BMCR 2002.03.18

Longin Philologe und Philosoph. Eine Interpetation der Erhaltenen Zeugnisse

, Longin, Philologe und Philosoph : eine Interpretation der erhaltenen Zeugnisse. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde ; Bd. 143. Munich-Leipzig: K.G. Saur, 2001. 795 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.. ISBN 3598776926 Euro 138.

The third-century polymath Cassius Longinus has suffered neglect since scholars realised, early in the nineteenth century, that he could not be the author of the treatise On Sublimity traditionally ascribed to him. Recently, however, there has been a resurgence of interest. Luc Brisson and Michel Patillon contributed two important long articles to ANRW, and their admirable (although not quite complete) Budé edition of the fragments (astonishingly the first attempt at a comprehensive collection since 1854) appeared almost simultaneously with Männlein-Robert’s imposing new volume.1

It is even possible nowadays to find the occasional eccentric who wants to reopen the question of the authorship of On Sublimity.2 That is a question that Männlein-Robert chooses not to discuss, adopting instead the modern consensus view as a ‘working hypothesis’ (19). She makes the valid point that a careful study of the fragments is a precondition for any serious attempt to address the problem posed by On Sublimity (past discussion has in my view been seriously compromised by a failure to investigate closely the full range of evidence for the work of the traditional claimant). But on this premise it would surely have been methodologically sounder to suspend judgement than to adopt a negative working hypothesis. Doubtless I would be less exercised by this if I took a more conventional view on the question, but there is an unmistakable sense of issues being evaded when the concept of sublimity occurs in the fragments. And the question, once opened, is hard to keep in its box because the answer one gives will have huge consequences for one’s picture of Longinus as a critic and philological scholar, which is one of the two aspects of his many-sided intellect on which Männlein-Robert’s study professes to focus.

The book’s programmatic title reflects its self-imposed limitation of scope. Despite its length, it does not claim to give a comprehensive view of Longinus. In particular, the extensive rhetorical fragments do not receive systematic discussion. Since a distinctive feature of this book is its emphasis on the close relationship between philology and philosophy in Longinus and since the connection of his rhetoric to both is acknowledged, the omission seems at odds with the goal of developing ‘ein integratives Longinbild’ (23). In any event, I regret it, not only because the rhetorical fragments are of particular interest to me but also because those that manage to evade the ban (because they are counted as ‘philological’) are handled very well indeed. I learned a lot from Männlein-Robert’s well-informed and well-documented discussions, which are a testimony to her thorough and thoughtful research.

The two aspects of Longinus on which the study does focus are not an arbitrary choice. Plotinus remarked that he was φιλόλογος μέν, φιλόσοφος δὲ οὐδαμῶς (Porphyry Life of Plotinus 14), and that assessment powerfully influenced the way later Platonists perceived him. Another distinctive feature of the book is the careful attention it gives to reception; in particular, Männlein-Robert takes great care to read the fragments in their citation context, which she does with considerable subtlety and often with illuminating results.

Plotinus’ remark was occasioned by the reading of two of Longinus’ works. It is ‘obvious’ to Männlein-Robert that the context was not one of his philosophical seminars, ‘wie am Tempuswechsel… erkennbar wird’ (142). I do not understand this argument. As one would expect, Porphyry uses the imperfect in reporting Plotinus’ regular practice, and the aorist in reporting what happened on a particular occasion: why should that have any implications for the nature of the occasion? This point is related to the view one takes of the two books in question: Περὶ ἀρχῶν is clearly philosophical, but is Φιλάρχαιος philosophical or philological? Männlein-Robert has one bad argument for the latter view (143 n.19: ‘Es ist allerdings fraglich, ob es… zur Illustration wirklich zweier philosophischer Schriften Longins bedurfte’: presumably two books were in fact read on the occasion Porphyry is reporting, perhaps because they were related in subject-matter), but her survey of the usage of φιλάρχαιος made me pause for thought. However, Plotinus’ φιλόλογος μέν is much less pointed if it is a positive assessment of a philological work rather than a negative assessment of a philosophical one; the parallels for the antithesis (e.g. Seneca Ep. 108.23: cf. p.47) show that the point of the remark ought to be to contrast two ways of doing philosophy.

That is a point of detail, of which inevitably there are countless in this book; it is equally inevitable that in some cases I think it gets the details right while in others I would want to pose questions or raise objections. But in any study of fragments, especially with an author as wide-ranging as Longinus, there is a danger that the reader will be so overwhelmed by the myriad details that the overall picture disappears from view. To obviate this risk Männlein-Robert provides an overview (‘Entwurf eines Longinportraits’, 26-96) before the detailed investigation of the fragments, which is organised in six chapters: biographical evidence; Longinus, Porphyry and the circle of Plotinus; philology and literary criticism; exegesis of Plato; speech and thought; and the soul. This structure is well-conceived in principle but not entirely successful in its execution since the length and level of detail in the overview tends to be self-defeating and leads to repetition.

That brings us to a question that is bound to occur to anyone who sets eyes on the book: why is a study of a not very extensive corpus so bloated? (Anyone who opens it may read with astonishment the first words of the preface: ‘Das vorliegende Buch ist die leicht gekürzte [!] Fassung meiner Dissertation…’) To be sure, the body of the text ends on p.649; the rest of the book’s 795 pages are devoted to a concordance of fragment enumerations (but near-simultaneous publication means, unfortunately, that this could not include the new numbering adopted in the Budé edition), an extensive bibliography, and indexes that are commendably full and, where I have tested them, reliable (although they are not always as helpful to the reader as they might be: where should you look in the index locorum to find references to On Sublimity ? It was not obvious to me that I should be looking under ‘Auctor’). Even so, this is a big book, and unnecessarily so.

The method of presentation is flawed. Männlein-Robert prints the Greek text of the fragments but does not translate them; rather, she paraphrases at length, with no inhibitions about stating and restating the obvious. To take a concise example, consider the top of p.101, where a list of titles of works on Homer is printed as a lemma (extracted from the Suda entry printed in full on p.97) with the explanation ‘Hierbei handelt es sich um Titel, die dem Bereich der Homerphilogie zuzuordnen sind’ — and the list of titles is then repeated in a parenthesis! As an illustration of needless verbosity, one might note that it takes 34 words of annotation (631 n.83) to convey the information ‘ ἐπινοίας Casaubon: ‘ ἐπινοίας codd.’ — and the reader surely does not need to be told that the conjecture has been adopted ‘da sie einen besseren Sinn ergibt’: why else? When this approach is applied to a lengthy or complex piece of text the result is to bury Männlein-Robert’s own analysis and observation in a mass of routine and very dull paraphrase, which is particularly regrettable when (as if often the case) the analysis is perceptive and the observations valuable.

There is also an almost obsessive over-annotation. When Longinus mentions a Stoic philosopher named Musonius the text comments ‘sonst nicht bekannt’. A reader who takes the trouble to follow up the footnoted reference to Brisson will discover simply that he says the same thing at greater length. (The reader who in turn follows up Brisson’s reference to Pauly-Wissowa will find that it says just the same and in turn again gives a reference to Zeller, who just mentions Musonius by name.) This approach to annotation is counterproductive, for the more often the pursuit of a reference leads to no additional illumination the less likely it is that references will ever be followed up; the notes which provide genuinely fruitful references will thus be thwarted. It is particularly unfortunate in this instance since a re-examination of the primary sources might have brought to light the likelihood that Longinus’ Musonius, the philosopher Musonius who was a pupil of Hermogenes ( Suda E3046), and the philosopher Musonius who was a member of the distinguished Athenian family into which Himerius married (Himerius Or. 8.21) were one and the same man.3

In general, one has the impression that the author does not trust her readers. Or is it that she does not trust them to trust her? Perhaps the tendency to spell out every point however obvious, to discuss everything however peripheral (does the four-page narrative of Aurelian’s campaign against Palmyra add anything to our understanding of Longinus as philologian and philosopher?), to attach a reference, however useless, to everything — perhaps this is simply a defensive reflex on the part of a prospective examination candidate, designed to close off any possible opening that an examiner might exploit. But what may be understandable in a doctoral thesis is out of place in a published work: in this case, radical revision was needed to produce a genuinely readable book. The book that has been published is without question an impressive and important work of scholarship, but I fear that its scale and presentational weaknesses may result in its being less read and having less influence than it deserves.


1. L. Brisson and M. Patillon, ‘Longinus Platonicus Philosophus et Philologus, I. Longinus Philosophus’, ANRW II 36.7 (1994), 5214-99; ‘Longinus Platonicus Philosophus et Philologus, II. Longinus Philologus’, ANRW II 34.4 (1998), 3023-3108. M. Patillon and L. Brisson (ed.), Longin. Fragments. Art Rhétorique. Rufus. Art Rhétorique (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2001), superseding L. Vaucher, Études critiques sur le Traité du Sublime et sur les écrits de Longin (Geneva 1854); I draw attention to some additional material in my review, forthcoming in Classical Review.

2. M. Heath ‘Longinus On Sublimity‘, PCPS 45 (1999), 43-74. I have investigated other aspects of Longinus’ work and its reception in ‘Caecilius, Longinus and Photius’, GRBS 39 (1998) 271-292, and ‘Echoes of Longinus in Gregory of Nyssa’, Vigiliae Christianae 53 (1999), 395-400.

3. See ZPE 113 (1996), 68; Eranos 96 (1998), 51. Another member of this family is the sophist Nicagoras who takes part in the discussion at a (no doubt fictitious) dinner-party given by Longinus, narrated in a fragment of Porphyry. Männlein-Robert comments (261): ‘Nikagoras ist ein entfernter Verwandter Plutarchs, wehalb ihm ein Hang zum Platonismus zugeschrieben wird’ — a curious argument: after all, Nicagoras was also related to Plutarch’s nephew, the Stoic philosopher Sextus of Chaeroneia, as an inscription in his honour ( IG II2 3814) records.