On two Stoic ‘paradoxes’ in Manilius
Manilius in effect holds that each person possesses reason and so can benefit from his teaching; hence, his approach looks egalitarian, his teaching, universal. But sometimes he addresses only a select few, who now seem like privileged acolytes. The universe is fully rational and divine, and accordingly wants each rational being to understand its principles: the celestial bodies and nature as a whole are transparent to reason. Yet Manilius also makes it sound as if the universe wishes to conceal itself, and that he, the visionary poet, must therefore reveal its truths. Recalling three parts of Stoic doctrine helps ameliorate these tensions: their accounts (1) of the structure of the universe; (2) of the place of human beings within that structure; and (3) of the special role of the wise. The odd mixture of elitism and anti-elitism in Manilius’s stance thus corresponds to a Stoic conception of reason as both an intrinsic capacity present in each person but also a hard-won achievement restricted to the wise.
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