Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.03.30 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.03.30

Richard Goulet, Eunape de Sardes: Vies de philosophes et de sophistes (2 vols.). Collection des universités de France. Série grecque, 508.   Paris:  Les Belles Lettres, 2014.  Pp. 596; xix, 381.  ISBN 9782251005928.  €135.00.  

Reviewed by Matthias Becker, University of Tübingen (

It is no exaggeration to say that in recent years there has been a veritable revival in Eunapian scholarship. This is especially true as regards Eunapius’ collective biography which was composed around 400 A.D., entitled Lives of Philosophers and Sophists. Maurizio Civiletti in 2007 and Matthias Becker in 2013 both published exhaustive commentaries with fresh translations in Italian and German.1 Now, Eunapian and classical scholarship alike are enriched by Richard Goulet’s brilliant new critical edition and new French translation of Eunapius’ Lives. Goulet, who serves as directeur de recherche émérite at the National Centre for Scientific Research in Paris (CNRS), undoubtedly is one of the world’s leading experts on Eunapius. With his monumental, two-volume work that consists of roughly a thousand pages, he opens a treasure chest for classical scholars, historians, and interested students alike.

The first volume contains sixteen introductory chapters on a number of central issues as well as a prosopography of all persons mentioned in the Lives and a chronological list of historical background information about the fourth and early fifth centuries A.D. In the introductory chapters, Goulet discusses the data that concern Eunapius’ own biography (ch. 1) and provides an overview of Eunapius’ literary works (ch. 2). After the presentation of Eunapius’ historical method and of his scheme of periodizing the history of philosophy (ch. 3), Goulet goes on to generally delineate the intellectual community that Eunapius presents in his biographies (ch. 4). Chapters 5 to 7 deal with the philosophers, sophists, and physicians that are portrayed in the Lives. Chapters 8 to 14 tackle issues that are of special interest in current Eunapian scholarship, namely the literary representation of the geography of the Roman Empire with its strong focus on the East (ch. 8); the social background and social status of the intellectuals who are depicted (ch. 9); the methods and modes of the elitist education in which Eunapius sees an important identity marker of pagan intellectuals (ch. 10); the political engagement of philosophers and sophists in society (ch. 11); Eunapius’ perception and critique of Christianity (ch. 12); Eunapius’ depiction of pagan religiosity as well as his endorsement of a Neoplatonic spirituality (ch. 13); and the image of the ideal philosopher that Eunapius creates in his text (ch. 14). The two final chapters of the introduction provide a thorough and detailed analysis of Eunapius’ complex language and style (ch. 15), and an overview of the history of the text in which Goulet introduces the reader to the manuscripts, editions, and translations of the Lives, as well as to his own editorial method (ch. 16).

The second volume contains the new Greek text with a new French translation, notes on the text, a concordance of the fragments of Eunapius’ History as collected by Carl Müller, Roger C. Blockley, and François Paschoud, a bibliography on Eunapian scholarship, and an index section (index locorum, index nominum, and index verborum).

Goulet’s excellent and richly annotated fresh translation is the third French translation of Eunapius’ Lives.2 Subheadings help the reader to more easily grasp the structure and content of the text. In his notes, Goulet is eager to gather and discuss as much information as is necessary for the reader to understand the various facets of meaning of Eunapius’ text instead of reproducing the great amount of information which can be found in recent studies on Eunapius like Civiletti’s and Becker’s commentaries. Goulet’s new critical edition is only preceded by that of the late Giuseppe Giangrande who some 60 years ago prepared for the first time ever a critical edition of Eunapius’ Lives.3 This meritorious edition has been the standard edition for over half a century. It is also available online through the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (University of California, Irvine). In contrast to prior, non-critical editions of Eunapius’ Lives published in the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries by Hadrianus Junius (in 1568), Hieronymus Commelinus (in 1596), and Jean-François Boissonade (in 1822), Giangrande was the first editor to base his text on the Codex Laurentianus Mediceus, Plut. 86,7. As is generally acknowledged by scholars due to Albrecht Jordan’s text-critical studies of the 1880s,4 this manuscript that Goulet assumes to have been produced in the 11th century A.D. is the only independent witness to the text of the Lives. Even though this manuscript constituted the textual basis for Giangrande’s edition, his text in many cases deviates from the readings of the Codex Laurentianus. Besides a considerable number of emendations and conjectures, Giangrande’s text also contains misprints, wrong renderings of the original manuscript and sometimes even obvious mistakes.5 For this reason, Maurizio Civiletti had returned to the original reading of the Codex Laurentianus at various places throughout his above-mentioned commentary from 2007. Goulet takes another step in this direction and has collated the original manuscript anew. As a result, his new text deviates from Giangrande’s edition in a number of instances.6 In the text-critical apparatus, Goulet gives a complete account of all the cases in which his own reading deviates from the Codex Laurentianus. Furthermore, Goulet presents an extensive list of scholarly emendations in a separate section following his text and translation (Vol. 2, p. 109–127: supplementum emendationum). In this way, the reader not only gains insight into all major text-critical issues, but also into the most important textual witness of Eunapius’ Lives.

A slightly problematic aspect of the new edition is that Goulet has decided to introduce a new chapter division of the Greek text which confronts scholars with yet a third option to quote Eunapius’ collective biography. At first glance, this decision might cause confusion as to which method of citation is to be used in future studies on Eunapius. The new chapter division proves, however, to be a welcome innovation. While the page numbering of Boissonade’s Firmin-Didot re-edition of the Lives, published in 1850, served and occasionally still serves today as a reference, one has to admit that this way of citing Eunapius’ biographies is extremely imprecise.7 In contrast, Giangrande’s chapter divisions are much more precise, but they are complicated and lack systematic clarity and consistency, because he partly uses a three-level (e.g., VII,2,3) and partly a two-level division (e.g., XII,2) of the text. Goulet’s new chapter division is a simpler, more precise, and, most importantly, a consistent and systematic two-level division of 24 chapters with sub-divisions of short paragraphs that comprise one to three Greek sentences. In the margin, Goulet has included the page numbering of Giangrande’s edition which scholars who are used to this older edition will find helpful.

Drawing from an expertise acquired over almost 40 years of work on Eunapius, and being up-to-date on current research at the same time, Richard Goulet has laid a new textual foundation for all future studies on the Lives. His text surely is the best and most trustworthy text of the Lives that is currently available. Every page of these two fine volumes testifies to an extraordinary amount of devoted effort and to a great deal of scholarly industry. It is desirable that Goulet’s edition will find widespread use among scholars and all readers who seek to learn more about a text that is equally important to the understanding of ancient Greek biographical writing, the history of Neoplatonism, the late antique educational system, and the varieties of pagan religious practices and attitudes within the context of an increasing Christianization of the Roman Empire.


1.   Maurizio Civiletti, Eunapio di Sardi. Vite di filosofi e sofisti. Testo greco a fronte. Introduzione, traduzione, note e apparati a cura di M. Civiletti, Milan 2007; Matthias Becker, Eunapios aus Sardes: Biographien über Philosophen und Sophisten. Einleitung, Übersetzung, Kommentar, Stuttgart 2013.
2.   The two preceding translations into French were prepared by Stéphane de Rouville in the nineteenth century and by Olivier D’Jeranian only a few years ago, see Stéphane de Rouville, Eunape, Vies des philosophes et des sophistes. Traduites en Français par Stéphane de Rouville, Paris 1878; Olivier D’Jeranian, Eunape de Sardes, Vies de philosophes et de sophistes. Texte traduit, annoté et présenté par Olivier D’Jeranian, Paris 2009.
3.   Giuseppe Giangrande, Eunapii Vitae sophistarum, Rome 1956. An obituary on Giangrande was written by Máximo Brioso Sánchez, Giuseppe Giangrande (1926–2013), in: Veleia 30 (2013), 337–344.
4.   Cf. especially Albrecht Jordan, De Eunapii codice Laurentiano, in: Gymnasium zu Lemgo. Jahresbericht über das Schuljahr 1887/1888. Erstattet vom Direktor Dr. Albrecht Jordan. Progr. Nr. 668, Lemgo 1888, 3–4.
5.   For a list, see page 479 in the first volume of Goulet’s edition.
6.   For a list, see pages 480–481 in the first volume of Goulet’s edition.
7.   This way of quoting is especially common in Anglophone scholarship, probably for the reason that the Loeb edition of the Lives (Loeb Classical Library vol. 134) still seems to be very popular: see Wilmer Cave Wright (ed.), Philostratus: Lives of the Sophists; Eunapius, Lives of Philosophers, with an English translation by Wilmer Cave Wright, Cambridge (Mass.) 1921. This edition, which is still re-printed today, presents Boissonade’s outdated text and is numbered marginally according to the above-mentioned page numbering of Boissonade’s Firmin-Didot edition. It is the only existing English translation of Eunapius’ collective biography. For a list of all the translations of Eunapius’ Lives, see pages 482–483 no. 1–3 in the first volume of Goulet’s edition.

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