BMCR 2005.04.27

Ars – Techne: Il manuale tecnico nelle civiltà greca e romana. Collana del Dipartimento di Scienze dell’Antichità Sez. filologica 2

, Ars/techne : il manuale tecnico nelle civiltà greca e romana : atti del Convegno internazionale, Università G. D'Annunzio di Chieti-Pescara, 29-30 ottobre 2001. Collana del Dipartimento di scienze dell'antichità. Sezione filologica ; 2. Chieti: Edizioni dell'Orso, 2003. vi, 235 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 8876947205 €17.00.

The volume combines the papers of a colloquium on ‘the handbook’ (‘manuale tecnico’) which was held in Pescara at the Università di Chieti-Pescara in 2001 in collaboration with the International Society for the History of Rhetoric (ISHR). The leading question was the production and reception of handbooks in the area of rhetoric, grammar, music and education. The broader contexts are the strategies of transmission of knowledge in the ancient world. The 14 papers are presented in a roughly chronological order, two of them in French, the others in Italian.

The first three contributions deal with the beginning of rhetoric as techne in classical Athens. The beginning of rhetoric and of the art of public discourse was inseparable from the discourse in the courts and the assembly, and also practising rhetoric meant giving speeches in law-suits; the art of rhetoric was an integral and important part of justice and politics. In her essay “La place judiciaire dans les premières technai logon” Marie-Pierre Noël (pp. 1-16) claims that rhetoric was reduced to a minor discipline only in the fourth century, because (Socrates and) Plato made philosophical discourses in private the supreme discipline of politics. Plato and Aristotle regarded the early sophists as no longer active participants in political discourse: eventually, the sophists’ technai logon were reduced to mere technical ‘manuals’ even though these had not been written in the fifth century but were a retrospective invention of these anti-sophists of the fourth century. Just so, Maddalena Vallozza’s essay “Isocrate, il poietikon pragma e la techne impossibile” (pp. 17-29) detects another instance of (re)invention, this time of modern scholarship, which postulated the existence of a now lost Isocratean poietikon pragma, a manual, and a treatise of rhetoric. Isocrates’ teaching was interactive and dynamic. Hence, according to Vallozza, he could not have written a book on an invariable techne with rules to follow (contrary to the collection of 51 testimonies of this manual in the collection of Rademacher 1951). Antonio Milazzi, in her chapter on “Un manuale retorico-pedagogico d’età attica: l’ A Demonico attribuito ad Isocrate” (pp. 31-42), discusses the pseudo-Isocratean Demonicus, a pedagogical treatise on rhetoric written in the fourth century.

The opening essays of the volume are all investigating ‘phantoms’ in one way or another: no manuals of the early sophists existed, and there was none of Isocrates, neither a technical nor a pedagogical treatise on rhetoric.

Two papers deal with texts and phenomena which are known to us inter alia by the evidence of papyri from Egypt. One, Maria Rosaria Falivene’s “A scuola nell’Egitto tolemaico: testi dalla ‘biblioteca’ di Al Hiba”, highlights cultural activities and intellectual and literary life in Egypt outside the city of Alexandria. Most of the ca. 830 literary papyri of Ptolemaic times included in the Leuven Database of Ancient Books before August 20031 were found covering mummies of the necropolis of Al Hiba. Falivene ventures that there had been a school of rhetoric at Al Hiba. As we have no idea which texts such a school should provide in its library, and as we also have no knowledge of schools of rhetoric outside major (and Greek organised) cities, her assumption does not convince at all. The essay “Gli Hermeneumata. Testi scolastici di età imperiale tra innovazione e conversazione” (pp. 51-78) written by Eleonora Tagliaferro examines the different functions of the so called Interpretamenta Pseudodositheana or Hermeneumata. Such bilingual texts were written to teach verbal communication in both languages, Latin and Greek (most of the texts) or Greek and Demotic (only one example). Few are known through findings in the sands of Egypt; others are transmitted by ca. 50 manuscripts and edited in the third volume of the Corpus Glossariorum Latinorum (CGL). These texts are teaching-manuals giving vocabularies in alphabetical order, expressions easy to memorise attached to different subjects and topics, conversation-pieces easy to adapt to different circumstances etc. Therefore, we may not only assume a wider public and heterogeneous users but also understand the longevity of these manuals and their inclusion in the manuscript-traditions of medieval Europe.

Laurent Pernot (“Gregorio di Nazianzo (or. 33,6-7) e l’elogio retorico delle città”, pp. 79-97) gives an interpretation of a speech of Gregory of Nazianzus (from the year 379/380 AD) in the light of the theories of Menander Rhetor, the author of two rhetorical treatises probably dating from the second half of the 3rd cent. In spite of the difference in religious background the parallels are striking. Though Menander may not be Gregory’s direct or even his only source, Pernot can show how Gregory uses and deconstructs the ἐγκώμιον πόλεως, a rhetorical device which can be traced in the tradition as far back as to Plato and Aristotle. Only the reader who has been educated on the same principles of rhetoric will be able to unveil the surface of rhetorical topoi and gain a true understanding of the real qualities (in this case of a morally good city). Gregory’s speech and rhetorical strategy from this point of view gains a new perspective.

Eleonora Rocconi (“Un manuale al femminile: l’Introduzione pitagorica alla musica di Tolemaide di Cirene”, pp. 99-114) tries to locate the introduction to music by the female musicologist Ptolemais of Cyrene (1st cent. AD?) in the context of late Hellenistic erudition. Though the history of the development of musical theory cannot be reconstructed in detail, typical features both in the empirical and the theoretical approach adopted by the now known musical treatises may be defined. Ptolemais’ terminology is somewhat shifting; her work cannot be totally subsumed under one of the mainstream approaches, and she herself acknowledges the empirical (sensual) basis of the Pythogorical school. Her manual, therefore, can be regarded as a correct survey of the whole panorama of musical theory, based on knowledge of the sources.

Paolo d’Alessandro. “Di manuale in manuale. Un’interpretazione metrica varroniana da Cesio Basso a Rufino d’Antiochia”, pp. 115-125. A fragment of Varro’s De sermone Latino has made its way through a number of intermediate stages to the 5th cent. Varro or his predecessor argues that the iambic septenarius was developed out of the iambic senarius. Astonishingly, this theory, regardless of all differences between the metrical schools, does not seem to have changed much in the course of time. With slight changes in terminology, the same conclusions are handed down from Varro to Caesius Bassus, Diomedes, Charisius and Rufinus of Antiochia. This continuity shows not only that the differences between the competing metrical schools from Alexandria and from Pergamon were obsolete as early as in the 1st cent. BC but also that Varro’s treatise may well have been one of the important sources for the grammarians of the later Roman empire.

In “Un catechismo retorico dell’alto Medioevo: la Disputatio de rhetorica et de virtutibus di Alcuino” (pp. 127-144), Lucia Calboli Montefusco discusses the different functions of written instructions in rhetoric in the middle ages with a special focus on Alcuin and his knowledge and use of Cicero’s De inventione. Alcuin wrote his disputatio between 794 and 804. As the full title of the disputatio reveals, it not only treats the subject rhetoric but integrates the claim of knowledge and use of rhetoric into the discussion of virtues of ruling and reigning, of the right way to rule. Montefusco compares Alcuin’s allusions to and citations of Cicero with Cicero’s text. Differences, rearrangements, even misunderstandings dominate Alcuin’s reception of Cicero. These are good arguments to suggest that Alcuin has not worked with Cicero’s text itself but with later compendia and manuals of rhetoric like e.g. Cassiodor’s Rhetorica. Be that as it may, Montefusco cautiously leaves the question open if Alcuin has read Cicero’s De inventione himself.

Ulrich Schindel (“Influenze reciproche tra commento esegetico e manuale sistematico”, pp. 145-157) deals with the differences and similarities between the genre of ars grammatica and of the author-commentary, both important elements in the secondary education in later antiquity. These two forms of schoolbooks heavily influenced one another. As an example for the ars Schindel chooses Donatus (ca. 350 AD). Donatus in his Partes Orationis uses few examples and shows no elaborate systematization. The exempla elocutionum are assembled in works like that of Arusianus Messius (late 4th cent. AD) and finally found their way into compendia like Cassiodorus’ Cornucopia and also into the commentaries of Servius (Vergil), Donatus (Terentius) etc., when these commentators quote from models like Cicero and Sallustius. Both forms may have been used during lectures by the same teacher. The manuals containing lists of figures of speech like the ‘Anonymus Ecksteinii’ are evidently based on a model of the 1st cent. AD, Caecilius of Caleacte. Cassiodorus in his Psalms commentary leans heavily on this author. The terminology regarding rhetoric, esp. the figures of speech, becomes more and more fixed. Schindel takes Eugraphius as an example, who in his commentary on Terentius (early 6th cent.) writes in accordance with the anonymous treatise; 14 of the 16 figures mentioned by him formed part of the lists in the manual dating from the 1st cent. The similarities between Eugraphius and Cassiodorus do not mean that the former depended on the latter, but that both drew their material out of a manual as a common source. By carefully tracing the examples and quotations we will be able to gain insight into the practice of late antique commentaries, both Christian and pagan. A striking example of this method is the use Isidorus jr. makes of Augustinus’ civitas dei. Schindel rightly calls him a grammaticus Christianus.

Gabriella Moretti, “Il manuale e l’allegoria. La personificazione allegorica delle arti liberali come traditzione del genere manualistico” (pp. 159-186), argues that personifications of the liberal arts are not a phenomenon of late antiquity only, but are much older. Allegory is an element inherent in the system of technai. Concrete and abstract concepts depend on each other in the system of paideia from the first. Already Gorgias uses Helena as a personification of logos; Euripides introduces Peitho as a goddess (Hec. 816). The systematization and hierarchization of disciplines is made plain in a simile attributed to Gorgias; this simile is still powerful as late as Martianus Capella: philosophy is surrounded by the single mathemata like Penelope by her servants. From these premises Moretti starts to trace the history of personifications of the artes in Latin literature. She argues that the fact that Varro’s Discipinae are divided into nine books in accordance with the nine muses is an allegorical tool which goes back to Hellenistic scholarship. Accius’ Didascalica remain in the dark, but Aurelius Opillus (mentioned by Suet, De gramm. 6) seems to be an important link to later authors. Vitruvius’ treatise has its nucleus in allegorical narrative. In the prologue he develops a twofold picture of his treatise on architecture. The reader is “nurtured” by Vitruvius; the understanding of architecture is like an ascent to the temple of Architectura. In Columella allegory serves as a literary strategy for the metadisciplinary discourse. The career of agriculture in Rome resembles the formation and education of a new Roman citizen. Moretti stresses that, as soon as versified elements have found their way into didactical prose, verse becomes the proper place for allegory. This can be shown in works like Marcellus, De medicam. and Palladius, Agr. Book 14. The most prominent example is Martianus Capella. Moretti, in the second half of her paper, explains the function of personification in De Nuptiis. She carefully analyses the reasoning Martianus himself offers to the reader at the end of the (allegorical) 2nd and the beginning of the 3rd book. In her interpretation Martianus himself offers a theory why an allegorical presentation in the middle of a manual may be of great didactic use. The role of allegorical figures is not just ornamental, but of great mnemotechnical value. M. also has a short look into the iconographical tradition and into the later tradition, above all Fulgentius. On p. 178 she offers a striking emendation of a corruption (de nupt. 3,222), developed from her argument and a convincing parallel in Macrobius. The paper is convincingly argued both in detail and in the general outline and is the most valuable in the book.

Pierre Chiron (à propos de l’hyperbole et de la ‘rage taxinomique’) questions the hypothesis that rhetorical manuals since the 1st cent. AD are reduced to plain lists of figures of speech and that these manuals are organized always along the same principles inherited from the handbook tradition. He examines the validity of this ‘rage taxinomique’, an expression coined by R. Barthes in 1994, for the case of the hyperbole. To do so he first looks into the definition and characterisation of hyperbole in the rhetorical tradition and then investigates the treatment of hyperbole in the taxinomical lists. Rhetorical theory has an ambivalent approach to the figure of hyperbole. It can be a legitimate tropus, but is always seen as risky. This paradoxical position may come out of a growing anti-Asianism. Only when the Peripatetic tradition gains new strength hyperbole becomes an indispensable part of the sublime style (cp. Ps.-Longinus) in the peripatetic tradition. Therefore taxinomical lists (e.g. Julius Rufinianus in the 4th cent. AD) cannot be regarded as one homogeneous corpus. They vary in their theoretical basis, their function, their role as a norm or as the ‘smallest common denominator’ within theoretical discourse. From this very wide range the later scholia and commentaries choose their material. The great differences to be detected in order, definitions and choice of examples for the figures of speech in these commentaries show us that taxinomical lists should not be despised as a sign of decadence, but were a flexible means of instruction throughout late antiquity.

In “Un uso particolare dei testi nei manuali di retorica” (pp. 207-216) Luigi Spina investigates how manuals of rhetoric were used in antiquity. Spina starts with a discussion of Apollonius Dyscolus’ peri syntaxeos 1,60 and his claims that in practising language the right use of grammar was not always felt as a necessity, but, in the context of theoretical reflections on language, grammar was essential. Hence, different levels of language determine the intensity and seriousness of dealings with grammar in practice and theory. Spina also treats other sources (Seneca and Cicero etc.). He concludes that the existing manuals of rhetoric aimed to serve all different needs of stylistic levels and demands of language, practical as well as theoretical.

Gualtiero Calboli (Manuale di grammatica, manuale di retorica e la κρίσις ποιημάτων, pp. 217-230. Grammar in Rome was from the first interested in orthography and pronunciation. Stoic influence, the school of Pergamon and Alexandrian doctrine are present in Rome as early as the 1st cent. B.C. As Stoic doctrine becomes more important in the teaching of poetry and ethics, these Stoic elements form a link between the teaching and the practice of grammar and rhetoric in Rome. Calboli starts out from the testimonies on Cato Censorius and his famous dictum of the ‘vir bonus dicendi peritus’ in combination with the ethical value of the mos maiorum. He then analyses the practice of poetical quotations in grammarians and rhetoricians in relation to Greek and Latin literature. The statistics show that examples with a moral component are more frequent also in the manuals. The paper ends with the suggestion of a research project on the use of poetical quotations within manuals, a project of which the paper suggests the outline.

The book is well produced, each paper has its own full bibliography, and most authors present their sources extensively either within the paper or in an appendix, which makes easy reading. There are very few typos. But the usefulness is hampered by the fact that there are no indices of subjects or passages quoted, and, what seems rather more serious, that there is no introduction to speak of, only very short acknowledgments by the editor Maria Silvana Celentano. The general outline of the book becomes evident only to the reader who struggles through the whole volume or who is already familiar with its subjects. This is more a pity as such a general outline really exists — the book is not just a jumble of essays after a conference. How knowledge is organised, how the genres and forms through which knowledge is transmitted develop and shift is a fascinating question. To this question the book offers valuable answers.


1. By August 2003, its last update, the database had about 9875 literary papyri, most of them from Roman and early Byzantine times (Falivene used the LDAB database before that date and cites the total number of 7100 entries). Another collection of literary papyri is edited by the Centre de Documentation de Papyrologie Littéraire ( CEDOPAL) in Liège with ca. 6000 entries.