Sunday, April 26, 2015


Walter Lapini, Testi frammentari e critica del testo: problemi di filologia filosofica greca. Pleiadi, 15. Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 2013. Pp. xiii, 268. ISBN 9788863725421. €38.00 (pb).

Reviewed by José C. Baracat, Jr., Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (

Version at BMCR home site

The first page of Lapini's preface contains one of the most amusing and at the same time daring statements I have ever read in scholarly books: that in the study of Antiquity there is nothing more deceitful than the fragments of the Presocratics, which are like the castle of Atlantis to the non-philologist because they "uncover the personality, evoke passions, make one see whatever one wishes to see," a castle where many men lost themselves, "even the very great ones such as Heidegger, who intended to comment on Heraclitus in the original knowing little of Heraclitus and nothing of Greek" (p. xi). Unfortunately, Lapini does not return to Heidegger in this book, but he makes his point very clear, as he mercilessly discusses editions, translations, and studies of fragmentary texts: solid philological expertise is a sine qua non in the study of Ancient philosophy, above all in the study of fragmentary texts.

Lapini's book comprises eight previously unpublished, independent studies of different texts in which he essentially investigates problems of textual criticism and the interpretative difficulties they raise. In the first one, "Pitagora maestro di scuola (P. Br. Libr. Add. Ms. 37516.1)," the author investigates a chreia whose theme is Pythagoras; in the second, "Il carteggio fra Dario ed Eraclito (Diog. Laert. 9.13-14)," he discusses a letter from king Darius addressed to Heraclitus, and the reply sent by the philosopher, both reported by Diogenes Laertius; the lengthy third essay, "Il sapiente e le città: Parmenide e una congettura involontaria su B.1.3," confronts a myriad of conjectures for one line of Parmenides' poem; the fourth chapter is "Empedocle e il tempo inestinguibile (B 16 DK)," the content of which I will set out in a while; in the fifth essay, "Empedocle e la lanterna (B 84.3 DK)," the author discusses Empedocles' description of the eye and its functioning; the sixth, "Ippodamo di Mileto, filosofo e architetto," investigates the mysterious figure of Hippodamus of Miletus through the texts of Aristophanes (Eq. 327), a scholium to Aristophanes (Eq. 327a I), and Aristotle (Pol. 1267b22ss.); the seventh study is "Tre note su Diogene di Apollonia (A 19.39; A 19.44; B 1 DK)"; and the last, "Diogene di Sinope e le particelle vaporizzate (Diog. Laert. 6.73 = SSR B V 132)," is a study of the curious testimonium that Diogenes did not condemn cannibalism.

It is impossible to properly convey the content of Lapini's complex studies, as they do not present simple "theses" about the texts they deal with nor restrict themselves to the passages mentioned in their titles, but introduce a multitude of related texts and subdivided discussions. It would be useless and unfair just to report that Lapini proposes readings, translations and/or interpretations a, b, and c to passages x, y, and z, if one does not also know what the problem at stake is and why Diels' text here or Reale's translation there, for instance, are unsatisfactory. Therefore, to fit a short review, I will provide a general description of Lapini's general procedure and then a more detailed exposition of the fourth chapter only.

The methodical analyses developed in each one of the chapters share a similar basic structure (far from monotonous, though!) that is the same as the one Lapini had employed in his equally brilliant book, Studi di Filologia Filosofica Greca (Firenze: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 2003). He initially presents the text, or a first text, that will be the focus of the study; sometimes (in Chapters 2, 5, 6, 7 and 8) he provides a translation for the texts and an apparatus criticus (in 2, 4, 7 and 8). With the exception of Chapter 8, where Lapini is responsible for both, translations (always) and apparatuses (sometimes) are used to show how the text under study is either wrongly translated or (sometimes) poorly edited. He then discusses the passages with perspicacity and elegance, perfect mastery of the principles of textual criticism and paleography, and a superhuman acquaintance with all the pertinent literature, and with every relevant conjecture, translation or interpretation, from the eighteenth century to the present day. Not surprisingly, Lapini's bibliographical references fill around fifty pages of the book. The third chapter, on Parmenides, is a good example of this: Lapini starts with Diels' text of Parmenides and critically reviews dozens of conjectures for the κατὰ πάντ' ἄστη given at line 3 since Fülleborn (1795). As the first 28 verses of Parmenides' prologue are preserved in Sextus Empiricus' Adversus Mathematicos, Lapini also discusses a good deal of Sextan textual questions, devoting a number of pages to the curious philological activities of Hermann Mutschmann, an editor of Sextus. This chapter has also three appendices dedicated to other difficulties of the Poem's prologue. In a similar way, other studies too are complemented and supported by parallel investigations, like the second chapter, which begins with the text and meaning of the carteggio between Darius and Heraclitus, moves first to the influence it suffered from the Platonic epistolary corpus and the connections between philosophy and politics established in this corpus, and then to the opposition between orality and writing and, finally, ends discussing such opposition in the correspondence between Pherecydes and Thales, never neglecting the philological problems of the texts.

Now let us take a closer look at the fourth chapter (p. 87-102) as a more detailed sample of Lapini's book. Its point of departure is Empedocles, fragment B16 DK, as edited with apparatus criticus by M. R. Wright (in Empedocles: The Extant Fragments,Yale University Press, 1981, fr. 11): ἔ<στ>ι γὰρ ὡς πάρος ἦν τε καὶ ἔσσεται, οὐδέ ποτ' οἴω | τούτων ἀμφοτέρων κενεώσεται ἄσπετος αἰών. Before discussing the text, Lapini makes six corrections to Wright's apparatus (e.g. in B16.2, κενεώσεται is not Diels' reading, as Wright thinks, but Roeper's). He then argues that Lloyd-Jones' ἔ<στ>ι γάρ is better than previous conjectures, but unsatisfactory, for it makes the text illogically deduce the present from the future. The next point is the ἔσται of the codices, corrected to ἔσσεται by Miller (in 1851) in his edition of Hippolytus' Refutatio, where the fragment is preserved. Lapini explains that the reading of the codices is unsatisfactory due to the breaking of Naeke's rule and the lacking correptio of -ται, and reviews six solutions (actually, these include also καί, which shows the same problem as ἔσται, but was not corrected by Miller) proposed by Schneidewin, Nauck, Diels, Hölscher, Gallavotti and Marcovich. (See, for instance, Lapini's objection to Marcovich's καί <γ'> ἔσσεται: "I γε 'oziosi' sono un pallino di questo studioso. Ne ha seminato ovunque: da Coppa di Nestore a Diogene Laerzio allo stesso Ippolito. Ma purtropo καί γε non è attestato nella lingua letteraria greca ante Christum natum e quindi è impensabile per Empedocle", p. 90-1; all claims are duly documented in the footnotes.) In the explicit at B16.1, the correction of the legible, but senseless and unmetrical, οὐδέπω τοίω into οὐδέποτ' οἴω (Miller) or οὐδέ ποτ' οἴω (Schneidewin) is obvious. In B16.2, Lapini notes, although the meaning of τούτων ἀμφοτέρων is a bit dubious, the real problem is the correction of ἄσβεστος αἰών, metri causa , to ἄσπετος αἰών by Miller. The readings ἄσβεστος and ἄσπετος (and several other possibilities) are then the subject an extremely detailed and interesting philological discussion (p. 92-8). Lapini favors ἄσβετος, not materially attested, but consistently defended by Degani in 1961; Lapini explains Degani's reasons for such reading and consolidates it by adducing a discussion on Iliad 17.88-89, where a metrically dubious ἀσβέστῳ is found, so that the editor either has to admit an exceptionally harsh synecphonesis or to correct it to ἀσπέστῳ (with Bentley) or *ἀσβέτῳ (with Ludwich), the latter having eventually been accepted by West in his Teubner Iliad.

The Empedocles text established by Lapini (p. 98), therefore, is ἦ γὰρ καὶ πάρος ἦν καὶ ἔσ<σε>ται, οὐδέ ποτ', οἴω | τούτων ἀμφοτέρων κενεώσεται ἄσβετος αἰών. Lapini does not justify his option for ἦ, but it seems to be perfectly sound when we have in mind that the fragment is quoted twice by Hippolytus and that in the codices we find εἰ γάρ in 6.25.1 and ἦν γάρ in 7.29.10. I think this is the only passage in the book for which I would welcome a bit more explanation – at p. 88 Lapini mentions that the several proposed corrections (ἦ γάρ, ᾗ γάρ, καὶ γάρ) are neither good nor bad, being more or less equivalent, but unfortunately, and contrary to his usual procedure, he does not indicate who their authors are.

Lapini rightly observes (p. 99) that his text is the form that Empedocles' fragment would assume in an edition of Empedocles, but not in one of Hippolytus, for it would be an error to print ἔσσεται, ποτ' οἴω, κενεώσεται or ἄσπετος in the Refutatio (as does Marcovich). The rest of the chapter is then devoted to considering what the correct text of Empedocles in Hippolytus should be. Since the fragment is quoted twice, and therefore twice copied, it constitutes a twofold tradition that must be treated in accordance with the classical rules of textual criticism, believes Lapini, who suggests εἰ γὰρ καὶ πάρος ἦν, καὶ ἔσται, οὐδέ ποτ', οἴω | τούτων ἀμφοτέρων κενός ἔσται ἄσβεστος αἰών for 6.25, with κενώσεται in the place of κενός ἔσται for 7.29. Hippolytus was interested in Empedocles' text only insofar as it was useful against his adversaries, so that it is hardly probable that he would have been bothered by the unmetricality of ἔσται, κενώσεται or ἄσβεστος. Even the senseless οὐδέπω τοίω would be acceptable in an edition of Hippolytus, if we assume that he received this reading and did not correct it, as it was not important to his argument.

Several untranslated Greek and Latin passages, technical, language, philological concepts and rules used with no explanation, and the specificity of the subjects make Lapini's book almost inaccessible to the non-specialist. Notwithstanding, trained readers will find the fascinating and very rewarding. It is not an exaggeration to say that this is one of those books that every person concerned with the subject should read as a reminder of the principles required for excellence in scholarship.

One final note: the book is perfectly written and edited; I could not find a single typographical error in it.

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