BMCR 2006.06.33

Ethopoiia. La représentation de caractères entre fiction scolaire et réalité vivante à l’époque impériale et tardive

, , , Ēthopoiia : la représentation de caractères entre fiction scolaire et réalité vivante à l'époque impériale et tardive. Cardo ; 3. Salerno: Helios editrice, 2005. xv, 231 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 8888123105 €38.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Ethopoeia was one of the progymnasmata or introductory exercises practised in ancient schools as an introduction to rhetoric and a means to learn how to write literary compositions. It consisted of the impersonation of the speech of a character, whose personality and situation should be taken into account, and exerted a major influence on the way how Imperial and Late Antique authors wrote dialogues and speeches.1 This work offers 11 studies and two appendixes on the presence of ethopoeia during the Imperial Period and Late Antiquity, focusing on the interaction of rhetoric (as known mainly through the treatises of Progymnasmata by Aelius Theo, Ps. Hermogenes, Aphthonius and Nicolaus of Mira) and literature at school and proves to be path-breaking in its use of ethopoeia as a unifying element of authors and works which are chronologically and stylistically very distant.

The book publishes the contributions afforded by an international group of scholars (Carla Castelli, Pierre-Louis Malosse, Gianfranco Agosti, Bernard Schouler, Jacques Schamp, Federica Ciccolella and Martin Steinrück) to a conference on ethopoeia held at the University of Friburg in February 2005. To these were added papers by Christine Heusch, Jesús Ureña Bracero, Gianluca Ventrella and Eugenio Amato, as well as two appendices by Gianluca Ventrella and Eugenio Amato. The original languages of the different authors have been respected and that results in a book that contains four articles in Italian, four in French, one in English, one in Spanish and one in German.

After the Préface by Marie-Pierre Noël and the “Avant propos” by Eugenio Amato and Jacques Schamp, follows the article by Carla Castelli. Its starting point is Philostratus’ interest in the physical aspect of the sophists as part of his approach to their ethos, but the author focuses attention on just one type, that of the rustic ( ἄγροικος) sophist. Carelessness and disarray in look are expected from philosophers, but not from sophists, in which they appear only combined with gentleness and control of gesture.

Christine Heusch contributes an article in which she analyses the rhetorical theory of progymnasmata as a basis for the discourse of the elite (therefore it should be read together with the first appendix by G. Ventrella, “L’etopea nella definizione degli antichi retori”, pp. 179-212) and the practical application of this theory, mainly through examples offered by rhetors.

Gianfranco Agosti, well known for his research on Nonnus of Panopolis and Late Antique Greek epic in general, offers a study on the presence of ethopoeia in Late Antique Greek poetry, to be read with the appendices he offers (pp. 55-60) and the second Appendix by E. Amato and G. Ventrella (pp. 213-231). Agosti deals first with those compositions that have a direct and secure relationship with the school, that is the ethopoeia by eleven-year-old Quintus Sulpicius Maximus, preserved on his gravestone (IG XIV 2012 = Kaibel, EG 618);2 several known through papyri and related materials: P.Lond.Lit. 51 (II AD.Oxy. IV 671 (IIIAD.Ryl. III 487 (III. Graves3 and P. Heid. inv. 1271v;4 and those in the Anthologia Palatina IX (126, 449, 451-452, 454-480). After that he examines several poems which, following the standard structure, do not belong to the school stricto sensu, such as those by Dioscorus of Aphrodito (41-46 Fournet), the fragment of Pantheleus’ poem (Heitsch XXIII) and those by John of Gaza (Anacr. 6 Ciccolella) and George the Grammarian (Anacr. 1-6b Ciccolella). P. Oxy. 3537r (III AD) poses more problems and Agosti considers the possibility of its being part of a literary controversy. Finally, to this section he adds the two biblical ethopoeias preserved in the Codex Visionum : P.Bodmer 33, words of Cain after killing Abel and P. Bodmer 34, words of Abel after being killed by Cain (eidolopoeia) and P.Bodmer 20, words of Abraham, Sara and Isaac after receiving the order to sacrifice Isaac. In the third place Agosti analyses the presence of ethopoeia as a part of longer extant poems, especially the Dionysiaca by Nonnus of Panopolis, to conclude that in Egypt the practice of composing hexametric ethopoeias was widely spread from the school on, a phenomenon maybe related to the success of Nonnus’ Dionysiaca, and had a consideration of its own which explains its self-standing use. To this impressive collection of material two more ethopoeias should be added: PSI VI 722 (3rd cent. AD; fragmentary words of Priam when about to rescue Hector’s body) and P.Flor. III 390 (Hermoupolis Magna, 5th cent. AD; fragmentary words of Polyxena when driven to the Greek camp to be sacrificed).5

Pierre-Louis Malosse stresses the relationship between epistolary fiction and progymnasmata treatises devoted to ethopoeia: in both epistolary fiction and ethopoeia the writer pretends to be a third person, although the link of letters to ethopoeia can be occasional (fictional letters used in non-epistolary contexts), indirect (the Heroides by Ovid) or direct (proper epistolary fiction). Malosse focuses on the third type and examines its relationship with the rules of ethopoeia concerning the impersonated character, the addressee, the circumstances and the contents of the composition. Ethopoeia and epistolary fiction are thought to be sisters, born of identical principles and grown up in parallel though independent developments.

Bernard Schouler deals with ethopoeia as a figure of speech and analyses five examples in Libanius (1. Medea, 2. Andromaca, 11. a painter, 12. Achilles, 18. a prostitute) to conclude that they glide from the realm of rhetoric towards that of poetics, as their main function is not to persuade but to please, in a development similar to the one undergone by the ekphrasis.

After considering the means an ancient student could turn to to compose an ethopoeia, Jesús Ureña Bracero, author of several previous articles on ethopoeia,6 concentrates on those related to μεταποίησις, that is, the rewriting of a poetic text into prose, keeping its basic contents and changing shape and style. This exercise also reflects the composition of many ethopoeias as they take, as a starting point, a text by another author, frequently Homer, and it is especially notorious when we have two ethopoeias on the same theme. Thus Ureña Bracero compares AG 9.468 and 469, Lib. Eth. 21 and Ps.Nicol. Eth. 13, Lib. Eth. 22 and Ps.Nicol. Eth. 2, Aphth. Prog. 35.15-36.20 Rabe and Lib. Eth. 9, Lib. Eth. 12 and 13, Lib. Eth. 5 and 6, Lib. Eth. 24 and 25, and finds that the most common resources are those related to paraphrase and narrative. Another interesting comparison would have been P.Flor. III 390 and Lib. Eth. 16.

Gianluca Ventrella has produced a full study of Libanius’ ethopoeia 11 (“Words of Medea when about to kill her own children”). It is classed as simple, though finishing with an address to her children; according to Aphthonius’ Progymnasmata it would be termed as mixed, that is including ethos and pathos (cf. X 35,9-10 Rabe), but several later rhetors (including John of Sardes XV 207,13-25) add a pragmatical type, used in didascalic contexts or whenever the character wishes to complete anything, usually an exhortation, which proves to be also included in this case (Medea’s βούλευμα being the πρᾶγμα).

Ventrella analyses the contents and argumentation related to ethos, pathos and pragma and Libanius’ approach to his model, Euripides’ Medea. Eugenio Amato explores two texts by Dracontius, approaching them from the point of view of ethopoeia for the first time. Rom. 4 (Words of Hercules when seeing that the heads of Hydra kept reviving after being cut) is a mixed ethopoeia in which the author introduces several variants to the traditional myth, used as the theme for ethopoeias in several other authors. Rom. 2.152-163 deals also with Hercules, in the context of the myth of Hylas, and has the structure, style and rhetorical colours of a pathetic ethopoeia. Both of them should be related to the school run by grammaticus Felicianus.

Jacques Schamp’s study on Phot. Bibl. cod. 279, 534a 37 concentrates on the anecdotes about Demosthenes which are placed under numbers 3a-3b and traces them back to Plutarch and other authors and forward to Ethop. 7 Amato by Severus of Alexandria. Thus he provides an excellent example of the evolution of contents, conventions and styles in the history of Greek literature and rhetoric.

Martin Steinrück studies the impact and implications of accentual rhythm in the poetry of Severus of Alexandria, in particular its use to create the author’s ethos and to paint the personality of the character impersonated in an ethopoeia.

Federica Ciccolella analyses the nine Anacreontic poems (including six ethopoeias) preserved in the Vaticanus Barberinianus gr. 310 and attributed to George the Grammarian. Ciccolella thinks that poems 47-54 (1-6) may be of Palestinian origin (Gaza?), while 55 (7), 57 (9) and probably 56 (8) are likely to have been composed in Egypt. All of them are products of rhetorical schools that were assembled in an anthology at the end of Late Antiquity.

The book finishes with two appendixes. The first, by G. Ventrella, is an anthology of Italian translations of all the texts related to the (Greek and Latin) theory of ethopoeia, each of them headed by a brief introduction. Aristoteles and Dionysius of Halicarnasus are not included and the first author is Aelius Theo, usually placed in the 1st century AD. The second one, by E. Amato and G. Ventrella, offers a chronological repertory of literary and school ethopoeias, both Greek and Latin, in four headings: literary ethopoeias, school ethopoeias, ethopoeias (subjects) mentioned by rhetors and lost ethopoeias by known authors. These two appendixes offer an extremely valuable tool to study the evolution of progymnasmatic theory and comparison of progymnasmata with literary texts. The addition of a full updated bibliography on ethopoeia in a third appendix would not have come amiss.

This book is very welcome for its sensible and sensitive approach to different fields of Imperial and Late Antique Literature, some of which only very lately have received the attention they deserve. This study may be read as well as an invitation to scholars to carry further the investigations on ethopoeia, treating themes not dealt with in it, such as Christian ethopoeia from the Gospels and Saint Paul on to Byzantine times (including eg. P.Bodmer, mentioned by G. Agosti), or Latin ethopoeia (Ovid’s Heroides, Statius, Claudian). It invites scholars to approach other compositions taking, as a starting point, other progymnasmata, such as diegesis, ekphrasis, enkomion, synkrisis, and thesis.


Marie-Pierre Noël, “Préface” (pp. ix-xii)

Eugenio Amato and Jacques Schamp, “Avant propos” (pp. xiii-xv)

Carla Castelli, “Ritratti di sofisti. Ethos e fisiognomica nelle Vitae sophistarum di Filostrato” (pp. 1-10)

Christine Heusch, “Die Ethopoiie in der griechischen und lateinischen Antike: von der rhetorischen Progymnasmata-Theorie zur literarischen Form” (pp. 11-33)

Gianfranco Agosti, “L’etopea nella poesia greca tardoantica” (pp. 34-60)

Pierre-Louis Malosse, “Éthopée et fiction épistolaire” (pp. 61-78)

Bernard Schouler, “L’éthopée chez Libanios ou l’évasion esthétique” (pp. 79-92)

Jesús Ureña Bracero, “El uso de fuentes literarias, recursos retóricos y técnicas de composición en etopeyas sobre un mismo tema” (pp. 93-111)

Gianluca Ventrella, “Libanio e l’etopea Oepragmatica’: la dolorosa auto-esortazione di Medea” (pp. 112-122)

Eugenio Amato, “Draconzio e l’etopea latina alla scuola del grammatico Feliciano” (pp. 123-142)

Jacques Schamp, “Un viatique pour la critique: le cas de l’éthopée” (pp. 143-155)

Martin Steinrück, “Éthos et rythme chez Sévère d’Alexandrie” (pp. 156-162)

Federica Ciccolella, “Text, Interpretation, and Fate of Some Anonymous Ethopoiiai of the Sixth Century” (pp. 163-175)

Gianluca Ventrella, “L’etopea nella definizione degli antichi retori” (pp. 179-212)

Eugenio Amato – Gianluca Ventrella, “L’éthopée dans la pratique scolaire et littéraire” (213-231).


1. Previous general studies: J.-L. Fournet, “Une éthopée de Caïn dans le Codex des Visions de la Fondation Bodmer”, ZPE 92 (1992), 254-266; J. A. Fernández Delgado, “Hexametrische Ethopoiíai auf Papyrus und anderen Materialen”, in A. Büllow-Jacobsen (ed), Proceedings XX International Congress of Papyrologists, Copenhague 1994, 299-305; V. Jarcho, “P. Oxy. 3537. A True Ethopoea?”, Eikasmos 10 (1999), 185-199.

2. Latest edition in M. Nocita, “L’ara di Sulpicio Massimo: nuove osservazioni in occasione del restauro”, BCAR 101 (2000), 81-100; cf. also J. A. Fernández Delgado – J. Ureña Bracero, Un testimonio de la educación literaria griega en época romana: IG XIV 2012 = Kaibel, EG 618, Universidad de Extremadura, Cáceres 1991.

3. C. Graves, Hermathena 5 (1885), 237-257; E. Heitsch, Die griechischen Dichterfragmente der römischen Kaiserzeit, 2. Auflage, Göttingen 1963, XXVI.

4. G. A. Gerhard – O. Crusius, “Mythologische Epigramme in einem Heidelberger Papyrus”, in Recueil de Mémoires de Philologie Classique et d’Archéologie offerts a Jules Nicole [Mélanges Nicole], Genève 1905, 615-624.

5. Cf. J.-L. Fournet, Héllenisme dans l’Égypte du VIe siècle: la bibliothèque et l’oeuvre de Dioscore d’Aphrodité, Le Caire 1999, p. 653.

6. To be found in Emerita 61 (1993), 267-298; Faventia 16 (1995), 7-19; Emerita 67 (1999), 315-339; Anuario de Estudios Filológicos 23 (2000), 453-469.