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
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
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
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
2. D.L. Roochnik, “Plato’s Use of
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.