BMCR 2000.07.14

Untersuchungen zur Grammatik Aristarchs: Texte und Interpretatione zur Wortartenlehre. Hypomnemata 126

, Untersuchungen zur Grammatik Aristarchs: Texte und Interpretatione zur Wortartenlehre. Hypomnemata 126. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1999. 707. DM 198.

Aristarchus has not written an ars grammatica but in his annotations to Homer’s Iliad (our main source) he uses all kinds of grammatical terms, which point to some grammatical system. Ever since Lehrs, De Aristarchi studiis Homericis (1833, third ed. 1882) attention has been paid to this system. For instance, in his edition of Aristonicus’ scholia on the Iliad (1853) Friedlaender has a still useful chapter on Aristarchus’ schematologia, and Ribbach discusses in his De Aristarchi Samothraci arte grammatica (1883) Aristarchus’ views on analogy in matters of prosody, flexion, and orthography. Steinthal’s Geschichte der Sprachwissenschaft bei den Griechen und Römern (2nd. ed. 1890-1) has a large part on Aristarchus’ grammatical ideas. He concludes that the critic did not have a complete grammar at his disposal and used a more primitive system of analogy than later grammarians. A very important aspect of Steinthal’s discussion is his conviction — shared by every scholar at that time — that the τέχνη ascribed to Dionysius Thrax is genuine and can be used to know the views of Dionysius’ teacher. After the publications of Fehling on the so-called Analogie-Anomalie Streit and Di Benedetto on the authenticity of the τέχνη, views on the development of Alexandrian grammar changed. A very important ‘mise au point’ came from the hand of Wolfram Ax in his Sprache als Gegenstand der alexandrinischen und pergamenischen Philologie,1 and now Stephanos Matthaios (SM) has come up with a new study.

In this book, originally a Göttingen PhD thesis, SM is the first scholar to collect all fragments and testimonies concerning the system of the parts of speech that are, or can safely be, ascribed to Aristarchus. Thus, this collection does not claim to contain all texts that one way or another say something about Aristarchus’ views (one way or another) on any grammatical or related matter, not only on the system I mentioned but also on prosody or inflection or whatsoever. Matthaios (p. 33) tells us that in that case over 5000 passages should have been taken into account, but already for his subject he had to consider half the amount, out of which some 800 texts are analysed or referred to in his part entitled Interpretation.

Aristonicus’ explications of the signs used by Aristarchus in his commentaries on the Iliad remain our main source, but the scholia on the Odyssey, Hesiod, Pindar, Apollonius of Rhodes, the works of Apollonius Dyscolus, Apollonius Sophista and other grammarians have also been used. The result is an impressive collection of 225 fragments and “Referate”, as SM calls the testimonies. Texts in which an exact Aristarchan quotation is found are very few, a dozen only, and of these only four are relevant for SM’s theme of research (pp. 36-7). The remaining 220 items contain a representation of Aristarchus’ views, very often preserved in various forms, such as a scholion of Aristonicus, one in the bT corpus, a lemma of Apollonius Sophista and an observation of Eustathius (see fr. 8). Relevant information about variant readings is found in the appendix critica. Very often the texts concern matters not directly relevant to SM’s subject and are only put here because they have a relevant term, e.g. fr. 13 on the meaning of σμινθεύς, where the term ἐπίθετον appears. In those cases SM also refers to similar discussions of this epithet as well as to texts informing us about Aristarchus’ views on Homer’s use of epithets. Of course, much of this information is also available from Erbse’s edition of the Iliad scholia but it is useful to have this here also.

SM is right in requiring a complete collection of all relevant material as a baisis for one’s conclusions, but as we have seen, most fragments are indirect witnesses only. Therefore, special care should be taken for it is possible that, for instance, in reporting Aristarchus’ view Aristonicus introduces modern terminology or reshapes it in order to make Aristarchus conform more to ideas of his time. SM is well aware of the pitfalls of his subject and diligently discusses (pp. 36-59) these and related problems. This discussion comes after a triad of sections on “Gegenstand und Problemstellung der Untersuchung”, “Zum Stand der Forschung” and “Aufgabenstellung der Untersuchung”. A fifth section of the introduction explains the format of the major part containing the fragments and “Referate”.

In agreement with the subject, the system of parts of speech, this part is arranged by noun, verb, participle, article and pronoun, adverb, conjunction and preposition. The joining of article and pronoun is linked to the modern view that these two parts of speech were a later sub-division of one group. The end position of the preposition has its explanation in the fact that one has to know Aristarchus’ views on the conjunction in order to understand the relationship between the views of the Stoa on the preposition and Aristarchus’ (pp. 197-8).

After the texts follow some 420 pages of interpretation, and a long bibliography and excellent indexes close this book. The trait of meticulousness can be seen throughout the book: precise references to other parts where a problem is also discussed or taken into account, indications about scholarly discussions, at the end of each fragment a reference to the pages where SM will treat it. Sometimes the plenitude of references can be annoying and tedious but this reaction will come up only when one reads the whole book, not when one consults it for a particular matter.

Does the subject of the system of parts of speech merit such a lengthy discussion? Anyone with some knowledge of and interest in the history of ancient linguistics knows that this system is the bedrock of ancient grammar. How and why this system came about is therefore of great interest. Traditionally Aristarchus was seen as the grammarian who gave the system its definite shape after Aristotle and the Stoa had given an important impulse towards its emergence. However, especially after the changes in scholarship concerning the τέχνη of Dionysius Thrax, scepticism about the role of Aristarchus has been growing and the reliability of the only testimony about Aristarchus having an eight-part-system (Quintilian 1.4.20) was doubted by many a scholar. Under these circumstances SM’s investigation of the subject is not only very welcome but it fills a gap which should have been filled long ago. Another point to be considered concerns the Greek equivalent of the term “part of speech” (Ge. Wortart, Fr. partie de phrase). The traditional Greek term is μέρος λόγου ( μόριον λόγου, but this usage is not found before the first century B.C. Aristarchus uses λέξις in this sense, but to Aristotle λέξις and μέρος τῆς λέξεως mean something different and the Stoic distinction between λέξις and λόγος is also different. All this is competently discussed by Matthaios in his commentary on his very first fragment, the passage from Quintilian. It is an indication of his careful approach of his subject that in this commentary he refuses to put forward definite conclusions, sketches only the problems connected to this fragment, and waits till the end to come back to it. Another bonus is the competent discussion at the end of each chapter about the place of Aristarchus’ views in the history of the system. Then the theories of Aristotle, the Stoics, later grammarians like Apollonius Dyscolus are described and compared, differences noted and agreements put into perspective. I think here of the excellent sections on the theory of nouns, the history of the “article and pronoun” in ancient historiography, and that on the preposition.

It is impossible to present here all the results; fortunately at the end of each chapter and in a general one at the end SM summarises the conclusions he has come to for each part of speech and for Aristarchus’ achievements in general. I shall give a selection of those findings that to my mind will have an impact on further studies on ancient linguistics.

It is well known that the Stoics distinguished between ὄνομα and προσηγορία, the proper name (e.g. Agamemnon) and the appellative (e.g. ‘master of men’). The latter term is commonly interpreted as meaning ‘common noun’, but then the connection with προσαγορευτικὴ πτῶσις (vocative) remains unclear. As Brunschwig has shown,2 it is better to interpret the Stoic distinction as follows: ὄνομα refers to the identity of a person, προσηγορία to a general quality applicable to this person (SM 227-8). Matthaios now argues that to Aristarchus noma has a very general sense of noun and refers to persons, situations, things as well as qualities (both nouns and adjectives). Within this large category he distinguishes three subcategories, κύριον ὄνομα, προσηγορία, and ἐπίθετον. In my 1994 publication3 I had looked at some Aristarchean fragments and too hastily concluded that proshgora there had the sense of ‘greeting, address’ only. SM uses more fragments and now gives a convincing demonstration that the aspect of greeting is a secondary use for προσηγορία but that its main meaning there is “Eigenschaftszusprechung”. In other words, Aristarchus knows the Stoic usage of the term and adopts it. However, at the same time he does not follow them in their use of ὄνομα, as we have seen. Aristarchus adopts a more Aristotelian and rhetorical use of κύριον ὄνομα, meaning ‘a word used in its own standard sense’, whereas the third term refers to a specific quality which can be added to a noun. As SM (262-4 and 291) now concludes, Quintilian 1.4.20 was right when he said that Aristarchus (and in his own days Remmius Palaemon) vocabulum sive appellationem nomini subiecerunt tamquam speciem eius.

Another point much discussed in the literature on Aristarchus concerns the matter of the voices of the verb, Verbdiathesen, specifically the question whether Aristarchus recognised the middle voice as a separate category. A common opinion is that he did not yet know the term μεσότης, the usual one in later grammars for the medium, and even was not yet aware of the specific position of this diathesis. Friedlaender, the first scholar to air this view,4 thought so because in connection with medial forms such as τιμήσονται Aristarchus spoke of the use of τὸ παθητικόν instead of τὸ ἐνεργητικόν (‘the passive instead of the active’, schol. I 297 = fr. 60 B). But he added τιμήσονται ὡς ἐλεύσονται. To SM (316-8) this addition shows that Aristarchus was able to distinguish between the passive form and the passive sense of a verb form and thus was aware of the property of several Greek verbs to have passive forms in an active sense. But this view is the usual one given by later Greek grammarians when they discuss the diathesis of μεσότης ! In an instructive section (320-6) SM compares (after Rijksbaron5) the various views current in Antiquity about the middle voice and argues that Aristarchus was not the only Greek who was troubled by the middle voice.

Aristarchus used the term μετοχή for the participle and viewed this verb form as a separate part of speech. He may have been the first Greek to do so but SM bears in mind the possibility that other Alexandrian scholars did so before him. At any rate, — and this is an interesting point — it seems that in this case Stoics felt a need to combat the view of the grammarians, and not vice versa as we usually imagine the relationship between these philosophers and the Alexandrian grammarians.

This brings me to another important facet of SM’s study: the influence of Aristotelian-Peripatetic ideas on language on Aristarchus’ views. To a greater extent than his forerunners SM suggests links between these two, for instance in the case of the use of παρεπόμενα for the accidents, or the distinction of κύριον ὄνομα etc. within the category of nouns. The differentiation of the three persons for verbs and pronouns goes back to Aristotle’s model of communication known from his Rhetoric (1358a37, ‘a speaker, someone addressed and a subject on which he speaks’) and Aristarchus is the first grammarian we know to apply the terms ‘first, second and third person’.6 For the historiography of ancient linguistics these conclusions are far reaching, the more so when we link these with the fact that among Aristarchus’ pupils, such as Dionysius Thrax, and later grammarians the tendency to take over Stoic distinctions becomes greater.

Not a fancy title for this book but a very traditional one, “Untersuchungen zur Grammatik Aristarchs”, followed by a subtitle that is equally unattractive. Finally, over 700 pages to be studied. Three reasons not to buy this book and neglect it? No, it is a ‘must’ for every scholar interested in the field of ancient linguistics and the history of (Homeric) scholarship! Stephanos Matthaios has done a magnificent job and filled a long felt gap.


1. In P. Schmitter (Hrsgb.). ‘Sprachtheorien der abendländischen Antike’, Tübingen 1991, 275-301.

2. Jean Brunschwig, ‘Remarques sur la théorie stoïcienne du nom propre’, Histoire Epistémologie Langage VI (1984), 3-19.

3. ‘Scholarship and Grammar’ in F. Montanari (ed.), ‘La philologie grecque à l’époque hellénistique et romaine’, Entretiens sur l’Antiquité classique 40, Vandoeuvres-Genève 1994, 263-306.

4. Ludwig Friedlaender, ‘Aristonici Περὶ σημέων Ἰλιάδος reliquiae emendatiores’ Göttingen 1853.

5. Albert Rijksbaron, ‘The Treatment of the Greek Middle by the Ancient Grammarians’, Cahiers de Philosophie Ancienne 5 (1987), 427-44.

6. See also Demetrius, ‘On Style’ par. 199. These distinctions could have lead to a syntax of the Greek verb but, unfortunately, did not so.