Some time ago now I became fascinated by an obscure text about Stoic ethics written in the fourteenth century by someone called Barlaam of Seminara. Barlaam’s principal claim to fame seemed to have been that he had unsuccessfully tried to teach Greek to Petrarch.
His text is entitled Ethica secundum Stoicos, Ethics according to the Stoics. There is practically nothing written about it. As I tried to find out more, I discovered that someone in the USA had translated it into English as part of their PhD thesis. It wasn’t digitized or readily available but I made contact with the author, Charles R. ‘Robb’ Hogg, and he very kindly sent me a copy. Robb’s introduction to the text set out Barlaam’s place - which I then knew nothing about - in the history of Byzantine philosophy and theology.
A little later I reviewed an interesting book put together by Christopher Celenza that contained a short text by the Renaissance thinker Angelo Poliziano, along with a translation and a series of essays. This struck me as a good model for a volume on Barlaam: text, translation, and essays. Robb’s thesis contained text, translation, and a substantial essay. If I could add further essays, we’d have something approaching a book manuscript.
Robb enthusiastically welcomed the plan and we started to pull things together. We contacted a number of publishers and eventually landed with Mohr Siebeck, who have published a number of volumes in a similar format to what we proposed, including one on Epictetus that I had at home. I was planning to make contact with them when - by complete fluke - I met an old contact at a conference in Germany who had just been appointed as their Philosophy editor! The usual delays ensued but a sabbatical in Autumn 2021 finally gave me time to complete my contributions and get the manuscript in order. The volume is due to be published in October 2022. I first became interested in Barlaam’s text simply as a moment in the history of the reception of Stoicism. I was especially interested in Petrarch’s work on Stoicism and Barlaam’s essay was contemporary with Petrarch’s, in the very opening moments of the Italian Renaissance. However, as I started to explore it I found that it did something quite unexpected: it offered an account of the Stoic theory of emotions quite different from the standard one that we all know from Cicero, Diogenes Laertius, and others. Not only that, but Barlaam explicitly claimed to be drawing on the works of the Stoics themselves. Could this be evidence for some part of Stoic doctrine otherwise lost? That seemed unlikely but it was intriguing nonetheless. I’m still not sure what my views are about that. The aim of our volume is not to try to settle that issue but simply to make the text accessible to a wider audience and secure Barlaam’s place in the history of the reception of Stoicism.