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Christelle Veillard (éd.), Hécaton de Rhodes. Les fragments

Paris, Vrin, 2022 (Histoire des doctrines de l'Antiquité classique), 370 p., ISBN : 978-2-7116-3002-8
Gretchen Reydams-Schils
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Christelle Veillard (éd.), Hécaton de Rhodes. Les fragments, Paris, Vrin, 2022 (Histoire des doctrines de l'Antiquité classique), 370 p., ISBN : 978-2-7116-3002-8.

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1This collection of the fragments of the Stoic Hecato (allegedly a student of Panaetius) with notes and commentary, presents state-of-the-art research that truly expands our knowledge of ancient Stoicism. The study, as the author herself indicates, is a thoroughly reworked version of a 2008 dissertation. Its first part is devoted to the editorial principles undergirding the selection of fragments. The second part presents the very limited biographical information we have about Hecato, the fragments, a translation, and notes on the fragments. The third part then presents a synthesis, providing its readers with a new assessment of Hecato’s role in the Stoic tradition. In Christelle Veillard’s opinion Hecato cannot simply be aligned with Panaetius; in many ways, he returns to Chrysippus’ positions, and also seems to have a special affinity with views attested for Diogenes of Babylon.

2In the first part of the work, the analysis of the context in which the fragments from Hecato are embedded - in Diogenes Laertius, Cicero, and Seneca - is very illuminating. Thus the author points out, for instance, that although Hecato does belong with the strand of Stoicism that is pro-Cynic, he also emphasizes the connection with other non-Platonic Socratics such as Xenophon. Cicero and Seneca’s use of Hecato is peculiar because they clearly show disapproval of this source. Nevertheless, Seneca’s uses Hecato for key articulations in the structure of his On Benefits. The author argues that these fragments of Hecato belong with a treatise On Benefits, rather than a more general one On Duties.

3One of the strengths of the study is that in its background assessment it includes material not only from Plato (especially his Protagoras), which is a common approach, but also turns to Aristotle’s ethics and Democritus, building on more recent research. It may be the case, for instance, that like Aristotle Aristo and Panaetius (247-48) distinguish between a theoretical and a practical aspect of virtue. But we also need to remember that for the Stoics the relation between theory and praxis is fundamentally different from Aristotle’s perspective; in Stoicism these tend to be inextricably intertwined. Moreover, the Stoic notion of ‘theory’ arguably does not map onto Aristotle’s.

4Hecato is distinctive, so the author argues, for his use of modes of expression that can succinctly and in a striking manner confer or strengthen key insights. This is how Seneca uses him in his Letters. Hecato’s interest in the Stoic paradoxes, with possibly our first treatise devoted to this topic, and short sayings and anecdotes (the so-called chreiai) also belong with this aspect of his work. Second, in his approach to virtue he appears to return to a Chrysippean position on the unity of and relation between the virtues and introduces an enigmatic notion of ‘atheoretical virtue.’ Third, the author establishes a connection between the quote from Seneca, “if you want to be loved, love” (Ep. 9.6), the theory of benefits, the good emotion joy (chara) and affection. Finally, the study highlights the role of casuistry, precepts, and a rule or formula in Hecato’s ethics.

5Let us take a closer look at the fragments pertaining to ‘atheoretical’ virtue. Even if one does not agree with all the author’s conclusions, she certainly asks the right questions and draws from a wide range of material (265-276).

61) The first thing to note, however, is that the fragment from Diogenes Laertius (7.90-91 = F6 Veillard) and the one from Stobaeus (Ecl. 2.7.5b4 Wachsmuth = F6bis(b) Veillard) do not necessarily refer to the same thing. The Stobaeus fragment deals explicitly with the health of the soul; its harmony, strength, and beauty, whereas the Diogenes Laertius fragment refers to health and strength in the ordinary sense, indicating most likely the condition of the body.

72) Second, the Stobaeus fragment does not explicitly call health etc. of the soul an atheoretical virtue, but rather hinges on the contrast between a technê, presumably consisting of theorems, and a dunamis that comes about (perigignomenas) through training (askêsis). Here training refers most likely, I would suggest, to demonstrations or ethical syllogisms, as in Diogenes Laertius 7.101-103 = F2 Veillard, and 127-128 = F3 Veillard. (The later Stoic Musonius Rufus mentions such demonstrations explicitly under exercises for the soul: VI Hense/Lutz.)

83) Thus the Stobaeus fragment indeed raises the issue of the exact relation between virtue as a physical condition of the soul, on the one hand, and as consisting of theorems, on the other (which, in turn, one may add, would conjure up the thorny problem again of the relation between incorporeal sayables—lekta—as the content of propositions and the physical tonos of the soul).

94) Both fragments state explicitly that the atheoretical virtue (Diogenes Laertius) or power (Stobaeus) supervenes (epiginesthai) on virtue in the strict sense. The Diogenes Laertius passage states that the atheoretical virtue can be considered an extension (kata parektasin) of the relevant virtue, as for example, health following (akolouthein) from temperance; the Stobaeus passage adds that the health of the soul comes about (perigignomenas) as a result of exercise (see point 2 above). Strictly speaking then - a point the author herself acknowledges (267) but does not heed throughout her analysis - the causal relation goes only from the virtue to its atheoretical counterpart or power. In other words, the fragments do not tell us anything about a causal relation in the other direction, as when, for example, one would consider whether health could be an auxiliary cause (sunergon) in the bringing about of virtue (see the author’s analysis of Stoic causes, 259-260). And if that is the case, this stance is not directly relevant for the debate about how one acquires virtue.

105) The Stoics did consider the effect which the physical condition of the body could have on the physical condition of the soul. For someone making progress towards virtue, a pampered body rendered weak by overindulgence could undermine that progress and have a negative impact on the soul. (Chrysippus and Cleanthes disagreed on whether a condition such as drunkenness or melancholy could undermine a sage.) Second, the Hecato fragment from Diogenes Laertius (F6 Veillard) reinforces the idea that the condition of the soul, as in the case of the virtue of temperance, could affect the condition of the body, its health and strength. But from these two claims it still does not follow that a robust bodily condition would actually contribute to virtue; at best, it would pave the way for virtue precisely by removing potential obstacles. From this angle, it might be worthwhile pursuing further the connection between hardening the body through ponos and the virtue of magnanimity singled out by Hecato (Diogenes Laertius 7.127-128 = F3 Veillard) as the ability to rise above circumstances and ordinary concerns.

116) If we return to the fragment of Hecato in Diogenes Laertius that contains the notion of atheoretical virtue (F6 Veillard), both the facts (a) that this virtue does not require reason’s assent, and (b) that for Hecato health considered by itself would still rank among the preferred indifferents, not the good (Diogenes Laertius 7.101-103 = F2 Veillard) can be explained on the grounds that health would be a virtue only insofar as it is an extension of a virtue properly speaking.

127) But then how could a fool have this atheoretical virtue, as F6 Veillard also suggests? Here one could say that when a fool has health, it is not actually a virtue. Alternatively, one could posit that someone making moral progress can possess traits that are analogous to what virtue would be in a sage.

13The conclusion of this work raises some tantalizing but underdeveloped possibilities for the relevance of Hecato’s views and approach for later Stoicism. Given the excellence demonstrated in this study, it is very much to be hoped that the author will pursue those ideas more in the future.

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Gretchen Reydams-Schils, « Christelle Veillard (éd.), Hécaton de Rhodes. Les fragments »Philosophie antique [En ligne], 23 | 2023, mis en ligne le 12 mai 2023, consulté le 21 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Gretchen Reydams-Schils

University of Notre Dame

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