BMCR 2007.04.16

Didymos: On Demosthenes. Clarendon Ancient History Series

Didymus, Chalcenterus., Harding, Phillip., Didymos on Demosthenes. Clarendon ancient history series. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006. x, 286 pages, 2 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 23 cm.. ISBN 9780198150435 $45.00 (pb).

Table of contents

Phillip Harding has contributed an excellent new volume on Didymus to the Clarendon Ancient History series.

Didymus, who was active in Alexandria in the second half of the first century BC, was one of the most prolific scholars of the Hellenistic period (thus his nicknames, Chalcenterus, or “bronze guts,” and Bibliolathas, or “book forgetter”). He supposedly wrote some 3500 or 4000 books. His works on Greek poets, historians and orators were frequently cited by later scholiasts, and he has been esteemed for his efforts “to preserve the scholarly heritage of the Hellenistic age.”1 Until 1904, little remained of Didymus’ vast output, and so the discovery of a papyrus with his notes on orations 9, 10, 11 and 13 of Demosthenes was especially welcome, not only because of its great contribution to our understanding of Didymus and Hellenistic scholarship but also because it is the only extensive ancient commentary on a Greek prose author. It was previously assumed that Didymus’ work must have been hasty and less than careful, and the text of the papyrus did little to help his reputation. Some modern scholars condemn Didymus for his historical mistakes, inconsistent coverage and long-winded digressions.2 Others apologize for Didymus by suggesting that the papyrus preserves only an excerpt of a longer original work, which may have offered more even coverage and contained fuller notes.3

Harding admits that Didymus’ work may sometimes seem “idiosyncratic and less than satisfactory,” but he does not find it helpful to judge Didymus by the standards of modern scholarship (41). Harding argues that Didymus did more than just preserve the work of his predecessors. He demonstrates that Didymus was an active scholar who collected evidence to support his own views without relying solely on earlier Hellenistic compilations and commentaries.4 Harding reasonably rejects the theory that the notes in the papyrus were selected from a longer exemplar commentary by someone with specific historical interests, observing that such a theory “fails to account for the large amount of non-historical material in the text.”5 Harding presents the papyrus text as an intact example of Didymus’ work and invites the reader to consider it as a significant contribution to ancient scholarship on Demosthenes.

Like other volumes in the series, Harding’s features an introduction, translation, and commentary for historians. The notes are designed for readers who do not know Greek, with English lemmata from the translation. Harding’s volume differs from others in the series in that it presents a full Greek text facing the translation, based on the author’s own examination of the papyrus, and several notes address Greek textual issues. The book also includes a photographic reproduction of the entire papyrus, which gives readers an excellent sense of the overall physical state of the manuscript. The plates are at a reduced scale; they are big enough that readers can see much of the text, but not large enough to be very helpful in places where the text is difficult to read.

The introduction begins with a summary of our knowledge of Didymus and his many works. It continues with a description of the papyrus, with some papyrological detail for specialists. The next section, on the scribe, suggests that the papyrus was written at an educational establishment by a student in the late second or early third century AD. Harding next offers a useful summary of the content of the papyrus, listing each lemma and briefly describing the corresponding note. The fifth part of the introduction discusses the century-long debate on whether the surviving work is a commentary ( hypomnema) or monograph ( syngramma). Harding concludes that our work was “Didymus’ main study of the speeches of Demosthenes” (with a separate work devoted to the De Corona), which displays some similarities to other ancient commentaries, although its author thought it was “somehow different” (19). The next section surveys the sources that Didymus used in his research and provides useful background information on authors such as Androtion, Hermippus and Philochorus. The seventh section presents Didymus as an original researcher (see above, third paragraph). Then comes a short section that considers the relation between the text of Didymus’ Demosthenes quotations and the Byzantine manuscript tradition of the orator. Like other ancient papyri of Demosthenes, Didymus’ text fails to show a pronounced affinity to any one group of Byzantine manuscripts.

Harding’s translation is clear and accurate. He uses square brackets and italics to mark restorations of illegible material and partially legible material. He previously employed these same editorial conventions in volume 2 of the Translated Documents of Greece and Rome series,6 which also features short extracts of Didymus. In his earlier versions Harding tends not to employ square brackets within a word, but now he is more willing to do so in order to denote accurately the condition of the surviving papyrus. For example, he now writes “[Phili]p” and “[Her]m[ia]s” (col. 4, ll. 67-68) where neither word had any brackets before. He also uses italics more frequently in his latest version. In these same few lines, we now read ” writes” and ” though he was” in italics, indicating that the word is likely but not certain, whereas before Harding didn’t feel it necessary to signal any doubt to the reader in these instances. The brackets and italics effectively indicate where readings are in doubt, and this reader found them very helpful and not particularly distracting.

Some of these doubtful italicized readings are the result of Harding’s reexamination of the papyrus. The most recent critical edition of the papyrus left much to be desired, in the opinion of most reviewers.7 Harding himself says that he was often “unable to substantiate the readings of the most recent editors and quite unwilling to accept many of their very speculative restorations” (v). His printed text reflects his doubts about their readings and restorations. He adds many dots, brackets more letters, and leaves difficult lacunae unfilled in his text. When these textual difficulties impact the meaning of the text, as is often the case, Harding discusses proposed restorations in the commentary. This new edition has profited greatly from critical reactions to the recent Teubner edition, and it would be very useful to have textual material summarized in some sort of critical apparatus—if not at the bottom of the page, then at least in a separate appendix. Readers who are looking at the Greek text and want to know more about a particular word or gap must look over to the English translation and then find the relevant note in the commentary with its English lemma, where textual discussion may be embedded in a longer historical note.8 Harding does a good job of explaining the historical implications of different textual restorations, but his discussion is occasionally impossible to follow without a critical edition at hand.9 Along similar lines, in some places (e.g., p. 141 on col. 5, l. 53) the textual discussion is conducted almost entirely in English with no Greek, requiring Greek readers to consult another edition’s apparatus. These are minor complaints, and perhaps it is ungrateful to complain too much about the Greek when the series is not aimed primarily at serious textual critics and usually doesn’t provide any Greek or Latin text at all. The author and the Press are to be congratulated for printing a highly useful Greek text opposite the translation.10

In addition to arguing for Didymus as an original researcher and discussing the textual material, the commentary primarily focuses on the historical background. These historical notes present relevant information clearly and concisely, and they regularly specify the ancient sources and direct the reader to useful modern bibliography. The note on col. 7, ll. 31-32 (pp. 177-178), to take a typical example, presents an admirably concise summary of the career of the Athenian general Conon. Harding’s page-long note is slightly longer than the corresponding OCD entry11 and provides more bibliography for primary and secondary sources. Harding provides more narrative detail and the note is perfectly pitched for its audience of ancient history students. On the whole, the commentary is quite full, with 155 pages of notes on 25 pages of translation. Throughout, Harding does an excellent job discussing earlier scholarship on fourth-century history, Didymus and his sources. I learned much from his notes and noticed no significant bibliographic omissions.

The book has been carefully produced. It would be extremely helpful to print the current column number in the running header of the text and commentary, and to add line numbers for individual notes. I noticed only one typographical mistake.12


1. R. Pfeiffer, History of classical scholarship: from the beginning to the end of the Hellenistic age (Oxford, 1968), 279.

2. S. West, “Chalcenteric Negligence,” Classical Quarterly 20 (1970) 288-296 concludes that Didymus presents “potted scholarship” and “hurried compilation” (296). Her arguments are endorsed and amplified by E. M. Harris, “More Chalcenteric Negligence,” Classical Philology 84 (1989) 36-44.

3. The first editors of the papyrus proposed that it is a selection of material from a larger work: H. Diels and W. Schubart, Didymos Kommentar zu Demosthenes (Berlin, 1904). C. A. Gibson, Interpreting a classic. Demosthenes and his ancient commentators (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2002) 51-69 revives their suggestion.

4. This argument is nicely summarized in section 7 of the introduction, “Didymus the Scholar” (pp. 31-39). In several notes Harding identifies signs of “original scholarship, not compilation” (109). See, for example, notes on col. 1, l. 30 (p. 109), on the heading of col. 4 (pp. 117-120) and col. 7, ll. 55-62 (pp. 182-183).

5. Pp. 17-18. Harding also interprets the large lacuna of intentionally blank space in column eight of the papyrus as a key piece of evidence against excerption. He hesitantly follows earlier critics, who thought that the space was left by Didymus himself in the hope of adding a quotation later, and that the papyrus is an exact copy of Didymus’ original (195). For further arguments against excerption, see notes on the heading of col. 7 (pp. 164-165), col. 11, ll. 14-15 (pp. 221-222), and col. 11, ll. 20-21 (pp. 223-224).

6. From the end of the Peloponnesian War to the battle of Ipsus (Cambridge, 1985).

7. L. Pearson and S. Stephens, Didymi in Demosthenem Commenta (Stuttgart, 1983). For representative reviews, see H. Wankel, Gnomon 59 (1987) 213-223 and J. Rusten, Classical Philology 82 (1987) 265-269.

8. The process can take a little time, since the commentary notes only rarely have line references (and the columns are rather long) along with the lemmata. For example, at col. 11, l. 12, Harding prints ην, the papyrus reading without any diacritics. Some editors defend this reading as the relative pronoun, while others suggest that the beginning of the word has dropped out. In order to find Harding’s discussion of this point, the reader must skim through three and a half pages of notes on the beginning of column 11 to find the textual discussion that starts in the middle of a two page note. Once located, Harding’s discussion is valuable and fuller than an apparatus would allow. Still, some sort of critical apparatus would allow a Greek reader to digest the essential points much more quickly.

9. For example in his discussion of col. 5, l. 71 (p. 146) he says: “the alpha at the end of the line is clear and renders Crönert’s restoration, which I find opaque in any case, untenable.” The reader has to turn to the supplement of the Teubner to learn that Crönert’s restoration is ἀνακρινόμενος.

10. As Harding observes (v), the combination of text and translation is not available elsewhere. Gibson’s recent work on ancient Demosthenic commentators (above, note 3) offers the first full English translation but does not print a Greek text of Didymus.

11. OCD 3, s.v. “Conon (1)” (p. 376).

12. In the bibliography on page 265 the second “R. Parker” should be distinguished from the first.