Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.08.54

Patrizia Marzillo (ed.), Der Kommentar des Proklos zu Hesiods ‘Werken und Tagen’. Edition, Übersetzung und Erläuterung der Fragmente. Classica Monacensia Bd. 33.   Tübingen:  Narr Verlag, 2010.  Pp. lxxxviii, 458.  ISBN 9783823363538.  €88.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Robbert M. van den Berg and Hugo H. Koning, Leiden University; Ghent University (;

Table of Contents

The reception of Hesiod in antiquity has lately attracted a considerable amount of scholarly attention. Last year saw, among other things, a volume dedicated to Plato’s reception of Hesiod edited by G. R. Boys-Stones and J. H. Haubold, an Italian translation of all the scholia to all the works of Hesiod, as well as the work under review here, an edition and translation of the scholia by the Neoplatonist Proclus on Hesiod’s Works and Days by Patrizia Marzillo.1 According to Suda, Proclus wrote a hypomnêma on Hesiod’s Works and Days. Traces of this work have been preserved in the massive collection of scholia on Hesiod. In this work, originally submitted as a doctoral thesis at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (Munich), Marzillo has taken it upon herself to collect the Proclean material from this collection, edit it, and publish it together with a German translation and commentary.

In the first part of the introduction to her edition, Marzillo sketches an interpretation of Proclus’ commentary. She argues that Proclus considered Hesiod’s poem as an example of divinely inspired poetry that needed to be understood allegorically. The aim of his commentary was to introduce basic elements of Neoplatonic doctrine to a lay audience. Marzillo’s interpretation is in part directed against that of Chiara Faraggina di Sarzana.2 The point is this. In the sixth essay of his commentary on Plato’s Republic, Proclus distinguishes three types of poetry: inspired poetry, didactic poetry, and mimetic poetry. He needs this distinction in order to square the positive attitude of the Neoplatonists to poetry with Plato’s criticism of poetry in the Republic. Plato, so the argument goes, finds fault with mimetic poetry only, not with the two other types of poetry. Of these, inspired poetry is vastly superior to didactic poetry. Whereas didactic poetry presents facts about the physical world or ethical precepts in a straightforward manner, inspired poetry deals with the divine world in allegorical form. For this reason, only inspired poetry is the object of allegorical interpretation. While inspired poetry may contain didactic and even mimetic passages, the opposite is not the case, i.e. didactic poetry does not contain passages of inspired, allegorical poetry. Whereas Faraggina di Sarzana had argued that, for Proclus, Hesiod’s Works and Days constituted an example of didactic poetry, Marzillo argues that Proclus would class the poem as inspired poetry by pointing out that the scholia contain some instances of allegorical interpretation, for example in the case of the two manifestations of Eris and the myth of Prometheus and Pandora.

On the face of it, Marzillo’s argument sounds reasonable. Yet on closer inspection there is reason for doubt. In the first scholion, Proclus describes the skopos (aim) of the poem explicitly as paideutikos, i.e. as didactic. For this reason, he continues, the work is free from ‘ornaments of speech, epithets and metaphors … since simplicity and natural expressions fit ethical expositions.’3 Marzillo has little to say about this passage, which contains a clear indication that Proclus understood the Works and Days primarily as a didactic work, not as some sort of allegorical work. Against Marzillo’s interpretation it can furthermore be pointed out that the scholia actually contain very little allegorical interpretation. This may be because, as Marzillo suggests, the person who excerpted Proclus’ commentary was not greatly interested in obscure Neoplatonic metaphysical speculations. Yet the introductory scholion seems to imply that Proclus did not believe that the Works and Days required much allegorical interpretation. This perhaps also means that the degree to which Proclus’ comments are original and independent from Plutarch’s commentary may be overstated by Marzillo.

However interesting and important the issue of Proclus’ interpretation of the Works and Days may be, the core of this book is an edition, and the second part of the introduction addresses various editorial issues, in particular Marzillo’s criteria for identifying Proclus’ notes within the corpus of scholia. On this issue she relies heavily on Agostino Pertusi, the editor of the standard edition of the scholia vetera on the Works and Days, who relies on palaeographical information for distinguishing Proclean material from other scholia. This evidence is uncontested and we thus see that the collection of Marzillo remains close to the conventional selection: Pertusi attributed about 255 scholia in his collection to Proclus, and was hesitant about 25 or so; Marzillo presents 283 fragments from Proclus’ commentary, and labels about 20 with an asterisk to mark doubt about their authenticity. She has added some fragments on the basis of insights postdating Pertusi’s edition; in this, she shows her allegiance to scholars believing that the comments of Proclus the philosopher cannot have been too ‘grammatical’ or ‘linguistic’. All in all, her choices are well-founded and, moreover, explained in the commentary. The relevant evidence for the selection of scholia is summarized in the first of her three apparatuses.

As for the apparatus criticus, Marzillo’s edition of the Proclean material is based on her own collation of the manuscripts. Of the twelve manuscripts generally deemed relevant for the transmission of Proclean scholia, Marzillo uses eleven, ignoring one ms. because the so-called ‘Proclean’ scholia in it are said to go back to non-Proclean grammatical scholia. As she indicates in her introduction, Marzillo leans heavily on Pertusi’s edition. Her apparatus criticus in fact reads as a leaner version of Pertusi’s, being cleansed of all the minor scribal errors and ill-supported aberrations carefully listed in his edition. Furthermore, Marzillo faithfully added later insights and ventured some conjectures of her own, thus creating a new and informative, transparent, and pleasantly readable apparatus criticus. It should be borne in mind, however, that students of the text must always keep their Pertusi close, as Marzillo, precisely because she is selective, does not offer a complete replacement.

A third apparatus, finally, offers a useful list of loci paralleli. The parallels offered, even though plentiful, are not exhaustive, but understandably so: it is a tricky category with potentially unlimited scope. It is our opinion, however, that some of the parallels offered in the commentary should have been in this apparatus instead: this holds most often in cases of cross-references to Proclus’ own work.

All in all, the edition itself has been competently done and is a welcome addition to the series of recent editions of Proclus’ works. All the more so, since it is the first edition of the remains of this work as such. It may be that the material was already available in Pertusi’s edition, yet Marzillo’s work makes it for the first time easily accessible to the ever-growing community of Proclean scholars.

The text is accompanied by a (German) translation and explanatory notes. Generally speaking, translation of scholia is a difficult task since the often terse and rather dense text is usually felt to need an ‘explanatory’ translation that clarifies the original structure and meaning; naturally, such a translation sometimes reduces the scope of interpretations available to readers of the translated text. This pitfall is unavoidable and it is a pity that Marzillo does not reflect upon it in her introduction, or elaborate upon her approach. Nevertheless, she manages the problem well: the translation is often as literal as possible and the structure of the text is mostly respected. Concessions to readability are mostly kept to a minimum, though there are some exceptions.

As for the actual content of her translation: in some cases there is, almost inevitably, room for discussion. In the case of XLVI, for example, Marzillo translates technikos nous as ‘praktische Intelligenz’. The translation calls to mind Aristotle’s notion of the practical intellect as opposed to the theoretical intellect. This association is apparently intended, for in her note Marzillo writes: ‘mit der Intelligenz kann man die praktischen Probleme des Alltags lösen und sich erst danach den intellektuellen Spekulationen widmen.’ However, when Proclus writes that it is the ‘technical intellect’ (καθ’ ὃν οἱ ἄνθρωποι ζῶσι πρῶτον νοερῶς), we take it that he means that the ‘technical intellect’ is the lowest manifestation of the divine Intellect and therefore the first that human beings will experience. This first experience with Intellect may subsequently direct our attention towards the theoretical contemplation of the Forms, i.e. the essential activity of Intellect. Proclus says this explicitly in a long quotation from the Platonic Theology that Marzillo quotes in her commentary. Unfortunately she does so without analysing or even translating from the Greek this informative passage, leaving it to her readers to make sense of it themselves.

Finally, some words on the commentary. This part of Marzillo’s book is particularly strong and useful in those cases where the attribution to Proclus or a specific interpretation of the scholion is at issue. In such cases, Marzillo shows herself in control of the relevant material and offers relevant discussions. Some of the entries in the commentary, however, seem somewhat out of place, such as paraphrases of the scholion, comments on the meaning of particular words (such as hapax legomena), and especially explanations of the Hesiodic text itself. In such cases, it appears somewhat unclear what kind of audience Marzillo envisages for her book.

To conclude, even though one might wish to disagree with some of Marzillo’s interpretations, this does not alter the fact that, with her fine edition, she has opened up an interesting testimony about Proclus’ reception of the ‘other poet’ for further investigation and discussion. In doing so, she has rendered an important service to the study of later Neoplatonism.


1.   G. R. Boys-Stones and J. H. Haubold (eds.), Plato and Hesiod (Oxford 2010), reviewed for BMCR 2011.02.18 by M. Folch. C. Cassanmagnano, Esiodo. Tutte le opere e i frammenti con la prima traduzione degli scolii (Milan 2009). See also H. H. Koning, Hesiod: The Other Poet. Ancient Reception of a Cultural Icon (Leiden 2010). Koning is also preparing, with Glenn W. Most, an edition and English translation of all Greek exegetical texts on the Theogony.
2.   See especially Chiara Faraggina di Sarzana, ‘Le commentaire à Hésiode et la paideia encyclopédique de Proclus’, in J. Pépin and H. D. Saffrey (eds), Proclus lecteur et interprète des anciens (Paris 1987), 21-41.
3.   Scholion I (3.13-18 Marzillo).

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