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‘The Awake and Sober Man’: A Key Motif in the Rhetoric of Conversion of Hellenistic Stoicism

One of the most fascinating discussions regarding Stoicism focuses on the school’s demand for an unceasing philosophical conversion. However, there is one key element in the Stoic rhetoric of conversion that has not been sufficiently explored yet, namely the vocabulary concerning the moral figure of an ‘awake and sober man’. The vocabulary is not constrained to a fixed formula in Hellenistic Stoicism; it is instead organized by fluid expressions that refer literally and figuratively to the act of waking or rising up, and to sobriety, as the everyday choices taken by a man (anēr /vir) or human being (ánthrōpos/homo) led by the ruling faculty. Although the vocabulary has been systematically commented next to the Stoic concepts of prosochē/vigilantia and prohairesis/voluntas, its function and meaning in philosophical conversion has seldom been underscored. This paper contributes to filling this gap. By paying attention to the respective historical, theoretical, and social backgrounds of selected texts by Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius, the paper will argue that the Stoic vocabulary fulfils simultaneous diatribic and protreptic functions. Namely, the vocabulary is used by Hellenistic Stoics as a locus to raise a critical dialogue with other philosophical schools—e.g. Epicureans and Aristotelians— and hence to underline the distinctiveness of the Stoic unceasing (prokoptōn) and present-focused conversion based in vigilance and choice. Interestingly, to guide the psychosomatic transformation of the disciple, the Hellenistic Stoics seem to have carefully modeled the vocabulary with rhetorical forms that mirror the school’s main cosmological and methodological convictions (e.g. recurring and straightforward imperatives, and a second-person address in everyday contexts, in line to the enacted and ever-recurrent time). Indeed, examining the match between form and content among Hellenistic Stoics, in what concerns the vocabulary of an ‘awake and sober man’, will prove illuminating to the mutual association between philosophical methods and adopting a philosophical way of life.