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Claudia Horst: Marc Aurel. Philosophie und politische Macht zur Zeit der Zweiten Sophistik (= Historia. Einzelschriften; 225), Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag 2013, 232 S., ISBN 978-3-515-10280-3, EUR 56,00
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Rezension von:
Miriam Griffin
Somerville College, Oxford
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Matthias Haake
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Miriam Griffin: Rezension von: Claudia Horst: Marc Aurel. Philosophie und politische Macht zur Zeit der Zweiten Sophistik, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag 2013, in: sehepunkte 14 (2014), Nr. 7/8 [15.07.2014], URL:

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Claudia Horst: Marc Aurel

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As the title of the monograph proclaims, this study of the connection between philosophy and the ideology of the Principate and between philosophers and the Roman emperors in the second century AD is centred on Marcus Aurelius. The justification for this focus is obvious: Marcus, we are told, had Plato's prescription about the need for philosopher kings ever on his lips (HA Marcus Antoninus 27.7). He also revered his teachers of philosophy and rewarded them with honours, while his Meditations show that high among his moral concerns was the proper conduct of a ruler. Horst aims to trace Marcus' political ideas to the contemporary culture of the Second Sophistic.

We wait some time, however, before we hear much about Marcus himself. Of the five chapters that follow the Introduction, chapter 2 is a lengthy treatment of scholarly debates, first about the structure of the Principate and then about the political significance of the Second Sophistic. The first discussion emphasises - via Mommsen and Winterling [1] - that, alongside the new phenomenon of the imperial court, the traditional social hierarchy inherited from the Republic continued to exist and made it necessary for the Emperor to behave as the senate expected. In the second discussion Horst eventually supports Whitmarsh's idea that the Second Sophistic was a contact zone of political and cultural interaction between the Romans and their Greek subjects. [2]

The third chapter is an even longer treatment of the place of politics in Stoic theory. Though in most of the book, philosophy is discussed in general or even subsumed under paideia, here, where the aim is to explain the Meditations, it is the specifically Stoic doctrines of oikeiosis, certainly a central idea for Marcus, and the adiaphora that are examined. Horst reaches the unsurprising conclusion that, for the Stoics, utilitarian and altruistic aims do not exclude each other. Reydam-Schils' extensive treatments of social responsibility in the writings of the Roman Stoics are not mentioned. [3] More unfortunate is the lack of any treatment of the doctrine of personae, though the article in which Brunt applied it brilliantly to the Roman Stoics is in the bibliography. [4] And yet this doctrine - very important to Epictetus, who had a great influence on Marcus - is reflected in the considerable attention Marcus himself pays to his role as Emperor (2.5.1; 3.5.2; 6.44.5). By contrast, the distinction between preferred and dispreferred indifferents, which Horst treats fully, is not mentioned in the Meditations.

In the fourth chapter paideia is studied as a vehicle of social advancement. Though Horst overlooks the fact that some Romans, like Fronto, still had reservations about the usefulness of philosophy, her view that the respectability of philosophy increased in the second century, and that it counted with Marcus for advancement, is inconrovertible. Why Horst is so cautious (134, n.125) about accepting Eck's redating of Fronto's consulship to 142, which is firmly based on a diploma [5], is inexplicable. The redating has the interesting consequence that Herodes Atticus no longer appears to have outranked Marcus' only teacher of Latin rhetoric.

The fifth chapter outlines the views on kingship of four Second Sophistic authors: Plutarch and Dio Chrysostom, a generation before Marcus; Aelius Aristeides, his contemporary; and Philostratus writing in the Severan period. Horst emphasises two themes: demokratia, signifying not a constitutional form but a relation of harmonious reciprocity between ruler and subject; and the counter-example of tyranny. These are held to form the basis of Marcus' political views. However, the key political chapter in the Meditations is 1.16, where the unphilosophical Antoninus Pius is explicitly adduced as the model Marcus followed as Emperor; and this, which is clearly in conflict with her own argument about his inspiration, Horst does not mention. She does highlight another important chapter, 1.14.1, in which Marcus thanks Cn. Claudius Severus Arabianus, a senior consular and his daughter's father-in-law, for pointing to the exempla of Thrasea, Helvidius, Cato and Brutus. The Emperor clearly adduces these as Republican and imperial Roman senators who in the past resisted tyranny and upheld Roman Republican ideas of freedom. (The one Greek example is more likely to be Plato's pupil Dio, who tried to reform Dionysius tyrant of Syracuse and is paired with Brutus by Plutarch, than Dio Chrysostom (172).) The political principles enumerated here by Marcus add up to civilitas, the fundamental ideological concept of the Augustan principate. Marcus in fact never mentions demokratia, while the ideas that the sophists took over from Hellenistic treatises on kingship had long been absorbed in Rome, as is shown by Seneca's De clementia and Pliny's Panegyricus. Indeed, Marcus makes clear what he thought of sophists at 1.17.8 where he thanks the gods that when he wanted to study philosophy, he did not fall in with any sophist, - not that he liked dialectics any better.

Despite the difficulties outlined here, the monograph remains an interesting attempt to see Marcus Aurelius in the context of contemporary or near-contemporary Greek culture, and to consider Marcus' deep appreciation of philosophy in relation to its social standing among the Roman elite.


[1] A. Winterling: 'Dyarchie in der römischen Kaiserzeit Vorschlag zur Wiederaufnahme der Diskussion', in: W. Nippel / B. Seidensticker (eds.): Theodor Mommsens langer Schatten, Hildesheim 2005, 177-198.

[2] T. Whitmarsh: The Second Sophistic, Oxford 2005.

[3] For example, G. Reydam Schils: The Roman Stoics: Self, Responsibility, and Affection, Chicago 2005.

[4] P.A. Brunt: 'Stoicism and the Principate', in: PBSR 1975, 7-35 = Studies in Stoicism, Oxford 2013, 375-309.

[5] W. Eck: 'M. Cornelius Fronto, Lehrer Marc Aurels, consul suffectus im J. 142', in: RhM 1998, 193-196.

Miriam Griffin