BMCR 2007.09.43

Filosofi e Rapsodi. Testo, traduzione e commento dello Ione platonico

, Filosofi e rapsodi : testo, traduzione e commento dello Ione platonico. Quaderni di "Dianoia" ; 3. Bologna: CLUEB, 2005. iv, 348 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.. ISBN 8849125135 €25.00 (pb).

Table of Contents

The title of Capuccino’s book suggests that Filosofi e Rapsodi is intended as a running commentary to Plato’s Ion, the first to appear in Italian, as the author is pleased to point out (p. 15). However, this is not the whole story, since Capuccino promptly informs us that no previous overall interpretation of the dialogue has come close to leaving her satisfied, and that, therefore, at some point she felt a new one was needed. Apparently, the author’s introductory remarks account for the structure of the book, which is divided into two main parts. The first one (“Testo e traduzione con note”, pp. 21-100) sticks to what was possibly the original project, providing the text of the Ion (Burnet’s critical text on the left page, Capuccino’s translation on the right) followed by 43 pages of notes. The second part (“Commento”, pp. 103-255) offers an overall interpretation of the dialogue, focusing on ethics (ch. 1), epistemology (ch. 2) and the irrational (ch. 3). The book concludes with four appendices (pp. 259-292) and a very rich bibliography (pp. 293-334). As we shall see, the structure of the book reflects both the qualities and the defects of Capuccino’s approach.

Capuccino’s translation is very accurate and pursues a consistent strategy. Almost every single Greek word is rendered into Italian, so that the translation is by itself a safe guide to the original text. The typical problem of such an approach is a certain degree of stylistic awkwardness, which is particularly evident when the translator is confronted with Greek particles. As a consequence, Capuccino’s translation — at least to my ear — does occasionally sound unidiomatic, but it must be said to her credit that she has managed to reduce this inevitable problem to a minimum. On the whole, the translation is both lively and precise. Capuccino’s sensitivity as a translator is also prominent in the second part of the book. Even the most general arguments have a basis in the Greek text, with a commendable emphasis on the precise meaning of individual words. In fact, it must be noted that all the three chapters of the second part focus primarily on words, as we shall see.

The notes, which are designed to provide a running commentary to the Italian translation, are widely informative but unfortunately are often blighted by platitudes. At note 3, for example, we are told that πόθεν denotes provenance and means “from where”, because the suffix – θεν modifies the adverb ποῦ, meaning simply “where”. Still more surprisingly, this exegetical achievement is dutifully credited to a schoolbook published in 1954.1 After this taste of basic Greek, note 10 comes as a refreshing surprise. Here the author launches into a sophisticated discussion of the particle μῶν, providing what is arguably the most thorough interpretation so far of the passage in question. Such discrepancies are entirely typical of Filosofi e Rapsodi. Who needs to know, for example, that ἐάν followed by the subjunctive introduces a certain type of hypothetical clause (p. 61, n. 22)? At the same time, however, the reader comes across the technicalities and symbols of formal logic (p. 58, n. 8), something that is unlikely to find a sympathetic ear among classicists.

The notes provide a wide range of parallels to clarify the text, generally in the form of long quotations in Greek and Latin (with no translation, which is unfortunate, given that at times Capuccino seems to consider her readers quite backward in the Greek language). Capuccino often draws from secondary literature as well. One might single out the seven-line quotation from an article by D.L. Roochnik on the use of the adverb ἀτεχνῶς in Plato (p. 82).2 Indeed, Capuccino devotes more than one page to the problem of translating ἀτεχνῶς, whereas other equally significant words receive little or no attention. To say the least, the notes provide a surprisingly uneven amount of information. Yet a patient reader is likely to learn much from them.

Strangely enough, the second part of the book is entitled “commento”, that is “commentary”, although the actual running commentary is clearly to be found in the notes. Nevertheless, such a title is somehow appropriate. The first chapter is about “le parole dell’etica”, that is words conveying an ethical meaning, so that, in a way, the whole chapter can be construed as a kind of commentary on such words. After a rich introduction devoted to the structure of the proem, which emphasises Plato’s skill at characterisation rather than his intention to foreshadow the contents of the dialogue, Capuccino focuses on the meaning of some key words such as ἀγαθός, ἐπαινέτης, and especially ἑρμηνεύς.

Ἀγαθός, ἐπαινέτης and other terms are all used to emphasise Ion’s success at reciting Homer, but such success is embedded in what Capuccino refers to as the “culture of praise”. In other words, Ion’s attitude to poetry is by no means neutral but is aimed at actually promoting Homer. Here Capuccino dissents from those interpreters who argue that ἐπαινέτης and its cognates simply mean “reciter” (e.g. Nagy), but she does not approve of such translations as “fan” (a common one) and “expert” (Velardi) either.3 Her discussion of this word is one of the highlights of the book. After a thorough analysis of many parallels, Capuccino comes to the conclusion that an ἐπαινέτης of Homer is someone who praises Homer’s contribution as an educator of Greece. As for ἑρμηνεύς, Capuccino argues that the word cannot mean “literary exegete”, but must refer to something rather different. Taking her cue from an article on Pindar by G.W. Most,4 Capuccino comes to the conclusion that ἑρμηνεύς designates the “act of translation of signification from one kind of language in which it is invisible or entirely unintelligible into another kind in which it is visible and intelligible” (p. 129). This is what emerges from the pre-Platonic instances of the word, and such a meaning is required in the Ion as well, where it designates, more precisely, the ability to translate from the language of gods to the language of humans. Along with his being ἀγαθός and ἐπαινέτης, Ion’s role as “translator” from the language of the gods is entirely consistent with the general idea of promoting Homer as an educator.

After commenting on the first chapter at some length with the aim of giving an idea of Capuccino’s approach, I will now touch more briefly on the second and third chapters, which develop along the same methodological lines. The second chapter is about “le parole del sapere”, that is words that convey the general idea of knowledge. The main point is that the key terms do not designate real knowledge, but success as perceived by large audiences. In other words, although Capuccino does not put it this way, Greek shame-culture applies to knowledge as well. Finally, Capuccino devotes her third and last chapter to the analysis of “le parole dell’irrazionale”, that is words about irrationality. Here Capuccino surveys Socrates’ famous magnet-analogy in the light of older traditions about divine inspiration. The very language of the Ion is firmly rooted in that tradition, but Socrates’ dialectic brings about a distinction between the poet’s inspiration and his knowledge, two aspects that in archaic Greece used to go hand in hand. Not surprisingly, Ion is not ready for such a momentous change of perspective. Capuccino, in fact, tries to adopt his point of view, only to conclude that he is simply not in a position to understand Socrates’ revolutionary position. This is the final result of some tensions between the different sets of words examined, and Capuccino herself points out that this is her most important contribution to a better understanding of Plato’s Ion (p. 253).

Finally, some remarks about the bibliography, which is, to say the least, massive, boasting no less than 496 items and introduced by a two-page “bibliographical index”. The bibliography is divided into sections and subsections, some of which are quite surprising, such as 2.2.7 “Lo straniero”, “The Stranger”. All major topics of Plato’s Ion are covered, and Capuccino’s command of secondary literature on Plato is extensive, possibly exhaustive in some areas, which makes her bibliography an impressive mine of information. Once again, however, the treasure-hunt is not devoid of risks, because all too often the reader comes across irrelevant titles or awkward choices. It is hard to see, for instance, why some dictionaries of the Italian language have made their way into the bibliography, and it is a bit irritating, I would say, to find Suidae Lexicon listed along with Pauly-Wissowa under the heading “Encyclopedias”. Moreover, what is the reader supposed to make of such headings as “Thesauri”, with its two obvious entries “Thesaurus Linguae Graecae” and “Thesaurus Linguae Latinae”?

All in all, Filosofi e Rapsodi is an extremely rich book, covering a wide range of topics and trying to shed light on all aspects of Plato’s Ion. From this point of view, I would venture to say that hardly any previous study on the Ion can compare to Capuccino’s. On the other hand, the book is longish, prone to repetition and often providing unnecessary information. At times, the style of Filosofi e Rapsodi resembles that of a dissertation, or that of a schoolbook (indeed, schoolbooks form an important background for it, as Cappuccino herself seems to suggest). On the whole, it is unclear to me what kind of readership is implied by the author, as I hope is by now clear from the remarks I have been making. Filosofi e Rapsodi is a remarkable, if somewhat naive, piece of scholarly work, which would have benefited in clarity and force from some condensation and more accurate editing.5


1. Platone, Ione, a cura di U. Albini, Firenze 1954, listed in the bibliography under the heading “Traduzioni interlineari e commenti scolastici” (p. 300). Incidentally, here Capuccino is wide of the mark, given that both πόθεν and ποῦ are obviously formed from the stem πο -.

2. D.L. Roochnik, “Plato’s Use of ΑΤΕΧΝΟΣ“, Phoenix 41 (1987) 3, 255-263.

3. Cf. G. Nagy, The Best of the Achaeans, Baltimore London 1981 (2nd ed.), VI 6, n. 4; R. Velardi, Enthousiasmos: Possessione rituale e teoria della comunicazione in Platone, Roma 1989, p. 32s.

4. G.W. Most, “Pindar, O.2. 83-90”, CQ 36 (1986), 304-316.

5. There are a few Greek misspellings, and the quality of the printing is uneven, with some faint areas, at least in my copy. Given the lexical emphasis of Capuccino’s approach and the otherwise lavish amount of information provided, an index of Greek words would have been welcome.