Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.12.07

Peder Borgen, Käre Fuglseth, Roald Skarsten, The Philo Index: A Complete Greek Word Index to the Writings of Philo of Alexandria.   Grand Rapids, The Netherlands:  Eerdmans, 2000.  Pp. 371.  ISBN 0-8028-3883-9.  $62.00.  

Reviewed by Margaret Graver, Dartmouth College (
Word count: 1091 words

Scholars in many fields will greet with pleasure this carefully produced index to Greek words in the corpus of Philo of Alexandria. A print version of an electronic database produced at the University of Bergen in Norway, the volume is the product of many years of painstaking data-entry, manipulation, and correction. While it does not take the place of the machine-searchable version, which the authors hope to make available in time, the printed index provides a reasonably convenient and relatively inexpensive option for exhaustive searching of Philo's huge corpus and is a highly desirable addition to individual and library reference collections. Borgen, Fuglseth, and Skarsten are greatly to be thanked for this tremendous service to the field, and the Norwegian Council for Research in the Humanities for funding the project.

While Philo's text can already be searched in the usual way via the TLG database, the Bergen database offers a considerable advantage to the user because of the effort the authors have put into lemmatization. All the inflected forms each Greek word have been brought under a single entry, so that rather than searching for, say, ἀπορία in each of its eight forms, one need only look up the form which would appear in a standard LSJ entry. With verbs, of course, the time thus saved is inestimable. Users should be aware that the index does depart from LSJ in some of its lemmatization: verbal adjectives, for instance, are subsumed under the corresponding verb (e.g. λεκτέος under λέγω), adverbs in -ως appear under the corresponding adjective, and forms of ἀγατηός are all taken together (so that there is no entry for ἄριστος or βελτίων, though ἀριστεύω and Philo's peculiar βελτιόω both appear). These policies all follow the practice of the previously standard Philo index by Mayer; none of them, I think, is likely to cause any particular difficulty in use.1 More challenging, though entirely defensible, is the authors' decision not to distinguish among homographs, identically spelled words with difference in meaning, as ἄπειμι in the present "am away" and ἄπειμι, the future of "go away." Users who have occasion to search for such items will need to study each instance in context to determine which meaning is intended.

Standards of accuracy and completeness are very high. The standard Greek text of Philo's opera by Cohn and Wendland has been supplemented by Colson's Hypothetica and De Providentia and by Petit's edition of the Greek fragments of the Quaestiones in Genesim et in Exodum (both copied from the TLG database), and more recently by Paramelle's polyglot edition of Quaestiones in Genesim 2.1-7.2 An earlier version of the print index was published in 1997 by the University of Trondheim, prior to the addition of the material from Paramelle; David Runia, who reviewed that publication, reported finding only a single error in a year of use, and that has since been corrected.3 To be sure, an index can only be as good as the texts on which it is based, and no index can represent fully the body of manuscript material from which our printed editions have been distilled. Cohn and Wendland's text was completed in 1915 and is due for revision; Colson's De Providentia contains the Greek fragments from Eusebius but lacks those published by Hadas-Lebel in volume 35 of the French edition of Philo's works; in general, the fragment collections necessarily represent much editorial decision-making as to which supposed fragments are spurious and which ought to be included.4 But one does at least have some reasonable confidence that if the token uses appearing (or failing to appear) in the index do not represent Philo's actual usage, the error does not originate in the index itself but in the vagaries of Philo's unusually complicated transmission.

It is somewhat ironic that this beautifully-produced index, the most satisfactory ever produced for Philo's corpus and by far the easiest to use, should be overshadowed even as it comes to print by the promise of a yet more satisfactory electronic version. In their introduction detailing the history of the concordance project, Borgen, Fuglseth, and Skarsten note that their electronic database "contains much information that is not easily represented in a printed edition." One can, for instance, search electronically for alternative lemmata (ἀγήραος rather than ἀγήρως) or for particular text-forms such as the verbal adjectives mentioned above. A key-word-in-context feature presents each token use with a fixed amount of context before and after, making it possible to scan through all the uses of a word and select quickly those that are of interest. It is to be hoped that recent advances in web-interface technology will enable the University to offer a WWW version (perhaps with user fee) in the near future, web access being at this point easier and more generally applicable than either a MacIntosh- or PC-formatted CD-ROM. In the meantime, those who have access to the TLG database have the excellent option of using the new print index in combination with various kinds of TLG searches. One can then rely on the lemmatized format of the index to verify that one is finding all instances of a word while taking advantage of the computer's capacity to perform interactive and Boolean searches and to display the context of uses which look to be of particular interest.

With every new scholarly tool comes a wish list of further tools that might be devised. Now that we have a reliable index of Philo's extant Greek writings, one looks with longing at those portions of Philo which are preserved only in Latin or in Armenian calques, word-for-word renderings which preserve terminological consistency at the expense of Armenian usage.5 The business of guessing which Greek word lies behind some particular term in Armenian is bound to be risky, and the suggestions offered by Marcus in his Loeb edition of the Quaestiones in Genesim et in Exodum are not always to be relied upon.6 Still, many such equivalences can be confirmed from surviving Greek fragments or from those texts which survive both in Armenian and in Greek. Might it not be possible to produce a kind of partial index, at least for some select list of terms, which would enable those of us who do not read Armenian to locate the passages that are of interest? For these non-Greek texts do contain much that is of theological, philosophical, and/or exegetical interest. Lacking a comprehensive index, one is reduced to tedious visual scanning or to comparisons among the indexes provided by the various modern translators. A quicker and more reliable tool would be welcome.


1.   Günter Mayer, Index Philoneus (Berlin 1974). For a full discussion of available methods of searching Philo prior to the publication of the present index, see D. Runia, "How to Search Philo," Studia Philonica Annual 2 (1990), 106-139.
2.   Leopold Cohn and Paul Wendland, (eds.), Philonis Alexandrini opera quae supersunt, (Berlin, 1896-1915); F.H. Colson, Philo (Loeb Classical Library edition), vol. 9 (Cambridge, Mass., 1941); Petit, F., ed., Philon d'Alexandrie, Questiones in Genesim et in Exodum, fragmenta Graeca (Paris, 1978); Paramelle, J., Philon d'Alexandrie: Questions sur la Genèse II 1-7: texte grec, version arménienne, parallèles latins (Geneva, 1984).
3.   D. Runia, "A New Philo Word Index," Studia Philonica Annual 10 (1998), 131-134.
4.   The French edition is R. Arnaldez, J. Pouilloux, C. Mondésert, gen. eds., Les oeuvres de Philon d'Alexandrie, (Paris, 1961-92). For the difficulties of evaluating the fragments see J. Royse, The spurious fragments of Philo of Alexandria (Leiden, 1991).
5.   The history and methods of the Armenian translators are discussed by F. Petit in L'Ancienne Version Latine des Questions sur la Genèse de Philon d'Alexandrie (Berlin, 1973), 15-17.
6.   R. Marcus, ed., Philo, Questions and answers on Genesis (London and Cambridge, Mass., 1953), the supplemental volumes I-II to the Loeb Philo. For deficiencies in Marcus's rendering see Paramelle 1984, 60. Marcus also produced an Armenian-Greek word-list (Journal of the American Oriental Society 53 (1933)). I have not seen this publication myself; in spite of potential difficulties, though, it is bound to have considerable utility for those qualified to consult it.

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