Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.10.03 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.10.03

Eva Villani, Il lessico Ambrosiano inedito ΑΝΤΙΧΕΙΡ (C 222 inf., ff. 207r-208v).   Milano:  EDUCatt, 2014.  Pp. 248.  ISBN 9788867800865.  €15.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Eleanor Dickey, University of Reading (

[The complete index to this book has been scanned and is available here.]

This critical edition of a hitherto unpublished Byzantine (Greek-Greek) lexicon, originally the author’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Messina, consists of a brief introduction (pp. 7-50, of which nearly half is occupied by a list of abbreviations), the edition proper (pp. 51-210), and extensive indices (pp. 211-48). The edition is presented with a brief critical apparatus and a detailed apparatus of parallel passages. Rather than being placed at the bottom of each page as usual, the apparatuses follow immediately after each entry. This position would be irritating if one wanted to read the lexicon as continuous text without consulting the apparatus, but given the nature of the work such a desire is unlikely to arise. I found the placement of the apparatus helpful, as it makes it easier to see at a glance which parallels go with which entries — and which entries have no parallels, a detail that is perhaps even more important to highlight.

The introduction is very concise (particularly in the main text, as the majority of pages consist largely of footnotes); its lack of detail, especially about the manuscript and its history, may leave some readers feeling frustrated, but the information presented is clear and easy to find. The lexicon survives in only one manuscript, a twelfth-century production that Villani believes to be the compiler’s autograph. This suggestion is not a priori implausible, for there is a good parallel in the autograph manuscript of Eustathius’ commentary on the Iliad, written in the twelfth century and still preserved today. Nevertheless I wished that more discussion of the reasons for considering this particular manuscript to be the compiler’s autograph had been included, because this is not a claim that should be made lightly by an editor or taken on trust by readers.

One feature of the lexicon particularly worries me in this respect: the manuscript contains blank spaces, apparently where its exemplar was illegible. Villani explains the blanks by suggesting that the compiler copied entries onto slips from a variety of sources, and that some slips were illegible (pp. 26-7); this scenario is not impossible, but it would be odd for someone producing a genuinely new work by selecting entries from a variety of sources to select some that were illegible (or, if the slips became illegible after the initial selection, to retain them despite their illegibility). To me, it seems more likely that the scribe of the extant manuscript copied the bulk of it from a single source (now lost), all of which was included — in my view only a desire to include all the entries in a particular exemplar can convincingly explain the inclusion of illegible and partially legible entries.

Another difficulty with the autograph theory is the 101 entries that were added, apparently by the original scribe, after the initial writing of the manuscript. If the original composition was in fact done via slips, the compiler must have decided to stop collecting material and write up his lexicon, and then later gone back to collecting material. Again, such a scenario is not impossible, but it seems more likely that the scribe first copied the main text from an exemplar and then later found additional material that had not been included in that exemplar.

The question of the lexicon’s origin is, however, tangential to Villani’s interests, which lie chiefly in the edition. This is well done, particularly with regard to the unusually full apparatus of parallel passages. Such a level of detail could not realistically have been provided in an edition of one of the longer Byzantine lexica, but as this one is short the result is perfectly manageable. The parallels are particularly important because they show that many entries are much older than the date of the manuscript, going back to late antiquity and perhaps even earlier.

Even more interesting than these parallels, however, are the entries that have no known parallels. It is this new material that will chiefly interest most readers, who will be pleased to know that the lexicon contains more than a hundred new entries that are coherent (in addition to 46 new entries that will be of minimal use to scholars due to incoherence). The majority of these are short, but some provide considerable detail. Some readers may have more difficulty reading the longer entries than was strictly necessary, for Villani does not always punctuate in the most helpful fashion. No translation is provided; a reviewer can hardly complain about this, since editions of ancient scholarly lexica never do include translations, but I wonder if that custom is sensible in today’s world. Would the interesting information these lexica contain be more widely appreciated if editors provided translations?

Villani provides no commentary, so all the discoveries that could be made about these new entries are open to everyone to make. In order to illustrate the possibilities available and the type of new material found in this lexicon, I reproduce below a few of the new entries from this lexicon, using Villani’s text and my own translations and comments:

Κ 75: κρύφαλα αἱ πέτραι αἱ κεκρυμμέναι παρὰ τῆς ἁλός·
Κρύφαλα (are) rocks hidden by the sea.’ [As far as I can tell, this information is new to modern as well as ancient and Byzantine scholarship. LSJ’s entry on κρύφαλον reads only ‘κρύφαλον· σαβάκανον, Hsch.’, a definition that does not get us much further since σαβάκανον is unattested elsewhere; the entry is bracketed as corrupt in Latte’s edition of Hesychius (where it is entry κ 4259). The other dictionaries I consulted have no entry for κρύφαλον at all.]

Φ 5: φαρὲς τὸ καθαρὸν ἑβραϊκὴ λέξις, ἤγουν τὸ ἀφωρισμένον τῷ θεῷ, ἐξ οὗ καὶ φαρισαῖος ἓν σίγμα·
Φαρές (means) ‘pure’ (and is) a Hebrew word, or rather (it means) something set apart for God, whence (comes) φαρισαῖος (‘Pharisee’) with one sigma.’ [The point about Hebrew is correct, for the root of ‘Pharisee’ is פרש ‘set apart’.]

Σ 22: σμίλαξ εἶδος δένδρου καὶ κλί(νεται) τῆς σμίλακος·
Σμίλαξ (is) a kind of tree, and it is declined in the genitive σμίλακος, feminine.’ [The scribe originally wrote εἶδος βοτάνης ‘a kind of plant’ and then corrected it to ‘tree’. The correction is interesting because LSJ gives four meanings for σμῖλαξ (accented thus in LSJ; Villani’s accent probably goes back to the manuscript, which has accents), of which two are trees and two other kinds of plant: holm-oak, yew tree, kidney bean, and bindweed.]

Κ 74: κυπὰς χιτὼν γυναικεῖος·
Κυπάς (is) a woman’s chiton.’ [As far as I can tell, the information in this entry is new to scholarship. The word κυπάς may occur in Lycophron’s Alexandra line 333 (though the usual reading there is κύπασσις) and apart from that doubtful occurrence is found only in Byzantine scholarly texts, which indicate that it refers to a garment (e.g. scholia to Lycophron 425.33 κυπὰς γὰρ τὸ ἱμάτιον λέγεται ‘for κυπάς means a garment’; Gennadius Scholarius, Grammatica 2 p. 459.9 in the edition of Jugie, Petit, and Siderides (Paris 1936): κυπάς, ἱμάτιονκυπάς, a garment’). I can find no indication elsewhere of what type of garment a κυπάς is, so the information preserved by our lexicon seems to be unique. The question, of course, is what its basis is: does it go back to a person who genuinely knew and used the word κυπάς for a specific type of garment, or is it a scholarly extrapolation from the context in which the word (perhaps) occurs in Lycophron? Lycophron’s context is that a κυπάς τις (or κύπασσις) of stones covers Hecuba when she is stoned to death, and a woman’s chiton fits better in this metaphor than e.g. a man’s tunic. Scholarly invention is therefore a possibility here, but it is by no means certain, especially as there are other garments that would also fit this metaphor, for example a cape or cloak (both often worn by men).]

Φ 7: φαλαγγηδὸν πεζοὶ πάντες, παρατεταγμένοι ὡς εἰς πόλεμον·
Φαλαγγηδόν (means) all the foot-soldiers, drawn up as for war.’ [LSJ defines φαλαγγηδόν as ‘in phalanxes’.]

Τ 7: τύχην τινὲς ἐπὶ τῶν εὐτελῶν πραγμάτων λέγουσιν, ἐξ οὗ εὐτυχῆ καὶ δυστυχῆ σκυτοτόμον καλοῦσι, καὶ οἰκοδόμον, τινὲς δὲ ἐπὶ τῶν μεγάλων ἀξιωμάτων τάσσουσι ταύτην· πανευτυχεστάτους καλοῦντες καίσαρας καὶ σεβαστοκράτορας, δοξάζουσι δὲ πάλιν ἄλλως ἕτεροι τὴν τύχην, τύχην καλοῦντες καὶ αὐτόματον περὶ τὰ ἀνθρώπινα πράγματα, εἰσὶ δὲ οὗτοι τῶν παλαιῶν φιλοσόφων·
‘Some people use τύχη (‘fortune’) for cheap things, whence they call a cobbler or a builder ‘fortunate’ or ‘unfortunate’, but others apply this word to great honours, calling emperors ‘most all-fortunate’. And others again think differently about ‘fortune’, calling ‘fortune’ (something that happens by) chance in human affairs, and these people are among the old philosophers.’

Σ 51: στέλεχος φλοιός, κυρίως δὲ ῥίζα τοῦ δένδρου·
Στέλεχος (is) the bark, but properly the root of a tree.’ [LSJ defines στέλεχος as ‘crown of the root, whence the stem or trunk springs’.]

Σ 39: σπεκουλάτωρ στρατιώτης βαστάζων ξίφος καὶ ἀποκεφαλίζων·
Σπεκουλάτωρ (is) the soldier who bears a sword and beheads.’ [LSJ gives among other meanings of σπεκουλάτωρ ‘one of the principales or head-quarters’ staff of a legionary commander or provincial governor (whose duties included the carrying out of executions).’]

Ξ 2: ξεναγὸς ἄγων τοὺς ξένους·
Ξεναγός (is) a person who leads foreigners.’ LSJ defines ξεναγός as ‘commander of mercenary troops’ and ‘cicerone, guide’; the lexicon’s definition nicely preserves the ambiguity between these meanings.

Μ 23: μιγὰς κοσμικὸς καὶ κλίνεται μιγάς, τοῦ μιγάδος, ὡς φυγάς·
Μιγάς (means) ‘of the world’, and it is declined nominative masculine μιγάς, genitive μιγάδος, like φυγάς.’ [LSJ defines μιγάς only as ‘mixed pell-mell’, but a meaning that makes sense in this context can be found in Montanari’s Vocabolario della lingua greca: ‘secular’. That meaning is very rarely attested, so the newly-published lexicon provides important evidence of its currency.]
In short, this work is good and useful and provides scholars with the rare opportunity to explore a previously unknown text containing a significant amount of ancient material; it would be lovely if there were more dissertations of this type. 1


1.   I am grateful for the help of Francesca Schironi with the notes on one passage. Any mistakes that remain are my own.

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