A note on Cleanthes and early Stoic cosmogony

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Our primary evidence for the contribution of Cleanthes, the second Stoic scholarch, to the school’s distinctive theory of cyclical ekpyrosis (conflagration) is limited to a single difficult passage found in Stobaeus attributed to Arius Didymus. Interpretations of this text have largely proceeded by emendation (von Arnim, Meerwaldt) or claims of misconstrual or misunderstanding (Hahm). In recent studies, Salles and Hensley have taken the passage at face value and reconstructed opposed interpretations of Cleanthes’ position. The former suggests that it differs significantly from that of Zeno and Chrysippus. Both the sequence of elemental transformation and its scope are said to be challenged by Cleanthes, suggesting cosmogony was a deeply controversial area in the early Stoa. I resist this interpretation of the evidence while also attempting to read the text without textual correction. Hensley, on the other hand, finds all three to be in strict harmony. Here I advocate for a middle ground where Cleanthes is closer to the positions of both Zeno and Chrysippus, but I also find room for his development of Stoic cosmogony as composed of a series of discrete stages radiating outwards from the middle. We are left with a clearer, more nuanced picture of how Stoic natural philosophy develops in its early period.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)533-552
Number of pages20
Issue number4
Early online date11 Sep 2020
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2021


  • Cleanthes
  • Stoicism
  • cosmogony
  • conflagration
  • Chrysippus
  • Stoics


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