BMCR 2020.04.36

Athénée de Naucratis. Le banquet des savants, livre XIV: Spectacles, chansons, danses, musiques et desserts

, Athénée de Naucratis. Le banquet des savants, livre XIV: Spectacles, chansons, danses, musiques et desserts. Texte, traduction et notes; études et travaux.. Scripta antiqua, 117. Pessac: Ausonius Éditions, 2018. 811 p.. ISBN 9782356132369 €45,00.

These two volumes in a nice colourful slipcase contain an impressive 800 closely printed pages dedicated to just one book of Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistai. Some 200 pages provide an edition of the Greek text, with a full critical apparatus, and on the facing pages a French translation, with a bare bones annotation (mainly an elucidation of references by Athenaeus and some very basic explanatory remarks). The remaining 600 pages can be seen as a giant commentary, consisting of 170 pages of “notes complémentaires” in small print. One should be aware that the annotation at the bottom of the page of the translation and the 170 pages of “notes complémentaires” are in fact a single continuous series of 1340 notes. Consequently, the numbering in each set of notes is discontinuous – which greatly simplifies reference, but can at first be somewhat confusing. Next, we have 300 pages of additional analysis and bibliographies. As a tiny cherry on this huge cake, there are 20 pages of full colour illustrations of ancient imagery showing musical instruments mentioned by Athenaeus. Nice, but replicating information easily available elsewhere.

In 2006 a team from the university of Toulouse–Jean Jaurès decided to start work on a collective edition and translation of the 14th book of Athenaeus. They based themselves on the Greek text by Kaibel, with revisions. However, between 2009 and 2011 they were provided with a completely new edition with a critical apparatus by Manolis Papathomopoulos. After the death of Papathomopoulos this text was again much revised by other members of the team, according to the norms of the Collection des Universités de France (which you will probably know as the Collection Budé). As I am a historian and not a philologist, I will not comment at length on the Greek text or the translation, only to say that the text appears to show no dramatic differences compared to the Loeb text established and translated by Charles Burton Gulick in 1937 – which always was my first port of call. Some random samples did turn up between one and four different readings a page – mostly minor, and none of them a surprise: all readings were covered by the critical apparatus of either edition. Some of the choices made when dealing with particularly doubtful readings are addressed in the ‘notes complémentaires’.

The translation is quite readable, stylistically speaking, but also in the most literal sense: the typesetting, with bold for Athenaeus’ own words, italics for the countless quotations, and with the names of the actual deipnosophistai, the banqueteers, underlined, is very helpful to find one’s way through this incredibly dense text. So is the layout. One need only compare the Loeb translation, which apart from quotation marks does not offer any help in this respect: no typographical distinctions, no indentation, no blank lines. Hopefully, this way of presenting the text will serve as an incentive to reading (part of) Athenaeus’ text instead of merely dipping into it to extract some useful quotation. If one reads French, of course; maybe an English translation should follow suit and improve the text’s readability in this simple but highly effective manner.

In the course of the more than 10 years of work on the translation the voluminous commentary came into being. These “notes complémentaires” cover everything: they count some 120,000 words, which is six times the length of Athenaeus’ text. Some notes read like entries for a major work of reference such as Pauly-Wissowa; all are quite substantial. To give the reader an impression, I have selected a random passage: 633f–634b, where Athenaeus quotes Masourios (one of the deipnosophistai), who quotes Euphorion, who quotes Pythagoras, on the musical instrument called sambuke, with Athenaeus himself commenting that this is also the name of a war machine mentioned by Biton, which he further illustrates by quoting Andreas of Panormos , Moschos and Polybius. The relevant “notes complémentaires” (pp. 286–7, notes 520–524) direct one to the passages on the sambuke in the 1867, 1929 and 1971 editions of Biton; quote Hesychius on the sambuke, who refers back to Biton; note that Athenaeus does not mention the Peri mechanematon  by a homonymous Athenaeus, where a description of the sambuke by one Damis of Colophon is quoted; alert us to two illustrations of the sambuke in Vaticanus graecus 1605, with an active link to the digitized manuscript in the Vatican Library;  direct one to the 1854 French edition and translation of Hero of Byzantium, of which the Vaticanus graecus 1605 is an 11th-century manuscript; refer to Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker for the Andreas of Panormos quote – but establish that this is in fact by Polybius; note that there is a description of the sambuke in Aelian, not mentioned by Athenaeus; suggest that Athenaeus’ interest in the sambuke as a war machine may have been aroused by the siege of Byzantium in 193–195; note that the Moschos mentioned by Athenaeus is otherwise completely unknown, but that on the other hand the Herakleides of Tarentum whom Moschos mentions as inventor of the sambuke is a well-known engineer who is discussed at some length by Polybius; discuss in much detail the way in which Athenaeus (mis)quotes and rephrases Polybius. In its very exhaustiveness, I do not think this commentary can be beaten.  In some other random tests, I was not able to come up with any relevant sources or any monograph or article that were not referenced here.

Of course, one may ask what the actual use of such a giant compilation of knowledge is. What purpose does it serve? Surely, one does not need all, or indeed any, of the information in the above example in order to understand what Athenaeus says about the sambuke. How much background one wants to have for his statement that the sambuke is a musical instrument, but also a war machine, depends; maybe most readers would want to know why the second is named after the first – which issue is not explicitly addressed in these notes. Obviously, to have all this information together in one place is handy. Also, quite a lot of it does contribute to an understanding of Athenaeus’ text, and any of it might be found useful by someone. But it also seems merely a first step towards a truly interpretative approach to Athenaeus, as in (to stick to book 14) Paola Ceccarelli’s  ‘Dance and deserts. An analysis of book fourteen’, in David Braund & John Wilkins (eds), Athenaeus and his world. Reading Greek culture in the Roman empire (Exeter 2000: University of Exeter Press) 272–291. The team working on this new edition, translation and commentary must have realized as much, and thus several additional chapters were commissioned that fill the second volume and are supposed, I think, to rise above the commentary by offering a more synthetic approach.

These additional chapters include Jean-Claude Carrière on Athenaeus and his historical context  (with its 140 pages almost a monograph), Sylvie Rougier-Blanc on the use Athenaeus makes of Homer and of archaic poetry, Benoît Louyest on para-lexicography (Athenaeus’ lists) as playful: erudite but fun games, Valérie Visa–Ondarçuhu on the pyrrhiche and other war dances, Alain Ballabriga on phallophores and other kinds of ritual buffoonery, Luciana Romeri on culinary art as an essential part of human civilization in general (mainly an alternative translation of 14.660e-661d with further comments), and Jean–Marc Luce on cakes in particular. We cannot and need not discuss all of this in detail and the chapter titles are clear enough indications of their contents. It should be noted that Jean-Claude Carrière does not limit himself to book 14 but discusses Athenaeus in general. His extremely thorough and systematic analysis deserves to be read by anyone with an interest in Athenaeus and indeed by anyone who uses Athenaeus as a source. The other chapters deal with book 14 in particular (taking in other books when needed: Athenaeus’ patisserie is scattered across his books 1, 3, 7 and 14), its methodology (Athenaeus as a florilegist and vocabulist) and its subject matter (dances, processions and foodstuffs). Except for Rougier-Blanc (60 pp.) and Luce (35 pp.) these chapters are rather slight (10–15 pp.) contributions, certainly not without interest, but not delving very deep. Also, the subjects discussed are just a small selection of what could have been addressed – as the editors readily acknowledge. All in all, the mountain of the first volume has given birth in the second volume to a flock of mice (not counting Carrière’s chapter which is not specifically dealing with book 14). It might seem strange to be asking for more, after working one’s way through 800 pages.  Nevertheless, paradoxically it is these 800–page volumes that make one realize there is still much work to be done.

The books have been edited to a very high standard. I spotted just a single mistake (p. 797, ‘Moutnford’). Alas, and how French, there are no indices. Obviously, in a work as voluminous and complex as this, indexing would have required a huge effort and many more pages. Still, it would have enhanced its value immensely: now anyone who is after information about a specific item will have to start from their knowledge of the Greek text and/or any translation – you need a reference to a particular passage in order to gain access to the commentary (though not to the material in the second volume, which gives several cross-references to the Greek text and thus to the commentary, but only for a relatively small number of passages). Even just an index of important Greek words would already have been a great help. How can one know, without reading through the whole of the commentary that notes 525, 567, and 626 offer additional information on the sambuke? And possibly others that I have missed?

Despite the desiderata outlined above, this obviously is a book that any library catering for the classics should have, and that every individual who is into Athenaeus would want to have on their shelves. And there is something else: apart from the fact that there was no modern French translation of  book 14 available, the main reason for this huge expenditure of time and energy was, as the editors/contributors state in the introduction, to show that a multidisciplinary team could fruitfully tackle a text as complicated as Athenaeus, a work about a myriad subjects based on an extremely wide reading from Homer to Athenaeus’ own days — and probably to show, although they do not say this, that this is the way in which it should be done. Although one can always go one better, I think they have definitely shown us that multidisciplinarity leads to results that could not be reached in other ways.