Philosophia Togata: Greek Transfer in Roman Culture


  • Borys Chumachenko National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy



Roman philosophy, tradition, Hellenization, philhellenism, paidea, dualistic model, humanitas, restricted identification, otium


The article researches the phenomenon of so-called philosophia togata examining such issues as the emergence of Roman philosophy during one of the most exciting periods in Roman history. It considers the themes being a subject for study for a long time: the processes of social-psychological and cultural changes in Rome in Hellenistic age, the significance and extent of Greek influence, the new Roman life-styles and the reception of the philosophical doctrines of Greek thinkers such as Stoics, Epicureans and other philosophical schools. To my opinion, it is a subject on which there are still important and interesting questions to be asked and many worthwhile things to be said. An attempt is made to combine history of philosophy with history of culture and to place Roman philosophy and philosophers in a cultural context of Hellenization of Latin west and Roman response to this challenge. Focusing on topics such as Roman attitudes towards Greek culture, images of Greeks in Italy, crises of traditional values of mores maiorum, Roman intelligentsia, the article considers practices of philosophy in Rome as phenomenon of restricted identification or participation as a result of negative assessment of philosophy as otium in Roman society. An emphasis is made on the paradoxical status of philosophy in the Roman way of life and in the contradictions of playing the role of a Roman philosopher.
The traditional roman mentality was scandalized by advent of Greek philosophers to Italy and strongly opposed to the first attempts of transplantation of philosophy into social organism of civitas. Roman authorities viewed Greek visitors and their intellectual shows, foreign ideas in general as a serious danger for mores maiorum and a kind of so-called nova flagitia. The expulsion of philosophers followed several times during the 2nd century B.C. It took hundreds of years to overcome the general prejudice and to legalize philosophy in Rome not only as tolerated otium cum dignitate but needful and commonly respected medicina animae. As we can see, wars against philosophy took place from time to time not only in republican period, but also during Early Empire, under the principate regime.
So, the process of appropriation of philosophy by Roman cultural elite was slow, often frustrated and essentially limited being localized in private life and non-formal contacts in social microgroups (amical circles). Its territory was Roman otium (leisure as a part of traditional Roman way of life) and it met negative public and official assessment that cannot be ignored by aristocratic elite in this so-called shame culture. The representatives and enthusiasts of philosophy (for example Cicero) had to justify their philosophical conversion. Therefore the Roman soul was divided in its own reactions towards alien philosophy and felt uneasiness in practicing it. The conduct of its Roman adepts is often very different and depends on various social contexts and situations.
We consider the antagonism between Roman philhellenism and traditionalism in general not as a struggle of two cultural (or even political) parties but as an inner conflict of two elements of divided Roman psyche which determines the phenomenon of restricted participation in philosophical pursuit during the period of Roman cultural history viewed here.


Manuscript received 10.09.2020

Author Biography

Borys Chumachenko, National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

Senior Lecturer at the Department of Cultural Studies of the Faculty of Humanities of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (NaUKMA). Main research fields: history of European culture, historiography of culture, philosophy of culture.


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