Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.10.01


J.G.J. Abbenes, S.R. Slings and I. Sluiter (edd.), Greek Literary Theory after Aristotle: A collection of papers in honour of D.M. Schenkveld. Amsterdam: 1995. Pp. xviii + 329. $40.00. ISBN 90-5383-365-X.


Reviewed by W.J. Slater, McMaster University.

A list of Schenkveld's publications are followed by 15 papers from a conference in his honour in April 1994, with three indices. The speed of publication is commendable, but even so, the important work of Obbink, for example, is missing. The papers range very widely from the technicalities of Philodemus papyri to the Homeric D-scholia on one side and more aesthetic and philosophical issues on the other. The audience must have felt itself severely challenged by the level set by some speakers; nonetheless there is much here to interest those who struggle with the remnants of literary theory in antiquity, and, perhaps because the papers were orally delivered, they make with one or two exceptions relatively easy reading, and all the papers are in good English. The worst mistake I found -- principle for principal -- was in Fortenbaugh's essay. To be commended is the editors' willingness to print even longish Greek quotations, as well as a translation.

The contents are:

  • W. Fortenbaugh, Theophrastus, Source no. 709 HS & G
  • P. Swiggers - A. Wouters, Poetics and Grammar: From Technique to Techne
  • L. Montefusco, Cicero and the Division of Virtue
  • J. Wisse, Greeks, Romans, and the Rise of Atticism
  • J. Porter, Oi kritikoi: A Reassessment
  • D. Innes, Longinus: Structure and Unity
  • Z. Ritook, Some Aesthetic Views of Dio Chrysostom and Their Sources
  • F. Montanari, The Mythographus Homericus
  • S.R. Slings, Protreptic in Ancient Theories of Philosophical Literature
  • I. Sluiter, The Poetics of Medicine
  • P. Struck, Allegory, Aenigma, and Anti-Mimesis
  • J.G.M. van Dijk, Greek Fable Theory after Aristotle
  • J. Bremer, Menander Rhetor on Hymns
  • R. Jackson, Late Platonist Poetics: Olympiodorus and the myth of Plato's Gorgias
  • T. Conley, Practice to Theory: Byzantine Poetrics [sic]
  • Fortenbaugh deals with a story in Theophrastus about Tirythian laughter, and surveys what seem to me wildly improbable possibilities about its relevance for the work On Comedy. He concludes more reasonably but not unexpectedly that Theophrastus had an interest in laughter aroused by speech, and that his lecturing style profited from this. I do not however believe that peristasis can mean the same as peripeteia.

    Swiggers and Wouters are preparing an edition with commentary of Dionysius Thrax's Techne grammatike and not surprisingly we get a very technical discussion of the place of lexis in grammatical theory, and so in poetics. They show the similarity of theory from Aristotle to Dionysius Halicarnassus, and argue for the value of looking at problems like this in terms of historical development of a theory.

    Montefusco's discussion of Cicero's divisions of virtue is sadly out of place here and too compressed to be of value; it might just be comprehensible by someone steeped in the arid scholastic subdivisions produced by rhetorical and philosophic theorists. It has nothing to do with literary theory. On the other hand Wisse's discussion of Atticism is one of the best introductions to the subject I have seen. It is particularly valuable because this is an area much distorted by the authority and prejudice of Wilamowitz, and the failure of some recent writers on the subject to dig themselves out of the "jungle," as Wisse calls it. Wisse writes with admirable lucidity, as befits a commentator on the De Oratore. I summarize his argument. Roman Atticism began between 60 and 55, and the movement -- which was a somewhat unfocussed reaction against traditional Hellenistic rhetoric, labelled as "Asianism" by detractors -- increased even after the death of Calvus in 54/3 and included Brutus. Not long after 30 B.C. Dionysius of Halicarnassus hails the victory of Atticism, and attributes this new "classicism" to the good taste of the Romans. So went the theory, but as Wisse says, it need not be true. Wisse advances from suggestions by Bowersock and Kennedy and argues that the Atticist movement was Roman in inspiration, and that on our present evidence Calvus and his friends originated this movement as well as the neoteric poetics. It became Greek by virtue of the strong Greek-Roman intellectual "network" at Rome. This is a convincing picture. One small caveat: Wisse p.77 emends to phronimon tes poleos in Dionysius' preface as impossible to interpret. Not so. "The better part" of the city seems to be a good Roman idea at the time, cf. Hor., Epod. 16.15 and 37, and Dionysius is translating it into Greek.

    Porter asks why Philodemus' euphonist kritikoi do not seem to exist as a class elsewhere, and seeks to reconstruct Crates' views on "sound and sense." The reviewer is disadvantaged by not having available Janko's forth coming reconstruction of "On Poems" to which we are referred. Even so, the admission (p.87) that "only a radically incomplete sketch will be possible" is only too true. When we find (p.103) that the identity of the "kritikoi" "is bound to be irretrievable," one wonders why they should not be treated like Wisse's Asianists, and vanish into thin air. "Inventing the barbarian" has always been an smug tool of academic polemic, as well as of elegiac poetry, and trying to see the "critics" through the literary smog of Crates' polemics and Philodemus' fragments induces all too easily despair bordering on indifference.

    Innes' breezy run through Longinus is a severe disappointment, especially when she is reduced to listing imagery to show how Longinus is to be considered a compositional unity. We need first and foremost to know how "unity" for a Lehrbuch is different from our own conceptions, before being told of its existence. No mention of Fuhrmann here. Ritook is not much better on the sources for some of Dio's "aesthetics" -- though that is too elevated a term to describe them. As far as one can see, these amount to nothing more sophisticated than the philosophical/rhetorical platitudes one expects of his time; that he plundered Aristotle in the original one will not concede readily. Much more satisfying is Montanari's survey of his work on the Mythographus Homericus, who is attracting a good deal of attention lately, as more papyri come to light. Montanari is working on an edition of the Iliad D-scholia, of which the MH is a part, and which is needed to complete Erbse's edition of the Homeric scholia. The MH consists for the Iliad of about 200 historiae most with subscriptions, for which we have now eight papyri, the oldest being ca. 100 A.D.; they demonstrate that the MH existed as an independent book, just like the glosses now called conveniently the Scholia minora. Some of us will look forward to having the D-scholia zetemata as well.

    The MH was a mythographical commentary on the Homeric text, complete with lemmata. It seems highly probable that these were linked by a diple to the text -- I do not understand why Montanari should think this a "fascinating suggestion" since it is self-evident that this is why such markers were used. The papyri show us that we do not have the original work, but a number of excerpts and epitomes. Sometimes therefore the subscription was omitted, though it is now acknowledged that these were in the original text and were genuine. The possibility of false subscription of course exists, but I think Montanari is right to discount it on present evidence. He illustrates well how a historia can be connected with a Zenodotean reading, though I should call it rather a conjecture, and postulates that some of the historiae come from "high quality learned commentaries of the Alexandrian age."

    Slings provides a most interesting and very well written summary of theories of the protreptic genre, which is invariably ethical, and includes paramythetic. He makes the important deduction that attempts to harmonize all the different subdivisions left from antiquity are usually mistaken, and obscure rather than explain. We should in this kind of study all refrain from "advancing speculative hypotheses." Sluiter deals with the potentially interesting question of Galen's literary theories, since Galen was proud of his own literary skills and commented so extensively on Hippocrates. But she gets lost in the wilderness of historiographical theory. A reading of Avenarius' Lukian und die Geschichtschreibung would have convinced her that there is nothing in Lucian's "How to write history" that is not traditional; and the incompetent historians he claims to cite were not "mushrooming in Rome" or anywhere near it. Galen seems to me to be using the same commonplaces about theory as we should expect of any sophist of his time, to justify his own studies.

    "If poetic language was a drug for Gorgias," writes Struck, "Plato wants to ensure that it was a prescription drug." The Alexandrians on the other hand followed Aristotle, emphasising clarity. Unfortunately Struck oversimplifies Aristarchus' view here when he maintains: "Unclarity, now in the form of an apparent sense that poses problems, is a mark that a line is un-Homeric, and worthy of deletion or emendation." On the contrary, Aristarchus first tried various methods of explanation, in order to clarify, before resorting to conjectural emendation. This too is Aristotelian in origin, but Struck manages to suggest that Aristarchus only sought a solution when he could not find a satisfactory emendation (p.224). Aristarchus' remark (Sch. D on 5.385) that one should understand sc. Homer's stories as myths, and leave aside "what is outside" is obviously drawn from Aristotle via Eratosthenes and belongs with his "explaining Homer from Homer." It is misunderstood by Struck; it prefaces the D-scholia's long explanation of the myth at that point, -- another example of Alexandrian mythographical interest -- which brings in irrelevant versions from outside Homer. Struck understands Aristarchus' words as "outside what is actually said" and so anti-allegorical. That Aristarchus certainly was, but it is not relevant. There is much to criticize here.

    Van Dijk reviews learnedly fable theory and concludes not surprisingly that most allow rational characters not just animals and plants. Bremer, who is working on a book about hymns, offers some thoughts on their history, and reviews the precepts of Menander Rhetor. But one will not readily concede that paeans and dithyrambs had no Sitz im Leben in imperial times (p.263); indeed paianistai are recorded in Sparta, and dithyrambs for Dionysus continue into Christian times, nor is there any shortage of hymnodoi and enkomiologoi in imperial cult and festival before Menander, whose prose Sminthiakos is almost at the end of the tradition of prose festival encomia, not at the beginning. As for the statement (p.273) that "the production of great poetry had dried up entirely," the answer is that we know from epigraphy that poetry was being sung and played at innumerable festivals by kitharodes and chorists into the third century, but that since it is now all lost we are in no position to say how great it was. Indeed, if Menander is to be dated in the reign of Diocletian, Christian hymns will soon be replacing pagan.

    The book concludes with an essay on Olympiodorus' theories about myth in his reading of Plato's Gorgias, and Conley's brief but amusing survey of Byzantine poetics, which has more of the Aristophanic in it than this reviewer knew. It is also well and thoughtfully written, and good lively readable writing should be the first criterion for such a publication, if the genre of Festschriften is to have any meaning, and provide us with a sense of the festive moment which allegedly gave it birth.