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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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The history of temperance is the history of sōphros-
ynē (σωφροσύνη). The cardinal virtue of moderation,
self-knowledge, and self-restraint—sōphrosynē in
Greek—took the Latin name temperantia in Cicero's
rhetorical and philosophical works, which set the style
for later usage in the West. Sōphrosynē derives from
the adjective sōphrōn (saophrōn in Homer): “of sound
mind”—used at first to describe a person (either human
or divine) who behaves in a way consistent with his
nature or station (like Apollo in Iliad 21. 462-64, when
he refuses to fight with another god on behalf of
“wretched mortals”) or who shows good sense, as op-
posed to frivolity or even witlessness (Odyssey 23.
11-13, 30). The words saophrosynē and saophrōn are
rare in Homer, but later Greeks read the concept back
into many situations in epic poetry that seemed to
typify the classical idea of the virtue. Hence certain
Homeric characters became exemplars of sōphrosynē
in its several aspects, masculine and feminine: Odysseus
for his endurance and especially for his triumph over
Circe, Nestor for having the wisdom of old age, Penel-
ope and Andromache for being good wives.

It was in the archaic age that sōphrosynē first be-
came a “cardinal” virtue in the true sense, a quality
on which hinged personal or political well-being and
success. It had not been essential to the aretē (“excel-
lence”) of the hero in the age idealized by Homer,
whose primary needs were for courage and skill in
battle, but in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C.
changed conditions in the Greek world led to the rise
of the polis (“city-state”) and with the polis came new
values essential for its welfare. To adapt the words of
M. I. Finley, Jr. (p. 129), it was necessary to tame the
hero in order that the community might grow, and
one of the forces that tamed the hero—and made him
a citizen—was sōphrosynē.

The Delphic code with its cautionary maxims,
“Know thyself,” “Nothing in excess,” “Think mortal
thoughts,” expressed the chief implications of sōphros-


ynē in the archaic age. Apollo, the “far-darter,” the
god of remoteness and limitation, who punished hybris
and defended the frontier that separates man from the
gods, was the divine teacher of archaic sōphrosynē, and
the Seven Wise Men—including Pittacus, Solon,
Chilon, Thales, and the rest—applied Apolline moral-
ity to the problems of the polis. Elegiac and lyric
poetry in the sixth and fifth centuries reveal what
sōphrosynē now meant for the individual and society.
Theognis of Megara, writing in the middle of the sixth
century, is the first to oppose sōphrosynē to hybris in
political life. His view is that of the conservative oli-
garchy; the sōphrosynē he admires is essentially the
kind of repressive discipline later identified with
Sparta. He also accepts the older, Homeric sōphros-
ynē—soundness of mind, good sense—and like con-
temporary poets extends still further the meaning of
the word, which now begins to imply sobriety, both
actual and metaphorical, sanity, the conduct proper
to a good wife, and in general the avoidance of im-
moderate or irrational behavior.

Theognis (sixth century B.C.) is an innovator in two
ways especially important for the later treatment of
sōphrosynē in literature and art: he is the first to
personify the virtue and the first to cite an exemplar.
The exemplar is the mythical Cretan king, Rhadaman-
thys, mentioned in a context that suggests intellectual,
rather than moral, implications for sōphrosynē (The-
lines 699-718). The personification occurs in
a passage modelled on Hesiod's famous description of
how the Iron Age will come to an end, with the depar-
ture from the earth of Aidōs (Modesty) and Nemesis
(Works and Days, lines 190-200). Theognis substitutes
Sōphrosynē for Aidōs and lists her companions as Pistis
(Good Faith) and the Graces (lines 1135-42). Sōphros-
ynē is here considered a social virtue, and it is notable
both that she is the archaic successor to the epic Aidōs
and that she is linked with other values that elsewhere
form part of the aristocratic, Dorian ethos.

The archaic age made a further contribution to the
history of sōphrosynē by popularizing themes, myths,
and gnomic sayings related to hybris and its conse-
quences, a subject destined in tragedy to provide the
principal context for the development of the classical
concept of sōphrosynē. Lyric poetry, especially the
choral odes of Pindar, abounds in reflections on man's
fatal tendency to indulge in excessive hopes and ambi-
tions, to refuse to limit his thoughts to what befits his
mortal nature, to aspire, in the clichés of archaic lyric,
to “marry the daughter of Zeus” or “climb the brazen
heavens.” Ixion and Bellerophon become types of this
kind of hybris; their fall is interpreted as a lesson to
“think mortal thoughts”—the primary text of archaic
sōphrosynē. It was a lyric poet, Pindar, who made the
first recorded reference to what later came to be called
the “cardinal” virtues. In his eighth Isthmian Ode,
Peleus and the other Aeacids are cited as models of
justice, courage, sōphrosynē, wisdom, and piety (a fifth
virtue often included in the canon). The implications
here are primarily political, since the Aeacids stand
for the people of Aegina, who, only two years before
the composition of the Ode in 478 B.C., had shared
with Athens the glory of defeating the Persians at

The choral odes of Attic tragedy employ both the
mythical and the gnomic themes of earlier lyric poetry
to comment on the situation of the tragic hero, who
is often conspicuously deficient in sōphrosynē (self-
knowledge, self-restraint, moderation). Attic tragedy,
in fact, reflects the first great flowering of sōphrosynē.
There is clearly an intimate connection between the
conditions in Athens that gave rise to tragedy in the
late sixth century B.C. and those that caused sōphrosynē
to be recognized at just this time as one of the essential
values for the polis. Attic epitaphs now begin to de-
scribe the excellence of the dead in terms of aretē and
sōphrosynē, testifying to the emergence of a new civic
ideal which combines the heroism of the soldier in time
of war with the sobriety and moderation of the patri-
otic citizen in time of peace. It has often been observed
that tragedy owes much to the historical conflict re-
sulting from the encounter of the heroic individual with
the restrictions necessary for the survival and prosper-
ity of the polis. The expression of these restrictions,
both social and religious, was sōphrosynē, which in-
hibited its possessor from overstepping boundaries set
by the gods or his fellow citizens.

A principal theme of Greek tragedy is the catas-
trophe that befalls the hero whose self-assertion leads
him to ignore such limits. The situation is clearest in
Aeschylean tragedy, which consistently links ophros-
ynē with a set of desirable qualities (justice, piety,
freedom, masculinity) and opposes it to arrogance,
unrestrained emotionalism, immoderate behavior, and
other forms of hybris. It is in Aeschylus, moreover, that
we first begin to see sōphrosynē as an Athenian aretē
different in important ways from the Dorian
brand. From the final scene of the trilogy of the
Oresteia we learn that sōphrosynē constitutes a mean
between tyranny and anarchy, and that it is to be for
the Athenians one of the cornerstones of their demo-
cratic constitution. The timing of the Oresteia in the
year 458 B.C., so soon after the great extension of Attic
democracy by Ephialtes, makes this trilogy a significant
comment on political affairs in a period when other
sources are rare. Athenian political history in the next
hundred years reflects the ebb and flow of her citizens'
fidelity to the gift bestowed on them at the end of the


trial scene in the Eumenides, when the Furies, trans-
formed into goddesses of bliss and blessing, utter their
majestic benediction and visualize the Athenians
“seated beside Zeus, beloved by Athena, sōphronountes
en chronōi
—learning temperance as time goes on” (line

If the Aeschylean conception of sōphrosynē can be
glossed by the Apolline “Nothing in excess” and “Think
mortal thoughts,” the Sophoclean virtue is closer to
“Know thyself.” The failure in sōphrosynē that marks
such heroes as Ajax, Antigone, Oedipus, Electra, and
Deianeira is a failure in self-knowledge, amounting
sometimes to delusion, sometimes almost to madness.
The hero is blind to something essential in himself or
his situation, and tragedy arises from the interplay
between his circumstances and his admirable but im-
perfect nature. Secondary characters and Choruses
typically urge a kind of sōphrosynē already
recommended by Oceanus in Prometheus Bound—a
cautionary, self-protective quality, equivalent in con-
duct to obedience. Rightly regarding such sōphrosynē
as incompatible with the heroic ideal for which he will
sacrifice everything, including life itself, the Sopho-
clean hero rejects it as ignoble, and it remains for the
poet to show, through a variety of dramatic devices,
what sōphrosynē really is: the self-knowledge that
enables man to face reality, renounce delusion, and
understand his part in the cosmic pattern. The speech
in which Ajax interprets the procession of the seasons
and the alternation of night and day as examples of
the limits imposed on all elements in the universe (Ajax,
lines 646-77) is a striking forerunner of the “cosmic
justification” for the practice of sōphrosynē that Plato
was to express a century later in the Gorgias (506D-
508C). It is also typical of the Sophoclean irony by
which the poet reveals to us a fundamental aspect of
his tragic view through the words of a hero who is
tragic precisely because he is unable to accept that
view. Ajax's hostility to sōphrosynē represents an ex-
treme version of the polarity (seen throughout Greek
history) between sōphrosynē and the heroic principle.
But it also reflects the sharp and specific questioning
of traditional values that marked the sophistic revolu-
tion in education and permeated Greek thought during
the last third of the fifth century.

The plays of Euripides reflect still more directly this
crisis in Athenian culture. They reveal far less of a
conscious hostility to sōphrosynē on the part of the
tragic hero, but a much greater sense of helplessness
to achieve so rational an excellence. They incidentally
display a tremendous increase in the scope of the word
sōphrosynē as it was popularly understood, and a keen
interest in the contrast between various implications
of the word. Euripides consistently relates it to the
conflict between the rational and the irrational that
forms the core of his tragedy. For him its basic meaning
is “self-restraint,” and only now does it regularly have
such connotations as chastity, sobriety, continence, in
preference to the older implications—good sense,
soundness of mind, sanity—although these are by no
means forgotten. It is characteristic of Euripides to
play off one meaning against another—chastity against
moderation, sobriety against wisdom—and thus to
show the danger of a one-sided virtue. The Hippolytus
and the Bacchae, each of which presents a hero who
is at once sōphrōn and hybristic, fanatically virtuous
and yet blind to the wholeness of life, reflect an ad-
vanced stage of the criticism of conventional values
that had been initiated by the pre-Socratic philoso-
phers, carried further by the Sophists, and intensified
by the abnormal conditions resulting from the war with

Other themes to which Euripides frequently recurs
are the question of how sōphrosynē and other virtues
originate, whether in nature or training—an important
aspect of the current debate over the priority of physis
(“nature”) or nomos (“convention”); the possibility of
a sōphrōn erōs, love guided by reason and thus less
destructive than the immoderate passions of Medea and
Phaedra (a topic taken up in the next generation by
Plato); the claim of Athens to a mythical past in which
her kings and people had excelled in sōphrosynē
(manifested in the compassionate treatment of enemies
and suppliants); and the efficacy of sōphrosynē as a curb
on anger and cruelty, always, in Greek tragedy, more
dangerous passions than sexual excess.

In his manipulation of the last two of these themes
Euripides has much in common with Thucydides,
whose History of the Peloponnesian War depicts the
disastrous victory of the irrational over the rational in
public life and often shows the tragic consequences
of savagery and hatred. The most significant contri-
bution of Thucydides to the history of sōphrosynē lies
in his analysis of its political implications. In the con-
trast between Athens and Sparta that is the primary
theme of the History he consistently treats sōphrosynē
as a Spartan quality, emphasizing its relation to the
Spartan characteristics of conservatism, discipline,
slowness to act, and isolationism in foreign policy. It
commonly denotes moderation or stability in govern-
ment. In spite of his admiration for Pericles' own
moderation and astute balance of political values,
Thucydides rarely describes Athenian policy as ōph-
rōn; he reserves the word for the Dorian ethos to such
an extent that sōphrosynē sometimes amounts to a
slogan for the oligarchic factions and the Spartan sym-
pathizers in the Greek cities. This situation is accepted
by other writers of the late fifth century, especially


the poets of Old Comedy and the Attic orators, for
whom the closest equivalents to sōphrosynē are terms
like apragmosynē (“minding one's own business”) and
hēsychia (“quietness”), both of which had been part
of the aristocratic and Dorian set of values from the
age of lyric and elegiac poetry.

In the fourth century the situation abruptly changes.
Now the Attic orators regularly claim sōphrosynē as
a specifically Athenian virtue and a democratic one
at that. The disillusionment with pro-Spartan and
oligarchic politics that resulted from the Tyranny of
the Thirty in 404 B.C. was the immediate cause of the
change, and the sōphrōn politēs (“citizen”) depicted
by the fourth-century orators, is invariably a fervent
democrat, a foe of both oligarchy and Sparta, a citizen
who benefits the state by his inoffensive, law-abiding
conduct and his generosity in the performance of
“liturgies”—outfitting warships, subsidizing religious
processions, and the like. There is even a common-
place, used by both Lysias and Isaeus, according to
which the most valuable liturgy is to be a kosmios
(“orderly”) and sōphrōn citizen.

The political aspects of sōphrosynē are much dis-
cussed by the fourth-century philosophers also. Plato,
in fact, makes sōphrosynē so central to his conception
of the ideal state and the soul in optimum condition
that at times—especially in his late dialogues—it be-
comes for him the most important of the cardinal

Socrates dominates the first stage in the development
of Plato's concept of sōphrosynē. To judge by the
picture that emerges from the dialogues of his admirers
(not only Plato, but Xenophon, Antisthenes, and
Aeschines of Sphettus), his own sōphrosynē was marked
by a rigorous self-knowledge and a kind of asceticism
often described in such terms as enkrateia (“self-
control”), autarkeia (“independence”), and euteleia
(“frugality”)—all words that are linked with sōphros-
ynē in later Cynic writings. Plato's early dialogues are
permeated by the Socratic conception of virtue as
knowledge, and by Socrates himself as the exemplar
of sōphrosynē (dramatized in the Charmides). A some-
what later stage finds Plato refining and deepening the
popular definition of sōphrosynē as the restraint of
appetite. His own distinctive contribution is the theory
that all virtue depends on the orderly arrangement of
faculties within the soul, a condition achieved by the
practice of sōphrosynē. This view is first advanced in
the Gorgias and is developed in great detail in the

Few of Plato's achievements in the Republic have
more enduring significance for the history of ideas than
his establishment, in Book IV, of the four cardinal
virtues as an exclusive canon, consisting of wisdom
(phronēsis or sophia), justice (dikaiosynē), courage
(andreia), and temperance (sōphrosynē). Hitherto a
shifting group, unstable in number and content, they
owed their origin as a vaguely defined canon to the
needs of the developing polis; hence they first appear
in literature in the time of Pindar and Aeschylus, both
of whom recognize piety (eusebeia) as a member of
the group. What Plato did in Republic IV was to
exclude piety and establish the other four as the excel-
lences proper to the soul and the state, when each is
in its ideal condition. Sōphrosynē is at first (389D-E)
defined as obedience, and control of the appetities for
food, drink, and sexual indulgence, a definition explic-
itly described as a popular one. Hence it is the aretē
proper to the third class in society (the farmers, crafts-
men, and tradesmen) and to the corresponding part
of the soul, the appetitive faculty. But sōphrosynē as
Plato further defines it is also a kind of harmony in
the soul and the state, “sounding the same note in
perfect unison throughout the whole” (432A), and as
such it is necessary to each class and each faculty. It
is the virtue that enables all classes and all parts to
agree on the rule of the naturally superior—the philoso-
phers in the state, the rational faculty in the soul
(442C-D). Sōphrosynē produces a polis that is just and
peaceful and a soul that is balanced and harmonious.

So great is Plato's temperamental affinity for sō-
phrosynē that he tends to expand its functions and
make it virtually synonymous with justice in some
contexts, with wisdom in others. He is concerned al-
ways to reconcile it with courage, and in the Statesman
and the Laws, as well as the Republic, he devises modes
of education that will prevent the soul and the state
from being damaged by the conflicting demands of the
two polar tendencies.

The importance of sōphrosynē increases in Plato's
later dialogues, keeping pace with his increasing inter-
est in movement and change, of which the irra-
tional—the appetites and passions—forms one aspect.
The study of physics and cosmology gave new support
to the view expressed as early as the Gorgias (503-08)
that identical principles produce excellence in every
context, so that cosmos in the universe, justice in the
state, health in the body, and sōphrosynē in the soul
are completely analogous, all of them manifestations
or order and harmony. No passage concerned with
sōphrosynē in the Laws proved more influential than
the statement that “likeness to God” (homoiōsis theōi)
depends on this virtue (716C-D). Later philosophers
and Church Fathers, who were keenly interested both
in the imitation of God and the question whether moral
virtue is proper to the Divine nature, quoted and
commented on this passage more than on any other
dealing with sōphrosynē, except for the great myth of


the Phaedrus. The image of the charioteer controlling
the two horses and using their motive power to rise
through the heavens to the realm of the Forms became
a symbol of sōphrosynē for patristic writers, who
sometimes conflated the Platonic myth with biblical
allusions, often to Ezekiel (Ambrose, De Virginitate I.

In contrast to the expansive tendencies of Plato, who
makes all the virtues ultimately identical with one
another, Aristotle tends to define each one as precisely
as possible, severely limiting their scope and also dis-
tinguishing moral from intellectual aretē. He finds the
Platonic tetrad, newly defined according to his own
standards, insufficient to do justice to the entire range
of human conduct, and in both the Nicomachean Ethics
and the Rhetoric adds several other moral virtues to
the canon of the Republic. His most enduring contri-
bution to ethical doctrine is the theory of the Mean,
according to which each moral virtue is a mesotēs, a
mean state (relative to the person concerned), located
between the two extremes of excess and defect. This
theory is an outgrowth of the traditional Greek feeling
for moderation which had already given rise to the
Delphic maxims, the pre-Socratic search for balance
and proportion in the physical universe, the myths of
hybris in lyric and tragic poetry, and Plato's efforts
in the Philebus to apply an absolute metron (“measure”)
to moral decisions. It is, in fact, a manifestation of
sōphrosynē, which thus becomes the true basis of
Aristotle's moral doctrine. When used to arrive at a
definition of sōphrosynē itself, however, the theory of
the Mean produces a virtue much more limited than
that which in Plato's later dialogues had sometimes
threatened to swallow the entire canon. It is very close
to Plato's first definition of sōphrosynē in the Republic:
for Aristotle sōphrosynē is a mesotēs concerned with
three kinds of bodily pleasure: eating, drinking, and
sexual intercourse (1118a 23-26). The vice of excess
is undue indulgence in these appetites (akolasia,
“wantonness”), while the vice of defect is insufficient
enjoyment (anaisthēsia, “lack of feeling”), a vice that
Aristotle admits is rarely encountered. Such a sōphros-
ynē is stripped of the intellectual, political, and aes-
thetic nuances that had clustered around it in earlier
Greek thought.

In the Rhetoric and Politics, however, Aristotle ad-
mits more traditional definitions (modesty, obedience,
opposition to hybris). His discussion of sōphrosynē in
the Rhetoric is of special interest because it was
through Peripatetic and Stoic rhetoric that knowledge
of the cardinal virtues was transmitted to most edu-
cated Romans, and thence to the Middle Ages and the
Renaissance. Aristotle's is the first extant consideration
of the role of sōphrosynē in rhetoric; he studies it in
connection with epideictic oratory and ethical persua-
sion, defining it, with an eye to its social significance,
as the virtue that disposes men in regard to the pleas-
ures of the body as the law commands (1366b 13-15).
In his celebrated discussion of age-groups and charac-
ter-types he assigns sōphrosynē to men in their prime,
who alone combine courage with temperance (1390b

The Hellenistic philosophical schools afford several
different views of sōphrosynē. The Epicureans accept
the popular definition (restraint of appetite), and con-
cede that sōphrosynē is necessary for a life of tran-
quillity, but virtue is to them only the means; pleasure
is the goal. The Cynics fear pleasure and exalt a kind
of sōphrosynē verging on asceticism. They relate it to
frugality (euteleia), and independence (autarkeia), and
divorce it entirely from the theoretical life. The anti-
thesis to sōphrosynē in Cynic thought is neither hybris
nor akolasia, but extravagance (tryphē). The Cynic
diatribe, often called a sōphronizōn logos (“a sobering
discourse”), influenced a wide variety of literary types,
the Stoic moral treatise, Roman satire, the oratory of
the Second Sophistic, and the homilies of certain
Church Fathers, to all of which it imparted a strong
flavor of Cynic sōphrosynē. Hence the wide diffusion
in Greco-Roman literature of the ascetic concept of
the virtue, which Antipater summed up in his epitaph
for Diogenes, when he described the famous wallet,
cloak, and staff of the Cynic prototype as the weapons
of autarkēs sōphrosynē (Palatine Anthology, Book 7.65).

For sōphrosynē, however, by far the most important
of the Hellenistic schools was the Stoic, which revived
the Platonic canon (henceforth more often called Stoic)
and made it the center of its moral teaching. Rejecting
Aristotle's distinction between moral and intellectual
virtue, the Old Stoa regarded all virtues as manifesta-
tions of phronēsis in different situations. Thus sōphros-
ynē was defined as phronēsis in matters of choice and
avoidance (Stoicorum veterum fragmenta, 1. 201); the
opposing vice, however, was still the Aristotelian
akolasia. The traditional connection of sōphrosynē with
self-restraint was not forgotten; Ariston of Chios as-
signed to it the power to regulate the appetites (ibid.,
1. 375), and Chrysippus, with his doctrine that sōphros-
ynē renders the impulses steady (ibid., 3. 280), provided
a bridge to the great innovator of the Middle Stoa,
Panaetius, who emphasized the role of the impulses
in moral conduct. Panaetius, conflating some doc-
trines of Plato and Aristotle with those of Zeno, mod-
erated the rigors of the Old Stoa and made it more
acceptable to the Roman ruling class. He considered
sōphrosynē a practical, not a theoretical, virtue, and
he taught that all forms of virtue have their origin in
the appetites and impulses natural to man. Sōphrosynē


arises from the human instinct for order, propriety, and
moderation (Cicero, De officiis 1. 4. 11-14); since this
(unlike the impulses which give rise to courage and
justice) is an impulse peculiar to man, not shared by
animals, Panaetius sets it high on the scale of virtue,
and he associates with it the principle of decorum (to
), which is essential for every form of excellence.
There is a strong aesthetic element in Panaetius' view
of sōphrosynē, related to his belief that this virtue
assures the development of a harmonious and attractive
personality. Cicero's tendency to link sōphrosynē with
humanitas owes much to Panaetius.

Rome's earliest contacts with Greek literature prob-
ably occurred in the theater, where before the end of
the second century B.C. translations and adaptations
of tragedy and comedy must have introduced many
Romans to the concept of sōphrosynē. A little later
came the systematic study of rhetoric and philosophy,
in both of which the canon of Platonic-Stoic virtues
held a prominent place. Sōphrosynē, the most Hellenic
of these virtues, was the hardest to transplant, but in
some of its nuances it bore a sufficient resemblance
to certain traditional Roman values—pudicitia (“chas-
tity”), modestia (“moderation”), frugalitas, and
verecundia (“modesty”)—to encourage the Romans to
naturalize it and even claim it as their own, by ascrib-
ing it to some of the heroes and heroines of the early
Republic—the Elder Cato, Piso Frugi, Scipio Africanus
Major, Lucretia, and Verginia in particular. Cicero, as
part of his attempt to give Rome a philosophical vo-
cabulary, suggested several Latin renderings for sō-
phrosynē—temperantia, moderatio, modestia, and
frugalitas (Tusculan Disputations 3.8)—of which tem-
became the most popular, although by no
means the only accepted equivalent.

It was Cicero who made the first systematic efforts
to naturalize sōphrosynē. His contribution took two
forms: the translation or adaptation of rhetorical and
philosophical treatises in which sōphrosynē was defined
and discussed with reference to various modes of per-
suasion or the ethics of the individual and the state,
and the use in his own oratory of the topic of the
virtues and vices. His succinct exposition of the rhetori-
cal function of the Stoic virtues in De inventione con-
stituted a principal source for medieval definitions of
the canon; adaptations and commentaries on this brief
text (and on the corresponding passage in the nearly
contemporaneous Rhetorica ad Herennium) had enor-
mous impact on the Latin West. The most influential
of his philosophical expositions of the virtues was De
(based on Panaetius' interpretation of the
canon), which became, in the Renaissance particularly,
a favorite source of advice, the model for vernacular
handbooks on morality and conduct. Almost all
Cicero's speeches employ laudatio and vituperatio, in
which, among the four virtues, temperantia (with its
antitheses) receives by far the greatest attention, not
only because accusations of luxuria and avaritia had
long proved most effective in arousing indignatio and
odium, but also because Cicero sincerely believed that
these were the vices most typical of Rome and most
dangerous to the welfare of the Republic. In his highly
successful manipulation of the topic of the virtues and
vices Cicero goes far beyond his own technical pre-
cepts in De inventione and De oratore and even out-
strips Aeschines, the Attic orator most adroit in the
use of this topos. His praise of Pompey's temperantia,
of the pudicitia of Caelius, and the clementia of Caesar
was imitated by generations of orators and historians,
while his great sequences of denunciatory speeches, the
Verrines, the Catilinarians, and the Philippics, all of
which relate temperance to the problems of the Re-
public, provided a model for Sallust, Livy, and Tacitus.
In spite of enormous differences in style and historical
method—in spite, even, of Sallust's and Tacitus' reac-
tion against Ciceronian precedents, all three of the
great Roman historians focus attention on the vitia
as the source of decay in the state and
recommend temperantia, moderatio, or some other
aspect of sōphrosynē as a cure for the nation's ills.

Under the Empire, the virtues of the Princeps are
naturally the subject of anxious concern, beginning
with the presentation to Augustus of the shield in honor
of his virtus, clementia, iustitia, and pietas. From this
time on, clementia, a virtue subordinate to sōphrosynē
in the Stoic system, becomes one of its two most sig-
nificant aspects in Roman political life; the other is
pudicitia, which is ascribed to a number of Emperors
both in literary eulogies and on the imperial coinage.

The ethical commonplaces of late antiquity, trans-
mitted with little variation in all the philosophical
schools, gain fresh vitality with the coming of Christi-
anity. At first a well-founded distrust of anything
closely identified with paganism caused Christian
apologists to ignore the Stoic canon, although each of
the virtues separately found support in the early
Church and all were transformed by the concept of
Divine Grace as the source of virtue. Sōphrosynē won
an especially enthusiastic welcome, being identified
with those qualities of purity, chastity, sobriety, and
self-denial that the Christians regarded as peculiarly
their own. There was even a danger that an exaggerated
regard for chastity as the essence of sōphrosynē might
distort the classical virtue beyond recognition. With
the triumph of Christianity, Clement, Origen, and the
Cappadocians among the Greek Fathers, Lactantius,
Ambrose, and Augustine among the Latin, began freely
to adapt the doctrines of pagan philosophy to Christian


theology and morals. Not only did they use the topic
of the virtues, borrowed from pagan rhetoric, to em-
bellish their own homilies and funeral orations, adding
to the classical sōphrosynē a new emphasis on hagneia
(“holiness”) and katharotēs (“purity”), but they devel-
oped and refined such Platonic and Neo-Platonic
teachings as the need to practice sōphrosynē in order
to achieve likeness to God, and they emphasized the
fundamental importance of this virtue for the ascetic
life (now seen as the Christian continuation of the
theoretical life extolled in Greek philosophy), and its
crucial role in the conversion from evil to good. Patris-
tic innovations included the identification of biblical
figures (Joseph, Susanna, Judith) as types of sōphrosynē;
the interpretation of many scriptural texts (Matthew
5:28 and 19:12, Luke 12:35-38, the Sixth and Tenth
Commandments, several of the Beatitudes) as injunc-
tions to the practice of this virtue; the derivation of
all virtues from love (rather than wisdom); and the
recognition of the example of Christ and His Blessed
Mother as the supreme justification for the practice
of temperance.

In late antiquity and the Middle Ages the most
interesting additions to the classical doctrine of tem-
perance were those that related it to the monastic life
(where, because of its identification with chastity, one
of the three great monastic vows, it enjoyed great
prestige) and those that integrated it into the complex
systems of virtues and vices that proliferated from the
time of Evagrius Ponticus in the East and John Cassian
in the West. The writings of Cicero, especially his
rhetorical works and the commentaries they inspired,
the encyclopedic works of Martianus Capella and
Isidore of Seville, the Moralia of Gregory the Great,
Macrobius' commentary on Cicero's Somnium Sci-
and Martin of Braga's Formula vitae honestae,
derived from Seneca's lost De officiis, were the chief
transmitters of classical doctrine about the virtues. In
the Carolingian Age Alcuin's On Rhetoric and the
and similar works of the “advice to princes”
type revived the political significance of the cardinal
virtues. At this point they sprang to life in art.