By Richard Sorabji
We will look here at a Greek text by the Stoic philosopher, Hierocles of the 2nd century CE. I shall base the translation loosely on that of David Konstan, with some variations.
From the treatise of Hierocles, How one should behave towards
one’s relatives (sungeneis)
It goes along with what has been said concerning behaviour towards
parents and brothers and wife and children to add also a discussion
of relatives which feels more or less like those others and for this
very reason can be expounded concisely. For, in general terms, each
of us is circumscribed as though by many circles, some smaller,
some larger, some surrounding others, some surrounded, according
to their different and unequal relations to one another. The first and
nearest circle is that which each of us has drawn around his mind
(dianoia) as centre point. In this circle is included the body and
what is employed for the sake of the body. For this circle is the
shortest and all but touches the centre point itself. Second from this
and standing further away from the centre point, while surrounding
the first circle, is that in which are arranged parents, siblings, wife
and children. The third circle from these is that in which are uncles
and aunts, grandfathers and grandmothers, the children of siblings
and also cousins. Next upon this circle is that of the members of
one’s deme, then that of the members of one’s tribe, next that of
one’s fellow citizens, and so, finally, that of those neighbouring the
city and that of people of the same race. But the furthest out and
largest circle surrounding all the circles is the circle of the whole
Once these have been thought out, accordingly, it is
possible, starting with the circle stretched furthest out, to pull the
circles, as it were, inwards as if to the centre, in respect of the
treatment due to members, and with an effort always to transfer
members from surrounding circles into surrounded ones. For
example, according to one’s love of family affiliation, it is possible
[to treat] parents and siblings [… lacuna …] and therefore in the
same proportion as for relatives, [to treat] older men and women as
grandparents, uncles or aunts, those of the same age as cousins, and
those younger as the children of cousins.
Thus a clear recommendation (hupothēkē) has been formulated in
concise terms as to how one should behave towards relatives, since
we had already given instruction on how we should treat ourselves,
how children and siblings and again how wife and children. It has
been added that one must honour in a way similar to these latter
those from the third circle and must honour relatives in turn
similarly to these last. For although the greater distance in blood
will subtract something from good will, we must nonetheless make
an effort about assimilation. For it would arrive at due moderation if
through our own initiative we cut down the distance in our
relationship towards each person.
The all-embracing and most practical point has been made, but to
the measure we must add usage in regard to modes of
address by calling cousins, uncles and aunts ‘brothers’, ‘fathers’
and ‘mothers’ and among further relatives calling some ‘uncle’,
others ‘nephews and still others ‘cousins’ in whatever way their
ages my run, for the sake of the attachment in the names. For this
kind of address would be no slight sign of the care we feel for each
and at the same time would excite and intensify the indicated
drawing together of the circles.
This advice on modes of address is practised, for example, in India, where cousins may be called brothers, and in England the name ‘Auntie’ may be used of kind older ladies, even if they are more distantly related or not related at all. The affiliation described above by the Greek Stoics, and shared by some other Greek schools of philosophy, was also described in Latin, without the advice on modes of address, by the Roman orator and writer on philosophy Cicero in 45 BCE, who translated the Greek word oikeiōsis by the Latin name commendatio, in his De Finibus (On Ends).
 Hierocles, Elements of Ethics, preserved in the Anthology compiled by Stobaeus probably in the 5th century CE, ed. Wachmuth and Hense, 4, 671,3 ff. The translation by David Konstan, with facing Greek text, is in Ilaria Ramelli, Hierocles the Stoic: Elements of Ethics, ed. David Konstan, Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, Georgia U.S.A., 2009, pp. 91-93.
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