Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.07.21


(EDT)David Sider, The Epigrams of Philodemos: Introduction, Text, and Commentary. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. Pp. 259. $65.00.

ISBN 0-19-509982-6. , Reviewed by Kathryn Gutzwiller, University of Cincinnati, kathryn.gutzwiller@uc.edu, Word Count: 2,071

Editions with commentaries on the major epigrammatists of the Greek Anthologyare a desirable next stage in the continuing rediscovery of Hellenistic literature. Apart from the general treatments of Gow and Page, commentaries on individual epigrammatists are usually limited to one older work, which is typically both out of date and incomplete. Such is the case with the epigrams of Philodemus, which received a brief edition and commentary from Kaibel in 1885 and were then treated along with other epigrammatists by Gow and Page in their Greek Anthology: The Garland of Philip (Cambridge, 1968). We are fortunate that the first such commentary to appear is this excellent one by Sider, which will undoubtedly provide a model for similar work by other scholars.

Among the many strengths of the commentary is Sider's concern to set Philodemus' epigrams in their social, historical, literary, and philosophical contexts. Maintaining a balance among these various strands, he for the most part avoids the dangers of reading the poems as strictly autobiographical or as purely literary exercises. He recognizes that, while various poems were likely composed for a specific occasion, they are shaped by the epigrammatic tradition and were likely written, or rewritten, with an eye to literary posterity. While assuming that Philodemus published a collection of his epigrams, Sider avoids speculating on the position or function of individual poems (even to the point of arguing that the reference to the koronis in AP 11.41 = 4 Sider is entirely metaphorical and so without any possibility of referring as well to the end mark of its own book, as in Meleager AP 12.257), but he nevertheless comments frequently on the implications of reading one poem against another. He also identifies a cycle of epigrams, on Philodemus' mistress (or wife, as Sider argues) Xanthippe. His interest in this cycle does, however, lead at times to overly speculative conclusions about the historical circumstances of its composition, such as the claim that certain poems "all seem to center on a turning point in the narrator's life, when he turns from 'madness' to a more reflective time that will be characterized by philosophical discourse and marriage, the latter (and hence the former) being dated to the narrator's 37th year" (p. 17).

Sider's "Introduction" illustrates how he manages the difficult task of combining depth of learning with ease of comprehensibility. A readable text discussing Philodemus' life, relationship with various Greek and Roman Epicureans on the bay of Naples, and the earlier history of Greek epigram is supplemented by excellent notes providing full documentation. Particularly useful is his discussion of how the composition of epigrams fits with Philodemus' poetic theory as well as his Epicurean preferences: "Almost any poetry could be recited at ... banquets, but, in keeping with Epicurus' dictum that the wise man will not exercize himself overmuch with the composition of poetry, original compositions would have at least to give the appearance of not having required any effort. Epigrams meet this requirement as no other genre" (p. 32). I miss, however, discussion of Philodemus' epigrammatic style, particularly as it relates to his predecessors in the tradition of epigram. Philodemus seems to have stepped away from the direct variation of a single model or set of models practiced by his immediate predecessors--Antipater of Sidon, Meleager, and Archias. Some general comments on these original features as well as the wit of Philodemus' epigrams would have been appreciated, especially given the dearth of literary studies on his poetry and its evident influence on important Latin poets, including Catullus and Vergil.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Sider for his personal examination of the manuscripts, not only the principal ones--the Codex Palatinus and Planudes' fourteenth-century autograph in Venice--but also a number of apographs of the Palatine Anthology are important as a source of corrections or conjectures made by early scholars. Sider has even examined a number of early printed editions, although these do not seem to have contributed to his apparatus. The apparatus is admirable, easily comprehensible but fuller than that of Gow-Page. Sider consistently provides us with an indication of what can be deciphered in P beneath the corrector's erasures and in a much neater fashion than Stadtmüller, whose Teubner apparatus is overly fussy. His fresh examination of P has produced some readings that differ from Stadtmüller's, and in a few instances (for instance,