BMCR 2007.06.08

Ancient Greek Scholarship

, Ancient Greek Scholarship: a guide to finding, reading, and understanding scholia, commentaries, lexica, and grammatical treatises, from their beginnings to the Byzantine period. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. xvii, 345 pages. ISBN 9780198042662. £14.99 (pb).

“When I first embarked on this project, many people told me it was impossible; I thought only that it would be tremendous fun…” So the writer on p.xi, who affirms that it was just as much fun as she had hoped. She has had the assistance of many other distinguished scholars in her apparently enjoyable rambles through the wasteland of ancient scholarship, and one may safely say that the end result, while perhaps not fun reading for most students, is of great utility. This reviewer would have saved many months of labour had he possessed this book thirty years ago, and it will save others just as much time now, while removing from them the excuse for ignorance, which was perhaps more readily available back then. Any serious student of Greek will want to possess it.

Part One falls into three sections: a brief introduction to ancient scholarship (pp. 1-17), largely derived from Pfeiffer’s history, then a chapter devoted to those Greek authors with scholia, subdivided by Classical Hellenistic Roman, in the order most likely to be helpful to the novice (pp. 18-71), followed in chapter 3 by a selective omnium gatherum of other scholarly works, i.e. a guide and survey to modern works on surviving technical writings of the grammarians and their fragments (pp. 72-106). One finds Choeroboscus and Trypho and Stobaeus, but not Eratosthenes or Callimachus, the (somewhat opaque) criterion being autonomous existence as authors (p.viii). Particular attention is paid to the quality of editions, and to the needs of a student without immediate access to a research library.

Part Two consists of an introduction to the philology of reading this scholarly material. It is divided into three parts. First (pp.107-140) is the discussion of the actual technical language and its quirks, which includes such matters as the Greek numbering system and accentuation as well as the compendia found in an apparatus criticus. There follows a section called The Reader (pp.141-218) which gives examples of passages from scholia and lexica with helpful notes primarily for translation, the first (p. 104) with a key translation, and the rest (pp. 105-201) with minor notes but without a key. These range from the elementary to the extremely difficult; and this reviewer at least was sometimes forced to hunt up other texts to come up with a satisfactory meaning. Finally (pp. 219-265) there is a simple glossary of the technical language needed for the reader and likely to occur in similar texts; but the writer is clear that a full discussion of such language does not exist at present. The book concludes with a vast annotated bibliography (pp.276-330) — essential in view of the many cross references from the text — and three useful indices, an index locorum; an index of Greek terms discussed; and a general index.

No similar book exists, probably because anyone who attempted it would be advised that it was impossible. Yet it was always a desideratum, since most students doing research will end up looking at scholia, without always knowing what they have before them. The writer has shown extraordinary courage in undertaking an Herculean task which could never be satisfactorily accomplished; no one can know enough and the materials are either defective or badly understood. Now any student can read though this book and with some perseverance acquire a good basic grasp of scholiastic material; in addition the advice for further reading is generous, and the warnings about dubious editions are firmly phrased. In a minute one can learn the latest about the date of Choeroboscus, something known only to specialists a few years ago. The author has tested her own examples for seminar purposes, and obviously the reader would be best used as teaching material. But good students could manage on their own.

Who will benefit from this book? The writer speaks of the novice, meaning I suppose the graduate student. But she is mistaken. Not long ago the journal JRS published an article which used an allegedly unknown fragment of Eratosthenes to provide new information on the Lupercalia. This odd idea was based on an 18th century edition of the Plato scholia, and the proper edition shows that there is no such fragment, only a confusion by Johannes Lydus. So the editorial board of JRS, not just novices, could also have profited from the discussion (p. 47) of Plato scholia in this book, which advises rightly (p. ix) that one of the worst mistakes a novice in the use of ancient scholarship can make is in the use of the wrong edition. In fact, it would be accurate to suggest that anyone wishing to use scholiastic information might do well to check in Dickey’s book first. She is aware that the papyrus material presents a particular problem, now being slowly solved by the volumes of CLGP. The collected texts of the grammarians are being made available by the useful web-site of the Genoa equipe, under F. Montanari. The TLG versions, to which she often refers, makes available inaccessible texts in an instant, even the D-scholia to Homer. Interested scholars are now guided to all this material and much more. I emphasize that not that many years ago it was practically impossible to do studies in ancient scholarship for want of suitable research tools. The advances inspire envy and admiration.

Of course in a work designed primarily for utility the experienced scholar will find some things banal, just as the novice may find some remarks too difficult, and the writer animadverts on this problem of presentation. But on the whole this book is successfully designed for what it seeks to achieve, viz., to help students over the rather steep learning curve so that they can operate on their own in finding and reading. I would certainly be happy to use it in a seminar and recommend it to others, and not only because it has no competition. Undoubtedly the chalcenteric annotated bibliography of scholiastic scholarship is for most readers the most valuable portion, since it is accompanied by critical comments and indication of further reading. One can imagine recommending the relevant passages to students wanting to know about Homeric scholia. The Reader will be temptingly protreptic for those who wish to hold a seminar on ancient Greek scholarship generally. The proofreading has been good. I found only “Tojahn” (p.42) as a puzzle, but easily rectified as “Trojan” from the bibliography.

Since one may hope that this book, reasonably priced in paperback, will be reissued and updated for future generations, the remainder of this review is a personal reaction to the equally personal presentation of ancient scholarship here. The emphasis in the book is towards the technical grammarians, but the reader is left with the strong impression that the really good scholarship in the scholia was mostly done before Didymus (Didymus is possibly early 1st AD on p.29, but definitely BC on p.32). Yet one wonders how useful Herodian and Apollonius Dyskolos are for the majority of those looking at classical authors. The author quite obviously wishes to avoid being judgmental about the material, apart from recommending (or not) a suitable edition; she implies that our business is to read it and understand it, and the rest is someone else’s job. Praiseworthy though that is, it becomes impossible in practice; after all she does give understanding as a subheading to her book, and one would assume that this means more than just translating correctly into a modern language. Usually the scholar will want to evaluate as opposed to merely read the data in their scholia. On grounds of utility a reader needs more help with the appreciation of the particular problems of the earlier material, in order to evaluate. I would cite the fragment collections with commentary by A. Dyck (esp. Heliodorus Homericus, HSCP 95 1993, 1ff). as models of dispassionate but complex evaluation of otherwise bald fragments. It would have been good to see a few such examples, where the plain statements of the scholia can be shown to be misleading and oversimplified, and why. Is this not what a novice needs?

Some common imprecisions (ancient and modern) have grave consequences for our understanding. An example: We often find in regard to the text the annotation Ἐν ἄλλωι, in another the word XXX in our scholia. She supplies on p.112 in another copy/manuscript; in Reader no.40 we find understand apographois or copies. This might be a typo for antigraphois, and on p.150 we are to supply antigraphon in the dative. Any novice is going to assume the ancient scholar is operating with different manuscripts, when the correct translation, unless otherwise required by context, is in another source whatever that might be, e.g. a commentary, an author, precisely not necessarily a classical text and very possibly a suggestion or emendation, originally delivered in a lecture. Similarly, on p.111 with regard to Homeric scholia, we find Sch. T Il.10.38 αἱ Ἀριστάρχου as the [texts] of Aristarchus with the footnoted explanation that Aristarchus produced two ekdoseis, whose readings were different. Would that all this were certain. These are also considered readings in what follows, and at least sometimes we can supply the term graphai rather than ekdoseis (indeed Erbse, Hermes 87 1959, 281) considered that graphai is more often to be supplied, and sometimes lexeis). We certainly cannot assume that ekdoseis are always the same as antigrapha. In his 1959 article Erbse undermined for ever the old certainties about Aristarchus texts, even if some of his arguments have not convinced; and the ground has got ever less firm since, as we re-evaluate Didymus. For the ancient scholarship on the Iliad few things are more important, and few things have been the subject of so much modern polemic, much of it regrettably disfigured by the same imprecision and distortion that we find in the ancient sources. Dickey could do a great service to scholarship by insisting on the duty to caution and terminological precision.

Then there is the scholarly tradition. Dickey following much too readily Pfeiffer’s History neglects the Peripatetics, whose muddy footprints are all over our ancient scholia. Yet we now recognize that Aristotle was a forerunner of the Alexandrians especially in terms of method. Perhaps this is why the terms zetema, problema, aporia or epitemema, lysis are nowhere discussed or what kata to siopomenon, ek tou prosopou, ek tou kairou and similar explications might be, though we do learn that Schrader’s edition of Porphyry’s Quaestiones Homericae is deficient, and — more questionably — that Sodanos is reliable; it was a pity that Erbse chose to omit these scholia from his edition, though he knew them better than anyone else. Yet we know that these problems were central for the Alexandrians view of their scholarship, exactly in the Aristotelian tradition, and that they continued thereafter in the same lively tradition; it is now accepted without question that the Alexandrians made conjectures (so summarizing, Montanari, Antike Literatur in neuer Deutung = Festschrift Latacz [Leipzig 2004], 132-3); the discussion now should be about how many and why. It will require some acclimatization to appreciate that the criteria governing such conjectures and textual choices are not immediately accessible to us, let alone the infamous novice. Yet the reader of Dickeys book will come away with the idea that ancient scholarship in principle was just like modern professedly scientific philology. It was not; ancient scholarship generally reeks of the verbal immediacy of the classroom lecture and of personal polemic; and it did not glorify textual criticism. She rightly refers to Hipparchus commentary on Aratus as our first surviving commentary, but it poses largely as a letter to Aeschrion filled with standard polemic ( agnoia, hamartemata, etc.) against Attalos, and one is at a loss when told that it is not typical. Yet Hipparchus is also happy to compare antigrapha (2.3.32) in deciding a reading, showing that this was normal procedure by the time of Aristarchus (he may be added to Crates and Callistratus, cited M. West, Studies in the Text and Transmission of the Iliad 36). Montanari [op.cit. 135] emphasises that modern scholars, rightly obsessing about the authenticity of Homeric readings, are not necessarily in the same world as those others who are aiming to understand what the ancient scholars were actually trying to achieve with those problems and readings. This is true cultural history, and worth explication for our novice.

What seems to be missing is a more systematic study of the many dangers inherent for our unwary novice in understanding scholia. Some are simple e.g. the use of the conjunction kai in the formula A kai B to mean A as quoted by B — deriving from kai = i.e. But when the Ammonius papyrus (89, 17 Erbse) writes In the ekdosis of Euripides and in some other [sources] and in the Ordering [i.e. = Iliad 2], we see the shorthand mixing of references that gives rise to so many errors. The useful term Vexierzitat would be worth inculcating, which denotes innumerable errors of the type Antimachus for Aristomachus, Sardis for Sardinia, Hesiod for Pindar, Phemios for Demodokos; along with many related mistakes. Inquit means a paraphrase not a quotation. Similarly, ex Aiolou does not mean a quotation from the Aeolus, but a reference to that play. “It was customary … X is accustomed to” means only that this passage alone suggests it. Telestes and Timocreon are made into comic poets by Suidas because they are cited by comic poets.

Context is regularly ignored. Ludicrous interpretations of Homer are due to local patriotism. Lines are removed because they are morally offensive or considered anachronistic. X has persisted to our own day means to the time of someone who is being excerpted i.e. several hundred years earlier (L. & R. Robert, BE 1952 p.70). Anyone will change a text to support an argument (Dio Chrysostom 16.9). Interpretations become variants. Motivation is imputed on the flimsiest grounds. Worst of all, the readiness to accuse others of just the opposite of what they said has been documented again and again since Leo, Plautische Forschungen 42, and this makes epitomes of long standing arguments a real minefield, e.g. in the exegetic scholia to Homer. The regular accusation is agnoia, probably seldom justified; the attribution to people of views they manifestly did not hold can be occasionally proved, but often suspected. Anyone who works through ancient scholia can soon fill a book with examples, some of them comic, many alarming. Here was room for an entire chapter to alert the potential user that scholia may be easily translated but wrongly understood, especially without the parallels. I am sure Dickey knows all this; we disagree only in the importance of such knowledge to a real appreciation of scholia. The glossary of grammatical terms for this purpose is inadequate; about 50% of the terms in my own list were not to be found. That is because her list is primarily meant to aid the reading of technical grammar, and mine is not.

One great source of error in ancient scholarship was speed-reading (or -hearing), excusable given the practical difficulties of the work. Once an error is made, it will be transmitted, no matter if it is nonsense. Dickey with her gigantic bibliography cannot be totally free of this enduring lapse, and the reviewer may be allowed a weary comment. In 1982 I showed that Aristophanes of Byzantium dealt with long standing Homeric zetemata and proposed conjectures to solve them. That was relatively revolutionary then, though not now, because the standard position espoused by Pfeiffer and even Erbse was that the great Alexandrians did not indulge in (such) allegedly frivolous scholarship. I find my article summarized for posterity as “Work in the Museum” may have been less serious than usually thought. I thought I was calling for a re-examination of the simple-minded criterion of seriousness/frivolity (=our philology/their sophistry) in evaluating conjectures ope ingenii by ancient scholars, not at all what Dickey suggests, or other speed-reading colleagues will repeat. So let me try to illustrate from her book what the problem is. Theocritus wrote notoriously steta meaning woman in Syrinx 14 (as did Dositheos Ara 1) derived obviously from a clever reading of Iliad 1.6: diasteten erisante. On p.4 she comments only that the Theocritus passage “is derived perhaps humorously from Homer Il. 1.6.” Not so. It is derived from an explanation by some Homeric scholar, perhaps one of the glossographoi, as Dyck ( HSCP 91 1987, 126) suggested, or one of West’s sophists ( Text and Transmission, 23-8), and there is no immediate reason to think that it was meant as humorous, though plenty of people, including even scholars, may have thought so. Was Theocritus being humorous, or merely showing off, or both? The student of Hellenistic literature may fruitlessly debate that question, but the student of ancient scholarship has also to make a better effort to grasp the learned world that gave rise to such pieces of ingenuity, for they did not die out.

Karl Lehrs’ quotation, “[m]odeste tamen et circumspecto iudicio de tantis viris pronuntiandum est, ne quod plerisque accidit, damnent quae non intellegant,” can be turned on its head, i.e., “ne laudent quae non intellegant.” It was Lehrs who sneered at ancient philosophers for their philological zetemata, when he might have just as readily cited them for superior scholarship (e.g. Panaitios in Plut., Aristides 1, 2-6.) We should assuredly not praise and blame especially on modern criteria but neither should we avoid seeking to understand the mentality of the ancient scholars. Dickey has made an excellent start; now it is to be hoped that she will continue and give us her further thoughts on the material she has so industriously assembled, especially since she enjoys it so much.