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Roman ReflectionsStudies in Latin Philosophy$
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Gareth D. Williams and Katharina Volk

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199999767

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199999767.001.0001

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“You’re Playing You Now”

“You’re Playing You Now”

Helvidius Priscus as a Stoic Hero

(p.213) 11 “You’re Playing You Now”
Roman Reflections

Wolfgang-Rainer Mann

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines Epictetus’s depiction of an encounter between the Roman senator Helvidius Priscus and Vespasian (Discourses 1.2.19–24): when Vespasian sends word that Priscus should not attend a meeting of the Senate, Priscus insists that his role as senator obliges him to participate regardless of all risk of imperial vindictiveness. The chapter relates this anecdote to (1) the literary-philosophical tradition of straight-talking encounters between philosophers and despots, and (2) the tradition of recounting “philosophical” deaths, often suicides. The chapter maintains that these motifs are insufficient fully to account for the anecdote’s occurrence in a diatribe entitled “How one might preserve accord with one’s prosōpon [= persona] in every situation” and invokes Epictetus’s Stoic account of personae (roles) to explain Priscus’s conception of his senatorial role. The chapter concludes with an argument against the view that Epictetus’s use of the prosōpon offers an alternative to universalist ethical theories.

Keywords:   Epictetus, Helvidius Priscus, prosōpon/persona, Stoicism, Tacitus

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