Friday, May 18, 2018


Mauro Tulli (ed.), Testo e forme del testo: ricerche di filologia filosofica. Ricerche di filologia classica, VII; Biblioteca di studi antichi, 97. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2016. Pp. xii, 408. ISBN 9788862277884. €125.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Geert Lernout, University of Antwerp (

Version at BMCR home site

These studies of editorial and exegetical issues in Greek philosophy began as contributions to a master's and doctor's seminar at the University of Pisa. Mauro Tulli expresses the hope in his introduction that in the "joyous polyphony" of these contributions might live the fruit of a "non breve tradizione" of his department, and as Chair of the Department of Literature and Linguistics he should be proud, both of the erudite work of his students and of the handsome volume that these young scholars have produced. How many universities in the world could produce fourteen contributions on Greek philology and philosophy?

In the first contribution of the opening section (on Plato), Andrea Beghini studies the narrative frame of the Axiochus, more specifically, the role of the Cynosarges in the opening lines of what is considered one of the spuria in the Platonic corpus. Before Socrates meets Axiochus' son, he is said to be going to the Cynosarges, and at the end of the dialogue he says he'll go there directly. Beghini argues against the traditional (and mostly German) interpretation which sees this as a reference to the Cynics and, for both internal and external reasons, he opts for an association with a burial ground that was close to the Cynosarges.

In a more philosophical essay, Maria Isabella Bertagna devotes the same kind of patient study to another textual detail with important structural significance: the fact that it is Hermogenes who first expounds the theory of names of Cratylus in the Platonic dialogue that carries the latter's name, while it is affirmed, repeatedly, that the name "Hermogenes" itself is problematic.

Even more general is Dino de Sanctis' study of the role of the encounter in the incipit of so many of Plato's dialogues, which he calls "a narrative technique that seems to have been theorized by Plato" (55), and its relevance for the poetics of the literary genre. He looks at the "exemplary" opening of the Republic and the role of the city of Athens "as an immense theatre scene in which Socrates plays the lead" (61) and the role of the prison, the gymnasium, the private house and, finally, the locus amoenus in the Phaedrus and the meeting with Io, to conclude that Plato managed to create a sophisticated new literary genre.

Marco Donato offers a detailed study of a fragment of Archilochus in another spurious Platonic dialogue. Prodicus cites one of the poet's lines in support of his argument which seems to claim the exact opposite of what his argument needs at this point (91). Donato attempts to interpret, first the original line in Archilochus and its role in the rest of the poet's oeuvre, and then its meaning in the dialogue.

Federico M. Petrucci looks at the recent debate about the authenticity of Hippias Major, which has divided European and English-speaking scholars. This author aims to show that the dialogue is authentic by closely studying and then rejecting the arguments against authenticity, most prominently those offered by Charles Kahn and Ernst Heitsch.

Mario Regali opens his essay on the role of Nestor in the Republic with the anomaly that Plato owes so much to Homer yet still will not admit him in his ideal polis. The seeming contradiction has been noted both in the earliest criticism among the Alexandrian philologists and in the biographies of the philosopher which posit that Plato was active as a literary author before he met Socrates. Regali shows how Plato portrays Socrates as Nestor and how, in the process, he finds a new use for literary techniques

Silvia Venturelli tackles the chronology of Plato's dialogue Io with a detailed discussion of a limited number of expressions in the text in order to demonstrate that, although exact dating will remain difficult, the traditional view that Io is an early dialogue remains plausible, "even on the basis of linguistic findings" (187).

In the longest contribution to the first section, on Platonic works, Claudia Zichi contributes a thorough study of the changing meaning of the term paidia in Plato's Sophist, a word that has not received much notice in recent criticism, despite the nine different meanings of that term that critics have distinguished. Zichi not only distinguishes positive, negative and neutral meanings of the term, she concludes that the negative meaning of the term is necessarily dominant in the Sophist, in which Plato attempts to distinguish the sophist from the genuine philosopher.

The second half of the book carries the title "Epicurea" and opens with an essay by Michele Corradi on the use of probable arguments in Plato, Aristotle and Epicurus, whom he sees as engaging in a dialogue at a distance, first Plato in the Theaetetus, then Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics and then Epicurus in his turn reacting to Aristotle. This essay is so well documented that the bibliography alone takes up twelve pages.

Vincenzo Damiani studies the influence of the archaic and Hellenistic poetic tradition of the didactic poem on De rerum naturae, more specifically the influence of the ways in which the Epicurean tradition adopted the epitomē as a genre for the transmission of Epicurus' philosophy – a genre pioneered by the philosopher himself, and used by his school and then in the Latin tradition to which Lucretius belongs. Damiani concludes that for Lucretius' poem the specifically Epicurean tradition of compendia was admittedly "less immediately visible" but at the same time decisive (273).

Margherita Erbí discusses the role of the practice of gift giving in the intellectual life of the Kēpos of Epicurus and his followers. With a bibliography of ten pages, this essay is exemplary in its eye for detail and its enormous documentation.

In a very short article, Alessio Mancini identifies a difficulty in Epicurus' Letter to Pythocles 93 (as preserved by Diogenes Laertius) for which different solutions have been offered and for which Mancini has found a new and elegant solution. Antonino Pittà needs a lot more space to tackle another difficulty in the same letter when section 98 appears to be a mere repetition of 115. Like Mancini, Pittà looks at the different interpretations, and then proceeds to demonstrate that the parallel passages help to show the correct interpretation of the animals mentioned here (contra Jean Bollack), but then he finds parallels in an unlikely location: Basil the Great's Homilies on Genesis: like Epicurus, the bishop dismisses astrology.

The final essay looks at the ambiguous role in Cicero's work, most prominently in De finibus and in De natura deorum, of the thinking of Epicurus on iudicium. Francesco Verde opens the discussion with the treatment of Epicurus in the Vitae philosophorum of Diogenes Laertius in order to show the importance of Cicero's interpretation of Epicurus, not just for an understanding of empiricism, but for a tiny reference in the second edition of Kant's Critik der reinen Vernunft, which Verde shows to have been based on Cicero.

Whether their focus is philological, philosophical or linguistic, these essays are exemplary for their judicious reading of the existing literature. Most of them were given first as research papers in seminars and the authors often gratefully mention the critiques of various colleagues. This is what scholarship should be. Rumors of the death of philology have been exaggerated: Greek philology is alive and well in Pisa.

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