Sunday, April 30, 2017


Franca Perusino (ed.), Per Bruno Gentili. Filologia e critica, 100. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2016. Pp. 198. ISBN 9788862278713. €58.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Roosevelt Rocha, Universidade Federal do Paraná (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Bruno Gentili is widely considered one of the most important Italian philologists of the second half of the twentieth century. In my opinion, his presence and activity were as influential in Italy as that of Martin West in England and Francisco Rodríguez Adrados in Spain. He started his career studying Byzantine themes, but soon, under the influence of Gennaro Perrotta, became interested in Greek metrics and archaic, especially melic, poetry. In 1942, he began teaching in a high school in Rome. Some years later, he came under the influence of Perrotta, who led him to the study of Greek metrics and archaic poetry. In 1948, the two of them published Polinnia, an anthology of elegiac, iambic and melic poetry, considered important at that time because of the amount of historical, cultural and philological information it contained.1 Gentili then wrote two books on metrics, Metrica Greca Arcaica (Archaic Greek Metrics), published in 1950, and La Metrica dei Greci (The Metrics of the Greeks), published in 1952, using the historical approach that he would apply in his future studies. Gentili did not just describe the meters, but instead tried to explain the way they worked. He also discussed the theories found in the ancient treatises on metrics, comparing the old theories with the modern ones, and often giving more credit to the ancient views. In the 1960s his interpretations started to become more interdisciplinary and he was greatly influenced by — and helped spread — the oral theory, first created by Milman Parry and Albert Lord and later developed by Eric Havelock. In fact, it was after reading Havelock's Preface to Plato that his studies took a turn to encompass the contribution of pragmatics, communication theory, anthropology and historical psychology.2 The outcome of these influences can be seen in his Poesia e pubblico nella Grecia antica, first published in 1984 and later translated into English and Spanish. In this book, Gentili studied the poetry of Archilochus and Sappho as oral poetry produced in a particular cultural and sociological environment, very much affected by religion and the expectations of the public. Making clear his disagreement with the formalist interpretations in vogue in the United States and England from the 1960s to the 1990s, Gentili asserted that ancient Greek poetry should be studied in its historical and cultural context while taking into account the specificities of the oral mode of production and transmission, in which the role of the public was decisive.

All this information and much more can be found in the book under review. Edited by Franca Perusino, Gentili's widow, the book is a collection of texts by 24 authors that pay homage to Gentili's work and memory. It is divided in three parts. After a preface by Perusino, we find a sequence of 22 texts of different lengths, arranged in alphabetical order, some very short (Camilleri's, for example, has 12 lines), some spanning a few pages, which provide information about Gentili's academic career (first in the Sapienza University in Rome, in Lecce between 1955 and 1956, and in Urbino from 1956 until his retirement in 1991), and about his works and theoretical contributions to the field of classical philology in Italy and abroad. The repetitiveness of this section can be explained by the fact that the texts were originally published individually in journals, magazines or on the internet.

The most interesting texts are those by Cerri, Privitera and Ruggiero. Cerri and Privitera not only write about Gentili's work and life, but also offer some interpretation and critiques that contribute to putting Gentili's achievements in perspective. Cerri, for instance, reminds the reader that it was through Gentili's work that Havelock's oral theory gained force in classical studies. Privitera, on the other hand, makes it clear that he disagrees with some interpretations of Gentili and Liana Lomiento in their book Metrica Greca. Storia delle forme poetiche in Grecia Antica (translated in 2008 into English with the title Metrics and Rhythmics: History of Poetic Forms in Ancient Greece). Ruggiero's contribution is interesting, in my view, because it deals with Gentili's activities not only as professor and philologist but also as a translator who tried to harmonize a semantic approach with his poetic sensibility and interest in the formal aspects of the texts. This compromise can be viewed in Gentili's translations of Anacreon in his edition of 1958, and in the editions of Pindar's Pythian Odes (1998) and Olympian Odes (2013).

In the second part of the book, we find a longer article by Benedetto on the role of Gentili in the Italian cultural context of the second half of the twentieth century, in which he interacted and disagreed with Croce's aesthetics and with Salvatore Quasimodo's translations of the Greek archaic poets, which were very popular in Italy at that time. The final text of the book is a tender note written by Gentili's grandson that deals with personal memories of the family. In the final pages there is also a section called 'Memories through photos', with pictures of Gentili with Bruno Snell, for example, and at academic events and the occasions in which he received awards.

This book is a beautiful way to keep Gentili's memory alive as well as being a good source for insight into his multifaceted personality and the Italian cultural environment in which he developed. I do think that the book would have been enriched with a complete bibliography of Gentili's books and articles.3 Nevertheless, the book is very well edited (as is usual with Fabrizio Serra Editore), with few typos, and pleasant to read.


Franca Perusino, Premessa 9
Paola Angeli Bernardini, Ricordo di Bruno Gentili 13
Maurizio Bettini, Addio al grecista Bruno Gentili, l'uomo che ci fece amare i lirici 21
Andrea Camilleri, Segnali di fumo 23
Luciano Canfora, Gentili, una vita per la poesia greca 25
Carlo Carena, Grecista e autore finissimo 27
Lorenzo Carnevali, Frammenti per Bruno Gentili. Ritratto arbitrario di un grande urbinate 29
Carmine Catenacci, Ricordo di Bruno Gentili 33
Giovanni Cerri, Ricordo di Bruno Gentili 43
Federico Condello, La filologia greca come un'arte: Bruno Gentili tra oral theory, metrica, canone lirico e allievi 55
Franco Ferrarotti, In memoriam di Bruno Gentili 57
Michele Galante, La scomparsa di Bruno Gentili, grande innovatore degli studi classici 59
Pietro Giannini, La scomparsa di Bruno Gentili 61
Marco Giuman, Ricordo 65
Antonietta Gostoli, Ricordo di Bruno Gentili 67
E. Christian Kopff, A Guiding Presence 73
Liana Lomiento, Ricordo di Bruno Gentili (Valmontone 20 novembre 1915-Roma 7 gennaio 2014) 77
Carles Miralles, Bruno Gentili, eminencia del belenismo 87
Lara Ottaviani, Addio a Bruno Gentili, fondatore della Facoltà di Lettere 89
G. Aurelio Privitera, Ricordo di Bruno Gentili 91
Fabio Ruggiero, Perché ricordare Gentili 99
Gennaro Tedeschi, Ricordo di Bruno Gentili 103
Angela Urbano, Bruno Gentili, il Maestro della lirica greca 115
Gentili, quel grecista tanto legato a Trieste, a cura della redazione de Il Piccolo di Trieste 117
Giovanni Benedetto, Classicità e contemporaneità: Bruno Gentili negli studi classici italiani del Novecento 119
Luca Blasio, Bruno Gentili, mio nonno 177
Ricordi per immagini 179


1.   Gentili and Perrotta were then very influenced by Benedetto Croce's aesthetics, dominant in Italy back then. The recently reedited version by Gentili and Carmine Catenacci (2007) eliminates Croce's aesthetics.
2.   It is important to remember that in 1966 Gentili founded the Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica, one of the most influential journals in the field of Classical Studies, to help publicize this kind of interpretation.
3.   We can find an early version of his bibliography in Tradizione e innovazione nella cultura greca da Omero all'età  ellenistica, edited by Roberto Pretagostini (1993).

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