Gellius' Attitude to Philosophy in the Attic Nights

Patricia M. Fitzgibbon

Colorado College

Aulus Gellius is no philosopher nor does he follow any particular doctrine of philosophy.  However, along with the variety of topics Gellius finds useful enough to include in his Attic Nights is the topic of philosophy.  Among topics such as grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, geometry, and sundry religious practice, he also finds time to comment on his own philosophical education, schools of philosophy from the past, and also personal and professional characteristics of well-known founders and teachers of philosophy. 

This paper will examine Gellius' attitude toward philosophy through careful analysis of the comments he makes about philosophers and philosophy.  It will investigate whether Gellius' typically Roman attitude to philosophy is negative; an assumption that could be inferred from his general comment:  "I agree with Neoptolemus of Ennius who says reasonably:  Few should philosophize for by no means is it pleasing to all."  (5.15.9)  That Gellius might disapprove of philosophical study is neither refuted by his tendency to completely neglect the most crucial elements of any given philosophy, i.e. the issues a philosopher would consider pertinent, and simply excise some comment or superficial gesture and praise or blame it for his own reasons.   But his commentary also seems to advocate philosophical training at least as far as it might help one to pursue a "good and faultless life," (10.19.4) and the criteria by which he judges different doctrines and their followers, one of which is clearness of expression, makes Gellius' position on philosophy more complex than it might initially seem. 

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