This article explores the historiographical traditions concerning Herennius Pontius, a Samnite wisdom-practitioner who is said by the Peripatetic Aristoxenus of Tarentum to have been an interlocutor of the philosophers Archytas of Tarentum and Plato of Athens. It argues that extant speeches attributed to Herennius Pontius in the writings of Cassius Dio and Appian preserve a philosophy of “extreme proportional benefaction” among unequals. Such a theory is marked by Peripatetic language and concepts, which suggests that these speeches derive from a single Peripatetic source, probably Aristoxenus. The reception of Aristoxenus' description of Herennius Pontius among Greeks and Romans is sharply divided. Greek theories of ethics among unequals such as those of Aristotle and Archytas, which aim for moderation, can be distinguished from that attributed to Herennius Pontius, which is circumstantial and stipulates extreme responses to extremes. Romans, in particular Appius Claudius Caecus and Sulla, espouse proverbial wisdom strikingly similar to the theory of “extreme proportional benefaction” associated with Herennius Pontius. Such comparisons suggest that starting in the late fourth century bce, Romans and Samnites may have held shared ideological principles, as defined against Greek cultural paradigms. Scholars are thus prompted to consider Herennius Pontius as a starting point for a much larger inquiry into shared ideology among non-Greeks in Italy during the Hellenistic period and beyond.
Herennius Pontius: The Construction of a Samnite Philosopher
This article was written at Stanford University and completed at the Center for Hellenic Studies. It owes a debt of gratitude to several colleagues who helped me to improve it, especially Brad Inwood, Monte Johnson, Mariska Leunissen, Grant Nelsestuen, and Greg Thalmann. The anonymous referees from Classical Antiquity provided valuable criticism and supportive encouragement. Tom Habinek proved once again crucial in guiding a wayward ship into harbor. I thank them all.
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Phillip Sidney Horky; Herennius Pontius: The Construction of a Samnite Philosopher. Classical Antiquity 1 April 2011; 30 (1): 119–147. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/CA.2011.30.1.119
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