The Hermotimus is Lucian’s longest piece of writing, surpassing even the two books of the True Tales, and at the same time his most successful effort to recreate the style and atmosphere of a Platonic dialogue, filled with a new—and for Lucian uncharacteristically serious—content, namely a sustained attack on “dogmatic” philosophical schools (the “haireseis” of its subtitle) and, inversely, a ringing endorsement of the tenets of Pyrrhonian Scepticism. Despite all this, there have been few efforts to make this work accessible to modern audiences,1 and therefore Peter von Möllendorff (hereafter M.) deserves credit for having perceived this deficiency and trying to remedy it, at least for a German-speaking public. His new text and translation of the Hermotimus, accompanied by an introduction, notes and concluding essays, succeed to a degree in giving the reader what he needs. The following pages will make clear why I nevertheless regard his book as not totally satisfactory in a number of respects.
The introduction falls mainly into two sections: p. 1-10 deal with “Lukian in seiner Zeit”, starting with three-quarters of a page on Lucian’s literary afterlife—too little space, in fact, to deal adequately with this subject.2 The next two and a half pages are devoted to Lucian’s life and writings; again that space only suffices to give the reader a very impressionistic view of Lucian’s manifold literary activities (not a word here on the decidedly important—though notoriously hard to define—influence of Menippus on Lucian’s best-known works). Then a few pages about the sociocultural background of Lucian’s time, the place of rhetoric and philosophy in it, and Lucian’s own position with regard to these cultural features (p. 4-9). M. is certainly right to declare Lucian a sort of “outsider”, though it may be a bit rash to take the complete silence of Philostratus about him as proof that Lucian was either unsuccessful or early gave up on a career as sophist (p. 7). A closer look at his many works shows that he never really abandoned rhetoric and even in advanced age addressed audiences as a public speaker, as his prolaliai Hercules and Bacchus show; what made him singular among his contemporaries was his willingness to add other—at first sight—”non-rhetorical” means of literary expression (taken from Platonic dialogue, from Old and New Comedy, from Menippean satire) to his rhetorical craft. In this respect M. rightly emphasizes Lucian’s willingness to experiment with new combinations of traditional genres. The second part of the introduction is a useful guide to the basic tenets of those philosophical schools which play important parts in Hermotimus: Socrates and the Socratics (including Plato, of course), Stoics and Pyrrhonian Sceptics.
The longest part of the book (p. 22-139) comprises the text and translation of the dialogue. In his constitution of the text M. reveals himself, in most cases, at least, as a rather conservative critic who usually favors the reading of the manuscripts (even of more recent ones which may well be conjectural) over conjectures made by scholars in recent centuries.3 Not condoning over-quick tampering is certainly laudable, but in a number of places the transmitted readings just won’t do; a glaring case is the end of ch. 17 (p. 42, line 24f.): here, M. follows the text of Jacobitz and reads …
The apparatus criticus is rather inconvenient to use: it is not below the text, but follows on separate pages (142-147) after text and translation. Because of what seems to have been a last-minute change of pagination almost every page reference is too high by two;7 and the references to the lines on a page often drive the reader to laborious counting, as no line numbering is provided in the text. Moreover, the apparatus is not free from contradictions: normally the first indication refers to what is printed in the text, but in “38[=36],13” the word given in the text takes second place, while a variant is cited first (similar instances are: “40[=38],28”; “58[=56],4; “58[=56],4”; “66[=64],30”; “68[=66],27”; “86[=84],17”; “106[=104],1”; “112[=110],26”). Sometimes the apparatus criticus is downright misleading: on p. 144, the entry “56[=54],8″ states ”
Some other shortcomings in the apparatus: regarding p. 58,9 (Herm. 28), M. should have quoted Guyet’s conjecture
The translation aims at giving a lively tone to the conversation between the ponderous and plodding Hermotimos and the sharp-witted Lykinos, and in a number of places it produces quite memorable phrases.9 On the other hand, M.’s efforts at being colloquial do not strike me as being particularly appropriate; after all, the Hermotimus is written in an idiom, Attic, presumably of the fourth century BC, which for its time was highly artificial and rather different from what Greek speakers used in their daily conversation.10 Moreover, in a number of places the translation could have done more justice to the original;11 and some outright and quite glaring mistakes can be found as well: In Herm. 8,
The notes explaining the contents of the dialogue (p. 49-186) are often useful, sometimes insightful and ingenious (e.g. the end of note 8, note 25. 26. 40. 48. 53. 56. 59. 64. 68. 82. 92. 93. 164. 166), but sometimes far-fetched (note 21. 70. 85 end. 100. 160), and they contain strange mistakes and oversights as well: To claim that “die grossen Mysterien von Eleusis…fanden…alle fünf [Jahre]…statt” (in note 9 on p. 151) is simply wrong; they took place each year (in early autumn), as did the Little Mysteries, which M. claims were held only “alle drei [Jahre]” (see, e.g., F. Graf in DNP 8, 2000, 613). It is wrong, too, to claim—as M. does in note 72—that the scenario described in Herm. 30 (a bunch of philosophers surrounding Lucian’s persona and accusing him of naively following the wrong spiritual leader) is analogous to a scene set out in Lucian’s Bis Accusatus, where the “Syrian” is taken to task first by Lady Rhetoric and then by Sir Dialogue. In Herm. 51, M. detects an allusion to the myth of Pygmalion (note 101), but the parable of the man loving a statue rather points to the story which is briefly evoked in Lucian’s Imagines (ch. 4) and told with more detail in the Pseudo-Lucianic Amores (ch. 15-16: a young man falls irremediably in love with the Cnidian Aphrodite made by Praxiteles).
Sometimes M. surprisingly neglects to call the reader’s attention to parallels in other Lucianic writings: Someone looking down upon other human beings as upon crawling ants (Herm. 5; M.’s note 12 only compares Seneca) is found in Icaromenippus 19, and it is probably no coincidence that in the immediate vicinity of the ants image in Hermotimus the word
A recurring feature in the notes is M.’s pointing to Aristophanic allusions, even in places where this seems rather ill-conceived. I very much doubt that when using
Three essays form the concluding part of the book. The section on “Der Aufbau des Dialogs” (p. 187-197) is clear and useful, though M.’s claim (p. 195) that the corresponding structure of the beginning and final parts of the dialogue is underlined by the fact that both contain the same number of chapters raises the question by whom the chapter divisions were introduced—probably not by Lucian himself. The second essay (p. 197-210) deals with Lykinos, the main speaker of the dialogue, as a “Stoic Socratic”. M. convincingly shows (though he is not the first to do so) that Lykinos is introduced as a “second Socrates” and he makes a good case that Lykinos, though he uses the arguments of Scepticism, is different from a “normal” Sceptic, who only seeks tranquillity for his soul, by his “ethical urge” (“der genuine ethische Impuls”, p. 202). His claim, however, that Lykinos exhibits distinct Stoic inclinations (p. 204) is mainly founded on the tenets held by Ariston of Chios and his followers, who represented only a minority within Stoicism. Moreover, using Stoic arguments is possible for Sceptics, too, who often like to confound their adversaries by their own teachings. It therefore goes much too far to assert “dass Lykinos…am Ende gar noch der bessere Stoiker als Hermotimos ist” (p. 210).
The last of the three essays (“Strategien subversiver Ironie”, p. 210-218) is the most problematic. In it, M. claims that the conversion from grim, plodding Stoic to joyous participant of common human life that Hermotimos undergoes at the end of the dialogue is not genuine but only “ein Zeichen von Geistes- und Charakterschwäche” (p. 213) and that, on the other side, Lykinos is nothing more than a destructive sophist unable to supply something new for what he has taken away from Hermotimos. M. even asserts that the end of the dialogue is “bestürzend zynisch”, because Hermotimos simply exchanges one intoxication for another: “er tauscht sein asketisches Leben gegen puren Luxus” (p. 215). The trouble with this interpretation is that it lacks sufficient grounding in the text. M.’s cardinal point is his claim that the end of the dialogue is an allusion to the end of the well-known debate between the “better” and the “worse” logos in Aristophanes’ Clouds : there, the better logos finally admits his defeat, throws off his cloak (like a deserter from a field of battle) and rushes—almost jubilantly—off the stage. To M., this seems to be a close parallel to Hermotimos’ announcement in Herm. 86 that, after recognizing how futile his long-standing involvement with dogmatic philosophy has been, he will now go and change his clothing, perhaps even don a cloak with purple color, and then take up a more relaxed and easy-going life. This, however, is not really the close parallel to the Clouds scene that M. would like to claim: there is no throwing off of one’s garment and no rushing off the stage. Already, I have pointed out that M.’s assertion of parallels of Lucian’s dialogue with Aristophanes’ comedy quite often turn out to be rather weak. As the allegedly numerous and close parallels between the two works are M.’s main argument for his claim that the end of Lucian’s dialogue is nothing more than a sham conversion designed to show the hollowness of Lykinos’ “Socratic authority”, this claim seems to be quite unfounded. Would Lucian really have written 68 pages of entertaining, often exciting, dialogue just to show that both participants are no more than frauds? If he had really wanted to show how through much effort the disciple of a dogmatic school of thought is finally brought round to a more sceptical and open way of thinking, could he have done it any better than by presenting us with Hermotimus as it is?
I have had to deal with M.’s last essay at length because a cardinal point of interpretation is involved here. One cannot fault M. for not thinking long and hard about Hermotimus; he might, however, have done a better job if he had more extensively employed the admittedly old-fashioned, but still essential virtues of getting out the meaning of a text as exactly as possible and then building his interpretation upon that meaning.14
1. A Portuguese translation (+ text) was published in 1986 (C. Magueijo, Hermotimo ou As escolas filoso/ficas, Lisbon 1986), a French one in 1993 (J.-P. Dumont, Hermotime ou Comment choisir sa philosophie?, Paris 1993); the most recent English translation is that of the Loeb edition: Lucian VI, with an English transl. by K. Kilburn, Cambridge, Mass. 1959.
2. In this survey, M. rather peremptorily lumps together the negative attitudes of certain Byzantine readers of Lucian and of classicists of the beginning of the 20th century; but these groups dismissed Lucian for diametrically opposed reasons—the Byzantines, because they took his remarks on Christians too seriously, the (mainly German) classicists, because they denied him any seriousness in his writings.
3. At the beginning of his “Anmerkungen zum griechischen Text” (p. 141) he refers to my review of volume IV of Macleod’s OCT Lucian in Gnomon, 62, 1990, 498-511 (especially p. 504-7 and 509 deal with Hermotimus) and remarks: “einige der dort angemahnten Konjekturen des 19. Jh.’s wurden zu Dokumentationszwecken ebenfalls aufgenommen.” I shall not deal with all of these cases; but some of the more important ones will be taken up again in the course of this review. On the other hand, M. himself sometimes allows a conjecture to enter his text which does not really seem necessary: e.g. the
4. As in Gnomon 62, 1990, 504.
5. M. himself translates with “bei den meisten” (i.e. with the greatest number of people), but this would imply that at least a few others might be equal to or even better than the Stoics, and this simply cannot be meant here.
6. M. himself proposes to delete
7. E.g. “24,5” refers to p. 22, line 5, “26,8” to p. 24, line 8 and so on (just one reference, “26,16f.” is right, probably because it was a misprint before the change in pagination). The press alerted readers to this mishap on a leaflet, which never reached this reviewer.
8. In lines 12 to 16 of p. 124 the punctuation (it is already that of Macleod’s) could be much improved by placing a colon (instead of the dash) after
9. At the end of Herm. 18,
10. M. does not even shy away from puns. The most awful of them turns up on p. 35 (Herm. 11), where he renders
11. E.g. the rendering of the last phrase of Herm. 1 (
12. p. 114, line 11: not a period, but a comma is appropriate after
13. See Schöpsdau on Plat. Leg. 677d6 (where the reference to Plato’s Gorgias must be 470d1, not 479d1).
14. Of the misprints I found I note the following as they may cause some trouble to the reader: p. 16, line 4 from bottom, read “Anlehnung” (instead of -lehung); p. 107, bottom exhibits confused speaker assignments in the translation of Herm. 64; p. 135, line 4 from bottom read “Pflichten” instead of “Pflicht”; p. 150 (line 9) read “in seinem” instead of “einem”; p. 158 (line 16) read “21” instead of “20”; p. 188 (line 11) and p. 209 (line 2) read “20” instead of “21”; p. 191 (2nd paragraph, line 2) insert “des” before “Zeitmangels”; p. 197 (line 3 from bottom) read “dem” instead of “den”; p. 198 (line 1) read “sie” instead of “ihnen”.