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MEMMIUS THE EPICUREAN

  • Llewelyn Morgan (a1) and Barnaby Taylor (a2)
Extract

In Fam. 13.1 Cicero, visiting Athens en route to Cilicia in the summer of 51 b.c., writes to C. Memmius L.f., praetor in 58 but by the time of Cicero's communication an exile in Athens after the shambolic consular elections for 53; Memmius was (temporarily, one assumes) absent from Athens in Mytilene, hence the need for Cicero to write to him. This letter, along with Att. 5.11.6 and 19.3, is our focus in the argument that follows, but, to summarize the situation in the very broadest terms, Cicero's concern in it is with Memmius’ intentions regarding a plot of land in Athens occupied by a house of Epicurus, and with the objections to Memmius’ plans that had been raised with Cicero by the scholarch of the Epicurean community in Athens, Patro.

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Corresponding author
llewelyn.morgan@bnc.ox.ac.uk
barnaby.taylor@exeter.ox.ac.uk
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1 For a commendably clear account of a horribly convoluted campaign and aftermath, see Gruen, E.S., ‘The consular elections for 53 b.c. ’, in Brabauw, J. (ed.), Hommages à Marcel Renard (Brussels, 1969), 2.311–21. We thank Miriam Griffin, Gregory Hutchinson and the anonymous reader for CQ for advice and comments on this article. Remaining errors are our own.

2 Hutchinson, G.O., ‘The date of De Rerum Natura ’, CQ 51 (2001), 150–62, at 158–9.

3 Hutchinson's argument (n. 2) for a date coinciding with the outbreak of Civil War in 49 b.c. or shortly afterwards has provoked responses from Volk and Krebs, reasserting the traditional date in the mid fifties on the basis of the narrative conventions of didactic poetry and verbal parallels between the De Rerum Natura and Caesar's De Bello Gallico respectively: Volk, K., ‘Lucretius’ prayer for peace and the date of De rerum natura ’, CQ 60 (2010), 127–31; Krebs, C.B., ‘Caesar, Lucretius and the dates of De Rerum Natura and the Commentarii ’, CQ 63 (2013), 772–9.

4 Stearns, J.B., ‘A note on Gaius Memmius’, The Classical Weekly 24 (1931), 161–2.

5 Griffin, M., ‘Philosophical badinage in Cicero's letters to his friends’, in Powell, J.G.F. (ed.), Cicero the Philosopher: Twelve Papers (Oxford, 1995), 325–46, at 333 n. 36, a development of her nuanced reading of the letter at Griffin, M., ‘Philosophy, politics, and politicians at Rome’, in Griffin, M. and Barnes, J. (edd.), Philosophia Togata (Oxford, 1989), 1–37, at 16–17.

6 Clay, D., ‘The Athenian Garden’, in Warren, J. (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Epicureanism (Cambridge, 2009), 9–28, at 28.

7 There is a succinct rehearsal of the evidence for the location of the Epicurean sites in Athens at Clay (n. 6), 10 n. 3.

8 Griffin (n. 5 [1989]), 16 speculates that the damage had been done during Sulla's sack of Athens in 86 b.c.

9 Dating by Archonship seems redundant for Cicero's purposes, and recalls Epicurus’ habits of dating, discussed in Clay's, D. fascinating article, ‘Epicurus in the archives of Athens’, Paradosis and Survival (Ann Arbor, 1998), 4054  =  Studies in Greek Epigraphy, History, and Topography Presented to Eugene Vanderpool (Hesp. Supp. 19) (Princeton, 1982), 1726 . Cicero enjoys aping Epicurus’ idiolect, cf. condiscipuli (5.19.3) picking up on οἱ συμφιλοσοφοῦντες (Diog. Laert. 10.18, 10.20). Dinsmoor, W.B., The Archons of Athens in the Hellenistic Age (Cambridge, MA, 1931), 292 interprets Cicero's praetor as στρατηγός, and Polycharmos does not feature in modern reconstructions of the Archon List before 51 (Dinsmoor [this note], 280 places him in 45/44), even though Cicero's expression is clearly a dating formula. Oliver, J.H., ‘Emperors and Athens’, Historia 30 (1981), 412–23, at 423 n. 27 is adamant that Cicero's evidence, pace Dinsmoor, establishes Polycharmos as ‘a well-known archon before 51 b.c.’. Rawson, E., Roman Culture and Society: Collected Papers (Oxford, 1991), 453 in turn disputes Oliver's interpretation of praetor as ‘archon’, but on the basis of just one Ciceronian example of praetor denoting a στρατηγός (Off. 1.44), and of one reference to an Archon as archon (Fat. 19). This hardly seems decisive, and there remains the problem that this is a dating formula: to refer to ‘last year’ as ‘when Polycharmos was General’ is, as Rawson allows, odd, and to explain it as indicating some kind of close involvement on Polycharmos’ part in the matter suggests a General sharing in the deliberations of the Areopagus, which would also be odd. This question is tangential to our argument in this article, but one is left wondering if the reconstructed Archon Lists, which would preclude an archonship for Polycharmos in the late fifties, are as secure as Rawson assumes.

10 For a succinct account of Epicurus’ cults, see Clay (n. 6), 22–6; and, in greater depth, Clay, D., ‘The cults of Epicurus’, Paradosis and Survival (Ann Arbor, 1998), 75102  =  Cronache Ercolanesi 16 (1986), 128 .

11 Castner, C.J., Prosopography of Roman Epicureans from the 2. Century b.c. to the 2. Century a.d. (Frankfurt am Main, 1988), 99–104, at 103.

12 Fowler, D.P., ‘Lucretius and politics’, in Griffin, M. and Barnes, J. (edd.), Philosophia Togata (Oxford, 1989), 120–50, at 122.

13 Clay (n. 6), 28.

14 Kelly, G.P., A History of Exile in the Roman Republic (Cambridge, 2012), 194–5.

15 RE s.v. ‘Memmius’, 15 (1932), cols. 609–16, at col. 615.4.

16 Habicht, C., Athens from Alexander to Antony (Cambridge, MA, 1997), 335 .

17 Habicht (n. 16), 348.

18 Hutchinson (n. 2), 158.

19 Bailey, D.R. Shackleton, Cicero Epistulae ad Familiares (Cambridge, 1977), 1.359.

20 On Wesenberg's emendation uiam, and its merits, see below.

21 Fowler (n. 12), 122.

22 Fam. 13.1.2. Relations between them were bad enough for Cicero to assume that a single letter of intervention would not suffice to persuade Memmius; at 13.1.5 he envisages the discussion continuing at another time (dicendum enim aliquando est), presumably on Memmius’ return from Mytilene.

23 Att. 5.11.6: Memmius autem aedificandi consilium abiecerat, sed erat Patroni iratus. itaque scripsi ad eum accurate; Fam. 13.1.4: Patronis et orationem et causam tibi cognitam esse certo scio.

24 We thus consider Patro's ‘need to intercede with Memmius through a non-Epicurean, Cicero’ as less decisive evidence of Memmius’ philosophical affiliations than Castner (n. 11), 104.

25 Shackleton Bailey (n. 19), 1.358 compares Nat. D. 1.89 and Fin. 4.51, each of which features gens used of a philosophical school, in the former case referring to Epicureans.

26 For ineptiae as a lack of tact, see esp. Cic. De or. 2.17–18, where it is described as a social failing to which Greek hairsplitters are particularly prone, and compare Att. 6.1.26, on Cicero's mooted monument in the Academy: num inepti fuerimus si nos quoque Academiae fecerimus? Improbitas and ineptiae are contrasted only here in Cicero.

27 Bailey, D.R. Shackleton, Cicero's Letters to Atticus Volume I (Cambridge, 1965), 8 n. 5; Rawson, E., Intellectual Life in the Late Roman Republic (London, 1985), 100–1. Cicero's willingness to abuse Epicureans in his letters to Atticus is treated by both Shackleton Bailey and Rawson as evidence for Atticus’ lukewarm attitude to Epicureanism. A central argument of this paper, however, is that abuse of this kind, contained within a letter, is in no way incompatible with pro-Epicurean feelings on the part of the addressee, whether Memmius or Atticus.

28 Castner (n. 11), 57–61; Griffin (n. 5 [1989]), 16–18; Benferhat, Y., Cives Epicurei: Les Épicuriens et l'idée de monarchie à Rome et en Italie de Sylla à Octave (Brussels, 2005), 101–69.

29 Doctrina liberalis refers to a broad learning that includes, but is not limited to, the technical details of philosophy: see Fam. 4.4.4, De or. 3.127, with Leeman, A.D. and Pinkster, H., Cicero, De Oratore Libri III (Heidelberg, 1981), 1.39–40; Kühnert, F., Allgemeinbildung und Fachbildung in der Antike (Berlin, 1961), 2631 . On Cicero's pejorative attitudes to the culture of Epicureans, see e.g. Pis. 70, Fin. 1.26, Nat. D. 1.72, with Bailey, D.R. Shackleton, Cicero's Letters to Atticus Volume III (Cambridge, 1968), 209 (ad Att. 5.11.4).

30 A copy of Fam. 13.1 was enclosed with this letter to Atticus (see 5.11.6), suggesting that Cicero did not expect Atticus to object to his ridicule of Patro and his associates in the letter to Memmius, or to the distinction he establishes there between Atticus and the Athenian Epicureans.

31 On whom, see Castner (n. 11), 43–4 and Benferhat (n. 28), 170–2.

32 As is made clear by his treatment of the topic of innumerable worlds (Fam. 9.26.3), an Epicurean doctrine: Epicurus, Ep. Hdt. 45; Lucr. 2.1048–89; Usener, H., Epicurea (Leipzig, 1887), 213 §301.

33 On the meaning of baro in these contexts (referring to a certain kind of blinkered seriousness), see further Griffin (n. 5 [1989]), 16. Shackleton Bailey (n. 29), 209 (ad Att. 5.11.4) points out a further possible example of this pattern: the use of the term baro in a fragment of a letter to yet another Epicurean, Pansa (Cic. Ep. Frr. V.4 = Gramm. Lat. 5.572.17 Keil). The distribution of baro outside of Cicero (Lucilius, Persius, Petronius) suggests a satirical flavour: see further Smith, M.F., ‘Lucretius 3.955’, Prometheus 26 (2000), 3540 , who at 40 suggests emending Lucretius’ baratre to baro.

34 Wesenberg, A.S., Emendationes alterae sive annotationes criticae ad Ciceronis epistolarum editionem (Leipzig, 1873), 41 .

35 On the Ciceronian collocation uia ratioque, meaning ‘method’ or ‘approach’, see Yon, A., Ratio et les mots de la famille de reor: contribution à l'étude historique du vocabulaire latin (Paris, 1933), 187–90; Reinhardt, T., Cicero's Topica (Oxford, 2003), 184 .

36 OLD s.v. uita 7.

37 As such we understand the referents of illa in the phrase quos illa delectant at 13.1.4 to be not ‘the principles of Epicurean philosophy’ vel sim. but the list of abstract entities appealed to by Patro in the previous sentence.

38 See n. 25 above.

39 OLD s.v. gens 6.

40 Clay, D., ‘Individual and community in the first generation of the Epicurean school’, Paradosis and Survival (Ann Arbor, 1998), 5574, at 70.

41 PHerc. 1232 fr. 8 col. 1.6–12, as edited and translated by Clay (n. 10 [1998]), 81.

42 Griffin (n. 5 [1989]), 17.

43 Griffin (n. 5 [1995]), 333 n. 36.

44 See especially Epicurus, Ep. Men. 129–30, 132 with Mitsis, P., Epicurus’ Ethical Theory: The Pleasures of Invulnerability (London, 1988), 1939 .

45 Geagan, D.J., The Athenian Constitution after Sulla (Princeton, 1967), 50 ; Graindor, P., Athènes sous Auguste (Cairo, 1927), 105–7.

46 Geagan (n. 45), 41.

47 Geagan (n. 45), 42.

48 Griffin (n. 5 [1995]), 333 n. 36.

49 For further examples of the Roman élite building monuments in Athens, and of the difficulties sometimes faced by Romans who found themselves pitted against Athenian institutions and bureaucratic structures, see Hutchinson, G.O., Greek to Latin: Frameworks and Contexts for Intertextuality (Oxford, 2013), 8890 .

50 Memmius’ further travels are in this context intriguing, if no more than that. Cicero was unable to speak to him directly, and had to resort to a letter, because Memmius had left for Mytilene. The reasons for anyone to travel from Athens to Mytilene are mysterious, but perhaps less so if the traveller is an Epicurean, visiting the location where Epicurus first established an Epicurean school.

51 For a comprehensive discussion of the role and status of this maxim in Epicurean thought, see Roskam, G., Live Unnoticed (Λάθε Βιώσας): On the Vicissitudes of an Epicurean Doctrine (Leiden, 2007).

52 Kenney, E.J., Lucretius De Rerum Natura Book III (Cambridge, 2014 2), ad loc. compares a scholiast on Epicurus, Κύριαι Δόξαι 29 (Usener [n. 32], 78).

53 A potential point of comparison is the striking Epicurean commitment to portraiture, of Epicurus and other leading lights of the school: D. Clay, ‘The philosophical inscription of Diogenes of Oenoanda: new discoveries 1969–1983’, ANRW 2.36.4 (1990), 2446–559, at 2496; Frischer, B., The Sculpted Word: Epicureanism and Philosophical Recruitment in Ancient Greece (Berkeley, 2006 2), interpreting the portraits as a means to recruitment.

54 Nussbaum, M., The Therapy of Desire. Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton, 1994), 102–39; Sedley, D., ‘Philosophical allegiance in the Greco-Roman world’, in Griffin, M. and Barnes, J. (edd.), Philosophia Togata (Oxford, 1989), 97119 .

55 Fowler (n. 12), 122.

56 Hutchinson (n. 2), 150–3.

57 Gruen, E.S., ‘Pompey, the Roman aristocracy, and the conference of Luca,’ Historia 18 (1969), 71–108, at 72.

58 By way of another example: in early 55, amid the violence and intimidation that ensured the election of Pompey and Crassus to the consulship, Caesar dispatched some of his troops to Rome (Dio 39.31.2).

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