Filone di Alessandria
Filone Giudeo

In greco Phíløn, in latino Philo. Filosofo (Alessandria circa 30 aC - circa 45 dC), autorevole rappresentante della comunità ebraica di Alessandria. Nel 40 dC fu mandato a Roma come ambasciatore presso l’imperatore Caligola per chiedergli la cessazione delle persecuzioni contro gli Ebrei.

Morto Caligola (41 dC), Filone scrisse i suoi due libri Sull’ambasceria a Gaio (di cui il primo solo ci è rimasto) nei quali l’assassinio di Caligola è interpretato come la punizione per la sua persecuzione contro gli Ebrei. Più tardi, considerando l’analoga fine del prefetto antisemita d’Egitto Avillio Flacco, Filone fu spinto a inserire quello scritto in una più ampia costruzione storica, di cui ci resta una parte, il Contro Flacco, nella quale la persecuzione contro gli Ebrei è ormai assunta a criterio della comprensione di molte vicende storiche.

Tale concezione ebbe larga eco nell’apologetica cristiana e ispirò il De mortibus persecutorum di Lattanzio. Filone è il massimo rappresentante della filosofia giudaico-alessandrina. Il suo pensiero si svolge come commento della Torah attraverso l’utilizzazione della cultura ellenistico-alessandrina con la sua caratteristica fusione di elementi diversi, ma soprattutto platonici e stoici.

Canone esegetico fondamentale per Filone  è l'allegoria che cerca di trovare il senso spirituale di personaggi, episodi, nomi del Vecchio Testamento (l’allegorismo di Filone eserciterà larga influenza sull’esegesi cristiana dei primi secoli).

Il carattere essenzialmente esegetico delle opere di Filone e la sua composita cultura rendono estremamente complesso e oscillante il patrimonio delle sue dottrine filosofico-teologiche: da Dio (che è il Dio biblico, concepito come principio trascendente l’universo fisico di cui pure è anima e intelletto) deriva il mondo spirituale e il mondo sensibile: mediatore per eccellenza è il logos, concetto tratto dalla filosofia platonico-stoica e personificato da Filone he ne ritrova il motivo in tutta la Torah; il logos è il mondo archetipo, il rivelatore di Dio, principio di molteplicità e insieme ragione seminale, legge dell’universo. Funzione mediatrice hanno anche gli angeli, potenze, "forze" e "cause esemplari". L’uomo è composto di sôma, psychë e noûs e questo solo è immortale: fatto a immagine di Dio, il noûs dell’uomo tende alla contemplazione (theøría) di Dio attraverso il distacco dal corpo e da ogni attività sensibile (psychë), ma non può giungere al suo fine se non è investito dallo spirito (pneûma) di Dio (identico al logos) come da grazia: la contemplazione di Dio rende l’uomo suo strumento e profeta.

Tra gli scritti principali di Filone un gruppo svolge il commento allegorico della Genesi (Legum allegoriae, De cherubim et flammeo gladio, De sacrificiis Abelis et Caini, De posteritate Caini, Quod Deus sit immutabilis, De ebrietate, De sobrietate, ecc.), un altro gruppo costituisce un’esposizione della legge mosaica (De opificio mundi, De Abrahamo, De Josepho, De decalogo, De tribus virtutibus, ecc.). Sono inoltre da ricordare gli scritti: De vita Mosis, De providentia, De vita contemplativa. Non bisogna dimenticare fra le opere di Filone che ci interessano quella da cui Aldrovandi ha tratto la citazione di Milziade che si trova a pagina 238 del II volume di Ornitologia: Περὶ τοῦ πάντα σπουδαῖον εἶναι ἐλεύθερον - Quod omnis probus liber sit. Ecco il passo tradotto dal greco da Charles Duke Yonge (1812-1891). La prima edizione in stampa del testo greco apparve a Parigi nel 1552 grazie all'editore A. Tournèbe.

Περὶ τοῦ πάντα σπουδαῖον εἶναι ἐλεύθερον
Quod omnis probus liber sit
Ogni uomo onesto è libero
Every good man is free
English Translation by Charles Duke Yonge, who titles the work
A treatise to prove that every man who is virtuous is also free

XIX. (131) And moreover any one who considers the matter may find even among the brute beasts examples of the freedom which exists among men, as he may of all other human blessings. At all events, cocks are accustomed to contend with one another, and to display such an actual affection for danger, that in order to save themselves from yielding or submitting, even if they are inferior in power to their adversary they will not bear to be inferior in courage, for they endure even to death. (132) And Miltiades, the famous general of the Athenians, seeing this, when the king of the Persians having roused up all the might of Asia, was invading Europe with many myriads of soldiers, as if he were going to destroy all Greece with the mere shout of his army, having collected all the allies at the festival called the panathenaea, showed them a battle between these birds, thinking that the encouragement which they would derive from such a sight would be more powerful than any argument. (133) And he was not deceived, for when they had seen the patient enduring and honourable feeling of these irrational animals, which could not be subdued by any means short of death itself, they snatched up their arms and rushed eagerly to war, as resolving to fight against their enemies with their bodies, and being utterly indifferent to wounds and death, being willing to die for their freedom, so that at all events they might be buried in the still free soil of their native country; for there is nothing which acts so forcibly in the way of exhortation so as to improve the character, as an unhoped-for success in the case of those whom men look upon as inferior to themselves. (134) Moreover the tragic writer, Ion, mentions the contentious spirit of those birds in the following lines:

"Nor though wounded in each limb,
Nor though his eyes with blows are dim,
Will he forget his might;
But still, though much fatigued, will crow,
Preferring death to undergo
Than slavery, or slight."

(135) And why, then, should we think that wise men will not cheerfully encounter death in preference to slavery? And is it not absurd to imagine that the souls of young and nobly born men will turn out inferior to those of game-cocks in the contest of virtue, and will be barely fit to stand in the second place? (136) And yet who is there who has even the least tincture of education who does not know this fact, that freedom is a noble thing and slavery a disgraceful one, and that what is honourable belongs to virtuous men, and what is disgraceful to worthless ones? From which it is seen most undeniably, that no virtuous man can ever be a slave, not if ten thousand persons, with all imaginable deeds to prove themselves masters, threaten them; and that no foolish or worthless man can ever be free, not even if he were Croesus, or Midas, or the great king of Persia himself.

Philo Judaeus
The Catholic Encyclopedia

Born about 25 B.C.. His family, of a sacerdotal line, was one of the most powerful of the populous Jewish colony of Alexandria. His brother Alexander Lysimachus was steward to Anthony's second daughter, and married one of his sons to the daughter of Herod Agrippa, whom he had put under financial obligations. Alexander's son, Tiberius Alexander, apostatized and became procurator of Judea and Prefect of Egypt. Philo must have received a Jewish education, studying the laws and national traditions, but he followed also the Greek plan of studies (grammar with reading of the poets, geometry, rhetoric, dialectics) which he regarded as a preparation for philosophy. Notwithstanding the lack of direct information about his philosophical training, his works show that he had a first hand knowledge of the stoical theories then prevailing, Plato's dialogues, the neo-Pythagorean works, and the moral popular literature, the outcome of Cynicism. He remained, however, profoundly attached to the Jewish religion with all the practices which it implied among the Jews of the dispersion and of which the basis was the unity of worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. Toward the Alexandrine community and the duties which it required of him, his attitude was perhaps changeable; he possessed in his youth a taste for an exclusively contemplative life and solitary retreats; and he complains of an official function which forced him to abandon his studies. Later he became engrossed with the material and moral interests of the community. His "Allegorical Commentary" often alludes to the vocations to which the Alexandrine Jews were subjected; a special treatise is devoted to the persecution of Flaccus, Prefect of Egypt. The best-known episode of his life is the voyage he made to Rome in 39; he had been chosen as head of the embassy which was to lay before Emperor Caius Caligula the complaints of the Jews regarding the introduction of statues of the emperor in the synagogues. This hardship, due to the Alexandrians, was all the more grievous to the Jews, as they had long been known for their loyalty, and their attachment to the empire was doubtless one of the chief causes of anti-Semitism at Alexandria. The drawing up of the account of the embassy shortly after the death of Caius (41) is the latest known fact in the life of Philo.


These contain most valuable information, not only on the intellectual and moral situation of the Jewish community at Alexandria, but still more on the philosophical and religious syncretism prevailing in Greek civilization. They may be divided: (1) expositon of the Jewish Law; (2) apologetical works; (3) philosophical treatises.

(1) The expositons of the Law are in three works of varied character: (a) "The Exposition of the Law", which begins by a treatise on the creation of the world (Commentaries on the first chapter of Genesis) and continues with treatises on Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph (those on Isaac and Jacob are lost). Each of the patriarchs is considered as a type of a virtue and the life as a natural or unwritten law. Then follows a series of treatises on the laws written by Moses, grouped in order according to the Ten Commandments. The Exposition closes with the laws referring to general virtues (On Justice and Courage), and a treatise on the reward reserved to those who obey the Law. (See "De Praemiis et Poenis", §§ 1, 2.) (b) The great "Allegorical Commentary on Genesis" is the chief source of information regarding Philo's ideas; in it he applies systematically the method of allegorical interpretation. The commentary follows the order of verses from Gen., ii, 1, to iv, 17, with some more or less important lacunæ. It is not known whether the work began by a treatise on chapter 1, concerning creation; in any case, it can be seen from the allusions to this chapter that Philo had a system of interpretation on this point. Notwithstanding its form, this work is not a series of interpretations strung together verse by verse; the author considers Genesis in its entirety as a history of the soul from its formation in the intelligible world to the complete development of wisdom after its fall and its restoration by repentance (see ed. Mangey, "De Posteritate Caini", p. 259). The object of the allegorical method is to discern in each person and in his actions the symbol of some phase either in the fall or in the restoration of the soul. (c) "Questions and Solutions" are a series of questions set down at each verse of the Mosaic books. An Armenian translation has preserved the questions on Genesis (Gen., ii, 4- xxiii, 8, with lacunæ) and the questions on Exodus (Ex., xii, 2-xxviii, 38), some Greek fragments of these works and of the questions on Leviticus, a very mediocre Latin translation of the last part of the questions on Genesis (iv, 154 sq.). In Samson and Jonas, there is much less unity than in the preceding ones. This first group of works is addressed to readers already initiated in the Mosaic Law, i.e. to the author's coreligionists.

(2) It is quite different with his apologetical writings. The "Life of Moses" is a résumé of the Jewish Law, intended for a larger public. The treatise "On Repentance" was written for the edification of the newly converted. The treatise "On Humanity" which followed that "On Piety" seems from its introduction to pertain to the "Life of Moses" and not to the "Exposition of the Law" as tradition and some contemporaneous scholars maintain. The Upothetiná (fragments in Eusebius, "Evangelical Preparation", VIII, v, vi) as well as the "Apology for the Jews" (ibid., VIII, x) were written to defend his coreligionists against calumnies, while the "Contemplative Life" was to cultivate the best fruits of the Mosaic worship. The "Against Flaccus" and the "Embassy to Caius", with another work lost in the persecution of Sejanus, were intended to establish the truth about the pretended impiety of the Jews.

(3) Finally, we have purely philosophical treatises: "On the Liberty of the Wise", "On the Incorruptibility of the World" (authenticity contested by Bernays, but generally admitted now), "On Providence", "On Animals" (these last two in the Armenian translations). The small treatise "De Mundo" is merely a compilation of passages from other works. The question of chronology is more difficult than that of classification. The solution of the difficulty would be of great value especially for the subdivisions of the first group of writings, in order to understand the development of Philo's doctrines; but on this point there is a wide divergence of opinion. It is probable, however, that the "Exposition of the Law" with the frequent appeals to the authority of the masters and its cautious way of introducing the allegorical interpretation is anterior to the "Allegorical Commentary" which shows more assurance and independence of thought.


Philo's work belongs for the most part to the immense literature of commentaries on the Law, and it is especially as a commentator that he must be considered. But in this regard he holds a unique place. First of all, he uses the Greek translation of the Septuagint. The variations that have been pointed out between his text and that which we now possess of the Septuagint may be explained to our satisfaction, not by the reading of the Hebrew text (Ritter), but by the fact that our recension is of a later date than the one he used. Furthermore, his method of interpretation appears as something new and original among the juridical commentaries of the Palestinian rabbis. Eliminating what formed the common basis of all commentaries of this kind – the interpretation of the Hebrew proper names (Philo gives them at times a Greek etymology), the particular rules for the signs which indicate that Moses intended us to look beyond the literal sense (Siegfried), the oral traditions added to the account of the Pentateuch (and again, at the beginning of the "Life of Moses" these traditions are clearly of Alexandrine origin), and the prescriptions of the worship in Jerusalem – two essential features remain: first, the conviction that the Jewish law is identical with the natural; and then the allegorical interpretation. The first, according to which the acts of the prophets and the prescriptions of Moses are regarded as ideals conformable to nature (in the Stoic sense), gives to the Jewish religion a universality incompatible with the narrow national Messianism of the Jewish sibyls. Philo thus abandons entirely the Messianic promises; there is no national tradition to exclude the Gentile from Judaism. To find his precursors one must go back to the Prophets; tradition he revives, but only with serious modifications. To the idea of moral universality he adds the idea of nature which he received from the Stoics. His interpretation is wholly bent on identifying the Mosaic prescription with natural law.

The second feature is the allegorical interpretation. Without doubt Philo had his predecessors among the Alexandrines. The proof of this is found not in the fragments of Aristobulus (which are grossly false and later than Philo), but in the work of Philo himself, which is based sometimes on the authority of his predecessors, in the "Wisdom of Solomon" (an Alexandrine work of the first century B.C., which contains some traces of this method), and finally in the description Philo has given us of the occupations of the Therapeutae and the Essenes. The tradition, however, thus formed cannot have amounted to much, for it does not prevail against personal inspiration and it lacks unity. This interpretation appears to us rather as a day-by-day creation of that age, and in Philo's works we can follow an allegory in process of formation, e.g. the interpretation of man "after the image of God". The development of the interior moral life as Philo conceived it is always bound up with his allegorical method. This method differs from that of most of his Greek predecessors who sought an artificial means to bring out the philosophical conceptions in time-honoured texts, such as that of Homer. As a rule he does not search in the sacred text for any strictly philosophical theory; more often he puts forth these theories directly on their own merits. Though at times enthusiastic in his admiration of Greek philosophers, he does not try to represent them as unavowed disciples of Moses. What he seeks in Genesis is not this or that truth, but the description of the attitudes of the soul towards God, such as innocence, sin, repentance. The allegorical method of Philo neither proves nor attempts to prove anything. It is not a mode of apologetic; in the "Life of Moses" e.g. this method is seldom employed; the only apologetic feature is the presentation of the high moral import of the Jewish laws taken in their literal sense. But the method is indispensable for the interior life; it gives the concrete image which the mystic needs to explain his effusions, and it makes the Jewish books profitable in the spiritual life. The spiritual life consists in the feeling of confidence which gives us faith in God, a feeling which coincides with that of the nothingness of man left to his own strength. Faith in God is not in itself the condition but the end or crowning of this life, and human life oscillates between confidence in self and confidence in God. This God conceived in His relations with the moral needs of man has the omnipotence and infinite goodness of the God of the prophets; it is by no means the God of the Stoics, in direct relation with the cosmos rather than with man.

Under this influence the Philonian cult became an eminently moral one: the originality of Philonism consists in its moral interpretation of the actions of the divinity upon the world, which till then had been regarded more in their physical aspect. The fundamental idea is here that of Divine power conceived according to the manner of the Jews as goodness and sovereignty in relation to man. It is remarkable that with this idea the cosmic power of philosophy or of Greek religion is transformed by Philo into moral power. Divine wisdom is without doubt like the Isis in Plutarch's treatise, mother of the world, but above all mother of goodness in the virtuous soul. The "Man of God" is the moral consciousness of man rather than the prototype or ideal. The Divine spirit is transformed from the material ether into the principle of moral inspiration. We recognize, it is true, the traces of the cosmic origin of the Divine intermediaries; the angels are material intermediaries as well as spiritual, and Philo accepts the belief in the power of the heavenly bodies as an inferior degree of wisdom. Nevertheless he did his best to suppress every material intermediary between man and God. This is quite evident in the celebrated theory of the Logos of God. This Logos, which according to the Stoics is the bond between the different parts of the world, and according to the Heracliteans the source of the cosmic oppositions, is regarded by Philo as the Divine word which reveals God to the soul and calms the passions. It is finally from this point of view of the interior life that Philo transforms the moral conception of the Greeks which he knew mainly in the most popular forms (cynical diatribes); he discovers in them the idea of the moral conscience accepted though but slightly developed by philosophers up to that time. A very interesting point of view is the consideration of the various moral systems of the Greeks, not simply as true or false, but as so many indications of the soul's progress or recoil at different stages.