BMCR 2022.10.10

Brill’s companion to the reception of Homer from the Hellenistic age to Late Antiquity

, Brill's companion to the reception of Homer from the Hellenistic age to Late Antiquity. Brill's companions to Classical reception, 22. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2022. Pp. xiv, 443. ISBN 9789004243439 €194.00 / $233.00.

The volume under review is the 22nd in Brill’s series Companions to Classical Reception (series editor Kyriakos N. Demetriou). The series aims at a systematic coverage of subjects, with volumes providing, Brill’s website claims,[1] “synthesis of debate and the state of scholarship.” Given the breadth of the series’ approach to the field of Classical reception (“reception of art, literature, architecture, history, religion, political thought, and intellectual thought, including influential Classical scholars and the history of classical scholarship”), and taking into account the variety of disciplines, locations, eras, and individuals dealt with in the volumes that have appeared to date, it is not surprising to find that, whereas the separate volumes have a clear thematic organisation of case studies, the series as a whole does not contribute to further synthesis of Reception Studies methodology.[2] That said, further steps towards a more synoptic view of the reception of Homer are forthcoming with the announcement of Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Homer from Byzantium to the Enlightenment, equally edited by Christina-Panagiota Manolea, together with François Renaud.

As the editor states in her introduction, Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Homer from the Hellenistic Age to Late Antiquity “will shed light on how the Homeric poems were transmitted and actually appropriated by writers of the late 4th century BCE to the 5th century CE”, and thus limits itself to the Iliad and the Odyssey,[3] and to reception in writing only. The volume is divided into three main sections: literary reception (five essays), rhetoric (four essays), and philosophy-theology[4] (ten essays). The essays each have a separate bibliography; a general index to the volume is found on pp. 429–443.

Part 1, on literary reception, opens with a chapter by Jane L. Lightfoot on Homer and Hellenistic poetry (other than epigram), especially epic and its affiliates, bucolic and didactic. Lightfoot argues that their poetics and aesthetics are to be considered an attempt to erect a rival set of values, rather than a “crossing of genres”. Epigram is dealt with by Luis Arturo Guichard, both as “intrageneric reception”, staying close to the classical definition of the epigram, and the “intergeneric reception”, moving further away from the subgenres inherited. The focus is on epigrams from the Imperial period and the early stages of Late Antiquity that show that “Homer is a model that can be, and indeed is, distorted, but a model nonetheless.” Christos Fakas argues for the reworking of Homer’s Odysseus as a heroic model in Chariton: with emphasis on the Odyssean storyline of homecoming and conjugal reunion, and on Odysseus as an “arch-fabulist”, the novel portrays Chaereas as “helpless” but “maturing”, and Callirhoe as a combination of Odysseus and Penelope, “the key figure in the unfolding of the action” despite, or because of, her often contradictory aspects. In a chapter on the Posthomerica, Georgios Tsomis rebuilds a case for Quintus Smyrnaeus as competing with (or “updating”) Homer, rather than merely rewriting and supplementing his work. Gianfranco Agosti and Enrico Magnelli conclude Part 1 with a very rich chapter on Nonnus’ Dionysiaca and Paraphrase, in which they claim similar “updating” of Homeric themes and language: through “building […] innovative poetry without any need to disregard its ancient foundations.” From the programmatic lines in the first book of the Dionysiaca on Proteus’ ability to shift and expand, and the invocation of Homer in 25.253-62, Nonnus equally “corrects” Homer “the Theologian” with regard to prosody and diction.

The first chapter of Part 2, by Malcolm Heath, explains the unevenness and selectiveness with which discussions on style and figured speech by pseudo-Dionysius and (pseudo-) Hermogenes use Homeric examples with reference to Homer’s limited usefulness for the highly technical theory taught in this period. Starting from a different position (p. 166 n. 7), Lawrence Kim describes and discusses the variety of Homeric citation practices in Second Sophistic authors; success depended on knowing when and to whom to play Homeric cards – either as “ornamental” or comparative citation, as corroborating or contestatory testimony, as paradigmatic moralizing, or as mere playful “sophisticated” engagement. As examples of the latter, Kim points at Dio Chrysostom’s poet as a “replacement of Homer”, and the appearance of Homeric heroes and of Homer himself as literary characters in Lucian’s True History and Charon. Aglae Pizzone’s chapter deals with Synesius of Cyrene’s alternative view on rhetorical engagement with Homeric quotations (“the last string in a long series of strings composing the melody of literary history”) and with Libanius’ rhetorical use of Homer as a contrast to Synesius’ stance. In the final chapter of Part 2, Robert J. Penella discusses aspects of Homer’s presence in Themistius’ orations, such as the trumping usages of Homer in the imperial panegyrics, stating that usages are never merely decorative, since “they contribute to the grounding of imperial Greek identity in the classical past”.

Part 3 “Philosophy-Theology” opens with a chapter by Ilaria L.E. Ramelli on Stoic Homeric allegoresis. Rooted in exegesis and etymology, quoting from Homer (“scientific theories in veiled form” according to Strabo 3.157) supported various disciplines (geography, cosmology, mathematics) in Chrysippus, Crates of Mallus, Heraclitus the Grammarian, and Ps.-Plutarch. An Epicurean outlook on Homer is discussed in Jeff Fish’s chapter on Philodemus’ On the Good King, in which the author argues for analysis of the treatise as an unusual combination of peri-literature with the recommendation of practical precepts (another example is Dio Chrysostom’s Second Discourse on Kingship) for Calpurnius Piso in his role as proconsul of Macedonia, especially on kingly decency and mercy. Philo’s acquaintance with Homer is demonstrated by John Dillon, who shows that Philo copies the allegorizing of Homer (especially of the Odyssey) onto the Pentateuch in order to establish Moses as the father of philosophy. In her chapter “The Educational Role of Poetry: Plutarch Reading Homer”, Diotima Papadi focuses on How a young man should listen to poetry as an explanation of the way poetry provides readers with important virtues with practical value for life. By introducing a methodology (“contrasting, correcting, interpolating, rewriting, amending”), Plutarch “concedes to readers a significant degree of autonomy and authority”, so that “[p]oetry can serve as the most effective propaedeutic to philosophy”.

Cornelia van der Poll gives an impression of the various ways in which Clement of Alexandria reads Homer and engaged with the view of other readers in his Protrepticus, Paedagogus, and Stromateis: “Homer shows true knowledge about God, probably without realizing it”. In moral issues, Clement took a stand against those defending Homer, but in general Clement encourages Christians to take what is best from Greek learning. Ronald E. Heine examines the argument of Origen’s Contra Celsum concerning the allegorical reading of stories of Homer and Moses: quoting only sparingly, Origen argues that, contrary to Celsus’ alleged claim, Christian doctrine was not dependent on Greek stories since the writings of Moses preceded, and hence inspired, Homer. Allowing for a literal as well as a figurative reading of both Homer and the Mosaic stories, Origen aimed to discredit Celsus’ criticism of Christian “amateurism” and at the same time to foreground the “intention” (i.e. Christ) of Moses. Similarly focusing on Moses’ priority, now in the Chronicle and the Preparation for the Gospel, Mark Edwards argues that more attention be given to Eusebius of Caesarea’s observations on Homer: siding with the Platonists, Eusebius considered Homer “simply the straw man of Hellenism”. In the following chapter, Sarah Klitenic Wear argues that, as part of an ideological battle between Christians and Hellenes, Gregory Nazianzus and Basil of Caesarea “Christianized Homeric references” in order to “show how Christianity appropriated and surpassed Hellenic learning and faith.” Robert Lamberton discusses Porphyry’s The Cave of the Nymphs in the Odyssey and its indebtedness to the second-century “Pythagoreans” Numenius and Cronius, who allegedly considered the cave poetic fiction. Whereas Porphyry’s philological Homeric Questions are largely preserved in the Homeric scholia, The Cave is a complete essay about the text (i.e. Od. 13.102–12); it is also the first truly “symbolic” reading, of the cave as creation, and of the Nymphs as descending souls, enticed by pleasure into this world. From there, it is a small step to the Neoplatonists Syrianus, Proclus and Hermias in the volume’s final chapter, in which Anne Sheppard shows how Proclus in particular works from “the assumption that authoritative texts reflect the structure of the world and that the task of the exegete is to demonstrate how this is the case, assisted, if necessary, by allegorical interpretation”. Hermas, for example, explains the eidolon (of Aeneas [Iliad 5.451–2]) as the aporroia of intelligible beauty (cf. Helen’s eidolon) that appears in matter. Referring to Homer’s “educational” poetry, the Neoplatonists profess their “belief in agreement of Plato and Homer”.

Thus, the volume touches upon the full spectrum, from Homer as the “great banquet” (Athenaeus Deipn. 8.347e), via Ps.-Plutarch’s (On Homer 6) “he was adept at every kind of wisdom and skill and provides the starting points and so to speak the seeds of all kinds of discourse and action” and its negation by others, to the shadow of Plato’s criticism levelled at many Homeric passages in Republic 2 and 3 and at mimetic poetry in general in Republic 10. The volume’s focus implies that Homeric scholarship (Aristarchus, Zenodotus, Aristophanes) is not taken into account, and that “reception” is understood as “reception in Greek-writing authors” – Latin authors are sparingly referred to. As usual in a volume like this, contributions are of various quality and the chapter format does not suit every contributor. Many of the chapters are true “companions”, with much room for introductory remarks, and concise discussion of the recent and the relevant scholarship. Conclusions to such chapters are regularly delayed abstracts but nonetheless useful for the reader interested in Homeric reception in a specific author or text type. Other chapters rather aim to make a point, not seldom stemming from the contributor’s seminal research results. Such chapters tend to be very dense, and often too short for all the author wishes to convey; Pamelli’s is a case in point. Dillon’s, on the other hand, breaks off too early: a reader wishes for the author to go into more detail in such interesting matters. Chapters are all well suited to be read and studied separately; on the other hand, even where such would have been obvious, the volume provides only very few cross-references.[5] For those who read the whole volume, the individual contributions, most with rich bibliography, offer a plethora of observations and approaches: the fascinating issue of “mixed verses”, for example, is explained by either “quoting from florilegia” (van der Poll) or by “poor memory” (Heine).

The volume is well edited and infelicities are few.[6] Inconsistencies occur in some contributions. When used, in-text references, for example, follow different formats, cf. pp. 88–89. Papadi is the only one to use the abbreviation Odys. instead of Od. The bibliography to her chapter does not always mention publishing houses. In Wear’s, some Greek passages (nn. 9, 23, 52) remain without translation. Sheppard’s bibliography does not list entries starting with “van”, “von”, and “d'” alphabetically (cf. “ní Mheallaigh”, p. 186). Such minor issues aside, Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Homer from the Hellenistic Age to Late Antiquity lives up to its aims, and will prove a useful resource for students and scholars of Homeric reception wishing for pleasant company on their way.



Authors and Titles
Christina-Panagiota Manolea, Introduction

Part 1 Literary Reception

Jane L. Lightfoot, Homer and Hellenistic Poetry (Other Than Epigram)
Luis Arturo Guichard, Brevis Homerus: Homer in the Greek Epigram of the 1st to 4th Centuries
Christos Fakas, Reworking a Homeric Model of Heroism. Transformations of the Figure of Odysseus in the Novel of Chariton
Georgios Tsomis, Quintus Smyrnaeus “As a Great Emulator and Zealous Admirer of Homer”
Gianfranco Agosti and Enrico Magnelli, Homeric Nonnus


Part 2 Rhetoric

Malcolm Heath, Homer in the Theory and Teaching of Rhetoric
Lawrence Kim, Homer in the Second Sophistic
Aglae Pizzone, The Quest for Meaning: Homeric Quotations in Synesius of Cyrene and Libanius
Robert J. Penella, Homer in Themistius


Part 3 Philosophy – Theology

Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, Stoic Homeric Allegoresis
Jeff Fish, An Epicurean Evaluates the Practical Wisdom of Homer: Philodemus, On the Good King
John Dillon, Philo’s Use of Homer
Diotima Papadi, The Educational Role of Poetry: Plutarch Reading Homer
Cornelia van der Poll, Clement of Alexandria’s Reception of Homer
Ronald E. Heine, Origen and Celsus on the Allegorical Reading of Homer and Moses
Mark Edwards, Homer and Eusebius of Caesarea
Sarah Klitenic Wear, “As Leaves Are a Protection to a Tree, So Is Pagan Literature to Christian Truth”: Basil and Gregory Nazianzen on the Importance of Reading Homer
Robert Lamberton, Numenius, Cronius, and Porphyry on Homer
Anne Sheppard, Allegory, Metaphysics, Theology: Homeric Reception in Athenian Neoplatonism



[1] Brill BCCR series description.

[2] For which one is better referred to the Introduction and Part I of Maarten de Pourcq, Nathalie de Haan & David Rijser (eds), Framing Classical Reception Studies: Different Perspectives on a Developing Field (Metaforms 19), Leiden/Boston, Brill, 2020.

[3] For the reception of the Homeric Hymns, the editor of the present volume refers to A. Faulkner, A. Vergados & A. Schwab (eds), The Reception of the Homeric Hymns, Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 2016. Their reception is, however, very briefly discussed in chapter 1, pp. 36–38.

[4] Lamberton (p. 400 n. 45) reminds the reader that ‘the term θεολόγος for Porphyry, as for Aristotle, designates primarily the early Greek poets who literally “talked about gods” – primarily Homer and Hesiod for Aristotle, but by Porphyry’s time, preeminently Orpheus’.

[5] Pp. 109 n. 8; p. 120 n. 65; 127 n. 102; 162 n. 2; 252 n. 137; 253 n. 142; 264 n. 36.

[6] P. 2 n. 15 ‘dealt’ > ‘dealt with’; p. 4 ‘account’ > ‘account of’; p. 24 ‘refer’ > ‘refers’; p. 32 n. 37 ‘Pöhlmann (1983)’ > ‘Pöhlmann (1973)’; p. 70 n. 28 ‘these as’ > ‘these are’; p. 83 ‘Wüst, E. (1959)’ > ‘Wüst, E. (1937)’; p. 190 n. 7 ‘slef-presentation’; p. 258 ‘van der Valk’ > ‘Van der Valk’; p, 261 n. 16 ‘that that’; p. 287 ‘-Saur:’ > ‘: Saur-‘ (again on p. 427); p. 294 ‘μένων•’; p. 298 ‘ἔργα•’; p. 312 ‘in it in’ > ‘it in’; p. 322 ‘Odyssey’; p. 323 n. 72 ‘17.’ > ’17).’; p. 380 ‘202).34‘ > ‘202.34‘; p. 383 n. 50 ‘this scholia’ > ‘in these scholia’; p. 389 ‘Van Gronningen’ > ‘Van Groningen’; p. 404 ‘Neoplatonsts’; p. 407 ‘Griechishen Cristlichen’ > ‘Griechischen Christlichen’; p.409 n. 10 (and passim) ‘van den Berg’.