Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.12.59

Emanuele Lelli (ed.), ΠΑΡΟΙΜΙΑΚΩΣ . Ιl proverbio in Grecia e a Roma (3 vols.). Philologia antiqua, 2, 2009; 3, 2010; 4, 2011.   Pisa; Roma:  Fabrizio Serra editore, 2010.  Pp. 233; 234; 240.  ISBN 9788862273435.  €240.00.  

Reviewed by Victoria Jennings, University of Adelaide (

ΠΑΡΟΙΜΙΑΚΩΣ will be an indispensible resource for anyone interested in the use of proverbs and sententiae in ancient texts.


Emanuele Lelli, Premessa (9): ΠΑΡΟΙΜΙΑΚΩΣ offers "una panoramica accurata" of proverbs and sententiae from Hesiod to the fifth century AD.

Renzo Tosi, Introduzione (13-29), reviews proverbial wisdom from earliest texts to Byzantine paroemiography. Tosi laments the loss of Aristotle On Proverbs for definitive assessment of the proverb's lapidary take on popular ethics, but also recommends expanding the purview to include gnomai and sententiae.

1. ESIODO. Andrea Ercolani, Enunciati sentenziosi nelle Opere e Giorni di Esiodo (31-43). Works and Days exemplifies 'model' wisdom literature. Ercolani's typological approach covers formulaic structures (δεινόν (ἐστί) + infinitive [687]; ἀνήρ formulations), meter, and gnomic frequency (95 of 828 lines are sentential).

2. ARCHILOCO. Luca Bettarini, Archiloco fr. 201 W.2: meglio volpe o riccio? (45-51). Was Archilochus fox or hedgehog? Which is superior? Is it his skill to be both? Bettarini deftly reviews these old questions. I would have welcomed broader discussion of Archilochus' proverbial programme.

3. ALCEO. Emanuele Lelli, La pragmatica proverbiale di Alceo (53-60). Alcaeus is the most proverbial Greek poet (1 proverb per 20 lines). Sympotic, political, maritime and 'pragmatic' (animals, objects, daily life) themes predominate. For Lelli, Alcaeus' use of proverbs is intensely pragmatic: quotidian Realien render the message immediate and inviolable.

4. TEOGNIDE. Federico Condello, Proverbi in Teognide, Teognide in proverbio (61-85). The proverb's multi- functionality allows Theognis to 'shift' (technically and in terms of transition beyond the performative moment) between particular/general, singular/universal, historical/ahistorical and aristocratic/popular.

5. ESCHILO. Maurizio Grimaldi, Il proverbio in Eschilo: un aspetto della tecnica drammatica (87-104). Proverbs can represent a mode of speech enabling communication across class barriers and designating a speaker's status. Clytemnestra's proverb at Ag. 264-5 (flagged, ὥσπερ παροιμία...) well illustrates how a proverb's simplicity of form proves complex in application.

6. SOFOCLE. Pierpaolo Peroni, Inconsapevoli profezie (105-25). Proverbs reinforce normative values to listeners familiar with their static ethics. This familiarity narrows the distance between audience and mythic past. Peroni examines paranetic (persuasive/ dissuasive), apologetic (explanatory/ justificatory) and interpretative (what has or should have happened) functions of Sophoclean proverbs.

7. SOFOCLE, Antigone. Giovanni Di Maria, Antigone a Crotone (127-35), notes a Calabrese survival in the context of modern reception of Ant. 904-20.

8. ERODOTO. Lorenzo Miletti, «Ippoclide non se ne cura!»: Erodoto storico delle forme brevi (137-44). Herodotus adopts "un metalinguaggio preciso" when alluding to popular wisdom (proverb, gnome, chreia, apophthegm). Proverbs occur mostly in direct speech. Miletti explores Herodotus' aetiology of οὐ φροντὶς Ἱπποκλείδῃ ('Hippocleides doesn't care!' 6.129-30) and its reception (οὐ φροντὶς Ἡροδότῳ: Plutarch De malignitate Herodoti 33, 867b).

9. CRATINO. Emanuele Lelli, Il proverbio a teatro (145-54). Popular cultural and folkloric references are common in comedy, which manipulates familiarity for laughs. Cratinus is the most proverbial comic poet. Themes include animals (asses are big), the quotidian, geography (including fantastical), komodoumenoi, gods/heroes (especially Heracles), and sententiae of known authorship (less common). A rewarding chapter from a scholar entirely at home with the material.

10. ARISTOFANE. Silvio Schirru, Due ateniesi «ai corvi». Espressioni proverbiali negli Uccelli di Aristofane (155-61). Bird proverbs add appropriate metaphorical 'piumaggio' to the utopian Birds (e.g., γάλα ὀρνίθων, 'birds' milk': 734, 1673). Do proverbs possess a broader functional significance? Schirru compares the persuasive and analogous functions of fable with proverb, then seeks functional reasons for repetition of the cussing ἐς κόρακας ('[Go] to the crows!' 28, 889).

11. ARISTOTELE. Michele Curnis, «Reliquie di antica filosofia»: i proverbi in Aristotele (163-213). This edifying chapter covers Aristotle's lost work on proverbs; the Ps.-Aristotelian Paroimia; Aristotle in the paroemiographical tradition; how Aristotle distinguishes paroimia, gnome and apophthegma; and the use of proverbs in Rhetoric, Politics (notably, ἄνθρωπος φύσει πολιτικὸν ζῷον, 'man, the social animal': 1253a1-4) and Nicomachean Ethics.

12. MENANDRO. Silvio Schirru, Proverbi e sentenze nelle commedie di Menandro (215-27), details how Menander introduces proverbs (commonly, τὸ λεγόμενον ), and the content, structure and structural logic of proverbs and sententiae.

13. MENANDRO, Monostici. Carlo Pernigotti, Il migliore dei testi possibili? Osservazioni su proverbi, sentenze e critica testuale (229-33). The transmission of proverb/sententia collections has been neglected. Pernigotti's insights derive from editing the Menandri Sententiae: 877 lines of Christianization, abridgement, invention and multiple redactions of a shadowy Ursammlung.


14. CALLIMACO. Emanuele Lelli, Il proverbio in laboratorio (11-25), discusses Callimachus in the paroemiographic tradition and examines the type and use of proverbs in Hymns/Hecale (traditional sententiousness), Aetia (evidential; argument bolstering), Epigrams (idiomatic tone), and Iambs (popular, folkloric feel). Iamb 11 [201 Pf.] presents a 'tasty' proverbial aition.

15. TEOCRITO. Claudio Meliadò, Proverbi e falsi proverbi in Teocrito (27-36), studies proverbs used — not composed — by Theocritus. Some Idylls prove particularly rich (14; 16). Meliadò investigates the transmission and paroemiography of ἀπωτέρω γόνυ κνάμα (16.16-8: 'the shin is further than the knee').

16. SETTANTA. Umberto Livadiotti, "Come un picchetto piantato nella roccia": commercio e cupidigia in Sir. 26,20 - 27,2 (37-43). Proverbs linking trade and avarice in Ben Sira (Sirach/Ecclesiasticus) warn of the moral dangers of Jerusalem's commerce with the Hellenistic world.

17. EPITAFIO EPIGRAFICO. Valentina Garulli, Epitafio epigrafico e tradizione proverbiale: spunti per una riflessione (45-59). Gnomic pithiness — proverbial 'keywords' — facilitates epitaphic recognisability. Garulli examines popular themes and sources.

18. PLAUTO. Silvia Paponi, L'andamento sentenzioso della frase plautina: proverbi ed enunciati sentenziosi (61-74), explores proverbial signposting (scio; nam/conjunction), function (e.g., introductory — rousing the spectators' curiosity), speakers (almost everybody, regardless of social status) and effects (flavour of oral speech; audience identification).

19. TERENZIO. Marco Giovini, Proverbi e sententiae a carattere proverbiale in Terenzio (75-116), groups Terence's proverbial expressions alphabetically into 40 themes to facilitate 'organic', 'thematic-conceptual' discussion. Giovini translates each example and comments on sources and reception. Some themes prove common (love, Fortune, wisdom); others less so (food, 'animo umano').

20. CECILIO STAZIO. Marco Cipriani, Homo homini Deus: la malinconica sentenziosità di Cecilio Stazio (117- 59), translates the many sentential fragments of Caecilius Statius and comments on sources, context, stylistic nuances, dramatic function, and reception. An appendix of very fragmentary, likely sentential passages completes a first-rate chapter.

21. ACCIO. Giampiero Scafoglio, Le sententiae nella tragedia romana (161-80). Scafoglio examines the structure and sources (popular wisdom; philosophy; Greek tragedy; New Comedy) of Accius' fragments. Major themes are human responsibility, nobility and power/tyranny; lesser themes include prudence and female guile.

22. CICERONE. Valentina Bonsangue, "Non avere nemmeno un pelo di uomo onesto". Impiego proverbiale e allusioni comiche nella Pro Roscio comoedo di Cicerone (181-9). In Pro Q. Roscio Comoedo Cicero's physiognomical and comedic allusions culminate in the witty, denigrating proverb of the man shorn of hair and eyebrows — without a single hair of an honest man (ne ullum pilum viri boni habere dicatur [20]).

23. ORAZIO. Marcella Guglielmo, I proverbi nel primo libro delle Epistole di Orazio (191-206), analyses the didactic Epistles for playful twists given to traditional themes (amicitia; sympotic gnomai) and material (philosophical maxims).

24. FEDRO. Caterina Mordeglia, Dalla favola al proverbio, dal proverbio alla favola. Genesi e fortuna dell'elemento gnomico fedriano (207-30), systematically examines Phaedrus' proverbs and gnomai (reception is a major interest), and tackles the chicken-and-egg relationship of proverb and fable. Fable condenses easily into proverb (cf. pro- and epimythia); proverb expands readily into fable/narrative.


25. SENECA IL VECCHIO. Andrea Balbo, Tra sententia e proverbio. Problemi di paremiografia in Seneca il Vecchio (11-33), adopts a methodical approach to Seneca's 'materiale proverbiale'. Proverbium occurs once; dictum is more common. Seneca uses proverbs to reinforce, close (epigrammatically) or explain an argument and for paradoxical/ironic effect. Proverb and metaphor often blur. The tenor is moralistic and didactic. Themes include fortune, misogyny, virtue, love, daily life, and divine power.

26. SENECA, Apocolocyntosis. Alice Bonandini, Sentenze proverbiali latine e greche nella satira menippea (35-45), analyses the distribution (uneven) and stylistic purpose of Apocolocyntosis' proverbs (30 in 25 Teubner pages). They function programmatically, parodically and for colloquial effect. Proverbs feature in Latin to Greek code-switching (as Menippean as proverbosity): ἔγγιον γόνυ κνήμη (10.4; requiring cross-reference to Chapter 13).

27. SENECA MORALE. Alfredo Casamento, Benefici proverbiali (tra Publilio e Seneca) (47-53), speculates on the influence of Publilius Syrus on beneficium on De beneficiis, and contemporary ideas of beneficium. This is tricky: the Sententiae will inextricably interlace with the Ps.-Senecan sententiae. I wanted more on Senecan proverb (and the Stoics), given Epistles 108.10 on the efficacy of poetic sententiae to leaven philosophical prosody.

28. SENECA, Epigrammi. Maria Nicole Iulietto, Alcune gnomai sul tempo negli epigrammi di Anthologia vossiana attribuiti a Seneca (cc.1 e 20-20a Zurli) (55-60). Iulietto's analysis of 'time' (e.g., tempus edax) in the pseudo-Senecan epigrams determines the Anthologia Vossiana's constituents: Pindaric, Horatian and Ovidian-styled clichés and chunks of Publilius Syrus larded with Stoicism.

29. PETRONIO. Giulio Vannini, La funzione stilistica e caratterizzante delle espressioni proverbiali nel Satyricon (61-81). Proverbs are most frequent in speech ("essenziale all'imitazione del parlato"), particularly among lower orders and women (although they also nuance cultured speech), and increase in frequency with the lowering of an argument's tone. Frequency rockets when freedmen speak. Themes are pessimistic and quotidian.

30. MARZIALE. Delphina Fabbrini, "Vendere fumo": da Marziale a Sant'Agostino (con un'appendice su Erasmo da Rotterdam) (83-98), traces the shifting connotations of 'selling smoke' through Martial 4.5 (vendere… vanos circa Palatia fumos), Apuleius, Historia Augusta, Augustine and Erasmus.

31. LUCIANO. Gianluigi Tomassi, Proverbi in Luciano di Samosata (99-121), discusses Lucian's stylistic use of proverbs (tonality; accessibility; hyperbole), themes (divine; historical anecdote; geographical stereotyping; daily life; natural world). Animal proverbs are chiefly used to denigrate. Lucian's proverbial reflex is common to his time.

32. PLUTARCO. Stefano Amendola, "I giardini di Adone": Plu. Ser. Num. 560 b-c ed Erasm. Adag. I I 4 (123-31) explores the origins and reception of τοὺς Ἀδώνιδος κήπους ('the gardens of Adonis') in Plutarch's allusion to the soul's ephemerality. Amendola demonstrates the influence of Erasmian hermeneutics on paroemiology.

33. STRATONE DI SARDI. Lucia Floridi, Espressioni proverbiali in Stratone di Sardi (133-46). Strato manipulates the communality and authority of proverbial themes, with scandalous consequences (e.g., juxtaposing gnomic pretentiousness with pragmatic eroticism). On proverbs created from literary sources, Floridi notes the highfaluting 'gold for bronze' opening of AP 12.204, χρύσεα χαλκείων (Iliad 6.236), alluding to inequitable sexual exchange.

34. EUSTAZIO. Eleonora Mazzotti, Χρύσεα χαλκείων. "Armi d'oro per armi di bronzo" (147-52), examines the transmission of the gold/bronze locution through Homer, Plato, Cicero, Aelian, Martial, Pliny, Gellius and Eustathius. Strato is absent.

TEMI E MOTIVI: 35. ORIENTE E GRECIA. Anna Sofia, Misoginia e femminismo nei proverbi egizi, demotici e greci. Linee di un confronto (155-75), compares treatment of women in Egyptian and Greek proverbs (and society). Amid much 'internationalisation' of traditional wisdom (e.g., human limitations; friendship; justice), women appear particularly popular subjects in Egypt. Sofia examines Ankhsheshonqy, the Narmouthis demotic ostraka and the misogynistic Menandri Sententiae.

36. GLI ADYNATA. Doralice Fabiano, "La giara forata". Un adýnaton tra proverbio e racconto (177- 85), traces the proverbial adynaton of carrying water in a leaky jar from its application to Eleusinian non- initiates to the dominant narrative of the eternally sieving Danaids. Fabiano well demonstrates the resistance of proverbs to fossilization.

37. PROVERBI E ANIMALI. Riccardo Marzucchini, I proverbi con gli animali (187-209), would classify animals in the Greek cultural imagination by an axiological scale from high (noble, positive) to low (humble, negative) which might align with an axiology of genres (epic to iamb). Studying animals in proverbs (20% of proverbs in Zenobius) highlights some problems, notably animals with positive and negative characteristics (the bee is a simple example; the dog a very complex signifier). Detailed studies of the pig and the eagle conclude this remarkable chapter.

38. POSTFAZIONE. Riccardo Di Donato, Anthropologica antiqua (211-5), seeks an 'anthropology' — not morphology — of popular wisdom. Historical and sociological theory aid this idealistic endeavour.

Some general considerations: almost every contributor expands discussion from proverb sensu stricto to an understandably broad terminological position incorporating gnomai and sententiae. ΠΑΡΟΙΜΙΑΚΩΣ is admirable in scope, but coverage can seem slender when contributors focus on one proverb/work of, say, Aristophanes or Cicero. There are gaps: no Plato, Virgil, Ovid; history and philosophy are under-represented. I wanted more on proverbs created by the ancient authors (almost an adynaton?). Lack of cross- referencing or an index of proverbs and subjects likewise detract from utility. There is an index of passages discussed. Some contributors translate ancient texts; many do not. Volumes I and II contain few significant typographic errors; volume III has gone to the dogs.1 These factors should not detract from these enthusiastic and rewarding attempts to dissect the functioning of proverbial wisdom.2


1.   Examples: I p.40n3 Rythm; meaningsful. II: p.110n5 (19662) [(19662)]; p.188n2 commedies; p.208n6 and passim Grubmuller/Grubmüller. III: p.7 Apocolocynthosis; p.12n2 Repubblic; p.109 forrme; p.115n3 borrozed; p.116n4 βίοςβραχύς; p.115n3 and passim ecrivain; p.117n2 reworkind; p.120n6 wirkllich; p.127n3 comon; p.130 Reinassance; p.136n2 wolfes; p.141n5 Bizantine; p.156n4 and passim sumerian; p.156n4 Cheaster; p.157n6 Costantine; p.160n4 Phocilides; p.165n5 Papirology; Literatur[e]. Two chapter titles contain misprints: Chapter 33 'Statone' (continuing in the headers); Chapter 34 ΧΡΗΑ ΧΑΛΚΕΙΩΝ (and χαλκέων in Contents). Chapter 25 has a different title in the cumulative Contents.
2.   These papers' footnotes reinforce the relevance of one particular reference text, which has been supplemented but never supplanted: Leutsch, E. L. von and F. G. Schneidewin (edd.). Corpus Paroemiographorum Graecorum, Volume 1, Paroemiographi Graeci: Zenobius, Diogenianus, Plutarchus, Gregorius Cyprius cum appendice proverbiorum (Leipzig, 1839). CPG has now been reprinted for the Cambridge library collection (Cambridge University Press, 2010. ISBN 9781108015530) and is freely available on Google Books (where one can enlarge the tiny scratchy apparatus).

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