Sunday, July 15, 2012


Javier Martínez (ed.), Fakes and Forgers of Classical Literature / Falsificaciones y falsarios de la Literatura Clásica. Madrid: Ediciones Clásicas, 2011. Pp. 270. ISBN 9788478827251. € 20.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Edmund P. Cueva, University of Houston-Downtown (

Version at BMCR home site


This collection of essays is the result of the "Falsificación Literaria en el Mundo Antiguo" conference hosted by the University of Oviedo in October of 2010. The volume contains two introductory essays by Javier Martínez and Antonio Guzmán Guerra followed by seventeen articles that cover a wide range of topics, people, and places. This compilation has contributors representing the United States, Italy, Germany, and Spain. Abstracts and keywords (in both English and the language in which the essays are written) for each article are supplied on pages 7-12. It should be said that as often happens in a good number of conference proceedings or scholarly compilations there is always the risk that the collection may be uneven in the quality of the individual contributions. This collection has interesting essays, which are generally well-written, but some are too brief to make the presentation of any sort of convincing argument possible and others cover material already well-trod in lengthier and more detailed scholarly works.

The scope of this book is quite large and the depth of the papers varies, for example "Plutarch' (sic) and the sophistry of 'Noble Lineage'" by David Blank is quite thorough and reviews the misattribution of Arnoldus Ferronus's 1556 work, Pro nobilitate, to Plutarch; Ferronus's treatise was a deliberate fraud. José J. Caerols's "Embusteros, fingidores y falsarios en la Historia Augusta" tackles a much larger work rather succinctly through an examination of the Latin words fallo (and its derivatives), fingo, mentior, ementior, decipio, and mendacium. This essay is quite short, yet examines a vast text. "Interpolaciones cristianas en oráculos paganos" by Manuel González Suárez argues that the inclusion of the fake dedication to Ptolemy Soter in the Sortes Astrampsychi was an attempt to trick the reader into believing that the oracles were of Egyptian origin and dated to the third century AD. David Hernández de la Fuente's interesting and convincing essay, "Pitágoras en el espejo falsario: Cuestiones de falsificación literaria en torno a la carta de Lisis," is an assessment of the intertextual nature of the pseudo-Pythagorean letter by Lysis, which, the author notes, is a calculated effort to blend history and legend, the real and the imagined. The Socratic daemon is used as the crucible for authorial authenticity in "Sobre el diálogo Teages, atribuido a Platón" by Stefano Jedrkiewicz. The daemon is different in the Theages than in other Platonic texts, but this does not prove that the Theages was not the work of Plato. This same certainty about authorship (or lack of certitude) cannot be said about the Pseudo- Sallustius against Cicero as noted in "A Iove exitium: Ein Fälscher und sein Fehler" by Klaus Lennartz. The five remaining lengthier essays are in a similar vein and focus on Emmanuel Roidis' Pope Joan; the relationship between an author's biography and texts attributed, rightly or wrongly, to him; Onomacritus the forger; an inscription found in Ujo; and a summary of plagiarism charges that date from the second to fourth centuries AD.

As noted above, there some essays that are too brief to make the presentation of any sort of convincing argument possible. For example, "La fonometría y otros criterios lingüísticos de autenticidad en Literatura Griega" by Felipe G. Hernández Muñoz focuses on phonometry in an attempt to verify the authenticity of some of the works in the corpus of Aeschylus and Demosthenes. The author does not go into enough detail. The same criticism applies to "Breve repaso a la cuestión de la autenticidad del Reso" by Mikel Labiano; the author attempts to solve the question of the authenticity of the Rhesus in only eight pages. "Mentiras subsidiarias en la Ephemeris belli Troiani" by Mireia Movellán Luis and "El Género oracular como falsificación en la Literatura Judeo- Helenística y Cristiana" by Jesús-Mª Nieto Ibáñez fall into this same category.

In what follows I will consider several of the essays that I found the most interesting and well argued. The purpose of Fakes and forgers of classical literature / Falsificaciones y falsarios de la Literatura Clásica, according to Javier Martínez, is to give the fakes and forgeries from antiquity the "academic study that they deserve" and to allow these fakes and forgeries to "exert some fascination upon us, just as they did for the ancients" (22). These essays are also meant to clarify or classify how we approach today the question or subject of "authenticity" (17). Martínez promises that these texts will move beyond the "abstruse philological questions of textual fraud which…have noteworthy real-world consequences" (19)—for example, the textual corruption involving Seneca's Medea, forged correspondence between Seneca and St. Paul, and the discovery of the New World—to more somber cases of fraud (e.g., Giordano Bruno's burning at the stake because of his belief in and defense of the authenticity of fake texts). Indeed, Martínez and Guzmán Guerra attempt to supply a collection of essays that follow in the footsteps of Anthony Grafton's Forgers and Critics: Creativity and Duplicity in Western Scholarship (Princeton University Press, 1990). The second of the two introductory essays, Guzmán Guerra's "Problemas teóricos de la falsificación literaria," alerts the reader to the perils involved in the study of fakes: some works are authentic (gnesia), spurious (notha), or of doubtful authenticity (amfíbola, amfiballómena) (25). Guzmán Guerra tries to aid and prepare the reader for the task at hand by supplying terminology that will help classify the documents that are in question: "falso," "plagio," "espurios," impostura," "falsario de ficcíon," and "pseudepígrafos." This type of classificatory/terminological approach can be found in Luciano Bossina's "Falsi antichi e moderni tra le opere di Nilo di Ancira," which clearly demonstrates that the pseudepigrapha in the works of Nilus of Ancyra can be classified as texts wrongly attributed to Nilus (e.g., De oratione, Narratio), deliberately altered works of Nilus (e.g., Ep. IV 61), or out-and-out forgeries and fakes (e.g., Epistolario).

One must also consider intentionality in addition to terminology when classifying texts. Kai Brodersen admirably demonstrates in "Triphyodontismos: Is the agraphon concerning a third set of teeth a pious fraud?" that in 1950 Paul Robinson Coleman-Norton published the article "An Amusing Agraphon" (Catholic Biblical Quarterly 12 [1950] 439-449) as a practical joke. The article offered a part of a previously unknown Greek version of the Opus Imperfectum that shed light on Matthew 24:51: "And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (1769 Oxford King James Bible "Authorized Version"). The Opus Imperfectum does not include commentary on this passage. Brodersen demonstrates that Coleman-Norton, a highly respected Princeton classicist,duped on the editors of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly—the fake was an "intelligent jeux d'esprit" (82). On the other hand, there is the case of Fray Antonio of Guevara and his famous/infamous translation of Marcus Aurelius's Meditations, which is the subject of the essay "Guevara y el Libro Áureo del emperador Marco Aurelio" by Carlos García Gual. Fray Antonio, the bishop of Mondoñedo, stated that he had found the ancient and original text of the emperor's philosophical work in the Florentine library of Cosimo de' Medici— García Gual notes that this translation of the text failed to fool all: "como sus lectores más avisados y doctos descrubrieron pronto, no provenía de un texto antiguo, sino de la imaginacíon novelesca de Antonio de Guevara" (97). In fact, as is well known, the Greek text did not resurface until 1558 with Andreas Gesner's first edition, which included the commentary and Latin translation of William Xylander. Fray Antonio, by the way, had died in 1545. Why did the bishop produce this fake? He often resorted to the pretence that he was a mere translator and that he was only a "humanista espoleado en su ardua tarea por su fevor hacia los textos antiguos" (102). García Gual critically sums up the real reason for the deception: "No parece haber tenido otro propósito que el de una ficcíon fantasiosa y tanto lúdica, que se publicó de manera un tanto accidental y cuyo éxito sorprendió a su proprio autor" (103). There is no doubt that the Bishop of Mondoñedo's intention was to deceive. Unfortunately for the bishop, the humanists of his day would not or did not pardon this fraud and after a brief time among the "best sellers" the work fell into oblivion (103). The temporarily successful hoax may have eventuated the popular saying that "so-and-so lies more than the bishop of Mondoñedo ("Miente más que el obispo de Mondoñedo" [99]).

On the whole, this collection is interesting and brings together numerous instances of forgeries and fakes that were deliberately contrived or accidentally believed to be authentic. If some of the essays were more detailed or lengthier in their analyses, this book would have been even better.

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