Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1998.07.21
David Sider, The Epigrams of Philodemos: Introduction, Text, and Commentary. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. Pp. 259. ISBN 0-19-509982-6. $65.00.
Reviewed by Kathryn Gutzwiller, University of Cincinnati (firstname.lastname@example.org. )
Word count: 2073 words
Editions with commentaries on the major epigrammatists of the Greek Anthology are 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Gow and Page, commentaries on individual epigrammatists are usually limited to one older work, which is typically both out of date and incomplete.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 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, δειπνεῖν in AP 5.46.4 = 20.4 Sider) he has convincingly preferred the original over the correction.
Sider's text also incorporates the new evidence provided by P.Oxy. 3724, a papyrus of the later first century A.D. containing a list of ca. 175 incipits, including the beginnings of 27 epigrams attributed to Philodemus in the Anthology. Sider uses the papyrus to confirm or correct readings transmitted in the manuscripts and illustrates the importance of the document by providing a full commentary on the incipits. Because at least two epigrams rather securely attributed to Asclepiades also appear in the list, Sider wisely avoids the temptation to conclude that the list refers to a collection of epigrams solely by Philodemus, but he does show that many of the incipits have likely Philodeman associations. He thus concludes that the presence of an epigram on the list is a strong indication, though not absolute proof, of Philodeman authorship. While Sider's comments on the incipits are insightful, he is nevertheless unable to offer any explanation for the nature of the incipit list. Without a theory about the intentions of the person who drew it up, its relationship to a Philodeman collection will continue to puzzle.
One of the advantages of Sider's edition is his inclusion of epigrams doubtfully attributed to Philodemus, some of which are omitted by both Kaibel and Gow-Page. He has not, however, resisted the temptation to reorder the poems in accordance with his own reading, so that, for instance, the epigrams he assigns to the Xanthippe cycle appear first. This produces the unfortunate result that he must assign new "Sider" numbers to the whole collection (instead of supplementing the Gow-Page numbers in some way for his own dubia), and this will create the need to cite yet another reference in addition to both the AP number and the Gow-Page number. More problematic is his failure to gather all the dubia at the end of his collection. He rightly places near the close of the series AP 6.246 = 35 Sider and AP 5.8 = 36 Sider, which bear credible alternative ascriptions, and then AP 5.113 = 37 Sider, which is unlikely to be Philodemus', and a poem that is apparently a Renaissance forgery (38 Sider). But in other instances Sider's placement of an epigram will mislead the less observant reader. AP 12.103 = 24 Sider is anonymous in the Anthology, and its possible attribution to Philodemus is based solely on its appearance in the incipit list. Sider himself comments that "the external evidence for authorship is inconclusive" (p. 146), but in fact its solid position in the long Meleagrian sequence from Book 12 of the AP (12.37-168) almost certainly rules out Philodeman authorship. For AP 5.114 = 18 Sider, Planudes' ascription to Philodemus (with the easily confused phrase τοῦ αὐτοῦ) carries no more weight than P's ascription to Μαικίου (Maccius?). Worse yet, AP 5.80 = 2 Sider occupies second place in the edition because it is seen as part of the Xanthippe cycle, although its attribution to Philodemus by Planudes and its appearance among the incipits is counterbalanced by Diogenes Laertius' confirmation (3.32) of the attribution to "Plato" in P. Whatever the truth about the group of epigrams masquerading under the name of Plato in antiquity, there is certainly credible evidence that this couplet (a complement to AP 5.79 also attributed to "Plato") bore an ancient ascription to the earlier philosopher. As a result, it cannot be securely assigned to Philodemus.
One of the strengths of this collection is Sider's interpretation of the epigrams within an Epicurean context. Such readings are supported not only by our knowledge of Philodemus' philosophical beliefs but also by the association of some earlier epigram collections (namely, those of Asclepiades, Posidippus, and Leonidas) with certain philosophical schools (see my Poetic Garlands: Hellenistic Epigrams in Context [Berkeley, 1998]). But despite my general sympathy with this approach, I sometimes felt Sider was searching for an Epicurean connection even when the text of an epigram did not warrant it. Examples: in AP 5.132 = 12 Sider, an increasingly erotic list of a woman's anatomical charms (the type later known as blason anatomique) is said to illustrate the impossibility of maintaining "Epicurean ataraxia" (p. 104), although nothing of the sort appears in the text; the assertion that AP 5.24 = 13 Sider concerns "some Epicurean notions of the soul" (p. 110) ignores Philodemus' evident imitation of Meleager (extending to the appropriation of the name of his girlfriend Heliodora), who makes similar reference to the soul (cf. AP 12.80; 12.81) without Epicurean implications; that fear about adultery is the problem in AP 5.25 = 15 Sider remains only a possibility and certainly not one that justifies reading the poem as "a humorous counterexample" to Epicurean views about the pains attendant on sexual pleasures (pp. 116-17); in APl 234 = 30 Sider, the wit of the poem about a statue composed of three gods who request sacrifices is well noted, but the poem is then irrelevantly interpreted in terms of an supposed "Epicurean audience" who believed gods "take no part in human affairs" (p. 170); in AP 11.318 = 31 Sider, Anticrates is assumed to be a Stoic, without any evidence, so that the references to astrology in a poem whose raison d'être is actually its witty obscenity can be contrasted with Epicurean rejection of astrological belief. Many of these poems can be more simply explained by reference to epigrammatic topoi, and I myself am less inclined than Sider to assume they were composed for a primary audience of Epicurean friends who were primed to find philosophical allusion in every sort of remark.
More generally, Sider's readings of the epigrams are sensible and sometimes highly illuminating (see, for instance, his explanation of the sexual innuendoes in AP 11.318 = 31 Sider). I found his basic interpretations almost always convincing, and he manages to make sense out of even the more problematic poems. The comments I append here are not intended, then, as objections but as supplementary thoughts stimulated by his discussions. AP 9.570 = 3 Sider: In refuting the curious scholarly tradition that Xantho is here a bee, Sider misses the metaphorical association of the girl with a statue (κηρόπλαστε, μυρόχροε, ἄγαλμα). AP 5.123 = 14 Sider: Since the poem contains no direct indication Kallistion is sleeping while her lover addresses Selene, there is no reason to assume the improbable circumstance that she "will remain asleep during lovemaking" (p. 113). AP 5.25 = 15 Sider: The parallel of Theocr. Id. 1.130, where Eros "drags" Daphnis to Hades, supports the mss. reading θρασύς referring to Eros who "drags" the impassioned speaker rather than Sider's θρασεῖα referring to Kydille; Eros is often "bold" and compelling in earlier epigrams (cf. θρασύς in AP 5.177.6, 5.213.4). AP 5.121 = 17 Sider: Surprisingly omitted is reference to the discussion of dark-skinned mistresses in A. Cameron, GRBS 31 (1990) 287-311 and F. Snowden, GRBS 32 (1991) 239-53; the name Philainion is more likely a reminiscence of Asclepiades' Philainion in AP 5.162 than the Philainis who wrote sex manuals. AP 5.306 = 25 Sider: A female speaker addressing an impotent lover is assumed, but a male speaker complaining to a female "tease" seems just as likely. AP 11.44 = 27 Sider: The final couplet ("If you ever turn an eye to us too, Piso, instead of a modest [λιτῆς] feast we shall lead a richer [πιοτέρην] one") no doubt alludes (programmatically?) to the Aetia prologue (fr. 1.37-38 Pf.). AP 6.246 = 35 Sider: Parallel examples of epigrams on equestrian subjects are offered by the new Posidippus papyrus in Milan.
Sider has produced an admirable edition and commentary, and one that is likely to remain the standard text of Philodemus' epigrams for many decades. Not least among its virtues is a clear and attractive prose style. Even those few who, like myself, read it from cover to cover will remain engaged, and come away with a better understanding of Cicero's assessment of Philodemus' poetry as ita festivum, ita concinnum, ita elegans, nihil ut fieri possit argutius (Pis. 70).