BMCR 2023.04.32

Luciano di Samosata. Filosofi in vendita: introduzione, traduzione e commento

, Luciano di Samosata. Filosofi in vendita: introduzione, traduzione e commento. Edizioni e saggi universitari di filologia classica, 71. Bologna: Pàtron Editore, 2020. Pp. 193. ISBN 9788855534895

This is only the second modern commentary on Lucian’s Vitarum auctio; the first (by Thérèse Beaupère) was published 56 years ago.

The first section of the ample introduction (p. 13–69) presents “Una biografia intellettuale: Luciano e la sua opera” (p. 13–19). The survey of the stages of Lucian’s life (p. 13–15) is not always accurate: p. 14 n. 6, Iannucci claims that Lucian asserted (in Bis Acc. 27) that he had followed the lessons of Polemon at Smyrna, but this Polemon is nowhere mentioned by Lucian. Similarly incorrect is the assertion (in n. 17 on p. 17) that Parrhesiades is Lucian’s alter ego not only in Piscator, but also in Bis accusatus (where he calls himself the “rhetor from Syria”). In “Biografia e finzione” (p. 15–19), Iannucci rightly stresses the mixture of autobiography and fiction in Lucian’s ego-narratives (e.g. in Somnium, p. 16). The next subsection is devoted to Lucian’s “strategia satirica” against the intellectuals of his time (p. 19–43). Iannucci especially emphasizes “caricature” as a dominant trait in Lucian’s work: “la caricatura è infatti una rappresentazione polemica, talora violenta, di smascheramento” (p. 26), not least in Vitarum auctio. Recognizing that Lucian not only parodies but caricatures intellectuals of his time, Iannucci argues, would assure him “un ruolo significativo nella storia degli scrittori e intellettuali engagé [sic]” (p. 26). One of his test cases for such caricature is “La caricatura dei retori” (p. 27–32) in Somnium: Iannucci declares Paideia’s promise to her young follower to be “fallace e inconsistente” (p. 29) and the narrator himself an “oratore fallimentare” (ibid.), because he reveals some gaps in his memory; but is this enough to declare the whole piece a caricature of a second-century orator? A second test case is “La caricatura dei filosofi” (p. 32–43), focusing on Lucian’s dialogues Eunuchus and Symposium (these may indeed be much more appropriately regarded as caricatures than Somnium).

The next section analyzes the “strutture performative nella Vitarum auctio” (p. 43–66). Iannucci stresses the paradox that philosophers, “la cui ragion d’essere […] è appunto nella dichiarazione di libertà“ (p. 48) are put up for sale like slaves. He regards Vitarum auctio as a good example of the “apparentemente paradossale mistione del serio e nobile dialogo filosofico con la commedia” (p. 50) proclaimed by Lucian in Prometheus es. Among the elements of comedy present in Vitarum auctio, Iannucci emphasizes the “puntuale mimesi della concreta prassi delle trattative di compravendita nei mercati degli schiavi“ (p. 55). He gives a detailed account of the usual examinations of the competences of the future slave to which the philosophical lives are subjected here, while the prospective buyers are interested in these acquisitions as a means to further their own status in society (p. 62).

In a subsection on the “prices” for which the various philosophical lives are sold (p. 63–6), Iannucci stresses “la […] verosimiglianza di questi prezzi rispetto ai valori di vendita degli schiavi dell’epoca” (p. 64) and has good remarks on the elevated prices for Stoics (1200 drachmas) and Peripatetics (2000 drachmas) as well as on the considerably lower price for Epicureans (200 drachmas), while the most exorbitant price (12000 drachmas) to be paid for Platonists makes them “beni di lusso o di prestigio” (p. 65).

There follow text and translation (p. 72–97). In his text Iannucci usually follows that of Itzkowitz of 1992 (who, in opposition to Macleod and Bompaire, prefers the β tradition to the γ tradition). In some places, however, he differs from the other modern editions. In ch. 1, Iannucci attributes the phrase Ἀγαθῇ τύχῃ τοὺς ὠνητὰς ἤδη παρεῖναι πρὸς τὸ πωλητήριον to Zeus, while all other recent editors, following a suggestion by Solanus, give them to Hermes. Iannucci’s arguments for his choice (given on p. 102–3) are not convincing: he himself points out that in the two other places where ἀγαθῇ τύχῃ is used in this dialogue Hermes is the speaker. And would Hermes really begin with ἀποκηρύξομεν δὲ? In ch. 2, Iannucci interestingly puts τερατείαν before γεωμετρίαν (which is left out by the β tradition), because (as he explains on p. 110) this word order achieves a balance: after two ‘serious’ sciences, a dubious one follows (Ἀριθμητικήν, ἀστρονομίαν, τερατείαν, γεωμετρίαν, μουσικήν, γοητείαν). In ch. 6, Iannucci reads αὐτέων (proposed by Belinus and others), while all other recent editors and – importantly – all manuscripts have αὐτῶν. The question here is to what extent – and if at all – dialect forms not transmitted by the manuscripts should be inserted into the text: how sure can we be that Lucian was consistent in this matter? In ch. 27, Iannucci has accidentally omitted the important τίς in the sentence ὅμως δὲ τίς καὶ τοῦτον ὠνήσεται, although he does translate it.

In the translation, a number of Iannucci’s renderings can be questioned. In ch. 3, he translates Ὥρα with “vedi”, possibly because he has mistakenly read it as ὅρα. In ch. 7, he renders ἀποδεικτέον quite inaccurately with “A meno che non si spieghi col fatto che si tratta di …” (compare Harmon: “he might be made …”). In ch. 8, τριβώνιον is translated with “stracci”, in ch. 9 with “mantellaccio” (in Harmon it is “short cloak”). In ch. 11, the translation of ἢν ἐθέλῃ σε ἀποδόσθαι οὑτοσὶ with “Se vuoi liberarti di questo qui” is rather too inexact, and the same holds true in ch. 14 for πολὺ γὰρ οἶμαι κάλλιον σοὶ προσλαλεῖν (“Credo che ti farebbe molto bene parlarne a qualcuno”, while Bompaire renders the phrase much more accurately: “Je prefère de beaucoup causer avec toi”), in ch. 15 for κἂν ὑπὸ ταὐτὸν ἱμάτιόν μοι κατακέωνται (“Anche se andassi a letto con qualcuno”) and in ch. 17 for οὗτοι ἔσονται τοῖς ἀρίστοις ἆθλον φιλῆσαι (“Il loro amore sarà il premio per i migliori”, but compare Harmon: “Their kisses shall be a guerdon for the bravest”). In ch. 19, the translation of ἓν δὲ πλέον οἶδεν with “Ma ne sa una più” should probably be corrected to “Ma ne sa una <cosa> più”. In ch. 23, Iannucci translates Περὶ τὰ πρῶτα κατὰ φύσιν τότε γενήσομαι with “Riguardo ai principi primi seguirò la natura”, but this is unlikely to be correct; cf. Bompaire (“Alors j’accéderai aux principaux biens naturels”), Harmon (“I shall then devote myself to the chief natural goods”).

The most substantial part of the book is the commentary (p. 101–170). It provides ample background on various philosophical topics that come up in the dialogue, e.g. the Pythagorean tetraktys evoked in ch. 4 (p. 116–8) and metempsychosis (p. 118–9). There is also a good summary of Lucian’s ambivalent attitude towards the Cynics (p. 123–4); a good discussion of the provenance and development of the antithesis between laughing Democritus and crying Heraclitus (p. 137–9); the sοurces for Heraclitus’ obscure responses in ch. 14 (p. 140–3); an ample elucidation of the Stoic κροκοδειλίτης fallacy (except for some faulty word forms, on which see below) in ch. 22 (p. 154–8); and the coming into existence of the dichotomy esoteric – exoteric, subject of a Lucianic joke concerning Aristotle (ch. 26), is well explained on p. 163–5.  Let me also highlight a good observation made on p. 107 that concerns the speakers’ assignments as transmitted in the manuscripts: while in the text itself the philosophers put up for auction are usually designated as later followers of the great philosophers (§ 2 ὁ Πυθαγορικὸς, 12 τὸν Κυρηναῖον, 19 τὸν Ἐπικούρειον, 26 Τὸν Περιπατητικὸν, 27 ὁ Σκεπτικὸς), in the speaker assignments these philosophers themselves are named (Pythagoras, Epikouros, Pyrrhon etc.) – a clear indication that these assignments are secondary.

Sometimes, however, the commentary is a bit sketchy: more could have been said, e.g., regarding the characteristics of a Cynic life (enumerated in ch. 9–10) and also about Plato’s doctrine of ideas that is made fun of in ch. 18; there is also nothing about the connection between Plato and Dion of Syracuse briefly treated in ch. 19. Apart from the κροκοδειλίτης (see above), other Stoic fallacies (in ch. 22–4) are commented upon much more briefly (perhaps too briefly).

There are also cases where an explanation seems a bit far-fetched or at least questionable: on p. 132, Iannucci claims that the word σκυτοδέψης in ch. 11 “sembra richiamare il βυρσοπώλης Cleone dei Cavalieri di Aristofane”, but the two terms are not closely enough connected to suggest this. On p. 146 Iannucci claims that Plato’s “teaching” περὶ τῶν γυναικῶν is a “riferimento […] all’uso spartano della condivisione delle donne finalizzata alla τεκνοποιία (cf. Xen. Lac. 1.7-10)”, but Aristophanes’ Ecclesiazusae might be a more probable suggestion. On p. 150, Iannucci wants to connect the very Platonic address ὦγαθέ (attested 47 times in the corpus Platonicum) with καλός four lines above and claims that this is an allusion to the classical ideal of καλός κἀγαθός; Lucian, however, uses the address ὦγαθέ in 20 other passages that show no trace of such an allusion.

Unfortunately, mistakes are found throughout the book. On p. 27 n. 57, Iannucci’s interpretation of the first verse quotation in JTrag. 1 (Ὦ Ζεῦ, τί σύννους κατὰ μόνας σαυτῷ λαλεῖς), establishing a Peripatetic connection for σύννους, does not take into account that the sentence is a slightly distorted line from New Comedy (Com. Adesp. 1027 K.-A.). On p. 38 n. 92, he gives wrong references for the combination of αἰχμητής with a personal name (“Il. 23.740 e 750”; correct would be Il. 5.706, 11.739, 13.171, Od. 2.19). In the Greek text of ch. 3 (p. 72), τις has wrongly replaced the correct τίς. In the translation of ch. 6 (p. 77), “comparare” should be “comprare” (“buy”). The commentary reveals some limitations of Iannucci’s knowledge of Ancient Greek: on p. 101, he wrongly forms the infinitive διατίθειν (instead of διατιθέναι) from the imperative διατίθει, on p. 107 the plural nominative γοηταί (instead of γόητες), on p. 109 the verb ἠγείρω (instead of ἐγείρω); on p. 112 he construes χρῆσθαι with the accusative πράγματα (instead of with the dative πράγμασιν; on p. 113–4, he misunderstands Schwartz’ conjecture διδάξει, because he apparently thinks that διδάξει is a third person singular active, but Schwartz introduced διδάξει as a second person singular of the middle voice (διδάξει = διδάξῃ), and Schwartz did so, because Pythagoras in his response uses the middle voice as well (διδάξομαι). On p. 116, Iannucci claims that Pythagoras uses the “Ionic-Attic” form τέσσαρα in ch. 4, but τέσσαρα is a conjecture of Fritzsche’s (while the manuscripts of both families have τέτταρα), and the correct Ionic form would be τέσσερα (numerous examples in Herodotus). Consistency of dialect is a major issue in Vitarum auctio. On p. 155–7, Iannucci three times cites the non-existent Greek word κροκοδειλίτη (“tale κροκοδειλίτη stoica”), but only ὁ κροκοδειλίτης is attested (also in Schol. Luc. quoted by Iannucci on p. 157!); Iannucci’s claim that “il termine” is also found in Herm. 81 is wrong. On p. 157, he forms the wrong nominative case κερατίνη (instead of the correct κερατίνης scil. λόγος).

In addition to these issues, there are also the following problems: on p. 148, Iannucci gives a totally misleading portrait of the title-figure of Lucian’s Hermotimus, evoking “gli infingimenti, l’avidità e l’ipocrisia del maestro stoico Ermotimo” – here Hermotimus is badly confused with his teacher. And why does Iannucci render τὸν ἐν χρῷ κουρίαν (“one who wears his hair short” according to LSJ) with “calvizie”? On p. 158, the quote of a Plato passage (Pol. 283b: θαυμαστὸν γὰρ οὐδέν λόγον ἄκουσόν) combines words that do not belong together and thus makes no sense. There is also a fair number of misspellings of names, the enumeration of which would take up too much space here.

All in all, the book has left this reviewer with a mixed impression. The introduction and the commentary provide helpful and extensive information on the philosophical schools that are caricatured in Vitarum auctio, and the notion of caricature itself is convincingly stressed as a major feature of Lucian’s satiric art. These positive aspects are unfortunately to a certain extent counterbalanced by the (mostly linguistic) deficiencies that had to be pointed out as well.