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Chapter Four Body, Tension, and Sumpatheia
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Chapter Four
Body, Tension, and Sumpatheia

Namque canam tacita naturae mente potentem infusumque deum caelo terrisque fretoque ingentem aequali moderantem foedere molem, totumque alterno consensu vivere mundum et rationis agi motu, cum spiritus unus per cunctas habitet partes atque inriget orbem omnia pervolitans corpusque animale figuret .

I shall sing of the God supreme with the still Wisdom of nature, one with sky and land and sea, Steadying the bulk by means of a balanced compact. The universe is alive with reciprocal harmony And is driven by the motion of reason; one spirit Inhabits all its parts and animates the orb Throughout and shapes and ensouls its body .

(Manilius Astronomica 2.60–66)[1]

These lines, from the pen of a poet who lived about a generation before Seneca, give creative expression to a body of thought about the cosmos that originated with the early Stoics, based on suggestions supplied by Aristotle and his immediate successors, and older traditions on which they drew. Aristotle distinguishes between soul and the inborn pneuma; Zeno collapses them and makes of his soul-pneuma the unifying stuff that guarantees the working (and the frequent misoperation) of the organism. Chrysippus extended the notion of the bodily pneuma to cover the whole world, with important consequences for the nature of the cosmos, of which man, the character in the cosmic drama, is a consenting or dissenting member.[2] He defined heimarmene as a dunamis pneumatike (SVF 2.913), a pneumatic power, which means that the pneuma is both causal nexus and force. "Pneuma in a cosmic sense is a conscious, rational, material force, working like a craftsman on inert, formless matter and fashioning different sub-


stances by variations of its own tension."[3] Chrysippus's pneuma was a refinement of the "craftsman fire" of Zeno and Cleanthes,[4] "a cool fire, sun's breath, the solar wind," to fall back on the language of a modern poet-philosopher.[5]

We are now broaching the heart of our study, the cosmological analysis for which everything discussed up to now has been preparatory, and which, I hope, will clarify important issues our earlier remarks have had to skirt. Significant aspects of Seneca's dramatic practice, including the language of the plays, the nature of the action, and the character of the agents, can be appreciated more fittingly once it is understood that Senecan drama is the beneficiary of a new cosmology, of a new way of looking at the world and its parts and the manner of the interaction of these parts. Occasional hints of the new perspective have already been given in the preceding chapters. It remains to explore more fully, and with explicit documentation, how the Stoic world picture scores in the dramatic practice of Seneca and of some of his successors.

The Stoic presumption is that, with few—according to most accounts, four—exceptions,[6] all that exists is corporeal, or physico-biological. Hence ethics and theology are subjects rooted in the findings of the natural sciences. This was held by Chrysippus and by Marcus Aurelius. It is also the view of Seneca, as emerges clearly from his encomium of sapientia in Epistle 90.28ff. God is corporeal; so are


justice, passion, reason, truth, virtue, vices, judgments, the soul. All of them are bodies, not in the sense of exhibiting specifically defined surfaces, but in the sense of sharing in the materiality of the whole. That materiality is, thanks to the pneuma, in large measure animate rather than inert. Events are corporeal, and so are their causes. "Chrysippus' affirmation of the corporeal nature of causes is a flat rejection of the incorporeal causes of Plato (the Ideas) and Aristotle (the unmoved mover)."[7]

As we have seen, Stoic corporealism is argued along three different lines.[8] First, the definition of body is "that which is extended in three dimensions with resistance [met' antitupias ]." This pertains to the objects of our daily sensory experience, though by no means to them alone. Second, a body is "that which either acts or is acted upon," a way of talking about the effective constituents of a living whole that goes back to Platonic precedents (for example, Theaetetus 156a and Sophistes 247c–e).[9] Within the cosmic dimension, that which acts is the logos or the god, and that which is acted upon is the hule, the elementary material of which the four elements are specific manifestations. Finally, on the strength of their larger commitment to a totally material universe, the Stoics can ascribe the term "body" to any item that shares in the vitality of that universe. This accounts for the statements that most perplexed or enraged the opponents of Stoic corporealism, including some of the Renaissance neo-Stoics. In his chief commentary on Stoic physics, the Physiologia of 1604 (2.4ff.), Lipsius touches upon what he considers to be the inconsistencies and irrationalities of the Stoic claim that everything that is is corporeal.

With reference to the emotions and ethical perceptions of men and women, Plutarch gives a picture of Stoic beliefs that vibrates with outrage at the intellectual extravagance that could have devised so foolish and absurd a philosophy.[10] In his acrimony he talks interchangeably of bodies and animals (or, more properly, animate beings), somata and zoa, a conflation that, in the light of the relevant Stoic concerns, carries a certain justice. Here are a few sentences from Plutarch's account:


They assert . . . that not only are the virtues and vices animals, and not only the affections, cases of anger and envy and grief and spiteful joy, or apprehensions and mental images and cases of ignorance . . . but besides these they further make the activities bodies and animals—taking a walk is an animal, dancing, putting on one's shoes, greeting, reviling.

In the end he cites Chrysippus:

It is not the case that the night is a body but the evening and the dawn and midnight are not bodies; and it is not the case that the day is a body but not the first day of the month and the tenth and the fifteenth and the thirtieth and the month and the summer and the autumn and the year.
(De comm. not. 1084bff.,
tr. H. Cherniss, modified)[11]

Chrysippus is on record (SVF 2.307) as having said that the virtues are animate bodies: virtutes esse animalia . The fire in the soul is the same as that in the sun; it is also pneuma, and is fed by blood (SVF 1.140). Plutarch's talk of animals, zoa, in discussing mental activities is, therefore, not far from the mark. Hence Marcus Aurelius's disjunctive harangue (9.39): "either acknowledge [Stoic] reason or believe in [Epicurean?] atoms. [But the former is obviously right; hence, if you want to show your stupidity] go ahead and say to the hegemonikon [that is, the central control station of the mind]: 'You are dead, you have perished, you have turned into a wild beast, . . . you are one of the herd, you take fodder!'" With the brackets in place it would indeed appear as if Marcus stood up against the notion, which curiously enough he derives from atomism, that the central intelligence is (an) animal. But the brackets are mine; and if the text is read without them, it is by no means clear that the (animation =) animalization of the mind could not also be derived from a Stoicism of corporeality that differs from Epicureanism chiefly in not allowing the cutting asunder and dispersion of bodily particles, and that substitutes living energy for the intrinsic inertness of the atomic corpuscles.[12]


If animation can, as Plutarch shows, be read as animalization, and theatricality identifies animals with beasts of the wild, the relevance of this to Senecan drama is obvious. The whole world can be visualized as a gigantic assemblage of beasts, of monsters that crowd the human agents who are thinly disguised exemplars of the same species. As the third chorus of Oedipus (709ff.) rehearses the foundation story of Thebes, the old animal mythology, the tales of the dragon teeth and of the dismemberment of Actaeon, is reinforced by Stoic concerns until the very genes of the city are shown to be beastly. The relation between Hercules and his lion (HF 30–74) is welded into near-identity, and the conflation of the Nemean lion skin with the zodiacal sign of Leo imports the animal dimension into the whole, richly peopled world.[13] Hercules's own powers are reanalyzed as the ancient legacy of infernal, zoomorphic powers. Medea's witchcraft (Med 670–848) feeds lovingly on snakes, dragons, and all manner of beasts representing the hellish forces loose in the world. It is, once again, the living throng of the zodiac that Medea harnesses for her awful purposes. It is characteristic that in Euripides' version of the tale there is none of this. There the space occupied in Seneca by the cosmic monsters and the voodoo animal ingredients is taken up with the report of what the magic clothes do to Creon and Creusa. Modern criticism of Seneca has poked fun at the disproportion between Medea's kolossale Fähigkeiten —Medea herself catalogues the cosmic disturbances caused by her magic incantation (752ff.)—and the trifling result: ein leider ziemlich alltäglicher Giftmord .[14] What matters, however, is not the witchcraft as a dramatic incident, but the totalization of the Stoic insight that the world, qua corporeal, is also animal, and an aggregate of animality. The causes, the imprecations, the whole world picture count for more than the specific consequences of an intrigue or a character formation.

The dramaturgy of Oedipus is particularly revealing. In Sophocles' version of the tale, the inquiry addressed to the higher powers is limited to Creon's consultation of the oracle, the report of which occupies some seventy lines, a smallish portion of the text. The drama, qua drama, is enacted on a plane that accommodates only the purposes of men and women, and the relations between them. In Seneca the drama encompasses a larger world, brimming with vital and threatening ani-


mal substances (291–658). Not knowing the truth, and with the agreement of Oedipus, Tiresias organizes an extispicium, which is reported by Manto, the pretext being that Tiresias is blind. Two victims with gilt horns, an expanse of smoke, the lowing of animals, and much else is made available to the audience's sensory imagination; the slaughter of the beasts is recounted in great detail, as is the condition of the flesh upon inspection. As if this were not sufficient, the results are declared to be inconclusive in order to make room for yet another drama of inspection: an act of necromancy, reported by Creon. Only after these various scrutinizings of the animate world and its animal population is the quarrel between Oedipus and his associates permitted to begin. The effect of the dramaturgy is to strip Oedipus of his lone, towering standing, and to engulf him in a cosmos of which he is shown to be a pulsating, but feeble, constituent. He carries within him the beastly genes of his city; it is only fitting that he cannot be seen save against a background of monstrous animality. Likewise the golden ram, the totem of the clan in Thyestes 225 ff., is not just a mythological curiosity but a fitting exemplification of the fortuna of the royal house, a fortune that is alive, concrete, and freakish. Greek drama had occasionally wandered in this direction, as in Euripides' Bacchae . In Seneca the language of animality is not tied to the requirements of a particular plot, but extends throughout the dramatic repertory.

As Seneca tries to fit shapes to the events and abstractions that call for pictorial analogues (cf. tamquam pictor in Epistle 113.26), the animate universe furnishes him with an inexhaustible storehouse of organic energies. The Stoic belief in pervasive corporeality, with the pendant belief in pervasive animation, creates some remarkable challenges, and not only for the logic of classification. There is no fundamental distinction, in terms of substance and motor behavior, between body and soul. "There is no difference for Seneca . . . between physical and moral light and darkness."[15] Not only are "the mental/moral disposition and the physical state of the human psyche one and the same," but ultimately "Stoic ethics is . . . parasitical on physics."[16] In his Naturales quaestiones Seneca documents the interdependence and the virtual identity of the physical and the spiritual, or of the cosmic and the personal, by ending a number of the books on a note of per-


sonal application, by bringing science and ethics together. Thus the final chapter of book 4, which is on (the Nile and) snow and hail and heat, presents an attack on superstition and effeminacy, a characteristic combination of the social, the moral, and the aesthetic. On the literal level Seneca chastises the dissipated Romans for cooling their distemper and tempering their indigestion with snow and ice. But it is hard to escape the impression that Seneca is, however cumbrously, saying something about the more than figurative identity of cosmic and human disturbances. Similarly, at the end of book 5, Seneca establishes a link between the winds and greed. Though once again the ostensible thought is less startling—winds, in themselves indifferent, are converted to evil purposes by human vice—the juxtaposition creates its own presumption of affinity.

The meteorology promulgated in the Naturales quaestiones is, for the most part, in close imitation of Aristotle's Meteorologica[17] (though Seneca cites a fair number of other authorities). But where Aristotle is single-mindedly concerned with cosmic phenomena, from shooting stars to earthquakes to lightning and thunder to the processes of liquefaction and consolidation, Seneca is "Stoic enough by habit to draw little or no distinction between spiritual, moral and material realities. . . . (and) treats all phenomena as belonging to the same order of being. His discourse slips, without warning or break, from the vastness of the soul to the vastness of the starry sky."[18] The explanation lies, once again, in the pervasiveness of the pneuma, the spiritus without which, Seneca says (NQ 6.16), the world could not live.[19]

In the plays we find the same subsumption of ethical and psychological concerns within a medium that stresses the dynamics of the body, of the corporeal, and of the energy that defines bodily functions. Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, but also the earlier Stoics, including Zeno and Chrysippus, and indeed Seneca himself, are on occasion willing to talk about the life of the soul, the moral life, as if it registered its claims in isolation from the material sum total to which it be-


longs. In this respect Stoic ethics and psychology have the option of proceeding in channels initiated by Aristotle's separation and specialization of inquiry. The dramatist, however, rarely chooses that option. The needs of his genre, as he sees them, induce him to take the demands of Stoic corporeality literally. In Senecan drama the moral emerges, in its own right, only fitfully and tangentially, in choral essays and the occasional abortive sermonizing by a character, often a nurse or an attendant. In a manner of speaking, the exclusively moral statements in a Senecan drama are exo tou dramatos, outside of the drama proper, to use Aristotle's phrase. The drama itself is played out in terms of the prior biological reality, in terms of body and muscle and animal energy.

But more of this later. Let us look once more at the Stoic conception of "body." The Platonic and the Epicurean worlds, and, with some qualifications, also the world of Aristotle, may be said to be fundamentally stereomorphic. Their cosmos is a structure of crystals, together forming the cosmic crystal, which is spherical only by a violent shift of the imagination. The material world as a whole, and its constituent parts, are measurable and irreducible. In Plato's words:

Fire and earth and water and air are bodies. And every sort of body possesses volume, and every volume must necessarily be bounded by surfaces, and every rectilinear surface is composed of triangles.
(Timaeus 53c, tr. Jowett)

Plato's stereometric analysis of the natural world derives from the minima of the Eleatic school and rivals the atomism of Democritus and Epicurus in its confident reliance on the permanence of primary physical bodies. In the Renaissance, John Dee and Robert Fludd, and the Italian Platonists who inspired their writings continued to see the world as a cluster of measurable shapes. The remarkable diagrams that embellish their texts are eloquent testimony to the survival of the stereometric plotting of the cosmos.[20] The measurability is also, in the wake of Pythagorean impulses, perceived in musical terms. Both music and stereometry presuppose the existence of stable quanta constituting a world that is, in its natural state, orderly, complex, and beautiful.

Contrast the Stoic cosmos, which is one of dynamic tension, fluid, soft, a biological and chemical field in which contrary energies are at


best held in an equilibrium and at worst engaged in a constant struggle for superiority, straining toward excess and explosion. I said earlier that in Stoic discussions of corporeality, causes and bodies are described in terms of acting and being acted upon. But paradoxically, in their talk about how the world gets on with itself, the Stoics are far less body-minded than their predecessors, if by "body" we mean a measurable quantum. They emphasize the physical continuum of space and matter, a consequence of the agency of the pneuma . As Chrysippus says in his work On Motion (SVF 2.550): "The cosmos is a perfect body, but the parts of the cosmos are not perfect in that they have a relationship to the whole and do not exist by themselves." True, as they make their distinction between ultimate principles, archai, and the pneuma, on the one hand, and the four material elements—fire, air, earth, and water—each of which has a specific form or bodily condition, on the other, the Stoics may be thought to compromise their rejection of limiting boundaries. But the recognition of a constantly changing mixture of elements points up the precariousness of the concepts of "form" and "shape" in Stoic thought.

It is tempting to characterize Stoic thinking about the natural world as an analogue of modern field theory, by contradistinction with the corpuscular theory of the atomists.[21] As long as one does not press the analogy, the comparison is instructive. In their analysis of the behavior of the natural world, the Stoics found they could not avoid the language of their predecessors. and they spoke of shapes as well as bodies. And it ought to be repeated that Zeno, in inaugurating a new way of looking at the unity of the cosmos, took much from Aristotle and his successors in the Peripatos, as well as from Plato and his disciples. But though Aristotle's achievement in the various disciplines of biology is remarkable, cosmology is, for him, largely tantamount to physics, the disposition of constants and the plotting of orderly forces and spatial configurations.[22] It is only in Stoic cosmology that biology comes fully into its own. Aristotle's discovery of the coordinates of potentiality and actualization is itself indebted to a biological model.[23] But while Aristotle's biological system was one of evolution and the final cause, and


focussed on the life curve of organisms, the Stoic model transcends the level of individual organisms and the life of the species and takes its incentive from a more radical understanding of life forces. That is why it is appropriate also to refer to it as a chemical model. The varied and unstable fusion that animates the cosmos is played out in a matrix that is both pure "acting and being-acted-upon" and pure fluidity, extending from the elements to the smallest inanimate objects, bringing everything under the influence of the pneuma . The ethical paradoxes of the Stoa are paralleled in the ontological dimension. The ontological paradoxes derive from the fact that the customary predicates, applying to the realm of the finite, of bodies as our senses experience them, and of elements, lead to insoluble contradictions when applied both to the Whole and to the archai .[24] The pneumatic constitution of the cosmos assures its incalculability; the archai, the organizing principles of that world, are disarmed and virtually obliterated by their reanalysis as pneuma .[25]

The medium of animation operative within the realm of pneuma, and responsible for both unification and variation, is tonos, tension. The term was apparently introduced by Cleanthes (SVF 1.563), who spoke of it as a "thrust of fire," plege puros .[26] But it was fully developed by Chrysippus, who distinguished between an inward and an outward movement characterizing the tonos .[27] The emphasis on tension and on the balance of tensions is a leading feature in Stoic accounts of the material world. Seneca devotes chapter 6 of the second book of the Naturales quaestiones to an encomium of intentio . Tonos displaces the Aristotelian explanation that some elements are heavy and pull toward the center. In Stoic thinking, also, each element has a natural motion of its own. But once we look at the cosmos in its primary biological aspect, the picture is different. Radical Stoic cosmology has some considerable difficulty with the notion of free fall, or of any inherent tendency toward gravitation or levitation.[28] All parts of


matter are connected by continuous forces, both in space and time. Motion is primary in the sense that there is nothing that is not in a state of tension with other parts, not to mention the fact that tonos is built into the very pneuma that constitutes creative life. As Seneca puts it in an argument against atomism, air is not composed of discontiguous particles, otherwise it could not be in tension; and tension is the agency whereby the divine spirit (spiritus, Seneca's term for pneuma ) holds everything together (NQ 2.6.2–4).

Tonos operates within entities as well as between them.[29] What is not clear from the sources, but is logically inevitable, is that the tension between things must have the effect of altering the tensions within them, and vice versa. In the tradition, the qualities of an object are equated with pneumatic tensions (SVF 2.449). Chrysippus looked upon the tensional motion as a force guaranteeing stability.[30] But the conclusion is problematic. To be sure, iron remains iron, but it also turns into rust. Thus tonos shares in the uncertainties that, as we shall see, the doctrine of the pneuma raises for the dominant optimism of the Stoa.

The tension is sometimes, especially in the allegorizing interpreters of poetry, defined as a bond or chain that integrates the universe. The Great Chain of Being, though indebted also to Platonic antecedents, is a latter-day version of the Stoic tonos, hardened in defiance of the fluidity of the original, as when Philo says that the pneumatic tension is an unbreakable chain.[31] It is as if the Stoic allegorizers, in their eagerness to substitute fixed units of interpretation for a language that embarrassed them, strove to recover a stability that Stoic science proposes to abolish. Aristotle and the Epicureans look upon motion as a quantifiable process that occurs between fixed points. The Stoics, with their tonos, build motion into the physical state itself, and thus discover the modern idea of force. The physician-philosopher Galen, living in the


second century of our era, adapted the Stoic tonike kinesis, tensional force, for his explanation of muscular action (SVF 2.450). This was anticipated by Chrysippus, who in his work On Passions talks about tonos in the musculature and then transfers the same concept to the soul:

As in running, clinging to something, and similar activities, which are accomplished through the muscles, there is a certain effective state and an ineffective state, depending on whether the muscles are tensed or relaxed, so also analogously in the soul there is a sort of "muscle" according to which we speak metaphorically of people being either with or without "muscle."
(SVF 3.473 )[32]

Renaissance anatomy is firmly indebted to this aspect of the Stoic imagination.

It should be evident that the idea of tonos and tonike kinesis, which Philo uses metaphorically to refer to the word of the Lord (SVF 2.453), is brilliantly relevant to the dramatic mode, though it might be rash to establish a one-to-one equation between Stoic tonos and what we call dramatic tension, the tonos in the body of the drama. Aristotle's call for the interrelatedness of the parts of the artifact has a closer philosophical analogue in the Stoic energy field than it has in Aristotelian perfectionism or Aristotelian physics. As the New Critics made us see again, one way of unlocking the secrets of a drama is to appreciate the pressure of the various parts upon one another, and the strains between them, via irony, duplication, counterstatement and other principles of structural dynamics. In the spirit of the Stoic model, motion and tension are the primary realities, not any fixed units or forms from which the tension takes its origin. Beyond this, in the spirit of Galen and Chrysippus before him, action conceived as strained physical motion, muscle pressing upon muscle and ligament upon bone, weight tugging against weight, is an almost emblematic realization of what distinguishes above all Senecan drama. Motion and tension circumscribe not only the wills of the agents and their tight pressure upon each other, but, what is really saying the same thing, they define the rhetoric, with its explosive and often bizarre developments; they inform the themes and the precepts, jostling each other to the point of neutralization; and, foremost, they trigger the life of the passions, of plotting, and of man's inhumanity to man.


To be sure, in the majority of Stoic accounts tonos, tension and countertension, equilibrium, are associated with health; sickness is atonia, the absence of tension, flaccidity or imbalance. The manifest incongruity between the violence and aberrations on the Senecan stage, on the one hand, and Stoic reflections upon health and regularity, on the other, is not the least of the reasons that have led critics to shy away from acknowledging the Stoic identity of Senecan drama. But, as I shall try to show, Stoicism entails a recognition that the achievement of a perfect balance is in constant peril, and that tonos has built into it the capacity for derailment. The dynamism of tonos is forever on the verge of catapulting itself into dislocations. In muscular terms: exertion and spasm are contiguous, and only the (utopian) wise man known exactly how far to take the tonos that constitutes his maintenance of harmony and health.

In Seneca's prose writings, suggestions of cosmic disorder are in the minority. In the letters, and even in the Naturales quaestiones, the implications of Stoic cosmology are blunted by the overriding need to discover, within a labile universe, the fixed position that will enable man to live at relative peace with himself. To realize this goal, Seneca often talks, informally, about the body being a burden and a prison house of the spirit fighting against it (Ep. 65.16; Ep. 92.33), as if the bodiliness of the soul were not also a major Stoic tenet (Ep. 106).[33] It is only fair to concede that there is a difference between "body" as the flesh-and-blood structure clothing the human soul, and "body" as a physical or biological substance defining the composition of what exists. The notion of the human body as a prison house cramping the life of the soul goes back to Socrates and the pre-Socratics. Characteristically, Seneca argues that it is only the faith in an all-powerful deity (= necessitas ) that equips him to understand why he himself, with his "vulnerable and fluid and perishable body"—the word for "vulnerable" is causarium, literally: enmeshed in causes or subject to chance—should be alive.

Throughout the introduction to the first book of Naturales quaestiones, of which these lines are a part (4), the point is that by investigating the cosmos and the gods (theology being simply another mode of cosmology), we recover a perspective and an optimism that the terrestrial experience is bound to distort and demolish. Nothing is more


beautiful or more enduring or better organized than the cosmos; but men think of it, in their silliness, as fortuitous and disorganized and liable to disintegrate. Seneca declares himself not to be frightened by portents. At the beginning of book 7 of the Naturales quaestiones, he has an eloquent plea for regarding the routine operations of the universe with as much attention as the deviations from the norm. He shrugs off the fears of men who wonder whether a comet is a prodigy or just a star. Seneca's showy optimism, his declaratory conviction that the universe is a body of beauty and regularity, and that the spirit by comtemplating it may ensure its own well-being and increase its chances for wisdom,[34] is helped along by the direction Stoicism had taken under the Platonizing guidance of thinkers like Panaetius and Posidonius. But the insistence on beauty, regularity, and fixity is at crucial moments crossed by an understanding that is more in tune with the original Stoic insight into the cohesion of man and the world, and into the inevitable consequences of physicality. In the drama, which does not answer to the psychological needs satisfied in the prose writings, the full consequences of Stoic thinking about the cosmos are more naturally incorporated. Stoic drama, obedient to the demand for disorder, without which drama cannot exist, reduces even further the chances of the wise man succeeding. It catches the process of debilitation at the critical point where the tension goes wrong, the balance is queered, and the narrow confines of order and reason are burst apart.

I return to a passage that has concerned us before, apropos of the inconclusiveness of praecepta . The third chorus of Thyestes, 546ff., starts out with an equable recital of the clean opposition between war and peace, as the restoration of a state of normalcy after the heinous turbulence of slaughter.

Otium tanto subitum e tumultu
quis deus fecit?

What god has fashioned this sudden lull
In the midst of loud alarms?
(Thy 560–61)

But as the choral essay, one of the most compelling in the corpus, continues, the evenly weighted tension, and the promise of the practicability of peace, are left behind, or rather transmogrified into a Heraclitean


oscillation, truer to our experience than the tidy opposition that forms the point of departure. From logic and temporary sanity we have moved to a world in confusion, in which peace and war, pleasure and pain, fortune and misfortune are no longer kept apart, but have come to imply one another.

miscet haec illis prohibetque Clotho
stare Fortunam, rotat omne fatum.

Clotho mingles good and ill; she whirls
The wheel of fate, nor suffers it to stand.
(Thy 617–18)

It is not enough to say that the chorus moves from an appraisal of tonos and balance to a description of atonia, the lack of proper tension. Rather, the mutuality of fortune and misfortune that the chorus of Thyestes deplores, a common theme of many of these choral essays, is itself a powerful version of a tension whose primary battlefield is to be looked for in the Stoic cosmos. This version signals the deep pessimism of the Senecan stage, according to which all tonos, because of the fluidity of the medium upon which it is premised, is more likely than not to score disastrously. Atonia, slackness, the lack or privation of tension, is hardly the right term for the convulsive consequences that the transformation of tonos carries in its wake. Both Cicero and Galen have a number of discussions in which tonos and its congeners are analyzed, with interesting results for an understanding of the complex interplay between health and sickness, and of the ease with which tension can lapse from harmony into friction and ruin.

Tonos is the energy system that, for better or worse, welds the Stoic cosmos into a unity. The tensional relationship between the constituents of the cosmos, including the incorporation of man and his life in the larger world, Posidonius called sumpatheia .[35] It is probable that Chrysippus himself subscribed to this view of cosmic sympathy, or of universal interaction, guaranteed by the pneuma that pervades and subtends all, which forms the organic support of the causal network


discussed earlier.[36] Stoic sumpatheia has its roots in earlier Greek thinking, notably in some passages of Plato's Timaeus . But in its refined and explicit form it was recognized as a specifically Stoic contribution. One of the principal differences between Aristotle and the Stoics is that in the thinking of the former, the heavens are exempted from change, while Stoicism recognizes no radical separation between the terrestrial and the celestial spheres in this regard. The Stoic character of the theory continues to be evident even in its adaptations in some of the later philosophical schools, as in the teaching of Plotinus,[37] and it was under Stoic auspices that Renaissance science rediscovered the mutability of the heavens.[38] Seneca's own citation of the idea of cosmic sympathy is couched in unmistakably Stoic terms, though he substitutes aer, air, for the more abstract spiritus or pneuma in the interest of illustrating the power of sympathy in a natural setting:

numquam enim nisi contexti per unitatem corporis nisus est, cum partes consentire ad intentionem debeant et conferre vires. . . . intentionem aeris ostendent tibi . . . voces, quae remissae claraeque sunt prout aer se concitavit. quid enim est vox nisi intentio aeris, ut audiatur, linguae formata percussu? quid cursus et motus omnis, nonne intenti spiritus opera sunt?

For there can never be internal effort in a body held together in any other way than by unity, since the elements must be in agreement in order to contribute their united strength toward the tension. . . . The tension of the atmosphere . . . is proved by the sound of voices sinking or swelling according to the stirring (= vibration) of the air. For what is voice save tension of the air moulded by a stroke of the tongue so as to become audible? What is all running and motion? Are they not the effects of tense air?
(Naturales quaestiones 2.6.2–4, tr. John Clarke)

A modern critic defines the notion as follows: "For every differentiation D at region R, there will be some, however small, differentiation, d i , at any region, ri , in the world."[39] This doctrine of universal


interaction not only pertains to the most disparate parts of the universe but embraces the moral and the spiritual aspects of our world as well (VB 8.4–5). We should remember, of course, that in the Stoic view much that we consider immaterial shares in the corporeal nature of the universe. "In Seneca, the passions, the tides and the orbits are phenomena of the same kind, are causally interrelated, and can be discussed in interchangeable terms."[40] "All things are united together . . . and earthly things feel the influence of heavenly ones," as Epictetus (1.4.1) puts it. Some Stoic sources, falling back upon the ready mechanism of a divine nomenclature signalling cohesion, refer to sumpatheia as Aphrodite, or Love.[41] The cohesion of the cosmos, primarily conceived of in strictly physical terms, can also be regarded as evidence of the feelings and the desires of the godhead. Lucan, who refused to endow his epic with the conventional divine apparatus, thinks of sympathy as a proof of divine immanence, an active working of the gods throughout the world, which finds egress at certain places, such as Delphi, or through certain souls, the prophets or the philosophers.[42] In Seneca, compare Agamemnon's words to Calchas:

arte qui reseras polum,
cui viscerum secreta, cui mundi fragor
et stella longa semitam flamma trahens
dant signa fati, cuius ingenti mihi
mercede constant ora: quid iubeat deus
effare, Calchas, nosque consilio rege.

Who by your mystic art can open heaven,
And read with vision clear the awful truths
Which sacrificial viscera proclaim;
To whom the thunder's roll, the long, bright trail
Of stars that flash across the sky, reveal
The hidden signs of fate; whose every word
Is uttered at a heavy cost to me:
What is the will of heaven, Calchas; speak,
And guide us with your counsel.
(Tro 354–59)

The prophet affords a point of entry into the global signa of the divinity.

Cicero translates sumpatheia as consensus naturae, or, more fully, as rerum consentiens conspirans continuata cognatio, the kinship of


things united in feeling, in aspiration, and in extension.[43] The proponent of sumpatheia with whose views Cicero largely identifies himself is the Stoic Balbus. It will be useful to quote the whole paragraph from which the formulation above is taken.

Again, consider the sympathetic agreement, interconnexion and affinity of things: whom will this not compel to approve the truth of what I say? Would it be possible for the earth at one definite time to be gay with flowers and then in turn all bare and stark, or for the spontaneous transformation of so many things about us to signal the approach and the retirement of the sun at the summer and the winter solstices, or for the tides to flow and ebb in the seas and straits with the rising and setting of the moon, or for the different courses of the stars to be maintained by the one revolution of the entire sky? These processes and this musical harmony of all the parts of the world assuredly could not go on were they not maintained in unison by a single divine and all pervading spirit.
(Cicero De natura deorum 2.7.19,
tr. H. Rackham)

Balbus mentions the behavior of the sun, the moon, the planets, the fixed stars, heat, light, and moisture, especially the latter, the atmospheric and terrestrial conditions enveloping men's affairs, as evidence of the unity and the cohesiveness holding the universe together. Balbus is the hymnodist of universal harmony, of the way nature at its best cooperates for the good of all.

Sumpatheia is both state and process. On the one hand it signals connection, bonding, integration, and kinship;[44] on the other it indicates the operation of one and all parts of the whole on each other. In the latter capacity, which is the one that rules supreme in the dynamics of drama,[45] the concept has medical origins. The holistic outlook of Hippocratic medicine and its successors emphasized the impact of


various constituents of the body upon each other: "There is one confluence, one common vitality, and all things are in sympathy within the human body."[16] Significantly, another term by which Cicero chooses to render sumpatheia (De divin. 2.33; De fato 5) is contagio, which is contact, in the medical sense, hence, sadly, infection.[47] Certainly medicine, though supportive of the notion of harmony and balance and healthy tension, is fully alive to the variety of causes that may trigger a breakdown of the harmony, and to the extremely narrow scope within which tension can be expected to operate successfully. The concern with bodily weakness and disease, paramount in the medical treatises, is also one of the prominent themes of the Stoic writers; arrostema, debilitation, is a surprisingly common term in the Stoic fragments. Thus sympathy turns into vulnerability; it entails the uncontrollable and potentially invidious operation of the swarm of causes.[48] In this respect a passage like the first chorus of Seneca's Oedipus, reporting the plague with a love of detail far in excess of the symptoms cited in its Sophoclean counterpart, converges in interest with the Stoic condemnation of weakness in all its forms, but also confirms the Stoic recognition that sickness is an inevitable implication of sumpatheia . Note also the second chorus of Phaedra (736ff.), on Beauty and its imperilled estate, because it cannot isolate itself, even in the sylvan retreat Hippolytus favors.

The time has come for us to make a distinction between Stoic perfectionism and Stoic realism; or rather, we need to recognize that they coexist and form a powerful complex, signified respectively and jointly by the names of Epictetus and Galen. In Epistle 95, on the inadequacy of praecepta unsupported by prior doctrinal preparation, Seneca confesses, in a generally optimistic context (52): membra sumus corporis magni, we are all the limbs of a large body. And, we conclude, we have little control over a distant part that may suffer some damage. Rabelais, a later Stoic, physician and moralist, "ties into one grotesque knot the slaughter, the dismemberment and disembowelling, bodily life, abundance, fat, the banquet, merry improprieties, and finally childbirth."[49] In Rabelais the spirit is comic, with the final accent on salvation and


continuance. But, as we shall see, the implosive mixture of health and decay, of vitality and ugliness, is precisely what the Stoic concept of sumpatheia, with its built-in expectation of the constant danger of disarray and infestation, openly implies.

On the surface, and especially in evangelistic contexts, sympatheia encourages a delight in the physical, which is to say the biological richness of the world. Again and again Cicero's Stoic champion, Balbus, even in his hymn to reason and speech (De nat. deor. 2.59.147ff.), communicates the joy in the interlocking and continuousness of physical parts.[50] Where he advances empirical proofs for the existence of the gods, he propagates the well-known deist argument from the clock-work functioning of the cosmos. But the bulk of that speech is an encomium on the beauty and the serviceability of the natural world. His showing how everything in nature is marvelously adapted for the use of man results in an essay on the mouth, the gullet, the stomach, the lungs, and the bowels, whose fleshly physicality is pictured in a manner that should satisfy the most committed sensualist, which has its closest analogues in Senecan rehearsals of sickness, lust, and cannibalism. Sumpatheia inspires both jubilant praise of the organic beauty of the order created by the divinity and grisly catalogues of that order gone wrong. Cicero's contagio points to a dimension of sumpatheia that becomes extraordinarily fruitful in the conception and language of post-Greek tragedy, that is, in the perception that when one constituent of the cosmos is disturbed or off balance, the whole world, because of the total interconnectedness, is affected. As one of the texts puts it: if a person is cut in his finger, the whole body suffers.[51]


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