From Etymology to Ethnology. On the Development of Stoic Allegorism

Mikołaj Domaradzki

The purpose of the present article is to show that there is a clear line of continuity between the early Stoics’ and Cornutus’ works, as all of them assumed that the ancient mythmakers had transformed their original cosmological conceptions into anthropomorphic deities. Hence, the Stoics from Zeno to Cornutus believed that the names of the gods reflected the mode of perceiving the world that was characteristic of the people who named the gods in this way. Accordingly, the major thesis advanced in the paper proposes that the Stoics conducted their etymological analyses so as to gather ethnographical information about the origin and development of the existing religion. When doing so, they treated the conventional mythological narratives as sources of information about the early conceptions of the cosmos. Th us, the Stoics from Zeno to Cornutus employed etymology as a certain research strategy: they analyzed the names of traditional deities so as to extract the physical and moral beliefs that constituted the ancients’ world picture. Treated as ethnologists, the Stoics seem to equate piety with retrieving philosophical truths obscured under the guise of primitive mythical formulations. Furthermore, when unravelling the original worldview inadvertently transmitted by the poets in their poems, the Stoics reconstruct the history of religion and contribute to the development of ancient anthropology.

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Keywords: Stoics · Zeno · Cleanthes · Chrysippus · Cornutus · etymology · ethnology · allegoresis

Mikołaj Domaradzki – Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan. Author of the book: On Subjectivity of Truth in Søren Kierkegaard’s view (2006) and numerous articles in Polish and English. Translator of Kierkegaard’s works. His interests include ancient philosophy, linguistics/philosophy of language and the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard.   »  

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