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Hybridity, Animality and the Making of Roman Philosophy

Richard Fletcher

Roman philosophers have consistently been brought into broad philosophical debates about hybridity and animality (e.g. Sorabji 1993; Tutrone 2012) and are well represented in collections of sources about animals in antiquity (e.g. Newmayer 2011). Nonetheless, there has been little discussion of there being a focused dialogue between Roman philosophers on these related topics. For example, when Cicero and Seneca are juxtaposed as sources for specific Stoic conceptions of animal and human rights (Sorabji 1993: 134-158) or Lucretius and Seneca are brought together on more general ideas of animality and humanity (Tutrone 2012), there is no exploration of the dynamic between the two Roman philosophers. Furthermore, in treatments of interactions between philosophy and Roman culture (Griffin and Barnes 1989 and 1997; Morford 2002; Trapp 2007), in spite of the abundance of hybridized imagery (e.g. Philosophia Togata), the roles of hybridity and animality in such debates have not been emphasized. This paper is the first attempt at bringing discussions of hybridity and animality to bear on the relationship between individual Roman philosophers (Lucretius, Cicero, Varro), across doctrinal boundaries (Epicureanism, Platonism, Cynicim) and for the creation of a self-consciously ‘Roman’ philosophical tradition. I will discuss how Cicero self-consciously ‘Romanizes’ two key discussions of hybridity and animality in Lucretius, and then explore how a comparable approach to ‘Romanization’ is also evident in the tantalizing evidence of Varro's fragmentary Menippean Satires on the interactions between Roman culture and Cynicism.

            The pivotal role the imaginary animal-hybrid, such as the centaur, has been discussed in studies of De rerum natura and in terms of Lucretius’ philosophical and literary sources (e.g. Gale 1994; Sedley 2003). I will claim that Cicero’s Cotta, at De natura deorum 1. 105, while ostensibly responding to Velleius’ account of imagines or eidola (DND 1. 49-50), also recalls Lucretius’ account of confused eidola that produce centaurs (DRN 4. 724ff.) In addition, the example Cicero’s Cotta uses to test the Epicurean hypothesis is a markedly political one (the imago of Tiberius Gracchus giving a speech on the Capitol). Elsewhere, Cicero’s response to his Roman Epicurean predecessor uses other aspects of animality. For example, Lucretius and Cicero both use the same compound adjective (montivagus) to describe wild animals. For Lucretius, the prey of hunting dogs (montivagae…ferai, DRN 1. 404) as part of an analogy to describe the tracking of truth (uerum, DRN 1.409), which, like the beast, is dragged out (protrahere) from its hiding places (caecas…latebras). Yet Cicero borrows the Lucretian adjective in a discussion of pain (Tusc. 5. 79), to describe his Stoic inflected version of Platonism that emphasizes the role of virtue for the hardships of animals (bestiae) in their wanderings and suffering for their young. As with the discussion of eidola, Cicero concludes the animal example with a self-consciously ‘Romanizing’ example (a recusatio of Roman political competition grounded in praise and glory). 

            These two moments of contact between Lucretius and Cicero, and specifically Cicero’s ‘Romanizing’ of the issues of hybridity and animality, share an approach with one of Varro’s Menippean Satires: Ἱπποκύων (‘Half Horse, Half Dog’). As Gellius relates (NA 3. 18), Varro’s satire introduced strange hybrid-figures of Roman knights called pedarii. Understood within the contexts of Cicero’s ‘Romanizing’ responses to Lucretius, Varro’s satire offers a tantalizing glimpse not only at the potential role for Cynicism in Roman Republican political culture, but also the role of hybridity and animality in the making of Roman philosophy. 

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The Ancient Non-Human

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