pupils to distract himself during the long winter nights he spent in Attic21. Aside from the anonymous text referred to by Philo22, Aulus Gellius’ testimony is the oldest extant text on the methods and pretensions of these two forms of Skepticism. Its merit lies in expounding some differences between the two main varieties of Skepticism: Pyrrhonic and Academic, and the fact that the term “skeptiko/j” appears for the first time in a technical sense.
The passage in question appears in book XI, chapter V of Attic Nights. The title reads: “Some brief notes about the Pyrronian philosophers and the Academics; and of the difference between them” (De Pyrroniis philosophis quaedam, deque Academicis strictim notata; deque inter eos differentia)” and constitutes a clear expression of Gellius’ intention23. Following Favorinus24, whose views were founded on Aenesidemus, Aulus Gellius explains that the term "skeptikoí" designates both Pyrrhonics and Academics. This is surprising as we know that when Sextus Empiricus writes "sképsis" or "skeptiké philosophía" the terms are already in common use in Pyrrhonic philosophy, but not in the Academic philosophy that Sextus himself refers to as skeptical25. However, the situation is not as clear in Gellius, as he indistinctly refers to Academics and Pyrrhonics as skeptikoí, perhaps in an attempt to reduce them, albeit
21 Gellius, Noctes Atticae., Praefatio, 4; For the problems related to the text and the ordering of chapters see: Aullu Gelle, Les Nuits Attiques, [texte établi et traduit par René Marache], Paris, Tome I 1967, tome II, 1978, introduction; also, The Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius, [trans. J.C. Rolfe], London, Cambridge, Massachusetts, vol. I,II,III, 1948-1952; and the Oxford critical edition; A. Gellii, Noctes Atticae, [Recognovit Brevique Adnotatione Critica Instruxit, P.K., Marshall], vols. I and II, Oxford, 1968.
22 The Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria wrote a commentary of the Pentateuch. At the end of the treatise De ebrietate, which constituted a part of the commentary, Philo reproduces the of Aenesidemus. The ten tropes of Skepticism are a systematic set of the most important arguments advanced by the ancient Pyrrhonics against the possibility of knowledge; arguments that compel us to suspend judgment. The list of ten tropes or “argument modes” was apparently produced by Aenesidemus, who was responsible for the revival of Pyrrhonism.
( Gellius, Noct. Att., XI, V.
( Favorinus was born in Arles, Provence between 80-50 AD and was distinguished for transmitting the doctrines of his contemporary philosophers, although he is illustrious more for his literary and historical erudition than for his philosophical significance. It is unlikely that Gellius modeled his work after Favorinus’ ten books on Pyrrhonic tropes. In spite of his reference to the work by Favorinus, "Super qua re Favorinus quoque subtilissime argutissimeque decem libros composuit, quos inscribit," we are inclined to think that Gellius used another work by Favorinus and refers excursus to the author’s best work, hence the epithets subtilissime argutissimeque, proof of this parenthetical reference. This theory is also supported by Dumont, J.P., Le Scepticisme et le Phénomène. Essai sur la signification et les origines du pyrrhonisme (Bibliothèque d'Histoire de la Philosophie), Paris, 1972, p. 159.
( In Outlines of Pyrrhonism, Sextus Empiricus distinguishes between three kinds of philosophy: dogmatic, academic and skeptic and clearly states that Academic Skepticism has features that differentiate it from Pyrrhonism, cf. Sextus P.H., I, 4.