BMCR 2024.04.19

Le dialogue de l’Antiquité à l’âge humaniste: péripéties d’un genre dramatique et philosophique

, , , Le dialogue de l’Antiquité à l’âge humaniste: péripéties d’un genre dramatique et philosophique. Encounters, 565; readings from the Latin Renaissance, 18. Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2023. Pp. 508. ISBN 9782406143383.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]


The reviewed volume originates from two international conferences held in Trento (2018) and Amiens (2019). Its title reflects its extensive diachronic span—ranging from antiquity to the seventeenth century—as well as the broad concept of dialogue embraced by the editors, encompassing both the philosophical dialogue and drama. In the introduction, the editors emphasize that this coupling is intentional, as the volume’s objective is to reexamine, in a diachronic perspective, the link between philosophy and theater within dialogic genres (p. 9). This proposition represents an interesting shift from conceptualizations of the dialogue found in recent books dedicated to ancient dialogues. While many of these books adopt a broad understanding of dialogue, encompassing alongside philosophical works, exchanges in historiography (such as Herodotus or Thucydides) and dialogization in oratory, the decision to explore dramatic works and prose dialogues side by side is a noteworthy one, reminiscent of J. Andrieu’s Le dialogue antique. Structure et presentation (Paris 1954), which similarly addressed both types of texts, though with a different focus. It is, however, regrettable that the introduction does not really offer much reflection on how the volume might deepen and nuance our understanding of this significant connection between philosophy and drama and its evolution over time. Although some contributors touch on this issue (e.g. Mauro Tulli in his paper on Plato and Gianna Petrone in her discussion of Seneca’s tragedies), and some shed light on how dialogic texts blend influences and elements of drama and the philosophical dialogue (as for instance Hélène Casanova-Robin in her examination of Giovanni Pontano’s Asinus), most of the authors seldom explore it explicitly or prioritize illuminating it as their primary aim. Consequently, the book seems to fall short of accomplishing its stated goal of reevaluating and elucidating the connection between philosophy and theater within dialogic genres. Still, it merits recognition for underscoring the significance of this connection and encouraging readers to contemplate potential correlations, parallels, and interactions between the two.

The volume comprises twenty-two papers divided into three parts, focusing on Greek and Roman antiquity, the Middle Ages (with one paper extending into the 15th and 16th centuries), and the Renaissance. In my review, I will discuss the first part in more detail, both due to my expertise in this area and spatial constraints. The first part, dedicated to the ancient dialogue, consists of ten contributions that examine philosophical and dramatic authors from antiquity—from Plato to Boethius and from Sophocles to Seneca the Younger in his capacity as a tragedian. The proportion of papers focusing on drama is slightly larger (six) compared to those addressing prose dialogue (four), with a diverse range of approaches presented by the contributors. Among the contributions discussing drama, the first three, by Andrea Rodighiero, Olimpia Imperio, and Donatella Izzo, explore various dialogic techniques in Greek tragedy and comedy. Rodighiero examines the use of what he calls “aggressive accusative” in passages where one character harshly addresses another. He identifies patterns in Sophocles’ usage of this technique, such as its employment by a superior speaker addressing someone of a subordinate status with rudeness and contempt, and then extends his analysis to similar instances in other texts, particularly those of Euripides. He suggests that this linguistic feature reflects the influence of everyday language and is a stylistic idiosyncrasy of the tragic dialogue. Imperio and Izzo examine the use of dialogue by Aristophanes. Imperio’s analysis centers on the exchange between Dionysus, Aeschylus, and Euripides towards the end of Frogs, highlighting the profound moral and political message embedded in Aeschylus’ anabasis. Izzo’s study delves into verses 490–491 of Clouds, in which a scholiast detected an allusion to the Cynics, and some contemporary scholars—to Antisthenes; however, she dismisses this interpretation based on, among other factors, the characterization of Strepsiades’ speech, which, she argues, is monosemic and incompatible with allusive language.

Plautus is the focal point of the remaining three papers on the ancient dramatic dialogue. Salvatore Monda presents an analysis of the interaction between the stock characters of senex and servus in comedy. He contends that Plautus’ employment of the “plotting slave” figure should be interpreted against the background of the Greek New Comedy, since fragments of works by authors such as Menander and Philemon indicate the significant role played by this character. Monique Crampon explores the diversity of dialogic modes within Plautus’ plays. She identifies various forms of interaction with the audience and instances of characters conversing with themselves or addressing non-human entities such as body parts or material objects. Crampon terms this array of dialogic modes as the “proliferation of dialogue,” highlighting it as a distinctive feature of Plautus’ style that enhances his comedic prowess. Gianna Petrone examines Plautine comic dialogue alongside Seneca’s tragic dialogue, focusing specifically on passages depicting conflict and disagreement between characters. She analyzes the mechanics of dialogue in both playwrights, emphasizing in Plautus the rules of symmetry in discourse during disagreements and examining how speech is employed to portray the ethos of the characters engaged in conflict. In Seneca’s scenes of conflict, on the other hand, she observes influences from philosophy and the rhetorical tradition (controversia and declamation). Here, the argument between characters transcends the immediate situation and takes on a more abstract dimension, evolving into a clash between different truths.

Among the four papers on ancient prose dialogues, one focuses on Plato, while the other three examine considerably later authors, including Cicero, Lucian, and late antique dialogue writers and commentators. In his essay on Plato, Mauro Tulli revisits the question of Plato’s use of the dialogue form in light of his rejection of mimesis in the Republic. He argues that Plato reconciles these aspects because his dialogues are created as a result of direct, unmediated contact with ideal reality, which gives Plato’s act demiurgic power. Alice Bonandini explores Lucian’s Bis accusatus, which she contextualizes within the tradition of the Menippean dialogue, rightly emphasizing that the fusion of comedy and the philosophical dialogue in Lucian’s works can be traced back to Menippus rather than being an innovation by Lucian himself. Bonandini also discusses the significance of Plato’s dialogues for the development of the comic dialogue, in particular the Symposium and Socrates’ description of the sophists in the Protagoras (314d), which anticipate traits considered “Menippean,” including spoudogeloion and prosimetry. Carlos Lévy considers Cicero’s use of various dialogue types, particularly focusing on Cicero’s choice of the format for Partitiones oratoriae and the Tusculans. As for the first text, he sees in it an expression of potentialities which are then realized in the latter work. In Partitiones, the dynamic between father and son is employed to mitigate the cultural transgression of assuming the role of a teacher, while in the Tusculans, the absence of concrete characters and of a fully developed dialogic framework coincides with a collapse of the clear distinction between teacher and disciple identities. In the engaging final paper of this section, Sophie Van der Meeren highlights the significance of silence in late antique philosophy. She begins by discussing Proclus’ comments on Socratic silence in Alc. 103a, highlighting Proclus’ association of silence with transcendence and the divine. Next, she examines different types of silence in Augustine’s dialogues, and then various uses of it in Boethius’ Consolation. She argues that silence in late antique dialogues is inscribed in the heart of the dialogues, notes the recurrent association of silence with spiritual experience, and emphasizes its significance as the ultimate goal of the philosophical process initiated by the dialogue. Apart from the contributions of individual papers to their specific subject matter, they also offer a stimulating read collectively due to their diverse approaches and varying focuses, showcasing the multiplicity of dialogization modes and strategies. The authors’ close attention to specific linguistic, stylistic, and dramaturgic details enhances our comprehension of the dialogue and its applications and techniques.

Sections two and three of the book, focusing on medieval and Renaissance literature, also examine a range of dialogic texts from diverse viewpoints. Alice Lamy’s contribution focuses on 12th- and 13th-century dialogues dedicated to the transmission of encyclopedic knowledge, and scrutinizes its interpersonal dynamics and its model of collaborative learning, and Laure Hermand-Schebat discusses internal dialogue and the Augustine tradition of soliloquy in Petrarch’s Secretum. In the introduction, the editors emphasize the pivotal role of the Renaissance in conceptualizing and theorizing the dialogue as a genre, especially highlighting the significance of the Cinquecento works of Carlo Sigonio, Sperone Speroni, and Torquato Tasso on this subject. This theme is taken up by Laurence Boulègue, who discusses the Renaissance debate on the relevance of the dialogue, with its fictional dimension, as a philosophical mode of writing. She examines how Cicero and newly rediscovered dialogues by Plato influenced the adoption of this format in humanist philosophy, which met with scholastic critique. It is this revival of the philosophical dialogue that sparked interest in its conceptualization and theorization; Sigonio’s De dialogo, she argues, reflects these contemporary tensions. Hélène Casanova-Robin’s examination of Giovanni Pontano’s Asinus provides an intriguing example of merging Plautine influences with the philosophical dialogue, while Carine Ferradou’s paper on George Buchanan and William Barclay analyzes the use of the dialogue form in a political polemic. There is also a host of papers examining a range of theatrical works from the Middle Ages to the 17th century (Giuseppe Noto, Gabriella Parussa, Véronique Dominguez-Guillaume, Lucie Claire, Giovanna Di Martino, Nathalie Catellani, Alfredo Casamento), with several demonstrating innovative engagement with and transcending of ancient models.

In conclusion, this interesting and engaging volume encompasses a wide array of topics and approaches, which reflects the varied and shifting landscape of dialogue literature—conceived as both the prose dialogue and drama—across the centuries covered in it. This poikilia contributes to the volume’s instructive and stimulating nature, making it a valuable resource for scholars and researchers interested in exploring dialogization in literature, whether in prose or drama.


Authors and Titles

Mauro Tulli, Platone, il dialogo e la raffigurazione della realtà ideale

Andrea Rodighiero, “Te, allora: te, che chini a terra il capo”. Intonazione dialogica e ‘accusativo aggressivo’ nel dramma attico

Olimpia Imperio, Detti e non detti nei dialoghi finali delle Rane di Aristofane

Donatella Izzo, Les interprétations d’Aristophane, Nuées, v. 489-491, à l’épreuve des mécanismes du dialogue comique

Salvatore Monda, Il dialogo tra senex e servo nella commedia nuova e nella palliata

Monique Crampon, La prolifération du dialogue chez Plaute

Gianna Petrone, Due modelli di dialogo drammatico. Il comico Plauto e il tragico Seneca

Alice Bonandini, Un figlio degenere per un nobile padre. Dialogo filosofico e dialogo menippeo

Carlos Lévy, Des Partitions aux Tusculanes. Le dialogue cicéronien en mutation 

Sophie Van der Meeren, Silence et transcendance dans les dialogues de l’Antiquité tardive. Étude comparée d’un motif philosophique et littéraire chez Proclus, Augustin et Boèce



Giuseppe Noto, Note sur le théâtre médiéval et la philologie romane

Gabriella Parussa, L’art du dialogue ou les stratégies d’une mise à l’écrit. L’exemple du théâtre médiéval français

Alice Lamy, Partager les merveilles de la nature et les mystères cosmologiques. Le dialogue encyclopédique aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles, l’exemple d’Adélard de Bath (Questions naturelles) et de Placides et Timeo (XIIIe siècle)

Laure Hermand-Schebat, Mecum loquor, le dialogue intérieur chez Pétrarque. Lettres et Secretum

Véronique Dominguez-Guillaume, Débat ou prophétie? Le dialogue de Jésus avec les docteurs dans le théâtre religieux français des XVe et XVIe siècles



Laurence Boulègue, L’évolution et les paradoxes du dialogue philosophique au Quattrocento et au Cinquecento

Hélène Casanova-Robin, Réminiscences plautiniennes dans le dialogue Asinus de Giovanni Pontano

Lucie Claire, Formes et fonctions du dialogue dans l’Ergastus et le Philotimus de Francesco Benci

Giovanna Di Martino, Tradurre il teatro per il teatro. Presenza e assenza di dialoghi in due adattamenti cinquecenteschi del Prometeo incatenato di Eschilo

Nathalie Catellani, Traces de Sénèque dans la Médée de George Buchanan

Carine Ferradou, Polémique politique, forme dialogique et traités de philosophie politique à la fin du XVIe siècle. Le De iure regni apud Scotos de George Buchanan (1579) et le De regno et regali potestate de William Barclay (1600)

Alfredo Casamento, “Come on, mother!” La scena della dichiarazione d’amore nella Fedra di Seneca e le sue fortune moderne