Panaetius of Rhodes (c. 185–110 BCE)

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(c. 185110 BCE)

Panaetius of Rhodes was a pupil of Diogenes of Babylon and Antipater of Tarsus, both heads of the Stoic school in Athens, and he succeeded Antipater as scholarch in 129. Little is known about his life though it is clear that he spent considerable time in Rome and in the circle of P. Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus. None of his writings survive, but traces of his importance do.

First, isolated testimony from antiquity reveals that Panaetius was especially willing to disagree with earlier Stoics about central matters of doctrine. He rejected the Stoic belief in divination, and against the earlier account that the cosmos would be consumed periodically in flames, he insisted that the world is everlasting. He maintained that virtue is not sufficient for happiness, since health, some resources, and strength are also necessary, and he divided virtues into the contemplative and practical, which sits uneasily with traditional Stoic intellectualism.

These examples suggest that Panaetius was keen to incorporate more Platonic and especially Aristotelian doctrines into his Stoicism, and many ancient sources directly attest to this desire. This feature of Panaetius's philosophy links him to his pupil Posidonius, the polymath who showed similar willingness to infuse pre-Stoic ideas into his Stoicism. Together, Panaetius and Posidonius have been taken to epitomize Middle Stoicism, which stands between early Greek Stoicism and later Roman Stoicism, but this periodization is of limited utility because there are more than three ancient Stoicisms. Nevertheless, the affinities between Panaetius and Posidonius distinguish them from most other Stoics. Their broadly shared approach is also linked to the syncretizing philosophy of the first century BCE that is typified by Antiochus of Ascalon. Such thought has been disparaged as eclectic, but there is nothing unworthy in the attempt to produce a well-grounded synthesis of a rich and varied philosophical tradition.

The second trace of Panaetius is due to Cicero, who has characters call Panaetius "a great and extremely learned man" (Leg III 14) and "chief among the Stoics" (Acad II 107). Cicero based the first two books of his On Duties (De Officiis on Panaetius's On Duty or Appropriate Action (Peri tou kathêkontos ), and this makes Panaetius influential since, as Henry Sidgwick notes: "There is probably no ancient treatise which has done more than [Cicero's] De Officiis to communicate a knowledge of ancient morality to medieval and modern Europe" (Sidgwick 1902, p. 95).

Among the prominent features of De Officiis that are likely due to Panaetius, the following three are especially important. First, Cicero notes that anyone who is beneficent must choose his beneficiaries carefully, and he insists that one should help some people more just because one stands in a naturally closer relationship with them. He develops the point by suggesting a hierarchy of natural relationships, from the closest (marriage) to the most remote (the relationship one shares with all other human beings). The later Stoic Hierocles imagines the hierarchy as a series of concentric circles, but Cicero's version of the probably Panaetian idea that one's duties of beneficence are tied to certain relational facts independent of how one feels about those relationships has proven enormously influential.

Second, after identifying the traditional virtue of temperance or moderation with seemliness (decorum ), Cicero insists that to display decorum, one must act in accordance with all of one's roles (personae ). So, one must consider not only the role that all human beings share in common but also the particular role one has on account of one's peculiar natural talents. Additionally, one must consider the role that fortune assigns by giving one power, wealth, standing, and their opposites, and one must consider the demands of the role one chooses by taking up a particular career. With this schema, Cicero, no doubt inspired by Panaetius, takes the traditional Stoic concern to act appropriately in the particular circumstances, and he incorporates special attention to the ways in which social roles and individual talents matter to the circumstances.

Third, Cicero spends much of De Officiis II providing advice about how to pursue honor or glory. Earlier Stoics generally agreed that although honor might be useful, it has no intrinsic attraction. Cicero rejects that view in favor of a more Platonic line, according to which humans are naturally drawn to honor. Because the honorable is dependent upon what other people honor, this line generally ties one's pursuit of natural aims to the values of others in one's society. It also represents an especially concrete way in which the Panaetian approach of Cicero's De Officiis moves away from the paradoxical excellences of the early Stoics' sage and closer to the virtues of Roman politicians.

There is a final trace of Panaetius's importance, for he seems to be central to the eventual diffusion of Stoic thought. Most obviously, as a member of the Scipionic Circle, Panaetius helped to spread Stoicism in Rome. More speculatively, one might think that he contributed decisively to the decentralization of the Stoic school. There is no record that Panaetius had a successor as head of the Stoic school in Athens. His student Posidonius attracted pupils not to Athens but to Rhodes, which, curiously enough, was Panaetius's but not Posidonius's hometown. Did Panaetius arrange to have the school leave Athens? Did he otherwise let it die? Whatever his intentions, later Stoics studied and taught in a variety of places around the Mediterranean, and Stoicism continued to seep into a broad array of intellectual currents.

See also Antiochus of Ascalon; Aristotle; Cicero, Marcus Tullius; Diogenes Laertius; Plato; Posidonius; Sidgwick, Henry; Stoicism.


Cicero, Marcus Tullius. Acadamica. Hildesheim, Gg. Olma, 1966.

Cicero, Marcus Tullius. On Duties (De Officiis ), edited by M. T. Griffin and E. M. Atkins. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Cicero, Marcus Tullius. On the Commonwealth; and, On the Laws, edited by James E.G. Zetzel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Sidgwick, Henry. Outlines of the History of Ethics for English Readers. London: Macmillan, 1902.


Alesse, F. Panezio di Rodi e la Tradizione Stoica. Naples: Bibliopolis, 1994.

Straaten, M. van, ed. Panaetii Rhodii Fragmenta. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1952.

Straaten, M. van. Panétius. Amsterdam: H. J. Paris, 1946.


Gill, Christopher. "Panaetius on the Virtue of Being Yourself." In Images and Ideologies: Self-Definition in the Hellenistic World, edited by A. Bulloch, et al. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993, pp. 330353.

Gill, Christopher. "Personhood and Personality: The Four-Personae Theory in Cicero, De Officiis." In Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy. Vol. VI. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, pp. 169199.

Eric Brown (2005)