Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.01.19

Michael Hillgruber, Die pseudoplutarchische Schrift De Homero. Teil I: Einleitung und Kommentar zu den Kapiteln 1-73; Teil II: Kommentar zu den Kapiteln 74-218. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 57-58.   Stuttgart und Leipzig:  B.G. Teubner, 1994-1999.  Pp. ix and x, 523 (continuous numbering).  ISBN 3-519-07607-1.  DM 64,- and 118, -.  

Reviewed by Dirk M. Schenkeveld, 23 Herman Heijermanslaan, 2106 ER HEEMSTEDE, Netherlands (
Word count: 1445 words

[Plutarchus], De Homero 2 is the Latin title of the text on which Michael Hillgruber (MH) has written the commentary under review here.1 We also have a text entitled [Plutarchus], De Homero 1, but that one is just a short Life of Homer and is probably meant as an introduction to a copy of the Iliad. The latest edition of both texts is that of J.F. Kindstrand published in 1990 in the Teubner Series, whereas in 1996 Keaney & Lamberton have given a Greek text with English translation of the second treatise.2 I have not seen the latter edition and MH tells us that it cannot but with many reservations be seen as being a scholarly edition, for it has neither praefatio nor apparatus criticus. I shall not go into the question whether this absence is enough to disqualify that edition or not. At any rate, the second treatise is the more important one and has always been seen as such.

Like the first treatise, it also contains a very short Life of Homer (sections 2 and 3), prefaced by a general eulogy on Homer as the greatest poet and followed by a longer piece on the benefits of the Homeric epics for education. At section 6 the author finally starts his argument proper, namely an exposition first of the πολυφωνία of Homer in language and style (6-73) and then on his πολυμάθεια in contents (74-217). The final section (218) is again a short eulogy in general terms. From this survey it appears that the treatise has the character of an Essay on the Poetry of Homer, to which that on the Life of Homer is an inevitable addendum. Indeed, not before the editions of H. Stephanus (Geneva 1566, 1573) do we meet with the title περὶ Ὁμήρου βίου καὶ ποιήσεως. Kindstrand (pp. xi-xii) is right in adopting as the Greek title of this treatise περὶ Ὁμήρου, which is also found in an important branch of the manuscript tradition.

The claim that Homer's epics are full of benefits to education and contain all sorts of stylistic features, all kinds of practical wisdom and philosophical tenets, reminds one of Plato's reference to Homer's eulogists who assert that this poet has educated Hellas (Rep. 10.606E). In his introduction MH competently treats the history of the concept that Homer is the source of all knowledge (pp. 4-35). It really starts in the age of the Sophists and continues through the whole of Antiquity. MH spends more pages on the early stages of the process in the Classical and Early Hellenistic periods than on the later periods. Nevertheless, his exposition goes further than that of Verdenius, to take one relatively recent publication, who restricts his survey to the Classical period.3 MH refrains from evaluating the concept of Homer being the source of all knowledge, whereas Verdenius compares this idea to his own views on a didactic purpose to be found in the epics of Homer. I can understand MH's position -- he has to give a framework to Pseudo-Plutarch's treatise in order to perceive its place in the history of ancient ideas about Homer whereas Verdenius's purpose was different.

For the same reason I can appreciate MH's decision to keep his discussion restricted to the concept mentioned above. For instance, he is very short on Aristarchus and his school (p. 27) because they rejected the idea and, consequently, MH is not obliged to discuss their own ideas. At p. 82 he rightly observes: "Eine erschöpfliche Darstellung der Wirkungsgeschichte Homers im Altertum ist bis heute ein Desideratum geblieben". In my 1976 article on the appreciation of Homer's poetry by the Greeks4 I have tried to give a systematic survey of the various approaches the Greek have taken towards Homer. I still think that such a systematisation is preferable to a chronological method, and I was glad to see that in his Homer's Readers5 Howard Clarke also thought so. I regret that MH does not refer to the latter book.

But, to come back to MH's book, it is evident that his exposition concerns one aspect only, though an important one, of Homer's Nachleben.

MH starts his Einleitung with a short discussion about the ascription of the treatise to Plutarch. This discussion can be short because the arguments against this authorship are overwhelming and almost none has thought otherwise. There is, however, some doubt on the question of possible relationships between work(s) of Plutarch and this treatise. In some forty pages (pp. 38-74) MH painstakingly discusses the views of scholars like Diels (Doxographi graeci (1879) 88-99) on the sources of the various parts of the work. It is evident that it cannot be traced to one specific work or author and, as the author himself suggests (section 218),6 it is a compilation from all kinds of sources. I shall not bore my readers by enumerating for each part its conceivable sources; on the whole, MH judiciously explains their setting, and one cannot but applaud that almost everywhere he refrains from picking out lost works as being the source. That kind of Quellenforschung we can do without.

At the end of this chapter (pp. 74-6) MH comes to the question what we can say about the author of this curious work. He cannot have been a professional grammarian or rhetorician, MH argues, because in the parts concerning grammar and rhetorical features of Homer's epics he does not give views of his own but excerpts only from other works. Moreover, in the second part he uses rhetorical terms in order to arrange his material in a way no rhetorician would accept. MH himself is inclined to look at the author as a pedagogue who for school purposes wished to write an introduction to Homer's poetry. His main argument is that the kind of interpretation the author uses was very much in vogue with the grammarians, as, for instance, is apparent from the bT scholia to Homer's Iliad (p. 34). I do not understand the distinction MH makes between a pedagogue who writes this treatise (for use in school) and a grammarian. MH's implicit requirement (cp. p. 65) that, if the author were a grammarian, he should have original views and not merely excerpt existing works is not convincing. Because its approach to Homer is similar to that in the second century A.D., MH thinks that De Homero was composed at the end of that century. In this view he is in harmony with other scholars such as Kindstrand and Lamberton, although not with all their arguments.

In a survey of five pages MH finally treats the main points of the influence (Nachwirkung) of the treatise from the 12th century onwards. There we find the first clear evidence of its use by men such as Isaac Porphyrogennetos in his Praefatio in Homerum. MH ends this exposé with the appearance of an equally curious work by Jakob Friedrich Reimmann (1668-1743). It was published in 1728 and its title is at the same time a manifesto: Ilias post Homerum, hoc est incunabula omnium scientiarum ex Homero eruta et systematice descripta.

After the long introduction comes the commentary in two volumes. Its raison d'être is elucidation of details and incorporation (Aufarbeitung) of the many parallels (p. III). The result is overwhelming: we get a few annotations on the language of the treatise,7 hundreds, if not thousands, of parallels from ancient texts and references to secondary literature, and about seventy times a defence of a different reading from Kindstrand's text.8 In the good old Swiss-German tradition the reader is expected to be able to translate all the Greek quoted, and a translation of difficult parts is rarely given.

At the end MH offers the reader several indexes: Deviations from Kindstrand's text; Namen und Sachen, Greek terms, a long index locorum. In view of the numerous references to modern studies a list of names of scholars quoted or referred to would have been welcome too.

It will not come as a surprise if I observe that not everything in the commentary is equally necessary. At times MH displays much learning and seems anxious to let his readers know that he is aware of problems, but at other times he keeps to a simple reference without taking a position of his own. But in a commentary of this kind with its focus on the parallels one can expect such redundancies.

De Homero is not a treatise to read for hours on end. It is to be consulted from time to time on specific issues. The same is true for MH's commentary. But one will not come away from it without knowing more about the item one inspected it for.


1.   Only the second volume was sent to the editors of BMCR. I shall also review these volumes in Mnemosyne.
2.   J.F. Kindstrand, [Plutarchus], De Homero, Leipzig: Teubner 1990. J.J. Keaney and R. Lamberton, [Plutarch], Essay on the Life and Poetry of Homer (American Classical Studies 40), Atlanta GA: 1996.
3.   W.J. Verdenius, Homer the Educator of the Greeks (Med. Kon. Nederl. Akad. V. Wet., afd. Letterkunde, NR 33.5), Amsterdam: North-Holland Publ. Comp., 1970.
4.   D.M. Schenkeveld, De waardering van Homerus' poëzie bij de Grieken, Lampas 9, 1972, 214-42 (not Pallas, as MH p. 82 writes).
5.   Howard Clarke, Homer's Readers: A Historical Introduction to the Iliad and the Odyssey, Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 1981.
6.   There he speaks of offering to the Muses his book as if it were a wreath woven from a meadow full of many-coloured flowers.
7.   In the commentary on sect. 30 καὶ λέξιν κτλ. I miss a reference to the Hamburg dissertation of J. Baar, Untersuchungen zur Terminologie der Iliasscholien (1952), but this work exists in cyclostyled form only and was never published. Baar has a thorough discussion of the meanings of τὸ ἑξῆς (= the continuous text).
8.   For instance, in sect. 45 τὸ οὐδέτερον ὡς <πρὸς τὸ> νέφος, where the insertion not only solves a textual problem but at the same time is in agreement with the explanation of ancient grammarians.

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