigraphical and papyrological sources inform us about his family, early education, and scholarly career. Nothing is known about the precise date and circumstances of his death, except that he lived thirty years after composing his main philosophical work, On Duty (Cicero, De officiis, III 8). Panaetius was born c. 185/180 BCE in Lindos, the acropolis of the isle of Rhodes. He belonged to a noble and rich family whose members had often been invested with political and religious authority, or social celebrity. He first attended the school of the grammarian Crates of Mallus, in Pergamon, then studied in Athens as a pupil of the Porch. During Antipater’s scholarchate, he began to stay frequently in Rome, where he became a friend of Scipio Africanus Minor and a member of his entourage. Panaetius had both Greek and Roman adherents: apart from Posidonius of Apamaea, who was by far the most important of his pupils and the most influential philosopher of the late Hellenistic age, we should remember Hecato of Rhodes, Stratocles of Rhodes, Paramonos of Tarsos, Caius Laelius, Rutilius Rufus, and Marcus Vigellius. Sources of major importance in reconstructing Panaetius’s biography and contextualizing his social origin and early education include some epigraphs from Rhodes, of which the most-recent and complete contributions are Haake 2007 and Haake 2012. Dorandi 1991 remains a seminal study on late Hellenistic philosophers’ biographies, including Panaetius’s chronology. As regards papyrological evidence, the most informative source is Herculaneum Papyri (PHerc.) 1018, the most recent critical edition of which is Dorandi 1994. Regarding the relationship between Panaetius and Scipio, and, more generally, Panaetius’s Roman connections, including his presumed relation to the Gracchi, the best critical position is established in Astin 1967, whose prudent perspective about the influence of Panaetius’s political thought on Scipio’s beliefs is consolidated by later studies. Important contributions to this matter can be found in Griffin 1989, Rawson 1989, and Lintott 1997.

  • Astin, Alan Edgar. 1967. Scipio aemilianus. Oxford: Clarendon.

    E-mail Citation »

    See especially pp. 294–306. Provides a cautious representation of the so-called “Scipionic circle” as well as of Panaetius’s role in the Roman milieu, questioning his presumed justification of Roman imperialism.

  • Dorandi, Tiziano. 1991. Ricerche sulla cronologia dei filosofi ellenistici. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 19. Stuttgart: Teubner.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110950595E-mail Citation »

    On Panaetius, see pp. 35–42. This volume is now available through subscription or payment on the De Gruyter website.

  • Dorandi, Tiziano. 1994. Filodemo: Storia dei filosofi, La stoà da Zenone a Panezio (PHerc. 1018). Philosophia Antiqua 60. Leiden, The Netherlands, and New York: Brill.

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    The columns concerning Panaetius are 51–79. Dorandi’s edition is accompanied by Italian translation and commentary (pp. 102–129, 164–173).

  • Griffin, Miriam T. 1989. Philosophy, politics, and politicians at Rome. In Philosophia togata: Essays on philosophy and Roman society. Edited by Miriam T. Griffin and Jonathan Barnes, 1–37. Oxford: Clarendon.

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    Learned survey on the diffusion of Greek philosophy among Roman intellectuals during the 2nd century BCE, and discussion of the true extent of Panaetius’s influence both on Scipio and Tiberius Gracchus.

  • Haake, Matthias. 2007. Der Philosoph in der Stadt: Untersuchungen zur öffentlichen Rede über Philosophen und Philosophie in den hellenistischen Poleis. Vestigia 56. Munich: C. H. Beck.

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    Offers an extensive and precise survey on epigraphical sources related to Panaetius’s family, especially on pp. 141–145, 198–205.

  • Haake, Matthias. 2012. Der Panaitiosschüler Paramonos aus Tarsos, der kappadokische König Ariarathes VI. und eine rhodische Inschrift. Epigraphica: Periodico Internazionale di Epigrafia 74:43–58.

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    Focuses on the evidence about Panaetius’s disciple Paramonos and provides an exhaustive survey both of primary evidence and critical literature about epigraphical evidence. This paper is now available in PDF format online.

  • Lintott, Andrew W. 1997. The theory of the mixed constitution at Rome. In Philosophia togata, II: Plato and Aristotle at Rome. Edited by Jonathan Barnes and Miriam T. Griffin, 70–85. Oxford: Clarendon.

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    Very cautious in attributing to Panaetius the views illustrated in Cicero’s De republica about the superiority of the mixed constitution.

  • Rawson, Elizabeth. 1989. Roman rulers and the philosophic adviser. In Philosophia togata: Essays on philosophy and Roman society. Edited by Miriam T. Griffin and Jonathan Barnes, 233–257. Oxford: Clarendon.

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    Illustrates the part played by Panaetius (like other Greek philosophers) as adviser or counselor of the statesman rather than as teacher of political doctrines.

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