The Scipionic circle

“I am human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me.”  


Lovers of Greek culture

The Scipionic Circle, or the Circle of Scipio, was a group of philosophers, poets, and politicians patronized by Scipio Aemilianus. Together they would discuss Greek culture, literature, and humanism, with strong Stoic tendencies. Alongside their philhellenic disposition, the group also had a more humane Roman foreign policy.

Soldier and intellectual

Culturally, Scipio Aemilianus was both progressive and conservative. He received the name Africanus and celebrated a triumph in Rome after his destruction of Carthage (146bc). and the name Numantinus for his reduction of Spanish Numantia (133 bc). He was the patron of the Scipionic circle, a group of 15 to 27 philosophers, poets, and politicians. Besides Roman satirists and comedy writers such as Lucilius and Terence, there were Greek intellectuals, such as the scholar and historian Polybius and the Stoic philosopher Panaetius. Hence, Scipio had a philhellenic disposition (love and admiration for Greek culture).Velleius Paterculus wrote that Scipio was:

“a cultivated patron and admirer of liberal studies and of every form of learning, and kept constantly with him, at home and in the field, two men of eminent genius, Polybius and Panaetius. No one ever relieved the duties of an active life by a more refined use of his intervals of leisure than Scipio, or was more constant in his devotion to the arts either of war or peace. Ever engaged in the pursuit of arms or his studies, he was either training his body by exposing it to dangers or his mind by learning.”

Polybius mentioned going to Africa with Scipio to explore the continent Gellius wrote that Scipio “used the purest diction of any man of his time.” Cicero cited him among the orators who were “a little more emphatic than the ordinary, [but] never strained their lungsof shouted …” It seems that he had a good sense of humour and Cicero cited a number of anecdotes about his puns. He is also a central character in Book VI of Cicero’s De re publica, a passage known as the Somnium Scipionis or “Dream of Scipio.”

Panaetius of Rhodes was a Stoic philosopher. He was a pupil of Diogenes of Babylon and Antipater of Tarsus in Athens, before moving to Rome where he did much to introduce Stoic doctrines to the city. After the death of Scipio in 129 BC, he returned to the Stoic school in Athens, and was its last undisputed scholarch. He brought new vitality to Stoicism in the second century bc by shifting the focus of its ethical theory from the idealized sage to the practical problems of ordinary people. Working a century after Chrysippus had systematized Stoicism, Panaetius is often labelled the founder of ‘Middle Stoicism’ for defending new and generally more moderate positions on several issues. With Panaetius, Stoicism became much more eclectic and flesxible. His most famous work was his On Duties, the principal source used by Cicero in his own work of the same name. With Panaetius began the new eclectic shaping of Stoic theory; so that even among the Neoplatonists he passed for a Platonist. In Ethics he recognised only a two-fold division of virtue, the theoretical and the practical, answering to the dianoietic and the ethical of Aristotle; endeavoured to bring the ultimate object of life into nearer relation to natural impulses,and to show by similes the inseparability of the virtues; pointed out that the recognition of the moral, as something to be striven after for its own sake, was a leading fundamental idea in the speeches of Demosthenes; would not admit the harsh doctrine of apatheia, and, on the contrary, vindicated the claim of certain pleasurable sensations to be regarded as in accordance with nature, while he also insisted that moral definitions should be laid down in such a way that they might be applied by the man who had not yet attained to wisdom.

Polybius was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic period noted for his work, The Histories, which covered the period of 264–146 BC in detail. The work describes the rise of the Roman Republic to the status of dominance in the ancient Mediterranean world and included his eyewitness account of the Sack of Carthage in 146 BC. Polybius is important for his analysis of the mixed constitution or the separation of powers in government, which was influential on Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws and the framers of the United States Constitution.Other important themes running through The Histories are the role of Fortune in the affairs of nations, his insistence that history should be demonstratory, or apodeiktike, providing lessons for statesmen, and that historians should be “men of action” (pragmatikoi).

Polybius is considered by some to be the successor of Thucydides in terms of objectivity and critical reasoning, and the forefather of scholarly, painstaking historical research in the modern scientific sense.

Quintus Aelius Tubero was a Stoic philosopher and a pupil of Panaetius of Rhodes. He had a reputation for talent and legal knowledge. He was a tribunate in 130 BC. He also possibly became a suffect consul in 118 BC.

Cicero spoke of his character in parallel to his oratorical style: ” harsh, unpolished, and austere.” Despite this, Cicero also calls him “a man of the most rigid virtue, and strictly conformable to the doctrine he professed.” The approval of Panaetius, gave him access to the Scipionic Circle.

When Scipio Aemilianus died mysteriously in 129 BC, Tubero was responsible for the funeral arrangements. With Cynic-like aesthetics, he arragned Punic couches with goatskin covers and Samian pottery. The lack of public grandeur, allegedly, lost him the election for praetorship.

Panaetius wrote an epistle to Tubero concerning endurance of pain. A scholar of Panaetius dedicated a treatise called De Officiis to Tubero. 

Gaius Lucilius the earliest Roman satirist, of whose writings only fragments remain, was a Roman citizen of the equestrian class, born at Suessa Aurunca in Campania. Velleius Paterculus wrote that he served under Scipio Aemilianus at the siege of Numantia in 134 BC. We learn from Horace that he lived on the most intimate terms of friendship with Scipio and Laelius, (Satire ii.1), and that he celebrated the exploits and virtues of the former in his satires.

Publius Terentius Afer, better known in English as Terence , was a playwright of the Roman Republic, of North African descent. His comedies were performed for the first time around 170–160 BC. Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator, brought Terence to Rome as a slave, educated him and later on, impressed by his abilities, freed him. Terence apparently died young, probably in Greece or on his way back to Rome. All of the six plays Terence wrote have survived.

One famous quotation by Terence reads: “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto“, or “I am human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me.”

Publius Rutilius Rufus (158 BC – after 78 BC) was a Roman statesman, consul, orator and historian. During his consulship, he reformed the drill system and improved army discipline. Rufus studied philosophy under Panaetius (becoming a Stoic), law, public speaking and Greek.

Gaius Laelius C.f. Sapiens (born c. 188 BC), was a Roman statesman, best known for his friendship with the Roman general and statesman Scipio Aemilianus (Scipio the Younger). Laelius was called Sapiens (“wise”) because of his decision not to undertake efforts at political reform that were beginning to create serious dissension in the Roman Senate.

Lucius Furius Philus was a Roman statesmen who became consul of ancient Rome in 136 BC. He was a member of the Scipionic Circle, and particularly close to Scipio Aemilianus. In de Republica, Cicero praises the style of Furius’ speeches.

Manius Manilius was an orator and distinguished jurist who also had a long military career. In Cicero’s De oratore, Manilius was depicted as a member of the Scipionic Circle. In the work, Cicero describes Manilius as a “representative of the broad education required of the orator, and of old-fahioned generosity in helping others with his ledgal knowledge”

Spurius Mummius was a Roman soldier and writer. He wrote satirical and ethical epistles, describing his experiences in Corinth in humorous verse. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, these letters, which were still popular a hundred years later, were the first examples of a distinct class of Roman poetry, the poetic epistle.

Quintus Mucius Scaevola Augur  was a politician of the Roman Republic and an early authority on Roman law. He was first educated in law by his father (whose name he shared) and in philosophy by the stoic Panaetius of Rhodes.

Gaius Fannius Strabo  was a Roman republican politician who was elected consul in 122 BC, and was one of the principal opponents of Gaius Gracchus. Fannius’ speech was regarded as an oratorical masterpiece in Cicero’s time, and was widely read. On the advice of his father-in-law, Fannius attended the lectures of the Stoic philosopher, Panaetius, at Rhodes