Bryn Mawr Classical Review 02.06.07


Marcello Gigante, Filodemo in Italia. Bibliotechina del Saggiatore, 49. Florence: Felice Le Monnier, 1990. Pp. 141. ISBN 88-00-83623-2. L30.000 (pb).


Reviewed by David Sider, Fordham University.

With some additions this is essentially the Italian original of Gigante's La bibliotheque de Philodeme et L'epicurisme Romain (Paris 1987). Several chapters had appeared earlier as articles but there is much that is new and it is in any case convenient to have everything here in book format. Philodemos is not an easy author for an outsider to get hold of, but the situation would be far worse were it not for Marcello Gigante, who ever since he was put in charge of the Officina dei Papiri Ercolanesi in Naples has acted as indefatigable scholar, manager, and P.R. man for what is now an international effort to edit, reedit, and study the papyrological finds of 200 years ago.

But while others, benefitting from Gigante's labors, have focused on Epicureanism, Gigante has not forgotten the man who wrote by far the greatest amount of the Herculaneum material thus far published, nor that Philodemos also wrote poetry. Furthermore, Gigante has the distinct advantage over most philologists in being able to handle the very documents handled by his author and also in having been able to walk in the very house Philodemos walked in, the still buried Villa dei Papiri/Pisoni.

It will come as no surprise therefore to learn that this book, in both its French and Italian versions, provides the most satisfying introduction to Philodemos' life, work, and milieu, despite the fact that it was never intended to be an encyclopedic study. Thus, in his survey of Philodemos' philosophical writings Gigante goes lightly on the scholarly bibliography to which he has made notable contributions elsewhere and which he knows better than anyone, having been the editor of the Catalogo dei Papiri Ercolanesi (now supplemented by M. Capasso, Chronache Ercolanesi 19/1989), and the recipient of some other bibliographies in SYZHTHSIS, the Gigante Festschrift. More thorough surveys of Philodemos' treatises and their scholarly literature have now been published by Elizabeth Asmis and Tiziano Dorandi in ANRW II 36.4. Which is not to say that Gigante's chapters on the philosophical writings can be bypassed, for he consistently puts these works into a larger context. A particularly good example is his treatment of Philodemos' On Frankness, which discusses the role of Epicureanism in a Roman setting.

In addition to his discussion of the content of the prose texts from Herculaneum, Gigante also provides a welcome survey of some nonphilosophical scholarship, much of it known only to specialists, such as Cavallo's paleographical study of the papyri (some, such as Epicurus' On Nature, may have been brought to Italy from Athens by Philodemos or Siro) and the various attempts by art historians (e.g. Pandermalis and Wojcik) to assess the programmatic setting for the art of the Villa dei Papiri, and how it might be interpreted in light of the obvious Epicurean interest of at least one owner. The French title is therefore more accurate than the Italian, in that the unity of the book lies in the development, the contents, and the physical setting of the collection of texts that almost certainly belonged to Philodemos during his stay in or near Naples, but which in part antedates and postdates Philodemos.

The third chapter of the book is of particular interest to me, "Gli epigrammi di Filodemo quali testimonianze autobiografiche," since my view, to be argued in detail in my forthcoming edition of the epigrams, is that these polished poems are less autobiographical documents than sophisticated Hellenistic works which play with topoi, genre, and voice. In particular, Philodemos has developed a persona for the narrator of many of these poems who definitely is not the same persona as the serious Epicurean author of the prose treatises. Gigante, it seems to me, errs in arguing that Philodemos could not have written Epigram 19 Gow-Page (AP 6.349) before becoming an Epicurean, simply because the narrator prays to traditional Greek gods in a traditional (i.e., unironic) way. Epigrams, by their very nature, are the among the most ephemeral of art forms, or at any rate are meant to give this impression. If Philodemos had thought that this poem was inappropriate for an Epicurean to have written, he would also have thought it inappropriate for an Epicurean to publish, and it would never have survived to be included in collections of his epigrams. (It was available both to Philip of Thessalonica and to the compiler of the P.Oxy. 3724 incipits.) I also think that the apopsis Philodemos mentions in Epigram 20 (AP 9.412) more likely refers to the promontory of Herculaneum (now obliterated but mentioned by Strabo, Seneca, and Sisenna) than, as Gigante argues, the belvedere structure attached to Piso's villa.

But this and some very few other differences of opinions do not lessen my high estimation of all that Gigante has given us, not least of which is this book.