BMCR 2021.07.24

Athenaeus Naucratites. Deipnosophistae. Volumen IV A: Libri XII-XV. B: Epitome

, Athenaeus Naucratites. Deipnosophistae. Volumen IV A: Libri XII-XV. B: Epitome. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2019. 2 vols. ISBN 9783110558531 $115.

Many more Classical scholars have read Athenaeus than realize they have done so, given the wealth of fragmentary sources preserved in the Deipnosophistae and the historical practice of mining the text to extract and collate them. This tendency has divorced the selection of fragments contained in the work from its original context and left the Deipnosophistae itself to languish in relative obscurity, despite its considerable length and colorful cast of characters. It is only in recent decades that Athenaeus’ work has begun to be studied in its own right as an outstanding example of Second Sophistic sympotic literature, one that offers a rare insight into the social world of Roman intellectuals as well as its author’s distinctive approach to editing and composition.[1] Olson’s new edition of Athenaeus’ text will be an invaluable resource for this growing field of study.

In addition to being a prolific editor and translator of comedic texts and fragments, S. Douglas Olson will doubtless already be familiar to anyone with an interest in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae thanks to his eight-volume translation The Learned Banqueters in the Loeb Classical Library.[2] Like Charles Gulick’s previous Loeb version,[3] Olson’s reproduces Georg Kaibel’s Teubner edition of 1887-1890, albeit with his own collations and apparatus. The translation itself is excellent, but equally valuable are the footnotes and indices, which are not always as extensive as the earlier edition but arguably better suited to the majority of readers. In the work under discussion, conversely, Olson aims at a new edition altogether of Athenaeus’ Greek text. The first volume to be published is in fact the last volume of the set, split into IV.A, containing Olson’s text of Athenaeus books 12 through 15, and IV.B, a second fascicle containing his text of the epitome to these books. Olson does not explain this somewhat curious publishing decision in the preface to this volume, but he does provide a brief overview of his approach to editing Athenaeus and how it differs from the previous standard edition. While the present review will have to content itself with only the available texts, there is nevertheless much of interest.

Arguably the most notable departure that Olson has made from Kaibel’s edition is in the treatment of the fragments transmitted by Athenaeus. As Olson explains, because of the extensive editing and restoration behind, e.g., the Kassel-Austin Poetae Comici Graeci, when a reader consults that edition for a fragment sourced from Athenaeus, “one generally reads something other than what the manuscripts present.” Kaibel’s text suffers from this same issue, an inevitable consequence of trying both to transmit Athenaeus accurately and offer the clearest possible version of the fragmentary texts in the work. In contrast, Olson “abandons the latter goal” in the interests of presenting the fragmentary passages in the Deipnosophistae in a version that faithfully reproduces the available manuscript evidence, rather than whatever papyri Athenaeus himself may have had in his possession in the late second century CE.

This approach may frustrate a reader looking towards Athenaeus as a source for fragments of otherwise lost Greek literature, but this is not the intended readership. As Olson makes clear in his introduction, and as the book and in particular its apparatus bear out, this edition will best serve a careful, critical reader interested in the text of the Deipnosophists and the history of its transmission. Most notably, Olson has cast a far wider net than Kaibel in assembling witnesses to the text; if his other readers are anything like this reviewer, they will surely appreciate being made aware of the rich tradition of textual reception and the history of Athenaeus scholarship on which it sheds light. But the inclusion of later witnesses (beyond the Biblioteca Marciana A or the Paris and Florence epitomes C and E, that is) will, in fact, also benefit those readers consulting Athenaeus for the fragments and testimonia collected in the Deipnosophists, since they are—as Olson reminds us—transmitted by this text and its tradition.

An illustrative example of this edition’s improvements on Kaibel can be seen in book 14 chapter 60 (Casaubon 14.648e-649c), one of many scenes in which the overzealous and underinformed Atticizing symposiarch Ulpian is embarrassed by his lack of Attic knowledge. Athenaeus is less concerned with the precise points of Atticism than some of his contemporaries,[4] and instead uses such queries about specific words to take the reader down a rabbit hole through a variety of different texts in a manner that is, ironically, quite familiar to users of contemporary digital resources.[5]  Kaibel has the opening lines as follows:

60.τούτων ἀκούσας ὁ Οὐλπιανὸς ἔφη· ‘ἀλλ’ ἐπειδὴ 20
καὶ κοπτήν τινα καλεῖτε, ὁρῶ δὲ ἑκάστῳ κειμένην ἐπὶ
τῆς τραπέζης, λέγετε ἡμῖν, ὦ λίχνοι, τίς τοῦ ὀνόματος
τούτου τῶν ἐνδόξων μνημονεύει.’ καὶ ὁ Δημόκριτος
ἔφη· ‘τὸ μὲν θαλάσσιον πράσον κοπτήν φησι καλεῖσθαι
Διονύσιος ὁ Ἰτυκαῖος ἐν ἑβδόμῳ Γεωργικῶν. τοῦ 25

[f] δὲ ἡμῖν παρακειμένου μελιπήκτου μέμνηται Κλέαρχος
Σολεὺς ἐν τῷ περὶ Γρίφων (FHG II 322) οὑτωσὶ λέγων·
σκεύη κελεύοντι λέγειν ὅμοια εἰπεῖν·
τρίπους, χύτρα, λυχνεῖον, ἀκταία, βάθρον,
σπόγγος, λέβης, σκαφεῖον, ὅλμος, λήκυθος,
[5] σπυρίς, μάχαιρα, τρυβλίον, κρατήρ, ῥαφίς.

This is the same passage as it appears in Olson’s edition:

60. τούτων ἀκούσας ὁ Οὐλπιανὸς ἔφη· ἀλλ’ ἐπειδὴ καὶ κοπτήν
τινα καλεῖτε, ὁρῶ δὲ ἑκάστῳ κειμένην ἐπὶ τῆς τραπέζης, λέγετε
ἡμῖν, ὦ λίχνοι· τίς τοῦ ὀνόματος τούτου τῶν ἐνδόξων μνημονεύει;
καὶ ὁ Δημόκριτος ἔφη· τὸ μὲν θαλάσσιον πράσον κοπτήν φησι
[648f] καλεῖσθαι Διονύσιος ὁ Ἰτυκαῖος ἐν ἑβδόμῳ | Γεωργικῶν. τοῦ δὲ 15
ἡμῖν παρακειμένου μελιπήκτου μέμνηται Κλέαρχος Σολεὺς ἐν
τῷ Περὶ Γρίφων (fr. 87 Wehrli) οὑτωσὶ λέγων· σκεύων κελεύοντι
λέγειν ὀνόματα εἰπεῖν·
τρίπους, χύτρα, λυχνεῖον, ἀκταία, βάθρον,
σπόγγος, λέβης, σκαφεῖον, ὅλμος, λήκυθος,   20
σπυρίς, μάχαιρα, τρύβλιον, κρατήρ, ῥαφίς.[6]

Even in the facsimile offered here it should be apparent that the page organization and marking of lines and sections in the newer edition, in a Teubner layout that takes advantage of modern printing technology, is substantially easier for the reader to navigate (by comparison, Olson’s Loeb is somewhere in the middle). In addition, Olson’s punctuation and capitalization are less intrusive than Kaibel’s (he has not added inverted commas to indicate quotations, for example), look friendlier to a reader skimming the text (note the capitalization of Περὶ Γρίφων), and correct some errors (τρύβλιον is now properly accented, e.g.).

This corrected accent is carried over from Olson’s Loeb edition, which uses a lightly improved version of Kaibel’s text. The change in 648f from σκεύη…ὅμοια to σκεύων…ὀνόματα also comes from the Loeb version, but where that edition has only a cursory footnote (σκεύων κελεύοντι…ὀνόματα Kaibel: σκεύη κελεύοντα…ὅμοια Α), the new Teubner has a full apparatus:

σκεύων Kaibel : σκεύη Α | κελεύοντι Kaibel, cf. 10.457e : κελεύοντα Α : κελεύοντος Schweighäuser || 18 ὀνόματαKaibel : ὅμοια A

In comparison, Kaibel’s apparatus on this section reads:

2 κελεύοντα Α : corr. K (κελεύοντος Schw), cf. X p. 457e   ὁμοίως Wilam, sed fort. σκευῶν … λέγειν ὀνόματαscribendum, ut v.

Looking at these two apparatus side by side one can clearly see where Olson’s editorial preferences diverge from Kaibel, namely that Kaibel is comfortable only with suggesting a variant reading while Olson commits to it. The manuscript reading makes so little sense (a τρίπους and μάχαιρα obviously do not belong in a list of σκεύη ὅμοια) that Olson’s judgment here seems prudent. However, the same text and apparatus also reveal a bewildering error that is also held over from the Loeb, namely that the accent on σκεύων corresponds with no form of either σκεῦος or σκευή.

This minor quibble does not prevent one from recognizing that this edition’s printing and layout are executed very well and the principles behind Olson’s editing decisions are clear. There is, however, a more fundamental problem with the book as it currently exists: since publication has commenced with the final fascicles, Olson’s full prefatory material is not yet available to a reader. For the text to serve the purposes at which Olson aims, a reader must be able to understand the finer points of Olson’s critical approach, and the apparatus itself, while of great use to a reader examining specific points such as that discussed above, cannot substitute for a fleshed-out discussion of Olson’s process and the evidence he has amassed. The editor does not offer an explanation as to why the last volume is the first to be published, so this reviewer must be left to speculate—and to suspend final judgment, for several years evidently, until the complete edition is available.

Nevertheless, as far as concerns the fascicles of the currently available volume they will prove invaluable for the serious Athenaeus scholar whose study might be affected by the textual issues Olson highlights in great detail (and, it should go without saying, happens also to focus on books 12 through 15 of the Deipnosophists or their epitomes). Those more concerned with the textual history of the work will want to wait until the first volume and its full introduction become available, but anyone adding Athenaeus to their library will want to acquire all of the volumes and may as well, therefore, begin with the one already in print. The rigorous effort behind this edition is evident throughout, and indeed the Deipnosophistae deserves nothing less given the lengths to which Athenaeus went in assembling it. It is clear that Olson’s edition should—eventually—become the standard text for a work that is too often overlooked but richly rewards its reader.


[1] D. Braund and J. Wilkins Athenaeus and his World (Exeter 2000).

[2] S.D. Olson Athenaeus: The Learned Banqueters (Cambridge Mass. 2006-2012).

[3] C.B. Gulick, Athenaeus: The Deipnosophists (Cambridge Mass. 1927-1941).

[4] C. Strobel, Studies in Atticistic lexica of the second and third centuries AD. (Diss. Oxford, 2011).

[5] C. Jacob, The Web of Athenaeus (Washington, 2013).

[6] When he heard this, Ulpian said: “Well, since you refer to something known as a koptê, and I see one set on everyone’s table—tell me, my gluttons, what reputable author mentions this word?” Democritus responded: “Dionysius of Utica in Book VII of The Art of Farming claims that the sea-leek is referred to as a kóptê. Whereas the honey-cake (melipêkton) we have been served is mentioned by Clearchus of Soli in his On Riddles, where he says the following: ‘When someone tells you to name furnishings, say:

table, cook-pot, lampstand, marble mortar, bench, sponge, basin, bowl, wooden mortar, oil-jug, basket, knife, cup, mixing-bowl, needle.’” (tr. Olson 2012, 293).