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Through a series of innovative critical readings, Richard Hunter builds

a picture of how the ancients discussed the meaning of literary works
and their importance in society. He pays particular attention to the
interplay of criticism and creativity by not treating criticism in iso-
lation from the works which the critics discussed. Attention is given
both to the development of a history of criticism, as far as our sources
allow, and to the constant recurrence of similar themes across the
centuries. At the head of the book stands the contest of Aeschylus
and Euripides in Aristophanes Frogs, which foreshadows more of the
subsequent critical tradition than is often realised. Other chapters
are devoted to Euripides Cyclops; to ancient reflection on Greek and
Roman comedy; to the Augustan critic Dionysius of Halicarnassus;
to Longinus, On the Sublime; and to Plutarch. All Greek and Latin
is translated.

richard hunter is Regius Professor of Greek in the University

of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Trinity College. He has published
extensively in the fields of Greek and Latin literature; his most recent
books include Tradition and Innovation in Hellenistic Poetry (with M.
Fantuzzi, 2004), The Shadow of Callimachus (2006) and Wandering
Poets in Ancient Greek Culture (with I. Rutherford, 2008). Many of
his essays are collected in On Coming After: Studies in Post-Classical
Greek Literature and its Reception (2008).
Studies in the Ancient View of Literature
and its Uses

Regius Professor of Greek, University of Cambridge
cambri dge uni versi ty p re s s
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, Sao Paulo, Delhi

Cambridge University Press

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c Richard Hunter 2009

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Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data

Hunter, R. L. (Richard L.)
Critical moments in classical literature : Studies in the ancient view of literature and its uses /
Richard Hunter.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
isbn 978-0-521-51985-4 (hardback)
1. Greek literature History and criticism. 2. Greek literature Appreciation. I. Title.
pa3079.h86 2009
880.9 001 dc22 2009001092

isbn 978-0-521-51985-4 hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or

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in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such
websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

Acknowledgements page vi
List of abbreviations vii

Introduction 1
1 Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 10
2 Readings of Homer: Euripides Cyclops 53
3 Comic moments 78
4 The ugly peasant and the naked virgins: Dionysius of
Halicarnassus, On Imitation 107
5 The grand and the less grand: Longinus, On the Sublime 128
6 Reading for life: Plutarch, How the young man should study
poetry 169

Bibliography 202
Index of passages discussed 212
General index 215


Much of this book has been inflicted on (too) many seminar and lecture
audiences over the past few years, and it is to their questions and criticisms,
and the opportunity for self-criticism which they offered, that I am most
indebted. I would also like to thank Michael Sharp of Cambridge Uni-
versity Press for his support and the Presss anonymous readers for their
I owe a particular debt to the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foun-
dation, which supported a period of research in Athens and Thessaloniki
in 2006, during which serious reading and thinking for some of this book
got underway.


Standard abbreviations for collections and editions of texts and for works
of reference are used, but the following may be noted:

FGrHist F. Jacoby, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker

(Berlin and Leiden, 1923)
GowPage, HE A. S. F. Gow and D. L. Page, The Greek Anthology.
Hellenistic Epigrams (Cambridge, 1965)
LIMC Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae
(Zurich, 198199)
RE A. Pauly, G. Wissowa and W. Kroll,
Real-Encyclopadie d. klassischen Altertumswissenschaft
(Stuttgart and Munich, 18931978)
S scholium (on)
TrGF Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta (Gottingen,


At an important transition within the Ars Poetica Horace announces that

he himself will abandon poetry, because (thanks to appropriate purges) he
does not suffer from inspired madness; instead he will become a Professor
of Creative Writing:
ergo fungar uice cotis, acutum
reddere quae ferrum ualet exsors ipsa secandi;
munus et officium, nil scribens ipse, docebo,
unde parentur opes, quid alat formetque poetam,
quid deceat, quid non, quo uirtus, quo ferat error.
(Horace, Ars Poetica 3048)
Thus Ill play the part of a whetstone, which can sharpen iron, though it itself
cannot cut. I will write nothing myself, but will teach the office and task of the
poet the source of his material, what nurtures and shapes him, what he should
do and what not, where virtue leads, and where error.
Horace here plays, as he does in the Satires, with the allegedly un-poetic
nature of verse, particularly didactic verse, on banal or technical subjects,1
but what might strike a modern reader is the strongly educational, not to
say moralising flavour of Horaces treatment both of the writing of poetry
and of his role as a teacher. Horaces attitude, as we shall see throughout
this book, is not in fact untypical for antiquity, but, typically also, Horaces
is no conventional handling of traditional material.
By Horaces day poetry had been the basis of the early stages of educa-
tion for several centuries and was to continue in this role; it was, as for
example Plutarchs essay How the young man should study poetry clearly
demonstrates,2 poetry which taught young men their munera et officia,
and which thus nurtured and shaped them. Although one of the roles
which didactic writing often imposes upon its audience is that of being

1 For related issues in other didactic verse see Hunter 2006b.

2 See Chapter 6 below.

2 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
children,3 and although Horace elsewhere stresses the youth of the Pisones
to whom the Ars is addressed (see v. 366), writing about poetry itself is
a special case, for poetry lay at the heart of classical education. Horace
gives emphasis to the point immediately afterwards by his description of
the Roman obsession with arithmetic and money in primary education
(vv. 32532), where there is a clear, if implicit, comparison with the stress
in Greek education upon poetry and the development of stylistic skills
(cf. vv. 3235). In the passage under discussion Horace has turned the rela-
tionship of poetry and education around so that it is now the child poet
who needs to be instructed, to be nurtured and shaped. We may be
reminded of the famous anecdote in which Virgil is said to have described
his pattern of working on the Georgics as licking the poem into shape, as
a mother bear was said to lick her formless young into shape;4 in Horace,
it is the poet himself, not the poems, who needs this treatment.
Our earliest explicit witness to the discourse which Horace assumes is
the analogy which the Aristophanic Aeschylus draws between the role of
schoolteachers for children and that of poets for adults (Frogs 10545).
In Horaces text the influence of the critical and ethical theory of the
intervening centuries is very obvious, but it is the Frogs which, at least for
us and, to an important extent, for antiquity as well, set the parameters of
discussion. The reader of ancient critical texts is constantly confronted and
perhaps surprised by his or her memories of the Frogs; whether these are in
fact deliberate textual memories or echoes is often difficult to determine and
will sometimes not, in any case, be the most important question about the
textual relationship. For us the Frogs dramatises, as Platos Protagoras was to
do some years later, the emergence of a language of literary criticism5 and
the emergence of the critic; as with the closely related satire of intellectual
movements in the Clouds, Aristophanes no doubt had in mind in the Frogs
real contemporary developments, and probably also comic predecessors,
but the state of our evidence means that we will never be able to proceed
beyond discerning the tantalising traces of the outline of a history of
the ideas which for us first surface in the Frogs. One of the aims of this
book is to make some of those traces more visible. However influential
the Frogs undoubtedly was at different periods of ancient thinking about
literature and its heritage, a confrontation between the comedy and the

3 Hence Lucretius famous simile of the honey round the cup (1.93550), see below p. 188.
4 Suetonius, De Poetis 23.90 Rostagni; Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae 17.10; see below p. 162; the verbs
used in the anecdote are fingere, effingere and conformare.
5 For some of the problems with assessing the Frogs in this regard see Dover 1993: 323; Willi 2003:
Introduction 3
later tradition must be aimed not principally at the usually hopeless task
of trying to establish clear lines of descent, but rather at seeing whether
patterns of similarity can have an explanatory power for both the comedy
and the later texts. Examples are scattered throughout this book, but a few
cases here may illustrate some of the different issues which arise. I begin
by returning to the passage of Horace from which I started.
Poets have a munus et officium, just as all craftsmen have a function,
an rgon, which it is theirs to perform: this is what they do.6 Horaces
language is, however, tinged both with the imperative force of an appeal
to traditional Roman values and with a moral earnestness which lifts the
poets role beyond the neutrality of function or rgon, and indeed beyond
modern ideas of what poetry is: this is also what poets should do. Both the
prescriptive language and the moral earnestness take us back again to the
Aristophanic Aeschylus and to his perception of the role of poetry in society:
tata gr ndrav cr poihtv sken, this is what poets should work
at (Frogs 1030). The realignment of language and ideas that are used to
depict social or ethical positions towards more purely rhetorical or literary
virtues is another familiar pattern of ancient criticism, and one which we
will meet again.
Horace picks up the duty of the poet in verses 3334 when he considers
the two possible aims which a poet might have:
aut prodesse uolunt aut delectare poetae
aut simul et iucunda et idonea dicere uitae.
(Horace, Ars Poetica 3334)
Poets aim to be of benefit or to give delight or simultaneously to say things which
are both pleasing and appropriate for life.
A whole book could of course be written on the origins and development of
this triad of aims in ancient poetry and thinking about poetry, but though
Horace may well have his eye on Hellenistic critics such as Neoptolemus,7
the Frogs too demands our attention. One of Aeschylus claims for the
beneficial role of his poetry is based on the effect of Persians:
Ai. eta didxav Prsav met tot piqumen xeddaxa
nikn e tov ntiplouv, kosmsav rgon riston.
Di. crhn gon, nk + kousa per + Dareou teqnetov,
crov d eqv t cer d sugkrosav epen auo.
(Aristophanes, Frogs 10269)

6 See Brink on v. 306; Norden 1905: 498502.

7 See Brink 1971: 3523, citing Neoptolemus as quoted by Philodemus, On Poems V xvi.1014 Mangoni.
4 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
aesch. Then after this by putting on (didaxas) The Persians I taught (exedidaxa)
the Athenians to want always to defeat the enemy, by celebrating a most
heroic deed.
dion. I certainly enjoyed it when . . . the dead Darius, and the chorus immediately
knocked its hands together like this and cried iau!

Here then is the Horatian dichotomy with an added twist: the same poem
can be instructive and pleasurable, but it can be so for different sections
of its audience.8 The critical dichotomy had almost certainly not been
formulated in stark Horatian terms as early as the late fifth century, but
the Aristophanic context here is precisely the social role of poetry, how
poets make men better in the cities (Frogs 100910), and pleasure too
had long been central to thinking about how audiences react to poetry; as
so often, what later becomes explicit is already woven into the fabric of
the Frogs. Moreover, Horaces apparent gloss on being beneficial, saying
things appropriate for life, embraces a very wide range of subject matter:
the Iliad meets the requirement because, however unlikely it is that we
will find ourselves in the position of an Agamemnon or an Achilles, the
emotions and ethical choices of the characters carry lessons for the most
humble of us, as the whole ancient scholiastic tradition amply attests.
Nevertheless, the phrase also evokes a closeness between the subject matter
of poetry and our own lives, and here it seems hard not to remember
the boast of the Aristophanic Euripides that he brought tragedy within the
understanding of the audience by introducing okea prgmata, familiar,
but also appropriate things (Frogs 959), things idonea uitae we might well
say.9 Some of the questions which both Euripides (implicitly) and modern
critics (explicitly) have asked about Aeschylus catalogue of the benefits of
poets to society (Frogs 10316)10 are already posed by Horaces choice of
language: in what does the benefit of poets for our own lives actually exist?
We shall return to the question.11
The language and imagery of ancient criticism is remarkably persistent
over time. The weighing scene of Frogs may be indebted to Aeschylus
Psychostasia, in which the souls of Achilles and Memnon were weighed
against each other on Zeuss scales and on one side Thetis, on the
other Eos, pleaded for their sons who were fighting (Plutarch, How the
young man . . . 17a),12 but it also very probably illustrates the typically
Aristophanic phenomenon of the literalisation of an existing metaphorical
8 On this distinction in Frogs see further below pp. 259, 378.
9 On this phrase see below pp. 1820. 10 See below p. 49. 11 See below pp. 4852.
12 For a full account of the testimonia see TrGF vol. iii, pp. 3745.
Introduction 5
language;13 intellectual weighing up becomes physical measurement. In
its turn, the weighing scene might have influenced the critical termino-
logy which followed it. Tristano Gargiulo has attractively suggested that
kaqlkein draws down, used in a very difficult passage of the prologue of
Callimachus Aitia (fr. 1.9) of the opposition between two poems, borrows
and reverses, as well as re-metaphorising, the image of the Frogs.14 Be that
as it may, we may also sense the Frogs somewhere behind Plutarchs advice
that one way of counteracting the potentially baneful influence of morally
dubious passages of literature is to point out to young readers that there are
other quotations which can be used as a balance, so that the scales incline
to the better side (Plutarch, How the young man . . . 21d). There is here
(once again) a shared heritage whose exact development we can no longer
As a second case, we may consider a small example of the familiar
critical problem of the relationship between a poets character and the style
of his poetry, a problem in which Aristophanes revels, for example, in
his portrayal of Agathon in Thesmophoriazousai. In the Frogs Aeschylus is
reluctant to enter debate and falls into brooding silence (like, of course,
one of his own characters, as the comic Euripides would have us believe).15
At one point Dionysus has to urge him to answer the question:
Ascle, lxon mhd aqdwv semnunmenov calpaine.
(Aristophanes, Frogs 1020)
Aeschylus, speak and dont get annoyed all self-willed and haughty!
aqdeia, a surly refusal to go with the crowd, is ascribed to Aeschylus in
part because it is an Achillean characteristic which distinguishes him from
Euripides, who is portrayed as only too keen to ingratiate himself with
popular taste. It was, however, also to become a stylistic term, and one well
suited to Aeschylean style.16 For Dionysius of Halicarnassus, the austere
style, of which Aeschylus was the pre-eminent tragic example, had a beauty
marked by an archaic and self-willed flavour (rcaikn d ti ka aqadev
pideknutai kllov, On the Arrangement of Words 22.35),17 and Dio
Chrysostom too finds in Aeschylus great nobility and an archaic flavour,
and a self-willed (aqadev) quality to the thought and diction (52.4, 15).18

13 The most familiar example is probably the Kings Eye of the Acharnians. Another way of putting
this would be to see a comic confusion of the literal and metaphorical senses of staqmw (Frogs
797, see LSJ s.v.).
14 Gargiulo 1992. 15 See further below. 16 See, e.g., Muller 2000: 25960.
17 Longinus, On the Sublime 22.3 applies the term, as does Dionysius elsewhere, to Thucydides.
18 On this speech of Dio see further below pp. 3948.
6 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
Here the sense of a link between Aristophanes portrayal of the poet and
later critical terminology is strong; both the Aristophanic Euripides (vv.
92434) and the later tradition comment on the idiosyncratic nature of
the Aeschylean poetic lexicon (cf. Dion. Hal. On Imitation 2.10 Aujac:
poihtv dwn nomtwn ka pragmtwn, a poet/creator of words and
things which belong only to him), and at Frogs 837 Euripides himself calls
Aeschylus aqadstomov. What the nature of that link is, we are unlikely
ever to be able to explicate in full,19 but it would also be nave simply to
ignore the possibility that Aristophanes himself has here picked something
up from what seems to have been an explosion of critical terminology at
the end of the fifth century.
Aeschylus initial silence itself (Frogs 832) and the silences which Euripi-
des accuses him of having introduced into his plays (Frogs 91120) both had
a long history and were to have an illustrious future.20 Although Aeschylus
is, in the first place, playing out the role of his own Achilles, the most
famous silence in Greek literature was, and was to remain, that of the
ghost of Ajax before Odysseus in the Underworld in Odyssey 11. Like the
Aristophanic Aeschylus, the ghost of Ajax is angry (the point is made with
remarkable insistence, Odyssey 11.544, 554, 562, 565), and both anger and
silence could be, in the later tradition, grand, sublime effects, and thus
very much in keeping with the grandplain critical dichotomy at the
head of which the Frogs stands. Virgil was, of course, to use the Homeric
scene to write one of the most sublime of all passages, Didos silence
before Aeneas in the Underworld.21 Longinus describes Ajaxs silence as
grand and more sublime than any words (On the Sublime 9.2) and uses
it to illustrate his aphorism that sublimity is the echo of greatness of
mind (megalojrosnh);22 silence was then to have an important role
in eighteenth-century discussions of the sublime.23 When the scholiast on
Odyssey 11.563 (So I spoke, but he made no answer . . .) observes that
Ajaxs silence is better than the speeches in tragedy, it is hard perhaps

19 Willi 2003: 59 is rightly cautious about this example, but the matter is more complex than he
represents it.
20 The fullest discussion of Aeschylean practice itself in this matter remains Taplin 1972.
21 Aeneid 6.469, illa solo fixos oculos auersa tenebat, perhaps picks up the Argonauts stunned reac-
tion to the appearance of the solar Apollo at Ap. Rhod. Argon. 2.683 (on this passage see below
pp. 1439); if so, the appearance of Dido in the Underworld is framed by two sublime moments
taken from the Argonautica (vv. 4524 deriving from Argon. 4.147780), and Didos first and last
glimpses of Aeneas cast him as the brilliant sun-god (cf. Aeneid 1.58693). For Dido and Aeneas as
the moon and the sun more generally see Hardie 2006.
22 On Longinus view of Ajaxs silence see Halliwell 2003: 724.
23 See Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry . . . Part II, Section VI (= Burke 1958: 701). On silence, anger
and sublimity see further below pp. 1456.
Introduction 7
not to recall Dionysus reaction to Euripides denunciation of Aeschylean
g d cairon ti siwpi, ka me tot terpen
oc tton nn o lalontev.
(Aristophanes, Frogs 91617)
I liked the silence I got no less pleasure from it than from the modern chatter-
Just as no single pattern can explain all the apparent echoes of the Frogs
throughout antiquity, even when we have made allowance for the fact that
this play figures larger on our horizons than it might have done in antiquity,
so too the spread of our evidence does not allow the writing of any linear
narrative of ancient criticism and thinking about literature. Some small
bits of the most obvious gaping hole in our knowledge the Hellenistic
period are being filled in by the publication and discussion of new texts
of Philodemus, and the recent renewed interest in scholia bodes well for
advances in understanding. Nevertheless, the overall picture is desperately
patchy and uneven. In most modern histories of these subjects, the figures
of Plato and Aristotle rightly loom large: in their very different ways, the
engagement of the two philosophers with both poetry and rhetorical prose
mark a, rather than the, beginning of a discipline which still flourishes today
and much of which is still informed by their concerns. Plato and Aristotle
will, of course, be very important in this book too, though no single chapter
is devoted to them. Whether it be foreshadowings in the Frogs of the critical
concepts and literary histories which Plato and Aristotle systematised,
or the importance of their ethical and political ideas for thinking about
comedy, or the omnipresence of Plato in the critical works of Dionysius
of Halicarnassus, Longinus and Plutarch, there is no getting away from
these two great figures. Nevertheless, there are other critical currents which
preceded them and then persisted after them, often affected by them but
also with their own independent momentum, and I hope that this book also
gives some of these currents their due. The institutional and disciplinary
implications of the term criticism have sometimes served to conceal the
variety of ancient ways of thinking about the literary heritage; I hope that
the chapter devoted to Euripides Cyclops will illustrate not just how the
process of literary mimesis was in antiquity, as it is today, also a critical
process, but also how, in the Athens of the later fifth century no less than
in Ptolemaic Alexandria or Augustan Rome, reflection upon the literature
of the past went hand-in-hand with the creation of the literature of the
present. Like scholarship, criticism as a particular activity, whether rgon,
8 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
tcnh or ars, does of course have its own history, and I hope that this book
will indeed contribute to the writing of that history. Nevertheless, without
the disciplinary straitjacket that criticism imposes, histories of literary
criticism in antiquity would, for example, devote considerable space to
tragedys pervasive and notorious engagement with its epic ancestor, and
not just to notorious one-offs, such as Electras debunking of Aeschylean
recognition tokens in Euripides Electra.
As is well known, from what are to us its very beginnings Greek poetry
seems to have contained an important strain of reflection upon its own
nature and history (the concern with song in the Odyssey is perhaps the
most familiar example), and it is very probable that early prose followed
suit. Thucydides famous reflections upon the nature of his own and his
predecessors writing of history may seem to speak with a new explicit-
ness and a new vocabulary, but Herodotus self-positioning against Homer
already reflects an equally powerful, if rather differently directed, self-
consciousness. These elements within archaic and classical literature have
been very much studied, and they here remain in the background; so
too, though I have tried throughout to call attention to the interplay
between the practice and criticism of poetry, I am very conscious that this
book is not the much-needed study of the mutual interchange between
poetic imagery and ideas and the language of ancient criticism.24 Although
some very loose chronological pattern may be divined in the arrangement
of the chapters, it will be very clear that even less is this book intended
to be another survey of ancient literary criticism. The choice of texts
around which individual chapters revolve was in part almost inevitable
(Frogs, Longinus) and, in part, dictated by a wish to bring out some of
the dominant directions of the ancient engagement with literature. I have
been concerned to show how themes and ideas constantly reappear over
time and in different genres (as, for example, Thucydides programmatic
pronouncements share ideas with the dichotomies of the Frogs and look
forward to important currents of later rhetorical criticism),25 thus suggest-
ing a more fruitful way of studying critical traditions than the more usual
narrative history, and to pay particular attention, as the books subtitle and
the passages from which I began suggest, to antiquitys concern with what
literature was for, what its uses were. It is a utilitarian view of literature and
of literary criticism which predominated in antiquity, and I hope that it
will become clear why this made sense in antiquity and why it still should.
24 For some possible directions for such a study see below pp. 1257 on Horace and Dionysius of
25 See Hunter 2003c.
Introduction 9
This book takes bits of the story into the second century ad, but not seri-
ously beyond that,26 though of course the date of scholia is often disputed,
and I hope that how much we can learn from, say, Eustathius commen-
taries on Homer will repeatedly emerge. The story did not, of course, stop
there, but it may be that the extraordinary uvre of the century-straddling
figure of Plutarch offers an endpoint which both does not misrepresent too
badly the pattern of ancient criticism as it emerges from the texts which
have survived to us and looks forward to the sophisticated work of the
centuries to come. Not, of course, that chronological order is the only
necessary way in which the story can be told. The dominant currents of
later antiquity, above all neo-Platonic and allegorical criticism (of a variety
of hues), continued many of the critical directions of the periods treated
in this book and, as we shall see, the central importance of Platonic (and
quasi-Platonic) ideas is already very strongly marked in the critical and
rhetorical texts of the early empire; nevertheless, the intellectual structure
and educational purposes of the most important texts in these other tra-
ditions demand separate treatment, and in this they have indeed been
fortunate in recent years.27 One conviction, however, which all traditions
shared and which indeed helps to explain the metamorphoses through
which the reception of literature passed was that classical literature actually
mattered; it was worth the continuing struggle to understand and exploit,
even as intellectual and cultural contexts shifted. I hope that some sense
that classical literature and classical interpretation still matter also emerges
from this book; a persistent conviction of this truth, together with the
pleasures that that conviction brings, are in fact what gave birth to it.

26 I assume the standard dating for Longinus, see below p. 128 n. 1.

27 See, e.g., Lamberton 1989, Dawson 1992, Struck 2004. For some continuities between Longinus
and later criticism see Heath 1999 (though he would not put it like this) and Hunter forthcoming.
chapter 1

Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition

tragic history
As the second half of the Frogs opens,1 one of Plutos slaves explains to
Xanthias the system of rewards given in the Underworld to the pre-eminent
practitioner of each of the important and clever technai. Aeschylus holds
the position for tragedy, but that is now under threat:
O. te d katlq Eripdhv, pedeknuto
tov lwpodtaiv ka tosi ballantiotmoiv
ka tosi patraloaisi ka toicwrcoiv,
per st n Aidou plqov. o d kromenoi
tn ntilogin ka lugismn ka strojn
peremnhsan knmisan sojtaton
kpeit parqev ntelbeto to qrnou,
n Asclov kaqsto.
Xa. kok blleto;
O. m D, ll dmov neba krsin poen
pterov eh tn tcnhn sojterov.
Xa. tn panorgwn;
O. n D, ornion g son.
Xa. met Asclou d ok san teroi smmacoi;
O. lgon t crhstn stin, sper nqde.
(Aristophanes, Frogs 77183)
slave. When Euripides came down, he put on shows for the pickpockets and
muggers and cut-throats and burglars theres a lot of them in Hades. When
they heard his antilogies and twistings and turnings, they went crazy and

1 The sense of a major structural break is given by the strong closural sense of vv. 66871, in which
Dionysus and Xanthias are admitted to Plutos palace (the geographical, if not emotional, object of
their journey), the intervening parabasis, and the prologue-like conversation between the two slaves
which follows; see Dover 1993: 6. With vv. 75960, something, something very big is stirring, big
indeed, among the dead and there is huge strife, designed to stir the audiences curiosity, compare
Lysistratas complaints about the women not arriving for no insignificant matter (v. 14), but one
which is big and fat (vv. 234) at the start of her play.

Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 11
thought him the best; he then fancied himself and laid claim to the chair [of
honour] where Aeschylus sat.
xan. Didnt people throw things at him?
slave. Not at all, but the demos shouted that there should be a contest (krisis) to
see who was the better in the art.
xan. You mean the criminals?
slave. Yes, they shouted to the heavens!
xan. Didnt Aeschylus have supporters too?
slave. People of worth are scarce, just like here.
The precise nature of Euripides epideixeis (displays) is unfortunately not
spelled out for us. In some ways the closest parallel to the slaves account
is the Platonic Socrates description (apparently) of a proagon at which
Agathon appeared before the citizens with his actors to give an epideixis of
[his own] logoi (Symposium 194b34). What actually happened at a proagon,
in which poets and plays to compete at the festival proper were somehow
presented to the audience, remains very obscure, but one of our very few
other sources speaks of an epideixis of the dramas which would compete
in the theatre.2 Socrates may be speaking loosely (as well as teasingly), and
it might be thought improbable that poets would perform extracts from
coming plays rather than merely announce subjects or titles, but some kind
of dramatic taster as a way of whetting the audiences appetite is at least
hardly unthinkable, and Euripides Underworld performances are indeed
his way of introducing himself to the audience.
Whether or not a theatrical proagon is also evoked here, it is well
recognised that Euripides arrival in the Underworld and his subsequent
behaviour are likened to the epideixis of a sophist visiting Athens.3 We are
perhaps to imagine that Euripides posthumous performances consisted in
solo recitals of extracts from his plays, less perhaps a praelection before
the (really) dead for the Chair of Tragedy than a series of greatest hits
concerts, of a kind that was to become very common in the festival culture
of the Hellenistic world. Leonard Woodbury has indeed suggested that
we are to understand that Euripides brought with him to the Underworld
a new form of performance (formal recitations), which had been inau-
gurated in Greece, under sophistic influence, in the second half of the
century, after the death of Aeschylus;4 if so, then this will be an example
of what we will come to recognise as an important feature of the contest
2 Scholium on Aeschines, Against Ctesiphon 67 (p. 119 Dilts), see Pickard-Cambridge 1968: 678.
3 See, e.g., Woodbury 1986: 2423 and the notes of Del Corno 1985 and Sommerstein 1996 on v. 771.
A rather different angle on the passage is taken by Rosen 2006: 346.
4 Woodbury 1986: 242. Woodbury has an interesting discussion of the possible role for books or
written scripts in such epideixeis, but it must be admitted that this is not strictly necessary.
12 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
in Frogs, namely the way in which not just a snapshot in time of a stark
literary contrast is dramatised, but also a process, no less in fact than the
developmental history of tragedy over time. Be that as it may, if the slaves
account naturally makes us think of the reports of the Sicilian Gorgias
effect on the Athenians when they first heard his antitheses and isokola
and parisa and homoioteleuta and suchlike (Diod. Sic. 12.53.4 = Gorgias
A4 D-K), it is rather Plato who provides us with the best comparative
evidence for the effect of the dead Euripides upon his audience. In the
Protagoras, for example, the great sophists demonstration of an inconsis-
tency in Simonides poem is greeted by uproarious praise from the large
audience (pollov qrubon . . . ka painon tn kountwn, 339d10).
We may also think of the Platonic Hippias epideixeis, whether before large
audiences (clov polv, Hipp. Min. 364b7) in Athens, or the assembled
Hellenes at Olympia (363c7d4). Hippias sees these appearances as con-
tests on a par with (indeed surpassing) those of the athletes (364a39),
and this may remind us that Euripides agonistic spirit, his desire (and that
of the rabble which followed him, Frogs 77981) for a public contest, is
itself part of the portrayal of modern man. A challenge to the universally
acknowledged supremacy of Aeschylus might be thought a (comically) out-
rageous challenge to the shared cultural assumptions of the community of
the dead,5 no less than the newly educated Pheidippides offer to demon-
strate his right to strike his mother as well as his father (Clouds 14406);
part of the provocation of these challenges lies precisely in the pleasures of
contest and paradox, and paradox was (as we know) a central tool in the
art of epideixis.
It is, however, the Euthydemus of Plato which the Aristophanic scene
most calls to mind. Like Euripides (Frogs 774), the confrontation of Socrates
with the pair of displaying sophists attracts a great crowd (polv clov
placed significantly at the opening of the dialogue, 271a2, cf. 304d9). The
brothers are in Athens to display their sophia, and they do not disappoint
their claque of fans who react with amused uproar at their apparent suc-
cess (276b67, 276d1); the brothers sophia is what drives their fans crazy
(276d2): everyone present praised the performance and the two men to
the skies (perepinese) they almost died with laughing and clapping
and enjoying themselves (303b, cf. 274a). We can hardly fail here to recall
the enthusiastic reaction (peremnhsan) of the Underworld underworld
to Euripides antilogies and twistings and turnings they thought him
sophotatos (Frogs 776). The brothers are verbal wrestlers no less than the

5 See Olson on Acharnians 236 for the pelting which Euripides might well have expected (v. 778).
Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 13
Aristophanic Euripides (271d272a, 277d12, 278b7, cf. Frogs 775); unlike
Gorgias, Euripides and the brothers grip the audience, not or not pri-
marily with their verbal style, but rather with their arguments. Moreover,
those who admire Euripides forensic dodges reveal thereby their moral
badness, or in the case of the Underworld it has already been revealed
by a criminal record. The idea persisted in the critical and educational
traditions, as the following stern warning from Plutarchs How the young
man should study poetry makes clear:6
It is particularly necessary to [award moral praise and censure] in the case of
tragedies, which contain plausible and cunning arguments for disreputable and
wicked actions . . . Euripides represented Phaedra as accusing Theseus because it
was through his mistakes that she fell in love with Hippolytus, and, similarly, in
the Trojan Women he gives Helen the freedom to say against Hecuba that it is she
who should be punished, not Helen herself, because Hecuba had given birth to the
man who seduced Helen. The young man must be trained not to think any such
argument witty and cunning and he must not smile at such verbal inventiveness
(erhsilogai), but he must loathe the arguments of wantonness even more than
its deeds. (Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 27f28a)
The distinction which the Aristophanic slave makes between the audience
which enjoys Aeschylus and that which enjoys Euripides heralds in fact
what was to become a crucial element in subsequent representations of
theatrical history and culture. Thus, for example, in the eighth book of
the Politics, Aristotle picking up Platos narrative in Laws 3 (see below)
notes that a gentleman (leqerov) should not train in musical skill to a
professional level where he could take part in competitions because such
artists aim not at their own arete, but at the pleasure of the audience, and it
is a pleasure which is vulgar (1341b1012). For Aristotle, there are two kinds
of spectator, the educated gentleman, and the vulgar spectator, drawn from
the class of manual workers, low labourers (qtev) and suchlike (1342a19
20); here very clearly is the Aristophanic distinction, though expressed in
Aristotles social code, rather than the code of comedy.
For Plato the brother-sophists of the Euthydemus are aiming at the wrong
target at hollow success and notoriety rather than truth; in modern idiom
we might say that, for Plato, this is prostituting philosophy, not unlike
perhaps some of the criticism which one sometimes hears of academics
who make (allegedly) large sums of money by popularising their knowl-
edge on radio and television. As with this latter case, of course, there is
always another, and more flattering, way that such activities can be viewed;

6 See Chapter 6 below.

14 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
everything depends on who is telling the story, and neither Aristophanes
nor Plato was a neutral observer of the cultural scene, and neither is likely
to have played fair. Be that as it may, the contest in the Frogs will show
Euripides art also to be hollow at its core, an art which perverts true
tragedy, as Platos brothers pervert true philosophy (see 307ac).
That a great deal is in fact at stake here is shown by another Platonic
narrative which tells a somewhat similar story. In a famous passage in
the third book of the Laws, Plato considers the parallel development of
government and musical performances at Athens (698a701d). Once upon
a time music and poetry were divided into clearly distinguished types or
genres which were listened to in respectful silence; with the passage of time,
however, came poets and performers, leaders of unmusical paranomia
(3.700d2), who though poetical by nature were ignorant of what was just
and lawful (nmimon) with regard to the Muse (3.700d45). These men
mixed up and confused the different musical categories as though music
had absolutely no standard of correctness (rqthv), but was judged most
correctly by the pleasure of the hearer, whether he be a good man or a bad
one (700e24). This led to paranomia in the audience and the rise of a
noisy and undisciplined theatrokratia in place of the aristokratia which had
been in control before;7 what was worse, things did not stop there, but the
newly found power of the masses with regard to music led them to throw
off their fears in regard to other matters also, and the result was a freedom
which is excessive and reckless (701b2, cf. 699e3) and finally a breakdown
of all social authority and respect for religion (701bc). There are elements
here which bring the Frogs to mind the uneducated shouting of the mob
(700c2) reigns in the Underworld as on earth (cf. Frogs 77981) but what
is most important is the narrative of an abandonment of what is correct
in favour of rule by popular pleasure rather than educated judgement, and
the link which Plato makes between musical and theatrical licence and the
breakdown of social order and hierarchy. Plato describes a kind of chain
reaction. Indiscipline and the pursuit of pleasure first infect the poets: in
bacchic ecstasy (bakceontev) and possessed (katecmenoi) more than was
appropriate by pleasure (700d56) gives a pointed spin to ideas of poetic
inspiration8 in order to suggest that, like the Theban women of Euripides
Bacchae, the poets have thrown off all conventional restraint and respect
for hierarchy and the order of things. After this, it is the mass of the people
who catch a taste for this licence, first in their musical lives and then as
7 On the historicity of Platos account see Wallace 1997.
8 Of particular relevance is, of course, Plato, Ion 533e534b (note 534a4 bakceousi ka katecmenoi
Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 15
citizens. What is left, at least in the comic vision, is the few good men
(Frogs 783) who support the claims and tragedy of Aeschylus.
No less than Platos account of music in the third book of the Laws,
the Frogs tells a story of the history of tragedy. In this history a principal
characteristic of Aeschylus drama, at least as presented by Euripides, is the
prominence of the chorus (91420) and hence by modern standards
the smaller role of individual characters. In the Poetics Aristotle
claims that Aeschylus increased the number of actors from one to two,
reduced the choral element (t to coro) and gave speech the principal
role (1449a1518); this particularly the last element9 which would greatly
surprise the Aristophanic Euripides might seem to run counter to the
satirical picture in Frogs, but in fact the two different perspectives, one
comic and one historical, are telling the same story. Aristotle clearly sees
in the history of tragedy a gradual move from lyric song to speech, and
this too is the picture which the Frogs offers. The Frogs lets us see that as
early as the late fifth century the relative prominence of the chorus was
already a notable feature of discussion of the history of tragedy, and it was
particularly in his treatment of the chorus that Aeschylus could be seen to
be archaic. For the Aristophanic Euripides the chorus is not really part of
the play and the audience do not really listen to it: rather, in Aeschylean
tragedy, while the chorus is singing the audience are wondering when the
real talking is going to start (91920), whereas in the case of Euripides
himself the drma, the real action, begins with the first verse and never
lets up (94550, contrast 920, 923 of Aeschylus). Aristotles later protest,
itself problematic given the philosophers view of what was important in
tragedy,10 that the chorus should be treated as one of the actors, should
be a part of the whole and contribute to the action, as in Sophocles but
not in Euripides (Poetics 1456a257) may thus be seen to be a contribution
to a debate already under way in Frogs. The Aristophanic Euripides might
well in fact have applauded the modern practice of asking students to read
the iambic parts of plays only; this is normally excused on the grounds
of the linguistic difficulty of the choral parts, but the idea that the choral
parts are not really part of the action perhaps still lurks over educational
practice. Be that as it may, this idea was, as we know, to have a profound
influence on Hellenistic performance practice and, indeed, critical theory.
At the other end of this development Dio Chrysostom describes his own

9 For the influence of such accounts see, e.g., Philostratus, Vita Apollonii 6.11.10 (= Aeschylus T106
10 See, e.g., Halliwell 1987: 1524.
16 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
fondness for listening to all forms of performance, but especially drama;
this leads him to a description of drama as performed in his own day:
Every part of comedy is preserved, but of tragedy only apparently the strong parts
(t scur); by this I mean the iambics, and parts of these they deliver in the
theatres. The softer parts (t malaktera), namely the lyrics (t per t mlh),
have fallen into oblivion. As perhaps in the case of the old, the firm parts of the
body, namely the bones and the muscles, resist the passing of time, whereas the
rest diminish; thus it is that the bodies of the very old are wasted and shrunken . . .
(Dio Chrysostom 19.5)
Here we should remember not just Euripides dietary treatment of the
tragic art (Frogs 93944), but specifically his notorious sinews of tragedy
(t nera tv tragwidav) at Frogs 862;11 although the idea of a literary
text as a body is familiar enough, Dio seems to have picked up and
elaborated this particular Aristophanic idea from a play with which he was
very familiar.12 Tragedy is now very old; it moved from growth to decay
long ago, but like old men it preserves the sound wisdom of ancient
times and is thus more than worthy of a hearing.
In his narrative of tragic history, the Aristophanic Euripides has replaced
an old heroic silence, the silence of an Achilles or a Niobe,13 with a new
democratic (952) freedom of speech for characters who belong to categories
with which the audience were very familiar (and which, curiously or not,
recall the cast of a New Comedy) the wife, the slave, the master, the young
girl, the old woman (94950).14 The old hierarchy on stage has broken
down, and as in Plato it is to be followed by a related breakdown
in society; in both narratives that breakdown takes the form of extreme
democracy, or as Plato would see it ochlocracy.15 When Aeschylus
complains that, because Euripides has taught the Athenians to chatter,
the ordinary sailors speak back to their commanders (tov rcousi)
(10712), it is very hard not to recall a crucial stage in Platos account
of the consequences of musical licence: unwillingness to be subservient
to those in authority (tov rcousi) (Laws 3.701b56). In the narratives
of both Platos Athenian stranger and Aristophanes Aeschylus, standards

11 To Dovers note ad loc. add, inter alios, Kassel 1994: 48. I am not aware that Dio 19.5 has been
connected with Frogs 862 previously; the use of sterev and malakv as stylistic terms is obviously
relevant here, and note the stylistic use of eneruare in Latin (e.g. Petronius, Satyrica 2.2). For the
ideas, if not the language, cf. Longinus On the Sublime 11.2. Why t mlh could be malak is
vividly illustrated by Aeschylus parody of Euripides at Frogs 130164 and the parody of Agathon at
Thesmophoriazousai 99167.
12 See below pp. 3948 on Dio 52. 13 See above pp. 67 on Aeschylean silences.
14 For Euripides and New Comedy see below p. 46.
15 For the relevance of Platos account in Republic 8 of the democratic man see below p. 89.
Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 17
of correctness in both mousik and political life have collapsed. If we
ask who is to decide where correctness lies?, then the answer in both
cases is at best shadowy. In the Laws the starting position is an ancestral
constitution characterised by an aidos which ensured willing subservience
to laws and magistrates (698ab); its superiority to the excessive freedom
which followed is shown by the subsequent grim history of Athens. So
also in Frogs: although it is clear that Euripides status is such that, while
he was alive, tragedy still flourished at Athens, it is also clear that, in the
view at least of Aeschylus, he is both a cause and a symptom of moral and
political decline. The strongest argument against Euripidean tragedy, or
rather for Aeschylean tragedy, is simply the current parlous state of Athens.
However we interpret Dionysus decision to take Aeschylus rather than
Euripides back,16 a simple choice between the good old days of a powerful
Athens and the perilous position of 405 bc was really no choice at all:
no process of krsiv is actually involved. Why the ancestral constitution,
the separation of musical forms into allegedly discrete types, and the way
Aeschylus created tragedy were correct (rqn, cf. Laws 3.700e2, 4) is not
really a matter for debate, and in any case debate itself is, as both Clouds and
Frogs clearly show, a weapon of the opposition. The appeal to correctness
is very powerful in ancient criticism,17 in part because of the polyvalence of
rqn and in part because the appeal can be to an authority which is hard to
define and therefore hard to attack. It should be self-evident to any right-
thinking person that neither Euripides logical twistings and turnings
(Frogs 775) nor the metrically meretricious windings of his spiders (Frogs
131415) are straight.

practical criticism
Euripides distaste for the prominence of the chorus in Aeschylean tragedy
is part of a preference for drama which engages the audience by presenting
a world familiar to them outside the world of the theatre; however familiar
choral performances were to the Athenians, they were marked off as phe-
nomena of festivals and theatre people simply do not behave or sing like
this in unmarked situations. In the comic vision, Aeschylean drama was a
strange, even outlandish (Frogs 1029), spectacle, whereas Euripidean drama
demanded an intellectual response from an audience actively engaged in

16 See below pp. 368.

17 See below pp. 212 on Aristotles Poetics. I leave out of account for the moment the question of
correctness of language (Frogs 118097; Dover 1993: 2930; below pp. 224).
18 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
a process of interrogation (Frogs 9578), and one made possible because
what they were witnessing were things of a kind with which they were fa-
miliar (95961).18 Euripides drama is democratic not just because every-
one speaks, but because the audience too take an active part. A number of
issues arise here. We may start with the nature of the claim itself.
Er. leptn te kannwn esbolv pn te gwniasmov,
noen, rn, xuninai, strjein, +rn, tecnzein,
kac potopesqai, perinoen panta
As. jhm kg.
Er. okea prgmat esgwn, ov crmeq, ov xnesmen,
x n g n xhlegcmhn xuneidtev gr otoi
legcon n mou tn tcnhn
(Aristophanes, Frogs 95661)
eur. [I taught the Athenians] opportunities for subtle measurings and precisely
judged verbal angles, I taught them to reflect, observe, understand, twist . . . 19
devise, suspect the worst, carefully consider everything
aesch. I agree!
eur. I brought on everyday things, the kind were used to, the kind that are
familiar and from which I could have been found out; for the audience here
knew what was going on and could examine my art.
More than one kind of okeon prgma, everyday thing, is involved here.
Euripides examples (vv. 9719) of the logismv (reasoning) and skyiv
(examination) which he has introduced to tragedy with the result that
the Athenians now manage their homes (okav oken) better, Dionysus
bomolochic response which focuses upon the most banal of domestic
incidents (98091), and Aeschylus subsequent destruction of Euripides
prologues by means of a little oil flask all suggest that household objects
or household events is one way in which Euripides phrase may be under-
stood; we may recall the report that Hesiod too was mocked by some critics
for banality (smikrologa) because petty household objects turned up in
his poetry (Plutarch fr. 62 Sandbach). Lysias was for later writers the model
of plain purity and the use of everyday words in oratory (Dion. Hal. Lysias
2.1, 3.1, etc.), and when Demetrius, On Style illustrates the subject matter
appropriate to the plain and simple style of oratory (the scnn) from
Euphiletus description of his okdion in Lysias 1 (chap. 190), we are given
a very striking illustration of where Euripides okea prgmata could
lead within a critical concern with style. The distinction between high
18 See, e.g., Walsh 1984: 889; Walshs whole discussion of the Frogs is a particularly valuable contri-
19 The transmitted text is here very unlikely to be correct.
Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 19
and low subject matter and verbal style which the Aristophanic Euripides
ushers in was to be one of the dominant critical discourses of antiquity.
Thus, for example, in order to prove the power of arrangement (synthe-
sis), rather than selection, of words, Dionysius of Halicarnassus cites the
opening of Odyssey 16, in which Telemachus returns to Eumaeus hut and
is greeted by the swineherd as, unrecognised by both of them, the young
mans father looks on:
Where is the power (peiq) of these verses and why are they as they are? Is it the
choice of words, or their arrangement? I know that no one will say the selection,
for the language (lexis) of the verses is woven from the most ordinary and humble
vocabulary, such as a farmer or a seaman or an artisan or anyone at all who takes no
trouble over speaking well would use without thinking. If you break up the metre,
these same verses will appear banal (jala) and without quality; they contain no
excellent (egenev) metaphors or examples of hypallage or katachresis or any other
type of figurative language, nor are there many glosses or exotic or newly coined
words. (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On the Arrangement of Words 3.911)
For Dionysius, this Homeric scene was drawn straight from life (biwtikn),
as elsewhere he seems to have noted Euripides preference for the wholly
true and that which was close to real life (On Imitation, 2.2.11 Aujac).20
We see here that the Frogs has bequeathed to the critical tradition not
just a way of talking about poetic style, but also a critical language which
uses sociopolitical distinctions to describe levels of style; from the comic
perspective, at least, Euripides radically democratic tragedy (Frogs 952)
will have lowered and flattened the level of the language also.21
It is also clear that the okea prgmata of verses 95961 cover a very
wide field. prgmata is used of the events of the dramatic plot (what peo-
ple prttein), in both Frogs itself (v. 1122) and subsequently,22 and part of
Euripides claim is that the situations (and characters) of his dramas were
analysable, that is subject to elenchos, by the same rules as govern our every-
day lives; such prgmata are okea in the sense of fitting, appropriate.23
This critical process of thinking, examining, reasoning probably finds no
better real illustration than Electras (misguided) demolition of the old
mans suggestion that Orestes has paid his respects at his fathers tomb
(Euripides, Electra 52446); Electras rejection is precisely based on an
appeal to ordinary experience (men have larger feet than women, their hair

20 On this work see Chapter 4 below.

21 Commentators on Horace, Satires 1.4.5362 (the style of satire and the style of Ennius contrasted)
should pay more attention to this passage of Dionysius; see also Oberhelm and Armstrong 1995.
22 See, e.g., Aristotle, Poetics 1454a14, 34; Plutarch, Moralia 347f, citing Menander T 70 K-A.
23 See above p. 4 on Horaces idonea uitae (Ars Poetica 334).
20 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
has a different quality, clothes dont grow bigger, though children do, etc.).
Here too we can translate the comic claim into an Aristotelian mode. For
Aristotle, both the characters (qh) and the structure of events (prag-
mtwn sstasiv) should follow patterns of either necessity or probability
(Poetics 1454a347), and there should be no room in the prgmata for
t logon, the irrational (1454b6); the Aristophanic Euripides and Aris-
totle privilege very different kinds of mimetic realism,24 but both are in
fact arguing about the same thing more suo. When Euripides says that the
audience would be able to check his art from their own knowledge, we
have a comic version of Aristotles view of the pleasure which comes from
manqnein ka sullogzesqai, understanding and making inferences,
when one contemplates images (1448b1617). In the comic vision, Euripi-
des audiences would immediately smell an improbability or a narrative or
dramatic motif (or even just a word) which was not properly prepared or in
accordance with probability or necessity, and they would catch him out
(xelgcein). The semantic flexibility in the sense of prgmata is thus
mediated through the verbs crmeqa, we use/are used to, and xnes-
men, we live with/are familiar with, which may refer both to objects and
to experiences. As for Aeschylus, his, as he proudly claims (Frogs 1040),
is very clearly an epic drama of Homeric inspiration, and Aristotle was
indeed to acknowledge that epic more easily admits the logon, namely
an irrational element not susceptible to intellectual processes, than does
tragedy (1460a1214); Euripidean rules do not, therefore, apply to him.
When many centuries later Longinus (On the Sublime 36.3) asserts that
in statues we seek a likeness to man, but in logos, as I have said, that which
surpasses the human, we see another transformation of the dichotomy of
the Frogs, and one much on the side of Aeschylus. So too, when Longinus
observes (32.4) that a combination of many daring metaphors in oratory
is possible if they are accompanied by timely and vehement emotion and
genuine sublimity, because then the hearer is carried forward by their
sweep and does not have the time for a close elenchos of the number of
metaphors (scolzein per tn to plqouv legcon), we recognise
again the Aeschylean view of poetry;25 examination of what is said on
stage (as of everything else, see v. 961) is precisely what Euripides asks for
and what is anathema to Aeschylus.26

24 For Aristotle see, e.g., Halliwell 1986: 245. 25 See further Hunter 2003c: 220.
26 One heir of the Aristophanic Euripides which is not always acknowledged is Antiphanes fr. 189 K-A,
in which a character (perhaps Poetry herself ) complains that, whereas tragedians follow pre-made
plots where everybody knows what is going to happen, comic poets have to invent everything de
nihilo, and if any plot detail is omitted or loose end not tied up, the audience will boo the play
Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 21
The claims of the Aristophanic Euripides, who, like Platos sophists,
revels in the opportunity for display that an agonistic context of elenchos
offers him, not merely reflect the febrile world of literary and intellectual
dicussion in late fifth-century Athens, but also usher in the whole ancient
tradition of literary problems (zhtmata) and their solution. Texts, par-
ticularly of course the text of Homer, were to be subjected to an endless
process of interrogation, in which characters and their actions were precisely
examined by the standards of realism familiar to the audience, whether
that be through an appeal to historical practices or language which may or
may not be obsolete, or through an appeal to universal human experience;
in the latter case, we might today speak of the psychological exploration of
fictional characters. Often the characters of epic will be asked to behave like
us, and we may well think that this marks a genuinely innovative moment
in critical history. The fragments of Aristotles own Homeric Problems (frr.
366404 Gigon = 14279 Rose)27 already show the way: why is Paris
such a low specimen that immediately after losing the duel to Menelaus
he is thinking about sex with Helen (fr. 374 Gigon = 150 Rose)? Answer
(according to Aristotle): because the fear or prospect of losing what one
desires increases the desire. (Incidentally, the full range of ancient answers
to that particular question would make for a whole sociological study by
itself like any good husband, Paris tries to calm his wife down by pre-
tending he loves her, etc.).28 For Aristotle, even Homeric dogs obey the
observable rules of human (and canine) life and death (fr. 400 Gigon = 177
Rose). When, however, Aristotle considers the general question of poetic
problems and their solution in chapter 25 of the Poetics,29 he notes that
poetry does not in fact demand the same correctness (rqthv) as other
arts, including civic life, and he offers solutions to apparent mistakes. To
the charge that something in poetry is not true, it is possible to respond
that it is as it should be (Poetics 1460b323); it is noteworthy that this
solution is then illustrated by the observation of Sophocles (T 53 Radt)
that his characters were as they should be, whereas Euripides were as they
actually are. Why Aristotles mind moves to this anecdote at this point we
cannot say, but we will clearly recall important parts of the debate of the
Frogs. Aristotles discussion of the correctness appropriate to poetry and
off the stage. However ironical the passage, it posits a similar relationship between the poet and a
suspicious audience as does Euripides in the Frogs; this is another way in which Euripides, and his
reputation, influenced later comedy.
27 See Richardson 1992: 367 with further bibliography.
28 Kirks note on Iliad 3.441 would, however, not be a good place to start such a study. Plutarch, How
the young man . . . 18f, takes a very straightforwardly moral view of the whole matter.
29 See Pfeiffer 1968: 6971; Feeney 1991: 279.
22 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
to the kinds of claims that we can make about it may indeed be seen as a
response to the Aristophanic Euripides: realism in poetry is not in fact a
(comically) simple thing. It is the Aristophanic Euripides who thus stands
at the head of a tradition which emphasised stylistic and narrative akribeia,
namely accuracy, clarity (see Frogs 927, 1122, etc.), attention to detail;
some believed that true poets rose above such things.30
The search for difficulties in a poetic text, and explanations for those
difficulties, is one manifestation of what we might term the invention
of literary criticism in the later fifth century.31 Euripides claim to have
introduced reasoning and examination into his plays, thus instilling the
same qualities in his audiences, finds a parallel in the fact that plays, and
poems more generally, were indeed open to a process of elenchos outside,
as well as inside, the original arena of performance. The critical habit,
which texts such as Platos Protagoras and Hippias Minor encourage us to
associate with the sophists, now operates at every level of the creative
process; Euripides is made to all but acknowledge that this habit, the
search for inconsistencies, ambiguities and loose ends, has in fact affected
the way dramas are written. This too is another way in which the Frogs
both describes a historical process and captures an extraordinary moment
of literary history.32
The Frogs is replete with literary problems and problems in the mak-
ing. When Aeschylus challenges the claim from Euripides Antigone (fr. 157
Kannicht) that Oedipus was at first fortunate (etucv) and subsequently
became the most wretched of mortals (118294),33 Dionysus places this
under the sign of correctness of words (1181), and it indeed may be that we
are to sense Prodicus and/or Protagoras behind such criticism.34 Aeschylus
objection rests on two points, both of which might be thought captious,
despite the common wisdom that no one was to be counted happy until
after death (see Sophocles, Trachiniai 15):35 first, a rather narrow etymo-
logical interpretation of of good tyche, in the face of common usage by
which Oedipus was indeed fortunate/prosperous until his life unravelled
30 See Hunter 2003c: 21620 and below pp. 1608 on Longinus, On the Sublime 33.
31 Ford 2002 offers a helpful introduction to the whole subject.
32 See below p. 42 on Dios view of Euripides. For the interaction of composition and criticism see
also Hunter forthcoming. Ledbetter 2003 emphasises the revolutionary importance of the Platonic
Socrates insistence that poems should be held to interpretative account.
33 That etucv rather than edamwn, which Dover still retains, is indeed to be read in v. 1182 is now
generally accepted.
34 See Pfeiffer 1968: 3940; Dover 1993: 2930.
35 It is somewhat puzzling that this captious criticism is given to Aeschylus, when it may be thought
rather to suit the character of Euripides; I wonder whether we are to see here an Aeschylean interest
in inherited curses and the inescapable role of fate.
Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 23
around him,36 and, secondly, a particular emphasis on t prton. Not
dissimilar is a discussion of such words in Plutarchs How the young man
should study poetry. In considering the attention that young men and
their teachers must pay to the ordinary usage of words ( tn nomtwn
sunqeia) and to the separation and discrimination of words ( diaresiv
ka dikrisiv tn nomtwn, 23a), Plutarch notes that no one should
imagine that the poets use eudaimonia and related concepts in the way
that philosophers do to mean the complete possession or attainment of
good things, or the completeness of a life flowing smoothly in accordance
with nature (24f25a); in particular, the young must be on their guard
against the misapplication (katcrhsiv) of edamwn or makriov to
describe a rich man or edaimona to refer to the possession of power or
reputation. Here we may feel ourselves not far from either the Frogs or
from the discussion of Simonides poem in Platos Protagoras (ret is
another word where Plutarch urges careful watchfulness, 24cf ), particu-
larly when Plutarch (25a) notes that Homer and Menander use the words
correctly, rqv.37 Here too, as in the Frogs, it is the deprecated usage
which is in fact that of ordinary speech, whereas the philosophical usage
which Plutarch admires, like Aeschylus understanding of etuca, is in
fact a form of special pleading, though one of course very appropriate for
young men for whom reading literature is a preparation for philosophy.
The two examples of Euripidean disturbance and confusion in this mat-
ter which Plutarch cites (Medea 598 and Phoinissai 54950) are precisely
places where there is a clash between the language of eudaimonia and moral
Aeschylus objection to Euripidean language suggests also the structure
of a literary problem: Why did Euripides say that Oedipus was in the
beginning fortunate, when even before he had been born . . . ? Problems
could of course turn on the meaning of glosses (see Poetics 1461a916),
a study which was certainly in full swing by the time of Frogs (cf. Ar. fr.
233 K-A), and the idiosyncratic diction of Aeschylus tragedys Homer
itself afforded much room for puzzlement. One manifestation of Euripides
claim that he, unlike Aeschylus, used prgmata with which the audience
were familiar is the accusation that Aeschylean characters used huge words
36 See, e.g., Dover 1974: 1745.
37 The Homeric verse which Plutarch cites, Odyssey 4.93, does not in fact use the vocabulary which is
being discussed, though it is precisely on the possessions do not mean happiness theme. Plutarch
may have cited a different text for this verse (so, e.g., Babbitt ad loc.), which has then been corrected
away in transmission, or his mind has here run ahead of his pen. It is noteworthy that one of the
explanations which the scholia to Odyssey 4.93 give is that the rich are not edamonev; Plutarchs
slip may, therefore, have been made under the influence of his knowledge of the critical tradition.
24 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
which were unknown to the audience (926). Euripides accuses Aeschylus
in fact of using huge mountains of words that it was not easy to understand
(92930), at which point Dionysus breaks in: Yes, by the gods; I for
one have certainly before now lain awake (dihgrpnhsa) through the
long watches of the night trying to fathom (zhtn) what sort of bird a
tawny horsecock (ppalektrwn) was; this was in fact, as the exasperated
Aeschylus points out, an emblem painted on a warship. Dionysus language
of sleepless searching strikingly foreshadows that of later scholarship. We
may think of Callimachus on Aratus sleeplessness (Anth. Pal. 9.507 =
Epigram 27 Pf.), the nocturnal researches (zhtseiv) which are said to
have finished off Philitas (Athenaeus 9.401de = Philitas T5 Dettori, T21
Spanoudakis), or Celsus claim that medicine developed together with early
natural philosophy, because it was particularly needed by those who had
damaged their strength by reflection and nocturnal watchfulness (Proem
7). Dionysus words pick up those of Phaedra in Euripides Hippolytus,
before now, during the long watches of the night, I have pondered the
ways in which human lives are destroyed (vv. 3756), and the move from a
great moral problem of the kind which tragedy seems designed to address
to the meaning of a ridiculous gloss might be thought precisely to skewer
what is wrong with linguistic scholarship as narrowly conceived and
practised;38 Dionysus here becomes the scholar, whose persistent but
what does it actually mean? still seems to some the worst kind of pedantry,
to others the highest form of philology. The verb which Dionysus uses of
understanding/working out the meaning of a word, sumbllein, is used
also by Plato in the Cratylus of the interpretation, etymologising, of words
(416a4, cf. 412c8).
In continuing to puzzle on the meaning of a word long after leaving the
theatre, Dionysus is in fact behaving as Euripides would wish a member
of the audience to do; the process of critical engagement, of skepsis and
logismos, precisely demands such an attitude. We may also be tempted
to think that it demands or requires, not only time, but also written
texts which can be studied and re-consulted as problems are pored over.
Caution is, however, necessary. We are all lectores scrupulosi now, and we are
inclined to retroject our practices into antiquity. The tradition of posing
and solving critical problems will have had deep roots in the oral culture
38 See Del Corno on Frogs 931. The same passage of Hippolytus may lie behind Knights 12904, where
again there is the language of zhten and a bathetic shift to an absurd subject, why Cleonymus
diet is so awful. There may also be a distant echo at Life of Aesop 35 where a market-gardener poses
a question to Aesops owner, the ridiculous philosopher Xanthos: I cannot sleep at night because I
am tortured by a little problem (zhthmtion); I am trying to reason and work out (logizmenov
ka suzhtn) why [uncultivated plants are much more prolific than those which have been planted
and laboured over] . . .
Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 25
of the symposium, and we must avoid overfine distinctions between what
is possible with an oral, performance tradition and what requires written
texts. Nevertheless, the very clear foreshadowing in the Frogs of later critical
practices makes it more than tempting to use our hindsight to see here the
dramatisation of the birth of a particular kind of criticism, one usually
traced from Aristotle to Alexandria and on into the scholia and later
antiquity. Dionysus, we know, is an avid reader of tragic texts (Frogs 523),
and Euripides impatience with choral performances points in the same
direction before long texts would be produced which did indeed omit
the choral parts; is his the impatience of a reader?

moral endangerment
At Frogs 100910 Euripides acknowledges that, through their cleverness and
the advice they give, poets should make men better in the cities, a claim
clearly related to those of Protagoras great speech in Platos dialogue, and
then (vv. 1043ff.) he has to defend his Phaedras and Stheneboias which,
according to Aeschylus, have produced immorality rather than virtue.
How, asks Euripides (v. 1049), do my Stheneboias harm (t blptousi)
the city? Here too we should think ahead. Aristotle notes that one basis
for criticism of poetry is that it is harmful, blabern (Poetics 1461b23);
the category has caused trouble to modern critics because Aristotle does
not actually give any examples of such accusations or how to solve them,
but it is not difficult to imagine what is involved. The concern with the
moral danger posed by poetry was to remain a leitmotif of critical discus-
sion throughout antiquity. Plutarch notes that without proper guidance
young men will be carried off course by (literary) pleasure towards the
harmful, t blpton (How the young man should study poetry 15d,
cf. 20c).39
When Aeschylus observes that decent women have killed themselves
in outrage at Euripides Bellerophons, the younger poet falls back on a
version of the appeal to realism:
Er. pteron d ok nta lgon toton per tv Fadrav xunqhka;
As. m D, ll nt, ll pokrptein cr t ponhrn tn ge pohtn,
ka m pargein mhd didskein. tov mn gr paidaroisin
st didskalov stiv jrzei, tosin d bsi pohta.
pnu d de crhst lgein mv. (Aristophanes, Frogs 10526)

39 See below pp. 1767. For the discourse of t blabern see, e.g., Plato, Rep. 3.391e; Plut. How the
young man . . . 18f, 20a, 22d, 26b, etc.; below Chapter 6.
26 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
eur. Is this story about Phaedra which I composed not true?
aesch. No, by Zeus, its true, but the poet should hide away what is wicked and
not parade it or include it in his plays (didaskein). For little boys have a
schoolteacher to instruct them, but grown-ups have poets. It is imperative
that what we say is valuable.

Many commentators note that nta in 1052 means not so much true
as traditional, already in circulation, and they might appeal for support
(though they do not) to Horaces advice in the Ars Poetica:

aut famam sequere aut sibi conuenientia finge

scriptor. (Horace, Ars Poetica 11920)
In your writing either follow the received story or invent material which is

As Brinks note indicates, fama in this passage seems to cover both the
plasma and the historia of the rhetorical tradition, the pareilhmmnoi
mqoi, inherited tales, of Poetics 1453b22; the examples which Aristotle
there gives (that Orestes and Alcmaeon both killed their mothers) suggest
that the basic mythos of Phaedra was that she fell in love with her stepson,
and after that individual poets had a free hand or, as in the case of Euripides
two Phaedra plays, more than one to elaborate the details as they wished.
The distinction between true and familiar is, of course, not one to be
pressed, but nevertheless the resonance of truth in Euripides claim is also
not wholly to be suppressed. When Aeschylus urges that the poet should
hide away what is base (ponhrn) rather than parading it before the
city, because poets are the teachers of young men, we should recall the
view of the Platonic Socrates that the stories of Kronos and Zeus should
not be told to the impressionable and young even if they are true, but
should rather be covered over in silence; at the very most, they are to
be told to a few people as a secret erv lgov (Republic 2.378a), and
the Derveni papyrus has now confirmed that Plato is here reflecting an
actual feature of religious life. Aeschylus logic is, of course, of a still very
familiar kind: the poet who puts the ponhrn on stage will make the
citizens mocqhrteroi (1011), whereas the crhstn will produce crhsto
citizens (1011, 1056). Drama is an imitative art in two senses, because poets
imitate reality and audiences imitate what they see; as poets are teachers
(didskaloi), their audiences can hardly be blamed for behaving like
good pupils. Be that as it may, even if Euripides is not claiming that his
story of Phaedra was true, merely familiar or already in existence as Alan
Sommerstein translates, his exchange with Aeschylus points forward again
Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 27
to the subsequent tradition. Unnecessary ponhra was a charge brought
later against at least one Euripidean character, Menelaus in the Orestes
(Aristotle, Poetics 1454a29, 1461b21), and in How the young man should
study poetry Plutarch insists that young men must be taught to recognise
wicked actions and sentiments as appropriate to wicked characters but not
as true or admirable (18b); in the utterly changed reception conditions of
Plutarchs world, a real didskalov must come between the young man
and the dramas he reads. The Aristophanic Euripides is thus constructed
by the subsequent tradition, as by the Aristophanic Aeschylus, as having
abrogated his social responsibility by a concern with realism which replaces
moral by purely aesthetic criteria.
It is of course the discussion of Homer and other poets in the second
and third books of Platos Republic which was for antiquity the key text
on the harmful in poetry, and which is very probably the immediate,
though as we have seen not the ultimate, origin of Aristotles category of
the blabern. The Platonic Socrates argues (Rep. 2.379b) that, as god is
good (gaqn) rather than harmful (blabern), it is impossible for him
to do harm (blptein); any verses which suggest otherwise are therefore
untrue and will of course have to be censored. Such censorship is far more
radical than the solving of literary problems, but in laying down the laws
which poets are to follow Plato himself is not unaffected by the problems
mode of criticism:

If someone writes plays . . . about the sufferings of Niobe or of the descendants

of Pelops or about the Trojan War or any other such thing, either the poets are
not to be permitted to say that this is the work of god, or, if they do say so, they
must discover the kind of explanation which we are currently seeking (xeureton
atov scedn n nn mev lgon zhtomen). They must say that god acted
justly and well, and the characters were benefited by being punished; the poet
must not be permitted to say that in paying the penalty they were wretched and
that this was gods work. The poets may say that the wicked were wretched because
they needed punishment, but the claim that god, who is good, is responsible for
bad things in anyones case is to be resisted with all possible force and no one is to
say such things in his city, if he wants it to be well run, nor anyone to hear them,
neither young nor old, whether the tale is told (muqologonta) in verse or prose.
If told, such tales are impious, not to our advantage, and inconsistent with each
other. (Plato, Republic 2.380a6c4)

Platos solution is very much his own, but the language and mode of
thought reflects the same developments in criticism which we have traced
in the Frogs. Examples of reflections of this mode, or passages where Plato
has influenced the subsequent tradition, are legion, but I will pick just
28 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
a few very familiar cases. At 3.390ab Plato will not allow the young
men to listen to Odysseus famous golden verses (Odyssey 9.211) on
the pleasures of the well-provided feast, because these verses are hardly a
protreptic towards restraint, gkrteia. The Homeric scholia preserve a
whole raft of explanations to exculpate Homer: Odysseus is merely being
polite in trying to please his hedonistic hosts,40 ejrosnh is not the same
thing as don, and so forth. Immediately after this example, it is Zeuss
overpowering desire to make love with Hera in the open air in Iliad 14
which falls under the philosophers strictures (3.390bc). Here again the
subsequent tradition found both an explanation for, and a didactic pur-
pose in, Zeuss apparent lack of self-control (SbT Iliad 14.315b). Finally,
there is perhaps the most notorious case of all, the adultery of Ares and
Aphrodite in the song of Demodocus in Odyssey 8, an episode to which
Xenophanes at least had already drawn attention in unflattering terms (fr.
166 D-K) and on which Plato can hardly bring himself to dwell more
than momentarily (3.390c67); in this case the full panoply of didacti-
cism and allegorisation was deployed to acquit Homer of any immorality
or mistakes of judgement (S Odyssey 8.267, cf. Plut. How the young
man . . . 19f20c).41
By the time of the Frogs the fact that Aeschylus hero, Homer, contained
material of an offensive nature, particularly where the gods were con-
cerned, had long been a subject for discussion. The Aristophanic Aeschylus
simply ignores this critical tradition, in part because the offensive bits on
the whole concerned the gods, and Olympian hanky-panky is not really
relevant to the dramatic plots of which Aeschylus is thinking; what is at
issue is the behaviour of mqeoi, not qeo. We could of course say that
this is a disingenuous silence, but in fact it is one that sheds interest-
ing light on attitudes to what was seen on the stage. One could always
appeal to the behaviour of the gods to justify immoral action on earth,
but Aeschylus concern is with how tragedies mould behaviour, and here
gods really are marginal players. The song of Ares and Aphrodite may
well be a wicked song (isma ponhrn) or a logos with a base plot as
Plutarch puts it (How the young man . . . 20a), but dramatic characters
must have some elements in common with the audience if they are to act
as paradeigmata (for good or ill), and gods are simply too unlike us to
qualify. When Aeschylus demands that the poet, qua teacher, say good
(crhst) things (vv. 10546, quoted above), we may recall Xenophanes
rejection of titanomachies, gigantomachies and all such violent fabrications

40 Cf. Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 79.8. 41 See below pp. 1889.

Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 29
as possible subjects for sympotic song because there is nothing crhstn
in them (fr. 1.23 West).42 Euripides immediately counters that Aeschylus
can hardly give good lessons when his characters use huge and unknown
words and refuse to speak like human beings. Euripides might just be
shifting ground from an uncomfortable subject to one where he feels he
has the upper hand, but in fact his observation is very much to the point:
in order for moral lessons to be learned and patterns of imitable behaviour
given, the audience must feel that the characters they are seeing on stage
are not entirely remote from their own experience. Euripides tragic prac-
tice, as portrayed by Aristophanes, has carried that insight to its logical

tragic style
Dionysus went to the Underworld to find a fertile (gnimov)43 poet who
can say such risky/audacious (parakekinduneumnon) things as aether,
Zeuss bedroom or the foot of time (98100). One reading of the second
half of the play might be as the gods journey towards the revelation that
it is Aeschylus, not Euripides, who is the really risky poet, at least where
poetical style is concerned. The language of risk was to remain a recurrent
feature of ancient discussions of the grand style it is central, for example,
to Horaces imagining of what it would be like to imitate Pindar (Odes 4.2)
and to Longinus contrast between poets who are flawless (ptwtoi)
and those who are truly sublime and hence run the risk of sometimes
falling flat (On the Sublime 33)44 and it has long been recognised that
the contrast between Aeschylus and Euripides in Frogs ushers in what was
to remain the dominant stylistic dichotomy throughout the ancient critical
tradition, between (to put it very banally) grandeur and simplicity.45 As
tragedians, both Aeschylus and Euripides are, from one angle, grand writ-
ers, but the Aristophanic Euripides, particularly with his insistent emphasis
on the need for clarity in language (927, cf. 1434) is, as the subsequent
tradition was later to affirm,46 very much on the side of the simple, one
version of which, Dionysius of Halicarnassus glajur style, is indeed
said to avoid all boldness and risk-taking (t qras pn ka parakekin-
duneumnon, On the Arrangement of Words 23.1). The dichotomy manifests
itself in various ways. When Aeschylus claims that he never represented
42 See Ford 2002: 567.
43 On this word cf. Dover 1993: 33 n. 65; Willi 2003: 89; and on this passage of Frogs see below pp.
44 See Hunter 2003c: 2234. 45 See Wehrli 1946, N. OSullivan 1992. 46 See below pp. 323.
30 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
a woman in love in his plays (1045),47 Euripides retorts that no trace of
Aphrodite had indeed ever touched the older playwright. As commentators
note, Euripides joke operates at two levels: Aeschylus himself is entirely
without sexual attractiveness for women and his plays lack all charm
(also Ajrodth),48 whereas (of course) Euripides is the opposite in both
respects rwv is (unsurprisingly) an appropriate subject par excellence to
be expressed in a lovely style (cf. Demetrius, On Style 132, 163).
From here there is a path which leads to the later critical association of
Euripides with a style characterised by critev and elegance. For Diony-
sius of Halicarnassus, for example, Aeschylus and Euripides are the tragic
examples of the utterly opposed asthrv and glajurv styles respec-
tively, with (naturally) Sophocles representing the happy mean of the
mixed (ekratov) style (On the Arrangement of Words 22.7, 23.9, 24.5).
We might almost imagine that we are hearing the Aristophanic Euripides
when Dionysius describes the severe style (asthr rmona) of which
Aeschylus is a model as not at all flowery, high-minded, straightforward,
short on pretty adornment (kist nqhr, megaljrwn, aqkastov,
kmyeutov, On the Arrangement of Words 22.6, cf. Frogs 8369);49 as for
Euripides, the Aeschylean parody of his choral lyrics (130922) might well
be intended (inter alia) to point to the empty and enervated charm of
his language: when Aeschylus parody begins with an invocation to the
halcyons, we might remember that Demetrius picks out loves and spring
and the halcyon as among the lovely subjects of which Sappho sings in
lovely words (On Style 166).50
Longinus stages a very different kind of contest between Aeschylus and
Euripides in chapter 15 of On the Sublime, but one which both reflects
and sheds light upon the contest of the Frogs. Longinus is here dis-
cussing phantasiai as productive of impressiveness (gkov), grandeur of
style (megalhgora) and gn or sense of contest/urgency, as Donald
Russell translates it, and he notes that the purpose of poetical phantasia
is ekplexis, that quality which the Frogs, and the critical tradition more
generally, associate above all with Aeschylus. It is, however, with Euripides
that he starts his discussion:
In these passages [the madness of Orestes in the Orestes and the Iphigenia among
the Taurians] the poet himself saw Furies, and he all but compelled the audience
47 The plays silence about the representation of Achilles feelings for Patroclus in the Myrmidons (frr.
134a137 R) is potentially interesting.
48 See LSJ s.v. II 3; Hunter 2007: 2201. 49 See above pp. 56 on Aeschylean aqdeia.
50 Sommersteins view of the message of this parody (n. on 130928), Euripidean lyric combines
tuneless music with meaningless words, seems to me a misreading.
Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 31
also to see what he had visualised (jantsqh). Euripides works hardest in fact to
give tragic form to these two emotions, love and madness, and here, if anywhere,
he is most successful, though he does not lack the boldness (ok tolmov) to put
his hand to other forms of visualisation also. His natural gifts are very far from
grand, but he often compels his nature to become tragic, and in the grand passages,
as the poet says,
With his tail he lashes his ribs and his flanks, one side, then another, and
rouses himself for the battle (Homer, Iliad 20.1701). (Longinus, On the
Sublime 15.23)

Here is a Euripides, who is not naturally a sublime or grand writer,

forcing himself to write against his nature;51 he whips himself on to enter
the epic fray like the wounded lion to which Achilles is compared at
Iliad 20.16473. The battle here is both the struggle to produce sublime
thoughts Aeschylus dares the most heroic phantasiai (15.5) and also
the struggle with other poets, as becomes clear later in the chapter when
Longinus observes that it was Euripides competitive spirit (jilotima)
which led him to take the risk of imitating, while (typically) softening,
a bold Aeschylean phrase in his Bacchae (Bacch. 726, cf. Aeschylus fr. 58
R).52 The battle between Aeschylus and Euripides in Frogs had itself of
course been stylised as an epic clash (see esp. 81429), but there it was
Aeschylus who was the Achilles, in part of course because he is portrayed
as the angry Achilles of his own Myrmidons; when Longinus uses an epic
simile describing Achilles to refer to Euripides, it is plain that he is dealing
with something very unusual. That this is indeed the case becomes clear
when he immediately illustrates Euripidean sublime imagination from
the messengers speech of the Phaethon describing the fateful chariot ride
(vv. 16877 Diggle = fr. 779 Kannicht), a passage in which the idea of
sublimity, yov (height), is (as so often) literalised, here in the soaring
chariot of the sun. As the poet-lion had whipped himself to new heights,
so the poet-Phaethon struck the flanks of his winged chariot and set it
racing, and the horses flew into the expanses of the air. Here, for once,
Euripides soars to the poetic heights: Would you not say that the writers

51 See Russell 1981: 7980.

52 Russell understands Longinus observation about Bacchae 726 to be that it is more pleasant and
less paradoxon than Aeschylus verse because the mountain is said to revel with the bacchants,
rather than by itself; there may be something in this, but it is presumably also relevant that the idea
of a mountain, the standard site of bacchic revelling, joining in the revels is less paradoxon than a
royal palace doing so. That which accords with our expectations is more pleasant than that which
does not.
32 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
soul is in the chariot too, and it too has wings to share the horses peril
The contrast which the Aristophanic Euripides draws between the lan-
guage of his tragedies and those of Aeschylus is of a kind which was to
become very familiar. For Demetrius, for example, the grand style is
appropriate to themes such as battles or cosmic events (75), and here again
we must think of the two plays which the Aristophanic Aeschylus singles
out the Seven against Thebes, a drama full of Ares (1020), and the Persians,
through which he taught the Athenians to desire always to be victorious
over their enemies (10267), much as epic heroes themselves were taught
by their fathers always to be the best and to rise above others (Iliad 6.208,
11.784). Metaphors are, for Demetrius, particularly appropriate to this
style (On Style 78; see also Longinus On the Sublime 32.6), but his advice
to orators, which follows that of Aristotle and Theophrastus,54 is that if a
metaphor appears risky (kindundhv), it should be converted into a simile
by the addition of like or some such word (chap. 80); the metaphoricity of
Aeschylean language hardly needs exemplification here. So too, compound
words and the creation of neologisms, both faults with which Euripides
charges Aeschylus, are appropriate in this style but not in the slender
style, which uses ordinary and familiar words, avoids metaphors and com-
pounds, and places the greatest emphasis upon clarity of expression and the
avoidance of ambiguity (On Style 918, 1906). Here we may recall not just
Euripides criticism of Aeschylus prologues, but also (again) the younger
poets claim to have confronted his audience with things which we know
and with which we are familiar (959); Demetrius of course advises the
orator to use these grand devices moderately, even in the grand style, just
as Horace allows the poet to create new words, provided that that licence
is sumpta pudenter (Ars P 51).
The association between Euripides and the oikeion at the level of diction
was to become an important tenet of the critical tradition.55 In his discus-
sion of the diction of forensic oratory, Aristotle notes that the only diction
appropriate to prose consists of ordinary words (t krion), words in their
own or normal meaning (t okeon) and metaphors (Rhetoric 3.1404b31
5), and in considering the difference between poetry and prose, he notes
that the licence of poetry is certainly not unrestricted:

53 On this passage see Segal 1959: 1289. The influence of the chariot of the soul in Platos Phaedrus
hardly requires emphasis.
54 Cf. Longinus, On the Sublime 32.3. 55 See above p. 29.
Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 33
Even in poetry, if a slave or a very young man were to use fine words (kalliepeto),
it would not be fitting, or if such language were used about very banal matters;
what is fitting (t prpon) consists here too in contraction and amplification.
Therefore, one must do this without being noticed, and appear to speak naturally
rather than artificially, for naturalness is persuasive, whereas artificiality is the
opposite . . . The deception is successful if someone arranges their composition
after selecting from ordinary discourse (ewqua dilektov); this is the manner of
Euripides, who was the first to show how this could be done. (Aristotle, Rhetoric

Longinus follows in Aristotles footsteps in this matter:

I have clearly demonstrated56 that many prose writers and poets, who are not
sublime by nature and indeed perhaps quite without grandeur, nevertheless while
largely employing the current diction of ordinary people (koinov ka dhmdesi
tov nmasi) and adding nothing unusual to it, have achieved impressiveness
and distinction (gkon ka disthma) and a reputation for rising above the low;
among the many examples are Philistos, Aristophanes sometimes, and Euripides
very often. After killing his children Heracles (Euripides, Heracles 1245) says:
gmw kakn d kokt sq poi teqi.
I am laden with disasters and no more can be stowed on board.
What is said is extremely common (dhmdev), but it becomes sublime as appro-
priate to the situation (ti plsei nalogon).57 If you put the verse together in
another way, you will see that Euripides poetic art lies more in the arrangement
than the meaning. (Longinus, On the Sublime 40.23)

As often, we may suspect that Longinus has in mind more of the orig-
inal context Heracles debate with Theseus after he has recovered his
senses than the quoted single verse, but unfortunately the text is very
probably lacunose:

Hr. hrev d g llouv n kakosi mezosin;

Qh. pthi ktwqen orano duspraxai.
Hr. toigr pareskeusmeq ste katqanen.
<Qh. >
<Hr. >
Qh. dokev peiln sn mlein ti damosin;
Hr. aqadev qev, prv d tov qeov g.
Qh. sce stm, v m mga lgwn mezon pqhiv.

56 Commentators note that the reference must be to a work which is no longer extant.
57 The meaning of this and of the last quoted sentence are both disputed.
34 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
Hr. gmw kakn d kokt sq poi teqi.
Qh. drseiv d d t; po jrhi qumomenov;
Hr. qann, qenper lqon, emi gv po.
(Euripides, Heracles 123947)
her. Have you seen others in greater misfortunes?
thes. Your suffering reaches from here to heaven.
her. Therefore I am ready to die.
<thes. >
<her. >
thes. Do you think that the gods care about your threats?
her. God does what he pleases, and I do the same with regard to the gods.
thes. Be quiet, lest your big talk bring bigger suffering.
her. I am laden with disasters and no more can be stowed on board.
thes. What do you intend to do? Where is your anger taking you?
her. To death. I will return under the earth from where I came.

The situation here is certainly desperate and may well, as Russell notes,
demand t yhln. There are in fact appropriately sublime pointers
in the language of the passage: there are no greater (bigger) woes than
Heracles; Heracles touches heaven in his misfortune; the gods are threat-
ened (cf. Otus and Ephialtes);58 and aqdeia and anger are the dominant
emotions.59 As a whole, these few verses stretch from the heavens (v. 1240)
to the Underworld (v. 1247). Within this cosmic scope Heracles compar-
ison of himself to a ship which (perilously) has no room left to take on
board (from the gods) more cargo of kak both reminds us of his bulk,
both in terms of actual physical size and of his difference from ordinary
men, and portrays him as a receptacle sinking under the weight of what
he has been forced to endure; both jrhi (you are being swept away)
and the idea of passing beneath the earth in the following verses pick up
the nautical metaphor. Heracles is a ship whose heavy cargo leaves him
dangerously exposed. Longinus, however, seems concerned rather with
the way in which the arrangement of words in a very common expression
raises the verse to sublime heights.60 He does not explain in any detail what
he has in mind and this has led to much critical head-scratching; whether,
however, it is the lofty sounds produced by the verse as it stands61 or the
manner in which the verse is framed by the two nautical terms which has
caught Longinus attention, it seems likely enough that behind his analy-
sis stands the powerfully emotional contrast between Theseus injunction
58 See below p. 149 on On the Sublime 8.2. 59 See above pp. 56.
60 For the importance of synthesis see above p. 19.
61 See Russell ad loc. The context certainly lends support to this suggestion.
Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 35
to Heracles not to talk big, a command prompted by the violent language
of verse 1243, and the humble image which the great hero then uses. It is
Theseus injunction, if understood from a stylistic perspective as do not
talk in the grand style, which throws light on Heracles very ordinary lan-
guage. He moves from apparent defiance against the gods to the helpless
resignation of a vessel which can do nothing about its fate.62 Longinus is
here very much the heir of the Aristophanic Euripides pride in the okea
prgmata which he has introduced into tragedy.
Finally, we should note that the dramatisation in the Frogs of a move (as
at least the comic Euripides sees it) from a grand obscurity of language and
ideas to plainness and clarity was to be repeated many times in the cultural
history of Greek writing.63 Thus, for example, Dionysius of Halicarnassus
account of how Lysias differed from his predecessors reveals this same
pattern; like Euripides, Lysias was a model of clarity arising from the use
of plain language, but the same could not be said for his predecessors:
When they wished to add some adornment to their speeches, they abandoned
ordinary language and took refuge in poetic diction, using many metaphors,
hyperboles and other figurative modes, and they knocked out (kataplhttmenoi)
the ordinary member of the audience with glosses and foreign words and unusual
figures and other linguistic innovation. (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Lysias 3.3)
On this narrative, Lysias predecessors, such as Gorgias, were almost as
incomprehensible as the Aristophanic Euripides claims Aeschylus to have
been, and their methods too resembled his; like Aeschylus, they were
far more poetic than what followed.64 This passage should remind us
that the Frogs sets a pattern for imagining not merely the history of
tragedy, but also two other, closely related, phenomena, namely the dif-
ference between poetry and prose and the developmental history of prose
itself. The key figure who here reflects the basic pattern of the Frogs is,
of course, Aristotle; the following passage from the Rhetoric, which lies
behind Dionysius account, touches upon all three histories and shows their
The poets were, as was natural, the first to promote stylistic elaboration . . . Since
the poets seemed to have gained an excellent reputation through their style,
although what they had to say lacked sense, for this reason a poetic style first

62 For the sublime as a consolation for the human condition see Most 2003.
63 The discussion of the move from a classical to an Aristotelian view of poetry in Struck 2004
contains much of relevance here.
64 Cf. also Strabo 1.2.6 on the poetic nature of early prose which imitated the poetry which preceded
36 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
gained prominence [in oratory] as, for example, the style of Gorgias. Even today
the majority of the uneducated think that such men speak most beautifully. This
is, however, not the case, as the style of prose and poetry are different. Events have
shown this to be the case. Not even tragedians now write in the same manner,
but just as they changed from tetrameters to iambic trimeters because this is the
rhythm which is most like prose, so they have rejected words which differ from
ordinary discourse, i.e. the words with which earlier poets adorned their works
and which are still used by poets of hexameters. It is therefore ridiculous to imitate
those who themselves no longer write in this way. (Aristotle, Rhetoric 3.1404a1936)
The history of tragedy adumbrated in the Frogs was to become the received
wisdom about Greek literary history more generally.

criticism from the heart

Few aspects of the Frogs have been more discussed than the reasons for
Dionysus decision in favour of Aeschylus. Many recent critics have argued
for the essential arbitrariness of the decision, but others notably George
Walsh and Ismene Lada-Richards have (with different emphases) stressed
that Dionysus choice reflects the fact that tragedys appeal should indeed
be to the psyche, not to the rational facility of logismos, and that Aeschylean
tragedy, particularly as represented comically in Frogs, represents the more
genuine tragic mode.65 It will be clear that I have sympathy with the
general direction of this latter view, which still finds echoes in the debates
of modern aesthetics,66 but some flesh remains, I think, to put on the
bones. Two points are, however, worth noting first. At one level, Dionysus
is in the position of the panels of judges at an Athenian dramatic contest;
we have really no idea what criteria these panels used in making their
decisions,67 but it would hardly be unexpected for Aristophanes to satirise
the unartistic and possibly inconsistent nature of the making of such
decisions, just as in the Wasps he pokes fun at the criteria through which

65 See Walsh 1984: 8597, and Lada-Richards 1999 passim; for the real, as opposed to the comic
Aeschylus, see also De Romilly 1975: 1718. Wilamowitz glossed Dionysus decision as following
seine innere Neigung und Stimmung ohne Rucksicht auf soja oder sonstige Erwagungen (Hermes
64 (1929) 474); see also Woodbury 1986: 2456; Dover 1993: 1920 with further bibliography. Many
critics have accepted Van Leeuwens suggestion that v. 1468 (or part of it) is a parodic quotation
from Euripides (it is now Eur. fr. 888a Kannicht).
66 Thus, for example, certain aspects of Susan Sontags well-known essay Against interpretation
(Sontag 1967: 314), with its attack on the modern (over-)emphasis on the content and hence on the
interpretation of a work of art, irresistibly call to mind the Aristophanic Euripides; for Sontag, the
but what does it mean? question, which obsesses both Euripides and Dionysus (above p. 24), is
just the wrong question. Cf. Ledbetter 2003: 203.
67 See Pickard-Cambridge 1968: 959.
Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 37
the popular juries reached their verdicts. Secondly, it is true, as several
critics have insisted, that Dionysus decision to choose the poet whom his
psyche wants (1468) does not necessarily mean that the contest which has
immediately preceded has had an effect on his decision. Nevertheless, even
after making allowance (as we should) for the fact that Dionysus longing
(pqov, 66) for Euripides at the start of the play is in part a reaction to
the poets relatively recent departure (contrast the case of Aeschylus), the
clear dramatic contrast between Dionysus decision at the end and his
attachment to Euripides at the beginning does indeed suggest that all that
he has heard does carry weight of some kind; it is Aeschylus performance
in the contest, and indeed Euripides attack upon Aeschylus, which has
stirred his psyche and reminded it of the pleasures which the older poet
offers. It is, however, trying to define the nature of that weight which has
proved an almost impossible critical task.
Control over the psyche of the audience, yucagwga, was acknowl-
edged at least by the fourth century as a proper activity of drama (e.g.
Timocles fr. 6 K-A; Aristotle, Poetics 1450a33), just as Plato dismissed it as
the proper (and disreputable) effect of rhetoric,68 and in the later tradition
it is particularly associated not surprisingly with the dulce of poetry
rather than the utile.69 It is all but certainly Gorgias who stands behind
this tradition, and such a distinction in fact is visible already in Isocrates,
who contrasts crowd-pleasing psychagogia with giving advice and counsel
(nouqeten ka sumbouleein, To Nicocles 49) and, perhaps with one eye
on Gorgias, notes that even poets who are deficient in language and ideas
can nevertheless yucagwgen their hearers through rhythms and sym-
metries (Evagoras 1011). Polybius contrasts the momentary ekplexis and
psychagogia of tragedy, operative through a kind of persuasive deceit, with
the proper historians commitment to a truth which will last for ever and
bring benefit (jleia) to those who wish to learn (2.56.1112). Polybius
of course is also reflecting Thucydidean ideas about the writing of history,
ideas which famously privilege claims to truth, clarity and the benefit of the
reader, against that which is muqdev and hence beyond elenchos and
more attractive to listen to, prosagwgteron ti krosei (Thucy-
dides 1.21.1), a phrase which does not sound too far away from psychagogia.
Be that as it may, this subsequent history may serve as another reminder
that the commitment of the Aristophanic Euripides to a kind of realism

68 See Phaedrus 261a78, 271c10. At Ion 536a Socrates at least evokes yucagwga as the proper effect
of poetry.
69 See, e.g., Brink on Horace, Ars P 100, 333.
38 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
is also a commitment to a kind of truth susceptible of elenchos, a truth
which dismisses Aeschylean tragedy to the realm of the utterly fictitious.
If we go back to Frogs, we can see how this pattern also informs Dionysus
decision-making process. At 1416ff. he decisively turns to the matter in
hand and redefines his task in terms of the utile he needs a poet so
that the city might be saved and continue to have its choruses (1419)
and so he says that he will take back whichever of the two poets can offer
the city good advice, something which Aeschylus and Euripides have of
course already agreed to be fundamental to the poets task. There follows
the difficult passage of questions about Alcibiades and current politics,
which apparently lead nowhere. The criterion of the utile has thus proved
indecisive, and so the god falls back upon the promptings of his yuc;
here then yet another familiar pattern of the later critical tradition is set
before us in embryo. The matter had already been suggested at 10289:
Aeschylus sees in his Persians a didactic lesson for the Athenians, whereas
Dionysus a typical (?) member of the audience merely remembers the
pleasure he took in the chorus emotional, but utterly inarticulate, cries.70
Words really are unimportant to the essential effect of tragedy.

classical tragedy
In a stimulating recent discussion James Porter has argued that Frogs drama-
tises, and comically subverts, the fantasy of classicism by allowing us direct
contact with the great figures of the past;71 Dionysus desire for Euripides
(vv. 523) is a canonical and classical desire. Porter notes that we should
therefore recognise that classical Greece produced a form of classicism
internal to itself, at the very least by the end of the fifth century; if Aeschy-
lus wins he does so in part, on Porters reading, because he is ultimately
more classical (which also in fact means more archaic). Euripides has,
of course, always been a problematic figure for classicism,72 and it can
indeed be argued that the importance of Frogs for ideas of the classical
rests not solely on the basic conceit of the second half of the play, but on
the structure of the contrast between the two poets, in which we are invited
to admire and be amazed at the one from a distance, but to examine and
engage with the work of the other at very close quarters. A sense of the
classical may in fact demand the symbiosis of these reactions.

70 See above pp. 34. The general sense is clear, even if the text of v. 1028 is a notorious crux; to the
commentators add Totaro 2006.
71 Porter 2006b: 3017. 72 See, e.g., Porter 2006a: 23.
Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 39
Platos creation of a Socratic past is an instructive example here. In some
dialogues, most notably perhaps the Symposium,73 the sense of a lost world
beyond reach is fundamental to the effect, indeed to the meaning, of the
text; we are, however, at the same time invited by the text to engage with the
arguments in the present, as though we too are speaking to Socrates. This
is, if you like, the philosophical version of the later rhetorical challenge to
match oneself against the great orators of the past, to see how you measure
up.74 In the Phaedo, which is in part a foundation or charter myth for Platos
fourth-century Academy, Phaedo says that, as he witnessed Socrates final
hours, I felt something odd a strange mixture of pleasure and grief
(59a56), and this clearly is something which we too are invited to feel
while reading the Phaedo, engaging with its arguments, and envisioning
its narrative. Both the superlatives with which the text closes (This was
the death . . . of the best and wisest and most just of the men of that
time (tte) whom we encountered, 118a1517) and the specification of
a past time emphasise the distance which separates us from the object
of admiration but also leave open the possibility of, and provocation to,
challenge in the present. The existence of classical models, whether of
virtue or rhetorical brilliance, and the contemplation of the past must not
be used as an excuse for inaction: as Longinus put it, quoting Hesiod
in his discussion of Platos own contest with Homer: . . . this striving
(riv) is good for mortals [Works and Days 24]. Glorious indeed and well
worth winning is this contest for fame and the crown which goes with
it; to lose to those who went before us is no disgrace (On the Sublime
In the course of his analysis Porter observes: classicizers who enjoy a
readerly relation to their authors are protected by the disavowed knowledge
that the presence they pursue will forever elude them. They are screened
from their desire by the very same object that acts as the screen of their
desire: the text they are reading. Classicism thrives on this disavowed
fantasy.76 One ancient reader who very neatly illustrates Porters dictum,
and in what may be a replay of the Frogs, is Dio Chrysostom, who in
Oration 52 offers a synkrisis of plays of the three classical tragedians on the
theme of Philoctetes.77 Dio begins by very clearly establishing a physical

73 See Hunter 2004a: 11415. 74 See below p. 118.

75 For these ideas in rhetorical teaching see below p. 116. Cicero expresses very similar ideas at greater
length at Orator 46.
76 Porter 2006b: 3034.
77 On Dio 52 see esp. Luzzatto 1983 and Muller 2000: 24091; I have learned and borrowed from both
of these discussions. There is an English translation in Russell and Winterbottom 1972: 5047.
40 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
and moral context (mens sana in corpore sano) in which classical pleasures
can be properly enjoyed:
I rose about the first hour of the day, both because of my physical weakness and
because the dawn air was rather chilly and more like autumn than the midsummer
which it was; I prepared myself and said my prayers. Then I got into my carriage
and made a number of turns around the hippodrome with the carriage proceeding
as gently and comfortably as possible. After this I had a walk and then a short rest;
then, after oil and a bath and a small meal, I began to read certain tragedies. (Dio
Chrysostom 52.1)
Nothing, we might think, could be further from the democratic context
of public contest in which tragedies were originally performed, though
Dios creation of a quiet space in which the pleasures of the classics could
properly be enjoyed, free from the distractions of public and vulgar per-
formance, illustrates one conclusion to which Platos narrative of cultural
and theatrical history inevitably led.78 The solo man of learning, or at most
he and a few like-minded friends, are now the proper audience for great
works; the cultural and educational system indeed constructs them as in
fact the authorially intended audience.
Nevertheless, despite the changed context, Dio expresses his scholastic
activity in terms of the theatrical festivals:
I feasted on the spectacle (qa) and I reflected that if I had been in Athens at that
time I would not have been able to see those men competing with each other,
though some did enjoy the young Sophocles competing against Aeschylus when
the latter was old and the aged Sophocles in competition with the young Euripides;
Euripides, however, never overlapped with the career of Aeschylus. Moreover, the
tragedians rarely, if ever, competed against each other with plays on the same
subject. I was therefore enjoying a rare treat and a new form of consolation for my
illness, and so I did not stint myself (corgoun mauti pnu lamprv), but
I tried to pay close attention as though I was judging the leading tragic choruses.
(Dio Chrysostom 52.34)
Dios feast a contrast to the bite to eat (mikrn mjagn) of the opening
chapter is specifically a visual one (qa), and this is not just explicable from
the language of envisionment and enargeia which accompanies any proper
and educated reading experience at this period; Dio is indeed living out
Porters classical fantasy the great playwrights of the past are performing
for him but this is a fantasy that he can bring to an end at any time: he
is the choregos for all the poets. It is, moreover, a fantasy in another sense

78 See above pp. 1417, Hunter 2002: 1901. With Dio 52 may usefully be compared Oration 32, Dios
attack upon the entertainments and theatre-going behaviour of the people of Alexandria.
Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 41
also. Aristophanes brought Aeschylus and Euripides into competition by
moving his play to the Underworld, where they are both now citizens
(simultaneously alive and dead, as it were); with the educated mans sense
of historical chronology and theatrical history, a sense matching his equally
displayed familiarity with medical precepts in the first chapter, Dio knows,
and lets us know (52.3), that he too is able to stage a fantasy contest of
a kind which similarly could never have happened it may not be too
flippant to be reminded of fantasy football in which the greatest players
from different ages and different countries are put together and matched
against each other. The ability to control the past is an essential element of
classicism, and Dio has shaped the chronology of the past to fit a cultural
model: first Aeschylus, then Sophocles, then Euripides, in an overlapping
Venn diagram in which the two extremities never meet; Aeschylus and
Euripides are opposites, ntstrojoi (chap. 11). It hardly needs stressing,
but I shall return to the issue in a moment, that this chronology then maps
perfectly on to the perceived critical qualities of each Sophocles is always
the golden mean (msov, chap. 15). We, of course, know better: Euripides
Philoctetes was staged, together with the Medea, in 431, Sophocles play in
Dios private pleasure is made public through his writing of the essay.
What Dio offers us is a snapshot of the virtues of the three tragedians,
mediated through the sensibility of an educated man steeped in the critical
tradition; an important forerunner of that tradition is of course the Frogs
itself, and it is no surprise that it is easy enough to map the character-
istics of Aristophanes tragedians on to Dios stylistic views.79 Thus, for
example, in chapters 56 Dio discusses the fact that, whereas Euripides
used the Homeric device of having Athena disguise Odysseus so that he
was not recognised, Aeschylus (apparently) made nothing of the issue, and
hence laid himself open to the critical charge of writing implausibly, o
piqanv. The pattern of the discussion is basically that of a zetema: Why,
in Aeschylus Philoctetes, did Philoctetes not recognise his hated enemy
Odysseus after only ten years? Dio has an answer and it is one based,
as often (cf. Paris desire for Helen, above p. 21), on what we would call
Perhaps indeed ten years was not a sufficient passage of time to prevent recall
of [Odysseus] appearance, but Philoctetes disease and his wretchedness and his
solitary existence during these years made this not impossible. This has indeed

79 See, e.g., Russell in Kennedy 1989: 301.

42 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
been the experience of many, whether from frailty or misfortune. (Dio Chrysostom

The appeal to ordinary experience to explain an apparently irrational

phenomenon (loga) shows not just how powerful the scholastic zetema
tradition was, but once again also how the Frogs and particularly Euripides
claims for his own art are a foundational text for western criticism; we judge
whether or not something is plausible on the basis of our experience, on
to put it another way okea prgmata . . . ov crmeq ov xnesmen,
everyday things, the kind were used to, the kind that are familiar.
As for Euripides Philoctetes itself, we might be tempted to think that a
miraculous transformation by a protecting divinity was the very stuff of
loga, but in fact the case is somewhat different. It is instructive that
when Aristotle discusses the irrational (t logon) in epic and tragedy
(Poetics 1460a12b2) the gods are not involved; divine action belongs to a
different realm where explanation of a quite other kind is involved. Sec-
ondly, Euripides had Odysseus already transformed at the start of the play,
as he explained in the prologue (Dio 52.13). To some extent, the prologue is
xw to muqematov (Aristotle, Poetics 1460a28), a given at the point where
the action proper happens and, as such, not in fact an logon aspect of
the dramatic narrative. The motif of divine disguise is, of course, a familiar
one in dramatic prologues: in the Bacchae Dionysus announces that he has
transformed himself (v. 4), and in Plautus Amphitruo Mercury explains
how both he and his divine master are disguised (vv. 11530, 1407).80 Be
that as it may, Dios point is that it is part of Euripides attention to detail,
his akribeia, that he forestalls the zetema by the device of divine transfor-
mation, just as, by having his chorus of Lemnians apologise to Philoctetes
for their previous neglect of him (chap. 7), he forestalls any puzzlement as
to why they had not visited him before, a puzzlement that could arise in
the case of Aeschylus chorus who simply (apparently) ignore the past. So
too, it offends against a sense of probability (t ekv) that Philoctetes had
had no human contact and received no help at all and yet had survived for
ten years (Robinson Crusoe famously had help . . . ); therefore, Euripides
introduced the character of Aktor, a Lemnian shepherd and apparently the
kings son, who had indeed had contact with the castaway over the years
(chap. 8).81 Dios Euripides, like Aristophanes, has covered every base: no

80 It is hard to believe that these verses do not go back to a Greek original (influenced by Euripides?).
81 On this character see Muller 2000: 3449; I wonder whether the name might have been used to
suggest He of the sea-shore as much as driver (of flocks).
Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 43
elenchos is possible, and we may sense again the interplay of the practice of
criticism and the way in which plays were actually written.
Dios debt to the critical tradition inaugurated by the Frogs could, of
course, be illustrated at great length: thus, for example, the clear and
detailed narrative of the situation (drmatov pqesiv) which the Euripi-
dean prologue speaker, Odysseus, gives (1213), reminds us of the Aristo-
phanic characters claim that the person who came on at the very beginning
immediately related the origin of the drama (Frogs 9467), and what in
the comedy is the empty chatter (lali and stwmula), which Euripides
taught the citizens (v. 1069) and which has led to a generation of decep-
tive demagogues (vv. 10836), becomes for Dio, as indeed for Quintilian
(10.1.678), a source of enormous benefit for both citizens and orators (11).
Dio has here recast the Aristotelian history which saw a move in tragedy
from the politik to the htorik (Poetics 1450b78), a history in which
Euripides himself will have been an influential figure and which is clearly
related to the broad dichotomies of the Frogs, to reflect the changed cultural
and educational values of the empire. The condensed picture of the poets
which emerges is, of course, very different from the condensed picture
which Aristophanes offers, but the latter also claims to present the whole
truth about Aeschylus and Euripides in a very small space; in one work
the essence of the tragedians has been squeezed into a brief set of comic
sketches, in the other into a set of reasoned, critical judgements. In both
cases, the audience (whether that be the Athenian audience, Dios readers,
or we ourselves) is offered not necessarily just what they expect, but rather
a vision of the past which accords with the received notions about the
poets which are appropriate to their respective contexts a comedy, and
an educated critical essay.
Classicism is, after all, a confirming comfort, or as Dio puts it a
paramuqa. We turn to the past (inter alia) when the present threatens
to erode a sense of identity. In the Apology, for example, the Platonic
Socrates imagines the pleasures of the afterlife. Alongside the chance as
the audience of Frogs found to meet with the great poets of the past, there
is another pleasure (ok hdv, 41b5) in store: whenever I meet Palamedes
or Ajax the son of Telamon or any other of the ancients who died as a result
of an unjust verdict, I would compare my sufferings to theirs (41b14).
Such use of mythological exempla in consolation requires no extensive
illustration, but what is important is that such parallels do not merely
confirm that one is not alone and that suffering is in part compensated by
posthumous fame, but they also justify ones present stand; to put it bluntly,
the past can prove that one is right. The Platonic Socrates construction of
44 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
that past is no less self-serving than Dios critically informed picture of the
virtues of the three classical tragedians.
Crucial to the classical sense at least from Homer onwards is a
contrast between then and now, and the one Philoctetes tragedy which
survives to us, that of Sophocles, shows that this story could lend itself very
well to such concerns. That play is permeated by a sense of a noble and
simple past, the world of the Iliad, and a complex and morally questionable
present, the world after the Iliad and, indeed, the world of fifth-century
Athens. At the heart of the contrast is of course the figure of Odysseus, and
Dios description of Aeschylus Odysseus is here of particular interest:
The great-mindedness and archaic flavour of Aeschylus, as well as the strong
independence (t aqadev)82 of his thought and language, seemed appropriate to
tragedy and to the old-time character of the heroes; there was no scheming or idle
chatter and no lowness (tapeinn) in his play. Even his Odysseus was sharp and
cunning, as men were in those days, but far removed from modern maliciousness,
with the result that he seems really archaic in comparison with those who now
wish to seem straightforward and great-minded. (Dio Chrysostom 52.45)

The absence of scheming and idle chatter and lowness from Aeschy-
lus play, which is marked by a noble simplicity (plthv) of action
and language (7, 15), leads almost inevitably to thoughts of Odysseus.
In Dios vision, however, the craftiness of the Aeschylean Odysseus is an
archaic, or perhaps classical, form of craftiness, far removed from the
maliciousness (kakoqeia) of the present day, a phrase which almost
inevitably calls to mind (Philoctetes view of ) the Odysseus of Sophocles
play; when Dio includes the Sophoclean Odysseus among characters who
are amazingly dignified and upright (qaumastv semn ka leuqria)
and notes that he is much milder and more straightforward (praiteron
ka plosteron) than his Euripidean counterpart (16), many critics
may differ as to the first judgement and shake their heads in wonder at
what the Euripidean Odysseus must have been like. We may, however,
suspect that Dios triadic structure, with Sophocles occupying the mid-
point between simple Aeschylus and complex (poiklov) Euripides, has
here determined his judgement, rather than the other way around. Such a
sequence would, of course, be far from unusual in ancient criticism. The
study of the language of simplicity and complexity in these contexts
would in fact make for an interesting chapter in the history of ancient

82 See above pp. 56.

Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 45
criticism.83 These terms involve not just judgements about the characters
depicted in drama, but also an implicit history of drama itself, in which the
form gradually becomes more complicated, more reliant on tcnh, as the
characters too become more given to tcnh in all its senses. The interplay of
character and literary history is here very old. When in the Platonic Hippias
Minor Hippias contrasts a very straightforward (plostatov) Achilles
with a very twisting (polutroptatov) Odysseus (364c4365b6), we
are already on the way to an influential contrast between their respective
poems. Be that as it may, if one model for the Aristophanic Aeschylus
is the Homeric and Aeschylean Achilles (Frogs 993 etc.), it is hardly fan-
ciful to sense the figure of Odysseus lurking behind Euripides claims to
have introduced scheming (tecnzein) and suspecting the worst (kc
potopesqai) into tragedy (Frogs 9578). When Longinus describes
Homers character sketches of the daily life in Odysseus household as a
sort of comedy of character (On the Sublime 9.15), he stands in a line of
descent from the descriptions of his own tragedies which the Aristophanic
Euripides proudly gives (Frogs 94879).
The oppositions between nature/simplicity and culture/art and
between then and now, which inform Dios synkrisis, are of course very
important in the Sophoclean Philoctetes and, not improbably, were so in
at least Euripides play too. Dios critical essay in fact probably in this also
mirrors, and is shaped by, the works it discusses. There are three related
aspects of this to which I would particularly call attention, though the risks
arising from the fact that only one of the three tragedies actually survives
must here be stressed again.
In taking the shape of some of his contrasts from the plays themselves,
Dios discussion suggests that we may read Sophocles opening conversation
between Odysseus and Neoptolemus about different modes of approaching
Philoctetes as (in part) a metaliterary debate about different tragic treat-
ments of the story and as a device by which Sophocles creates space for
his own play; whereas we can entertain this idea because of our knowledge
of the chronology of the three plays, it would no less suit Dios model in
which Sophocles mediates between Aeschylus and Euripides. When the
Sophoclean Neoptolemus rejects tcnh (vv. 80, 889), it is easy enough to
see him aligning himself, not just with his father, Achilles, but also with
the standard critical picture of Aeschylus and his drama; Dio indeed, in
praising the stratagem by which the Aeschylean Odysseus won Philoctetes
83 See below pp. 945, Luzzatto 1983: 56, 649 on simplicity. The same developmental narrative
informs, for example, the Vita Aeschyli. There is relevant material on the interplay of style and
character in Worman 2002.
46 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
over, observes: What need was there of cunning scheming and plotting
(poiklhv tcnhv ka piboulv) against a man who was sick . . . ? (52.10).
On the other side in Sophocles play, inevitably, stands Odysseus, who
teaches others to speak poiklwv (v. 130) and whose acceptance of the
power of the tongue (vv. 969) might with hindsight be seen to fore-
shadow the Aristophanic Euripides invocation of gltthv strjigx,
the turning-point of tongue (Frogs 892); in that very same prayer Euripi-
des also invokes xnesiv, understanding, the first quality which Dio praises
in Euripides when he turns to him from Aeschylus (52.11, cf. 52.14). The
Sophoclean characters must thus choose an Aeschylean or a Euripidean
Secondly, if Dios then and now contrast replays a classical contrast,
for Dio the now becomes, not a post-Iliadic world or the Athens of
the fifth century, but Dios own world;84 here again, however, things are
not straightforward. When Dio contrasts the sharpness of the Aeschylean
Odysseus, a sharpness typical of men of that time with the malicious-
ness of the present day (52.5), he is primarily referring to his own day.
Nevertheless, he has just praised the quality of t aqadev in Aeschylus
thought and diction, and if this is not enough to make us think of the
Frogs,85 he immediately observes that his heroic characters showed no trace
of malicious plotting,86 of a propensity to gossip, or of lowness (tapeinn);
the praise is here shaped by (an implicit) comparison with a standard view
of Euripidean characters, a view descending of course from Attic Comedy,
most notably the Frogs. The present day is thus not just Dios time, it is
also Euripides time. There is a tension here between Euripides as the last
classical tragedian and Euripides as the first of the modern age, and it
is a tension which we can illustrate from elsewhere also in Dio. When in
Oration 18 he advises young men to concentrate their dramatic reading on
Euripides and Menander, he seeks to forestall objections to the fact that
he has preferred Menander to Old Comedy (rcaav kwmwidav) and
Euripides to the old tragedians (rcawn tragwidn) (Dio 18.7). The
two contrasts are not exactly parallel, but the phrasing at least suggests
that Euripides is on a par with Menander, as both Hellenistic educational
practice and the world of performance had indeed made him. Euripides
was contemporary in a way in which neither Aeschylus nor Sophocles

84 See Muller 2000: 1402. 85 See above pp. 56. 86 The text here is uncertain.
87 For the persistent link between Euripides and New Comedy in the critical tradition see, e.g.,
Quintilian 10.1.69, Euripides T 1367 Kannicht and below p. 99.
Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 47
Finally, the projection of an ancient contrast into the present is as much a
part of Dios experience of the plays as it was for the original audience. This
blurring of time is a kind of compromise between the direct experience of
watching or reading the plays and the classicising impulse born of social
and cultural context. If we turn back to the Frogs, we find (unsurprisingly)
that a contrast between a heroised past and a more degenerate present is
also at the heart of Aeschylus view of the contrast between his tragedies
and those of Euripides. Aeschylus claims to have depicted a world in
which mqeoi thought and spoke great things (vv. 105861) and in which
the audience in their turn were made noble (gennaoi) and filled with
martial spirit, like those they saw on the stage (vv. 101335); Euripides, by
contrast, depicts beggars and promiscuous women and, as a result, no one
wants to fight or perform public service any more and the citizens of the
present day are low tricksters and rascals (v. 1015). Both the Aristophanic
Aeschylus and the Dio of Oration 52 are, of course, laudatores temporis
acti, but there is more to it than that: their view of the past, which for
Aeschylus means everything before Euripides, as he sees an almost seamless
continuity between the great poets of the past (most notably, of course, the
Homer of the Iliad) and himself, is fashioned by literature, and their views
of literature in turn determine their views of real life in the present.
Dio is not merely choregos and audience, he is also, like Dionysus, the
judge (dikastv) of the tragic competition, and, like Dionysus, he cannot
make up his mind: I would not on oath be able to give any reason why
any of these men could have been defeated (4). In refusing to pronounce
judgement, Dio is adopting a familiar posture of the educated reader:
Quintilian refuses to decide (iniudicatum relinquo) on the relative poetic
merits of Sophocles and Euripides, apparently a hot subject for debate,
because it is not germane to his subject, though there is no doubt that it
is Euripides who is the more useful for aspiring orators (10.1.67). In the
Frogs Dionysus did not wish to choose because he did not wish to fall
out with either poet (v. 1412) and because he recognised that each had
relevant, though different, virtues (vv. 1413, 1434); he is compelled by Pluto
to choose,88 but otherwise his position is, again, not entirely unlike that of
Dio. Whereas a Longinus can be very free with judgements because he is
concerned, like Quintilian, with a single (though complex) aspect of poetic
composition, Dio can recognise difference, but is unwilling to hierarchise,
because to do so would be to fall out with one of these kroi ndrev
(2); unlike some of the writers whom Longinus happily assigns to the

88 See above p. 38.

48 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
second class, Dio is dealing with the big three, and a choice between them
risks the inevitable ridicule of part of the critical tradition. Moreover, Dios
posture here is that of the educated reader, not the kritikv, and it is the
latter whose authority is confirmed by the making of such judgements. In
the Frogs, it is inconceivable that there should be an eventual winner other
than Aeschylus; in Dios essay, the classical past was to remain a picture
of various hues, but it was the overall canvas which lingered in the minds

poetry and society

In the Ars Poetica Horace offers a history of the early days of poetry which
emphasises its seriousness and the importance of the role it has played:
siluestris homines sacer interpresque deorum
caedibus et uictu foedo deterruit Orpheus,
dictus ob hoc lenire tigres rabidosque leones;
dictus et Amphion, Thebanae conditor urbis,
saxa mouere sono testudinis et prece blanda
ducere quo uellet. fuit haec sapientia quondam,
publica priuatis secernere, sacra profanis,
concubitu prohibere uago, dare iura maritis,
oppida moliri, leges incidere ligno.
sic honor et nomen diuinis uatibus atque
carminibus uenit. post hos insignis Homerus
Tyrtaeusque mares animos in Martia bella
uersibus exacuit; dictae per carmina sortes
et uitae monstrata uia est et gratia regum
Pieriis temptata modis ludusque repertus
et longorum operum finis: ne forte pudori
sit tibi Musa lyrae sollers et cantor Apollo.
(Horace, Ars Poetica 391407)
Orpheus, a holy man and interpreter of the gods, deterred the men of the woods
from killing and shameful food; for this reason he was said to tame tigers and
ravening lions. Amphion also, the founder of the city of Thebes, was said to move
rocks by the sound of his lyre and lead them wherever he wanted by his winning
entreaties. Once upon a time this was wisdom, to distinguish public from private
and sacred from profane, to keep men from promiscuous unions, to impose rules
upon married couples, to build towns, and to carve laws on wood. Thus it was
that honour and repute came to divine bards and to their songs. After these, the
pre-eminent Homer and Tyrtaeus stirred with their verses the hearts of men for
the battles of Mars; in poetry oracles were given and the path of life laid out, the
favour of kings was sought in the tunes of Pieria and relaxation and the close of
Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 49
long labours invented. Therefore, there is no need to be ashamed of the Muse
skilled in the lyre and Apollo the singer.

As has long been recognised, these verses are strikingly like Aeschylus
account of the helpfulness of early poets in Aristophanes Frogs:
skyai gr p rcv
v jlimoi tn poihtn o gennaoi gegnhntai.
Orjev mn gr teletv q mn katdeixe jnwn t pcesqai,
Mousaov d xakseiv te nswn ka crhsmov, Hsodov d
gv rgasav, karpn rav, rtouv d qeov Omhrov
p to timn ka klov scen pln tod, ti crst ddaxen,
txeiv, retv, plseiv ndrn; (Aristophanes, Frogs 10306)
Observe from the earliest times how beneficial noble poets have been. Orpheus
taught us rites and to keep away from killing, Musaeus taught cures for diseases
and oracles, Hesiod how to work the land, the seasons for crops, ploughing; did
not the divine Homer receive honour and renown precisely from this, that he
taught us useful things, battle-formations, acts of valour, how men are armed?

Whether or not in this passage Horace has (inter alios) Aristophanes directly
in mind may be debated,89 but the juxtaposition of the passages carries an
instructive weight, whatever view is taken of their relationship.
The Horatian passage might appear at first glance to be as self-contained
as any passage in this section of the poem, whose structure remains a matter
for fierce debate. Horace has been arguing, to put it broadly, that there is
no room for second-rate poets or poetry, although people seem to think
that there is nothing to stop one versifying, even if (for example) those
who are no good at athletics avoid the pursuit for fear of ridicule. If we do
write something, we should submit it to the judgement of others and put
it away for a long period, for it can always be destroyed, whereas nescit uox
missa reuerti. Immediately after the section under consideration, Horace
turns to the famous problem of whether it is nature or art which produces
an excellent poem; his answer both is then followed by a long section

89 The most obvious similarities are Ars P 3912 Frogs 10302, with sacer interpresque deorum picking
up the implications of teletv, honor et nomen timn ka klov, diuinis uatibis qeov Omhrov,
sortes crhsmov. The rich tradition of such cultural histories is sketched by Brink 1971: 3846,
and see also Solmsen 1932: 1514. Of particular interest here is Plato, Protagoras 316de, and for
the sophistic background of the Aristophanic verses see also Woodbury 1986: 24950; Ford 2002:
1445. It is noteworthy that Horaces Homer here plays a role very like that of Aeschylus own
self-presentation at Frogs 101927, i.e. someone who stirred the martial enthusiasm of his audiences,
rather than the didactic military instructor of Frogs 10356. For further links between this passage of
the Frogs and the Ars Poetica see above p. 4, and for Horace and the Frogs more generally see below
p. 99.
50 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
on the need to learn ones trade and the need for serious criticism and
correction before any poem can be regarded as finished. If verses 391407
were not there, we would in fact hardly miss them. The justification offered
for them is (apparently) that one has to work hard at poetry because poetry
is, and always has been, socially important, and certainly nothing to be
ashamed of (see vv. 4067); we poets stand on the shoulders of the very
men who invented society. The point is made structurally at the end of
the passage where the invention of drama suddenly introduces a lighter
note, ludusque repertus | et longorum operum finis; ludus evokes not just the
modern style of poetry, but also satyr drama in which the addressees of the
poem, the Pisones, may have had a particular interest (cf. v. 235). We, like
the Pisones, do indeed stand at the end of a very long tradition, and it is a
tradition which must be respected.
Before verse 391 the emphasis is on the fact that mediocre poets are
simply not to be allowed; nothing is said about what makes such a poet,
and the natural implication is that there (just) are good and bad versifiers
in other words, it is a matter of natura: you either have it or you do
not, and if you do not, you should rely on the honest advice of a critic,
a father, or a concerned friend (vv. 3878) to save you from yourself.
After verse 407, when the naturaars dichotomy is explicitly raised, the
emphasis switches to the latter, to the effort and training involved, and to
the necessity for serious criticism and correction. This sequence implies
two further matters of importance. First, a primacy both chronological and
poetic, of substance over style; in the Frogs, Euripides initial attack is
on the manner and style of Aeschylean tragedy (907ff.), whereas when
Aeschylus replies, his concern is with the substance of what poets say, not
how they say it (1006ff.). Secondly, the Horatian sequence suggests that the
poets of verses 391407 were the great figures of natura; ars is a secondary
historical development, and this is, as we have seen, a recurrent feature of
such poetic and cultural histories.90 The Horatian sequence thus brings out
an important feature of the Aristophanic passage: the comic Aeschylus is
made to appropriate the great figures of the past for his own project, and as
such they stand on his side of the dichotomies which this play bequeathed
to the subsequent tradition, one of the most important of which is indeed
greatness of genius versus technical proficiency.
This sequence also helps to explain why Horace included the ratio-
nalising and/or allegorical interpretations of the stories of Orpheus and

90 See above p. 45.

Aristophanes Frogs and the critical tradition 51
Amphion.91 For Aristophanes and his audience, the figure of Orpheus was
as closely associated with cultic and mystical lore as with the power of
his music, though this story too was of course well known,92 whereas by
Horaces time, the story of his charming of wild animals could hardly be
ignored. By calling specific attention to this, Horace completely subor-
dinates the sweetness of song to the social and communal function of
poetry the former is in fact merely a mythical way of talking about the
latter and so ars is firmly put in its place, at least for Orpheus; in the
early days, poetic soja really was sapientia. The case is even stronger for
Amphion, who replaces Mousaios in the Aristophanic account. Amphion
was the lyre player who engaged in a famous debate with his brother Zethos
in Euripides Antiope over the value of music, and mousike more generally, in
society; in the tragedy Zethos urges him to abandon music for other more
physically robust and socially useful pursuits, and this fraternal dispute
became a touchstone for debate about the value of intellectual and cultural
pursuits. Most famously perhaps, Plato makes Callicles attack Socrates
childish pursuit of philosophy with an explicit memory of Zethos attack
upon Amphion (Gorgias 484e485e). Horace thus tackles head-on any sug-
gestion that poetry is an idle pastime of no use to ones home or city or
friends, as Zethos presented it in the tragedy (fr. 187.56 K);93 Amphion
was in fact the founder (conditor) of his city, on a par with, say, Aeneas,
and the whole business of rocks following his music was just a colourful
way of referring to his civic achievements.
That of course was then, and this is now, a point made by verses 4067
in which Horace addresses one of the Pisones directly; now means modern
critical standards and a proper appreciation of the importance of ars. One of
the patterns informing this whole section of the Ars is, therefore, the familiar
historical narrative in which literary and cultural forms move successively
closer to technical skill: we may be reminded of Horaces treatment of
Lucilius in Satires 1.4 and 1.10.94 The pattern is, as we have seen, recurrent
in ancient criticism and touches Aeschylus himself, of course, well beyond
the confines of the Frogs. Quintilian, for example, reports that Aeschylus
was sublime and serious and grandiloquent often almost to a fault, but very
91 The origin and chronology of these interpretations remains unclear, though there is no reason why
they might not be relatively early, see Brink 1963: 133 n. 2.
92 See, e.g., West 1983: 37.
93 In the light of Ars P 3834 (equestrian census is a good enough reason to write poetry!), it is interesting
that the tragic debate seems to have made much of mousike as a pastime of the well-to-do, see frr.
187, 198 K, Wilson 1999/2000: 4409.
94 See below pp. 99100.
52 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
often rough and unpolished; for this reason the Athenians allowed later
poets to enter corrected versions of his plays in competition, and many
won the crown in this way (10.1.66 = Aeschylus T 77, 133 R). Here we
seem to have a combination of the narrative traced in this chapter with the
familiar story of posthumous reproductions of Aeschylean plays, together
perhaps with an echo of the fact that poets did indeed not infrequently
revise their own plays for reproduction. We may, however, have serious
doubts that roughness and lack of polish were the real reason for any
changes in Aeschylus tragedies when they were reperformed; rather, as so
often, critical judgements have been imposed upon, and have shaped, the
writing of literary history.
chapter 2

Readings of Homer: Euripides Cyclops

been there, done that

The story of Odysseus and his men caught in the cave of the cannibal giant
and of their escape clinging to the bellies of sheep is one of the most familiar,
and most imitated, of the Odysseys narratives; it has become an iconic
story for western narrative literature. As for antiquity, enough evidence
survives to allow us to track the main outlines of a set of interpretations
which saw in this story a foundational text of Greek identity, the triumph
of intelligence (mtiv and logismv), social convention and respect for
the gods, a mixture to which we might be tempted to give the name
civilisation, over an unreasoning and impious reliance on brute force
and a rejection of socialised community in favour of radical self-will and
individual appetite (qumv, cf. Odyssey 9.278). Like Achilles struggle with
the impulse to draw his sword on Agamemnon in Iliad 1,1 Book 9 of the
Odyssey can with hindsight be seen to stand behind much Greek, most
notably Platonic, psychology, and it is thus not surprising that it became
the subject of elaborate allegory;2 something of the flavour of this material,
and something of the fascination of the story of the Cyclops, may be
gained from Eustathius discussion, which sums up a whole tradition of
The allegory concerns thumos . . . The Cyclops has one eye because the man ruled
by thumos ( qumomenov) has no other thought or consideration for anything
else, but he looks only at one thing, namely the accomplishment of his own will
(qlhma). Odysseus does not destroy such thumos entirely, as it is not possible to
destroy the tripartite soul, of which the thumos is one part. Rather, he blinds it; that
is, he makes the Cyclops bestial and murderous impulses without consequence.
How does he blind it? Quite simply by neglecting and, as it were, closing his eyes

1 See below p. 195 for Plutarchs discussion of this scene; another particularly noteworthy discussion
of Achilles impulse is Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 1718.
2 The remarks which follow expand upon Hunter 2004b: 2445.

54 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
to the perceptible things which make him beastlike, and thus he seems to blind the
Cyclops within himself. When we foolishly concentrate too much on perceptibles,
this makes the Cyclops of this kind within ourselves very sharp-sighted; the person
who wisely avoids such gazing would, on the other hand, be said to blind [the
Cyclops]. So also with desire (piquma): the presence of perceptibles evokes it,
their absence removes it. (Eustathius, Commentaries on Homer 1622.5664)
There is little point in trying to distinguish too narrowly between inter-
pretations of this kind and the, often rather simpler, moralising that the
Odyssey attracted from an early date and which often surfaces within liter-
ary texts (e.g. Horace, Epistles 1.2); writing in the early empire, Heraclitus
neatly sums up such moralising, while adding a particular etymological
twist which may be his own:
When examined closely, Odysseus wanderings will overall be found to be allegor-
ical. Homer has made Odysseus a sort of instrument of every virtue, and through
him has expressed his own philosophy, because he hated the vices which ravage
human life. Pleasure is represented by the land of the Lotophagi, who cultivate
exotic delights: Odysseus shows restraint and sails past . He cripples our wild anger
[thumos] by cauterizing it, as it were, with verbal advice: the name for this anger is
Cyclops, he who steals away [hupoklopon] our powers of reasoning. (Heraclitus,
Homeric Problems 70.15)
For earlier antiquity, however, our information is much less rich, but it is
clear that moralising readings of the Odyssey were familiar from an early
date. Xenophon reports that Socrates used such a mode of interpretation
in jest:
Whenever [Socrates] accepted an invitation to dinner, he resisted without difficulty
the common temptation to exceed the limit of satiety; and he advised those who
could not do likewise to avoid what was set out to make one eat when not hungry
and drink when not thirsty; for he used to say that such things ruined the stomach,
the brain and the soul. He said in jest that he thought that it was by offering a feast
of such things that Circe turned men into pigs; Odysseus had survived this fate
partly through the advice of Hermes, but also because he was self-restrained and
avoided excessive indulgence in such things. (Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.3.67)
It is a great pity in this context that we do not know more of the Homeric
criticism of Antisthenes who, unlike what (little) we know of the best-
known interpreters of Homer in the latter part of the fifth century, seems
to have paid more attention to the Odyssey than to the Iliad and whose
interests will have been largely ethical and moral.3 The subject of the

3 See Richardson 1975: 7881, below pp. 756.

Readings of Homer: Euripides Cyclops 55
present chapter makes the all but total loss of Antisthenes On the use of
wine or On drunkenness or On the Cyclops particularly keenly felt.4
In this situation the survival of Euripides Cyclops is a singular piece
of good fortune for those interested in the ancient critical tradition, and
not of course just for them.5 As the only satyr play which has survived to
us complete and, together with the Rhesus of (very probably) the fourth
century bc, one of only two extant plays which turn episodes from the
Iliad and the Odyssey into drama, the Cyclops is for many reasons a very
significant text, and, as I hope will become clear, the apparently discrete
reasons for that significance are in fact mutually reinforcing. Moreover,
the Cyclops is a potent reminder that scholastic traditions of criticism, so
many strands of which we have seen foreshadowed in the Frogs, are very far
from the only mode of interpretation practised in antiquity from relatively
early periods. The Cyclops is a very striking instance of how later writers
appropriate, and often, as in this case, literally re-write their predecessors
by bringing out the modern structures which can be found there; as is
well known, Euripides reads Homer in the light of some of the political
and ethical interests of late fifth-century Athens, but he also translates the
Homeric contrast between the (hyper-)civilised Phaeacians and the brute
Cyclops into the language of Athenian social conventions, most notably,
of course, those of the elite symposium.6 As such, Euripides Cyclops is a
text of the greatest interest for anyone concerned with how myths, and
the texts which incorporate them, are made to work in, perhaps we might
say to have meaning for, the time of their telling; as is well understood,
myths often speak to the contemporary concerns, as well as the historical
memory, of the communities which tell them. A text such as the Cyclops
shows us how this now generally accepted view of why communities have
and tell myths may be viewed as the oral model from which the allusive
textual practice of literate composers derives; the imitation and rewriting
of prior texts thus has deep roots in oral cultural practice and is not to be
thought of as merely a sophisticated and elite game.
In the history of ancient interpretation the situation of Euripides Cyclops
and the ninth book of the Odyssey has in fact some similarity to that of
Apuleius Metamorphoses and the Lucianic Onos (on the most probable
interpretation of the latter relationship); in both instances we possess both
model and copy, and it is clear that the secondary text does not merely
4 See further below pp. 756.
5 For a guide to recent bibliography on the Cyclops see Knobl 2005.
6 Much has recently been written about how satyrs both are, and are not, like Athenian men, see, e.g.,
Lissarrague 1990, Hall 1998, Griffith 2002, 2005.
56 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
translate the model into its own idiom and linguistic form but also offers
one or more exegetical readings of that model. Although the Onos and
the Metamorphoses were probably written close in time to each other, the
importance of the Homeric poems in Athenian cultural life and education
will probably have reduced the sense that Euripides had taken up a model
from a very remote past, and as such the difference between the two cases
should not be exaggerated. So too, the Metamorphoses may well advertise its
exegetical concerns much more openly than does the Cyclops, but in both
works a pre-existing narrative pattern and a specific textual instantiation
of that pattern are interpreted in terms of, or we might say glossed by,
cultural and intellectual patterns which were potent within the society
that was the audience for the later text. To put it at its simplest, the
Metamorphoses offers a Platonising reading of the story of the man whose
unnecessary curiosity caused him to become an ass; such a reading is rooted
in a specific intellectual context on which the other writings of Apuleius
shed considerable light. Both the Cyclops and the Metamorphoses, therefore,
lend themselves very readily to certain modern approaches to intertextual
practice, and Michele Napolitano and others have already set the Cyclops
within the context of Gerard Genettes well-known work on palimpsestic
literature, which examines a rich text as a layered artefact.7 Moreover,
certain features of satyr play generally, and the Cyclops in particular, will
be seen to make it less surprising that this play is a primary text for the
history of ancient criticism. To judge by what remains, satyr play was not
only characterised by a marked typicality and formularity well beyond that
of tragedy,8 but was also a highly self-conscious and self-referential genre
in this (at least) closer to Old Comedy than to tragedy and, as such, it
was fertile ground for the breeding of a critical sense: explicit consciousness
about ones own literary form and techniques, and in particular about how
a literary or dramatic genre relies on repeated elements and structures
(we may recall, for example, the treatment of Euripides prologues in the
Frogs), naturally carries over into appreciation and exploitation of the work
of others. As we have seen before, a new emphasis upon literary techne goes
hand-in-hand with the rise of criticism.
The self-consciousness of the Cyclops takes two (interrelated) forms.
First and this seems to have been a feature of satyr play more generally
there is what we might call generic awareness; the play itself, of course,
contains clear allusions to various familiar topoi of satyr play (e.g. v. 465 the

7 See Napolitano 2005.

8 See, e.g., Krumeich, Pechstein and Seidensticker 1999: 2832, with further bibliography.
Readings of Homer: Euripides Cyclops 57
satyrs pleasure in inventions, ermata), but more important is the
sense that we, and the characters, have been here (i.e. performing and/or
watching satyr play) before, and we all know it. Some at least of the
countless troubles (muroi pnoi) of which Silenos complains in the
opening verse and to which he makes further brief allusion in the prologue
will have been the subject of previous satyr plays;9 such reference to previous
dramatic experience reinforces our (comforting) sense of familiarity and
of knowing where we are. Not dissimilar are the past pleasures and pains
which Dikaiopolis, qua regular theatre-goer, recalls in the prologue of
Aristophanes Acharnians; in both instances, the present case, namely the
play we are about to watch, is claimed to surpass those past (dramatic)
examples (Ach. 1722, Cyclops 10).10 So too, the very end of the play, in
which the joyful chorus pick up Silenos opening reference to Dionysus,
for the future we shall be the slaves of (doulesomen) the Bacchic one,
does not merely point the familiar paradox that, for the satyrs, release from
servitude to the Cyclops (cf. vv. 245, 767) is release into a servitude which
is actually freedom,11 but also promises future satyr play to come: we are
back where we started from, and when we next see Euripides satyr chorus
(i.e. at next years festival) they will again be slaves, whether Dionysus or
some other characters. There is, in Mark Griffiths words, a timeless and
unchanging quality about the satyr chorus who are always the same
satyrs, who always were and always will be getting into and out of trouble,
then and now.12 The world of satyr play, like perhaps not coincidentally
the world of bucolic/pastoral, is a familiar landscape always waiting to
receive us, always still in the state we left it; pastoral too creates its sense
of familiarity in part by constant reference to (alleged) previous pastoral
events beyond the immediate occasion.
The self-consciousness of satyr play is often viewed in terms of metathe-
atrical phenomena, such as the insistently regular reference to the perfor-
mative aspects of drama dance, music and costume.13 Thus, for example,
as the chorus of satyrs approaches, Silenos calls our attention to their sig-
nature tune the sikinnis dance and again we know where we are.14 The
parodos of the Cyclops, however, may offer a particular, and rather more
interesting, case of the concern with generic space which seems to have

9 See, e.g., Seaford on vv. 35, 59, 1117, 39. 10 For this priamel effect see Davies 1999.
11 See, e.g., Dodds on Bacchae 657, Seaford on Cyclops 767. For the theme of servitude in satyr play
see, e.g., Seaford 1981: 272.
12 Griffith 2002: 212; see also Griffith 2005: 1712.
13 For a collection of material see, e.g., Kaimio et al. 2001.
14 On the dancing of a satyr chorus see, e.g., Seidensticker 2003: 11017.
58 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
characterised satyr drama. It has often been noted that, as the earliest extant
pastoral song,15 the parodos may exploit a (real or imagined) tradition of
rustic Sicilian song-making, a view strengthened by the bucolic parody
of Philoxenus dithyramb, Cyclops or Galateia, in Aristophanes Ploutos
and by the later poetry of the Sicilian Theocritus.16 The pastoral song of
the satyrs, however, draws no explicit attention to goats, as opposed to
sheep (and, of course, in particular to the ram of the Odyssey), though
mla (e.g. vv. 35, 162, 218) could refer to both, and such a mixed flock
would be normal within Mediterranean pastoralism.17 Like the absence of
wine (see further below), this difference from Homer (whether it works
at the textual or visual level, or both) may be seen as one sign of the
satyrs radical separation from Dionysus, because the goat is a notoriously
Dionysiac animal; the only tangible remnant of the Dionysiac left to the
satyrs is the wretched goatskin cloak in which Silenos at least is dressed
(vv. 801).18 However the parodos was actually presented, it may be worth
wondering whether it gestures towards (the origins of ) tragwida as goat
song, but steers away from too open a declaration by avoiding any explicit
reference to goats; what we are offered, perhaps, is mhlwida in place of
melwida. This can, of course, be no more than a speculation. Theocritus
was later to make creative use of the idea of his bucolic poetry as in fact
goat song,19 but how early this etymology of tragwida had established
itself remains unclear.20 If, however, there is anything to this speculation,
we may see here a striking example of how satyr play positions itself gener-
ically as both like and unlike tragwida; what we are watching is related
to tragwida, but it is also (not very subtly) different. Reflection on the
history and relationship of the dramatic genres did not, of course, begin
with Aristotle, and, had more satyr plays survived, we might well, for
example, possess more material relevant to Aristotles claim that tragedy
developed from those who lead off the dithyramb (Poetics 1449a10). As
soon as he is released from war and evils (v. 201), Dikaiopolis in Aristo-
phanes Acharnians celebrates the phallic procession of the Rural Dionysia,
in a scene which can hardly fail to bring to mind Aristotles later claim
that comedy developed from those who lead the phallic songs such as

15 Seaford 1988: 106. 16 See, e.g., Hunter 1999: 9.

17 In Theocritus the Cyclops seems to have only sheep, see Hunter 1999: 250. For the post-Homeric
use of mla see Schmidt 1979, Slater on Aristophanes of Byzantium frr. 11819.
18 If this does not refer to regular satyric dress (the matter has been much discussed), then it may be
thought that these verses indeed point to the presence of goats among the satyrs charges. What is
important, rather, is what is given emphasis in the text which directs the gaze of the spectators.
19 See Hunter 1999: 612. 20 See, e.g., Pickard-Cambridge 1962: 11224.
Readings of Homer: Euripides Cyclops 59
still today continue in many cities (Poetics 1449a1113);21 the restoration of
(personal) peace means the restoration of kwmwida in its original form,
and it is at least worth asking whether this (in part) reflects late fifth-century
discussion of the history and development of dramatic form.
Secondly, there is a very strong sense, noted by many modern commen-
tators on the play, that the characters are acting out a story which they
know, that they (and the audience) are in fact familiar with the Odyssey
and are playing out a script which all know in advance;22 the story we are
watching has already passed into the world of mqov (vv. 3756).23 When
Odysseus heroically declares that he will either die nobly, if die I must, or
survive and preserve24 my former reputation (anov) (vv. 2012), we may
be reminded of Hector facing his final duel:
m mn spoude ge ka klewv polomhn,
ll mga xav ti ka ssomnoisi puqsqai.
(Homer, Iliad 22.3045)
May I die not without contest and glory, but having accomplished a marvellous
deed and one for later generations to hear.
Whereas, however, Hector dreams of a future glory arising from an unde-
fined deed still in front of him, Odysseus concern is with the preservation
of the past, and it might be thought difficult not to hear ainos as story,
fable: Odysseus is indeed in a story in which he does in fact survive, as he
and we know only too well.
With this sense of a predetermined future the Cyclops might be thought
to anticipate some familiar features of Hellenistic and Roman poetry.25
Thus, for example, Odysseus foreshadows (vv. 4603) the blinding of the
Cyclops with a rewriting of the shipbuilding simile of Odyssey 9.384
8; Odysseus knows that this is what will happen similes referring
to future action are strikingly rare because he and we have read the
script. So too, when Odysseus first enters and identifies himself to Silenos

21 See Pickard-Cambridge 1962: 13262.

22 See, e.g., Gargiulo 1996; Wright 2006: 356, who correctly observes it is as if the Odyssey has already
been written and all the characters know it. Wrights discussion (pp. 3240) of metamythology
in the Cyclops draws much relevant material together. Vv. 4479 might contain an example of a
related phenomenon. The satyrs expectation that Odysseus will ambush the Cyclops in a lonely
place may be based on their familiarity with the Iliadic Doloneia, as well perhaps on earlier satyr
play (cf. Ussher 1978 ad loc.), but such a scheme is not dlion enough for Odysseus.
23 The particular point of these verses, on which many have commented, is that Odysseus himself
attests to the unbelievability of probably the most famous of his tales.
24 The text is problematic (see Seaford ad loc.), but the general sense seems clear.
25 For which see Barchiesi 1993.
60 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
as Odysseus of Ithaca, lord of the land of the Cephallenians, we are
presumably to recall Odysseus identification of himself to the Phaeacians:
em Odusev Laertidhv, v psi dloisin
nqrpoisi mlw, ka meu klov orann kei.
naietw d Iqkhn edeelon.
(Homer, Odyssey 9.1921)
I am Odysseus son of Laertes, known to all men for cunning, and my fame reaches
heaven. I dwell in far-seen Ithaca.

The Euripidean Odysseus omits his fame for dloi, but Silenos (who has
clearly read his Odyssey) is only too keen to fill the gap in his own malicious
od ndra, krtalon drim, Sisjou gnov.
(Euripides, Cyclops 104)
I know the man, a cunning trickster, offspring of Sisyphus.

Sisyphos replaces Laertes and krtalon drim is an unflattering version

of the Homeric Odysseus assertion of fame. In performance, I know
the man was presumably also I know the man . . ., thus mocking the
ndra . . . poltropon through the opening word of the poem which
celebrates him and from which the plot of the present play is taken.26 So
too, when Silenos later urges his master to eat the newcomers as a nice
change of diet, because no other strangers have recently (newst) come to
your cave (vv. 2502), we are, I think, to understand that the last such xnoi
were indeed the Homeric Odysseus and his men; (not) recently marks the
distance between model text and copy. Silenos in fact knows his Odyssey
rather well. The fate of the satyrs in being blown off course while rounding
Cape Malea (vv. 1820) is an obvious replay of the fate of Odysseus and his
crew (Odyssey 9.801);27 Seaford here rightly notes the light absurdity of
Silenos epic pretensions, but this story makes clear, long before Odysseus
enters, that Silenos is not only playing out a role from the Odyssey, namely
captivity by the Cyclops but has in fact modelled his fate, and that of his
colleagues, upon that of the epic hero of a poem he cannot, of course,
actually have read. He is the satyr of muroi pnoi (v. 1), living out the
nightmare of the nr of poll lgea (Odyssey 1.4). When Odysseus
tells him that storm winds have carried the Greeks to Sicily, Silenos

26 See Wright 2006: 36.

27 Commentators note a number of Odyssean parallels for the language of vv. 1617.
Readings of Homer: Euripides Cyclops 61
papa tn atn damon xantlev mo.
(Euripides, Cyclops 110)
Ah! You are suffering from the same fate as me.
It would have been more correct, but less amusingly self-absorbed, for
Silenos to note that in fact his fate is the same as (indeed modelled upon)
Odysseus, not vice versa;28 the humour is somewhat akin to Ovids inverted
presentation of the situation of Amores 1.4:
uir tuus est epulas nobis aditurus easdem
(Ovid, Amores 1.4.1)
Your partner is going to the same dinner-party as us . . .
A rather more extended instance of this phenomenon occurs in the
course of Odysseus first interview with the Cyclops:
Ku. qlw d rsqai pqen plesat, xnoi;
podapo; tv mv xepadeusen pliv;
Od. Iqaksioi mn t gnov, Ilou d po
prsantev stu, pnemasin qalassoiv
sn gaan xwsqntev komen, Kklwy.
Ku. tv kaksthv o metlqeq rpagv
Elnhv Skamndrou geton Ilou plin;
Od. otoi, pnon tn deinn xhntlhktev.
Ku. ascrn strteuma g, otinev miv crin
gunaikv xeplesat v gaan Frugn.
Od. qeo t prgma mhdn ati brotn.
(Euripides, Cyclops 27585)
cycl. I have a question: From where did you sail, strangers? Where are you from?
What city raised you up?
od. By race we are Ithacans. Returning from Ilium after having sacked the city,
we were blown off course by sea winds and have come to your land, Cyclops.
cycl. Are you those who pursued the foul woman Helen to the the city of Ilium,
neighbouring the Scamander, after she had been carried off?
od. Yes we are and we endured terrible suffering.
cycl. A disgraceful expedition! To sail to the land of the Phrygians for the sake of
one woman!
od. It was gods doing; do not blame any man.
Odysseus self-presentation to the Cyclops is a close reworking of the
corresponding passage in Odyssey 9:
mev toi Trohqen poplagcqntev Acaio
pantoois nmoisin pr mga latma qalsshv,
28 The force of papa may be almost Thats amazing!, with however heavy a dose of irony we wish
to assume. On these verses see also Griffith 2002: 207 n. 39.
62 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
okade menoi, llhn dn lla kleuqa
lqomen otw pou Zev qele mhtsasqai.
lao d Atredew Agammnonov ecmeq enai,
to d nn ge mgiston pournion klov st
tsshn gr diperse plin ka plese laov
pollov. (Homer, Odyssey 9.25966)
We are Achaeans coming from Troy who have been knocked off course by battling
winds as we sailed over the vast sea. We were heading for home, but have come on a
different route and another journey. This no doubt was how Zeus willed it to be. We
are proud to be from the army of Agamemnon son of Atreus, whose fame is highest
under heaven; so great was the city he sacked and many the soldiers he killed.

The Cyclops incongruous knowledge29 of Helen and the Trojan War

does not merely, as the commentators rightly note, humorously echo a
familiar motif of Euripidean tragedy itself (was the Trojan War actually
worth it?), but it resonates against the Homeric Odysseus declaration
of Agamemnons unsurpassed kleos beneath heaven; it is clear from the
scholia that later readers were puzzled as to why Odysseus said this to a
monster who will hardly have been impressed (and is most unlikely to have
heard of either Agamemnon or his father Atreus), and it may be that behind
Euripides text lies (once again) the early forerunners of such zetemata,30
but what is clear is that Odysseus rhetoric in this passage is fashioned so
as to suggest that he has learned about his adversary not just from Silenos,
but from the Odyssey itself. The specificity of we are Ithacans, rather than
the Homeric Achaeans, may be designed to appeal to a Sicilian who might
be thought to have heard of the western Greek island, although it was of
course the Odyssey itself which had made Ithaca famous. Clearly, however,
the omission of the boast about Agamemnons kleos and the downsizing
of the very great city he sacked and the multitudes of men he killed to
merely we sacked Troy shows that Odysseus is now trying to adapt to the
situation which confronts him. Most striking of all is the absence of Zeus
from Odysseus rhetoric. Whereas in Homer it is Zeus who is behind the
winds which cause the Greek loss of direction on the homeward voyage
(v. 262), in Euripides no divine force is placed behind the completely
natural phenomenon of adverse weather conditions (vv. 2789). When
the Euripidean Odysseus explains the Trojan expedition as a work of god
(v. 285), the vague generality is evasive, but the audience will naturally think

29 Anachronism was to remain a feature of the scholarly concern with the Homeric Cyclops episode,
see the scholia on Odyssey 3.71, Meijering 1987: 65.
30 For this tradition see above pp. 214.
Readings of Homer: Euripides Cyclops 63
of the famous story of the aetiology of the war in the Cypria, namely Zeuss
plan to relieve the world of overpopulation; Zeus himself, however, is never
mentioned. Moreover, when in this passage Odysseus makes his plea to the
Cyclops for hospitality and protection, this is couched completely in terms
of the Cyclops father, Poseidon, and Zeus remains a remarkable absentee,
nowhere more remarkable of course than in Odysseus appeal to the nomos
governing suppliants (vv. 299303; contrast Odyssey 9.26971). That the
Cyclops, however, understands Odysseus silences is strongly suggested by
the fact that he throws back in Odysseus face the name of the god whom
Odysseus very deliberately suppressed (vv. 3201);31 the Cyclops too has
read the Homeric script.
The world has thus moved on from the time of the Odyssey, geograph-
ically, culturally and intellectually and, as Euripides will make us see, it
is in part the Odyssey itself which is responsible for that progress. Perhaps
no verse is as startling in this context as the Cyclops opening question
to Odysseus, What polis raised you up ? (xepadeusen, v. 276), but an
Athenian audience, being used perhaps to being told that their city was an
education (padeusiv) to Greece (Thucydides 2.41.1), may have been less
surprised. Democracy too has been invented (v. 119).32 The Cyclopes now
inhabit a specified location in Sicily, a fact which does not seem to surprise
the Euripidean Odysseus. When Silenos tells him that he has reached the
Aitnaian rise, the highest point of Sicily (v. 114), Odysseus asks in surprise,
But where are the walls and the towers of a/the city? The question would
certainly have surprised us coming from the Homeric hero. The Euripi-
dean Odysseus apparently knows that Sicily is an inhabited (and indeed
fortified) island, but perhaps too he knows of, and thus expects to see,
the city of Aitna, founded by Hieron I and celebrated on more than one
occasion by Pindar. The Sicilian location also helps to explain the appar-
ent elimination of the famous goat island (Odyssey 9.11651) from which
the Homeric Odysseus launches his raid on the Cyclopes: once we have
a specific Sicilian location, then goat island too should be identifiable;
later Homeric scholars might well have explained that this is one of those
31 See Seaford ad loc., noting that some have even seen these verses as evidence for a lacuna in Odysseus
speech in which Zeus was mentioned. Most commentators see these verses in the Cyclops reply as
picking up vv. 299301, and this would of course fit with their Homeric model; nevertheless, the
Cyclops dismissal of Zeuss thunderbolt would also be a very suitable retort to the vague threat
with which Odysseus had ended (many have reaped punishment for wicked gains, vv. 31112).
Paganelli 1979: 31 thinks of legendary qeomcoi such as Typhoeus and Capaneus, and this seems to
me along the right lines.
32 Seaford observes that Odysseus question is a natural one, and it is easy enough to find parallel
phenomena in tragedy (cf. Easterling 1985: 23, 910), but the context and identity of the speaker
gives this instance particular effect.
64 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
instances where Homer blended a real and a plasmatic geography,33 but
it is unlikely that this was a motive for Euripides silence. Goat island
simply does not exist for the purposes of the satyr play.34 So too, the sacred
geography of Greece with which Odysseus seeks to impress the Cyclops
at verses 2906 is clearly a post-Homeric geography, just as the rhetoric
of Greek monuments rescued from eastern savagery belongs to the world
after the Persian Wars. The place in the drama of Dionysus, almost entirely
a non-Homeric figure,35 and Bromios, who of course never appears in early
epic, is itself a marker of change. In updating its model, the Cyclops rep-
resents a kind of criticism, and indeed a kind of dramatic performance,
which seeks the concerns of the present in the literary texture of the past.
One not really paradoxical result of this familiarity, or what we may per-
haps call pre-scriptedness, is that the Cyclops has a distinctly improvisatory
feel, not unlike (in some ways) modern pantomime or even Plautus;36 as
characters and audience both know the script, they can concentrate on
how it is actually going to work out and enjoy the old favourites when
they come along. The teleological control which Odysseus imposes upon
his narrative in Homer has becomes a series of scenes made up as they go
along. Some jokes are unavoidable: the otiv business has to be there,
but not a lot need be made of it (vv. 549, 6723). If we ask Why dont
the Greeks and the satyrs just run away?, the answer will be Because there
would not be a play . . ., and there has to be a trapped in the cave scene.37 It
is tempting to wonder whether earlier dramatic improvisations of Homer
were like this: many critics have thought that satyr play preserves more of
the spirit of early drama than does the tragedy of the late fifth century.

civilised pleasures
One of the most discussed differences between the Homeric and the Euripi-
dean narrative is that, in the drama, wine is completely unknown to the

33 The most notable discussion is Strabo 1.2. As far as I am aware, ancient scholarship did not offer a
location for Goat Island, though that of course has not stopped some moderns; it is to be noted
that Eustathius seems to stress that the island was a plasma of the poet (Hom. 1619.56). Rosen
2007: 143 sees the changed motive for the Greek arrival as one instance of how Euripides glosses
over much of the moral ambiguity in the Homeric version.
34 I have considered, but rejected, the possibility that this is to be connected to the Dionysiac nature
of goats, see above p. 58.
35 See below p. 66.
36 The scene of plotting at vv. 44178 has a distinctly Plautine feel (note the metaphor of rcitktosin
at 477, where see also Seafords note).
37 Zwierlein 1967: 4534 suggests that the apparent revelation at the end that the cave has a second
entrance (v. 707) shows that the whole action was blosse Farce.
Readings of Homer: Euripides Cyclops 65
Cyclopes (vv. 1234). This obviously intensifies the radical separation of
the satyrs from their god,38 but it is also the case, as Luigi Enrico Rossi
stressed,39 that the complete absence of wine also means the absence of
a knowledge of how to use wine, that is of how to behave in a civilised
and socialised manner, which in the Cyclops is equated to the world and
the imaginaire of the elite Attic symposium of the late fifth century. The
theme is of course already prominent in Homer, and Euripides has here
anticipated many modern studies of the cultural concerns of the Odyssey.
In Homer, Polyphemus uncivilised appetites, most strikingly marked not
just by his eating of human flesh but by his willingness to drink unmixed
a wine so strong that it should have been mixed with twenty measures of
water (Odyssey 9.209), are set against, as is the behaviour of the suitors, the
pleasures of the well-ordered feast, celebrated by Odysseus in the famous
golden verses which stand at the head of Book 9 (9.111); the Phaeacians,
naturally enough, drink their wine properly diluted (9.910). The Euripi-
dean Polyphemus komos mancato, as Rossi put it, which dramatises a
failure of socialisation and cuts Polyphemus off from his brothers, may
perhaps in this context be seen as the counterpart of the Homeric bo,
the call to ones neighbours for help and protection, by which Polyphe-
mus summons the other Cyclopes after his blinding (9.399412); these
social practices should dramatise and reinforce communal cohesion, but
(unsurprisingly) in the society of the Cyclopes such mechanisms do not
The complete absence of wine from the world of the Cyclopes is also
fundamental to the Euripidean fashioning of the Homeric episode as a
story about the introduction of Dionysus rites to a land which did not
know them before. Modern students of the play will, of course, first think of
Euripides own Bacchae (see further below) and of Aeschylus Lykourgeia,
which certainly influenced and is imitated in the Bacchae. We should,
however, also remember Attic myths of the introduction and proper use
of wine (i.e. the manners of the symposium). Best known perhaps is
the story of Ikarios, father of Erigone, who was killed by the peasants
with whom he shared the wine given to him by the god, because they
thought he was poisoning them; the story cannot certainly be traced before
Eratosthenes third-century poem, but there is no good reason to doubt
that he had earlier Attic sources.40 Philochorus (c. 340260 bc), the great
chronicler of Athenian legend and history, recorded that the Athenian king
38 See Kassel 1955: 283; Olson 1988.
39 See Rossi 1971; further discussion in, e.g., Hamilton 1979, Napolitano 2000.
40 See Rosokoki 1995: 215.
66 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
Amphictyon learned from Dionysus the art of mixing wine, established
altars to Dionysus the Erect (because the invention of diluted wine finally
allowed men to stand up straight!) and the Nymphs (as the goddesses
of water), and instituted sympotic practice in Athens (FGrHist 328 F5).41
The Bacchae and the Cyclops are both similar stories of the introduction
of the gods rites,42 and in his satyr play Euripides has brought out how
such a pattern lies waiting already in Homer. This reading in some ways
compensates the patron god of drama for what looks at first like the snub
he receives in the Homeric poems, from which he is all but completely
absent;43 he was not in fact absent one merely had to know where to
look. The following passages of the two plays point the analogy sharply:
mkar stiv eizei
botrwn jlaisi phgav
p kmon kpetasqev
jlon ndr pagkalzwn,
p demnoiv te + xanqn +
clidanv cwn tarav
murcristov liparn b-
strucon, adi d Qran tv oxei moi;
(Euripides, Cyclops 495502)
Blessed is the man who shouts the holy cry, spurred on to the komos by the sweet
juices of the grape; he rests upon a friend, and on her bed a lovely hetaira awaits
her myrrh-besprinkled lover. Who will open the door for me? is his shout.
mkar, stiv eda-
mwn teletv qen e-
dv biotn gisteei
ka qiaseetai yu-
cn n ressi bakce-
wn soiv kaqarmosin,
t te matrv meglav r-
gia Kublav qemitewn
n qrson te tinsswn
kissi te stejanwqev
Dinuson qerapeei.
(Euripides, Bacchae 7282)
Blessed is the man who is happy in his knowledge of the gods rites and keeps
his life holy and gives his soul to the thiasos, as he performs Bacchic rites on the

41 See further Hunter 1983: 1845.

42 See Seaford 1981: 2724; for more on the parallelism of the two plays see Hunter 2006a: 756.
43 The few relevant passages are gathered and discussed by Privitera 1970; see also Davies 2000, Tsagalis
2008: 129.
Readings of Homer: Euripides Cyclops 67
mountains in pure acts of cleansing; as he carries out the sacred rites of the great
mother Kybele and shakes the thyrsos he serves Dionysus, his head crowned with
The plays foreground different rites of the god, but we must not seek to
draw too sharp a distinction between the maenadic and cultic rites of
the Bacchae and the sympotic practice of the Cyclops; it is well understood
that one of the questions which the tragedy explores is indeed the relation
between the ecstatic rites on the mountain and the cultured pleasures of
the symposium.44 The juxtaposition of Silenos and his children to polite
sympotic practice, a juxtaposition of course very common in Attic vase
painting, raises very similar issues in a different mode. This may be no
more than saying that both plays explore the nature of the Dionysiac, but
they do so in illuminatingly complementary ways.
Alongside this Dionysiac reading of Odyssey 9, sits another which has
also been much discussed in various terms.45 At verses 31012 Odysseus
appeals to Polyphemus to abandon his outrageous appetite and to choose
respect for the gods over impiety:
prev t mrgon sv gnqou, t d esebv
tv dussebeav nqelo pollosi gr
krdh ponhr zhman meyato.
(Euripides, Cyclops 31012)
Give up your gluttony and choose the path of piety rather than impiety! Base
profits have been the undoing of many.
We are here at a moment in history: the savage (cf. v. 289) is to renounce
his way of life and become civilised. Odysseus appeals to Polyphemus
through human nomos, only to find that the Cyclops, like the newly
educated Pheidippides in Aristophanes Clouds, knows all the arguments
against nomos (33840); far from being a savage, he has in fact passed
beyond the constraints of civilisation, and Cyclops society may thus be
thought of as both pre- and post- the rule of nmov. In this reading of
Odyssey 9, self-willed hedonism and the indulgence of power, governed
only by the appetites of the thumos, are set against respect for nomoi, justice
and the gods and a recognition of the need for men to live together in
socialised groups. Although the Cyclops witty speech of self-presentation

44 I should perhaps add that I see no grounds in the text to take Polyphemus (culinarily sophisticated)
anthropophagy as a satyric version of a Dionysiac mojaga, which might have been another way
in which the wild and the sympotic rites were brought together.
45 See, e.g., Paganelli 1979; Seaford 1988: 517; Mastromarco 1998; 301; Hunter 2004b: 2445;
P. OSullivan 2005, all citing further bibliography.
68 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
at verses 31546 has often been thought to exploit sophistic arguments,
Patrick OSullivan, in particular, has stressed that Polyphemus devotion
to bodily pleasure, blasphemy and the rejection of law and convention
associate him much more closely with popular notions and stage dramati-
sations of tyranny than with ideas that can plausibly be associated with the
sophists.46 What is clear, however, is the modern flavour of the arguments
of this surprisingly articulate monster; as is well known, the strongest par-
allels are with the figure of Callicles in Platos Gorgias, who argues that the
strong should, indeed have a natural duty to, indulge their natures by rul-
ing over the weak (e.g. Gorgias 483d) and who appeals to a justice rooted
in nature, not in convention (e.g. 484a, 488b, 491e). Callicles hedonism is
a fairly straightforward one:
Natural decency and justice (t kat jsin kaln ka dkaion) . . . demands that
the person who would live properly (rqv) should allow his appetites to grow as
powerful as possible and should not check them, should serve them when they are
at their height through manliness and intelligence, and should satisfy his appetites
as they arise. (Plato, Gorgias 491e6492a2)
The Euripidean Cyclops has a similarly straightforward approach to plea-
g d ngkhi, kn qlhi kn m qlhi,
tktousa poan tm pianei bot.
g otini qw pln mo, qeosi d o,
ka ti megsthi, gastr tide, daimnwn.
v tompien ge ka jagen toj mran,
Zev otov nqrpoisi tosi sjrosin,
lupen d mhdn atn. o d tov nmouv
qento poikllontev nqrpwn bon,
klaein nwga. tn d mn yucn g
o pasomai drn e, katesqwn ge s.
(Euripides, Cyclops 33241)
The earth is forced, whether it likes it or not, to give birth to the grass which
fattens my flocks. I sacrifice them to no one except myself, not to the gods, and
to the greatest of higher beings, this belly of mine. Having enough to drink and
eat each day, this for wise men is what is Zeus, and causing oneself no pain. As
for those who have made mens lives complicated by instituting laws, they can go
hang! I shall not cease from benefactions to my own spirit, by eating you!
We may see here two complementary forms of gloss: on the one hand,
a bringing-out of the implications of the fact that the Homeric Cyclops

46 P. OSullivan 2005.
Readings of Homer: Euripides Cyclops 69
is guided only by his thumos (Odyssey 9.278), that is, a translation of this
attitude into modern terms, and, on the other, a translation of modern
ideas, such as those represented by the Platonic Callicles, into the remote
mythical world of the cannibal Cyclops. When the Cyclops notes that
what matters to the wise is wealth and that everything else (i.e. justice and
piety) is empty nonsense and pretty words (kmpoi ka lgwn emorja,
v. 317) and that nomoi are an unnecessary complication (poikllontev)
of the business of life, at the heart of which is the simple daily pursuit of
food and drink, and brusquely dismisses those responsible for this situation
(klaein nwga), we seem very close to Callicles dismissal of conventional
Expensive pleasures and unrestrained behaviour and freedom, this is virtue and
happiness, if they have support.48 All of these embellishments [kallwpsmata,
i.e. ideas such as justice and sophrosyne], namely the agreements which men make
contrary to nature, are worthless nonsense (jluara ka odenv xia). (Plato,
Gorgias 492c47)
In the terms of Platos Republic we would say that Polyphemus is completely
under the control of the piqumhtikn part of the soul, which is responsible
for sexual desire and hunger and thirst and is roused by the other desires;
it is irrational and appetitive, the companion of satisfactions and pleasures
(Rep. 4.439d68), When Heraclitus and other later interpreters read the
clash of Odysseus and the Cyclops as a Platonic struggle between reason
and appetite, they were again following Euripides lead.49
The state of nature to which the Cyclops appeals is, as we have noted,
both pre-nomos, as was (basically) the world of the Homeric Cyclops,
and post-nomos, as was some of the radical speculation which was in
the air when Euripides wrote and which presumably lies behind some
of the arguments of the Platonic Callicles. Euripides has thus drawn out
the apparent analogies between Homers description of Cyclops society,
contemporary speculation about the life of early men, and intellectualist
claims for the rights of nature and the strong. The force of this anthropology
is clearly seen, for example, in the famous verses of Sisyphus in a play of
Critias, probably not far removed in time from the Cyclops:50
n crnov t n taktov nqrpwn bov
ka qhridhv scov q phrthv,
t odn qlon ote tov sqlosin n
ot a klasma tov kakov ggneto.
47 Dodds ad loc. compares Cyclops 31617. 48 The meaning is (deliberately?) vague.
49 See above p. 53. 50 See also Sextus Empiricus, Against the Physicists 1.1417.
70 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
kpeit moi dokosin nqrwpoi nmouv
qsqai kolastv, na dkh trannov i
< > tn q brin dolhn chi
zhmioto d e tiv xamartnoi.
(Critias fr. 19.18 K-S)
There was a time when mens lives were disordered and beastlike and enslaved to
force. There was no prize for the good nor punishment for the wicked. I think
that men then established laws as punishers, so that justice might rule . . . and
have hybris as her slave; if someone did wrong, he was punished.
In this passage Sisyphus proceeds to explain how fear of gods was then
invented by some clever man of wise intellect to prevent secret wrong-
doing. Euripides Cyclops is not an atheist in the strict sense, but he too
certainly does not allow that the gods have any place in his life (see further
The Homeric Cyclops is notoriously a loner, living apart from his fellow
Cyclopes, and, by some ancient accounts at least,51 quite different from
them; his attempt at mobilising communal self-help networks through the
bo is, as we have seen, a complete failure. In the fifth century the tyrant too
was typically conceived as unable to have friends,52 in part because he must
always be suspicious of everyone. So too, for the Socrates of the Gorgias, the
life of unrestrained indulgence which Callicles champions is not just the life
of a brigand (507e2), but it is a life which denies all fellowship (koinwna)
and friendship (jila, 507e5). In Euripides this aspect of the Cyclops is
paradoxically dramatised as, against his initial sociable inclination, he is
persuaded to overturn the whole notion of the rites of the socialised god,
and of the very word sumpsion (cf. v. 540), by drinking alone, a practice
which as in the Athenian Choes ritual is often marked as transgressive of
ordinary human culture, the prerogative rather of gods (including of course
Dionysus himself ) and heroes.53 Polyphemus delusions of grandeur and
his complete confidence in his own self-sufficiency are such, of course,
that he takes little persuasion to adopt such a godlike pose. We may
perhaps compare (and contrast) Bdelycleons persuasion of his old father
in Aristophanes Wasps to perform another quintessentially communal act,
jury service, alone and at home, a role which also suits the old mans
delusions that, like the Euripidean Cyclops, his absolute power (vv. 5489)
is no less than that of Zeus (vv. 61930, cf. Cyclops 3201); both Philocleon
and the Cyclops indeed compare their respective thundering to that of

51 See below p. 75 on Antisthenes. 52 See P. OSullivan 2005: 1425.

53 See, e.g., Steinhart and Slater 1997.
Readings of Homer: Euripides Cyclops 71
Zeus (Wasps 6215, Cyclops 3278), and for both this godlike position is in
part manifested by blissful imperviousness to Zeuss weather (Wasps 7715,
Cyclops 32331). It is curious, if no more, that the Wasps too has a scene
derived from the Cyclops adventure of Odyssey 9,54 and also a scene of the
sympotic instruction of a skaiv (vv. 11221264).55 Like the Euripidean
Cyclops, if not quite so radically, Philocleon is also unused to wine (see
Wasps 12525) and it has a startling effect on him; the closing scenes of
the Wasps may in fact be viewed as another version of the introduction of
wine narrative.
The various aspects of Euripides translation of Odyssey 9 into a modern
idiom could be exemplified at length from Polyphemus speech at Cyclops
31646, but one further complex instance may suffice here. One of the
famous problems of Odyssey 9, and one which concerned ancient readers as
well (see further below), was how the Cyclops primitive savagery appeared
to be combined with Golden Age elements, most notably the richness of
the land:
Kuklpwn d v gaan perjilwn qemstwn
kmeq, o a qeosi pepoiqtev qantoisin
ote juteousin cersn jutn ot rwsin,
ll t g sparta ka nrota pnta jontai,
puro ka kriqa d mpeloi, a te jrousin
onon ristjulon, ka sjin Div mbrov xei.
(Homer, Odyssey 9.10611)
We came to the land of the brutal, lawless Cyclopes, who, trusting in the immortal
gods, neither plant with their hands nor plough; everything grows unsown and
unploughed wheat and barley and vines which produce a lovely wine, nurtured
by Zeuss rain.
In the bounty of the land we recognise a familiar element of Golden
Age discourse, and the Cyclopes (or some of their characteristics) have
indeed often been read, both in antiquity and modern times, as illustrative
of the life of early man, golden or otherwise. Thucydides account of
Greek prehistory no walled settlements (cf. Cyclops 115) and no trade
or agriculture, just the pursuit of enough for survival (1.2.12) seems
clearly indebted to it,56 and in the Laws Platos description of the pastoral
life of the survivors of the great flood evokes the Cyclopes more than once,
though it also differs notably from Cyclopean society in important respects;
54 See Napolitano 2005: 457.
55 See Seaford on Cyclops 521. For the lack of culture see Cyclops 490, Wasps 13201.
56 See Nicolai 2005. Plato, Protagoras 322a seems to draw elements from the Homeric picture, without
actually echoing it closely.
72 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
verses 11215 of Odyssey 9 are explicitly quoted to illustrate the governance
of these primitive men (Laws 3.680cd).57 We recognise here also the
discourse of colonialism, which has, at least with respect to cannibalism,
recently been brought to bear upon Odyssey 9 to excellent effect;58 just as
faraway people are often reported to have one eye (cf. Herodotus 3.116,
4.27 on the Arimaspians),59 so they often enjoy human flesh, or indeed
the two characteristics may coexist.60 For the bounty of the land of the
Cyclopes we may compare a much-quoted description by James Cook of
the aboriginal inhabitants of what is now Australia, whom he encountered
in the second half of the eighteenth century:
From what I have said of the Natives of New Holland, they may appear to some
to be the most wretched people upon Earth, but in reality they are far happier
than we Europeans; being wholy unacquainted not only with the superfluous but
the necessary Conveniences so much sought after in Europe, they are happy in
not knowing the use of them. They live in a Tranquility which is not disturbd by
the Inequality of Condition; the Earth and sea of their own accord furnishes them
with all things necessary for life.61
The Euripidean Cyclops, however, has no time for the romanticism of
Homers Odyssey or of a James Cook; for him this is all a matter of the fixed
rules (ngkh) of natural processes:
g d ngkhi, kn qlhi kn m qlhi,
tktousa poan tm pianei bot.
(Euripides, Cyclops 3323)
The earth is forced, whether it likes it or not, to give birth to the grass which
fattens my flocks.
Commentators rightly compare how Socrates describes the compulsory
natural phenomenon of thunder in Aristophanes Clouds (vv. 37680), and
the necessity of nature was indeed an important idea in the world-view
of more than one contemporary theorist;62 the Cyclops point, however, is
not that nature has simply to give him what he needs, but that nature is
compelled to serve him by producing the food for his animals: there is a
food chain, at the top of which sits the Cyclops. What this involves, for both

57 See also Aristotle, Politics 1.1252b224. In other accounts, both serious and comic, cannibalism was
also a mark of early man, see, e.g., Athenion fr. 1 K-A.
58 See Dougherty 2001: 12240. 59 See also Strabo 2.1.9.
60 Christopher Columbus reported approaching a land, in what is now the Caribbean, where there
were people who had one eye in the forehead, and others whom they called canibals . . ., see
Hulme 1986: 1617, 27; Hall 1989: 4950.
61 I take the quotation from Macintyre 2004: 28. 62 See, e.g., Paganelli 1979: 36.
Readings of Homer: Euripides Cyclops 73
the Cyclops and the comic Socrates, is eliminating the gods from a role in
natural phenomena. Thus, although Zeus is still apparently acknowledged
(though sarcastically) by the Cyclops as responsible for the weather (Cyclops
32031), there is a sense already in these verses that Zeus is just a name,
and in verse 337 the Cyclops makes explicit that for him (and for anyone of
sense) Zeus is the satisfaction of daily wants and the avoidance of distress;
the implication is that Zeus is just a name which anyone will give to what
is for them the highest good. Here too, we seem to have a combination of
contemporary theorising and Homeric interpretation.
At Odyssey 9.358 Odysseus puts into the mouth of the Cyclops the same
description of the wine which grows in his land as Odysseus himself had
used in the introduction to the episode:
onon ristjulon, ka sjin Div mbrov xei
(Odyssey 9.358 = 111)
a lovely wine, nurtured by the rain of Zeus

It may seem surprising that the Cyclops, of all monsters, should acknowl-
edge Zeuss beneficence, and there must thus have been a strong temptation
for later readers of Homer to give of Zeus in this verse the weakest possible
reading, that is, to take away divine responsibility for the rain, perhaps by
understanding the Homeric phrase to mean merely rain from the sky;
Euripides may well have seen this possibility, which in fact foreshadows
what was later to become a standard way of dealing with apparently prob-
lematic divine names in poetry by appealing to metonymy.63 It is at least
intriguing that, in his note on Odyssey 9.111, Eustathius (Hom. 1618.58)
observes: mbrov d Div, toutstin rov, dhlo m acmhrn tn
tn Kuklpwn enai, the rain of Zeus, that is from the air, making
clear that the land of the Cyclopes is not without water. What Hellenistic
scholarship lies behind this note, and how far back it goes, we cannot say,
but (once again) we may at least wonder whether the Euripidean Cyclops
reflects contemporary discussion of Homer.
The representation of the Cyclopes as in some respects representatives of
early man also sheds light upon the Euripidean Cyclops insistence upon
the value of wealth and possessions (see esp. vv. 31617). This is usually (and
rightly) seen in the context of how one element in the composite make-up of
this character is that of the well-to-do young member of the contemporary

63 See, e.g., Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 23c24c.
74 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
elite, a man who can spend his time hunting with dogs, while his slaves
do the work; OSullivan, however, has associated this with the tyrannical
aspects of the Cyclops, and the acquisitiveness of tyrants needs indeed no
illustration.64 The growth of private property is also an important element
in most accounts of the development of society, and we may see here another
motif which looks in more than one direction. The account of early man by
Aristotles pupil Dicaearchus, which is partly preserved for us by Varro and
in Porphyrys treatise On Abstinence (from Eating Meat), places the pastoral
life ( nomadikv bov) as the second stage in human development after
the ease and good health of the Golden Age.65 In this second stage, man
began to take thought not just for where the next meal is coming from,
but also from where the one after that and the one after that were likely to
come; hence men collected fruits and herded animals. So too, Thucydides
notes that, in the prehistoric condition, there was no superfluity of goods
(periousa crhmtwn, 1.2.2). There is, of course, a very fine line between
such sensible forward planning and the acquisition of excessive property
or, as Porphyry puts it in his report of Dicaearchus, perittotra ktsiv
possessions beyond what was strictly necessary, so it is no wonder that
this acquisitive period also saw the coming of war (Dicaearchus fr. 56a.78
Mirhardy). The Homeric Cyclops, who is, even in Odysseus account, a
careful and provident pastoralist, is certainly at the stage of forethought and
planning; what Euripides appears to have done is to push this description
a little further so that it begins to slide into acquisitiveness for the sake of
acquisitiveness, wealth for wealths sake. When the Theocritean Cyclops
tells Galateia (rather optimistically?) that he has one thousand animals
(11.34) we may perhaps see a further extension of this same discourse. Be
that as it may, the Euripidean character is a compound of many elements,
and here we can perhaps discern a strand of contemporary thought which
might have attracted Euripides attention as he translated the Homeric
monster into a new idiom; that such anthropology was at least in the air
in the late fifth century is something that we have good reason not to
It is of course tempting to hope that we may be able to go further in
identifying the critics who may have influenced Euripides in this read-
ing of Odyssey 9, but unfortunately the evidence simply does not exist;
Dicaearchus ascribes his model of early pastoralism merely to those who

64 P. OSullivan 2005: 1357.

65 See Dicaearchus frr. 54, 56A Mirhardy (in Fortenbaugh and Schutrumpf 2001).
Readings of Homer: Euripides Cyclops 75
have thoroughly researched ancient matters (fr. 56a.7 Mirhardy). To what
extent these aspects of Cyclops society had already been brought out on
the Attic stage, for example in Cratinus comic Odussv, again we cannot
say.66 We know that, probably after the production of Cyclops, Antisthenes
discussed the Homeric Cyclops episode and, in particular, the apparent con-
tradiction between Odysseus seemingly laudatory introduction to them
in his narrative (vv. 10511) and Polyphemus behaviour and claims about
the Cyclopes attitude to the gods (vv. 2738): according to Antisthenes
(S Odyssey 9.106 = fr. 53 Decleva Caizzi), Polyphemus was in fact the only
bad Cyclops, and Antisthenes presumably argued that Polyphemus was
lying in his claims about the Cyclopes as a group (cf. S Odyssey 9.275, 411;
Eustathius, Hom. 1617.612).67 It is likely enough that the explanation of
later interpreters that perjilwn qemstwn (v. 106) is not pejorative,
but simply means that the Cyclopes were physically large and had no need
of laws because each Cyclops governed his own family, also goes back, in
some form, to Antisthenes.
There does not seem to be any trace of this Antisthenean reading (or
its putative forebears) in Euripides play, but the cupboard is perhaps not
completely bare. Of particular interest is the fact that scholia (probably
going back to Porphyry) on Odyssey 9.106 cite Hesiod, Works and Days
2779 in support of the idea that cannibalism is a mark of t qhridev.
These Hesiodic verses sound indeed very like Odysseus arguments to the
Cyclops in Euripides play:

Prsh, s d tata met jres blleo sisi

ka nu dkhv pkoue, bhv d pilqeo pmpan.
tnde gr nqrpoisi nmon ditaxe Kronwn,
cqsi mn ka qhrs ka ownov petehnov
sqein lllouv, pe o dkh st met atov
nqrpoisi d dwke dkhn, polln rsth
gnetai (Hesiod, Works and Days 27480)
Perses, take these things to your heart and listen to justice, utterly forsaking
violence. The son of Kronos made this law for mortals fish and beasts and flying
birds may eat each other, since they do not have justice; but to men he gave justice,
which is by far the best of things.

66 The one fragment of Aristias satyric Cyclops, which almost certainly pre-dated Euripides, has
Polyphemus rejecting polite society, by wanting to drink his wine neat (TrGF 9 F4).
67 See Buffiere 1956: 3601; Richardson 1975: 78.
76 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
So too, the words of Hesiods hawk on the freedom of the strong to act
or not upon their appetites could easily have been spoken by the Homeric
(cf. Odyssey 9.278) or Euripidean Cyclops:
depnon d, a k qlw, poisomai meqsw.
jrwn d, v k qlhi prv kressonav ntijerzein
(Hesiod, Works and Days 20910)
If I want to, I will make you my dinner, or I will let you go. Only a fool wants to
struggle against the stronger.

Like the Cyclops, the hawks only constraint is his own will. The appeal to
natural law and, in particular, to the behaviour of animals was a familiar
one in the intellectual ferment of the late fifth to early fourth centuries,
and it is one which Aristophanes exploits to humorous effect in Clouds
(vv. 142731). It would be very surprising if these passages of Hesiod,
which play a significant role in later arguments about natural law, the
eating of meat and so forth,68 had not been brought into the discussion
at an early date, and we may well suspect that here, at least, Euripides
had forerunners in this interpretation of the Homeric Cyclops. Whether
the scholia again reflect the arguments of Antisthenes must remain an
open question, but we may note however unsurprising it is that the
doxographical tradition gives to Antisthenes pupil, Diogenes the Cynic,
the view that there is nothing wrong in eating human flesh (Diog. Laert.
6.73). Contrary, however, to what is often claimed, it must be stressed
that the little we know of Antisthenes discussion of the Cyclops episode
suggests that he defended the actions of Odysseus and certainly did not
represent Polyphemus as some kind of proto-Cynic hero; we would, of
course, very much like to know what Antisthenes had to say of the other
Finally, these passages alert us to what may be seen as a prominent
Hesiodic strain in the Euripidean Cyclops. It is Odysseus who carries the
Hesiodic appeal to a particular morality, whereas the Cyclops (unsurpris-
ingly) plays the role of the gift-devouring kings; Hesiod links the prac-
tice of justice to the gift of lbov from Zeus (Works and Days 2801),
whereas the Cyclops makes a radical break between reward and social
ethics. Through the Cyclops rhetoric Hesiod becomes, as indeed he was,

68 The relevant passages can be found through the apparatus of citations in Wests edition. For some
discussion see Renehan 1981: 2546. I have discussed the use of this section of Works and Days in
developing Greek ideas of morality in Hunter 2008a.
Readings of Homer: Euripides Cyclops 77
one of those busybodies who had hedged Greek life around with com-
plicating and unnecessary nomoi. An even more central role in the estab-
lishment of Greek convention had, of course, been played by Homer,
perhaps the greatest of all nomothetai, and in dismissing such people
(vv. 33840) the Cyclops both dismisses his creator and ensures the creators
chapter 3

Comic moments

plutarchs comparison of aristophanes and menander 1

Transmitted with the works of Plutarch is a fragmentary epitome of a
Comparison of Aristophanes and Menander (Moralia 853a854d), which
there is no good reason to doubt goes back to a lost work of Plutarch
himself.2 What survives of the Comparison is as remarkable for the vir-
ulence of its attack upon the great poet of Old Comedy as it is for its
colourful imagery:
Some playwrights compose for the multitude and the common people (prv
tn clon ka tn dmon), and some for the few (tov lgoiv). To find one
whose manner suited both factions is difficult. Aristophanes satisfies neither the
many (tov pollov) nor the intelligent (tov jronmoiv). His poetry is like a
retired prostitute who pretends to be a married woman. Ordinary folk find its
presumption (tn aqdeian) intolerable; those who pretend to taste (o semno)
are disgusted by the licentiousness and malice (t klaston ka kakhqev).3
But Menander, as well as having charm (critev), never needs anything outside
his own powers (atrkhv). In the theatre, the lecture room (diatriba), the
dinner party, his poetry provides reading, study, and entertainment for a wider
public than that commanded by any other Greek masterpiece. He shows what
the essence and nature of skill in the use of language (dexithv lgou) really
are, approaching every point with inescapable persuasiveness and having under
control every resource of sound and meaning that Greek affords. What good reason
has an educated man (ndra pepaideumnon) for going to the theatre, except
to see Menander? When else are theatres filled with men of learning (ndrn
jilolgwn), if a comic character takes the stage? To whom should the dinner
table yield place and Dionysus give way more rightfully? And just as painters, when

1 An earlier version of the discussion which follows appeared as Hunter 2000 (here reused with
permission of Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt).
2 The now standard edition is by G. Lachenaud in vol. xii.1 of the Bude, Plutarque, uvres Morales
(Paris, 1981) but see also Aristophanes T 68 K-A and Menander T103 K-A.
3 There is considerable uncertainty about the text here, but the general sense seems clear, see Luppe
1973: 127130.

Comic moments 79
their eyes are tired, turn to the colours of grass and flowers, so Menander is a rest
for philosophers and men devoted to study (jilosjoiv . . . ka jilopnoiv) from
their unrelieved and intense pursuits, inviting the mind, as it were, to a flowery
and shady meadow, fanned by breezes . . . (Plutarch, Moralia 854ac, trans. D. A.
Russell (adapted))
Plutarch s apparent blindness to Aristophanes virtues is unusual in the
ancient scholastic and critical tradition, which is otherwise full of praise
for his skill and charis (wit, charm), particularly in comparison with
the allegedly cruder style of the other poets of Old Comedy.4 One aspect
of the critical tradition concerning Old Comedy was in fact a set of devel-
opmental narratives of a familiar kind;5 in a pattern which replicates
Plutarchs, but in a quite different way, Cratinus can instantiate vulgar
humour (t jortikn) and Aristophanes wit, criv (Ar. T 79 K-A), or
Cratinus can mark a major step forward towards formal drama, but still
be rcaov, whereas Aristophanes is a more developed craftsman (tec-
nikterov) and foreshadows later developments (Prolegomena de comoedia
V 1527, XIb 606 Koster, cf. Ar. T 1 24 K-A). The gradual imposi-
tion of tcnh upon disorder (taxa), and hence the contrast between
them, has of course an Aristotelian flavour, though it might be thought
characteristic of such developmental narratives in general; we might well
be reminded, for example, of Protagoras account of the development of
society in Platos dialogue named after him. Be that as it may, Aristophanes
himself is a primary witness to, and source for, the developmental narrative
of Old Comedy which Plutarch here turns against him.
In the parabasis of Clouds the skilled (sojv) poet complains that he was
let down when he believed the audience to be clever (dexio), but found
himself defeated by vulgar men (p ndrn jortikn) when the first
edition of the play, to which Aristophanes had devoted more effort than to
any other (rgon pleston), failed to win (Clouds 5207).6 The Clouds,
so it is claimed, is a sjrwn play which does not resort to vulgarity and
stale jokes, and Aristophanes plays are always innovative, non-repetitive
and clever; his rivals, on the other hand, both steal Aristophanes ideas
and are endlessly repetitive: stiv on totoisi geli, tov mov m
cairtw, I dont want someone who laughs at them to enjoy my plays
(Clouds 560). This plea is offered under the sign of freedom the chorus
speak leuqrwv, both freely and like free citizens. Such comic rhetoric
is, of course, not limited to Clouds or to the parabasis of the plays. The
4 See, e.g., Plebe 1952: 105; Quadlbauer 1960: 647. 5 See above pp. 445.
6 The combination of the claim to soja and a stress upon the labour involved in composition
obviously looks forward in an interesting way to Hellenistic and Roman poetics and criticism.
80 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
prologising slave of the Wasps (vv. 5766) lists stale comic routines which
are not to be part of the present performance and he promises a play, not
cleverer (dexiteron) than the audience, but more artistic/meaningful
than vulgar comedy (kwmwidav d jortikv sojteron). At Lysistrata
121620 the Athenians feign unwillingness to go through with a vulgar
(jortikn) comic routine, but are prepared to do it, if the audience are
keen. Most striking of all, perhaps, is Frogs 358, where the chorus forbid
participation in their rites to anyone who takes pleasure in clownish jokes
(bwmolcoiv pesi) made at an inappropriate time (m n kairi); here
Aristophanes himself seems to anticipate not just Aristotles stress upon
measure in the judgement of paidi (the bwmolcov jests excessively, the
groikov too little),7 but also Plutarchs condemnation of Aristophanes
clownish puns which were made pollkiv ka ok ekarwv ka yucrv,
excessively, inappropriately and frigidly (853b). It is comedy itself which
had constructed the basic distinction which Plutarch turns against one of
its greatest practitioners.
Illuminating for Plutarchs self-positioning here is Aulus Gellius famous
comparison of some passages from Menanders Plokion with their adap-
tations by Caecilius (NA 2.23), a comparison which is perhaps a century
or so later than Plutarchs essay.8 Menander is (unsurprisingly) praised in
very similar terms in both essays, and Caecilius, who Gellius makes clear
stands in his essay for the whole of the palliata rather than being singled
out for idiosyncratic failings, plays the same structural role as Plutarchs
Aristophanes. Both are characterised by forms of vulgar, low humour (t
jortikn . . . ka qumelikn ka bnauson 853b alia nescio quae mimica
2.23.12, pigra . . . et a rerum dignitate atque gratia uacua sunt 2.23.20), both
produce inappropriate mixtures of stylistic level (t tragikn t kwmikn,
t sobarn t pezn ktl. 853c uerba tragici tumoris 2.23.21), and both
do not fit language to character (od t prpon kstwi ka okeon
poddwsin 853d ridiculus magis quam personae isti quam tractabat
aptus atque conueniens uideri maluit 853d). Of particular interest perhaps
is the parallelism between Plutarchs strictures (853b) on Aristophanes use
of figures such as antitheses and rhymes and puns, which Aristophanes
employs excessively, inappropriately and frigidly, and the effect of stupere
atque frigere (2.23.7) which Caecilius mimica produce.9 The description
7 Nicomachean Ethics 4.1128a29; see further below pp. 1012.
8 For very different approaches to Gellius essay see Vogt-Spira 2000 and Holford-Strevens 2003:
198201. Riedweg 1993 provides a useful discussion and bibliography of the fragments of Caecilius
themselves. See also p. 91 below.
9 Gellius observes that the horror of Caecilius style only strikes one when it is compared to the
Menandrean original, quantum stupere atque frigere quantumque mutare a Menandro Caecilius uisus
Comic moments 81
of Menanders writing as praeclare et apposite et facete (2.23.11) looks almost
like an inversion of the Plutarchan criticism of Aristophanes. What is at
issue in both Plutarchs view of Aristophanes and Gellius view of Caecilius
is a kind of language (and a kind of humour) which refuses to be taken
for granted, which demands equal billing with the characters and the plot,
which is insistently self-conscious. In discussing the stylization of Plautine
language Kathleen McCarthy writes of the consciousness of language as
a separate system that is never exactly coextensive with its function as a
means of communication, 10 and it was precisely this to which the clas-
sicising Plutarch and Gellius object, though they would of course have
articulated their objections in rather different terms.
The Epitome singles out t jortikn ka qumelikn ka bnauson as
the characteristics of Aristophanes verbal humour (853a). The first term is
familiar as an accusation since the days of Old Comedy itself (see above);
qumelikv is a much rarer term, and has been doubted: Kronenberg pro-
posed the much more obvious bwmolcon, which Aristotle, for example,
pairs with jortikv in his discussion of types of humour (Nicomachean
Ethics 4.1128a45). Nevertheless, qumelikn, connected with the stage, the-
atrical, not only suits both the similarity of Gellius account of Caecil-
ius unnecessary mimica and the contrast with Menanders poetry, which
throughout the ancient critical tradition is praised as realistic, true and
close to life, but also conveys the appropriately social resonance. In his
Life of Sulla (36.1) Plutarch notes that in his later years the dictator spent
his time with mime actresses, harp players, and theatre types (qumelikov
nqrpoiv), and we should not assume that we hear there merely Roman
prejudice. As the Latin scaenicus is similarly used (cf. Quintilian 10.7.21), so
qumelikn designates language and performance which is stagey, over the
top, and calls attention to itself in an undignified way. Elsewhere, Plutarch
uses qeatrikn of a style which is inappropriately showy for speech-
making (Mor. 7a) or of the more outlandish of poetic fantasies (Mor. 15f ),
and qumelikn conveys a very similar idea. In the background, the Platonic
narrative of theatrocracy still resonates.11 As for bnauson, here too the
social implications of stylistic criticism are very clear. Plato had contrasted
true education with other pursuits which were bnauson ka neleqeron
(Laws 1.644a), and it is precisely paideia which Plutarch foregrounds in

est (2.23.7). It is tempting to see an echo of Virgil, Aeneid 2.2745 (Aeneas dream of Hector), quantum
mutatus ab illo | Hectore . . . ; the echo would mark the distance of Caecilius from Menander, as Virgil
here marks his derivation and distance from the Iliad. Note that Gellius immediately afterwards
uses a proverbial comparison from the Iliad.
10 McCarthy 2000: 8. 11 See above pp. 1417, below p. 89.
82 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
rejecting Aristophanic humour (853b); so too, for Aristotle the bnausoi
make up a prominent element of the jortiko in an audience, in contrast
to the free and educated (Politics 8.1341b1518). It is very telling that, in
discussing the appropriate entertainment at symposia, Plutarch notes that
if philosophers become too technical at the table, the other guests turn off
and give themselves over to songs and absurd tales and talk which is vulgar
and low (dihgmata jluardh ka lgouv banasouv ka goraouv)
(Mor. 615a), thus destroying the sympotic fellowship (sumpotik koin-
wna); there is of course, on the other hand, no more appropriate sympotic
entertainment for the self-conscious pepaideumenos than Menander himself
What is at stake here for Plutarch is that the language of cleverness, wit,
sophia, and sophrosune in which Aristophanes praises himself had become,
by Plutarchs day, an integral part of the self-constructed identity of the
Greek elite, though the meanings of the terms had undergone, in some
cases, radical change.12 The history of Attic comedy proved a particularly
fruitful site for reflecting, and reflection upon, these developments and
paradoxes. On the one hand, the categories of humour appropriate to the
educated man were a major topic of Hellenistic ethical discussion, much
of it taking its cue from Aristotle,13 and were a fundamental part of newly
emerging ideas about the truly free man (the leuqriov); we shall see
how important such ideas were, for example, to Horaces presentation of
himself as a satirist. Plutarch himself returns to the subject on more than one
occasion. The first discussion of the second book of the Sympotic Questions
is devoted to the type of non-hurtful teasing appropriate to a symposium,
for no small part of social intercourse is knowledge and observance of good
taste (t mmelv) in asking questions and making jokes (629f ); much of
this material will have come down to Plutarch from Hellenistic discussions.
The symposium, a place where like-minded men gather, has replaced the
theatre as the proper arena for (appropriate) joking, and it was of course
one where Menander was more than welcome (see, e.g., Mor. 673b). Even
Aristophanes can offer an example of joking without bitterness when he
is making jokes against his own baldness (634d). Plutarch concludes the

12 A good example is dexithv which Aristophanes claims for himself, but which partly under
Aristotelian influence had quite changed in resonance; it now carried moral implications, as well
as those of wit, see Comparison 854c I do not know in what Aristophanes much vaunted dexithv
is supposed to consist . . . For Plutarch, o carentev, the witty/graceful, are educated men of taste,
like Plutarch himself.
13 For a brief survey see Bremmer in Bremmer and Roodenburg 1997: 1821, and see further below
p. 102.
Comic moments 83
discussion by appealing to the authority of Plato, who indeed is the father
of this whole discourse:
Those who know and observe the right moment ( kairv) bear witness to Plato
himself, that joking with good taste and wit (mmelv ka kecarismnwv) is a
task for the man who has been properly (kalv) educated. (Plutarch, Sympotic
Questions 2.634f )
If, as seems very probable,14 Plutarch is here thinking of Laws 2.654b67
(the Athenian Stranger speaks),
the man who is properly (kalv) educated would then be able to sing and dance
properly (kalv),
then the change from singing and dancing to joking with good taste and
wit says much about how educated societys sense of itself has evolved
since the heyday of Athenian democracy.
At the heart of Plutarchs analysis of the faults of Aristophanes lies his
sense of what constitutes Greekness (see the repeated Hellas of 854b)
and paideia, education, not least his own (see 854b, cited above); it is
the pepaideumnov who will feel contempt for Aristophanes word-plays
(853b). Galen, another intellectual with a strongly developed sense of his
own social identity, wrote a work entitled Whether Old Comedy is useful
reading for the educated (o pepaideumnoi),15 but he may well have
reached a different conclusion from that which Plutarch elsewhere gave to
this question:
The comic poets gave much stern political advice to the theatre audience, but
the elements of comedy and buffoonery (t geloon ka bwmolcon), like some
rancid sauce, rendered their frank-speaking (parrhsa) ineffective and valueless,16
with the result that they gained a reputation for malice (kakoqeia) and low
clownishness (bdelura) and the audience gained nothing useful (crsimon)
from what was said. (Plutarch, How to tell a friend from a flatterer 68bc)
The distinction which Plutarch draws in the Comparison (854a, cited
above) between the many (hoi polloi) and the phronimoi, a word suggesting
intelligence, education and moral rightness, plainly reveals how Attic lit-
erary history is being written to serve a very particular elite agenda, which
equates the historically prior (and morally base) with the non-elite and
dangerous.17 Old Comedy, with its freedom from restraint, celebration
of pleasure, and sharp political teeth, posed a particular problem for this
14 This is doubted by Teodorsson ad loc., but it is difficult to think of a better explanation.
15 On His Own Books 18 = XIX 48 Kuhn. 16 For comic and satiric parrhesia see below pp. 1045.
17 For the relationship between this and the theatrical history of Laws 3 see below p. 89.
84 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
agenda; that Old Comedy, notably Aristophanes, appeared to claim elite
virtues for itself made it a dangerous threat indeed. On the other hand,
no theme is more prominent throughout ancient writing about Menander
than his pre-eminence in the reflection of ethical character (t qikn),
and as such he was always likely to appeal to Hellenistic and Roman elites,
almost obsessively concerned with how they looked and how they really
were inside.
The image of the aged hetaira confirms that Plutarchs literary concerns
are in essence social and moral ones. It is tempting to think that he here
figures Aristophanic poetry itself as a character from low comedy (perhaps
even from Aristophanes himself ) the old hetaira who now gives herself
graces (cf. perhaps Ar. Ploutos 9591096); the representation of types of
(both dramatic and non-dramatic) poetry as female figures is familiar in
Old Comedy itself (Cratinus Pytine, Mousike in Pherecrates Cheiron,
etc.) and in Greek and Roman literature more generally.18 Be that as it
may, whereas the many are said to reject a poet who claims to be above
them (after all, promiscuous humour, not the pretence of respectability,
is just what they want), the educated know what really lies behind the
facade: something morally corrupt which tries to claim the privileges of
the socially respectable (a married woman). For Plutarch, both literature
and society function through the maintenance of hierarchies, and it is
here that the Aristophanic threat is most acute. In discussing elsewhere
the type of entertainment suitable for symposia, Plutarch juxtaposes the
low buffoonery (bwmoloca) of Old Comedy and contemporary mime
or farce so as to make clear that there is in fact no moral or ethical
difference between Aristophanes and such uneducated performances (Mor.
712a, 712e);19 the hallmarks of both genres are unevenness (nwmala),
inappropriateness (an absence of t prpon) and lack of moderation in
word and deed (t klaston), and the danger lies not merely in the
distaste with which an educated man views such faults but in their effect
upon the characters (t qh) of the audience of drinkers. Needless to
say, Menander is praised for precisely the opposite style and the ethically
beneficial power of his poetry (712bc).
The interplay of literary and social criticism is nowhere seen as clearly
as in Plutarchs famous remarks about comic vocabulary:
Aristophanes vocabulary, then, shows many contradictions and inequalities (dia-
jorv . . . ka nomoithtav): a tragic element and a comic; the pretentious and

18 See Hall 2000; Ovid, Amores 3.1 is perhaps the best-known Roman example.
19 On elite attitudes to mime and similar performances see Hunter 2002.
Comic moments 85
the prosaic; the obscure and the commonplace: grandeur and elevation; vulgar gar-
rulity (spermologa) and nauseating nonsense. Despite this, his style fails even
to assign appropriate and suitable language (t prpon ka okeon) to individual
characters grandeur to a king, cleverness to an orator, simplicity to a woman,
prosaic words to an ordinary man, vulgarity to a street-lounger. Instead, he assigns
to his characters as if by lot (sper p klrou) such words as happen to turn
up, and you could not tell whether the speaker is a son or father, a farmer or a god,
or an old woman or a hero. Menanders language, on the other hand, is so pol-
ished and its constituents so harmoniously united (sunxestai ka sumppneuke
kekramnh prv autn) that, despite the varied emotions and characters involved
and the fact that it has to suit all kinds of personages, it gives a single impression
and maintains its uniformity (moithta) by means of common, everyday words
that are in normal use . . . Of all the famous craftsmen there have been, no cobbler
has made a shoe, no costumier a mask, no tailor a cloak, that would fit at the same
time a man, a woman, a boy, an old man, and a household slave. Yet Menander so
blended [meixe Herwerden: deixe codd.] his language as to make it appropriate
to every nature, disposition, and period of life. (Plutarch, Moralia 853ce, trans.
D. A. Russell (adapted))

At one level, this passage obviously reflects common rhetorical teaching

about stylistic appropriateness, and we have seen that a rather similar struc-
turing opposition is used by Aulus Gellius in his comparison of Menander
and Caecilius,20 but the exact point of Plutarchs contrast remains obscure
and has been much debated.21 What is perhaps uncontroversial is that
Aristophanes characters are said all to speak in a quite random mixture of
high and low stylistic levels this is why they cannot be distinguished
whereas the language of all Menandrean characters maintains stylistic
uniformity, both internally and with respect to each other, within the
parameters of common diction. The passage must, however, also be seen
within the context of the Plutarchan concern with order and hierarchy
both completely overthrown by Aristophanes fluctuating stylistic level
and his abhorrence of abrupt changes of mood and tone. A different aspect
of this same contrast is seen at Moralia 711f712a where the lack of unifor-
mity (nwmala) which makes Old Comedy inappropriate as symposium
entertainment apparently consists in the striking contrast between the
political seriousness of the parabases and the vulgar humour of the other
parts, just as aulos music at symposia must avoid emotionally disturbing
complexity (713a). That New Comedy is in fact structurally and tonally
both simpler and more uniform than Old Comedy requires no lengthy

20 See above pp. 801. 21 See in particular Sandbach 1970: 11314.

86 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
Two aspects of the passage just quoted will bring Plutarchs concerns
into sharper focus. Menander is twice praised (853d, e) for a successful
mixing of his vocabulary into a harmonious whole, whereas the separate,
wildly different, ingredients of Aristophanic language remain in jarring
and unresolved juxtaposition (853cd). Here we recognise a fundamental
tenet of Plutarchs Platonic ethics transferred to the realm of language:
just as the best state will result from a harmonious mixing of its various
elements, so the soul should be well-mixed, a phenomenon in which
education plays a key role.22 So too, we find elsewhere, in the discussion of
entertainment suitable for symposia, that not only is Menanders diction
well-mixed, but the plays themselves exhibit a mixture of seriousness
and jest ( te tv spoudv prv tn paidin nkrasiv) which seems
expressly designed for the pleasure and profit of relaxed drinkers (Mor.
712bc). New Comedy is in fact so mixed into (gkkratai) symposia
that one could more easily steer the party without wine than without
Menander (712b). As the parallel from the Comparison shows, these
metaphors are not simple reflections of the sympotic context to which
the mixing of wine and water was central, though they are that as well.23
By contrast with Menander, the outspokenness of Old Comedy is too
unmixed for such occasions and Old Comedy is stuffed to overfullness
(deinv katkorov . . . ka gmousa . . .) with words one would rather not
hear but which are bound to be vomited forth; the language evokes (very
coyly) the unpleasant physical effects of overindulgence in alcohol (712a).24
Secondly, we may consider a more narrowly political aspect of Plutarchs
account of comic language. The lack of uniformity to which Plutarch
objects in Aristophanes language is described so as to evoke the unpre-
dictable and disordered rabble of the radical democracy of Aristophanes
own day, as the Platonising Plutarch imagines it. The reference to distribu-
ting words to characters as if by lot is hardly innocent: just as in classical
Athens anyone could (in theory) speak in the assembly and anyone could
hold public office or serve as a juror by lot, so Aristophanes, according to
Plutarch, preserved no hierarchies, no good order (kosmos), of language.
In 854a Plutarch praises Menander with an echo of the Funeral Oration of
the Thucydidean Pericles: d Mnandrov met cartwn mlista autn
atrkh parschken ktl., But Menander, along with his charm, shows

22 See, e.g., Duff 1999: Chapter 3.

23 For another extensive use of such imagery in a similar context see Mor. 15ef; below p. 178.
24 We should not weaken the resonances of nautidhv (translated above as nauseating) at 853c in the
Comic moments 87
himself above all complete in himself (cf. Thucydides 2.41.1); this evoca-
tion of Pericles view of an imperial city-state, which was, as the poetry of
Menander the Athenian had now become, an education to all of Greece
and which sensibly allowed itself to follow the counsel of one great leader,
may well carry a special charge in the context of Greek paideia in the
Roman empire. Aristophanes is the poet of democratic rabble, Menander
of civilised (i.e. elite) good order which flows down from above.
The Comparison of Aristophanes and Menander reflects a number of
familiar ancient narratives of cultural and literary history. On the one hand,
there are the scholastic histories of comedy, preserved particularly in vari-
ous late antique and Byzantine prolegomena to the plays of Aristophanes.25
Broadly speaking, these tell a story of change from a completely outspo-
ken comedy of mockery to a quieter, less boisterous style. The change
is variously placed during or after what we call the Old Comedy, but a
persistent motif of these narratives traces the cause of comic change to
political pressure and/or change; put simply, it became too dangerous in
the Athenian democracy openly to scoff at the people, the judges and the
generals.26 Writing the history of Attic comedy is thus (as it already was
for Aristophanes himself ) necessarily political, in both broad and narrow
senses, and for no one is this more true than for Plutarch. Moreover, this
political narrative has very deep cultural roots: as always, we begin with
In Iliad 2 Thersites, whose very name (The Reckless/Outrageous One)
places him on the wrong side of the Plutarchan divide, appears as has often
been noted as a kind of forerunner of the outspoken comic tradition:
Qersthv d ti monov metroepv kolia,
v pea jresn isin kosm te poll te edh,
my, tr o kat ksmon, rizmenai basilesin,
ll t o esaito geloion Argeoisin
mmenai. ascistov d nr p Ilion lqen.
(Homer, Iliad 2.21216)
Thersites alone, whose speech knew no measure, kept up his abuse; his mind
contained a vast store of disordered words with which to quarrel with his lead-
ers, all to no good purpose and lacking decency; he would say whatever he
thought the Achaeans would find funny. He was the ugliest man who went to
The extraordinarily ugly speaker of words which lack measure and order
(kosmos), who, like the Aristotelian buffoon (bwmolcov) after him (cf.
25 See Koster 1975. 26 Koster 1975: I, 27; see further below p. 104.
88 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
Nicomachean Ethics 4.1128a47), would say anything against his betters
to get a laugh and who is finally silenced by a violent assertion of aristo-
cratic privilege (vv. 24377), looks forward to important elements of the
later narratives of the historical development of comedy. Moreover, the
Thersites episode so strikingly foreshadows the troubles endured in Aristo-
phanes Acharnians by Dicaeopolis, who comes to the Assembly ready to
shout, interrupt and abuse, that it is tempting to believe that Aristophanes
deliberately evokes the Homeric passage in a play which (in part) drama-
tises the poets triumph over the attempts of vested interests to silence
comic freedom;27 be that as it may, the Homeric, Aristophanic, and later
scholastic narratives are here very close. For Plutarch, Dicaeopolis, one of
whose triumphant and mocking jokes against Lamachus is in fact cited
in the Comparison to illustrate Aristophanes frigid wit (853c), would
have been as abhorrent a character as Thersites. In Homer, however, the
many acquiesce in their own subordination to the will of their betters
and approve Odysseus treatment of Thersites (Iliad 2.2708): Plutarch,
much Hellenistic kingship theory, and the Roman imperial class would
certainly also have approved.
The scholia to Iliad 2.21216 show that ancient scholarship too was
interested in the relationship between the portrayal of Thersites and later
forms of comedy and mockery. The scholia note that there are different and
opposed ways of putting an end to anger and tension, and Homer demon-
strates both modes: Odysseus uses harsh rebuke,28 whereas Thersites and
his fate make the Greeks laugh; the scholia draw an interesting compar-
ison between this and the divine gathering at the end of Book 1, where
Zeus restrains Hera by threats, whereas Hephaestus does so by making her
laugh. When it is noted that Thersites attack upon Agamemnon does
not cause pain (o lupe) because of the nature of the attacker, we can
hardly fail to recall Aristotelian language about the appropriate nature of
mockery (Nicomachean Ethics 4.1128a7, 26), and the whole idea of laughter
as cathartic of anger perhaps owes something (at an unknown number of
removes) to Aristotelian ideas. Be that as it may, the scholia proceed to find
in the Thersites episode the origin of the genre of satiric verse known as
slloi squint-eyed verses, which were later most associated with Xeno-
phanes and Timon of Phlious. Whatever one may think of this literary
history, the scholia here come close to sketching a theory of comedy of a

27 For Thersites and Dicaeopolis see Whitman 1964: 468; Hunter 2004b: 242. For Thersites and the
Paphlagonian of Knights see Rosen 2007: 67116 (with useful further bibliography); Rosen does
not refer to Cairns suggestion (Cairns 1982) that the Thucydidean Cleon is another descendant of
28 In Porphyry this alternative is expressed as fear (Schrader 1880: 29).
Comic moments 89
kind with many Hellenistic and later analogues; it is tantalising that part of
the A scholia on verses 21216 draw a distinction between the spoudaon
and the geloon, but unfortunately in a context where textual corruption
has obscured the sense.
Although Plutarch is, at one level, heir to the ethical discussions of types
of humour with which the Hellenistic world abounded, the overriding
influence remains his version of Platonic ethics and theatrical history. As
we have seen,29 Platos view of Athenian theatrical history, as expressed
particularly in Laws 3, was fashioned precisely to offer an analogy to polit-
ical history and therefore to be an argument for his political vision. The
modern uneducated shouting of the rabble stood in alarming contrast
to the silent kosmos of the past, which itself was enforced by sticks and
beatings (shades of Thersites again). As Plutarch objects to the apparently
random jumbling of linguistic hierarchies, so Plato objects to the mixing of
musical forms (laments with hymns, paians with dithyrambs) to provide
the undifferentiated audience with pleasure; thus it came about that the
uneducated no longer respected the views and tastes of their betters, and
their new freedom from fear gave way to shamelessness and recklessness
(qrsov, shades of Thersites again). Platos theatrical history maps closely
on to his account of democracy and the democratic man in Republic 8: just
as, for Plato, democracy is a complete jumble of different constitutions
and is characterised by utter freedom to do what you like, even disobey the
laws (557be), so the democratic man lives without any ranking (txiv) or
necessity (ngkh) in his life, handing control over himself to whichever
pleasure happens to come along, as if chosen by lot (561bd). Platos sneer
at the democratic institution of the lot foreshadows Plutarchs, but, more
importantly, the alleged absence of hierarchies which lies at the heart of
this elite view of democracy foreshadows the standard rhetoric with which
particular performance arts were attacked in the subsequent centuries. In
particular, parodic and parasitic forms such as mimes and farces which
exploited material drawn from higher genres such as tragedy and New
Comedy confused the proper order of things.30 With such confusion went a
decidedly improper pursuit, by both performers and audience, of pleasure
rather than instruction.

the problem of plautus

In his comparison of Caecilius and Menander, Gellius observes that Roman
comedies appear to be written so lepide . . . et uenuste that nothing could
29 See above pp. 1417. 30 For various aspects of this history see Hunter 1995, 2002.
90 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
surpass them, until, that is, one takes up the Greek originals (NA 2.23.2
3). The choice of the adjectives is pointed, for they recall a Catullan-
neoteric aesthetic of self-conscious polish and up-to-the minuteness,31
which lends a historical dimension to the discussion which is to follow;
these works might seem polished, but one only has to see a truly uenustum
work, such as that of Menander (2.23.11), to put things in perspective.32
Horace is perhaps the most insistent ancient voice calling for such
In Satires 1.10 Horace insists that one can properly recognise Lucilius
satiric power without denying his stylistic shortcomings; to insist that
admiration should be unqualified would be like regarding the mimes of
Laberius as pulchra poemata (v. 6), a phrase with much the same kind of
resonance as Gellius lepide . . . et uenuste. Horace demands for himself the
same critical freedom which is permitted to those studying the greatest text
of all, Homer (v. 52), and he acutely points out that Lucilius writing, like
that of all poets, is conditioned by the taste of his age, so that a modern
Lucilius would write in a modern mode:
fuerit Lucilius, inquam,
comis et urbanus, fuerit limatior idem
quam rudis et Graecis intacti carminis auctor
quamque poetarum seniorum turba; sed ille,
si foret hoc nostrum fato delapsus in aeuum,
detereret sibi multa, recideret omne quod ultra
perfectum traheretur, et in uerso faciendo
saepe caput scaberet uiuos et roderet unguis.
(Horace, Satires 1.10.6471)
Lucilius was, I grant, jolly and witty, he was also more polished than some-
one writing a form of verse which was quite new and untouched by the Greeks
and than the crowd of old poets. If, however, he had been brought down by
fate to our own age, he would have wiped away much of his work, would cut
back everything which dragged on beyond the proper end, and as he wrote
his verses he would often scratch his head and gnaw his fingernails to the
In the later Epistle to Augustus Horace confronts a related phenomenon,
the unquestioning enthusiasm for archaic poetry:

31 See, e.g., Catullus 1.1, 6.17, 35.17 (all of the style of poetic works).
32 Menanders uenustas rerum et uerborum (Gellius, NA 2.23.11) is critev in Greek, cf. Demetrius, On
Style 136: critev . . . a mn n ti lxei, a d n tov prgmasin. It is perhaps worth noting in
this context Plutarchs observation that Menanders gentle wit (lev, salt) seems to have been born
from the very same sea as Aphrodite, i.e. Venus (Comparison 854c); see further below p. 98.
33 See above pp. 512.
Comic moments 91
Ennius, et sapiens et fortis et alter Homerus,
ut critici dicunt, leuiter curare uidetur
quo promissa cadant et somnia Pythagorea.
Naeuius in manibus non est et mentibus haeret
paene recens? adeo sanctum est uetus omne poema.
ambigitur quotiens, uter utro sit prior, aufert
Pacuuius docti famam senis, Accius alti,
dicitur Afrani toga conuenisse Menandro,
Plautus ad exemplar Siculi properare Epicharmi,
uincere Caecilius grauitate, Terentius arte.
hos ediscit et hos arto stipata theatro
spectat Roma potens; habet hos numeratque poetas
ad nostrum tempus Liui scriptoris ab aeuo.
(Horace, Epistles 2.1.5062)
Ennius, wise and brave and a second Homer, as the critics claim, seems not too
bothered what happens to his promises and dreams of Pythagoras.34 Do not we
have Naevius in our hands and stuck in our minds, as though it were yesterday? So
sacred is every ancient poem. Whenever their relative merits are debated, Pacuvius
earns the accolade of the learned old man, and Accius of the lofty; the toga of
Afranius is said to have fitted Menander, Plautus to hurry along on the pattern of
Sicilian Epicharmus, Caecilius to be pre-eminent in grauitas, and Terence in art.
These mighty Rome learns by heart and watches, packed into the narrow theatre;
these she owns and counts as her poets from the days of Livius the writer down to
our own age.
To think that archaic poetry is unsurpassable in quality is very like the
similarly uneducated mistake of thinking that the quality of Roman comedy
could not be surpassed (Aulus Gellius, NA 2.23.2); the silliness of this
attitude is marked by the fact that every poet named is awarded first place
in some aspect real criticism, which includes the finding of fault, is
something the critici do not practise. Horace is arguing for higher critical
standards than merely old is good; old is not necessarily bad, but it is sheer
folly not to see that archaic Latin poetry falls short of modern standards of
critical polish (emendata . . . pulchraque et exactis minimum distantia) and
to turn ones back on modern poetry as a result. The verses have been very
much discussed,35 particularly the questions of how the Latin is actually to
be understood, of the identity of the critici (? Varro), of the meaning of the
critical labels which are stuck on each of the poets, and of the evidential
value of the passage for the poetical and theatrical culture of Augustan
Rome.36 Here, however, I want to look more closely at verses 589 on the
34 The meaning is very unclear, but this is not crucial to my present concerns.
35 The starting point remains of course Brink 1982; see also White 1987; Jocelyn 1995: 2426; Hinds
1998: 6971; Feeney 2002: 1789.
36 See e.g., Goldberg 2005: 5860.
92 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
comoedia palliata, verses which shed light on how the Romans adapted
Greek literary history to their own past.
Horace quotes the positive views of the critici about archaic poets,
though we must assume that he is putting his own spin upon that praise.
The grounds upon which Plautus was alleged to resemble Epicharmus
must, at one level, be grounds which bring credit to both poets, but it
was justly observed by Harry Jocelyn that this has never been elucidated
even to the full satisfaction of the elucidator.37 It is perhaps hard to believe
that properare does not have something to do with the fact that some
(admittedly late) evidence tells us that the catalectic trochaic tetrameter (the
trochaic septenarius), which to judge by the plays which have survived
was Plautus favourite metre,38 was called the epicharmeion, as well as
the archilochion, and that this metre was appropriate for rapid (festinis)
narrations;39 the connection between the trocaov and trcein was of
course well known to Greek critics.40 Epicharmus tetrameters admit high
levels of resolution (which may be thought to increase their speed) and
he seems to have written whole plays in this metre, which predominates
in the fragments that survive;41 it is perhaps telling that this includes the
chance finds of Epicharmus on papyrus, and Theocritus used three such
tetrameters, including one in the programmatic position at the head of the
poem, in his polymetric epitaph for his Syracusan forebear (Ars P 9.600 =
Epigram 18 Gow).42
Whatever praise for dramatic form or structure the critics meant by
properare,43 Horace himself would probably have taken a dim view of
such unsophisticated metrical practice: in the Ars Poetica he describes the
Romans of a previous generation as overly tolerant in their approval
of Plautus numeros et sales (Ars P 2701), and this passage of the Epis-
tle to Augustus has often been brought into alignment with the Epistles
37 Jocelyn 1995: 242.
38 See, e.g., Duckworth 1952: 3623, 367; Hunter 1985a: 46. The fact that Plautus has other character-
istic metres than the trochaic (Brink 1982: 420) would presumably not bother critics on either side
of the argument.
39 See Epicharmus T 32 K-A.
40 See, e.g., Aristotle, Rhetoric 3.1409a1; Hephaestion 78.412, 214.47, 300.710, 332.236 Consbruch.
41 On the nature of Epicharmus tetrameters see Wust 1950: 3436, where the statistics are naturally
somewhat out of date. For Epicharmus more generally see now Willi 2008: 11992.
42 West 1982: 151 n. 82 observes that these tetrameters, like those of Epicharmus himself, do not preserve
a regular caesura.
43 For the various solutions which have been offered see Brink 1982: 10910, 41920. Pickard-
Cambridge 1962: 283 suggests that the reference might be to the rapidity of [Epicharmus] patter,
or perhaps of the interchange of question and answer; Jocelyn 1995: 246 suggests that the point
of Horaces comparison between Epicharmus and Plautus was precisely the number and variety of
Epicharmus metres.
Comic moments 93
later harsh criticism of Plautus running across (percurrat) the stage like
one of his own characters (Epist. 2.1.174).44 Moreover, in the Ars Poetica
(vv. 26871) Horace associates his disapproval of Plautus numeri with an
injunction to imitate exemplaria Graeca (something which Plautus sup-
porters would indeed seem to find the Umbrian poet doing, ad exemplar
Siculi . . . Epicharmi). If we ask what metrical practice Horace would have
approved in a comic poet, then we probably can hardly do better than look
to Quintilians judgement on Roman comedy:
In comedy most of all we trail behind [the Greeks]. It is true that Varro said that
in the opinion of Aelius Stilo the Muses would have used the language of Plautus
if they wished to speak Latin, that our predecessors give high praise to Caecilius,
that Terences works were ascribed to Scipio Africanus, and these works are indeed
the most elegant of comedies and would have had even more charm (gratia) if they
had been limited to iambic trimeters; nevertheless, we are scarcely a dim shadow
of the Greeks, so that I have come to the view that the language of the Romans
itself is unable to achieve that charm (uenus) which was granted to the people of
Attica alone, since the Greeks themselves fail to achieve it in any other form of
their language. (Quintilian 10.1.99100)
Just as Quintilian wishes that Terence had stuck to iambic trimeters, that
is, kept rather closer to Menandrean practice (it may have been Terences
constant changes of rhythm to which Quintilian objected),45 so Horace
would presumably have taken the view that a more obviously regular
rhythmical practice than Plautus numeri innumeri was appropriate to any
poetry with pretensions to sophistication; certainly, Catullus practice in
his iambics would have supported that view. As for the running trochaics,
they certainly posed questions of literary decorum. Aristotle cited the run-
ning rhythm of trochaic tetrameters as evidence for the rather kordax-like
nature of the trochee (Rhetoric 3.1409a1),46 an observation which Cicero
glosses by pointing to the lack of dignitas of this rhythm (De oratore 3.193).
In the Poetics Aristotle describes the trochaic tetrameter as both preceding
the iambic trimeter in the history of tragedy and as being appropriate to
the satyric and lively dancing (saturik ka rchstikwtra) nature of
early tragedy (1449a213); although this concerns tragedy, not comedy, the
pattern is suggestive, and it would certainly both fit Horaces expressed
44 On this passage see Jocelyn 1995: 2309; Hunter 2002: 1914.
45 Menanders use of tetrameters was of course well known to ancient metricians, see Menander T 117
K-A; on the other hand, it was equally familiar that a central difference between Old Comedy and
New lay in the polumetra of the former, as opposed to the predominant use of iambic trimeters
in the latter, see, e.g., Proleg. V 89 Koster.
46 For the many allusions to this passage in later writers see the notes of Cope-Sandys and Kassel ad
94 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
views about Plautus elsewhere and turn their own knife back on his sup-
The turning of Plautus into Epicharmus Romanus, and indeed the
whole tradition against which Horace is here taking aim, is part of the
familiar Roman critical practice of mapping Greek literary history on
to local production by finding equivalences between Greek and Latin
authors. Whether or not the critics whom Horace claims to have in his
sights had associated Plautus with a Greek poet whom they had actually
read and understood at any serious level may be debated, but Epicharmus
was certainly a choice name to conjure with: the Platonic Socrates had
cited him as the greatest poet of comedy (Theaetetus 152e5), but more
importantly he was the first inventor (prtov eretv) of comedy (see,
e.g., T1, 18 K-A).47 Horaces specific Siculi may in part look to an ancient
dispute about whether Epicharmus came originally from that island or
from the eastern Aegean,48 or we might speculate that scholarship had
associated the early period of the palliata with Sicilian influence.49 That
there was a flourishing and long-standing tradition of Sicilian comedy not
improbably attracted the attention of those who wished to establish links
between Greek and Roman traditions; Sicily was, after all, according to
prominent Greek traditions, the place where comedy originated, whether
or not in the person of Epicharmus.50 Whatever the precise nuance of
properare (and whether it was their word or Horaces), therefore, Plautus
supporters had found a great name at the head of the history of Greek
comedy who, with something of a stretch, could be made to fill a role
in comedy analogous to that of Plautus; after both of them comedy was
indeed to develop technically and stylistically, but to criticise them would
be to criticise ground-breaking pioneers. This may be seen as the solution
of the supporters to the problem of Plautus: what to do with the Roman
poet who was a national glory or a deep embarrassment, depending upon
your point of view.
However the comparison of Plautus to Epicharmus is evaluated, the triad
of Plautus Caecilius Terence seems also to sketch a chronological and
developmental history of the palliata, and one which is not too far removed
47 See also Aristotle, Poetics 1448a33.
48 For a survey of the evidence and the arguments see Pickard-Cambridge 1962: 2303. I have toyed
with the idea that the fact that some believed that Epicharmus came not from Syracuse but from
the nearby (Sicilian) Megara, which also laid a claim to a pivotal role in the development of
comedy (see Aristotle, Poetics 1448a323), is relevant here, given the notoriously unsophisticated
nature of mainland Megarian humour. Plautus, Persa 3945 suggests that Sicilian humour could
be represented as unsophisticated.
49 See Hunter 1985a: 20. 50 See Aristotle, Poetics 1449b67; Proleg. XVIIIb.3.13 Koster.
Comic moments 95
from the Aristotelian pattern just considered. Literary chronology is, of
course, more an art form than a science, a set of facts to be manipulated
to the service of an argument, and Caecilius could at need stand with
Plautus or after him, as indeed he has at different moments of his modern
critical reception.51 Horaces (naturally tendentious) developmental history
of the palliata was certainly not the only one available,52 just as his negative
views of Plautus seem to have marked a break with the generally more
positive criticism of the late Republic, though how sharp a break may
be disputed.53 The move from a beginning (Plautus/Epicharmus), a point
sharpened by the limiting of Naevius, who also wrote comedies, to the
field of epic, through grauitas to ars apes patterns of Greek literary history
which go back particularly, like so much else, to the comparison between
the grauis Aeschylus and the artful (and craftful) Euripides in Aristophanes
Frogs, a comparison which also plots the history of a genre;54 Quintilians
description of Aeschylus as sublime and serious and grandiloquent often
almost to a fault, but very often rough and unpolished (sublimis et grauis
et grandilocus saepe usque ad uitium, sed rudis in plerisque et incompositus,
10.1.66) speaks volumes.55 Genres, and whole literatures, tend, of course,
in the familiar patterns of ancient literary history to move from (an often
noble) simplicity towards (an often morally doubtful) complexity, from
(to put it another way) ingenium to ars;56 we naturally think of Ovids
history of Greek and Latin literature in Amores 1.15 or of some aspects of
Longinus famous comparison of the great but flawed to the non-great
but unflawed (On the Sublime 33).57 On this scheme Terence, whose works
are also described by Quintilian as in hoc genere elegantissima (10.1.99),
plays the role of a Euripides or a Callimachus in the history of the palliata;
he is also, of course, the closest Rome got to a Menander, but as Julius
Caesar put it famously, he only got half-way there.58 In the construction of
this particular history of the palliata, we must not underestimate the part
played by Terence himself; poets often have crucial roles in constructing
their own critical Nachleben, just as the critical view of Ennius as et sapiens
51 See Wright 1974: 878. At Horace, Ars Poetica 54 Caecilius and Plautus are bracketed together as
archaic writers.
52 See, e.g., Deufert 2002: 72.
53 For the various positions see Jocelyn 1995 and Deufert 2002: 6484. On Ciceros enthusiasm for
early comedy see also Blansdorf 1974.
54 It should not need stressing that this argument is largely independent of the actual meaning of
Caecilius grauitas, which is disputed (see Brink ad loc.).
55 See above pp. 512.
56 See above pp. 445 on Dio 52; there is much to be learned in this regard from Chapter 3 of Hinds
57 See below pp. 1608. 58 See Cicero fr. 1 Courtney = Menander T 64 K-A, with Schmid 1952.
96 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
et fortis et alter Homerus goes back in whole or part to Ennius himself. In
the prologues Terence stresses that he is a nouus poeta and one whose works
pay particular attention to style and avoid the uitia and peccata of the
malevolent uetus poeta who opposes him;59 if aspects of this rhetoric look
forward to the neoteric rhetoric of Roman Callimacheans and Horace
and then on towards Longinus, it may also remind us of the parabases of
Aristophanes.60 There too it is the young poet who has new ideas, who
is, if you like, neterov in both senses; old poets are out of date and out
of fashion, rcaov in both senses.61
To see that behind Horaces verses lie not just critical views about indi-
vidual poets, which were in any case structured as comparisons between
poets, as was normal in the Greek tradition and also in the Roman, at
least from (roughly) the first century bc onwards, but also a skeletal devel-
opmental history of the palliata, throws into relief once again the crucial
position of Plautus. What kind of a beginning was he? Was he in fact an
Epicharmus, or was he rather closer to the kind of pre-literate farce (the
Atellan?) which could be, and was, hypothesised as lying behind the devel-
opment of formal drama? The problem was not made any easier by the
history of Greek and Roman comedy themselves. Unlike Roman comedy
(and Greek tragedy, for that matter),62 Greek comedy had two distinct
golden ages, both marked by inimitable qualities of literary criv and
uenus (see, e.g., Quintilian 10.1.65, 100),63 but differing from each other
(as Roman comedies did not) in both subject matter and stylistic form,
and this made the writing of parallel literary histories very difficult; almost
inevitably, it also led to Plautus being cast in more than one role. Old
Comedy was not merely a high point of Attic literature, it had no Roman
equivalent, unless one were to seek this in satire (cf. Horace, Satires 1.4;
Persius 1.1235).64 Quintilian for his part does not have recourse to this
solution; he rather inserts the purely Roman genre of satire between elegy
and iambus (10.1.935), and passes directly from Roman lyric to Roman
59 See Andria 12; Haut. 30, 33, 46; Eunuchus 27, 43; Phormio 5, 1314.
60 For other similarities between Aristophanes claims for his comedies and those of Terence see Hunter
1985a: 303.
61 Relevant passages include Knights 507, Clouds 547, Wasps 1044. For a further consideration of these
ideas see Hunter 2001b.
62 Something of a parallel for the historical construction of Roman comedy for which I am arguing
may be seen in Dios contrasts between, on the one hand, Menander and Old Comedy and, on the
other, Euripides and the old (rcawn) tragedians (18.67 = Menander T 102 K-A), see above
p. 46.
63 For the criv of Old Comedy see also, e.g., Aristophanes T 69, 79, 130, 131 K-A; Plutarch, of course,
begged to differ, see above p. 79.
64 See below pp. 99100.
Comic moments 97
tragedy (10.1.968), whereas in the corresponding Greek section, lyric and
tragedy had been separated by Old Comedy (10.1.65), for which no Roman
equivalent could readily be found.
By way of something of a footnote, we may note that the one glimpse
that survives of Roman Old Comedy in fact confirms rather than denies
this gap in the Roman literary record. Pliny tells a correspondent of how
he heard Vergilius Romanus reading to a small audience a comedy written
on the pattern of Old Comedy:
I am one of those who admire (mirer) the ancients, but unlike some this
does not make me look down on the talents of our own times. It is not the case
that nature is too weary and worn out to give birth to anything worthy of praise.
Indeed, I recently heard Vergilius Romanus reading to a small audience a comedy
written on the pattern (exemplar) of Old Comedy; it was so good that it could
one day be a pattern for others. I do not know whether you know him, but it
would be worth your while; he is a man of upright morals, intellectual elegance,
and unusual versatility in his writings. He has written mimiambi which are subtle,
witty and charming (tenuiter argute uenuste), and the most eloquent examples of
their genre; there is no genre which cannot be called very eloquent if it reaches
the highest standard. He has also written comedies after the manner (aemulatus)
of Menander and other poets of his age; these you may put alongside Plautus and
Terence. This was his first effort at Old Comedy, but it did not seem like it. There
was no lack of force (uis), grandeur, subtlety, sharpness (amaritudo), sweetness
(dulcedo) or charm (lepos); he embellished virtues and castigated vices (insectatus
est uitia), and used fictitious names as suitable and real ones appropriately. Only
with respect to me did he go beyond the proper limit out of an excess of good will,
but poets do indeed have a licence to tell untruths. (Pliny, Epistle 6.21.16)
Both Pliny and Vergilius seem to have been reading their Horace. Pliny
combines admiration (mirer, a verb Horace uses more than once in these
contexts) for old writers with recognition of contemporary talent, and
Vergilius is not just following the prescriptions of Horaces Ars Poetica in his
attention to exemplaria Graeca, he is almost living out the pattern of poetic
life which Horace claims for himself in Satires 1.4, by reciting his satirical
work, a work in fact descending from Old Comedy, to a small group
of a few friends (Sat. 1.4.734).65 With some important Roman variations
(ornauit uirtutes is of particular interest presumably Plinys uirtutes figured
prominently)66 and an admixture of qualities more reminiscent of the
critical tradition about later comedy, the terms in which Pliny praises
Vergilius effort stand squarely within ancient traditions about Attic Old
65 See below pp. 99105.
66 The idea is, however, very close to the Greek kosmen, which had from the earliest days been
recognised as a principal activity of poets.
98 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
Comedy, particularly Aristophanes;67 Quintilians account is particularly
Old Comedy is almost the only form which preserves the genuine grace of the Attic
language. It is marked by a very eloquent freedom of speech, castigation of vice
(insectandis uitiis), and a high degree of force (uires) in other departments. It has
grandeur, elegance and charm (uenus), and with the exception of Homer, who,
like Achilles, is always the exception there is no poetry more like oratory or more
suitable for training orators. There were a number of poets of Old Comedy, but
the principal ones are Aristophanes, Eupolis and Cratinus. (Quintilian 10.1.656)
Such language, which of course also lies behind the opening verses of
Horace, Satires 1.4, was the standard way of describing Old Comedy; we
may also compare Diomedes description of the Old Comedy triad qui et
principum uitia sectati acerbissimas comoedias composuerunt (Proleg. XXIV
2, 523 Koster = Ar. T 82 K-A). This same passage of Diomedes notes that
the poets of New Comedy omnem acerbitatem comoediae mitigauerunt, just
as Evanthius notes that New Comedy offers spectators minus amaritudinis
than does the Old (Proleg. XXV 1.701 Koster), and this throws light on
the most striking element of Plinys list, amaritudo, particularly striking
when set beside dulcedo. Bitter wit can of course be a bad thing, as for
example Plutarch deprecates the bitter and harsh wit (lev pikro ka
tracev) of Aristophanes which is marked by a fierceness which wounds
and bites (lkwtikn drimthta ka dhktikn) (Comparison 4),68 but
here it clearly refers to the same positive quality which Horace found in
Lucilius, sale multo | urbem defricuit, he rubbed the city down with a great
deal of salt (Sat. 1.10.34),69 and Dioscorides in the sharp thyme (drim
qmon) of Machons rcah tcnh (Ars P 7.708 = GowPage, HE 1617
22). Finally, we may note that Pliny goes out of his way to stress Vergilius
probitas morum and his benignitas (towards Pliny at least); this should be
seen not just against the values prevalent in Plinys habitual circle, but also
against the tradition, going back at least to Aristotle, which linked the
moral character of comic poets to the character of what they wrote: we
may recall Terences repeated ascription of maleuolentia to Luscius, Horaces
vehement denial of inuidia in Satires 1.4, and Plutarchs condemnation of
t kakhqev in Aristophanes.70

67 See Quadlbauer 1960: 634. Quadlbauers article offers a still useful collection of (rather unsorted)
68 See above p. 79.
69 Plinys comment on Vergilius use of fictive and real names is also suggestive for the Roman
satirical tradition.
70 See below pp. 1067.
Comic moments 99
To return to the Roman confrontation with Greek literary history.
As regards New Comedy, here a particular problem was the undisputed
supremacy of Menander (see Quintilian 10.1.6972), a supremacy which
was probably recognised by the middle of the second century at least;71
unlike Old Comedy with its standard trio of superstars, New Comedy
only had one, and there was here no obvious internal developmental his-
tory which could function as a model for the Roman critics. The choice
of Epicharmus perhaps suggests rather an attempt to map the history of
the palliata on to the whole history of Greek comedy, from the beginnings
to Menander, and such a critical effort was, we might think, doomed to
failure. The Greek models of such cross-generational history foregrounded
political change, the relative prominence of mythical and tragic parody, and
the introduction late in the day of new narrative motifs, some borrowed
from Euripides, such as the rape of virgins and the exposure of children;
the passage from Livius (or Plautus) to Terence had nothing to match
this, though the similarities between Gellius comparison of Caecilius and
Menander and Plutarchs of Aristophanes and Menander perhaps suggests
that, here too, an attempt to follow the Greek pattern was made.

comedy and satire 72

When in the first century bc Roman scholars sought to place the hexameter
satire of Lucilius within the scheme of genres inherited from their Greek
forebears it is hardly surprising that they homed in on Old Comedy as
of particular relevance; it may have been Varro, perhaps following a hint
from Lucilius himself, who authorised the dependence of Lucilius on
Eupolis atque Cratinus Aristophanesque poetae.73 According to Horace at
the opening of Satires 1.4, the link consisted in the freedom with which
they marked (notabant) wrongdoers; Lucilius may, like the Plautus of the
Epistles,74 have his stylistic faults (vv. 813), but his res were in the right
place. As Horace explores the relationship between comedy and satire, he
will never discard the link with Old Comedy, and Andrea Cucchiarelli has
indeed made a strong case for seeing Old Comedy (particularly the Frogs
of Aristophanes) as a powerful and direct inspiration for Satires 1, not just

71 See Nesselrath forthcoming. For Menanders superiority to Philemon in the critical tradition see
also Philemon T 7, 23, 24 K-A.
72 Some of the discussion which follows reworks Hunter 1985b: 48690 (reprinted with permission of
Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart), where further detailed bibliography may be found.
73 See Leo 1889; further bibliography in Cucchiarelli 2001: 33 n. 63.
74 See above pp. 901, Cucchiarelli 2001: 456.
100 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
a scholarly theory to be waved aloft;75 nevertheless, Horace also gestures
in various ways towards the idea that it is New Comedy, and particularly
the comedy of Menander and Terence, which hold a special place in the
genealogy of his sermones.
One thing that even Plautus most ardent supporters would have
acknowledged was that there was a lot of him. Aulus Gellius reports that
still in the second century ad there were some one hundred and thirty
plays in circulation which were attributed to him and that many different
scholars had drawn up lists of which plays were actually by Plautus (NA
3.3.1, 11); our twenty-one plays all but certainly go back to a selection made
by Varro of those plays which were not the subject of doubt. Horace
and his contemporaries will have had a veritable smorgasbord from which
to choose, and one which might well have led to the view that Plautus
too could write two hundred verses in an hour, standing on one foot (it
was, after all, for him all a matter of money, Epist. 2.1.175). Plautus may
have aroused differing critical judgements,76 but breuitas which allows the
meaning to run on unimpeded by words weighing down tired ears (Satires
1.10.910 on Lucilius) would probably not have been recognised among his
foremost virtues; not only were there (too) many plays, there were also a
very large number of words. In a famous anecdote Gellius (3.3.6) reports
that for his friend Favorinus the single comic verse
scrattae, scrupedae, strittiuillae, sordidae
loose, tottering, hair falling out, unkempt
guaranteed that the play from which it came was by Plautus. As for Terence,
there were only six plays, four of which were from Menander, whose stylistic
credentials could hardly be challenged, and the Terentian scripts might well
have seemed more coherent and stylistically uniform than those which
went under the name of Plautus.77 Horace rejects quantity as a meaningful
criterion for poetry (Sat. 1.4.1316) and is only too happy to speak raro
et perpauca (v. 18).78 Terence too claims to have been accused of writing
paucae fabulae (Haut. 1718) and, like Horace (Sat. 1.6.624), he professes
himself proud of his powerful patrons and amici (Adelphoe 1521).

75 Cucchiarelli 2001: 1555. 76 See above p. 95.

77 This is, of course, quite independent of the view one takes of the fate of Plautine scripts in the two
centuries after they were written, an issue which Otto Zwierlein has kept in the scholarly foreground.
78 Behind Crispinus absurd challenge at vv. 1416 may lie Odysseus challenge to Eurymachus at
Odyssey 18.36670 to see which of them would cut more grass during a long day in the fields. There,
and in epic generally, quantity does matter, whereas in Horaces Callimachean aesthetic it does not;
Crispinus does not know the difference between wielding a scythe and using a pen.
Comic moments 101
In Satires 1.4 Horace claims that he does not wish to give public recita-
tions because satire arouses enmity, as the majority of people (anyone
chosen at random from a crowd) suffer from some fault, whether it be
greed, ambition, or fancying the wrong person (vv. 2532); here we have
clearly moved away from the thieves and murderers marked by Old Com-
edy, towards New Comedy which was thought to draw its material from the
ordinary life of everyday people.79 Horace, however, creates an interesting
continuity in change between, on the one hand, Old Comedy and, on the
other, New Comedy and Horatian satire auaritia is different from theft,
but clearly related to it, the moechus and the man who nuptarum insanit
amoribus are clearly not far apart; the proud heritage of Attic Old Comedy
is not in fact to be rejected. The tradition of nomast kwmwiden was
to be praised precisely because those whom Old Comedy attacked were
indeed digni describi; Old Comedy did not practise indiscriminate abuse.80
This, however, is precisely the charge against satirists which Horace alleges
is widespread:
faenum habet in cornu, longe fuge; dummodo risum
excutiat sibi, non hic cuiquam parcet amico
et quodcumque semel chartis inleuerit, omnis
gestiet a furno redeuntis scire lacuque
et pueros et anus. (Horace, Satires 1.4.348)
Hes got hay on his horns keep well away! Provided he can get a laugh, he will
spare no friend and as soon as anything is scratched on his pages hes desperate
for everyone to know it, all the slaves and old women as they come back from the
bakery and the water-hole.

These verses place the satirist in a line of descent which goes back to
Homers Thersites, who would say whatever he thought the Argives would
find amusing,81 and have a particular link to the character whom Aristotle
labels the bwmolcov:
Those who are excessive with regard to the laughable (t gloion) seem to be
clownish and vulgar (bwmolcoi . . . ka jortiko); their concern at all costs is the
laughable, and they set more value on causing laughter than on speaking decently
and not hurting the object of their mockery . . . The clown is a slave to laughter,
and he spares neither himself nor anyone else if he can get a laugh, and his jokes
are the sort of things which the witty man ( careiv) would not say, and some of

79 The testimonia are legion: see, e.g., Horace, Epist. 2.1.168; Proleg. XXV.1.6877 Koster.
80 That this was in fact an issue is suggested by Cicero, De re publica 4.1012.
81 See above pp. 878.
102 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
which he would not even care to hear. (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 4.1128a47,
When the alleged opponents of satire return to the charge in verses 789,
laedere gaudes | . . . et hoc studio prauus facis, you like hurting people . . . and
you do this from deliberate malice, it is this Aristotelian analysis which we
hear again. For Horace the really dangerous speaker is part bwmolcov,
part malicious gossip:
absentem qui rodit, amicum
qui non defendit alio culpante, solutos
qui captat risus hominum famamque dicacis,
fingere qui non uisa potest, conmissa tacere
qui nequit; hic niger est, hunc tu, Romane, caueto.
(Horace, Satires 1.4.815)
The man who criticises behind someones back, the man who does not defend a
friend when another attacks him, the man who wants to make people laugh loudly
and to be thought a wit, the man who can invent what he has never seen, the man
who cannot keep a secret with which he has been entrusted, this man, Roman, is
black, this is the man you must guard against.
Over against the bwmolcov Aristotle sets the urbane (pidxiov) man
who is also likely to be leuqriov and pepaideumnov:
To the middle condition belongs also urbanity; the urbane man will say and listen
to the sort of things which a reasonable (pieikv) and well-mannered (leuqriov)
man would,82 for there are things which it is appropriate for such a man to say and
listen to by way of amusement (paidi), and the amusement of the well-mannered
differs from that of the slavish (ndrapoddhv), and that of the educated from
the uneducated. One can see this in the difference between old and new comedies:
for poets of the former, obscenity (ascrologa) was amusing, but poets of the
latter prefer suggestiveness (pnoia), and these two things are very different with
respect to decency. (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 4.1128a1625)
At one level we have here an important ancestor of the attitudes Plutarch
expresses in the Comparison of Aristophanes and Menander, where
decency and paideia are everything and that distinction is expressed through
a distinction between Old Comedy and New, but this passage also allows
us to see the creative use which Horace has made of the critical tradition.83
Aristotles analysis is concerned with the conditions under which t
gloion should be operative in decent society; the key lies in the fact that

82 Well-mannered does not, of course, catch the play with the idea of free, which is crucial for the
resonance of the dichotomy with slavish.
83 There is a very large bibliography, but Hendrickson 1900 has well stood the test of time.
Comic moments 103
there must always be other considerations to take into account. Whereas a
Thersites or a bwmolcov makes the raising of a laugh the principal end of
social interaction, for Aristotle the end is rather the proper employment of
relaxation and play (npausiv ka paidi) in ordinary life, which for
Horace is translated as the role that satire should play within the bounds
of amicitia; Horaces sermones are intended for his amici (1.4.73), among
whom we will be glad to count ourselves. That satire is intended for a group
of like-minded individuals who have each others benefit at heart brings it
close to Plutarchs vision of a Menander who offers appropriate relaxation,
whether in the theatre or at a symposium, for the educated, for philosophers
and scholars. For Plutarch (Mor. 73de) the three principal sources of advice
for us at different stages of our life are a well intentioned friend (jlov
pieikv), a good (crhstv) father, and a (school-)teacher, and both
Horatian satire and Menandrean comedy each perform at least two of those
roles. Horace places his satires both sylistically (vv. 4863) and in terms of
their purpose and content (vv. 10526) close to Menandrean and Terentian
comedy. The latter point depends upon accepting that the presentation
of his fathers educational methods evokes comedy, and particularly the
Adelphoe of Terence;84 certainly, notando in verse 106 takes us back to the
socially improving activities of the Old Comedy poets (v. 5) and points to
the continuity which runs from them, through Lucilius, and on to Horace.
The uitia against which Horaces father seeks to warn his son (wastefulness,
greed, and inappropriate romantic entanglements) again are clearly related
to those marked by Old Comedy; the non bella . . . fama Treboni (v. 115)
picks up famosus in verse 5 to make the point.85 Throughout the poem
Horace has gestured towards two related narratives of literary history: one
traces a line of continuity and dependence from Old Comedy to Lucilius
and then on to Horace, and the other suggests that the development of Old
Comedy to New Comedy and that from Lucilius to Horace are analogous.
The past is not abandoned; rather, some things are taken over almost
unchanged, whereas others are given a new (often ethical) direction. The
strident opposition which Plutarch seeks to create between Aristophanes
and Menander depends in fact upon a generic continuity between them as
comedy, and scholarship reinforced that sense of generic togetherness,
even as it drew attention to differences between them.86
It is indeed a form of literary history which Horace is writing in
Satires 1.4. The opening sentence, with the resonant parade of names
84 See, e.g., Leach 1971, Citroni Marchetti 2004; further bibliography in Hunter 1985b: 490 n. 56.
85 See also vv. 1256 flagret rumore malo cum | hic atque ille . . .
86 On Hellenistic scholarship in this regard see Montana 2007.
104 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
in verse 1, evokes Greek histories of comedy, descendants of which we
possess in the late antique and Byzantine treatises gathered together in the
Prolegomena de comoedia.87 Here for example is Platonius description of
Old Comedy:
As there was complete equality of speech (shgora) for everyone, the comic poets
had immunity to mock (skptein) generals and judges who gave bad judgements
and any citizens who were avaricious (jilrguroi) or led debauched lives . . . In
their comedies Aristophanes and Cratinus and Eupolis were unrestrained in their
attacks on wrongdoers. (Platonius I 58, 1113 Koster)
Platonius is typical in connecting the outspokenness of Old Comedy to
the radical nature of fifth-century democracy, itself of course a view with
a specific history, as the Old Oligarch most famously makes clear ([Xen.]
Ath. Pol. 2.18). The equality of speech which both the Old Oligarch
(e.g. 1.12) and Platonius highlight as a dominant feature of fifth-century
democracy88 recurs in Horaces account in the shape of libertas (v. 5). Just,
however, as the nature of comic humour had shifted over time,89 so had
the nature of freedom of speech, the shgora and parrhsa which
lay at the heart of the democratic ideology of classical Athens.90 Over
time, changed political circumstances and the emergence of an educated
elite had produced a new set of contexts for this freedom; the analogy to
ancient histories of comedy is clear and important. Ethical theory turned
parrhesia into a private virtue exercised among friends; it was particularly
associated with the Epicureans, but by no means limited to that school,91
and like much ancient ethical theory it systematised much that was already
widespread in popular ethics. That one had a duty to correct the faults
of a friend was a very traditional idea, and it is one which we see both
dramatised, sometimes with very amusing results (e.g. Terence, Haut. 53
86), and explicitly formulated in New Comedy (Plautus, Trinummus 23
7); the analogy (or lack of it) between the relations between jloi/amici
and those between father and son are often implicit in such dramatisa-
tions and are explicitly explored in Terences Adelphoe, the play to which
Horace may look in the depiction of the education he received from his
87 See Koster 1975. For Platonius see also Perusino 1989.
88 shgora in fact covers a broader freedom and equality than just that of speech, see, e.g., Grays
note on [Xen.] Ath. Pol. 1.12.
89 This is first noted for us in Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 4.1128a224. 90 See Scarpat 1964.
91 Our principal sources are the remains of Philodemus per parrhsav (ed. A. Olivieri, Leipzig,
1914; cf. Konstan et al. 1998) and the second part of Plutarchs How to tell a friend from a flatterer;
Philodemus principal source seems to have been Zeno of Sidon.
92 See above p. 103. On this aspect of the Adelphoe see Fantuzzi and Hunter 2004: 41925.
Comic moments 105
Ancient discussions of frank criticism stress the need for gentleness and
courtesy (Plutarch, Mor. 66b),93 but even harshness is not ruled out if there
is goodwill behind the reproaches (see, e.g., Cicero, De amicitia 44, 889;
Plutarch, Mor. 55bc); criticism should only come from one who is well
aware of his own faults (Mor. 71e72a) and should not be delivered in
the hearing of outsiders (Mor. 70e71c). That such teaching corresponds
closely to the picture in Satires 1.4 of a Horace who reads his satires only to
friends, and then only under compulsion (v. 73), is very obvious; Horace
is the liber amicus whose advice is beneficial, just as this is precisely the
kind of therapy which he himself needs (vv. 1313). In opposition to this
image of good and unobtrusive intention is the image of the back-biting
slanderer (vv. 81101) whose poison destroys amicitia and social relation-
ships. Such malice is a corruption of true libertas (v. 90) and to defend it
as an exercise of free speech is a perversion of language; Horaces slan-
derer thus stands in the tradition of Theophrastus kakolgov, who calls
slander freedom of speech (parrhsa) and democracy and liberty
(Characters 28.6).94 The slanderer is at his most liber when Liber, the god
of wine, has loosened his tongue; as such, he behaves in just the way that
ethical theory deprecates (cf. Plutarch, Mor. 68d), whereas for the man of
culture drinking, and the frankness which can attend it, hold no fears (Mor.
What, in essence, is at issue is the character of the poet and his audience:
for most of antiquity, you are what you write was a self-evident truism.
For Aristotle, it was not just that audiences for musical competitions were
divisible into the free and educated on one hand, and the vulgar class
of workers and servile types on the other (Politics 8.1342a1819) and that
each type preferred a correspondingly educated or vulgar performance
(8.1341b1518),95 but that these social and moral distinctions applied to
poets as well. The Poetics constructs a history in which the more serious
people (o semnteroi) moved from hymns and encomia to epic and
then tragedy, whereas people of less worth (o etelsteroi) wrote psogoi,
iambs and finally comedy (1448b2038). It goes without saying that the
people represented in the various types also conform to these social and
moral distinctions (the spoudaioi in tragedy, the phauloi in comedy, etc.,
1449a32b12). Thus the writing or performance of satire of any kind could
readily expose one to charges of moral degradation (shades of Thersites, yet

93 This passage uses Plutarchs typical image of mixing for what is good, as precisely with Menander
(see above p. 85).
94 For the text here see Diggle ad loc. 95 See above p. 13.
106 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
again);96 Plutarchs stress upon Aristophanes kakoqeia and the harshly
wounding nature of his attacks (Comparison 854ad) shows precisely
what could be at stake. For Plutarch, unlike for, say, Platonius (see above),
it is not the people whom Aristophanes attacked who are debauched
(klaston), or rather perhaps their debauchery is a side issue, but it
is the comedy itself, and those for whom it was written, which is so
degraded; Menanders humour, on the other hand, is, like the advice of
the true friend and free-speaker97 and like that of Horace (vv. 7981),
without malice (jqonov) and has as its ideal audience men of learning
who are taking well-mannered relaxation. That Horaces amici fit such a
description is made clear throughout Book 1 of the Satires.
For Horace, however, it is not Old Comedy which represents the
paradigm of malicious abuse which is to be rejected, but rather the poison
of ill-founded gossip. If individuals are named, the purpose, like that of his
fathers teaching, is our own good; unlike Plutarchs vision of Aristophanes,
Horace is not pandering to our worst instincts, but trying to bring out our
best. In doing so, he both distances himself from Old Comedy and parades
his attachment to it; this is not just a provocation to his critics (real or
alleged), though, like his disquisition on whether or not satire is poetry
(vv. 3963), it is that too. It is also a marker of the distinction between
the kind of criticism and literary history which we find in the Prolegomena
to comedy and that which Horace is writing (or indeed that which Cal-
limachus writes in the Reply to the Telchines); the clear distinctions of the
treatises give way to a more open and less clearly defined pattern, and one
in which, as perhaps in life itself, shades of grey dominate over black and

96 The ancient fashioning of the figure of Archilochus (see Pindar, Pythian 2.526 etc.) is also an
important exemplum here.
97 See Philodemus, per parrhsav p. 42 col. I 6 Olivieri = Konstan et al. 1998: 92.
chapter 4

The ugly peasant and the naked virgins:

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Imitation

In the four centuries which followed Euripides mimesis of Homer in the

Cyclops, imitative practice in all its senses was refined and theorised by
poets, rhetoricians and philosophers. If the major landmarks of the fourth
century Plato, Isocrates, Aristotle are still visible to us, most of what
followed has simply disappeared, though the empty surface is occasionally
broken (e.g. by papyri of Philodemus) to suggest some of what we are
missing. It is only from the Augustan age onwards that sufficient material
in both Greek and Latin survives to make possible an overview of ancient
approaches to the subject of mimesis.1 The present chapter concerns an
Augustan work which seems to look forwards and backwards in multiple
senses: it clearly draws on lost Hellenistic work and is itself preserved only
in fragments, whereas the scope of its ambition looks forward to the great
synthesising works of the imperial period.
In his Letter to Pompeius Dionysius of Halicarnassus refers to a work
(or series of essays) of his addressed to one Demetrius on the subject of
mimesis: The first concerns the enquiry into mimesis, the second deals with
which poets, philosophers, historians and orators we should imitate, and
the third (which is still unfinished) with how we should practise mimesis
(Letter to Pompeius 3.1). It is presumably largely the second of these which
is described in rather more detail in the proem to Dionysius essay On
In the treatises (pomnhmatismo) on imitation which I published earlier, Quintus
Aelius Tubero, I discussed those poets and prose writers whom I considered to
be the most distinguished, and I briefly explained the virtues of content and
language of each, and where each had particularly fallen short of his own standards,
whether because his intention (proaresiv) did not allow him to see the whole
of the subject in its most accurate detail, or because his powers did not operate
successfully throughout his work. My intention was that those who set out to be

1 Russell 1979 remains one very valuable attempt at such an overview.

108 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
good writers and speakers should have excellent and approved models (kannev)
to use in their individual exercises; not that they should imitate everything which
they find in the texts of these men, but that they should take their virtues and steer
clear of their failings. (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Thucydides 1)

A work On imitation, arranged in this manner and written by a Greek

scholar in Augustan Rome, should be a work of the greatest interest to
(inter alios) students of ancient criticism, Augustan literature and higher
education in antiquity. Moreover, Dionysius description of the work,
together with the fragments which survive, suggest that its scope covered
both imitation in a theoretical, Platonising mode, and the more down-
to-earth practice of allusive mimesis as we are familiar with it in later Greek
and Roman writing. Had it survived, Dionysius work might well have
stood witness to a coming-together, or at least juxtaposition, of two of the
principal streams of ancient mimesis theory, whose interplay has always
been both obviously important and very difficult to locate with precision.2
Unfortunately, time has not been kind to Dionysius work. Apart from
a few (very interesting) fragments of Book 1, our principal witness to
the On Imitation3 is an epitome of Book 2 from late antiquity or the early
Byzantine period; unfortunately (again), the text of the Epitome is preserved
in a very corrupt state, and due caution is necessary in moving from it to
a reconstruction of Dionysius actual words and views. Nevertheless, the
striking parallelism between the writers considered in the Epitome and
the judgements passed on them and the similar material in Quintilian
10.1, a parallelism which shows that Quintilian used either Dionysius or
Dionysius source (or both),4 allows some confidence that the task of
reconstruction is not a hopeless one. Moreover, Dionysius description of
(at least) Book 2 in On Thucydides 1 (above) is very like that which he gives
of the extant On the Ancient Orators in the preface to that work:
[My subject is:] Who are the most notable of the ancient orators and prose writers,
what were their styles (proairseiv) of life and writing (lgoi),5 and what should
we take from each and of what should we steer clear. This is a splendid subject
and one which is vital for those who practise political philosophy . . .6 (Dionysius
of Halicarnassus, On the Ancient Orators, Proem 4.2)

2 For a related point see Russell 1979: 34.

3 The standard edition is now Aujac 1992; Battisti 1997 is a helpful edition but leaves many problems
undiscussed. On Dionysius theory of eclectic mimesis see, e.g., Hidber 1996: 5675. The On
Imitation is usually held to be an early work of Dionysius, see Bonner 1939: 367.
4 See Tavernini 1953: 551; further bibliography in Rutherford 1998: 40 n. 13.
5 lgwn is Reiskes emendation of the transmitted lgou. 6 On this phrase see below p. 124.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Imitation 109
We may thus, with due caution, also use Dionysius extant writings on
classical oratory to reconstruct his views of and attitudes to the great poets
of the past, and some further justification for this confidence may be drawn
from the similarity between the passages I have just cited and the close of
the epitome of Book 2 of the On Imitation:
I have described the style of these orators and shown through the possession of
which virtue each of them may contribute to the benefit of those who engage with
them (tn ntugcanntwn).7 I have examined the styles (dai) of all the writers
considered so that I may show what constitutes a careful reading from which
can be derived the successful qualities of each. We must not read the ancients
superficially, expecting that benefit will come to us imperceptibly (lelhqtwv),
but with principles to guide us (pisthmnwv), particularly if we wish to adorn
our own logos with excellent features drawn from all of the ancients. These things
themselves give pleasure through their own nature, but if through art (tcnh) they
are mixed into the form of a single linguistic structure (ev nv tpon logiko
smatov), the expression (jrsiv) is improved by the mixing. (Dionysius of
Halicarnassus, On Imitation fr. VI, pp. 21314 U.-R. = p. 40 Aujac)
In this chapter my focus will be on perhaps the best-known section of the
Epitome, its opening, as it is here that we may hope to be able to trace,
however faintly, the classical inheritance of Dionysius classicising theory.
Dionysius begins with two anecdotes which illustrate the idea that con-
stant exposure to the great works of the past can have a positive effect on
the beauty of our own speeches and that we should expose ourselves to as
great a range of such works as possible so that we can pick out the best of
each to put into our own work:
We must spend time with the writings of the ancients, so that we can acquire
from them not merely material for our arguments but also emulation of their
expressions ( tn diwmtwn zlov). For, by constant observation, the readers
soul attracts a likeness8 of the style (caraktr), such as the story says happened
to the peasants wife. The story goes that an ugly farmer was afraid that he would
be the father of children like himself, and this fear taught him the art of making
beautiful children. He fashioned beautiful images (eknav) and made his wife
look at them regularly; when she had looked at them he would sleep with her and
was rewarded with beautiful children.9 In this way, in literature also, likeness is
born through imitation, whenever someone emulates what seems excellent in each

7 This verb often denotes simply reading (see Chantraine 1950: 1225), but Dionysius clearly has in
mind a form of concentrated reading to which we may as well give the name studying.
8 The important discussion of Porter 2006b: 339 is perhaps misleading here: moithv will here be
likeness, not identity.
9 The sense is clear, but the text is at best doubtful, even in the context of the very strange expressions
of the Epitome; Russell adopts Sylburgs kgnwn for eknwn (Russell 1979: 6).
110 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
of the ancients and, as it were, constructs a single stream from many rivulets and
channels this into his own soul.
I would like to confirm this account with an actual example. Zeuxis was a
painter who was admired by the people of Croton. When he was painting a
picture of the naked Helen, they sent along the young girls of the town so that
he could see them naked; not that they were all beautiful, but it was not probable
that they were completely ugly. He collected together the features of each which
were worth painting into a single bodily image ( d n xion par ksthi
grajv, v man qrosqh smatov ekna), and from the bringing together of
many parts art fashioned a single perfect form (n ti . . . tleion edov).10 Thus
you too, as in a theatre, can examine (xistoren) forms of beautiful bodies and
pick (panqzesqai) the best from their souls, and by bringing together the
contribution of your wide learning (polumqeia) you may fashion, not an image
which will fade with time (xthlon crnwi), but the immortal beauty of art . . .
. . . so that the imitation should contain extracts which are obvious and clear
to the audience.11 (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Imitation fr. VI, pp. 2034
U.-R. = pp. 312 Aujac)
The story of how the ugly peasant managed to have handsome children,
a version of what Michael Reeve called the Andromeda effect,12 shows
us that the study of the past is, at least in part, a means to influence
the present, not a hopeless admiration across an unbridgeable divide;13
by taking careful note of where past writers failed, we may indeed even
hope to surpass the past (see Quintilian 10.2.28). This kind of classicising
imitation is not simply reproductive; it requires thought and intellectual
activity, and this is reinforced by the Platonic heritage of the passage. In the
Symposium, which seems to be the key text here, Diotima teaches Socrates
that eros is not eros of the beautiful, but rather eros of procreation and
of giving birth in the beautiful (206e); men and women are stimulated to
give birth by the presence of the beautiful, whereas the presence of the ugly
(t ascrn) causes sterility and drying up (206d). Moreover, we desire
to procreate because procreation is immortal and secures our immortality
(206e207a). For those of us pregnant in our souls with things which it is
fitting for the soul to conceive and bring to birth (209a2), a category which
includes poets, artists and lawgivers, if we meet and associate with someone
10 I follow here, as does Aujac, Kiesslings emendation of the transmitted sullogsanti . . . tleion
kaln do; Battisti preserves the last three words with strong punctuation after kaln.
11 As Usener realised, this seems to be a stray fragment from a later part of the preface; Usener also
proposed n t for na t.
12 See Reeve 1989, Battisti 1990; Reeve collects references to stories similar to that of Dionysius in
n. 12 of his article.
13 Such a view would, however, find at least a relation in Velleius Paterculus view that genres reach
perfection within a relatively short space of time and are then abandoned because men realise that
they will never be able to get close to the great figures (1.17.57).
Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Imitation 111
beautiful in both body and soul, we procreate logoi there both when we
are with them and when we are away but remembering them (209c23).
That the offspring of such meetings is more valuable and more immortal
than the offspring of those pregnant in body is clear when someone looks
at Homer and Hesiod and the other good poets and envies (zhln) them
the offspring which they have left behind, which bring them immortal
glory and remembrance (209d15). The path from these chapters of the
Symposium to a classicising theory of literary imitation is anything but
straightforward, but a few landmarks remain visible.
Both a Platonic inheritance and the language of pregnancy and birth
are, of course, ubiquitous both in the imagery of poets themselves for the
creative process and in ancient discussions of literary production. Partic-
ularly close to Dionysius here is the language and imagery of Longinus,
On the Sublime: the Pythian priestess, for example, is made pregnant by
the earthly emanations at Delphi (13.2).14 Nevertheless, we can, I think,
here move beyond the purely general. First, Platos ambiguous in the
(presence of the) beautiful and the need for those who are pregnant to
associate (ptesqai ka milen, 209c23) with the beautiful, if they are
to give birth successfully, is at an indeterminate number of removes from
Dionysius insistence that we must spend time (ntugcnein), through
reading, with the writings of the ancients in order ourselves to produce
kal speeches, but that there is a line of descent between the two seems
clear.15 That the procreative flood does not eventually require the actual
presence of the beautiful, provided that we have spent sufficient time with
him/it that we remember him/it when we are away, does not merely capture
with uncomfortable percipience the nature of sexual desire (and its tempo-
rary relief ) but also offers a justification for a continuing, lifelong exposure
to beautiful works of literature. Those who have been properly trained in
the appreciation of the great writers of the past will not need constantly
to check their sources when themselves composing, because their own
sensibilities and skills will remember and utilise what they have absorbed
through prolonged direct contact. We are here not too far away from the
idea, versions of which were to emerge in every period of thinking about
literary production up to the present day, that eros, fed by memories and
mental images of the beloved (the beautiful), was the principal driving
force in the production of great literature; whereas such desire and such
14 See, e.g., Innes 1995a: 1201 (though Innes does not mention the Platonic background), below
p. 116 n. 30.
15 For the importance of the fact that what is to be imitated should be kaln see also the collection of
definitions of zlov in Ammonius, De diff. verb. 20911 Nickau.
112 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
memories and images could be distracting and destructive one thinks of
Apollonius Medea (Argon. 3.4518) or Virgils Dido (Aeneid 4.15) they
could also lead, as they indeed do for Medea and Dido,16 to a giving birth
to logoi, which for those of particular natural gifts would not be simply
reproductive, but would be something quite new. Already for Dionysius
orators, of course, the aim is not to reproduce the words of the ancients but
rather to write new speeches as the ancients would have written them.17
The Platonic play between the moral and aesthetic senses of kaln and
ascrn, the fact that those who are pregnant in soul search for someone
who is beautiful in both body and soul, persists in the classicising insistence
that literary models are not just models of style, but also intellectual and
moral models (in the language of Dionysius, the style of life (proaresiv
bou) is just as important as the lgoi); there can be no proper model
of style which does not also offer a necessary moral seriousness, and this
point is to assume considerable importance in the subsequent anecdote
concerning Zeuxis.18 In Plato the examples of (the poetry of ) Homer,
Hesiod and the other great figures of the past can make clear to us, as we
gaze at them (poblpein, Symp. 209d2, cf. Rep. 5.472c7),19 just how much
more valuable and immortal than the bodily version is this soul pregnancy
and giving birth; for Diotima the examples of the great poets of the past
can serve as a protreptic to us to give birth to spiritual offspring. The
late rhetorician Phoibammon cites precisely this passage of the Symposium
to stress that the production of immortal logoi offers immortal glory, not
just the short-lived pleasure of children,20 and we must bear in mind the
possibility that Dionysius use of the anecdote of the ugly peasant was more
complex (and more overtly Platonic) than now appears from the text of
the Epitome. He may, for example, have moved from the anecdote to make
much the same hierarchising point as Phoibammon was to do.
As in Plato, then, the contemplation of the beautiful is productive
of fine offspring: a didactic zlov envy has now become a striving for
emulation (zlov). For Plato, of course, it is our souls which are the
crucial part of this operation, and, throughout the classicising tradition, it
is indeed our souls which are affected by, as was Dionysus in the Frogs,21
and in touch with the great literary works of the past; in Book 10 of the
16 It is tempting to think that Virgil was not unaware of some such theorising at the opening of Book
4: images of Aeneas and his words haunt Dido, just as Apollonius here haunts the Virgilian text.
17 The imitator of Demosthenes is not the person who says what Demosthenes said but the person who
speaks Demosthenically is a familiar tag from the ars wrongly ascribed to Dionysius (II 373.1819
U.-R., with Useners supplement).
18 See below p. 119. 19 See further below p. 115.
20 Rabe 1931: 3756. On this work cf. W. Stegemann, RE 20.3302. 21 See above pp. 368.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Imitation 113
Republic it is the fact that poetic representations appeal to the soul and the
mind which make them far more dangerous than paintings (see 10.603bc).
For Dionysius we must channel (metoceteein)22 what is good in ancient
works into our souls (Epitome 1.3); Longinus too makes this very clear:
. . . from the natural genius of the ancients emanations as from holy mouths are
carried into the psychai of those who emulate them (Longinus, On the Sublime
This repeated insistence perhaps suggests that Dionysius made clear that,
in the anecdote of the ugly peasant, the peasants wife who is forced to
contemplate the beautiful takes the part of the psyche, whereas Dionysius
himself and his students are in the position of the peasant. The anecdote
thus normalises the extraordinary biology of the Symposium in which
the male gives birth (though it is his psyche which is pregnant) and the
description of this giving birth combines language and imagery of both
male ejaculation and female reproduction. Whether we should go further
and speculate that either in Dionysius text or behind it lay a normalisation
of Platos flooding, very suggestive of male ejaculation, which happens to
the pregnant when they approach the beautiful (Symposium 206d23), into
the familiar language of the channelling of past literature into ones own
soul remains unclear.23
The lesson of the anecdote of Zeuxis and the virgins of Croton is
usually understood to be that creative mimesis requires a wide and deep
knowledge of ancient literature,24 selection within those works of the past,
for some works excel in one aspect and others in another, and an intelligent
eclecticism.25 This is certainly the use to which Cicero, who adds the detail
that Zeuxis first selected five of the young ladies to serve as his models,
puts the anecdote in the introduction to Book 2 of the De inuentione, and
these clearly are important truths for Dionysius. In following the imitative
practices of Zeuxis, we will be following in the footsteps of a great master of
the high classical period, just as Longinus both holds up, say, Plato to us as
a model to imitate, but also stresses that Plato himself learned from his great
predecessors (On the Sublime 13.2). Plato is indeed again important here,
even if the anecdote of Zeuxis seems at first sight far less Platonic than

22 For the familiar image of literary influence as the channelling of water see, e.g., Longinus, On the
Sublime 13.3; below pp. 15860.
23 On this passage see further Walsh 1988: 267.
24 See further Dionysius remarks at Dinarchus 7.5 on natural mimesis arising from long communion
and familiarity with ancient models.
25 For these ideas see also Quintilian 10.2.236; for the corresponding tradition in art and art criticism
see, e.g., Maffei 1986.
114 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
that of the ugly peasant. Zeuxis composed a tleion kaln or a tleion
edov (depending on ones choice of text), and we are reminded once again
of Platonic language (not, of course, that Plato would have described any
painting as tleion). The Platonic Socrates himself compares the search in
the Republic for real justice and for a man who is perfectly just (telwv
dkaiov) to a painter who paints a model (pardeigma) of a man who
is kllistov in every respect but who cannot demonstrate that such a
man could ever exist (5.472bd). The similarity between this and the
implications of the Zeuxis anecdote (or other exchanges like it)26 seems
to have been seen in antiquity.
Maximus of Tyre (second half of the second century ad) describes Platos
undertaking in the Republic as follows:
Platos foundation and his republic exist in theory; Plato aims at the highest level
of perfection rather than of utility. It is like those who fashion statues (glmata)
and bring together every beautiful element which each thing can contribute and
through their art combine (qrosantev) aspects of different bodies into a single
representation (mmhsiv), thus producing a unified beauty which is sound and
well-proportioned and harmonious with itself. You could not find a body which
was exactly and in real truth like a statue, for the arts aim at what is most beautiful
whereas our everyday encounters and experiences fall short of what the arts achieve.
(Maximus of Tyre 17.3)
The similarity to the language and ideas of the Zeuxis anecdote in the
Epitome seems very clear, even if, of course, Plato might roll in his grave
at the purposes to which his texts were now being put. The beautiful
girls who exposed themselves to Zeuxis were neither completely kala nor
completely ascra; Zeuxis chose (to represent) not any one beautiful
body, but rather beauty itself, which was partially reflected in each of the
girls, but wholly in none. From Homer onwards, Helen, the subject of
Zeuxis painting and, we might say, Aphrodites representative here on
earth, is the very instantiation of beauty itself. Zeuxis tleion kaln
is in fact (of course) a created artefact, but otherwise we may again be
reminded of the description of perfect beauty in Platos Symposium:
[a beauty] which is eternal and neither comes into being nor is destroyed, neither
increases nor diminishes, not beautiful in one respect but ugly in another, not
beautiful at one time but not at another, not beautiful in relation to one thing but
ugly in relation to another, not beautiful in one part but ugly in another, as some
people find it beautiful and others ugly . . . (Plato, Symposium 210e6211a5)

26 See below p. 119 on Xenophon, Mem. 3.10.2.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Imitation 115
As something of a footnote, we may observe that the opening of Horaces
Ars Poetica is clearly related to the anecdote about Zeuxis:
humano capiti ceruicem pictor equinam
iungere si uelit et uarias inducere plumas
undique conlatis membris, ut turpiter atrum
desinat in piscem mulier formosa superne,
spectatum admissi risum teneatis, amici?
(Horace, Ars Poetica 15)
If a painter decided to put a human head on a horses neck and cover limbs
gathered from all over the place with feathers of different colours, making the
beautiful woman above end shamefully in a black fish, could you refrain from
laughing, my friends, if you were let in to admire the painting?

Horace has taken the idea of bringing together bits of different bodies
in both art and literature, but used it to create an exemplary image of
ugly disproportion and lack of pleasing unity, rather than of perfect and
perfectly proportioned beauty. Horaces concern with structure differs, of
course, from the point Dionysius is making about our use of the great
writers of the past, but it is tempting to think that both are in touch with
similar streams of criticism.27 It would be very typical of the Ars Poetica to
offer a novel twist to familiar critical ideas.
Diotima had observed that if we remain fixated on any particular single
beautiful body or thing, we will be enslaved, worthless and petty, whereas if
we contemplate the great sea of beauty, the logoi and dianoemata to which
we give birth will be beautiful and grand (Symp. 210d26); her stress on
the need to abandon a single earthbound beauty for its vast multiplicity in
order finally to reach a single perfect beauty has obvious consequences for
what the anecdote of Zeuxis has to teach us, but we may also sense that her
division between types of the pregnant had consequences for later literary
and rhetorical teaching. Longinus insists that sublime writing can only
emerge from those whose thoughts are grand:
The thoughts of the true orator must not be low and mean (tapeinn ka
gennv), for it is not possible that those whose thoughts and practices during
their whole lives are small and suited to slaves should produce (xenegken)28
something wonderful and worthy of lasting for all eternity. (Longinus, On the
Sublime 9.3)

27 For Horace and Dionysius see further below pp. 1247. I have wondered whether Horaces mulier
formosa gestures towards the anecdote of Zeuxis.
28 The birthing metaphor should be fully felt, see LSJ s.v. kjrw II.1.
116 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
What in Plato is the pursuit of two very different types of beauty has become
the fashioning of two very different types of speaker and writer. Dionysius
would certainly have agreed that the quality of an orators thought is crucial
for the production of immortal works, but what is stressed is the central
role played also by the proper study of great works of the past, if such
immortality is our goal (Epitome 1.5).29 Here too, Longinus shows us how
crucial Plato was, as he may well also have been for Dionysius. In On
the Sublime 13.1 Longinus illustrates Platonic sublimity with a citation
of Republic 9.586a which contrasts the downward trajectory and gaze of
those who live for the daily pleasures of the flesh with those who are
carried upwards (quite literally sublimis) towards truth and lasting and true
pleasure. The temptation to apply the dichotomy of the Platonic passage
to the difference between great and low writing is merely strengthened by
what follows. Longinus proceeds to point the lesson by explaining (13.2)
that Plato shows us another road towards the heights (p t yhl);
if we ignore (katoligwren) Platos lesson, we will be like the beast-men
who are carried downwards (ktw . . . jrontai).30 The clear implication,
then, is that Platos two classes of men also map on to two classes of writers,
namely those who achieve sublimity, and those who do not. For the former,
emulation will bring those great characters (i.e. the great writers of the past)
before our eyes, and their shining presence will lead our souls upwards to
the ideal standards of perfection (On the Sublime 14.1); contemplation of
the great writers of the past will make us, like the peasants wife or like the
Pythian priestess (13.2), pregnant with something worthy (see also 9.12).
We will dare, like Zeuxis, to seek to create something for all posterity. The
earthbound writer, however, will have thoughts which are low and mean
or small and suited to slaves (9.3, cited above), and the products of his
soul will be unformed and damaged, ripe for abortion (14.3).
A clear sense of the Platonic ideas (and Ideas) which informed such
critical discussion may be gained from the opening chapters of Ciceros
Orator in which Cicero discusses the ideal orator as precisely that, an
ideal formed upon a Platonic pattern; it is an ideal of beautiful perfection
which can only be grasped intellectually:
29 On this passage see further below p. 118.
30 It is obviously important that the Platonic passage does not merely refer to metaphysical realities
but also contains an extended metaphor or allegory. In the Republic Glaukon responds to Socrates
by saying that his speech has perfectly described the life of the many in the manner of an oracle
(crhsmwidev), 9.586b5; immediately after citing the Republic, Longinus compares imitation of
the great writers of the past to the way in which the Pythia utters her oracles (crhsmwiden) under
the influence of divine vapours from the earth. Longinus own Platonic imitation, in a chapter
discussing imitation, is therefore here more complex than usually appreciated, see further below.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Imitation 117
In fashioning the perfect orator I shall perhaps be representing such a person as
has never existed. My inquiry is not who this orator was, but what is that unsur-
passable quality which seldom if ever appears constantly in someones speaking,
but does sometimes shine forth in some parts, more often in some orators than
in others . . . This ideal cannot be perceived by the eyes or the ears or any other
sense, but we embrace it only with our thought and our minds . . . Pheidias [whose
statues are incomparable], when he was making the images of Zeus and Athena,
did not look at any individual from whom he took a likeness, but there was in his
mind an extraordinary vision of beauty at which he gazed intently and guided his
art and his hand towards making a likeness of this. (Cicero, Orator 79)
Cicero then proceeds to refer explicitly to Platos Ideas, which he describes
with an echo of the same passage of the Symposium (210e6211a5, cited
above) as that to which the story of Zeuxis and the virgins directed our
attention. Cicero is using the Platonic analogy to describe the subject of his
treatise, not the treatise itself, and his Pheidias intellectualism may seem
the very opposite of Dionysius Zeuxis, whose eye is fixed on some very
earthly beauties, but both artists in fact reach the same (Platonic) result.
There may be a common Hellenistic tradition lying behind both texts,31
but what is important is that the Platonic inheritance offered more than
one possibility to the critical tradition; it itself was a stream which was
channelled in very many directions. Dionysius Zeuxis bears witness to a
productive and Platonic combining of two forms of mimesis, of neither
of which would Plato have approved.
The story of the painting of Helen casts Zeuxis as Paris, judging the
beauty of women and rewarded with the naked Helen, which was precisely
the subject of the painting around which the story revolves; if it is the case,
as is widely held, that this painting in fact showed Helen waiting to receive
Paris, then the interplay of art and life, of artist and character, was here
complex indeed, at least in ancient writing about the painting, if not in
the painting itself. We cannot be sure how Dionysius told the anecdote
in detail, but the reference to the theatre in the lesson which the Epitome
draws from it perhaps suggests that, in Dionysius version, the virgins
were first assembled in the theatre at Croton, as, in Ciceros version, they
are brought together unum in locum (De inuentione 2.3).32 Zeuxis would

31 On this passage of Cicero and on the history of how art theory took over the Platonic idea see
Panofsky 1968: 1118 and passim.
32 It obviously makes an important difference whether the theatre was taken over from the anecdote
into the moral, or belongs purely to Dionysius account of how we may examine the texts of the
past; I incline, as will be clear, to the former view. Aujac 1992: 15 apparently wishes to dissociate
Epitome 1.5 from the immediately preceding Zeuxis anecdote and associates it rather with a now
lost image drawn from the theatre; though possible, this seems very unlikely in view of the striking
118 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
then have found himself in a situation parallel to Apuleius account of an
arousing theatrical performance of the Judgement of Paris (Metamorphoses
10.304). Be that as it may, it is clear that, within the privacy of our own
libraries33 itself a difference from Zeuxis public exercise in krisis which
speaks to a cultural shift of very great proportions we too can all play
Paris. The idea is a complementary inversion of Longinus encouragement
to us to ourselves perform before an imaginary court room and theatre
where the judges and witnesses are themselves the great figures of the past,
such as Homer and Demosthenes (On the Sublime 14.2);34 in Dionysius, as
in the Frogs or as in Dios Oration 52,35 we are the audience and it is those
past figures which parade before us.
There is, however, a potentially significant difference between Zeuxis
and ourselves. Whereas Zeuxis looks at bodies and produces an image of
a supreme physical beauty, we may as in a theatre enquire into forms
(dav) of beautiful bodies and pick what excels from the psyche of each
of them. We should perhaps not make too much of this difference. The
final sentence of the Epitome (above p. 109) holds out the possibility of a
combination of art and nature into the form of a single linguistic structure
(nv tpov logiko smatov); the repetition of sma, even within such
a complex and charged phrase, and the idea of nature improved by art both
seem to pick up the Zeuxis anecdote, which may thus have been given
particular, programmatic importance. It is clear, even through the haze of
the Epitomes text, that Book 2 of the On Imitation was marked by formal
ring composition; the polyvalence of da, for example, seems to have been
exploited to link beginning and end (see above pp. 10910). Moreover, the
commendation for Homer which opens the list of writers to be imitated
picks up the body language of the Zeuxis anecdote in such a way as to
make clear that it does not preclude the portrayal of psychological features:
With the poetry of Homer, one should take as a model not just some one part
of the work (sma), but rather the whole, and one should seek to imitate the
characters and passions and greatness which is there, and the narrative economy
and all the other virtues; they should of course be changed so that the imitation
is truly yours. (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Imitation fr. VI, pp. 204 U.-R. =
p. 32 Aujac)

parallelisms of thought and language between the anecdote and the moral. Aujac may have been
influenced by Useners suggested palain for the transmitted kaln, see further below p. 121.
33 See Cicero, De inuentione 2.4.
34 Judges naturally refers to the idea of a court, whereas witnesses probably refers to the audience in
a theatre (see, e.g., Plato, Symp. 175e6).
35 See above pp. 3948.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Imitation 119
Nevertheless, there are also certain other indications which point to a
particular importance for the bodysoul distinction.
Zeuxis fame rested on his innovations (see esp. Lucian, Zeuxis) and his
extraordinary reproduction and enhancement of surfaces, of what the eye
sees. Xenophons Socrates unfavourably contrasts the pleasure of looking at
a picture by Zeuxis of a beautiful woman with getting to know the arete of
a real woman (Oeconomicus 10.1), and Aristotle observes that Zeuxis paint-
ings were entirely without qov (Poetics 1450a289, cf. 1461b1213). The
theme is, of course, a common one in early art criticism. It is thematised
as early as Hesiods Pandora story in which all the gods sculpt a virgin
who is surpassingly beautiful on the outside but inside conceals lies and
wheedling words and a thieving character (qov) (Works and Days 778);
here already is the motif of multiple origins, although in this case it is the
artist, rather than the model, who is multiplied. In an earlier instance of
the virgins of Croton theme, Xenophons Socrates asks Parrhasius whether
painting is a representation of things seen (ekasa tn rwmnwn)
and closely anticipates both the ideas and the language of the Zeuxis
When you are making likenesses of beautiful forms, since it is not easy to find an
individual in whom every part is flawless, you combine the most beautiful parts of
each of many bodies and thus produce bodies which appear completely beautiful.
Yes we do, said Parrhasius.
Well, then, said Socrates, do you imitate the character (qov) of the soul which
is most winning and pleasant and open and desirable and lovely? Or can this not
be caught by mimesis?
How, Socrates, said Parrhasius, could one capture that which has neither
form nor colour nor any of the things you mentioned just now and is not even
visible? (Xenophon, Memorabilia 3.10.23)
Although Socrates proceeds to argue with Parrhasius and subsequently with
Kleiton that painters and sculptors should indeed be able to reproduce
facets of character, the point about the artists conception of art seems
A similar point is made in another text which is regularly (and correctly)
brought into connection with the Zeuxis anecdote. The encomium of
Pantheia in Lucians Imagines is divided into praise of her physical beauty

36 Both this passage of Xenophon and 1.5 of the Epitome may shed light on the notoriously difficult
sentence at Longinus 13.4 describing creative imitation as a kind of potpwsiv; these passages
may be thought to lend support there to Tolls edn for the transmitted qn. To the commentators
add Buhler 1964: 989. I have wondered whether some version of the Zeuxis anecdote partly lies
behind the beauty contest of Xenophon, Symposium 5.
120 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
and praise of her cultural and moral attributes. For the former, the character
Lycinus draws on the most famous products of classical painting and
sculpture; these may, however, be sufficient for describing a womans bodily
beauty (sma ka morj), but for virtues of her soul (t tv yucv
gaq, 11; cf. 15, a psai tv yucv reta) they have to be abandoned
in favour of figures from poetry, myth and history, and the lessons of the
philosophers. Perfect beauty (ntelv kllov) is a combination of yucv
ret and emorja smatov (11), whereas Helen, the object of Zeuxis
painting, is the paradigm of the woman who is beautiful in body alone
(22). The close of the Imagines reworks the now familiar idea of combining
features drawn from many people into one perfect image which will last
for ever, while also making a further point about the power of the written
word (with some obvious play on the various senses of grjein) with
which Dionysius might well have agreed:

If you are willing, let us now mingle our images (eknev), the one you moulded
of her body and those I painted (graymhn) of her soul, let us make one
from all of them and, by setting it down in a book, give all men something to
wonder at, both our contemporaries and those who will come after. It would
at any rate be more long-lasting than the works of Apelles and Parrhasius and
Polygnotus, and far more welcome to the lady herself than such works, as it will
not be made of wood or wax or paints, but the image will have been made with
inspirations from the Muses, and it will be the most accurately detailed image, as
it will show off both the beauty of her body and the virtue of her soul. (Lucian,
Imagines 23)

If we can trust the Epitome (1.5), Dionysius too used the Zeuxis anecdote
to show how rhetorical mimesis was both like and unlike the practice of
painting: like it in some of its mimetic practices, but unlike it in the
immortality of its products.37
Dionysius hope, as the Epitome expresses it, that by bringing together
the contribution of your wide learning (polumqeia) you may fashion, not
an image which will fade with time (xthlon crnwi) but the immor-
tal beauty of art most immediately recalls Horaces claims in Odes 3.30
(exegi monumentum aere perennius, etc.); just as Horaces poetry will out-
last bronze statues, so following Dionysius prescriptions will allow us to

37 Chapter 15 of the Imagines, to produce a single, but multiform and inconsistent object out of so
many beautiful things is less artistic (grajikn), may indeed be read as a hit at the Zeuxis anecdote
and the lessons drawn from it. For the links and differences between the Zeuxis anecdote and
Lucians Imagines see, e.g., Maffei 1986: 1547; Zeitlin 2001: 2267. For Dionysius concern with
this topos of immortality see also Ant. Rom. 1.1.2.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Imitation 121
fashion (tupon, a word of artistic creation) a work which will not be
destroyed by time.38 As elsewhere,39 suggestive similarities between what
we know of Dionysius On Imitation and Augustan poetry only make us
wish we knew more. Be that as it may, if we can with confidence work back
from the Epitome to Dionysius himself, Dionysius reinforced this idea with
an echo of a work which had itself proved immortal, Herodotus Histories:
This is the setting-forth of the researches of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, so that
the deeds of men should not be effaced by time (ti crnwi xthla) and the
great and wonderful achievements of both Greeks and barbarians not lack renown;
in particular my concern is the reason they fought each other. (Herodotus, Proem)
Dionysius was in fact explicitly to quote Herodotus proem later in Book 2
of On Imitation,40 but the allusion in 1.5 of the Epitome seems clear
enough.41 The echo also gives particular resonance to xistoren, to
enquire into, a verb not otherwise found in Dionysius extant works and,
by any standards, a very striking verb to have with the forms of beautiful
bodies (kaln swmtwn dav) as its object.42 The awkward language
seems to reflect the effort of Dionysius or the epitomator not merely to
acknowledge the coming debt to Herodotus but also to reflect the shift
between the Zeuxis anecdote and its moral from a purely visual and aes-
thetic activity to an intellectual storh. Behind the use of the verb we
may sense part of that debate, most familiar from Polybius attack upon
the bookish historian Timaeus of Tauromenium, about how research
was best conducted in an age of books.43
The technique of citing immortal words when discussing literary
immortality is of course a familiar one: Theocritus, for example, alludes
to Homers immortal words in stressing the power of poetry to confer
immortal fame (Theocr. 17.11617).44 Rather closer to Dionysius, we may
look to Eumolpus ars poetica:

38 Nisbet and Rudds introduction and commentary to Odes 3.30 offers a storehouse of material relevant
to this theme.
39 See below pp. 1247. 40 See Letter to Pompeius 3.3.
41 It would be nice to associate this form of allusion with the final clause of Epitome 1.5, so that the
imitation should contain extracts which are obvious and clear to the audience, but there must, at the
very least, be something missing in the text there, as Usener saw. On the necessity to acknowledge
your debts to the tradition see, e.g., Russell 1979: 12.
42 The oddity may have been one of the things which led Usener to propose palain for kaln; there
is clearly, however, conscious play with the aesthetic and moral senses of kaln and emendation
would here be extremely problematic, particularly in view of the abbreviated nature of the Epitome.
See further Battisti 1988: 11011, who, however, sees a clear identity between artistic and literary
43 See Hunter 2001a with earlier bibliography. 44 See Hunter 2003a: 185.
122 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
Young man, said Eumolpus, poetry has deceived many. For as soon as someone
has produced a metrical verse and woven a subtle meaning with some winding
words, he thinks that he has instantly arrived on Helicon. So it is that those
exhausted with services in the lawcourts often take refuge in the calm of poetry as
if in a happier harbour, in the belief that a poem can more easily be constructed
than a controuersia adorned with flashing bits of verbal wit. Noble spirits, however,
have no time for emptyness, nor can the mind conceive or bring to birth (neque
concipere aut edere partum mens potest) unless it has been drenched in the great
river of literature. One must flee from all, so to say, verbal cheapness and use words
unknown to the vulgar, to enact I hate the uninitiated crowd and I keep them
away (Horace, Odes 3.1.1). (Petronius, Satyrica 118.14)

Among the flotsam of many theories of composition and style we recognise

a version of the need to immerse yourself in the many great writers of the
past in order to give birth to successful literary products. Both the idea
and the imagery are familiar from, for example, Dionysius and Longinus.
The great river of literature, the equivalent of Dionysius polumqeia,
resonates amusingly against the Callimacheanism of 118.4,45 but we may
wonder too whether also to trace it back to Platos great sea of the beautiful,
the contemplation of which will lead to the giving birth to many beautiful
and grand words and thoughts (Symp. 210d25).46 Be that as it may, just
as Longinus echoes Plato when he is talking about imitation of the great
figures of the past47 and Dionysius echoes Herodotus immortal words
about immortality when his theme is the same, so too Eumolpus seems to
have a particular text in mind. In Poem 65 Catullus apologises to Hortalus
for being unable to send him a poem:
etsi me assiduo confectum cura dolore
seuocat a doctis, Ortale, uirginibus,
nec potis est dulcis Musarum expromere fetus
mens animi, tantis fluctuat ipsa malis . . .
(Catullus 65.14)
Although, Hortalus, I am worn out by constant grieving and emotional pain cuts
me off from the learned maidens, and the mind inside me cannot bring forth the
sweet offspring of the Muses so great are the disasters in which it is drowning . . .

45 See, e.g., Connors 1998: 134, 143. On Eumolpus ars poetica see also Conte 1996: 6872. For his
reading Conte places great weight on sanitatem in 118.3, but uanitatem, found in an early printed
edition, has much to be said for it, and is now adopted by most editors, see, e.g., Courtney 2001:
181 n. 2. uanitatem would pick up the sententiolae uibrantes of the previous clause and forms a
good contrast with generosior; the rejection of sanity, however, comes in very oddly here, even
for a Eumolpus with Horaces Ars Poetica in his mind. I have pondered also the possibility of
46 See above p. 111. 47 See above p. 116.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Imitation 123
Here we have the alleged inability of the flooded mens to give birth,48 an
idea which Eumolpus then reverses. What Catullus did produce, of course,
was a highly allusive poem followed by a translation from Callimachus
(Poem 66), both of which amply attest to the fact that his mind was
indeed ingenti flumine litterarum inundata. The echo of Catullus thus both
confirms and ironises Eumolpus claims. Whether Dionysius allusion to
Herodotus was similarly sophisticated we cannot know, but the proems
of works are special sites of display and another Dionysian prologue may
strengthen the suspicion that the prologue of On Imitation was indeed
complexly allusive, as would fit its subject.
The prologue of On the Arrangement of Words presents that work to
Rufus Metilius with a graceful reworking of Odyssey 15.1257, in which
Helen presents a robe to Telemachus to be stored away by his mother until
the time of his wedding. Dionysius gift to a young man will surpass that
I am sending you not an artefact made by my own hands, as Helen said when
she gave the robe to the young man, nor one suited only to the time of marriage
and to please a bride, but the creation and offspring (pohma ka gnnhma)
of my education and my soul (paideav ka yucv tv mv), one which will
be for you both a possession and something of use and benefit (ktma . . . ka
crma . . . jlimon) in all the encounters of life which take place through speech.
It is the most necessary of all such things, if I have any sense of what is required (t
donta), for all alike who practise political oratory, of whatever age or situation
they may be. (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On the Arrangement of Words 1.23)
Dionysius description of his work picks up the generative power implied
by the Odyssean reference to marriage, but in the present context it is
perhaps more significant that it also repeats the reproductive ideas of the
On Imitation with paidea holding the place of, though perhaps being
critically different from, polumqeia in a context in which Dionysius
in fact advertises his independence from previous critical literature (1.9,
4.1920);49 here perhaps is a fundamental difference between the ways in
which creative literature, which depends crucially upon the mimesis of
earlier texts, and works of criticism could be represented. Be that as it
may, we may be tempted here to recall Thucydides 1.22, when Dionysius
describes his work as a possession and thing of use (ktma . . . crma),
which will be beneficial (jlimon) in all the textual situations of life,

48 See Fitzgerald 1995: 1912. For other aspects of this passage and for the argument which follows see
also Fantuzzi and Hunter 2004: 4745.
49 See also On the Ancient Orators Proem 4.3. For this proemial topos see also Hidber 1996: 1312.
124 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
and refers to his concern for t donta, what is required.50 If this allusion
is correctly identified, then the description of the audience of On the
Arrangement of Words, those who practise political oratory (o skontev
tov politikov lgouv 1.3, cf. On the Ancient Orators Proem 3.2, 4.2),
which may also be assumed to be the desired audience of the On Imitation,
is seen to take the place of, and to descend from, Thucydides desired
audience, all those who wish to gain a clear view of what happened . . .
(1.22.4). Both audiences share an appreciation of the fact that the past
should inform our judgements and views about the present. In arguing for
this Thucydidean pattern in the proem of On the Arrangement of Words,
I do not, of course, wish to minimise the crucial and long-recognised
debt which Dionysius conception of politiko lgoi owes to Isocrates;51
the combination of Thucydides and Isocrates is in fact one way in which
Dionysius constructs the great tradition.
We have, then, sufficient material to allow us to reconstruct something
of the intellectual background, and something of the imagery, of some of
the theoretical parts of the On Imitation. As I have noted before, it would
be a great gain to be able to see more of how the kind of teaching reflected
in Dionysius interacted with the great poetry which also was being written
under Augustus in Rome. Here too we must look for suggestive analogies
rather than hope for clear proofs. To conclude this chapter, I want to
explore a possible link between Dionysius and Horace which might well
encourage us to look for more.52
The verb which Dionysius uses of how we can gather the best of each
soul we examine, panqzesqai (lit. gather from flowers), is closely par-
alleled by libauimus which Cicero uses in making the same point (De
inuentione 2.4), and the language of collection53 may well make us think
of the bee, that image for a writer, particularly a poet, familiar (at least)
50 The general importance of Thucydides 1.22 for Dionysius does not require demonstration (see On
Thucydides 7). We may perhaps compare here Ant. Rom. 1.4.2 where the assertion that nearly all
Greeks are ignorant of the ancient history of Rome and are deceived by false opinions which derive
k tn pitucntwn kousmtwn seems to rework Thucydides 1.20.
51 See Gelzer 1979: 1922; Hidber 1996: 446, 97100. Commentators point to Ad Demonicum 28 as
the origin of Dionysius play with ktma and crma; a memory of that passage, on the distinction
between having something and knowing how to use it properly, would certainly suit the proem
of On the Arrangement of Words, but the Isocratean passage is also playing with the ambiguity of
crmata as things for use and money.
52 What follows is largely drawn from the more detailed exposition in Hunter 2007: 21719.
53 The striking image of collecting an eranos from your wide learning seems to be that, when you are
in need of beautiful passages from the past, you will be able to call on your memory for different
contributions. By implication, through your knowledge of them your books are your friends, from
whom you would normally raise an eranos. Lucian, Lexiphanes 22 (on the choice of vocabulary) is
very close to Dionysius here.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Imitation 125
from Platos Ion onwards. When in Odes 4.2 Horace contrasts his own
bee behaviour with the foolhardy undertaking of someone who Pin-
darum . . . studet aemulari, he may well be reacting to Greek criticism as
well as to Greek poetry. The image of a bee would fit well with Diony-
sius privileged practice of eclectic mimesis, and Horaces warning against
Pindaric aemulatio by a poet may seem, in any event, like a response to
Dionysius claim in On Imitation that there were many reasons why Pindar
was worthy of imitation (zhlwtv) for the aspiring orator (2.5 Aujac =
II 2045 U.-R.).54 Odes 4.2 is preceded by a poem which, as is well known,
presents itself as a new version of Sappho fr.1. Our principal source for
Sappho fr. 1 is in fact Dionysius treatise On the Arrangement of Words 23.11;
Dionysius quotes the poem as an illustration of what he calls the smooth
(glajur) style of composition, of which Sappho is the principal example
in the field of lyric poetry. The choice of Sapphic poem, by both Horace
and Dionysius, is presumably influenced by the fact that it stood first in
the Alexandrian edition of Sappho, which seems largely to have been the
work of Aristophanes of Byzantium.55 The style which Dionysius opposes
to the smooth is the severe (asthr); the two styles are said to be
completely opposed to each other in the most important points (23.8 =
II 113.1618 U.-R.). The principal lyric example of the severe is Pindar
(22.7 = II 98.10 U.-R.), and to illustrate this Dionysius cites a dithyramb
of that poet (fr. 75 Maehler); there may thus be more than one reason
why Horace places dithyrambs first in his survey of the subjects of Pindars
grand lyric style (Odes 4.2.1012).56 The severe has the grandeur of the

54 We cannot rule out the possibility that by the time he was writing Odes 4 Horace did in fact know
the critical treatises of Dionysius or at least was familiar with the ideas contained therein, even if not
exactly in the shape which Dionysius gives them, see further Gorler 1979: 1767. For the sense of
aemulari in Horace see Kiessling and Heinze ad loc., Hills 1999: 723. In the language of Dionysius
this is zlov, rather than mmhsiv, see On Imitation fr. 2 Aujac = II 200.215 U.-R., though the
distinction is in practice a fluid one (see, e.g., On Imitation 1.3 Aujac = II 203.67 U.-R.; Longinus,
On the Sublime 13.2; Russell 1979: 10); for the importance of these ideas for Catullus translation of
Sappho see Fantuzzi and Hunter 2004: 4724. The zlov of a great figure such as Pindar will, by
its very nature, carry our souls upwards, as Longinus puts it (On the Sublime 14.1), and Horace
is pointing out the dangers of such Platonic transport. The Pindaric eagle is sublimis in more than
one sense.
55 See Pfeiffer 1968: 1819. The position of the poem in the edition will also shed light on the contrast
between the many references to it in the later grammatical tradition to say nothing of Horaces
use of it and the apparent paucity of allusions in poetry of the high Hellenistic period (though
note Theocritus 1.778). Whether or not the lyric text preserved with the new Cologne Sappho
(P. Koln 430, see Gronewald and Daniel 2005; Esposito 2005: 612; Lundon 2007) alludes specifically
to Sappho fr. 1 should here be brought into the argument.
56 POxy. 2438.369, however, offers an ancient list of Pindars works in which the dithyrambs are
placed first. For the importance of dithyramb to Horaces conception of high Greek lyric see Freis
1983, and for Dionysius engagement with Pindar more generally see Hornblower 2004: 35475.
126 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
archaic (t rcaikn, 22.12 = II 100.15101.1 U.-R.), whereas the smooth
style avoids t . . . qras pn ka parakekinduneumnon everything bold
and hazardous (23.4 = II 112.16 U.-R.), which the severe by implication
embraces; here we will recall not just Horaces per audacis . . . dithyrambos
(Odes 4.2.1011), but the thrust of some famous chapters of Longinus,
On the Sublime.57 It may also be worth suggesting that Horaces descrip-
tion of the rhythm of Pindars dithyrambs, numeris . . . lege solutis, picks up
some such critical description as Dionysius, On the Arrangement of Words
19.8 in which the dithyrambists of the new music are described as treat-
ing rhythms with great freedom and licence (tov uqmov kat polln
deian nexousizontev); deia immunity, like lex itself, is a word with
resonance in both the legal and the literary spheres.
In the second stanza of Odes 4.2 Horace uses the image of a swollen
torrent to describe the power of Pindars style; the image is very familiar
in both poetry and criticism.58 Here it resonates against the immediately
preceding aquas . . . uolubilis (presumably of the Tibur) at the close of Odes
4.1 and perhaps prompts the thought that there too issues of style may be
involved. Dionysius says of Sappho fr. 1 that the style flows easily and softly
(erouv . . . ka malak), with no disruptive waves (On the Arrangement
of Words 23.15 = II 117.45 U.-R.); even more striking perhaps is his general
description of the smooth style:
od lwv t brad ka staqern toto jlon ati, ll kekinsqai bole-
tai tn nomasan ka jresqai qtera kat tn trwn nomtwn ka
cesqai tn llhloucan lambnonta bsin sper t onta nmata ka
mhdpote tremonta. (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On the Arrangement of Words
23.12 = II 112.27 U.-R.)59
The style does not care for the slow or immobile, but it demands that the words
are kept moving, carried along and riding one on top of another, protected by
their mutual interdependence, like flowing streams which are never still.
As Pindar is a mountain torrent, so Sappho is an ever-flowing stream,
and in appealing to him through echoes of the Lesbian poet, Horace
really is pursuing Ligurinus per aquas uolubilis. The boys harshness which
intrudes into the phrase (per aquas, dure, uolubilis, Odes 4.1.40) jars with

57 See below pp. 1608; Hunter 2003c: 21925; see also Hills 1999: 7682; Brink on Horace, Ars P 352.
For Sapphos risk-taking in a different context see Demetrius, On Style 127.
58 See Hunter 2003c: 21925, citing earlier bibliography, and above pp. 1213 on Petronius, Sat. 118.3.
Quintilian picks up Horaces image at 10.1.61, Pindarus princeps . . . uelut quodam eloquentiae flumine.
On Odes 4.2 see now Hardie 2008: 14954.
59 Translation here is singularly difficult, but I hope that this does not misrepresent.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Imitation 127
the soft smooth style of a Sappho and prepares for the major con-
trast of styles which is to be the subject of the following poem. That
Horace is here making creative use of stylistic theory is obvious; further
close attention to Dionysius may reveal that we can know more about
the interaction of Augustan criticism and Augustan poetry than is often
60 On this subject see Gorler 1979 and further bibliography in De Jonge 2008: 26.
chapter 5

The grand and the less grand:

Longinus, On the Sublime

the frogs revisited

One of the best-known and certainly most influential descendants of the
Frogs is the treatise peri youv, On the Sublime, conventionally ascribed
to Longinus (abbreviated to L in the present chapter) and probably to
be dated to the early Empire, perhaps in fact not very much later than
the work of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, though rival claims and rival
chronologies are still heard;1 earlier chapters have often had cause to refer to
this extraordinary treatise. Just as Aristophanes presents a contest between
poets, as part of his own contest with other (comic) poets, so the terms of
Ls own agon are set at the very beginning of the work:
When, as you know, you and I were examining together Caecilius little work
(suggrammtion) on the subject of the sublime, my dear Postumius Terentianus,
it seemed to us too humble (tapeinteron) for the subject as a whole and not to
cover what was salient, thus offering little help to the readers, which must be the
principal aim of a writer. Every technical work must first define its subject and
secondly, though in fact more importantly, demonstrate how and through what
procedures we may achieve the end. Caecilius, however, tries through countless
instances to show what the sublime (t yhln) is, as though we were quite
ignorant of this, but neglected to say, perhaps deeming it unnecessary, how we
might be able to develop our own natures towards some higher level of grandeur
(mgeqov). Perhaps, however, we ought to applaud the intention and effort involved
in this mans work rather than fault its omissions. Since you have urged me too
to sketch out an essay on the sublime for your sake . . . As I am writing, my

1 See Heath 1999. I shall here be assuming the conventional dating of the work, but I hope that too
much of the argument does not depend upon it. There is, of course, a huge bibliography on L and
his Nachleben; the perspective of this chapter must necessarily be a limited one, and I am particularly
conscious of the small role that later discussions of the sublime play here. I hope that my debt
to Russells commentary is visible throughout; helpful recent guidance and bibliography towards
other approaches to L may be found in, e.g., Too 1998: 187217; Whitmarsh 2001: 5771; and Porter
2001. Aevum Antiquum 3 (2003) is a recent collection of papers on the sublime from antiquity to the
present day.

Longinus, On the Sublime 129
dear friend, for an educated and learned man such as yourself, I am virtually
released from the necessity of a lengthy proem showing that the sublime is an
outstanding excellence of language, and that it was through this, not through any
other endowment, that the greatest poets and prose-writers reached the forefront
and clothed their fame with immortality. Excessive effects (t perju) induce
not persuasion but transport (kstasiv) in the audience, and what is marvellous
and knocks us out is always stronger than what is persuasive and attractive. Whether
or not we are persuaded is up to us, whereas the other effects bring an overpowering
and irresistible force to bear and overcome the listener. Experience in invention
and the ordering and arrangement of material is not something we find in one or
two details, but it emerges slowly from the whole texture of the words, whereas
a sublime effect if deployed at the right time shatters all the material like a
thunderbolt and reveals the whole power of the speaker at one go. (Longinus,
On the Sublime 1.14)
The opening of the work presents not one, but two (related) contests, that
between L and Caecilius of Caleacte (Sicily), an Augustan critic who shared
many of the Atticist views of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, and that between
the sublime and the non-sublime or even the humble/low (tapeinn),
itself all too evident in Caecilius inadequate little treatise.2 These two
interconnected contests run like a leitmotif through On the Sublime; when,
for example, Caecilius favourite orator, Lysias, is later set against Ls Plato
(chapters 32.8, 35) or Hyperides against Demosthenes (34), the same battles
of the opening chapter are being fought out through illustrious proxies,
and these are battles in which we may suspect that neither Caecilius nor
L played wholly fair.3 Moreover, just as the opening of Dio, Oration 52
established a readerly community to which Dio belonged and for which he
spoke,4 so too L establishes an intellectual and social setting which will give
authority to what follows. He and his dear friend have studied Caecilius
essay together and have reached a shared view; as his friend is a man
paideav pistmwn knowledgeable and educated (1.3), this view carries
general weight, particularly when it is accompanied by Ls (exquisitely con-
descending) display of educated sensibility in noting that perhaps Caecilius
deserves praise for trying rather than censure for not bringing it off, that
he himself is only writing under pressure from Terentianus (an extremely

2 The diminutive suggrammtion itself suggests that Caecilius work, even in its very form, will
not get you far with the sublime; cf. poihmtion (33.4) and logdion (34.3) for other unsublime
3 It is a great pity that L chose not to detail Lysias many faults in chapter 35.1 (with the correction
of the transmitted pousav). That L does not actually tell us what the sublime is is a common
eighteenth-century complaint against the essay, see, e.g., Ashfield and de Bolla 1996: 49, 87.
4 See above pp. 3940.
130 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
common proemial motif in ancient treatises), and that the value of what
he has to say is a matter for debate (1.2).
The sublime involves an excess, as the expression t perju (1.4)
suggests, and it is an excess of both language and emotion; it does not
make a straightforward appeal to an intellectual faculty such as determines
what is persuasive (piqann),5 it does not seek to please the audience
in any simple sense, but it seeks rather to astound (kplttein) them, it
carries the threat of overpowering violence, like a thunderbolt (1.4, 34.4),
its success is nothing short of victory in a cosmic battle (34.4),6 and, like
the Aristophanic Aeschylus (Frogs 814), its greatest practitioners above all
Homer and Demosthenes are Zeuses (see 34.4).7 The martial language is
appropriate to a quality much more on show in the Iliad than the Odyssey
(9.1115), and in Aeschylus rather than in Euripides, as the critical tradition
descending from the Frogs portrayed them, though Aeschylus was in fact a
problematic figure for critics of the sublime.8 Euripides may occasionally
reach the heights, for it is passages (even very short passages) rather than
poets which are truly sublime (1.4 above), but it is not his way to drag the
audience from their senses and knock them out (kplttein) (Frogs 962),
which is what the sublime offers. For L the capacity for sublime writing is a
natural gift, but one which must be aided by rules of art, lest, left to its own
devices, the inherently risky daring of the sublime suffer a catastrophic fall
(2, 33.5).
When the text resumes after a lengthy lacuna, L is apparently discussing
precisely the risks to which the writer striving for the sublime is exposed:
tumidity (t oden), puerility (t meirakidev) and pointless emotional
effects, or the falsely bacchic (parnqurson), a term which L takes over
from his contemporary Theodorus of Gadara (3.5, cited below). For a tragic
poet tumidity is a particular danger, because the genre is naturally swollen
and allows grand language (gkhri jsei ka pidecomnwi stmjon,
3.1). The inheritance of the Frogs seems here particularly clear,9 given the
nature of Euripides charges against Aeschylus, but it is important that the
very idea that tragedy naturally permits grand, even bombastic, language
itself descends (in part) from the comedy. In the Frogs it is Aeschylus,
the unchallenged master of the tragic tcnh, who is on the side of nature,
whose tragedy is the model of the shared, if unspoken, communal assump-
tion of what tragedy and the tragic experience are; nature and art are here
5 On the relationship between the effects of the sublime and truth see, e.g., Halliwell 2003.
6 See further below p. 142.
7 On the image of Zeus in ancient criticism see also Hunter 2006c: 1278. 8 See Luzzatto 1981.
9 See Russell ad loc. On Ls language here see also Luzzatto 1981 and Heath 1999: 646.
Longinus, On the Sublime 131
in harmony. Or, rather, were in harmony: Euripides represents the shock
of the new, the challenge to received ideas and comfortable certainties. Ls
tactic for restoring that harmony is not just to reunite nature and art as
working together to the same end, but also by in fact appealing to human
nature: as we are not a humble or ignoble creature, so it is sublime
literature which we are called to admire (35.2).
It is perhaps not always easy for us, if indeed it was in antiquity, to
distinguish the tumid from the childish; some might think that Gorgias
infamous vultures, living tombs, cited by L to illustrate tumidity (On the
Sublime 3.2), is no more one than the other, and the fact that Hermogenes
(248.24249.4 Rabe) found this same expression coarse (pac), vulgar
(etelv) and frigid (yucrn), a quality which L associates with puerility
(3.4), suggests that such categories overlap freely. What is important is
a suitable middle way.10 Nevertheless, for L tumidity is the result of a
failure of judgement in reaching for the sublime, whereas puerility is the
very opposite of the great qualities:
Tumidity seeks to go beyond the sublime, whereas puerility is exactly the opposite
of great effects, for it is a fault which is completely low and petty and in truth
very mean (gennstaton). What then is puerility? Is it not clearly a thought
deriving from school (scolastik nhsiv), where attention to detail (perierga)
results in frigidity? It is when writers aim at something unusual and artificial
and, particularly, pleasing that they slip into this vice and come to grief in the
perils of tawdriness and affectation (t kakzhlon). Related to this in emotional
writing is a third kind of vice, which Theodorus called the pseudo-bacchic
(parnqurson); this is untimely and empty emotion, where it is not called for, or
unrestrained emotion where moderation was required. (Longinus, On the Sublime
The language and ideas here may bring to mind the reasons why Dionysus
travelled to the Underworld:
Di. gnimon d poihtn n oc eroiv ti
zhtn n, stiv ma gennaon lkoi.
Hr. pv gnimon;
Di. d gnimon, stiv jqgxetai
toiouton ti parakekinduneumnon,
aqra Div dwmtion crnou pda

10 For the Aristotelian background here see Russell 1964: 73. A very similar set of opposed faults is set out
in [Plutarch], On the education of children 7ab: on one side, the qeatrik ka paratrgwidov
style and, on the other, smikrologa tv lxewv ka tapenwsiv. Two other features of that passage
are also noteworthy in the present context: the comparison between the health of a speech and the
health of the body (see Russell 1964: 723), and the explicit privileging of the middle way as
ntecnon and mmelv.
132 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
jrna mn ok qlousan msai kaq ern,
glttan d piorksasan dai tv jrenv.
(Aristophanes, Frogs 96102)
dion. You couldnt any longer find a fertile poet if you looked for one, the kind
who can utter forth a noble saying.
her. What do you mean fertile?
dion. I mean a poet who will say something risky like Air, Zeuss bedroom or
foot of Time or my mind was unwilling to swear over the sacrifices, but my
tongue committed a little perjury on its own.
Dionysus understands that what is needed for tragedy is a productive
poet who can hazard noble expressions (gennaon ma: contrast Ls a
very mean fault, kakn gennstaton, of puerility); Dionysus is thus
precisely looking for what the later tradition, and indeed the coming
contest in Frogs itself, would classify as a high, or in fact sublime, poet.
So far so good. Dionysus problem, however, and the comic point of the
exchange, is precisely that the phrases he proceeds to adduce seem very
far from sublime, and Ls category of the puerile would fit them well.
Air, Zeuss bedroom is a parodic quotation of the Euripidean sacred Air,
Zeuss dwelling (Euripides fr. 487 K); the prosaic diminutive dwmtion
emphasises ordinariness and smallness, tapeinn . . . ka mikryucon in
Ls terms, and though there are no rules for such things, it would not seem
unfair to regard this as a clever, scholastic elaboration of a relatively simple
idea. That the aither is Zeuss dwelling is indeed relatively straightforward;
that it is his bedroom is, by this reasoning, the result of trying to move
beyond the straightforward towards something more, in Ls terms the
unusual and artificial (t perittn ka pepoihmnon). It is the result of
conscious effort, and that effort shows. A similar analysis may be applied
to the foot of time, a phrase which Euripides had used in the Alexandros
(fr. 42 K ka crnou probaine pov) and repeated in the Bacchae (vv.
8889). In this case, what is natural or straightforward is the idea that
time moves forward (see LSJ s.v. crnov 3b); to go further by moving
from times progress to the conclusion that it must therefore have feet is a
very scholastic thought. Some of the other examples cited in the critical
tradition may be thought to confirm this analysis. L himself cites as an
example of Timaeus frigidity and puerility the statement that Alexander
took control of the whole of Asia in fewer years than it took Isocrates to
write the Panegyrikos in favour of war against the Persians (On the Sublime
4.2 = Timaeus, FGrHist 566 F139); a contrast between the man of action
in the East and the man of words about the East would be fair enough, but
the specific detail about the writing of the Panegyrikos seems too clever
Longinus, On the Sublime 133
and artificial. So too, Demetrius cites from an unknown writer the conceit
that while the rock [which the Cyclops hurled at Odysseus ship] was in
mid-air, goats were grazing on it (On Style 115); Demetrius cites this to
show how frigidity is a fault associated with the grand style. In Homer,
the Cyclops hurls the peak of a great mountain (Odyssey 9.482), which is
clearly a grand, sublime moment; the clever detail of the goats debases
the grandeur, like Zeuss bedroom, and pushes the utterance over into the
critical abyss. The actual critical language which we find, for example, in L
and Demetrius may not, of course, have been available to Aristophanes, but
there is a remarkable shared body of ideas which speak across the centuries.
As is well known, there are striking parallels between On the Sub-
lime and the opening chapters of Petronius Satyrica, in which Encolpius
and Agamemnon make speeches about the current state of education.11
Encolpius scholastic rant against tumidity and scholastic puerility can
hardly fail to call L to mind,12 and his chaotic denunciations might well
confirm our view that such negative categories cannot be firmly kept apart.
Whether or not Air, Zeuss bedroom and the foot of time would qual-
ify as mellitos uerborum globulos (Sat. 1.3) may be debated, but there is a
clear affinity of argument with an important idea of the Frogs. Encolpius
complains that the subjects of scholastic declamation are not drawn ex
his quae in usu habemus, from the events of ordinary life (Sat. 1.3). Here
Euripides claim to have introduced into tragedy everyday things which
we know and with which we are familiar (okea prgmat . . . ov crmeq
ov xnesmen, Frogs 959) is given yet another twist.13 Education which used
to be connected to real life has now severed that connection; natural
grandeur has given way to the ingenuities of scholastic art (see Sat. 2.36),
which are now so far removed from the real thing that when declaimers
find themselves in a real court they think that they have been transported
to another universe (1.2).14 Secondly, both L and Petronius Agamemnon

11 See, e.g., Alfonsi 1948; Soverini 1985: 1717; Conte 1996: 667. Cosci 1978 points out that our text
of the Satyrica was probably immediately preceded by a reference to the tragic Furies of Orestes,
as at On the Sublime 15.8. In the context of the relations between L and Caecilius, Encolpius
attack upon Asianism is of obvious interest, but the matter cannot be pursued here. Courtney 2001:
5462 provides a good introduction to the subject, and see Luzzatto 1981, who does not, however,
refer to Petronius. Such arguments against contemporary declaimers are, of course, not restricted
to Petronius and L; for instructively similar Plutarchan views against nonsensical chatter . . . in the
schools, where students are much more interested in style than substance cf. Mor. 41f42e, 802ef.
12 Note how Agamemnons opening address to Encolpius, adulescens . . . , picks up Encolpius denun-
ciation of adulescentulos in scholis.
13 See above pp. 1820.
14 Commentators usually (and rightly) cite the story in Seneca the Elder of the master declaimer
Porcius Latro, who was so confused by finding himself in the open spaces of a real court that the
134 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
see the principal cause of such puerility in the pursuit of gratifying the
audience, the pursuit of pleasure, t d (On the Sublime 3.4, cf. Sat.
3.34), an argument which of course goes back (again) to Platos views on
public oratory;15 the magnificum has given way to quod pueris placeret, and
again we can hardly fail to call to mind the narrative of tragic development
enshrined in both the Frogs and the Laws.16

In chapter 10 L discusses how a crucial factor in sublimity can be the
selection of elements to be described and their arrangement; sublime poets
make skilful selections of the most intense elements involved in any
description. Ls prime example here, and one which, in the general context
of a discussion of yov, is in fact much more surprising than is often
acknowledged,17 is Sapphos description of her bodys reaction to extreme
emotion in what we now call fr. 31 Voigt. A less surprising choice for
sublimity follows, namely the epic storm, perhaps one of the principal
loci for cosmic poetry describing the tumult of nature on the grand,
sublime scale.18 The blast of storm winds corresponds in fact to the blasts
of sublimity through which the great poet is inspired and with which
he blasts away the senses of his hearers and readers (see in general On
the Sublime 8.4, 9.11, etc.). Here, as so often, we may think of the Frogs
in which Aeschylean storm blasts (vv. 84555, cf. 825, 1221) seem to be
contrasted with the much more refined and insubstantial Aqr which
nourishes Euripides and to which he prays (892), as the comic Socrates
had before him (Clouds 2645). In storm descriptions also, however, no
less than in descriptions of physical desire, the choice of detail has to be
made; here L in a rather disconcerting effect first produces a negative
The author of the Arimaspeia thinks the following lines awe-inspiring (dein):
qam mn ka toto mga jresn metrhisin.
ndrev dwr naousin p cqonv n pelgessi
dsthno tinv esin, cousi gr rga ponhr,

trial had to be moved indoors (Controversiae 9, Pref. 3). At the base of the motif, however, probably
lie the exchanges between Callicles and Socrates in Platos Gorgias about what would happen to each
of them if they found themselves in the others natural habitat (Gorgias 486ad, 526e527a).
15 Cf. [Plutarch], On the education of children 6bc on those who practise speaking restv ka
kecarismnwv to the common rabble.
16 See above pp. 1417.
17 See Russell 1981: 778. Hertz 1983 offers an interesting reading of Ls analysis of the Sapphic poem.
18 See Hardie 1986: Index s.v. storm; Conte 1996: 558.
Longinus, On the Sublime 135
mmat n stroisi, yucn d n pntwi cousin.
pou poll qeosi jlav n cerav contev
econtai splgcnoisi kakv naballomnoisi.
This is another great marvel for our minds: men dwell on the water, removed
from the land, in the oceans. Wretched creatures they are, terrible what they
endure: they have their eyes on the stars and their lives dependent on the
sea. No doubt they often lift up their arms to the gods and pray, while their
stomachs sickeningly heave up and down.
It is, I think, clear to everyone that these verses have more charm (nqov) than the
power to inspire awe (dov). (Longinus, On the Sublime 10.4)

The Arimaspeia, a poem of perhaps the seventh or sixth century bc, told
of marvel-filled travels in the far north.19 It has been doubted whether
the present fragment (fr. 1 Davies) actually belongs to that poem, but the
matter is not important in the present context. For L these verses were
doubtless intended to be dein, but they are, rather, nqhr; L activates
the etymological connection of dov, fear, with deinv to suggest that these
verses will not make the hearer/reader afraid.20 As critics have pointed out,21
it is in fact far from clear that these verses do describe a shipwreck; they
seem rather to be a deliberately nave description of the ordinary business
of sailing by someone who does not understand what sailing is: how ships
and the sea would have seemed to a Scythian nomad if he had sent a letter
home, as Robin Lane Fox puts it.22 As such, their appeal to us is that of
a thought experiment which asks us, at one level, to defamiliarise the
familiar, and hence they work in a quite different way both from Sappho
fr. 31, which, as L points out, draws from universal experience (10.3), and
from the verses of Homer which he proceeds to cite (see below). The
intellectual and stylistic conceit of the verses (to say nothing of the low
thought and diction of the final phrase), so L would argue, detracts from
their power; when Donald Russell describes verse 4, mmat n stroisi,
yucn d n pntwi cousin, as a mannered zeugma (because the verb
means rather different things with its two objects), he is using much the
same set of critical tools as L himself. Style which calls attention to itself
(mannered), where art takes precedence over nature (see 36.23), is felt to
distract the audience from their concentration on what is being described;
in such a situation true fear is not possible.

19 See Bolton 1962. At Thucydides 23.3 Dionysius of Halicarnassus refers to the poem of Aristeas as
one whose authorship has been doubted (= Aristeas T2 Davies); the poem may thus have enjoyed
a certain notoriety in classicising circles.
20 On the relation between fear and the sublime see below pp. 1412.
21 See Bolton 1962: 911, 267; Bowra 1956. 22 Lane Fox 2005: 83.
136 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
Something rather similar occurs in 9.5 where the description of Aclv,
Gloom (of death), on the Hesiodic Shield,23 from her nostrils flowed
mucus (Aspis 267), is regarded as mishtn, revolting, rather than deinn,
awe-inspiring. As often, we may think that L has a whole passage, not just
the cited snippet, in mind:
pr d Aclv estkei pismuger te ka an
clwr ustalh limi katapepthua,
gounopacv, makro d nucev ceressin psan
tv k mn inn mxai on, k d parein
am pelebet raz d plhton sesarua
estkei, poll d kniv katennoqen mouv,
dkrusi mudalh. ([Hesiod], Aspis 26470)
Beside them stood Gloom, murky and terrible, pale, parched, collapsed with
hunger, her knees swollen, her hands ending in long nails; from her nostrils flowed
mucus, and from her cheeks blood was dripping to the ground. She stood there,
grinning fearfully, and her shoulders were covered in dust drenched in tears.

The details may indeed be revolting to most sensibilities subject as well

as style matters for the sublime; it is tempting to think of Theophrastus
offensive man ( duscerv):
The offensive man is the kind who parades about with scaly and blanched skin and
black nails . . . He is quite apt to have sores on his shins and lesions on his toes, and
instead of treating them he lets them fester. His armpits are infested with lice and
their hair extends over much of his sides, and his teeth are black and rotten . . . He
wipes his nose while eating . . . and uses rancid oil at the baths so that he reeks of
the pig-sty. (Theophrastus, Characters 19 (trans. J. Diggle))

As Theophrastus works in the Characters by the accumulation of detail,

so too does the poet of the Aspis, and it may perhaps be this which lies
at the heart of Ls problem. It is, at least in part, the very detail of the
Hesiodic description, a detail which forces us to look at one small part
of the hideous body after another and which makes listening to or reading
the description an intellectual act in which we can never forget that we
are being manipulated by the poet, that, for L, removes all yov from the

23 Ls introductory aside, if indeed the Shield too is to be counted a work of Hesiod, is not just
a display of learning: although sublime effects could be found anywhere, they are more likely in
the great sublime writers, and failures to reach the sublime are correspondingly more likely in the
minor and the anonymous, as with the Arimaspeia at 10.4.
Longinus, On the Sublime 137
Although the text of L is lacunose immediately before this, it would
seem certain that it is Iliad 4.4403, a very influential passage,24 which is
here contrasted with the Aspis:
rse d tov mn Arhv, tov d glaukpiv Aqnh
Demv t d Fbov ka Eriv moton memaua,
Areov ndrojnoio kasignth trh te,
t lgh mn prta korssetai, atr peita
orani strixe krh ka p cqon banei.
(Homer, Iliad 4.43943)
The Trojans were urged on by Ares, the Achaeans by grey-eyed Athene and Terror
and Panic and Strife who seethes incessantly, the sister and partner of man-slaying
Ares; at first she rises a little, but then her head touches the sky as her feet walk on
Eris cosmic stature, a description which, as L observes, is as appropriate
for Homer as it is for Eris, excites our wonder and fear this is what deinn
means but it is very short on detail: if asked what does Eris look like?,
would we be able to answer?25 It was this very obscurity, that is, lack of
specificity, which, in Ls wake, made this Homeric passage, together with
Virgils Fama, a model of sublimity for Edmund Burke and the eighteenth-
century critics,26 and their elaborations seem indeed true to Ls argument.
It is, moreover, this concentration of detail, rather than the distastefulness
of what is described, that brings this passage of the Aspis close to two later
passages to which Winfried Buhler compared it,27 one of which at least
may well be indebted to it:28
rqwqev d enqen, krion t neiron,
bktrwi skhptmenov iknov posn ie qraze,
tocouv mjajwn trme d yea nisomnoio
dranhi grai te pnwi d o astalov crv 200
sklkei, ino d sn sta monon ergon.
k d lqn megroio kaqzeto gona barunqev
odo p aleoio krov d min mjekluye
porjreov, gaan d prix dkhse jresqai
neiqen, blhcri d p kmati kklit naudov.
(Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 2.197205)
Like a ghostly dream Phineus got up from his bed, and supporting himself on
a staff, made his way to the door on withered feet, feeling along the walls. His
24 See, e.g., Buhler 1964: 21. 25 See also Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 29.47.
26 See Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry . . . Part II, Sections IIIIV (= Burke 1958: 5964), Part V, Section
V (= Burke 1958: 16671).
27 Buhler 1964: 23. 28 The Hesiodic parallel is noted by Hollis on Ovid, Met. 8.801ff.
138 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
limbs shook with the feebleness of old age, his desiccated flesh was caked with
filth; there was nothing behind his skin but bones. He came out of his dwelling
and sank down on his weary knees at the threshold of the court. A dark dizziness
enveloped him, the earth beneath seemed to him to revolve, and he sank into a
helpless torpor, unable to speak.

quaesitamque Famem lapidoso uidit in agro

unguibus et raras uellentem dentibus herbas. 800
hirtus erat crinis, caua lumina, pallor in ore,
labra incana situ, scabrae rubigine fauces,
dura cutis, per quam spectari uiscera possent;
ossa sub incuruis exstabant arida lumbis,
uentris erat pro uentre locus; pendere putares
pectus et a spinae tantummodo crate teneri;
auxerat articulos macies genuumque tumebat
orbis et immodico prodibant tubere tali.
(Ovid, Metamorphoses 8.799808)
She saw the object of her quest, Hunger, in a stone-filled field, scratching with
her nails and teeth at the few bits of vegetation. Her hair was matted, her eyes
hollow, her face pallid, her lips grey with thirst, her throat rough and peeling, her
skin was hard and her insides were visible through it; beneath her hollow loins,
her hip-bones stood out, and where her stomach should be was an empty spot for
the stomach; you would think that her breast was hanging loose and was only just
held up by the joints of the spine; wasting had made the joints seem larger, her
knees were swollen and her ankles protruded in large bulges.

A glance at Apollonius principal archaic models here will confirm that what
is most distinctive about Apollonius Phineus is, again, the concentration
of precise, physical details covering different aspects of his misery.29 As for
the Ovidian passage, the sequential order and matched phrases with which
Fames body is described, the pointed wit of uentris erat pro uentre locus,
and the self-conscious invitations to the audience to look (vv. 803, 805)
and to imagine (putares 808) the detailed physiology which kept her breast
from falling off compel again a form of mannered reading inimical to
Ls conception of the sublime. There are two related effects in play here.
One is the idea that, because of the intellectual demands of such writing,
the audience never gives itself completely to it, in the way in which we
respond to the sublime. Secondly, notions of greatness and sublimity
are closely connected with ideas about the level of detail appropriate to
high poetry. When the bT-scholium on Iliad 14.352 refers to a category of
29 For Apollonius models here see, e.g., Hunter 1993: 91; Cuypers 1997: 2212. Zanker 1987: 723 sees
here an example of Apollonius scientific realism.
Longinus, On the Sublime 139
poetic material which involves imaginative elaboration of the truth (kat
jantasan tv lhqeav),30 and which is not to be examined in detail, in
the manner of deducing from the fact that the ghosts [in Odyssey 11] can
taste and talk that they have tongues and throats, we can see how these
detailed descriptions in the Aspis, in Apollonius and in Ovid would not
merely fall foul of Ls sense of the sublime but posed difficult problems for
much wider ancient critical notions of what poetry was.
The critical framework on show in Ls analysis of the passage from the
Arimaspeia is confirmed by what follows it:
What then does Homer do? One example from many will suffice:
n d pes, v te kma qoi n nh pshisi
lbron pa nejwn nemotrejv, d te psa
cnhi pekrjqh, nmoio d deinv thv
stwi mbrmetai, tromousi d te jrna natai
deiditev tutqn gr pk qantoio jrontai.
(Homer, Iliad 15.6248)
He fell on them, as when a wave falls on a swift ship, a wild wave stirred up under
the clouds by the winds; the whole ship is hidden in foam, and the terrible blast
of the wind roars in the sails, and the sailors tremble with fear in their hearts, for
a small margin separates them from death.
Aratus too tried to adapt this same idea:
lgon d di xuln Aid rkei
(Aratus, Phainomena 299)
A little piece of wood keeps Hades at bay.
But he has made the idea petty (mikrn) and elegant (glajurn) rather than
terrifying. Moreover, he has reduced the danger by saying a piece of wood keeps
Hades at bay; death is then kept away. The poet [i.e. Homer], however, does not
reduce the terror once and for all, but depicts them as constantly and virtually
with every wave on the point of destruction. (Longinus, On the Sublime 10.56)

It is precisely smallness which, for L, gets in the way of true sublimity, as

chapters 35 and 36 set out quite explicitly (see further below). The nqov
which L found in the Arimaspeia is the same quality as the glajurn
which he finds in Aratus; so too, in his treatise On Style, Demetrius notes
that some people run together what he separates out as the scnv and
the glajurv styles, as though the elegant (glajurn) had elements
of smallness (mikrthv) and pretty refinement (komyea) (On Style 36).
30 For bibliography and discussion see Hunter 2005: 1812; the translation is that of Halliwell 2002:
140 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
The small margin by which the Homeric sailors escape death becomes in
Aratus the thin piece of timber (i.e. the ships hull) which keeps all sailors
from drowning; Aratus unusual use of the singular xlon reinforces the
precariousness of the sailors position. L punishes Aratus for this mannered
transference by accusing him of making the whole description mikrn.
The passage of Aratus Phainomena, of which verse 299 is the conclusion,
is like the passage of the Arimaspeia a description of the ordinary
experience of sailing, not of a ferocious storm at sea:
ll ka mphv
dh pnt niautn p sterhisi qlassa
porjrei keloi d kolumbsin aquhisi
pollkiv k nhn plagov peripaptanontev
meq, p agialov tetrammnoi o d ti prsw
klzontai, lgon d di xuln Aid rkei.
(Aratus, Phainomena 2949)
But the sea swirls all year long under the keel, and we, like diving gulls, often sit
gazing around at the ocean from our ships, turning ourselves towards the beaches;
but far off the surf pounds there, and a little piece of wood keeps Hades at bay.
The image of sailors as sea birds is a common one,31 but Aratus has done
something very unusual with it: birds too scan the waters, but in hope
of spotting potential food, whereas for sailors it is disaster that will come
from that direction; the diving birds are in their element, the sailors are
unhappily out of theirs. Here a comparison, as often, points difference as
much as similarity. The Homeric and Aratean passages are, however, similar
and different in another way also. In Homer the fearful sailors correspond
to the Achaeans in the tenor of the simile (Iliad 15.629), but Ls omission
of this verse from his quotation does not merely serve the contrast with
Aratus which he wishes to draw; it also emphasises how the fearful sailors,
who are the audience of the storm, are our representatives: the storm has
another audience too which is just as fearful. Homers description roars
at us, as the storm roars at the sailors.32 In Aratus the audience for the
poem is directly written into the first-person plural description, but the
comparison of us to diving sea-birds overelaborates in Longinian terms: it
is perergon (On the Sublime 3.4, cited above), witty perhaps, but certainly
not deinn.
The ordinary is of course an important element of Hellenistic poetics.33
In the second book of the Argonautica Apollonius describes the storm at
31 Cf. the notes of Kidd and Martin ad loc.
32 The bT-scholia on vv. 6256 seem to be feeling their way towards this perception: The din of what
is said and the noise of the words prevent us from seeing the ship which is hidden in foam.
33 For what follows see Fantuzzi and Hunter 2004: 99102.
Longinus, On the Sublime 141
sea which wrecks the ship of the sons of Phrixos and thereby brings about
their fateful meeting with the Argonauts (Argon. 2.10971117); the storm
works with the divine scheme of the narrative, and when the weather is
ascribed to Zeus (v. 1098), we will be inclined not to dismiss this as merely
a poetic facon de parler.34 Nevertheless, Apollonius describes the storm in
such a way as to make it as natural as possible: a north wind, blowing
with particular force at night after a day of gentle breeze, signals the time
of the rising of Arcturus, always a dangerous time for sailors. When the
ship breaks up, the sons of Phrixos are saved by clinging to one of those
mighty (pelwrou) planks which had been held together by sharp bolts;
the adjective picks up that used to describe the force of the wind (v. 1102),
as part of the epic nature of the description, but Apollonius in fact works
towards realism by stressing that this is precisely what happens when a
ship breaks up. The planks are indeed, as everyone knows, huge, and
the reference to the nails which hold the planks together and perhaps also
the contrast with Aratus pointed lgon xlon reinforce the sense of the
In the Iliad ordinariness is most conveyed through simile, and it is a
simile which L sets against the Arimaspeia and Aratus. Whereas, however,
we might think that the experience of the Homeric sailors is an unusually
terrifying one, L stresses the repetitiveness of the experience: this is what
sailors face with every [huge] wave. There is no explicit warrant for this in
the text,36 but L is perhaps drawing out the implications of the simile form:
this is a familiar, repeated experience, not an event as remarkable as the
narrative it is trying to illustrate. As such, Ls approach sits neatly within
ancient teaching about the simile form.37 Be that as it may, there is nothing
small about this storm which hides the boat from view: here is a cosmic
event befitting epic, one in which, as L sees it, even the smallest units of
language, such as prepositions, are to be twisted into new and unnatural
combinations, like structures blasted by a hurricane.38

seeing gods
For Longinus, then, it is a proper function of the sublime to let us
feel frightened;39 Hades dread fear as Poseidon threatens to break the
solid world apart (Iliad 20.615; On the Sublime 9.6) is in part our fear:
as he leaps from his royal throne with a scream, we will be startled from
34 See Feeney 1991: 61; Hunter 1993: 80.
35 For the possible allusion to Aratus see Fantuzzi and Hunter 2004: 100 n. 50.
36 See Buhler 1964: 7883. 37 See Hunter 2006a: 923. 38 See Porter 2001: 83 on this effect.
39 Russell 1979: 14, cf. Innes 1995b: 331.
142 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
our reading or listening repose by the power of Homers envisionment.40
The representation of the divine is in fact crucial to the poetic sublime,
and divine epiphanies, in which gods regularly assume large stature, might
seem a promising locus for sublime effects, particularly t jobern. Mortals
often react to divine epiphanies in epic in much the same way as L guides
our reactions to the sublime: fear, amazement, an overpowering of the
senses, in a word kplhxiv (see, e.g., On the Sublime 1.4, 15.11).41 It is the
effect upon the audience which links the motif of epiphany in poetry to
sublime effects. The epiphany may be not merely a site of the sublime, but
also its textual representative: Semeles fate, consumed by Zeuss blazing
thunderbolt, awaits the reader of Demosthenes (34.4). Like an epiphany,
effects of sublimity may come with a blinding light (15.11, 34.4) which shuts
everything else out.42 Both offer a sudden revelation of power (1.4). In
particular, epiphany might well seem to be a prime site for those phantasiai
where you [i.e. the writer], under the sway of possession and emotion, seem
to see what you are describing and bring it before the vision of the audience
(15.1). However often gods do (or did) appear on earth, a divine epiphany
makes particular demands upon imagination and envisionment. Very
few have really seen such things; there is very little reservoir of lived
experience, whether in himself or in the audience, upon which the poet
can draw. Ls first example of such phantasiai bursts in upon the text,
on the cue of t sugkekinhmnon (emotional excitement) but without
introduction, as suddenly as the Furies of the example burst into Orestes
vision (15.2, citing Euripides, Orestes 2557).43 Madness is here a particularly
illuminating example of the process of poetic jantasa because madmen
(like also another category of inspired visionaries very close to poets, namely
prophets) do see delusional appearances which others are spared (cf. 15.8);
so must a poet,44 and then he must compel the audience to see them also
(15.2), just as Orestes appeals emphatically to Pylades (Do you spy this
one? Do you not see this deathly snake . . . ?) in the narrative (vv. 2856)

40 For the treatment of this passage in Plutarch see below pp. 17981. Terror was at the heart of
Burkes theory of the sublime and is much discussed in the eighteenth century; for the place of fear
in Kants dynamically sublime see Section 28 of the Analytic of the Sublime (= Kant 2007: 901).
41 There is a useful collection of material at Richardson 1974: 2089. 42 Cf. Goldhill 2007: 38.
43 Such a quotation without introduction is not entirely unparalleled in our text of On the Sublime,
but it is very uncommon and here clearly serves a specific didactic function. The verses quoted from
Euripides mark the beginning of a new attack and the speed of that attack is emphasised in the text
(v. 254); thus, once again, the (unquoted) context is relevant for understanding Ls use of quotations.
44 There is some line of descent from chapter 17 of Aristotles Poetics, on the poet working things out
in advance as far as possible putting them in front of his eyes, to this passage of L, but see, e.g,
Halliwell 1987: 1458 for cautionary remarks.
Longinus, On the Sublime 143
from the Iphigeneia among the Taurians which L cites, or as the repeated
atai of the Orestes scene forces us to look (v. 257).
In the Argonautica of Apollonius, which L takes as a model of non-
sublime epic (33.4),45 human contact with the divine, indeed the role of
the divine itself, is very much reduced from Homeric levels, and this may
be thought to have reduced the opportunity for some of the most common
types of sublime effect; in particular, the characters have almost no direct
contact with the major Olympian divinities. This programmatic distance is
most clearly thematised in Apollos principal appearance to the Argonauts
at the island of Thynias in Book 2:46
mov d ot r pw jov mbroton ot ti lhn
rjnah pletai, leptn d piddrome nukt 670
jggov, t mjilkhn min negrmenoi kalousi,
tmov rhmahv nsou limn eselsantev
Qunidov kamtwi polupmoni banon raze.
tosi d Lhtov uv, nercmenov Lukhqen
tl p perona dmon Uperborwn nqrpwn, 675
xejnh crseoi d pareiwn kterqen
plocmo botruentev perronto kinti
laii d rgreon nma bin, mj d ntoiv
odkh tetnusto katwmadn. d p poss
seeto nsov lh, klzen d p kmata crswi. 680
tov d le qmbov dntav mcanon, od tiv tlh
nton agssasqai v mmata kal qeoo.
stn d ktw nesantev p cqonv atr thlo
b menai pnton d di rov.
(Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 2.66984)
At the time when the immortal sunlight has not yet appeared, but it is no longer
quite dark and a faint gleam has pierced the night the time which those waking
call amphilyke at that hour they entered the harbour of the deserted island of
Thynias and stepped on to the land, completely worn out by their efforts. The son
of Leto, travelling from afar from Lycia to the countless race of the Hyperboreans,
appeared to them. On both sides of his face golden curls like bunches of grapes
waved as he proceeded; in his left hand he carried a silver bow, and his quiver was
slung around his back from the shoulder. Under his feet the whole island shook
and waves washed over the dry land. At the sight of him the Argonauts were struck
helpless with amazement; no one dared to look directly into the gods brilliant
eyes, but they stood looking at the ground, and he passed through the air far away
out to sea.

45 See below pp. 1623.

46 The discussion that follows is complementary to that of Hunter 1986; see also Feeney 1991: 756;
Hunter 1993: 76; Belloni 1999.
144 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
Elements of this epiphany may be paralleled from many scenes in early
epic, but two Iliadic scenes may be thought of particular importance. The
first is Apollos famous first appearance at the beginning of Book 1, an
appearance in response to Chryses prayer:
to d klue Fobov Apllwn,
b d kat Olmpoio karnwn cwmenov kr,
tx moisin cwn mjhreja jartrhn 45
klagxan d r isto p mwn cwomnoio,
ato kinhqntov d ie nukt oikv.
zet peit pneuqe nen, met d n hken,
dein d klagg gnet rguroio bioo.
(Homer, Iliad 1.439)
Phoebus Apollo heard him. He came down from the peaks of Olympus, angry
at heart, with his bow and his covered quiver on his shoulders. In his anger the
arrows clattered on his shoulders as he moved; he went like night. He sat far off
from the ships and let loose an arrow; there was a terrible twanging of the silver

The second famous scene to which Apollonius directs our attention is

Poseidons passage at the start of Iliad 13, a passage which both L (9.8)
and Heraclitus (Homeric Problems 2.2) later single out for its sublime
representation of divinity:
od laoskopin ece krewn Ennoscqwn
ka gr qaumzwn sto ptlemn te mchn te,
yo p krotthv korujv Smou lhsshv
Qrhikhv nqen gr janeto psa mn Idh,
janeto d Primoio pliv ka nev Acain.
nq r g x lv zet n, laire d Acaiov 15
Trwsn damnamnouv, Di de kraterv nemssa.
atka d x reov katebseto paipalentov
kraipn pos probibv trme d orea makr ka lh
possn p qantoisi Poseidwnov ntov.
trv mn rxat n, t d ttraton keto tkmwr, 20
Agv nqa d o klut dmata bnqesi lmnhv
crsea marmaronta tetecatai, jqita ae.
(Homer, Iliad 13.1022)
The mighty Earth-Shaker was keeping no careless watch. Looking with wonder
at the battle, he was sitting up high on the very topmost peak of wooded Samos
in Thrace; from there he could see Ida, and he could see the city of Priam and
the ships of the Achaeans. He had come from the sea to take his seat there; he
pitied the Achaeans who were being crushed by the Trojans and he was mightily
angry with Zeus. Without delay he came down from the steep mountain, moving
forward swiftly on his feet; the tall mountains and the woods trembled beneath
Longinus, On the Sublime 145
the immortal feet of Poseidon as he went. Three times he stepped towards his goal,
and the fourth time he reached it, Aigai; there his glorious palace of shining gold
is built in the depths of the harbour, unperishing for all time.
Apollos appearance in Iliad 1 was the subject of a very large critical discus-
sion, and Apollonius may reflect that in the (for him very unusual) gestures
that he here makes to rationalising traditions: is Apollo an anthropo-
morphic deity or rather the rising sun (note nercmenov and xejnh)
at which no one can look directly, and does the island move as he passes
or is this, together with the attendant waves, a way of figuring seismic
movements, particularly near coastlines?47 Be that as it may, Apollonius
combines the two Homeric models by writing Apollo as Poseidon, the
earth-shaker. It is in fact tempting to believe that the seismic reaction of
nature to Apollos passing is, at least in part, a tidying up of the trouble-
some ato kinhqntov (as the god himself moved) at the head of Iliad
1.47;48 it is, as it should be, the earth, not the god himself, who is shaken.
If we look at the Hellenistic passage and its archaic models with the
Longinian sublime in mind, certain differences stand out. The first is
divine motivation. Both the Homeric Apollo and Poseidon are emotion-
ally engaged with the action of the epic; Poseidon, the divine spectator
filled with wonder and pity is clearly at one level an ideal audience for sub-
lime epic. Just as clearly, the Apollonian Apollo is not. More importantly
in the present context, however, both the Homeric Apollo and Poseidon
are angry, whereas we have no idea what (if anything) Apollo is feeling.
Anger is a high, indeed a sublime, emotion; it is the characteristic of
Aeschylus, modelled on his own Achilles, by which he is defined in the
Frogs (vv. 814, 844, 8556),49 as it is the most remarkable emotional absence

47 It is, however, noteworthy that Apollos other appearance in the poem (4.170518) makes similar
gestures: the Argonauts are trapped in impenetrable darkness, Jason calls on Apollo, the god comes
down, raises his brilliant bow aloft and in its gleam the Argonauts spy a tiny island; dawn then
immediately rises and they found a cult of Apollo the Gleamer. That passage is marked by deliberate
variation from the scene at Thynias (note particularly 2.678 4.1709), with Apollos motivated
appearance having an immediate effect in the poem. Whatever the debt of the scene at Anaphe to
Callimachus (cf. frr. 923 Massimilla), it, like the scene at Thynias, also rewrites Apollos opening
appearance in the Iliad, with Jason playing the role of Chryses and Apollos appearance like night
replaced by his gleaming light which saves the heroes from darkness.
48 On this phrase see the notes of Kirk and Pulleyn ad loc.; it is a pity that we do not know why Zeno-
dotus excised vv. 467; klzen in v. 680 may be an aural echo of the Homeric klagxan (Iliad 1.46).
There may, of course, also be more going on in these Apollonian verses than just Homeric rewriting;
the elements shared with the opening of Callimachus Hymn to Apollo (sesato . . . lon . . . pod)
are at least suggestive, particularly in view of other similarities between that poem and this passage
of the Argonautica (Hunter 1986: 5760).
49 See above p. 6. In 1704 John Dennis noted: of all these [sublime] ideas none are so terrible as those
which show the wrath and vengeance of an angry god; for nothing is so wonderful in its effects . . . ,
cited in Ashfield and de Bolla 1996: 38.
146 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
from Apollonius Jason.50 Moreover, the elaborately detailed identification
of the time at which Apollo appeared in the Argonautica (vv. 66971) seems
far from the startling effect of a burst of the sublime of which L speaks.
Secondly, Apollonius offers us a detailed picture of the gods appearance,
one at least in part put together from iconographic convention.51 Here, on
a now conventional analysis,52 the detail may work against sublime effects:
the golden locks of hair hanging like bunches of grapes on his cheeks on
both sides, the silver bow held specifically in the left hand (as in the cult
statue on Delos),53 the quiver hanging off the shoulder on his back. In the
scene of Apollos intervention in Iliad 1, which is also our introduction to
divine action in the poem as a whole, Apollo is, by contrast, threateningly
disembodied: he too carries a bow and has arrows on his shoulders, but
otherwise all we know is that he moved like night, a comparison which
must have struck with great force any ancient reader used to thinking
of Apollo as a god of solar light, and one which Apollonius has clearly
reversed in his image of Apollo as the rising sun.54 The sublimity of night
and darkness was to become a critical commonplace.55 As for Poseidon in
Iliad 13, he too has feet which play a prominent role (vv. 1819), but beyond
that we know nothing of his appearance; the emphasis is on the swiftness
of divine action, and descriptive epithets are largely reserved for the gods
house, his horses, and even his whip, rather than for the god himself. The
numerous verbal repetitions which mark both Homeric passages show that
at the level of style, as well as substance, akribeia (as understood by critics
such as L) is of greater concern to later writers than to Homer.
The case against Apollonian sublimity must not, however, be exag-
gerated. Apollos very remoteness and silence56 and the brilliant intensity
of the light into which even the Argonauts cannot look57 are both pow-
erful effects, and the Argonauts helpless amazement (681) before the
god might well seem to be a paradigmatic reaction to the sublime. The
difference from the Homeric manner is palpable and would certainly have
been felt by L, as it has been by modern critics, but the extraordinary nature
of this crucial moment in the Argonautic voyage is not to be gainsaid. It

50 See Fantuzzi and Hunter 2004: 10617. 51 Green 1997: 243. 52 See above p. 136.
53 See Callimachus fr. 114.8 Pf. = 64.8 Massimilla. There is, however, no reason to think that this detail
here carries the symbolic force which it does in the Callimachean passage.
54 For ancient discussion of the Homeric Apollo as the sun see Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 7 =
Apollodorus of Athens, FGrHist 244 F98, and the other texts gathered by Jacoby there.
55 See, e.g., Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry . . . Part IV, Sections XIVXVIII (= Burke 1958: 1417).
56 See above pp. 57.
57 See the interesting observations of Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry . . . Part II, Sections XIV (= Burke
1958: 7980) on the sublime effect of intense light, such as that of the sun.
Longinus, On the Sublime 147
is perhaps, as so often, a question of degree. Thus, for example, the whole
island shakes, and this may be thought to be a natural event of a kind
habitually associated with the sublime. Nevertheless, Thynias is in fact a
small uninhabited island, and (as far as we know) Apollos appearance has
no effects elsewhere. In Iliad 13, however, Poseidon is watching from the
highest point, a steep/rugged mountain, on Samothrace, from where he
can see all of Ida, the city of Priam and the ships of the Achaeans, and his
subsequent journey, however imprecise such poetic geography may be,58
clearly covers a considerable chunk of the north-east Aegean (for otherwise
the emphasis on his giant steps would lose some of its force). Geographical
expanse is fundamental to the sublime conception of divinity, as indeed
of much else, for expanse carries with it a sense of power and awe. Even
where expanse is not stressed, the nature which is affected by divine action
should, in the sublime view of things, be itself imposing and terrible.
When Aeneas experiences the god on an island, Delos, the description
goes well beyond its Apollonian and Callimachean models:
tremere omnia uisa repente,
liminaque laurusque dei, totusque moueri
mons circum et mugire adytis cortina reclusis.
(Virgil, Aeneid 3.902)
Everything seemed suddenly to tremble, the threshold and the laurel of the god,
and the whole mountain round about seemed to be moved and the tripod to groan
as the shrine was opened up.
The specification of the whole mountain immediately raises the height
of the passage,59 as do the tall mountains and forests which tremble as
Poseidon passes in Iliad 13. One further passage of early epic which Apol-
lonius recalls by Apollos appearance is Zeuss famous, and famously awe-
inspiring,60 nod of assent to Thetis in Iliad 1:
, ka kuanhisin p jrsi nese Kronwn,
mbrsiai d ra catai perrsanto naktov
kratv p qantoio mgan d llixen Olumpon.
(Homer, Iliad 1.52830)
He finished speaking, and with his dark brows the son of Kronos nodded; the
lords heaven-sweet locks streamed down from his immortal head, and he shook
mighty Olympus.
Great Olympus is certainly more sublime than all of Thynias.
58 For the details see Janko on Iliad 13.212.
59 On this passage see Heyworth 1993 and Barchiesi 1994.
60 See, e.g., Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 2.2.
148 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
We may gauge something of what is at stake here by considering a
passage of Callimachus at his most cosmic. In the Hymn to Delos Ares is
watching from a Thracian mountain lest anywhere offer Leto refuge and,
when Mount Peneios offers to do so, the gods reaction is swift:
ll o Arhv
Paggaou proqlumna karata mllen erav
mbalein dnhisin, pokryai d eqra
yqe d smarghse ka spda tyen kwki
doratov d llixen nplion treme d Osshv
orea ka pedon Krannnion a te dusaev
scatia Pndoio, jbwi d rcsato psa
Qessalh toov gr p spdov bramen cov.
(Callimachus, Hymn to Delos 13340)
But Ares had it in mind to raise the peaks of Pangaion from their base and hurl
them into the waters, effacing the streams of Peneios. From on high he roared and
beat his shield with the tip of his spear, and it rang out with a martial sound. The
peaks of Ossa and the plain of Krannon and the stormy wastes of Pindos trembled;
all of Thessaly danced with fear such was the crashing from the shield.

Ares threatens to uproot mountains and makes a truly cosmic noise which
embraces most of the north Aegean and central Greece, with particular
effect upon mountains; immediately after this the reverberation of Ares
shield is compared to an eruption of Etna, a truly sublime event (cf. On
the Sublime 35.4). There is much here of which L would probably not
approve,61 but the cosmic scale of the description cannot be gainsaid, and
Ares is serving Hera whose dominant emotion is, once again, anger (vv.
55, 1067, etc.). The trembling of the mountains picks up, as we have
seen, a familiar element of descriptions of divine movement, but we may
think that, just as all of Thessaly danced with fear, so treme also in
137 will carry the implication of fear; nature, not unreasonably, is worried
by what Ares has in mind. Whether or not there is a similar effect at
Iliad 13.18 may be debated,62 though Eustathius, at any rate, thought the
use of trmein as though the mountains were living, perceiving creatures
worthy of note (Hom. 917.26). So too, when the arrows clatter on Apollos
back (Iliad 1.46), the bT-scholia note that inanimate objects too feel the
divine power. At the appearance of Apollo in Book 2, however, Apollonius

61 See further Hunter 2006a: 945. Callimachus has chosen llixen (rang out) in v. 137 to evoke
the appearance of this word in scenes in which the divine shakes the world, as Zeuss nod llixen
Olympus; treme in the same verse makes sure that we do not miss the point.
62 Janko ad loc. notes, The forested slopes quake . . . to suit Poseidons mood.
Longinus, On the Sublime 149
chooses the verb (seesqai) which offers least hold to such personifying

size matters
The link between subject and style is crucial to ideas of the sublime. The
choice of the plan of the giants to pile Pelion upon Ossa and both on
Olympus (Odyssey 11.31517) to illustrate sublime passages free of emotion
(pqov) was certainly not a random one (On the Sublime 8.2). If L does
not actually quote the verses (Odyssey 11.30912) in which Homer stresses
the hugeness of these giants, we nevertheless must have them in mind;
here, as elsewhere in On the Sublime, silences make demands upon our
imaginations, in a (silent) illustration of how the sublime works. So too, in
his discussion of the difference between the Iliad and the Odyssey, Longinus
singles out from the latter poem as examples of Homers continuing power
in old age, despite the new prominence of t muqikn, the storms and
the episode of the Cyclops and certain other parts (9.14). The importance
of the epic storm to ideas of the sublime we have already noted, and it
is significant that L proceeds to single out the wineskin in which Aeolus
confined the winds as an example of the nonsense (lrov) into which
great genius can lapse after it has passed its prime (9.14). The episode of
the bag of the winds was much discussed in antiquity why on earth did
Aeolus give this to Odysseus?63 but one of Ls objections, presumably,
is to the very idea of confining the cosmic sublimity of the winds within
the small space of a skin bag, even one made from a whole ox (Odyssey
10.19). Virgils sublime Cave of the Winds (Aeneid 1.5063)64 must be
seen as in part a corrective reaction to the Homeric passage, perhaps
indeed under the influence of the kind of criticism of Homer which we see
in L.
L presumably chose the Cyclops episode for praise (inter alia) because
of its emphasis upon the monstrous size of the Cyclops and everything
around him (see Odyssey 9.187, 1902, 2403, 257, 481ff., etc.); our first
glimpse of his dwelling emphasises its yov:
nqa d p scatii spov edomen gci qalsshv,
yhln, djnhisi kathrejv nqa d poll
ml, iv te ka agev, aeskon per d al
yhl ddmhto katwrucessi lqoisi 185

63 The scholium on Odyssey 10.20 is a very interesting example of its kind.

64 See Hardie 1986: 907, with earlier bibliography.
150 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
makrisn te ptussin d drusn yikmoisin.
nqa d nr naue pelriov ktl.
(Homer, Odyssey 9.1827a)
There at the edge of the land by the sea we saw a cave, tall, covered over with
laurels; large flocks, both sheep and goats, slept there. A high courtyard had been
built around the entrance with hewn stones and tall pines and lofty oaks. There a
monstrous man used to sleep . . .
Here Virgil could go beyond, rather than reject, the Homeric model: his
Cyclops touches the stars (at least in the nave telling of Achaemenides,
Aeneid 3.61820; cf. 632, 6367, 647, 6569, 6645, 6724, 67981).
Size matters, particularly in epic, and it may be possible through the
figure of the Cyclops still to trace some of the features which, in Ls
view, prevented Apollonius from being a sublime poet. We may begin by
comparing, on the one side, the great staff which the Homeric Cyclops was
preparing for himself and which Odysseus and his men compare to the
mast of a broad merchant ship which sails across the great sea (Odyssey
9.31924), and the lopped pine-tree with which the Virgilian Cyclops
guides his blinded steps (Aeneid 3.659),65 and, on the other, the fir-tree
which the Apollonian Heracles uproots roots and earth and all to make
himself a new oar (Argon. 1.11871205). The Apollonian tree is indebted to
the Homeric staff (Odyssey 9.324 Argon. 1.1193), and Heracles uprooting
of it is indeed compared to the demasting of a ship by a sudden winter
squall,66 but whereas Heracles actions, like the immediately preceding
scene in which he rows the Argo single-handed, are clearly intended to be
understood as those of a superhuman strongman, the description of the fir
which he selects for his oar may seem curiously detailed (kribv):
eren peit lthn lalmenov ote ti pollov
cqomnhn zoiv od mga thleqwsan,
ll oon tanav rnov plei ageroio
tssh mv mkv te ka v pcov en dsqai.
(Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 1.11903)
In his wandering he came across a fir-tree which was neither weighed down by
too many branches not too far (mega) grown, but to look upon resembled rather
a slender poplar in both height and width.
Here the two words of size, many, great, are immediately preceded by
negatives; Heracles, the focaliser of these verses, looks for the right tree

65 See Ovid, Met. 13.782, and Quintilian 8.4.24 on the amplificatio here.
66 See Knight 1995: 128.
Longinus, On the Sublime 151
with the eye of an experienced oarsman, and fitness here lies in a surprising
absence of bulk. Odysseus and his men also look at the Cyclops staff
with the eyes of experienced sailors note the specification of a twenty-
oared . . . merchant-ship (Odyssey 9.3223) but those eyes see amazing
size, not appropriate control.
Given other opportunities to stress size, Apollonius may again seem
curiously reticent. The boxing match between Amycus (another Cyclops
figure) and Polydeuces replays the struggle of the Olympians against darker
and older forces,67 and Amycus is compared to a monstrous child of
deadly Typhoeus or of Gaia herself and to a great wave battering a ship
(Argon. 2.389, 703), but the episode as a whole places very little emphasis
upon Amycus size. We may here contrast the Theocritean version of the
encounter, in which size is actually made an issue, though not perhaps
in a way of which L would approve, and in which the debt of the fig-
ure of Amycus to the Homeric Cyclops is much more obvious than in
Apollonius:68 Amycus is a man like Tityos (22.94), the monstrously huge
sinner of Odyssey 11, and the boxing match itself is framed by Amycus
transition from the mgav nr of verse 84 to the smallness of verse 113
(k meglou d | ay lgov gnet ndrv). A striking case of downsizing
is the introduction of Amycus in the Argonautica as peroplhstaton
ndrn most arrogant of men (Argon. 2.4), for when the same adjective
is used to introduce the Theocritean Amycus (22.44), the primary refer-
ence must be to his physical size, rather than to his ethical quality.69 Here
again Virgils epic manner is quite different from that of Apollonius. In
the boxing match of Aeneid 5, Dares rises to enter the fray uastis . . . uiribus
(v. 368), and we are told that at the Trojan tomb of maximus Hector he
had defeated a descendant of Amycus himself, Butes of the huge body,
immani corpore (vv. 3714); huge size is again at issue in the question of the
choice of boxing thongs (vv. 401, 4045), and the fight itself is dominated
by Entellus great size and strength (vv. 422, 4312, 4479). Apollonius
resists these epic temptations.
Examples could be multiplied. On the promontory of Cyzicus the Arg-
onauts encounter the Earthborn:
ka t mn brista te ka grioi nnaeskon
Ghgenev, mga qama periktinessin dsqai
x gr kstwi cerev prbioi erqonto,

67 See Hunter 1993: 289. 68 See, e.g., Sens 1997: 11112.

69 See, e.g., Cuypers 1997: 19, 367. The sense in Theocritus is primarily established by the focalisation
of the scene, see Hunter 2003b: 488.
152 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
a mn p stibarn mwn do, ta d pnerqen
tssarev anotthisin p pleuriv raruai.
(Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 1.9426)
Violent and savage were those who lived on the island, children of the Earth an
extraordinary sight for their neighbours. Each had six mighty arms, two coming
out from their stout shoulders and the other four attached lower down on their
terrible sides.
Like the Homeric Cyclops, these creatures hurl jagged bits of cliff (v.
995) and are terrible monsters (an plwra, v. 996); in death they are
compared to long timbers stretched out on the beach, half in the water
and half out. The image, which concentrates on the strangeness of the
sight,70 would seem to imply the great size of the Earthborn, but nothing
explicit is said about this; it is interesting to speculate how Virgil might
have written this simile. The Earthborn have two principal models in
early epic, Homers Laistrygonians71 and Hesiods hundred-handers. The
Laistrygonians are like Giants (Ggantev, Odyssey 10.120), and Odysseus
men encounter a woman the size of a mountain (10.113); so too Hesiods
children of Gaia and Ouranos are explicitly and repeatedly mgav:
lloi d a Gahv te ka Orano xegnonto
trev padev megloi te ka mbrimoi, ok nomasto,
Kttov te Brirev te Gghv q, perjana tkna,
tn katn mn cerev p mwn ssonto,
plastoi, kejala d kstwi pentkonta
x mwn pjukon p stibarosi mlessin
scv d plhtov krater meglwi p edei.
(Hesiod, Theogony 14753)
Then came forth three further sons of Earth and Sky, great and violent, unspeak-
able, Kottos and Briareus and Gyges, arrogant children. From their shoulders shot
forth a hundred terrible arms, and each had fifty heads growing from their shoul-
ders above their massive limbs; dreadful was the powerful strength in their great
Apollonius six-handers are clearly not in the same epic league as Hesiods
creatures, and by making us able explicitly to visualise how their violent
arms actually fit on to an apparently otherwise normal body (vv. 9456),
Apollonius has reduced the threatening unclarity of the Hesiodic text to a
matter of detailed physiology.72 Apollonius Earthborn may be violent and
savage (v. 942), but what causes mga qama is their oversupply of arms,

70 See Hunter 1993: 412. 71 See Knight 1995: 14752.

72 Wests note on Theogony 1502 shows the embarrassment of trying to visualise the Hesiodic creatures;
see also Theogony 6713.
Longinus, On the Sublime 153
not any monstrous size they might possess. A somewhat similar analysis
may be applied to Apollonius Talos, another creature able to break rocks
off cliffs and hurl them at ships (Argon. 4.163840); when he is brought
low, it is like the felling of a great pine-tree (Argon. 4.16826), but although
art represents Talos as larger than life,73 Apollonius is again silent about his
actual size. So too the size of the other Earthborn Men against whom Jason
battles at the conclusion of Book 3 is really only implied in the comparison
of the sight of them in death to sea monsters (ktea, 3.1395).74
As part of the presentation of an epic world marked by familiarity and
ordinariness,75 then, Apollonius has in part cut epic down to size, and
it is Ls critical sensibilities which allow us to trace this most clearly. The
difference between Homer and Apollonius is, of course, one of degree, not
an absolute one. The passage through the Symplegades (2.549606) is the
Argonautic version of Homers Scylla and Charybdis,76 though Apollonius
places these terrors themselves next to the Wandering Rocks in the strait
between Sicily and the Italian mainland, as one of the perils through which
the Argonauts must pass on the return jouney of Book 4. In his description
of the passage through the Symplegades it is clear that Apollonius does
wish to stress the magnitude of the task facing the Argonauts; we are
to feel fear for the fearful sailors (2.552, 575, 577).77 Here there is a very
clear distinction between the passage through the Symplegades and that
through the Planktai, where the Argo is lifted up on high by Thetis and
the sea-nymphs, as young girls play with a ball, and the only fear is that
of Hera, who throws her arms around Athena as she watches the sight
(4.95960); the Argonauts are indeed all but written out of the scene.78
It is easy enough to guess what L would have made of this scene. In
the passage through the Symplegades, however, elemental nature plays its
rto d poll
lmh nabrasqesa, njov v ae d pntov
smerdalon pnthi d per mgav bremen aqr.
kolai d spluggev p spildav trhceav
kluzoshv lv ndon bmbeon, yqi d cqhv
leuk kaclzontov nptue kmatov cnh.
(Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 2.56570)

73 See LIMC s.v. Talos 1.

74 The comparison associates these Earthborn with their namesakes in Book 1, but Vian (note
complementaire on 3.1395) rightly calls attention to it as an isolated allusion to their great size.
75 See Fantuzzi and Hunter 2004: 98104. 76 See Knight 1995: 418.
77 See above pp. 13941 on Iliad 15.624ff.
78 See Vian, Note complementaire to 4.955; Hutchinson 1988: 1312; Hunter 1993: 78 n. 11.
154 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
A huge body of spray was thrown up like a cloud, the sea gave a terrible roar, and
all around the limitless sky resounded. As the sea surged around the harsh rocks,
hollow sea-caves boomed within, and the white foam from the thundering wave
was hurled high above the cliffs.
The verses echo Hesiodic descriptions of cosmic battles (Theogony 678
80, 83941) to stress what is at stake in the Argonauts struggle;79 here, if
anywhere in the Argonautica, we should feel t jobern and t qaumsion
before the great forces of nature.80 Even in this instance, however, the
Virgilian description of Scylla and Charybdis in Aeneid 3 embraces the
whole cosmos in a manner quite absent from both Homer and Apollonius.81
Size, mgeqov, is of course itself both a physical and a stylistic quality (cf.
On the Sublime 9.14, 1112). Homer himself, his poetry and the characters
are all megaloprepv or megalojuv: this is the proper epic mode. At
Iliad 17.262, for example, Hector leads a Trojan charge:
Trev d protuyan ollev rce d r Ektwr.
v d t p procoisi diipetov potamoo
bbrucen mga kma pot on, mj d t krai
inev bowsin reugomnhv lv xw,
tsshi ra Trev aci san.
(Homer, Iliad 17.2626)
The Trojans moved forward in a close mass; Hector led them. As when at the
mouth of a rain-fed river the great wave of the sea roars against the stream, and
all around the headlands scream as the sea heaves further out, with such shouting
did the Trojans advance.
The scholia tell us that the magnificent envisionment and sound of this
simile caused both Solon and Plato to despair of their own efforts at poetry,
but it is the bT-scholium on diipetov in verse 263 which is of interest here:
diipetov: fed by rain. With natural greatness (megalojuv) he did not use a
river which is always flowing (for these flow more gently), but a winter torrent, in
order to increase the size (mgeqov) of the roaring and to emphasise the clash of
forces. The harshness of the sounds and the lengthening in bowsin contribute
to the powerful image (jantasa). (bT-scholium on Iliad 17.263c)82
A similar case concerns the description at Iliad 2.14954 of the frantic
Achaean preparations to abandon Troy:

79 The Hesiodic model is noted by Green 1997: 241, but otherwise seems to have passed unnoticed.
80 See Innes 1995b: 3301 on the kind of fear which is appropriate to the sublime.
81 See Hardie 1986: 25962; Nelis 2001: 458.
82 See also Aristotle, Poetics 1458b31; Dion. Hal. On the Arrangement of Words 15.13.
Longinus, On the Sublime 155
to d lalhti
nav p sseonto, podn d pnerqe konh
stat eiromnh. to d llloisi kleuon
ptesqai nhn d lkmen ev la dan,
orov t xekqairon ut d orann ken
okade emnwn p d ireon rmata nhn.
(Homer, Iliad 2.14954)
With wild shouting they rushed to the ships, and beneath their feet the dust was
stirred and rose up. They urged each other to lay hold of the ships and to drag
them into the bright sea, and they began to clear the launching-tracks. In their
eagerness for home the shouting reached the sky. They began to take away the
props from beneath the ships.
On verse 153 the scholia comment:
ut d orann ken: With natural greatness (megalojuv) he increased the con-
fusion (tarac), which Aristophanes in the Acharnians diminished (katalep-
tolghsen). (AbT-scholium on Iliad 2.153c)
What the Homeric scholiast means is that by bringing in a cosmic element
(the shouting reached the sky) Homer has increased, that is, lent mgeqov
to, the description; rhetoricians indeed defined increase (axhsiv) as
language which invests the subject matter with mgeqov.83 Behind the
note presumably lies a slight critical unease that, without this grand touch,
the passage threatened to sink under the weight of unusual nautical detail.
As for Aristophanes, the reference must be to the description of the qrubov
and bo of Athenian preparations for an expedition at Acharnians 54554,
a description which far surpasses that of Homer in vivid local detail. The
piling up of such detail and its vulgarity show the difference between the
grand and the low treatment of a similar subject; that the scholiast uses a
verb for Aristophanes relation to the Homeric model (kataleptologen)
which otherwise occurs only in the Frogs in a choral description of Euripides
(Frogs 828) tells its own story.84
Greatness of both subject and style cannot, of course, be considered in
isolation from their opposites. For L, t megalojuv is a sine qua non for
any writer who wishes to produce great or sublime work:
The thoughts of the true orator must be neither low (tapeinn) nor ignoble (gen-
nv), for it is impossible for someone whose thoughts and practices throughout

83 See Longinus, On the Sublime 12.1, with Russells note.

84 It was perhaps not important to the scholiast that, in this speech in Acharnians, Dicaeopolis was
pretending to be a character from a Euripidean tragedy, but the fact is worth noting.
156 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
their life are small and slavish to bring forth something wonderful and deserving
of immortality. (Longinus, On the Sublime 9.3)
mikr and tapein thoughts or, in the language of the Frogs, okea prg-
mata are the products of correspondingly limited spirits, and it is therefore
important to see how Homer and other great writers rise above these
limitations, as in the case from Iliad 2 which we have just considered.
We may begin with the scholia to the famous simile from the opening
of Iliad 10 which compares Agamemnons flickering and anxious thoughts
to the lightning of Zeus:
With appropriate greatness (megaloprepv) he likened the commander of the
Greeks to the greatest of the gods; but when Odysseus was dressed as a beg-
gar he applied a lowly (tapeinv) simile to him: As when a man turns a hag-
gis . . . (Odyssey 20.2530). (bT-scholium on Iliad 10.5b)
As in the case of the preparations for departure in Iliad 2, the note takes
its starting point from the observation of a similarity of situation between
two passages, but here two passages of Homer. In Odyssey 20 Odysseus
too, like Agamemnon at the start of Iliad 10, is lying awake at night
and thinking. The scholiast implies that Homer observed t prpon by
using an appropriate simile in both cases, one drawn from the highest
of conceptions (Zeus and Agamemnon have been associated since the
beginning of the poem)85 and one drawn from a very low reality, matching
Odysseus disguise as a hungry beggar; modern critics would probably add
that Odysseus has already been associated with stomachs as a form of food
by the prize suggested by Antinoos for a fight between Odysseus and Iros
(Odyssey 18.449) and with hunger by the accursed belly motif to which he
regularly turns.86 Here, then, tapein material does not reflect badly on the
poet, but rather shows up another of his outstanding literary qualities. As a
result of the very great critical worry about impropriety, such observations
concerning Homers extraordinary skill are not uncommon in the scholia,
and (unsurprisingly) are often found in connection with similes, for it is
here where low material tends to occur, particularly in the Iliad. Thus,
for example, of the simile through which Achilles compares the crying
Patroclus to a little girl tugging at her mothers dress to be picked up (Iliad
16.710) the bT-scholia note that this is a low subject (etelv prgma),
but that the poet has expressed it grandly and with clarity of envisionment
85 There is a similar conception lying behind the bT-scholium on Iliad 2.402, which notes the
appropriateness of Homers detailed description of Agamemnons sacrifice to Zeus, the king
properly sacrifices to the king.
86 See, e.g., De Jong 2001: 182.
Longinus, On the Sublime 157
(megaloprepv ka met nargeav). At Iliad 18.3468 Homer describes
how water is boiled in preparation for washing Patroclus body:
o d loetrocon trpod stasan n pur khlwi,
n d r dwr cean, p d xla daon lntev.
gstrhn mn trpodov pr mjepe, qrmeto d dwr.
They set a tripod used for pouring over the blazing fire, poured water into it, and
threw wood underneath and lit it. The fire played around the belly of the tripod
and heated the water.

Here too the scholiasts on verse 346 have thought about what is distinctively
Homeric about this otherwise banal description:
Having to describe vulgar events (tapein prgmata), the poet has concealed
(kluye) it by the use of the epithets. It is a wonderful skill to be able to give
grand expression and a solemn description (megaloprepv xenegken ka semnv
paggelai) to small, unimportant things. (bT-scholium on Iliad 18.346a)

Epic decorum in sexual matters is of course a further aspect of the poets

skilful handling of the low and vulgar. In Iliad 9 Agamemnon says that he
will swear that Briseis is just as he received her:
p d mgan rkon momai,
m pote tv env pibmenai d mignai,
qmiv nqrpwn plei, ndrn d gunaikn.
(Homer, Iliad 9.1324)
And I will swear a mighty oath that I never entered her bed nor had intercourse
with her, as is normal for mortals, both men and women.

Here the bT-scholia express their admiration:

qmiv nqrpwn: With wonderful skill the poet has concealed a shameful word
(tn ascrn lxin kluye) by a law of nature, covering (piskizwn) the
vulgar (tapein) and human business of intercourse with the most honorific of
expressions. (bT-scholium to Iliad 9.134b)

The Aristophanic Aeschylus dictum that poets should conceal t ponhrn

(Frogs 1053) applies to the decorum of language as well as to the immoral
stories of myth.
Stylistically, the ordinariness and smallness of the plain or slender
(scnn) style are, for Demetrius, On Style (190), to be used to describe
small and ordinary things, for everything which is rather familiar is rather
simple (lit. small, mikrteron); as we have seen, Demetrius cites the
opening of Euphiletus narrative in Lysias 1 I have a small house on
158 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
two floors . . . (Lysias 1.9) as an illustration of this.87 Here we are once
again confronted with a manifestation of that central stylistic dichotomy
which descends from the Frogs, but Demetrius illustration, which takes
smallness literally, follows the same logic as Ls treatment of the distinction
between Homer and Aratus (the small piece of wood). For Demetrius,
this plain style is also the proper arena for the accumulation of precise
detail in which nothing is omitted, an accumulation which is productive
of enargeia (209) and clarity. What is most important for an orator about
the plain or slender (scnn) style, with its precision and clarity, is that
this style is persuasive, it is productive of t piqann (On Style 221), and
thus engages the audience in an intellectual process leading to rational
judgements about what is being said, whereas, as we have seen, our contact
with the grandly sublime is an experience of kstasiv and kplhxiv (On the
Sublime 1.4). This must not, however, be understood to suggest that sublime
images are not to be examined too closely, to be held up to the sunlight,
as L puts it (3.1, cf. Horace, Ars P 363); our response to the sublime may
be an emotional one, but the sublime itself, and our reactions to it, should
be the product of both art and nature (On the Sublime 2). Moreover, when
properly employed, akribeia may make a significant contribution to grand
poetry; the scholia, of course, constantly praise Homer for the accuracy of
his information. Moreover, such akribeia, an idea which combines detail
with (factual) accuracy, belongs, as L and the Hellenistic poets themselves
show us, to an important way in which the differences between Hellenistic
and earlier poetry were envisaged.88
The example of completeness and precision leading to enargeia which
Demetrius gives is the famous simile of Iliad 21.25762 describing Achilles
pursuit by the enraged river:
v d t nr cethgv p krnhv melandrou
m jta ka kpouv dati on gemonehi
cers mkellan cwn, mrhv x cmata bllwn
to mn te prorontov p yhjdev pasai
clontai, t d t ka kateibmenon kelarzei
crwi ni proale, jqnei d te ka tn gonta.
As when a man working on irrigation directs water from a dark spring through his
plants and fruit, by working with a mattock and throwing muck out of the channel;
as the stream flows forward, all the pebbles roll down and the swift-flowing water
gurgles as it runs down the slope and catches up with the gardener.
87 See above p. 18. Whether or not Euphiletus house was actually (relatively) small and what is the
real force of the diminutive may, of course, be debated, see Todd ad loc.
88 Cf. Hunter 2003c: 2256.
Longinus, On the Sublime 159
Very ordinary things indeed; the bT-scholia on this simile confirm that we
have here a switch from a forceful (drn) style to one which is slender
and florid (scnn ka nqhrn), and the Ge-scholia refer to the polished
style (glajurn plsma) of Homers picture. It would have been easy
enough for stylistic critics to pick up the pointed contrast in the Homeric
text between the great roaring of the river, which introduces the simile,
and the burbling flow (kateibmenon kelarzei) of the irrigation stream.
Whether this simile has influenced the common language of the literary
source and of how one writer channels the power of another cannot be
determined, as such imagery is too common to allow certainty.89 Never-
theless, looking back at this passage through the lens of the all-pervasive
Wassermetaphorik90 of later criticism and, particularly, of Hellenistic and
Roman poetry, it is (at least) tempting to see here one element in a principal
way of imaging stylistic difference and in the self-construction of the poetry
of Callimachus and his Greek and Roman imitators. As L (see 35.4) and
other critics (to say nothing of the poets themselves) show us, an impor-
tant ancient way of thinking about the stylistic difference between Homer
and later poetry was between the grand, such as the roaring of the river
in pursuit of Achilles or the mountain torrent to which Ajax is compared
at Iliad 11.4927,91 and the slender or small like the farmer irrigating
his crops. The farmers action in clearing hindrances out of the way of
the stream picks up the rivers action in trying to clear itself of the foul
corpses and other debris which choke its lovely streams (note v. 237
v. 259), but it is tempting to trace a line of descent from this Homeric
passage to the Callimachean insistence on a clean flow of pure water
erat quod tollere uelles, says Horace of Lucilius muddy flow (Sat. 1.4.11).
It is possible that this Homeric passage echoes in the opening exchanges of
Theocritus 1, which introduce a new sound of poetry,92 and certain that it
does in the locus amoenus described by Simichidas at the end of Idyll 7 (v.
137), which however one wishes to interpret its tone is clearly designed
as a showpiece of a new poetic style.

89 See Russell on Longinus, On the Sublime 13.3. At 13.2, however, L seems clearly to construct
Republic 6.485d89 as an imitation of the Homeric simile, thus reinforcing stylistically the point he
is making, namely Platos channelling of Homeric material.
90 See Asper 1997: 10920.
91 See Hunter 2003c: 221.
92 The scholiast on Theocritus 1.1d cites Iliad 21.261 to illustrate onomatopoeia; whether this indicates
that ancient criticism traced a wider affinity or even genetic relationship between the two passages
is hard to say. It is also at least worth noting that Homers description of how the irrigating
stream disturbs the pebbles made Eustathius think of Theocritus every stone sings (Idyll 7.26, cf.
Eustathius, Hom. 1236.35).
160 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
One further possible echo of this Homeric passage reveals its hold on the
ancient poetic imagination. At the end of Argonautica 3, Jasons reaping of
the sown men is compared to a farmer cutting down his crop prematurely
to prevent it being destroyed by war:
v tte ghgenwn keren stcun amati d lko
te krhnaav mrai plqonto oisi.
(Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3.13912)
So did Jason cut the crop of the earthborn. The furrows were filled with blood as
irrigation channels fill with streams from a well.
Jasons slaughter pollutes the Homeric irrigation channel (mrh, a
Homeric hapax) in a ghastly (epic) staining of the bucolic peace of the
Homeric simile.

polish without flaws

I have discussed elsewhere some of the implications of and intellectual
influences upon Ls famous discussion of the difference between sublime
writers who admit flaws and the flawless but essentially small.93 The
history of this distinction, however, takes us back to some of the texts
which have been central to this book.
Ls distinction is related to the lively Hellenistic and Roman debate94
over the relative contributions of tcnh/ ars and jsiv/ natura / ingenium to
the production of successful writing of any kind;95 for L both are necessary
for the sublime (On the Sublime 2). That this debate had been related to
perceived differences between classical and Hellenistic poetry before L is
suggested by Ovids bon mot about Callimachus, quamuis ingenio non ualet,
arte ualet (Amores 1.15.14). As McKeown (ad loc.) rightly notes, Ovid will
in part be picking up Callimachus own stress on the criterion of tcnh
in the Aitia-prologue (another instance of a poet directing his own critical
reception),96 but it is very probable that he is also reflecting a critical
judgement familiar to his audience. How early such judgements arose we
cannot say, and it is important to remember that it is far harder to trace
(before the classicising L) the sense that poetry after Alexander formed a
distinctive period than an equivalent view about oratory; perhaps until
at least the middle of the first century bc Hellenistic poetry was in fact

93 See Hunter 2003c: 2303, and forthcoming.

94 The origins of the debate are, of course, earlier than this, see Isocrates, Antidosis 18791.
95 See Brink on Horace, Ars Poetica 40818. 96 See above pp. 956.
Longinus, On the Sublime 161
just poetry.97 Moreover, just as the debate between ars and natura need
not necessarily have a chronological dimension, despite the general trend
to see cultures moving towards tcnh and away from nature,98 so too ars
and natura by no means exhaust the criteria of difference by which the
evolution of either oratory or poetry over time may be traced. If there is little
in Dionysius of Halicarnassus famous attack on post-Alexandrian oratory
(On the Ancient Orators, Proem) which could immediately be mapped on
to post-Alexandrian poetry, the same is not true of Ciceros analysis of the
oratory of Demetrius of Phaleron, whom he sees as marking an important
transition in the history of Attic oratory:99
In my opinion, the sap and blood of oratory was uncorrupted down to this age
[that of Lycurgus, Dinarchus, etc. in the second half of the fourth century], and
its brilliance was natural, not the result of cosmetics. When these orators were in
old age, they were succeeded by that young man from Phaleron, who was the most
erudite of them all, but who was trained not so much for battle as for the exercise
arena. He delighted the Athenians more than he inflamed them, for he stepped
forward into the sun and the dust, not from a soldiers tent, but from the shaded
bowers of Theophrastus, a man of utmost learning. He was the first to make
oratory bend and he rendered it soft (mollis) and gentle (tener); he preferred to
seem charming (suauis), as he was, rather than serious (grauis). His charm poured
over his hearers minds rather than breaking them; his elegance, however, did not,
as Eupolis wrote of Pericles, leave a sting in the minds of his hearers, along with
the pleasure it gave them. (Cicero, Brutus 368)
Here nature gives way to artifice and to learning (almost indeed to the
ivory tower), and oratory delights rather than moves; in style, oratory
becomes mollis, tenera and suauis, and the audience are charmed rather
than shattered. It is very difficult here not to be reminded of the language
which Roman Callimacheans apply to their poetry, partly in imitation of
Callimachus own critical vocabulary and partly perhaps as a borrowing
from the language of rhetorical history, such as we find in this passage of
the Brutus.
The distinctions with which L is operating are of course fluid, and we
must resist the temptation to impose firm schemata upon the history of

97 See Hunter 2001a. 98 See above pp. 445 on the Frogs.

99 Cf. Quintilian 10.1.80. Ciceros attitude to Demetrius is far from hostile (see Orator 912, 946), and
Demetrius is by no means uniformly held up in the tradition as the cause of the rot, see Heldmann
1982: 98122; Russell 1983: 1819; on the passage of the Brutus see Heldmann 1982: 112. Nevertheless,
the uses to which Ciceros language could be put and the cultural history which it might suggest
are what is important. At 2.4.412 Quintilian places the beginnings of declamation on imaginary
themes at roughly the time of Demetrius, and declamation may of course also be seen as a cause or
symptom of decline (most famously and amusingly in Petronius, Sat. 12, see above pp. 1334).
162 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
ancient criticism. Nevertheless, a passage of Quintilian, perhaps not far
removed in time from L, may shed some light on how these distinctions
were played out. In 10.1.86 Quintilian sets Virgil alongside Homer: Homer
holds first place because of his natura caelestis atque inmortalis, but Virgil
is not far behind:
I agree completely with what Domitius Afer said to me when I was a young
man. I asked him who he thought came closest to Homer, and he said, Virgil is
second, but closer to first than to third. Although indeed we must give way before
Homers divine and immortal genius, there is more care (cura) and accuracy
(diligentia) in Virgil, if only because he had to work harder, and though we
are defeated by Homers highspots, we perhaps make up for it by the uniform
excellence (aequalitas) of Virgil. (Quintilian 10.1.86)
Quintilian is not of course denying Virgils natural gifts, and the emphasis
upon his cura, diligentia and labor is presumably in part related to the
famous story of his working methods preserved in the Suetonian-Donatan
Life (chap. 22): in composing the Georgics he would dictate plurimos uersus
in the morning and then spend the rest of the day licking them into shape,
like a mother bear licks her cub, and thus reducing them to paucissimos
[uersus].100 Virgil is here the anti-type of the Horatian Lucilius who often
composed two hundred verses in an hour, standing on one foot, but did
not then take the next step of expending the necessary labor to get them
right (Sat. 1.4.913); Lucilius muddy flow marks him as not measuring up
to Callimachean standards.101 Ideas of poetic labor and pnov are partic-
ularly associated, more generally, in both the poetic and critical tradition,
with the allegedly scholastic poetry of the Hellenistic period;102 here Quin-
tilian has turned Virgil, who breaks all the rules, into a very exceptional
example of the later mode of ars rather than natura. Moreover, in praising
the (very high-level) uniformity (aequalitas) of Virgilian poetry in contrast
to the more uneven Homeric output, Quintilian again puts Virgil in a
Hellenistic category, though of course he is again an exceptional example
of that category. In 10.1.54 Quintilian had described Apollonius Argonau-
tica as non . . . contemnendum . . . opus aequali quadam mediocritate, and in
chapter 33 Ls statement that the higher excellences [like, e.g., those of
Homer] should always be voted first place, even if they do not maintain an
equal level throughout (e ka m n psi diomalzoien) (On the Sublime
33.4) leads into the famous comparisons of Homer with Apollonius and
100 On the Virgilian anecdote see Horsfall 1995: 1516, with earlier bibliography.
101 See above pp. 99100.
102 See Hunter 2003c. Horaces amusing version of the arsnatura contrast (Ars Poetica 289302) is
particularly relevant here.
Longinus, On the Sublime 163
Theocritus and of Archilochus with Eratosthenes. The move from Homer
to Virgil is thus both like and unlike both that from Homer to Hellenistic
poetry and that from Ennius arte carens (Ovid, Amores 1.15.19) to Virgil.103
For Quintilian, Ennius is an ancient and numinous grove (10.1.88) which,
presumably, affects us emotionally in ways which cannot be analysed.104
As often, the trail for poetic mistakes really begins, at least for us, with
the Frogs. At verse 1119 Euripides turns to examine (basanzein) Aeschylus
prologues, with a particular concern for their clarity of exposition. His first
exhibit is the opening verses of the Choephori which Aeschylus then cites:
Di. totwn ceiv ygein ti;
Eu. plen ddeka.
Di. ll od pnta tat g st ll tra.
Eu. cei d kaston ekosn g martav.
(Aristophanes, Frogs 112931)
dion. Can you find any fault in these verses?
eur. More than twelve.
dion. But there are only three verses in total!
eur. Yes each with twenty mistakes (hamartiai).
These martai (cf. 1147; blbov, 1151; kakn, 1171) are errors of unclarity
or ambiguity, whereas what L seems to have in mind in chapter 33 is rather
occasional stylistic misjudgements, as when, for example, the striving for
grand sublimity leads to tumidity (t odon, On the Sublime 3)105 or when
a metaphor is simply judged unsuccessful, as in the following (amusing)
Platonic example:
It does not need to be spelled out that the use of metaphorical language, like
all stylistic embellishments, can lead writers into excess. It is for such things in
particular that they tear Plato apart, on the grounds that his writing often seems
that of someone possessed by Dionysus, as he is carried away into untempered
(krtouv) and rough metaphors and allegorical bombast. It is not easy to
understand, he says, that a city needs to be mixed like a wine-bowl; in the latter
case, maddening wine seethes as it is poured in, but it is chastened by another
god, a sober one, and finding a noble partnership it makes a fine and moderate
drink (Plato, Laws 6.773c). In the view of Platos critics, to call water a god and
the act of mixing a chastisement is the mark of a poet who is really less than sober.
(Longinus, On the Sublime 32.7)
Even here the link between subject and style exercises a tenacious hold:
when Plato writes about wine, so the argument goes, his language is

103 For Ennius as the embodiment of ingenium see McKeowns note ad loc.
104 See Hinds 1998: 14, 6970. 105 See above pp. 1301.
164 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
unmixed like wine at its most dangerous106 and he himself becomes
possessed by the god. L goes on to say that it was for such faults as this
that Caecilius, in response to whom On the Sublime was written, claimed
that Lysias was a better writer than Plato; what Caecilius presumably found
most wonderful about Lysias in fact was the purity (kaqarthv) of his
language, that virtue which took precedence over all others, and which
referred not merely to his choice of words but also to an avoidance, for
the most part, of metaphorical language (see Dionysius of Halicarnas-
sus, Lysias 23). We probably catch something of the flavour of Caecilius
criticisms107 in a passage of Dionysius of Halicarnassus in which he cata-
logues the faults (martmata) to which Plato was liable when he wrote
in the grand manner:
When, as often happens, he launches unrestrainedly into unusual and elaborated
language ( perittologa ka t kalliepen), he badly lets himself down. This
style of his is less pleasant than his other mode, his use of language is less pure
(kkion llhnzousa), and the style flabbier; clarity is obscured and darkness all
but prevails, and the meaning is dragged out to great length when a few concise
words were called for. Vulgar periphrases and an empty display of verbiage flow
forth; scorning ordinary words used as they are normally used (tn kurwn ka n
ti koini crsei keimnwn), this style prefers the artificial and exotic and archaic.
It is particularly with regard to figurative language ( tropik jrsiv) that the
going gets stormy (ceimzetai),108 as it is rich in added adornments, inappropriate
in its use of metonymy, and harsh and without regard to analogy in the use of
metaphor. It frequently embraces allegories which have no concern for measure
or appropriateness, and luxuriates inappropriately and childishly in poetic figures,
which produce a very displeasing effect, and in particular in the Gorgianic figures.
(Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Demosthenes 5.46)
In discussing the examples from the Phaedrus which follow (Demosthenes 7)
Dionysius shows (unsurprisingly) no regard to speaker, situation or tone
in assessing Platos faults; for Dionysius, the Platonic corpus is all the
work of a great man109 and all potentially imitable hence the need for
stern warnings.
As for L, he has used but extended this notion of purity and fault to
cover a wider area of poetic technique (see 33.2 I am perfectly aware that

106 For such imagery see below p. 178.

107 Dionysius notes that such criticisms were made before him by Demetrius of Phaleron and many
of his predecessors.
108 The metaphor presumably imitates the alleged Platonic manner here.
109 Cf. Letter to Pompeius 2, where Dionysius has to defend his attack upon Plato; in doing so, he rather
misrepresents its severity, but also comes very close to Longinus language of risk and inevitable
(occasional) fall.
Longinus, On the Sublime 165
natures of real greatness are the least pure), though the use of transferred
language remains dominant in our minds. The debate on the relative merits
of Plato and Lysias, a debate behind which must stand Platos Phaedrus,
takes much the same shape for L as the debate he sees played out in
a comparison of the great classical and Hellenistic poets,110 although L
himself does not apparently share Caecilius view of Lysias as flawless (On
the Sublime 32.8, 35.1).111 Quintilians judgement of, and imagery about,
Lysias show how close the comparison of prose writers and poets could be:
Lysias belongs to an earlier era [than Aeschines and Hyperides]; he is subtle and
elegant and, if it were sufficient for an orator just to instruct his audience, you
could find no one more complete: there is no emptiness (inane) and nothing
artificial (arcessitum). He is closer to a pure spring than to a great river. (Quintilian
Rather similar things had been claimed for Hellenistic poetry and its
Roman imitators. Dionysius of Halicarnassus assessment of Lysias virtues
also shows much the same intellectual structure as is on show in Ls chapters
on the difference between flawless and great writing:
Let me summarise my account of Lysias virtues: purity of language, correct-
ness of dialect, the presentation of ideas through ordinary rather than figurative
expressions, clarity, brevity, concision and sharpness of thought, vivid presenta-
tion . . . But Lysias style is neither lofty nor grand nor indeed does it knock us out
(kataplhktik) or move us to wonder; it is not pungent or intense or terrifying,
it does not grab us and hold us fast, it is not full of spirit and inspiration; it is
persuasive in the presentation of character, but lacks strength in the presentation
of the emotions, just as it can please and persuade and charm us, but it cannot
force and compel us. It is a safe style rather than one that takes risks, and it is
better suited to the representation of the truth of nature than to the display of the
power of the orators art. (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Lysias 13)
A passage of Plutarch shows us how, in a different context, this same
intellectual structure, which L and Quintilian use to contrast styles, could
be used to attack those who looked to the style in which something was
said, rather than to its substance; this too, like counting stylistic virtues
rather than their importance, is to mistake surface for what really matters:
The person who, from the very beginning [of a lecture], does not pay close
attention to its substance but demands that the style be Attic and slender (scnv)
is like the person who is unwilling to drink an antidote for a poison except from

110 See Hunter 2003c.

111 The text of 35.1 is, however, very uncertain, and it comes in very awkwardly where it is currently
166 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
a cup made of fine Attic clay or to put on a cloak in winter, unless the wool come
from Attic sheep; he sits useless and without profit, dressed as it were in a thin
and simple shirt of Lysianic language. This kind of obsessiveness has produced in
the schools much absence of intelligence and good sense and a lot of hair-splitting
subtlety and useless chatter (stwmula). The young men do not have regard to
a philosophers life or his actions or his public deeds, but award points for verbal
style and phrasing and excellence of delivery; as for what is actually being said,
whether it is useful or pointless, essential or vain and unnecessary, they neither
understand nor wish to examine. (Plutarch, On listening to lectures 42de)
The Aristophanic Euripides had indeed very much to answer for.112
L apparently distinguishes between unpardonable (sggnwston)
errors,113 such as inappropriate tumidity in tragedy which by its nature
encourages swollen language and thoughts (3.1), and the slips and mis-
judgements which are inevitable in great, risk-taking writing (33.2, cf.
Horace, Ars P 34760).114 As the introduction to the discussion of tumid-
ity and other faults to which a striving for sublimity can lead is lost, it is
hard to be certain, but the distinction, though hardly an unnatural one,
is, as we have seen, at best slippery.115 It is a great pity that L did not
cite some of the apparently many examples where the flame of Pindar
or Sophocles is without reason extinguished and they fall most horribly
flat (33.5) or, except in the context of his general discussion of the Odyssey,
any of Homers careless oversights to which he refers (33.4). Nevertheless,
we are able to fill in some of the probable background to Ls discussion.
In chapter 25 of the Poetics Aristotle tends to run together problmata,
problems, and martai, faults, but this blending is instructive.116
Once a question is raised about something which seems difficult in what
a poet has written or presented, we may find a solution by applying one
of the many recipes which Aristotle and others offer;117 by implication,
then, such a problem should no longer be classed as a mistake, for it is
explicable within the critical rules applicable to the poetic art, and poetry
does not have the same standard of correctness (rqthv) as other arts
(1460b13). Unsurprisingly, however, in then distinguishing between faults
which are intrinsic to the art of poetry and those which are incidental,
Aristotles vocabulary does not neatly preserve such a distinction:
112 It is tempting to trace the rich later tradition of comparing verbal style to the clothes in which
thought was dressed (Bion of Borysthenes was, for example, said to have dressed philosophy in
gaudy clothes (T 1113 Kindstrand)) and/or of describing style in the language of clothing back to
Aeschylus argument at Frogs 105861.
113 For this language cf. Horace, Ars P 347, sunt delicta tamen, quibus ignouisse uelimus.
114 So, e.g., Brink 1971: 3601. 115 See above p. 131.
116 See above p. 21. For a helpful appreciation of this chapter cf. Halliwell 1987: 17680.
117 On this form of problem-solving criticism see above pp. 214.
Longinus, On the Sublime 167
First to faults within the art itself. If a poem contains impossibilities, a fault has
been committed; it is however in place (rqv cei) if the poetry reaches its goal
(which has been stated), if in this way that part or some other part of the poem
is made more striking (kplhktikteron). An example is the pursuit of Hector.
If, however, the end could be reached better or no less well within the bounds of
the art of these matters, the mistake is not in place; if possible, there should be no
faults whatsoever. (Aristotle, Poetics 1460b228)
Impossibilities are faults, but they may be in place/correct (rqv cei).118
Aristotles language is deliberately paradoxical, as he is making a point about
the particularity of, and the particular rules governing, poetry. Poetry will,
for example, properly admit some impossibilities or irrationalities, such
as the pursuit of Hector in Iliad 22, if these serve the proper poetic goal
of making the poem more dramatic (kplhktikteron, 1460b26).119 Of
course, it would be better, if it were possible, for a poem to have its full
effect without containing any (such) faults (1460b27); here then is one of
the challenges which L was to throw back in the face of faultless poetry.
Aristotles language helps to reveal part of the history of Ls distinction
between sublime poetry, the poetry of kplhxiv, which will naturally fall
into faults from time to time, and flawless poetry of less ambition.
If a poet makes a mistake, everything will then depend upon what kind
of mistake it is. A simple error of zoological detail may be thought venial
(Aristotle, Poetics 1460b31), though it is precisely that kind of error over
which scholiasts debate with such intensity, and of which they sought to
acquit Homer. At Iliad 17.6735 Menelaos is compared to an eagle:
v ra jwnsav pbh xanqv Menlaov,
pntose paptanwn v t aetv, n t jasin
xtaton drkesqai pouranwn petehnn ktl.
With these words fair-haired Menelaos went off, staring all around him like an
eagle, which men say has the sharpest sight of any winged creature in the sky . . .
Here the bT-scholia comment: He added men say to lend credibility
(xiopstwv), as though he had examined the whole matter carefully
(xhtakv kribv) before including it in his poetry. Hellenistic poets
wrote in fact in the knowledge that their poetry would indeed be subject
to such scrutiny and, as such, both a striving for flawlessness and the
creation of problmata to which solutions were available to skilled
readers could be built in to how they went about their business. They had
written sources of botanical, zoological and anthropological lore to which
118 There are difficulties with the text here, but the general sense is clear.
119 See Hunter 2005: 1889.
168 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
they could, and did, turn; for them it was indeed possible to examine
the whole matter carefully before including it.120 It is likely enough that,
for example, the Erigone of Eratosthenes (cf. On the Sublime 33.5) was
indeed flawless (mmhton) in the matter of mythological, geographical
and zoological detail. If we are reduced to guesses about the Erigone, a
poem such as the archly learned composition which Simichidas recites in
Theocritus, Idyll 7 shows us that, here as so often elsewhere, the critical
discourse of Hellenistic scholarship both looks back to the Frogs and to
Plato and Aristotle and reflects a complex relationship of give-and-take
with the forms and language of Hellenistic poetry itself.121
On the Sublime is the product of several centuries of reflection about
how literature works and how it affects us. As has long been recognised,
Ls essay itself, no less than the Frogs or, say, Callimachus Reply to the
Telchines, dramatises and exemplifies the issues which it discusses it is
itself a web of sublime moments in a manner which reminds us again
that the division between literature and criticism was not always simple
or straightforward in antiquity. It is for this reason, if for no other, that
the modern tendency to treat ancient literary criticism as a discrete area
of ancient writing, to be studied in isolation from the literature which the
ancient critics discussed, has done a disservice to our understanding of the
way in which the ancients sought to explain and use creative art.

120 Cf. Hunter on Apollonius, Argon. 3.845; the instances of jas in Homer are collected and cate-
gorised by De Jong 1987: 2378.
121 See Hunter 2003c: 2269.
chapter 6

Reading for life: Plutarch, How the young

man should study poetry

poetry and education

What is poetry for? is the insistent question which the Frogs bequeathed to
the Greek critical tradition. Plutarchs treatise How the young man should
study poetry offers a clear answer: for the seriously minded young man1
and his father, poetry is an introduction to philosophy, particularly ethical
philosophy. There are, of course, other ways to read poetry the lovers
of stories (jilmuqoi) may prefer to pay attention to the stories which
poetry offers or the scholars (jillogoi) to the beauty and arrangement
of the words (30de) but Plutarchs concern is, and ours should be, no
less than paideia. The reading of poetry is a stage on a journey, a sea voyage
in fact (15d, 37b), and the goal of the journey is an adult engagement with
philosophy; as such it is to be distinguished from the philology of the
grammarians, concerned with glosses and etymologies, a study which has
its own pleasures (22cd, cf. 31ef ), but offers no practical benefits in real
At the conclusion of the work Plutarch expresses this process of initiation
into the Mysteries of philosophy through a rewriting of Platos famous
image of mortals as prisoners in a cave (Republic 7.514a18b), from which
the philosopher alone may escape into the sunlit world of intelligible truths
above;2 for Plutarch, as for Plato (see Rep. 7.514a2, 518bc), what is at stake

1 Plutarchs young men are those who are beyond elementary schooling; in modern terms we might
think of them as young adolescents. It is often remarked that On listening to lectures may be seen
as something of a sequel to How the young man . . . , whatever the actual relationship between
them; the opening of the former and the closing of the latter share language and thought very closely
(36d37b 37ef ), as if to form an authorial link between the two essays. There are a helpful few
pages devoted to How the young man . . . by Russell in Kennedy 1989: 3025, and see also Van Der
Stockt 1992: 3949, 8995, 1256.
2 The language of 36e (kplhxiv ka tarac ka qmbov) suggests the Mysteries, see Plutarch fr. 178
Sandbach (jrkh ka trmov ka drv ka qmbov); Lada-Richards 1999: 86 n. 162, 2367. Both
those who do not know philosophy and those who are uninitiated fear death.

170 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
here is indeed paideia. Poetry can serve to help our eyes prepare for the full
dazzle of philosophy:
[Philosophical readings of poetry] open and stimulate the young mans mind to
what philosophy has to say. He comes to it, not entirely ignorant of it nor utterly
unexposed, nor full of the random stuff he has heard from his mother and his
nurse, and indeed from his father and his tutor, who all pronounce the rich blessed
and holy, who shudder at death and pain, and who consider virtue to be nothing
to admire and worthless unless it is accompanied by money and reputation. When
they hear the ideas of the philosophers which are opposed to such views, at first
they are gripped by astonishment and confusion and amazement, and do not allow
or endure these ideas, unless, as though they were going to see the sun after having
been in thick darkness, they have become accustomed, by means of a borrowed
light in which the brilliance of the truth is softened by being mixed with stories,
to gazing on such things without pain rather than fleeing from them. (Plutarch,
How the young man should study poetry 36de)

Poetry performs this function because views are expressed in poetry which
can be seen to anticipate or be concordant with philosophical views (36d
37a),3 but it offers those views tempered by the pleasant effects of mqov.
Moreover, just as the cave passage in the Republic itself depicts the ascent
of education, so its reuse allows Plutarch to fashion his treatise mimetically
as an ascent from very preliminary education to a stage where the young
man is ready to make the crossing to philosophy. The very frame of the
essay dramatises the ascent at which Plutarch aims. When the practical
lessons in interpretation begin in chapter 4 (pay attention to how poets
themselves tell you to interpret),4 we begin at the beginning, with a
Menandrean prologue (19a = Men. fr. 163 K-A), which itself echoes the
real beginning of the whole classical heritage and of classical education,
namely the opening verse of the Iliad; Menander, of course, is one of the
superstars of paideia (as most obviously in Plutarchs own Comparison of
Aristophanes and Menander),5 but immediately we move again (and this
time explicitly) to the poet himself, Homer, who does this sort of thing
best, and to the most discussed and taught episode of the Iliad, one familiar
to every schoolboy, namely the opening scenes between Agamemnon and

3 Plutarch calls this process t sunptein ka sunoikeion tov dgmasi joining and accommodating
[poetry] to philosophical doctrines (36d).
4 On the structure of the treatise see Schenkeveld 1982. The division between chapters 3 and 4 is not,
in fact, clear-cut, but the present point is, I think, sufficiently well established.
5 See above pp. 7889.
6 For the popularity in education of Iliad 1 see Morgan 1998: 105, 111; Cribiore 2001: 1945.
Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 171
Plutarchs mode of instruction at this point comes as close as possible to
the simplest form of scholastic (and schoolmasterly) glossing:
Homer does this kind of thing best, for he reproves the base and commends the
good in what is said before the words are uttered. Examples of the latter are:
atka meilcion ka kerdalon jto mqon
[At once he gave gentle and valuable advice (Odyssey 6.148)]
tn d ganov pessin rhtsaske parastv
[He stood beside him and restrained him with gentle words (Iliad 2.189)]
In reproving in advance he virtually acts as witness and announces that we are not
to adopt or pay attention to what is said, because it is inappropriate and base. For
example, when he is going to narrate how Agamemnon treated the priest harshly
(phnv), he says in advance:
ll ok Atredhi Agammnoni ndane qumi,
ll kakv jei,
[But this did not please Agamemnon son of Atreus in his heart, and he sent
him away roughly (kakos) (Iliad 1.245)]
that is (toutstin), savagely and without regard and contrary to what was appro-
priate. (Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 19bc)7
It is a long way from here to an understanding of Platos Form of the Good,
to which the close of the essay alludes. Anyone who pays attention (19e)
can grasp this help which the poet offers, but even here as Plutarchs
activity of glossing shows the young man will need guidance,8 and
through his familiar practice of steering our reactions to speeches Homer
himself becomes the model of the teacher, a Plutarch even, standing beside
the young man to offer profitable advice, as in the positive Homeric verses
just cited.9
The kind of paideia which Plutarch has in mind is not, of course, for
everyone. Plutarch is aiming to reproduce his own kind, an elite class
whose cultural power depends on shared values;10 no less than Dio in

7 The D-scholia, in which the toutstin style is common, gloss kakv as meq brewv. phnv in
Plutarchs introduction to the quotation picks up one of the scholiastic glosses (see bT-scholia) for
kratern in the second half of Iliad 1.25, which Plutarch does not in fact quote.
8 See below pp. 1767.
9 See the scholia on Odyssey 6.148, Homer gives the listener a way of judging (kann) the words
which will be spoken.
10 See Whitmarsh 2001: 4954 on this aspect of the treatise.
172 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
Oration 52 and Longinus in On the Sublime, Plutarch is here marking out
his cultural territory. The guidance which Plutarch offers to young men
and their teachers may be a rather haphazard collection of rules,11 but the
authority which informs those rules is very plainly the ethics and ideology
of the elite, educated class; Plutarchs treatise is in fact a very good example
of how the purpose of much ancient education was the reproduction of
that class. The very reading practices which Plutarch advocates mark the
boundary between his kind of reading and a mindless reading for pleasure;
that those practices and rules are in fact extremely familiar almost all,
like also almost all of Plutarchs examples, can be paralleled from (and
may indeed have been drawn from) the critical traditions into which the
Homeric scholia are perhaps our best introduction12 speaks volumes for
the nature of the treatise as a public document, rather than for Plutarchs
impoverishment as a critic. When Plutarch insists that it will be necessary
to question and resist the misleading gnomic sayings of tragic characters,
he is asking us to be actively engaged in the reading process in a manner
which prepares us for the cut and thrust of philosophic debate, in which
what is said is subjected to close analysis, but he is also asking us to reject
all that is characteristic of the low (jalon) and the common/ignoble
People accept major issues on trust without examining them (basanstwv),
such as the following examples:
doulo gr ndra, kn qrassplagcnv tiv i,
tan suneidi mhtrv patrv kak
[Even a bold-hearted man is enslaved by knowledge of disasters which befell
his mother or his father (Euripides, Hippolytus 4245)]
smikrn jronen cr tn kakv pepragta
[The man of misfortune must pitch his thoughts low (Euripides fr. 957 K)]
These things, however, affect our characters and disturb (diatarttei) our lives,
by making our judgements base and our opinions ignoble, unless we accustom
ourselves to respond to each of them: Why must the man of misfortune pitch his
thoughts low and not rather rise up against his fortune and make himself lofty
and grand? Why, if I am good and intelligent though my father was base and
foolish, should I not be proud of my own virtue but rather cast down and humble
because of my fathers ignorance? The person who comes back like this and resists

11 Schenkeveld 1982: 70.

12 The essay lacks a full commentary, but much relevant material is gathered in Schlemm 1893.
Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 173
(nteredwn) and does not abandon himself to everything which is said, like a
ship tossed by every breath of wind, but regards the saying a fool gets excited at
every word (Heraclitus fr. 87 D-K) as correct (rqv cein), will reject much of
what is said neither truly nor usefully. This practice, then, will render studying
poetry harmless (blab). (Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry
To read like Plutarch is itself to celebrate paideia. What is the alternative?
One answer is an unquestioning adoration of the classics which amounts
to worship:
The person who is amazed at everything and who adapts himself to everything
and whose judgement is enslaved by the names of heroes because of what he
believes will, without meaning to, open himself to much that is base, like those
who imitate Platos stoop and Aristotles lisp. We must not, as though we were
cowards or feeling dread within a holy shrine, shudder at and fall down in awe
before everything, but rather become accustomed with confidence to say that is
wrong (ok rqv) and that is not appropriate (o proshkntwv), no less than
that is right (rqv) and that is as it should be (prepntwv). (Plutarch, How
the young man should study poetry 26b)
At rather elementary levels of education Homer was, no doubt, portrayed
as a god,13 and cults of Homer were a familiar phenomenon of the Greek
world,14 but to carry such an attitude over into the real business of ethical
self-improvement is not worthy of a truly free man, but rather of one
whose judgement (krsiv) is enslaved and who has thus in fact abandoned
judgement.15 The young man must become a moral scholiast: when a
character acts rightly, the young man must learn to mark the passage
with an rqv and a prepntwv, whereas when something is wrong,
the correct observations are ok rqv and o proshkntwv (26b). The
incorrect attitude is to imagine that everything which appears in a text like
Homer is to be approved, simply because of the stature of the text in which
it is found. Plutarch often uses qaumzein of an audiences reaction to
literature, but here we are to see an undiscriminating attitude which is the
exact opposite of the cool devotion to judgement which is the mark of the
philosopher, whose watchword will be Horaces nil admirari (Epist. 1.6.1).
Elsewhere Plutarch cites the saying of Pythagoras to the effect that what

13 Cf. Homer, a god not a man scratched in a writing exercise of the third century ad (Michigan
Papyri VIII, no. 1100).
14 See Brink 1972, Clay 2004.
15 Dio Chrysostom too (18.1213) notes this danger when reading the greatest writers of the past,
though he appears to accept it as a fact about which we can do nothing; for related ideas in Latin
see Horace, Epist. 2.1.54, Quintilian 10.1.88 (on Ennius).
174 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
he had gained from philosophy was to be amazed at nothing (t mhdn
qaumzein, How the young man . . . 44b). The young mans exercise of
critical judgement is (again) a preparation for philosophy.
David Konstan has argued interestingly that, in urging us in these direc-
tions, Plutarchs treatise offers us an ancient example of the modern notion
of the resisting reader, in which accountability for the meaning or mes-
sage of the text is . . . shifted from the poet to the audience.16 Reading is
certainly an active, at times argumentative, process of seeking the useful
amidst the pleasurable, but two obvious reservations are in order. First, it
is clear that Plutarch believes that, in a majority of cases, poets have made
the proper meaning of the text clear; there is such a thing as authorial
meaning and authorial intention, and the purpose of much education is
to find it, by paying attention to such things as who speaks?, how does
the poet show his opinion?, and so forth; the treatise makes plain the
rules by which such resistance as there is (see 28d above) is to be practised.
Secondly, the role of the teacher and guide is crucial to Plutarch; although
the discussion of poetry will indeed sharpen the young mans desire and
aptitude to question, there is no suggestion that he is free to interpret out-
side the strict parameters with which he will be supplied by his teachers.17
With the correct paidagwga he will no more wander from the straight
and narrow in his reading than he will talk to strangers on the street (see
One aspect of the education that Plutarch holds out for young men that
might seem to us underplayed by the stress on preparation for philosophy is
preparation for public life. It is true that an engagement with philosophy did
not mean a retreat to the ivory tower, and ethical concerns were positively
advantageous, rather than the reverse, in public life. Platos image of the
cave (above pp. 16970) cuts both ways in this matter. On the one hand, it
explains why the philosopher will have nothing to do with the honours and
rewards which are sought after in this world and why he looks ridiculous
when he gets caught up in some earthly procedure (such as a trial); on the
other hand, Plato insists that, in his ideal state, those who have seen the
truth should return to the cave to benefit the community as a whole (Rep.
7.519c521b), so that the community may be well and peacefully governed
without internal strife. Against such political engagement, however, we
may set the very final quotation of the work, very probably from Epicurus:

16 Konstan 2004: 8. I am indebted more generally to Konstans stimulating essay.

17 As Konstan indeed acknowledges, see 2004: 8.
Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 175
Happiness and blessedness do not consist in vast wealth or grand business affairs or
offices or authority, but on freedom from distress (lupa), calmness of emotion
and a disposition of the soul which sets its limits in accordance with nature.
(Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 37a = Epicurus fr. 548
So too, three of the final poetic quotations (36f37a) which are matched
with philosophical doctrines are precisely to do with the rejection of any
pursuit of excessive wealth or power. If it is tempting to interpret [this
aspect of the treatise] as the quietism of a Greek elite under Roman
domination,18 we must also recognise that the kind of knowledge and
character with which Plutarchs ideal pupils will be equipped in fact equip
them ideally to benefit their own society and kind; an engagement with
poetry is not an activity carried out in isolation from the real facts of the
world around us (see 26f on the characters of literary figures).
If Plato provides the dazzling climax of education, he also here provides
its very raison detre. As has long been recognised,19 much of Plutarchs
essay is written in dialogue (never explicitly acknowledged) with Books 2
and 3 of the Republic, in which Plato outlines the reason why the poets,
most notably of course Homer, can have no place in the education of the
guardians; Plutarchs essay should be seen as one of many ancient attempts
to resolve the ancient dispute between philosophy and poetry which Plato
bequeathed to the subsequent tradition.20 Whole stretches of Plutarchs
essay follow the order of, and take over the poetic examples from, Platos
discussion. Platos principal argument was that the poets contain wrong and
malicious representations of crucial matters, such as the gods and death,
and too much was at stake to give them a place in the state. Between Plato
and Plutarch fall many intermediaries, but Plutarch reaches back to the
master, not polemically, but because it is Plato who saw more clearly than
anyone the dangers of literature in the hands of the young; the whole critical
tradition which the work celebrates takes its starting point precisely from
Plato. Plato, however, was legislating for an ideal state, whereas Plutarch is
dealing with the real world and a real system of education in which it is
neither possible nor profitable (15a) to prevent young men from reading
poetry. Plutarch does not deny the dangers, but he has a talisman by which
such dangers may be guarded against, and that talisman is kubrnhsiv
steering, guiding (37b), the proper direction that an older and wiser man

18 Morgan 1998: 148. 19 See, e.g., Weinstock 1927: 1357.

20 Republic 10.607b67. Other (very different) examples include Orations 4 and 26 of Maximus of
176 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
may impart to a younger. Reading is not just a matter of picking up the
text and getting on with it.
The young man, both nov and nav, must in fact be given the chance
to listen to the Sirens, but only under certain conditions:
Shall we then stop up the ears of young men with hard and unmelting wax, like
the ears of the men from Ithaca, and force them to launch an Epicurean yacht and
flee from poetry and steer well clear of it, or rather shall we put them up against a
correct method of reasoning and bind them there, steering and watching over their
judgement so that pleasure does not blow them off course towards the harmful?
(Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 15d)
As Odysseus was bound fast to the upright mast of his ship so that he
could hear the song of the Sirens, so education is the binding of a young
man fast to an upright standard of reasoning when he reads or listens to
poetry; thus is the ability of the young man to make the right decisions,
his krsiv, kept on a straight path away from the harmful detours which
the pursuit of pleasure can bring. The principal example of poetry which
it is worth listening to is, of course, Homer himself, and Eustathius (Hom.
1708.621709.8) will not have been alone in seeing the Homeric passage as
a self-advertisement which Homer has included in his poem.21 Although
most of the evidence is later than Plutarch, it is clear that he here exploits a
tradition of allegorical interpretation of the Homeric Sirens episode;22 in
such accounts the Sirens are regularly taken to represent dangerous pleasures
of various kinds, literary as well as erotic, to which only a man of Odysseus
fortitude and intelligence may give ear without catastrophic results. Much
earlier material has fed into the extensive discussion of the episode in
Eustathius commentary (Hom. 1707.40ff.): the Sirens represent (inter alia)
the seductive pleasures of poetry, which Odysseus the philosopher can
safely hear, though his ignorant companions cannot. The philosopher
may hear the music because he is protected by the constraints (desmv)
of philosophy (1707.61), his uprightness marked by the mast to which
he is bound; anyone who approaches the Sirens in ignorance is heading
for disaster. In Plutarch, on the other hand, the young man will not be
approaching the dangers of poetry alone but, for as long as he needs it,
until his own correct judgement is properly and fully formed, he will have
a knowledgeable guide who will steer his course safely. He will need such
a steersman until he himself has internalised, and is able to act upon, his

21 Eustathius also begins his commentary on the Iliad with a similar analogy between Homers Sirens
and Homers poetry (Hom. 1.19).
22 See Buffiere 1956: 3806; Kaiser 1964: 11336; Wedner 1994.
Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 177
knowledge of poetrys deceit (16af ); accepting the deceit of poetry is, in
fact, one aspect of a mature reaction to it, in a tradition descending at least
from Gorgias (15d) and put in its most influential form by Aristotle, but it
is precisely something which can only be entrusted to mature judgement.
Without that, there is a danger that the young man will be swept away
(ocetai jermenov, 16d).23
Epicurus is reported to have told his pupil Pythocles launch your boat
and flee from all paideia (paidean psan . . . jege tktion rmenov,
fr. 162 Usener), for the Epicureans saw no value in traditional Greek edu-
cation, which was of course centred around Homer.24 Having begun by
discarding the Epicurean option, Plutarch concludes his treatise by twist-
ing the knife: young men who have become accustomed to the ideas of
poetry and how they may be reconciled with philosophical ideas are less
disturbed and upset (tarttontai ka duskolanousi, with a glance at
Epicurean ataraxia)25 when they graduate to studying with philosophers
and thus hear (Epicurean) doctrines such as death is nothing to us (37a);
poetry is in fact the proper basis for philosophers of all schools. Plutarchs
use of the image of the Sirens may seem to go against his rejection in
19ef of what were once called under-meanings (ponoai) and are now
called allegories (llhgorai) by which some people force and twist the
story . . .; there, however, Plutarch was taking aim at the sort of cosmic
allegorical explanations of Homer familiar from, for example, Heraclitus,
whereas there was no objection to the use of images (Platos own cave and
ship-of-state images from the Republic were among the most famous and
influential such eknev), and Plutarchs own use of the image of Odysseus
and the Sirens is certainly not presented as an interpretation of Homer.
Just as for young men the full blaze of philosophical truth must be mixed
with the softening effects of poetic mqov (36e), so the powerful effects of
poetry must be mixed with the first steps into philosophy, as wine is mixed
with water:
od gr od Drantov uv, kraterv Lukorgov
[Not even, not even Lycurgus, the powerful son of Dryas (Iliad 6.130)]
had sound judgement, because when many became drunk and behaved outra-
geously he went around cutting down vines, instead of bringing the water sources
closer in, and thus restraining the raging god by chastising it with another sober
god, as Plato says (Laws 6.773d).26 For mixing water with wine takes away the

23 It seems probable that the nautical metaphor is again picked up here, see LSJ s.v. jrw B 1.
24 See, e.g., Asmis 1995: 1819. 25 Cf., however, tarac in 36d immediately above.
26 See above pp. 1634.
178 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
harmful aspect of wine, without also removing the beneficial aspect. Therefore,
let us not cut down or destroy the poetic vine of the Muses, but where unmixed
pleasure causes the mythical and theatrical part of poetry to grow unrestrained and
out of control, its eye wilfully and boldly upon reputation, let us take it in hand
and prune it and keep it in check. But where its grace has some share of the culture
of the Muse and the sweet attractiveness of its language is neither fruitless nor
empty, there let us introduce and blend in philosophy. Just as mandragora, when it
grows beside vines and lends its influence to the wine, makes the effect gentler for
the drinkers, so poetry, by taking its themes from philosophy and mingling them
with the mythical, makes the task of learning light and agreeable for the young.
(Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 15ef )

Images from the mixing of wine are truly ubiquitous and all-purpose
in Greek literature, but there is here a particular point. From Homer
onwards the proper use of wine had been a touchstone of approved elite
behaviour; Plutarch himself wrote nine books of Sympotic Questions which
precisely display members of that cultured elite discussing problems while
enjoying their wine in moderation, and the proper attitude to wine was in
fact a matter for discussion in philosophical gatherings (see Mor. 613c).27
Plutarchs choice of image is therefore another way of naturalising the
reading of poetry within elite culture; elsewhere he uses very similar imagery
(including the figure of Lycurgus) to describe (in very Platonic mood) how
reason must temper emotion, as water tempers wine (Mor. 451cd).
Here too Plato is in play. Plutarch adduces what was clearly a much-
discussed, and sometimes criticised, image from the Laws (6.773d),28 in
which Plato compares the need to produce children from contrasting par-
ents to the need to temper wine with water; Plutarch turns the image from
the conception of children to their education. The image of wine mixing is
then itself blended, in part through the shared element of madness (main-
menon lomane), with the necessity of pruning the vine of poetry when
it grows out of control (15f ); here Plutarch also evokes the familiar idea
that young men are themselves young plants (rnh) which need careful
tending and training: briv, no less than aqdeia, is a danger not just
with vines, but it can be the particular fault of the young.29
27 For another instance from the Second Sophistic of properly restrained sympotic behaviour as a
mark of education and seriousness see Dio Chrys. 27.24.
28 See Longinus, On the Sublime 32.7 (above pp. 1634), Plutarch, Mor. 791bc. Both Longinus and
Plutarch (15f ) play with the metaphorical sense of kratov, the former in the explicit context of
29 Commentators note that Plutarch seems to echo Theophrastus, De causis plantarum 3.1.5: the lupine
does not bear any fruit when it is lomann ka xubrzwn; the context of the allusion is therefore
important. For the hybris of the vine see also ibid. 3.15.4; LSJ s.v. brzein I 3.
Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 179
If a quotation from Plato points the proper way ahead, it is of course
Plato who posed the problem in the first place, through his eradication
of poetry from ideal education. Plutarch compares such a totalising policy
to the behaviour of Lycurgus who went around cutting down vines when
many people became drunk and violent. From his first appearance at Iliad
6.13040 in the passage which Plutarch cites, Lycurgus was one of the
qeomcoi, like Pentheus, whose opposition to Dionysus did them no good
whatsoever; total censorship injures only yourself and, like prohibition, is
ineffective, because young men will read poetry (15a), just as people will
drink alcohol. The Iliadic passage, in which Lycurgus scatters the gods
nurses and the god himself takes refuge in the sea with Thetis, was itself
allegorised/rationalised as an image of the harvesting of the grapes and the
making of wine;30 Plutarch may thus here be influenced by interpretations
which saw Dionysus and Thetis together as precisely wine mixed with
water, but he seems also close to another interpretation of the Homeric
Lycurgus story which is preserved only in Eustathius (Hom. 629.226). In
this version, when wine was first introduced, Lycurgus tore up the vines and
punished the drunken out of his concern for those in his charge who were
suffering as a result of the pure (krtou) indulgence, but stopped this
behaviour when the mixing of wine with water was devised. Plato therefore,
like Lycurgus, acted out of concern for the health of the community, but
now there is a less radical way to proceed. Plutarch thus uses Plato to show
the way out of a difficulty in Plato himself, a paedagogical method which he
later explicitly describes (20e21d), and also shows how the proper guided
interpretation of poetry does indeed produce beneficial results.

poetic lies
If the young man has his wits and/or his guide about him and constantly
remembers that t yedov is an inevitable part of poetry, he will check
himself when he is afraid of Poseidon and fearful that [the god] will break
open the earth and lay Hades bare (16e). The reference is to a famous
passage from the Battle of the Gods:
deinn d brnthse patr ndrn te qen te
yqen atr nerqe Poseidwn tnaxen
gaan peireshn rwn t apein krhna,
pntev d sseonto pdev polupdakov Idhv

30 See Cornutus, Theol. Graec. 30 (62.1622 Lang); Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 35; Athenaeus 1.26b;
Pontani 2005: 2056.
180 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
ka koruja Trwn te pliv ka nev Acain
ddeisen d pnerqen nax nrwn Aidwnev,
desav d k qrnou lto ka ace, m o perqen
gaan narrxeie Poseidwn noscqwn,
oka d qnhtosi ka qantoisi janeh
smerdal erenta, t te stugousi qeo per.
(Homer, Iliad 20.5665)
The father of gods and men thundered terribly from on high. Down below,
Poseidon shook the boundless earth and the lofty ridges of the mountains; all the
foothills and the peaks of Ida of many springs, the city of the Trojans and the
ships of the Achaeans shook. Beneath the earth the lord of the dead, Aidoneus,
was afraid, and in fear he leapt from his throne with a shout, lest the earth-shaker
Poseidon break open the earth above his head and the dwellings of the dead, grim
and dank, hated even by the gods, become visible to mortals and immortals alike.
For Plutarch the danger lies not in Hades fear, but in that of the young
reader or listener to Homer who has been swept away (16d) into imagining
the truth of what he hears, and that would truly be a disturbing and weird
jantasa, of a kind such as eating the head of an octopus is said to
produce (15b). Hades here therefore acts as a kind of reader in the text.
The danger comes from the emotionally powerful enargeia of poetry, and
Plutarch chooses his words carefully when he urges us always to remember
and keep in mind nargv the wizardry of the poetic art in its handling of
lies (16d); one enargeia will lessen the danger of another. Longinus (On the
Sublime 9.6) also cites verses 615, apparently conjoined to a variant of Iliad
21.388,31 as an example of the cosmic sublimity of Homers overarching
visions (perju . . . jantsmata); he too appeals to the envisionment
of Homers narrative: You see, my friend, how the earth is broken . . . ,
and it is because we, and Plutarchs young reader, do see it that we are
scared. The bT-scholia on verse 61 (and cf. Eustathius, Hom. 1196.29)
interestingly note that, if Hades is scared, we can imagine the effect on
ordinary men; Plutarchs point develops from this insight. A version of the
phenomenon is of course familiar to us from watching scary movies, and
there is perhaps an analogy for the practice of modern film classification
by age of viewer in the difference between Plutarch and Longinus here.
For the former, the young audience cannot properly distinguish truth
from fiction and so are tempted by the irrational power of poetry into a
31 Eustathius also links these two passages, see Hom. 1195.15; he too (1195.17) notes the enargeia of the
description. It is not easy to decide whether Longinus, perhaps from faulty memory, is quoting
the passage as a whole or whether he is forcing together fragments torn from different parts of the
poem in an imitation of the earth being torn open (so Porter 2001: 275 n. 17, and see also Porter
1992: 98101). See further above pp. 1412.
Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 181
dislocating belief32 in what they hear or read, against which they must be
protected by proper guidance; for Longinus, however, an experienced and
mature audience (see On the Sublime 6) may be carried away in ekstasis, but
also understands that this is a proper effect of great poetry and that such
effects, far from harming them, are positively beneficial. It would perhaps
not be too misleading to characterise the two contrasting views, with all
due caution, as post-Platonic and post-Aristotelian.
If we ask why Plutarch was particularly worried about this passage,
then the answer will again lie (originally) with Plato. As, in the Platonic
scheme (Rep. 2.379bc), god cannot work harm, the whole idea of the
qeomaca, which also encourages internal strife in its audience, is a most
dangerous fantasy which has no place in the education of the ideal state,
and at Republic 2.378b8e3 Plato simply bans poetic qeomacai, both with
and without under-meanings (ponoai), which would be lost on the
young anyway. That Plato was familiar with such under-meanings for this
episode, namely interpretations which explained the episode in such a way
as to defend the poet against charges of offence against religion, is all but
certain Theagenes of Rhegium was not alone in choosing this Iliadic
scene for particular attention33 and the centrality of this episode to the
whole subsequent allegorical and defensive tradition is shown by the fact
that it is in connection with this passage that Longinus makes his only
reference to that tradition: These passages are fearful, but also completely
blasphemous (qea) and contrary to propriety (t prpon), unless they are
understood allegorically (On the Sublime 9.7).34 Plutarch will shortly (19e
f ) reject the allegorical interpretation of Homers divinities,35 but it is not
mentioned here because it is irrelevant. Allegorical interpretation belongs
to a level of reading well beyond what is envisaged here (see Rep. 2.378d6
7); what matters is the emotional power of Homers images. Homer makes
you believe that what he writes is true. Plutarch trusts the young man and
his teachers to be able to remember that it is not true; Plato would not give
them that freedom to harm themselves.
The second passage which Plutarch cites under this head has a similar
Platonic point, but one which is made a little more explicit. As the very last
citation of what is for us Republic 2, Plato cites a passage of Aeschylus in
which Thetis complains bitterly of the misleading promises which Apollo
made when he sang at her wedding to Peleus:

32 Cf. 15c on the taraktikn ka parjoron in poetry.

33 On Theagenes see, e.g., Feeney 1991: 811. 34 On this passage see Obbink 2004: 1768.
35 See below p. 188.
182 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
We shall not approve . . . Aeschylus (fr. 350 Radt) when Thetis says that in his song
at her wedding Apollo told how she would be happy in her children,
nswn t perouv ka makrawnav bou,
xmpant t epn qeojilev mv tcav
pain phujmhsen equmn m.
kg t Fobou qeon yeudv stma
lpizon enai, mantiki bron tcnhi
d atv mnn, atv n qonhi parn,
atv td epn, atv stin ktann
tn pada tn mn
[who would be free of disease and enjoy long lives; he raised a song of triumph as
he told of my future, dear to the gods, and he brought me cheer. I thought that
Phoebus holy mouth knew not falsehood, overflowing as it was with the prophetic
art. But he who sang this song, he who took part in the marriage-feast, he who
said these things, he is the one who has killed my son] (Plato, Republic 2.383ab)

For Plato, god (least of all Apollo) has nothing to do with falsehoods (t
yedov), and so, says Plato, when someone says such things about the
gods, we shall be angry (calepanomen) and we shall not award them a
chorus . . . (383c12). Plutarch picks up Platos verb but now uses it of how
this passage might turn us against Apollo, not against the poet himself: the
young man will check himself when he is feeling angry (calepanontov)
against Apollo on behalf of the first of the Achaeans . . . (16e). Plato quotes
more of Thetis words than does Plutarch because the philosophers point is
that god does not lie. The reader of Plutarch, however, who does not know
either Aeschylus or Plato, will not understand this, will be mystified by the
reference of tde in the second verse of Plutarchs quotation, and will more
naturally think that what is wrong with the passage is simply that it accuses
Apollo of killing the first of the Achaeans, an allegation which (again)
must be false because god does not do wrong/harm. We may be tempted to
explain such difficulties in Plutarch by his use of poetic anthologies just
as he assumes that some of the young mans acquaintance with poetry will
come through collections of (sometimes mutually contradictory) passages
and this is indeed important; nevertheless, there may be another didactic
technique involved as well. The young mans guide, who will of course be
more fully versed in the Platonic intertext than the young man himself,
is in fact constantly forced back to that text. Here, moreover, as with the
preceding Homeric example, the educational context of reception through
reading is important: as we read aloud Thetis words, rather than hearing
them delivered on stage, we put ourselves in her position, we indeed mouth
Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 183
her reproaches ourselves and we feel her anger against the god. Platos
fears of the harmful potential of mimesis have, paradoxically, been realised
through the replacement of the performative foundations on which those
fears were based. Reading has become the most dangerously mimetic of all
educational activities.
Rather similar observations may be made about Plutarchs third example
(16e) of the advantages of bearing in mind the falsity of poetry: [the young
man] will cease weeping for the dead Achilles and Agamemnon in Hades,
as they stretch out their powerless and weak arms in their longing for life
(duntouv ka sqenev cerav piqumai to zn rgontav). Plutarch
is here thinking principally of the description of the ghost of Agamemnon
at Odyssey 11.3915:

klae d ge ligwv, qalern kat dkruon ebwn,

pitnv ev m cerav rxasqai meneanwn
ll o gr o t n v mpedov od ti kkuv,
oh per prov sken n gnamptosi mlessi.
tn mn g dkrusa dn lhs te qumi ktl.
He lamented loudly, the tears pouring down, and he stretched out his arms in
his desire to embrace me. But he had neither the strength nor the force which
resided before in his supple limbs. When I saw him I wept and pitied him in my
heart . . .

Achilles is not in fact portrayed as behaving in the way in which Plutarch

alleges, though he certainly makes it very clear that he would rather be alive
than dead (vv. 48891); Plutarchs pathetic picture of the heroes stretching
out their arms in their longing for life offers a virtuoso reshaping of verse
392 of the Homeric scene. If again we ask What is dangerous about this
Homeric passage?, the answer will, once again, take us back to Plato. For
both Plato and Plutarch (16e) the whole nekuia is of course a fiction, but
in the Platonic view (Rep. 3.386c7b) it is a particularly dangerous fiction
because it represents death as something appalling and to be feared, and
this will not help to inculcate bravery in the young; the very first Homeric
passage which Plato outlaws under this heading is precisely Achilles famous
words about preferring to be a serf among the living . . . than to rule over all
the dead (Odyssey 11.48991), verses which probably lie behind Plutarchs
pairing of him with Agamemnon. Here too we are expected to know and
use the Platonic intertext. Like Plutarch himself in this essay, we do not of
course have to direct the young men whom we are teaching explicitly to
that intertext; enough that we know, and that we will use it to inform our
184 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
teaching. In finding a space for the poetry which Plato rejected, we are to
keep as close to Plato as possible.
Two further points are worth making here. There is a risk, says Plutarch,
that the young man will weep (dakrwn, 16e) for Achilles and Agamem-
non. Here again, an emotional reaction of an observer in the text is trans-
ferred to the audience, for in Homer it is Odysseus who weeps (dkrusa,
Odyssey 11.395) at the sight of the ghost of Agamemnon. This suggests how
the Homeric poems contain within themselves material which shapes their
performance and reception; as a literary technique, this was to have a long
history we may think of the ways in which the emotional reactions of
crowds and other internal audiences within the later novels clearly script a
reaction for the audience of the novel.36 We must also, however, once again
reckon with the possibility that Plutarchs approach to the text reflects
the reception context which he assumes. The Platonic rhapsode Ion had
agreed to Socrates proposition that, when reciting particularly exciting or
emotional passages of Homer, he feels that he is actually present at real
events (Ion 535bc) and had confessed to a powerful sympathy with the
text he was reciting:
When I am reciting something pitiable, my eyes fill with tears; when it is something
terrifying or frightening, my hair stands on end from fear and my heart is pounding.
(Plato, Ion 535c)37
The emotional power of poetry to affect audiences was a commonplace
from Homer onwards (see Plato, Ion 535e), but as with the Aeschylean
Thetis the reader becomes himself a kind of performing rhapsode, and
the sentiments and gestures of the text become his sentiments and gestures,
which is, of course, a most alarming prospect for a Platonist.
Secondly, Plutarch wittily cites Odyssey 11.2234 (you can tell all these
things hereafter to your wife) as illustration of the fact that the nekuia
is suitable mythic material for a woman to listen to. There is here, at
one level, a curiously amusing anticipation of the modern argument that
the Catalogue of Women which immediately follows these verses (with
gunaik and gunakev closing consecutive verses, Odyssey 11.2245) is in
part designed to win the favour of the listening Arete.38 More importantly,
perhaps, it is precisely in the context of the nekuia that Homer places the

36 See, e.g., Hunter 1994: 10601.

37 nargv at 535c3 seems to offer an interestingly early example of this term in a context of the
envisionment of narrative; as a rhapsode, Ion naturally has a professional appreciation of Socrates
vivid question.
38 See, e.g., Doherty 1995: 667, 823; De Jong 2001: 282.
Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 185
most explicit discussion of Odysseus truthfulness and of the ever-present
possibility of lies, yedea:
tn d at Alknoov pamebeto jnhsn te
Oduse, t mn o ti s skomen esorwntev
perop t men ka pklopon, o te pollov
bskei gaa mlaina polusperav nqrpouv
yede t rtnontav, qen k tiv od doito
so d pi mn morj pwn, ni d jrnev sqla,
mqon d v t oidv pistamnwv katlexav,
pntwn Argewn so t ato kdea lugr.
(Homer, Odyssey 11.3629)
Alcinous answered him as follows: Odysseus, when we look at you we do not
think that you are a deceiver and cheat, one of the very many men on the dark
earth who tell lies which no one can personally check.39 Your words have proper
shape, there is good sense in them, and with the skill of a bard you have told the
whole tale of the grievous sufferings of all the Argives and of you yourself.

The nekuia was of course the greatest challenge to any simple belief in the
story of the Odyssey. Among the scholiastic comments on verse 368 is one
which brings us very close to Plutarch: They think that there is no poetry
without mythoi; for this reason the Pythian could not be called a poet. Here
then, as everywhere, Plutarch reads (and tempers) Platos strictures against
Homeric poetry through the lens of the subsequent critical traditions,
which had found ways of accommodating and explaining some of poetrys
more outrageous creations.
Plutarch soon returns to the subject of false and terrifying representations
of the Underworld, after a few more general remarks on poetic lies about
the gods (16f17b). The last quotation of these general remarks is a much
cited couplet from Aeschylus:
qev mn atan jei brotov
tan kaksai dma pampdhn qlhi.
(Aeschylus fr. 154a.1516 Radt)
God implants a fault in men, when he wishes utterly to destroy a house.
Plato too had used these same verses as his final cited example of views which
are to be censored because they ascribe harm to the gods (Rep. 2.380a), and
his discussion of false representations of death and the Underworld then
opens Book 3 of the Republic. That Plutarch is indeed following Plato here

39 The meaning is not certain.

186 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
is made very clear by the Homeric verse which he pairs with the Aeschylean
Zev, v t nqrpwn tamhv polmoio ttuktai
(Homer, Iliad 4.84)
Zeus, who is steward of war for men
The poetic quotation preceding the Aeschylus fragment in Plato is part
of an otherwise unattested epic verse:
ok ra . . . podekton . . . od v tamav mn Zev
gaqn te kakn te ttuktai.
(Plato, Republic 2.379c8e2)
Nor must we accept [into the city] how Zeus is our steward of both good and
Critics are divided as to whether this is a (deliberate) misquotation of Iliad
4.84 or rather derives from an unknown poem,40 but we can see Plutarch
clearing up any possible confusion by replacing the Platonic citation with
an indisputably Homeric verse, and one in which the god is responsible
for an indisputably bad thing.41 Nor (of course) is the verse chosen at
random. It comes from the scene in which Zeus sends Athena to earth to
engineer a breaking of the truce; she leaps to earth like a shooting star, to
the amazement of the watching Greeks and Trojans:
de d tiv epesken dn v plhson llon
ativ plemv te kakv ka jlopiv an
ssetai, jilthta met mjotroisi tqhsin
Zev, v t nqrpwn tamhv polmoio ttuktai;
(Homer, Iliad 4.814)
Thus would one say to another: Will there be evil war and dread strife, or is
Zeus, who is the steward of warfare for men, creating friendship between the two
Here precisely is the Zeus whom Plato rejects, steward of good and bad.
Moreover, immediately after the quotation of the otherwise unknown
verse Plato proscribes the story of Pandaros breaking the oaths and treaties
(Rep. 2.379e34), which is the action which Athenas fiery descent to earth
initiates. Plutarch then is a creative rewriter of the Platonic text, but he also
makes demands upon us; it is a virtuoso performance to turn Republic 23
40 See, e.g., Lohse 1964: 1718.
41 This might, of course, be one place where we can see a reflection of the greater stability of the
Homeric text in Plutarchs time in contrast to that of Plato.
Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 187
into an argument for the admission of the classics of poetry into education,
albeit under certain strictly controlled conditions.
The final pages of Republic 2 are largely devoted to the discussion of what
is truly yedov, the deception in the soul concerning the things which are,
and then to the impossibility that god has anything to do with change and
metamorphosis, a subject with obvious links to the metaphysics of the later
books. Plutarchs omission of this material (but for the complaints of the
Aeschylean Thetis which he has used in a different context), an omission
to which attention is called by his otherwise close structural tracking of the
Platonic model, is a guide to what is meant by poetry as a preparation for
philosophy: the omitted Platonic material falls into the latter category, or
at least is to be reserved for a later stage of education than that for which
the present treatise is designed.
Plutarchs rewriting of Plato continues with the discussion of representa-
tions of the Underworld in poetry (17bc). The Platonic model here, which
is marked by the shared phrase nmata jober, is Republic 3.397b8c6.
Where Plato had named two of the three Underworld rivers which flow
into the Acheron (see Odyssey 10.51314), Plutarch merely alludes to the
third, Pyriphlegethon, which Plato had left unnamed, and uses edwla,
the Homeric word for ghosts, for images of rivers. Whereas Plato had
not expanded on his account of the Underworld waters by the use of
poetic quotation, Plutarch offers us Pindar (fr. 130 M), Homer (Odyssey
24.11) and Sophocles (fr. 832 Radt). In Plato the citations for how poets
mislead us in their descriptions of the Underworld and of the lamentations
of the dead precede the paragraph about the rivers of the Underworld,
but Plutarch reverses this order. Platos quotations (3.386c4387a) are taken
only from Homer, though he concludes by stressing that his strictures apply
to Homer and the other poets (387b12); Plutarch picks up Platos hint
by the variety of his quotations (Pindar and Sophocles on the rivers of the
Underworld; Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis 121819 on lamentation). For
Plutarch, the characters of literature for whom death is a terrifying thing
are people who have suffered and who are in the grip of doxa and apate
(17d); the Platonic language is of course appropriate to the context, but
apate also allows us to sense a resonance of one of the most familiar ancient
critical ideas, one we most associate with Gorgias (see 15d), but here it is
not the audience who are deluded or at least not if Plutarch can help
it but rather the characters whom they see and read.
If Plutarch stands in the traditional mainstream in holding that poetry
contains t muqdev and t yedov as well as truth, in the case of
these tales of the Underworld the mythical element comes like poison
188 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
(t jarmakdev) mixed into food (17c). We most naturally think of Circe,
or perhaps rather of Helens drugs, to which Plutarch had already explicitly
compared poetry at 15c and which take away grief even after the death
of someone close (Odyssey 4.2246), acting, as Eustathius explains (Hom.
1493.1019), like speeches of consolation; here, however, the drugs of litera-
ture reverse the process by instilling terror and distress at the thought of
death and the Underworld. The image may also remind us of the famous
honey on the cup of Lucretius 1.93550. Just as Lucretius, and others
before him, disguise the health-giving, but hard to swallow, truth of what
they write by the sweetness of poetry, as doctors disguise health-giving
but foul-tasting medicines in order to fool their young patients, so poetry
conceals its baleful lies within a frame which seems to offer nourishment.
The aim of the doctors is to fool the young (Lucretius 1.93941), whereas
Plutarch aims to offer the young the guidance which will stop them from
being fooled: they are to imbibe from poetry only what is healthful (see
15c), not the sweet but dangerous jrmakon at its centre. If teaching is
a matter of mixing water with wine, philosophy with poetry, it is also a
matter of separating out the beneficial from the harmful within the heady
mixture which the classics offer.

the natural meaning of the text

For Plutarch, poets usually provide sufficient clues as to how their verses
are to be interpreted in an appropriate and ethically nourishing manner;
where this is not so, other methods are straightforwardly available. Thus,
as we have noted,42 Plutarch (19ef ) has no time for what used to be
called under-meanings (pnoiai), but are now called allegories (ll-
hgorai), by which some interpreters have sought to do violence to and
twist the meaning of some of Homers most infamous passages, such as
the adultery of Ares and Aphrodite and Heras seduction of Zeus in Iliad
14. For Plutarch, the moral of the song of Ares and Aphrodite speaks for
itself to those who are willing to pay attention (o proscontev):
Low music and obscene songs and stories with base themes produce wanton
characters and cowardly lives and men who embrace luxury and softness and rule
by women. (Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 19f20a)43

42 See above p. 181.

43 It seems probable that here (as at Life of Cleomenes 33 and Strabo 3.4.18) we should adopt the very
poorly attested gunaikokratan (presumably a reference to Arete), rather than gunaikokrasan.
Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 189
Not only is it the case that only the weak and hedonistic, such as the Phaea-
cians, would take pleasure in such songs, but such songs are themselves in
part responsible for that unmanly weakness. Plutarchs (perhaps surpris-
ingly modern) language of violence to the text implies, of course, that
his readings are natural and commonsensical; they are natural, so Plutarch
would claim, because they follow the guidance which the poet himself has
put in the text. The case of the adultery of Ares and Aphrodite seems open
and shut:
Homer also uses moral comments (pirrseiv) to good effect, as though casting
his own vote on what has happened or been said; in the case of Ares adultery he
represents the gods saying,
ok reti kak rga kicnei toi bradv kn
[evil deeds do not prosper: the slow catches the swift (Homer, Odyssey 8.329)]
(Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 19d)
pirrseiv here are often understood to be closing morals, which Odyssey
8.329 (spoken by one of the gods to another) is plainly not, at least not
for the whole episode, though Plutarch is presumably influenced by the
semi-proverbial nature of the verse and is very probably following a well-
established paedagogical line in seeing verse 329 as a moral for the story.44
Whether or not Plutarchs pupil would be free to point out that other
readings are possible may be debated, but it is probably the case that his
eyes would be forcibly averted from the following verses (vv. 33342), in
which Hermes and Apollo joke about how much they would like to swap
places with Ares. The scholia in fact tell us that these verses were missing
from some texts,45 and it is not impossible that Plutarchs decorous silence
is based on the assumption, which is so obvious as not to need stating,
that these verses would not be given to a serious-minded young man. It
is perhaps more likely that, through his compilatory method in which
previous collections are ransacked, Plutarch has included this example of
how Homer offers guidance on the moral interpretation of his work in the
wrong category (i.e. under pirrseiv, closing morals). Be that as it may,
however much modern readers might think that it makes all the difference
in the world whether such sentiments are expressed by characters or by the
poet, all is grist to Plutarchs didactic mill. No suggestion here, of course,
that Plutarch himself is doing violence to the text. Literary interpretation

44 Cf. the scholia to v. 267, to Iliad 6.162b, and Apthorp 1980: 87.
45 It is possible that this excision has some connection with the false ending of vv. 32832. I hope to
discuss this further elsewhere.
190 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
is so much easier when the author does all the work for you. Apollonius
of Tyana is reported to have singled this out as a particularly praiseworthy
aspect of Aesops fables, the educational value of which Plutarch heartily
endorses (14e):46
A poet says many are the shapes of what the gods control [the famous and
repeated Euripidean ending] or adds some such choral tag and disappears, but
Aesop pronounces the moral of his own story and brings the exchange to the
conclusion he intended. (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 5.14.3)
In practice, however, different modes of interpretation and different read-
ings prove difficult to keep apart.

directed reading
In chapter 7 Plutarch turns to the fact that likeness to the truth (moithv
to lhqov, Lat. ueri simile) is crucial to the power (and danger) of
poetry, which lies principally in its production of what is persuasive (t
piqann).47 In real life everyone has faults or makes mistakes there are
no Stoic sages, such as we hear about in the schools and this leads in
chapter 8 to a consideration of how the characters of literature are simi-
larly mixed. Plutarch interestingly runs this important idea together with
another familiar argument about literary narrative, namely the fact that it
relies on variety (t poiklon) and multiple change (t poltropon) to
ensure the complexity which is an essential part of the likeness to, rather
than reproduction of, truth:
When it is dealing with things which are not true, then poetry most of all relies
on variety and constant change. For it is changes which give stories elements
of emotion and surprise and the unexpected, and it is these which provide the
greatest effects of amazement (ekplexis) and charm. Simple sameness lacks emotion
and < . . . >.48 Therefore poets do not show the same people always victorious
in everything or always prosperous or successful. Not even their gods are without
emotion and fault, when they become embroiled in human affairs, so that the
disturbing and astonishing element in poetry (t tartton ka t kpltton)
should not grow weak because there is no danger and no struggle. (Plutarch, How
the young man should study poetry 25d)

46 Brown 1989: 28990 in fact compares Hephaestus revenge to that of the fox over the monkey in
Aesop, Fab. 81 Perry.
47 The idea is of course a common one, see, e.g., Eustathius, Hom. 1690.531691.10 on Odyssey 11.3657.
On the place of chapter 7 in the treatise as a whole see Schenkeveld 1982.
48 Babbitt prints Kronenbergs mouson for the transmitted muqon; neither seems what is wanted.
Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 191
That good literature relies on exciting changes and surprise is a rather
different point from the fact that all men are (in their characters) a mixture
of virtue and vice, for success and failure do not necessarily reflect changes
in character; Plutarch has, however, made these arguments mutually re-
enforcing. It is Ciceros famous letter to Lucceius (Letters to Friends 5.12),
in which he asks Lucceius to write the history of his consulship, which is
for us the most familiar example of the literary observation which Plutarch
here makes. What, says Cicero, is particularly attractive in this subject is
its enormous variety:

The events in which I took part will offer your writing a great variety of material,
full of a kind of pleasure which will exercise a powerful hold on the minds of
your readers, for there is nothing more productive of the delight of the reader
than changes of circumstance and the vicissitudes of fortune . . . the uncertain and
changing fortunes of an outstanding individual offer amazement, suspense, joy,
annoyance, hope and fear; if however they are concluded by a remarkable finale,
the mind is filled with the sweetest pleasure which reading can offer. (Cicero,
Letters to Friends 5.12.45)

It is precisely because this changeability both comes about through and

reinforces the disturbing and astonishing element (25d) that the young
man must keep his wits about him. This changeability is not the least of the
disturbing and strange visions (jantasai taracdeiv ka llkotoi,
15b) which the octopuss head of poetry offers. If the young man under-
stands that, for literature, variety is the spice of life, he will approach it with
a mind better prepared to understand that that which is morally dubious is
not presented as praiseworthy but is rather part of literary artifice, a truth
which the example of gods affected by emotion and error (25d) makes
particularly clear.
Plutarchs principal witness for the mixed morality of literary characters
is the Homeric Achilles, whose inconsistency (nmalon) of character had
been noted at least as early as Aristotle (fr. 391 Gigon). Unsurprisingly, the
discussion begins with Achilles first action of the poem:

nnmar mn n stratn iceto kla qeoo,

ti dekthi d gornde kalssato lan Acillev
ti gr p jres qke qe leuklenov Hrh
kdeto gr Danan, ti a qniskontav rto.
(Homer, Iliad 1.536)
[For nine days the gods shafts rained down on the camp. On the tenth day
Achilles summoned an assembly of the army; the white-armed goddess Hera
192 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
had put this in his mind, because she was moved by the plight of the Danaans,
as she saw them dying.]
Achilles gathers an assembly of the soldiers when they are suffering with sickness,
as he more than anyone is impatient as the war drags on, because of his military
distinction and reputation; he also had medical knowledge, and he realised after
the ninth day, on which such illnesses naturally come to a crisis (krnesqai), that
the disease was no ordinary one nor the result of regular causes (atai). When he
stood up he did not rouse the common herd with a speech (o dhmagwge prv
tn clon) but acted as an adviser to the king:
Atredh, nn mme plin plagcqntav w
y ponostsein
[Son of Atreus, I think that now we will make the return journey back in our
wanderings (Iliad 1.5960)]
This was said correctly and moderately and appropriately (rqv ka metrwv ka
prepntwv). (Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 26bc)

Why it was Achilles who summoned the assembly was a matter much dis-
cussed in ancient criticism (see scholia on 1.535 and 54). Homer, however,
gives one simple reason Hera put him up to it whereas Plutarch offers
two quite different reasons: Achilles was impatient as the war dragged on
because of his military distinction and reputation, and he realised, thanks
to the fact that he was atrikv, that the nature of the disease meant that
it was not simply going to go away. The first of these reasons may or may
not be Plutarchs own, though it is clearly grist to the educational agenda
of his treatise, whereas the second is in line with one of the principal cur-
rents of ancient interpretation of this scene. From the scholia we can piece
together a fairly detailed account (or more than one) of why the mules
and dogs were the first to die, why it was on the tenth day that Achilles
acted, why Achilles had medical knowledge (he was Cheirons pupil), and
how he exercised it (he understood what was happening from the quality
of the air, with Hra, as so often, actually being r). Plutarchs account
has important points of contact with what might be termed this ration-
alising/naturalistic reading (see also Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 1415,
Eustathius, Hom. 45.1333), but it entirely omits Heras role and also does
not mention why Achilles was atrikv. As we have seen, Achilles medical
knowledge and the role of Hera were often put together in an allegorical
reading (Eustathius explicitly uses the term of this scene, Hom. 45.24),
and Plutarch has already claimed to have little time for such allegories
(19f ); rather, he has gone for a kind of explanation unexpressed poetic
Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 193
motivation which he finds ethically more uplifting, but one which allows
us to see the selectivity of his methods and how one type of interpretation
seeps into another. By failing to explain the mythical origins of Achilles
medical knowledge, an origin which might in fact simply invite further
allegorisations, and by writing Hera out of the scene, he has laid all the
emphasis upon Achilles acting out of the best of motives. Plutarch thus
prepares the young for the philosophical explanations of human action
which they will hear later in life by ignoring (rather than combating) the
role of Homers gods and by stressing the element of fiction in poetry; with
more mature audiences he will take a different line.49 What the teacher
who offers these explanations should actually say when the pupil points
out verses 556 to him, Plutarch does not tell us, though it is perhaps not
utterly frivolous to note that verse 55 could easily be removed from the text,
leaving Achilles as the subject of kdeto and thus emphasising his concern
for his fellow Greeks. It is noteworthy that the scholia supply a similarly
ethical explanation, alongside the physiological ones, for why it was that
animals were the first to die from the plague: Apollo wanted to frighten the
Greeks back to their senses (S(A) v. 50c). Here too we have the exploration
of unexpressed poetic motivation.
If Achilles opening words to Agamemnon (Iliad 1.5960) deserve full
scholiastic approbation (rqv ka metrwv ka prepntwv), what follows
is completely different:
When the prophet says that he is afraid of the anger of the most powerful of the
Greeks, Achilles swears that no one will lay hands on him while he (Achilles) is
alive, and adds, no longer correctly or appropriately,
od n Agammnona ephiv
[ . . . not even if you were to name Agamemnon (Iliad 1.90)]
thus showing his scorn and contempt for the commander. (Plutarch, How the
young man should study poetry 26d)
Plutarch could have taken a different line. The scholia on verse 90 observe
that this remark is not abusive of Agamemnon (which shows of course that
it had indeed been taken as such) but is rather an example of hyperbole:
Achilles is encouraging Calchas to speak freely, and he draws Agamemnon
in, as though the king himself was also encouraging the seer. Plutarch
chooses the worse (for Achilles) interpretation of the verse for two reasons.

49 See below pp. 1978.

194 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
It suits his current argument about the mixed moral behaviour of literary
characters and, secondly, the worse interpretation has Achilles showing
disregard and contempt for the man in charge; Plutarchs agenda for a
particular type of political socialisation is here very apparent.50 Reading
Homer is not just a preparation for philosophy, but also a preparation for
taking ones place within the elaborate hierarchies of the Greek elite class of
the Roman empire; it would certainly, for example, never be possible to say
I will defend you, even against the emperor . . . Even though Agamem-
nons subsequent behaviour at the assembly is ridiculous (kataglastov,
25e), he is still rcwn.
Plutarch had in fact already touched upon Achilles insubordination in
his account of how Homer makes clear the dangers of anger:
Homer gives Achilles the reckless words
onobarv, kunv mmat cwn, kradhn d ljoio
[Wine-sodden, with the eyes of a dog and the heart of a deer (Iliad 1.225)]
but he suggests his own judgement,
Phledhv d xativ tarthrov pessin
Atredhn proseipe, ka o pw lge cloio
[Once again the son of Peleus addressed the son of Atreus with hurtful words,
for not yet had he ceased from his wrath (Iliad 1.2234)]
It is thus likely that nothing which is spoken in anger and harshness will be
honourable (kaln). (Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 19c)
Here again Plutarch is following Platos lead. At Republic 3.389e12390a6
Socrates had quoted verse 225 and cited the verses which follow, together
with all the other insults (neaniemata) which ordinary people have uttered
against their rulers (o rcontev) in prose or poetry, as things which cannot
be admitted into the education of the guardians; such things may bring a
certain pleasure, but they hardly contribute to the swjrosnh of young
men.51 For Plato, Homers introduction to Achilles insults is irrelevant,
because what matters is simply the speech which will affect the minds
of the young men and which they will be tempted to imitate. Plutarchs
approach, inherited from the rich Hellenistic critical tradition, speaks to a
rather different educational system, but the goals of the two systems remain
strikingly similar.

50 See above pp. 7889 on the Comparison of Aristophanes and Menander.

51 The T-scholia on v. 225c go out of their way to exculpate Agamemnon from Achilles charges. So
too, Athenaeus 5.178d quotes v. 225 as an illustration of the critical principle that if something is
said in Homer, it does not mean Homer says it.
Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 195
The scene in which Achilles is tempted to draw his sword on Agamem-
non was a notorious site for critical discussion:
After this [see 26d cited above] Achilles is provoked further and goes for his sword
with the intention of killing Agamemnon, incorrectly both with respect to what
is honourable and what is advantageous. Then he changes his mind again,
y d v koulen se mga xjov, od pqhse
mqwi Aqhnahv
[He pushed his great sword back into the scabbard and did not disobey
Athenas words (Iliad 1.2201)]
This is again correct and honourable (rqv . . . ka kalv), because, being unable
utterly to eradicate his anger, he nevertheless bypassed it and held it in check, by
making it obedient to his reason (logismv). (Plutarch, How the young man
should study poetry 26de)
Plutarchs explanation for Achilles change of heart has a distinctively Pla-
tonic feel (see also 31cd on Odysseus restraint); so too, Heraclitus revels
in the fact that this scene shows that it was Homer who taught Plato
his psychology (Homeric Problems 1719), and the scholia are replete with
Platonic terminology and ideas during this scene. Once again, therefore,
Plutarch shares an explanation with the allegorists, for whom Athena, who
intervenes here, is forethought or jrnhsiv, that part of Achilles mind
which finally gets the upper hand,52 and once again Plutarch distinguishes
himself from them by omitting the role of the divine in his explanation. He
keeps Athena in his citation of Iliad 1.2201, thus suggesting Achilles piety,
but makes Achilles change of mind a rational decision by the hero him-
self; once again, then, Plutarchs selective didactic technique feeds, rather
than quells, our sense of the multiplicity of interpretation.
Almost immediately after the discussion of Achilles in Iliad 1, Plutarch
(26f ) cites the not entirely dissimilar case of Phoenixs account of his
reaction to the curse laid upon him by his father because he, Phoenix, had
slept with his fathers concubine:
tn mn g boleusa kataktmen xi calki
ll tiv qantwn pasen clon, v n qumi
dmou qke jtin ka nedea pll nqrpwn,
v m patrojnov met Acaiosin kaleomhn.
(Homer, Iliad 9.45861)
I plotted to slay him with sharp bronze, but one of the gods put an end to my
anger, by bringing to my mind what the people would say and how heavily men

52 See, e.g., Heraclitus, Hom. Probl. 20.5; Max. Tyr. 4.8, 8.5; Feeney 1991: 545.
196 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
would reproach me, in order to prevent me being known among the Achaeans as
a patricide.

Plutarch reports that Aristarchus excised these verses in fear, presumably

(though Plutarch does not expand), that young men would conclude that
patricide was a possible solution to problems with ones parents. Plutarch
pays little explicit attention to the great Alexandrian critics in this essay,53
and that gives this example particular emphasis; a properly didactic under-
standing proves even the great Aristarchus wrong. These verses are in fact
entirely absent from all other witnesses to the text of Homer, though mod-
ern critics are generally unwilling to accept Plutarchs explanation for that
absence;54 wherever Plutarch found them, however, he realised that they
served his purposes well (26f27a):
The verses are correct for the place where they are (cei d prv tn kairn
rqv): Phoenix is teaching Achilles what sort of a thing anger is and how many
reckless deeds men are driven to by anger, unless they use their reason (logismv)
and listen to those who try to calm them.

Phoenix is here cast as a Plutarchan teacher, with Achilles as his young pupil;
Phoenix controlled his anger, as Achilles may have done in Iliad 1, but failed
notably so to do in the greater scheme of things. Phoenixs narrative in the
Iliad is, however, more obviously about his fathers anger than his own
(cf. Iliad 9.449, 463), and it is perhaps not altogether surprising that when
Plutarch cites verses 45960 again, at Life of Coriolanus 32.5, there is a
different text:55
ll tiv qantwn trye jrnav, v n qumi
dmou qke jtin ka nedea pll nqrpwn
(Homer, Iliad 9.45960)
but one of the gods turned my intentions aside, by bringing to my mind what the
people would say and how heavily men would reproach me

The difference well illustrates how an ancient reader and/or teacher could
turn a text in various directions, depending on the use to which it was to
be put.

53 A good example is 25e, where he cites Iliad 16.97100 as the kind of thing which the young man
must learn to censure; these verses had in fact been athetised by Zenodotus and Aristarchus and the
scholia collect many arguments against them.
54 See Ludwich 1884: i. 734; West 2001: 208, 2502.
55 The citation of v. 461 at Mor. 72b implies the pasen clon version (see di rgn in Plutarchs
introduction to the citation).
Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 197
The citation of Iliad 9.45960 in the Life of Coriolanus is part of a
fascinating discussion of divine intervention in Homer.56 Plutarch notes
that some accused Homer of depriving people of control over their own
actions, of removing the power of logismv to control proaresiv, by the
divine machinery of the poems. Plutarch denies this. He notes that Homer
regularly ascribes decisions of an ordinary kind to human reasoning, but
that in the case of great and unexpected actions or strange and daring
actions, which require inspired transport and extraordinary courage he
does allow his gods to intervene; Phoenixs self-restraint falls into this
category, and here some god caused a change of mind is indeed much more
appropriate than some god put an end to my anger. Even here, however,
this is not a case of simple divine control, for Plutarch accommodates the
Homeric description to a Stoic account of action:
Homer does not make the god remove proairesis, but rather prompt it; nor does the
god instil impulses (rma), but rather the impressions (jantasai) which lead
to impulses, through which he does not make the action involuntary, but rather
provides the beginning for the exercise of the will, and he also adds courage and
hopefulness . . . by certain beginnings (rca) and impressions and inclinations
(pinoai) they rouse the active and prohairetic parts of the soul or, on the other
hand, they turn away and check them. (Plutarch, Life of Coriolanus 32.6)

Whereas in his educational treatise Plutarch had more or less written

the gods out of poetic explanation, in the Life of Coriolanus he finds
a way of retaining them which will, however, also be in keeping with
the sensibilities and experiences of educated and philosophically minded
people.57 Whether or not we wish to call explanations of the kind offered
in the Life of Coriolanus allegories is perhaps a matter of taste, but it
is obviously important that Plutarch does not remove the divine entirely
when offering a more sophisticated account. The long history which lies
behind Plutarchs account is nowhere seen more clearly in fact than in the
famous address of Nisus to Euryalus in Aeneid 9:
dine hunc ardorem mentibus addunt,
Euryale, an sua cuique deus fit dira cupido?
aut pugnam aut aliquid iamdudum inuadere magnum
mens agitat mihi, nec placida contenta quiete est.
(Virgil, Aeneid 9.1847)

56 See Wust 1958: 824; Lesky 1961: 1822; Feeney 1991: 55.
57 For Homer and the Stoics more generally see Long 1992. For other interpretations of Iliad 1.55 see
Max. Tyr. 8.5 (an example of daimonic action), Julian 8.249bc (the minds interaction with god).
198 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
Euryalus, do the gods put this burning zeal in our minds, or is his own terrible
desire a god for each man? Long since is my mind rousing me to charge into battle
or something great, and it is not content with peaceful rest.
Nisus words are indeed very close to Plutarchs description of the kind
and nature of action where Homer allows his gods to act upon the human
mind, and Plutarch in turn shows how Nisus dichotomy is not a truly
disjunctive choice.58 Nor, indeed, is the choice between Plutarchs different
explanations in his two different works: one is preparatory of the other.

the sleep of criticism

Where Homer does not seem to offer sufficient guidance as to how a scene is
to be read in an ethically appropriate way, then alternative explanations for
praise and blame can be offered (27ac). Here, once again, a fundamental
principle will be, as it had been since the Aristophanic Euripides,59 that
characters in literature act in ways and for motives with which readers are
familiar; not only, as we have seen, can characters be inconsistent, but they
act in accordance with, or contrary to, codes of politeness and common
sense prevalent in the readers own community. They are people like us,
or perhaps better, given their heroic status, people not wholly dissimilar
from us; when Homer does not explicitly explain their actions, then we
can consider possible rival explanations, which may reflect well or ill upon
the characters. Some of Plutarchs examples, such as Penelopes behaviour
to the suitors (27bc), remain notorious cruces of Homeric interpretation
even today; others now attract less attention. Thus, for example, Plutarch
notes two possible explanations, one to Odysseus credit and the other
not, for the heros first action on waking up on the Ithacan shore, namely
checking that all the gifts which the Phaeacians had given him are present
and accounted for (Odyssey 13.21519). We could, notes Plutarch, put this
action down to a regrettable love of wealth; alternatively, we could explain,
as some have, that Odysseus calculates that if his possessions are safe, then
the Phaeacians must have behaved justly towards him and he is indeed
likely to be home. Both explanations are also reflected in the scholia on
verse 215, and both have their modern descendants; Plutarchs point is not
that we must choose, but that the moral quality of any explanation must be
paramount in our instruction of the young.60 What of Homer? Odysseus
speech of lament had juxtaposed reproaches against the alleged injustice

58 On the philosophical background of the Virgilian verses see further Obbink 2004: 1801.
59 See above p. 21. 60 Cf. Konstan 2004: 1920.
Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 199
of the Phaeacians to a resolution to count the gifts (vv. 20916), and the
poet had then juxtaposed the fact that all of Odysseus possessions are
intact with his presence in his native land (vv. 21921). The later flattering
interpretation of Odysseus actions clearly, then, grows out of the structure
of the Homeric text, though Homer avoids the elaborate explanations of the
critical tradition; such explanation belongs more to what we think of as
the tradition of the novel, with its sometimes elaborate exploration of the
psychology of its characters, and it is in fact worth reflecting on how the
novels of later Greek antiquity descend not just from Homer, but from
Homer as interpreted by scholastic and didactic traditions.61
Even where we might think that the supernatural was at work in the
text, characters must still behave in ways in which we ourselves might
behave. Consider Odysseus arrival back on Ithaca after his travels. Why
he arrives asleep was much debated by ancient scholars62 and their modern
counterparts remain equally fascinated.63 Here, if anywhere, however, we
might think that Homer himself is his own first and best interpreter:
v mja qousa qalsshv kmat tamnen,
ndra jrousa qeos nalgkia mde conta,
v prn mn mla poll pq lgea n kat qumn,
ndrn te ptolmouv legein te kmata perwn
d tte g trmav ede, lelasmnov ss pepnqei.
(Homer, Odyssey 13.8892)
So the ship ran swiftly on, cutting through the waves of the sea. It carried a man
whose intelligence was like that of the gods, a man who in former times had
suffered very many griefs in his heart as he passed through the wars of men and
the grief-bringing waves. Then, however, he slept without stirring, in forgetfulness
of all he had suffered.

This famous echo of the opening of the poem would seem explicitly to
mark an end and implicitly a new beginning by dividing the poem into two:
Odysseus, who has now told his tale, literally forgets his past sufferings in
sleep. The earliest (known to me) allusion to Odysseus remarkable sleep
picks up this closural sense: at Trebizond one of Xenophons companions
expresses the desire to cease from toils and sail home, arriving in Greece

61 This is, of course, made very explicit in the texture of Heliodorus Aethiopica.
62 See Arist. Poetics 1460a35b2; scholia to Odyssey 7.318, 444, 13.79, 119 (= Heraclides Ponticus fr. 175
Wehrli (2nd edn)), Plut. Mor. 27e. For other (often joking) references to Odysseus sleep see Lucian,
Parasite 11; [Diogenes] Epist. 36, p. 251 Hercher; [Crates] Epist. 19 Hercher; Philostratus, Heroicus
63 See, e.g., Taplin 2002.
200 Critical Moments in Classical Literature
stretched out like Odysseus (Anabasis 5.1.2).64 That this interpretation
of the Homeric scene persisted is clear, for example, from the closing
narrative of Apuleius Metamorphoses. Book 10 ends with Lucius oppressed
by sweet sleep (dulcis somnus oppresserat) at Cenchreae: he has found a
harbour which is, literally, a tutissimum nauium receptaculum (10.35), but
which he will learn is, at a higher level of reality, a harbour of quiet in
which he has been in tutelam . . . receptus Fortunae . . . uidentis (11.15). Very
obviously, the sleeping Lucius embodies (once more, cf. esp. 9.13) the figure
of Odysseus, overcome (dedmhmnon, Odyssey 13.119) by sweet sleep not
just on the Phaeacian ship, but also at the harbour of Phorkys, itself a safe
haven for ships (13.1001), on the shore of Ithaca.65 The Homeric pattern
is recognised by the priests famous opening words to Lucius in 11.15,
multis et uariis exanclatis laboribus . . . , which pick up the description of
the poltropov who poll . . . n pntwi pqen lgea n kat qumn
(Odyssey 1.4 13.90);66 to cease from toils (like Odysseus) is of course
Lucius fervent prayer to Isis (11.2): sit satis laborum, sit satis periculorum.
Despite this clear critical tradition, which is of course not to be mis-
taken for one which Homer himself has endorsed, Plutarch reports two
other explanations for Odysseus sleep, without, however, signing up to
either of them; both have their charms, though once again one is critical
of Odysseus, while the other is laudatory of him. Some, he tells us, claim
that the Etruscans preserve a story that Odysseus was naturally drowsy,
and so most people found him difficult company! This we might think is
an example of rationalist explanation taken to extremes. Homer had not,
however, given any sign that Odysseus extraordinary sleep was a gift from
the gods, thus precisely forcing open issues of interpretation. Although, as
we have seen, the divine machinery of epic opens the way to multiplic-
ity of interpretation, it can also act as a control or even check upon it;
when that machinery is absent, interpretation is free to run riot. The sec-
ond explanation, which we might think goes completely against the clear
meaning of the text, is that Odysseus was merely feigning sleep because he
was embarrassed not to have any gifts with which to thank the Phaeacians
and because he realised that his presence on the island would be much
sooner noticed if there was a crowd of sailors with him (27e). Here per-
haps is the ultimate triumph of Euripidean elenchos and the attitude

64 Odysseus sleep may perhaps have been influential on Platos description of him in the Underworld,
choosing the soul of an dithv prgmwn (Rep. 10.620cd).
65 See, e.g., Dowden 1998: 1314.
66 Apuleius verb, exanclare, should be allowed its full weight here; cf. also Horaces translation at Epist.
Plutarch, How the young man should study poetry 201
of critical suspicion towards everything, which the Aristophanic Euripides
proudly claimed as his contribution to the literary heritage:67 the Homeric
text is subjected to persistent interrogation why?, why?, why? is the
question posed at every turn (see 28d). Homer mattered, and he was to be
given no peace until he had yielded up all his secrets.

67 See above pp. 1922.


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Index of passages discussed

Aeschylus Knights 12904 24

fr. 350 Radt 1813 Lysistrata 121620 80
Antiphanes Wasps 5766 80
fr. 189 K-A 20 Aristotle
Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica Poetics 1449a10 58
1.9426 1513 1449a 1518 15
1.11871205 1501 1450b78 43
2.197 151 1456a257 15
2.197205 1379 1461b23 25, 1667
2.549606 1534 Rhetoric 3.1404a1936 356
2.66984 1439 Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae
2.10971117 1401 2.23 801, 89, 99
3.13912 160
4.170518 145 Callimachus
Aratus, Phainomena Hymn to Delos 13340 148
2949 13941 Cicero
Arimaspeia Brutus 368 161
fr. 1 Davies 1345 Orator 79 11617
Aristophanes Critias
Clouds 37680 72 fr. 19 K-S 6970
Frogs 66 37
96102 28, 29, 1313 Dio Chrysostom, Oration
358 80 18.7 46
75960 10 19.5 1516
77183 1017 52.1 3940
862 16 52.34 401, 478
91120 57 52.45 445
92334 235 52.6 412
94950 16 Dionysius of Halicarnassus
95461 4, 1822, 45, 133 On Imitation
100910 25 fr. VI, pp. 2034 U-R (312 Aujac) 10927
1020 56 fr. VI, pp. 21314 U-R (40 Aujac) 11819
10269 34, 38 On the Arrangement of Words 1.23 1234
10306 4852
10437 2930 Euripides
104956 259 Cyclops 110 57
10712 16 1820 601
112931 163 4162 579
118294 223 1034 5960
130922 30 110 601
141171 368, 47 114 63

Index of passages discussed 213
2012 59 1.4.1416 100
2502 60 1.4.2532 101
27585 613 1.4.348 1012
276 63 1.4.5362 19
2906 64 1.4.7885 102
299303 63 1.4.106 103
31012 67
31546 6777 Life of Aesop 35 24
31617 69 Longinus, On the Sublime
3201 63 1.14 12830
3323 723 3 1304
33840 77 8.2 149
4479 59 9.3 11516
4603 59 9.4 137
495502 667 9.5 136
7089 57 9.6 180
Heracles Furens 123947 335 9.7 181
9.14 14950
Homer 9.15 45
Iliad 1.439 1449 10 1345, 13941
4.4403 137 13.114.3 116
6.13040 179 13.4 39, 119
9.45861 1957 15 302
13.1022 1449 15.2 1423
15.6248 13941 326 1608
20.5665 17981 32.4 20
21.25762 15860 36.3 20
Odyssey 8.329 189 40.23 335
8.33342 189 Lucian, Imagines 23 11920
9.10611 713, 75
9.358 73 Ovid
13.8892 199200 Amores 1.15.14 160
13.21519 1989 Metamorphoses 8.799808 1379
Scholia to Iliad
1.50 193 Petronius, Satyrica 14 1334
1.90 193 118.14 1213
2.153 1545 Plato
9.134 157 Apology 41b 434
10.5 156 Hippias Minor 364cd 45
16.710 156 Ion 535c3 184
17.263 154 Laws 3.680cd 71
17.6735 167 3.698a701d 1417, 89
18.346 157 Phaedo 59a56 39
20.61 180 118a1517 39
Horace Republic 2.378a 26
Ars Poetica 15 115 2.380ac 27
11920 26 Pliny, Letters 6.21.16 978
3048 13 Plutarch
3334 34 Comparison of Aristophanes and Menander
391407 4852 853a 812
Epistles 2.1.5062 909 853ce 847
Odes 4.1.3840 1267 854a 834, 867
4.2.58 126 How the young man should study poetry
4.2.1012 126 15d 1767
Satires 1.4.1 103 15ef 1779
214 Index of passages discussed
Plutarch (cont.) Prolegomena de comoedia Koster
16de 17985 I 513 104
17bc 1858 XXIV 2, 523 98
19bc 171
19cd 18890, 194 Quintilian, Institutio oratoria
20a 188 10.1.656 512, 95
21d 5 10.1.86 1623
25a 23 10.1.99100 93
25d 1901
26b7a 1916 Sophocles, Philoctetes 1134 456
26b 1734
27cd 1989 Theocritus, Idylls
27e 2001 11.34 74
27f8a 13 17.11617 121
36de 16970 22 151
36f7a 1745, 177
Life of Coriolanus 32 1978 Virgil, Aeneid
On listening to lectures 42de 3.902 145, 147
1656 4.15 112
Sympotic Questions 6.469 6
2.634f 823 9.1847 1978
7.712ac 86
[Plutarch], On the education of children Xenophon, Memorabilia
7ab 131 3.10.23 119
General index

Achilles 6, 31, 45, 53, 1916 Caecilius, comic poet 801, 94

Aeschylus Lykourgeia 65; Philoctetes 3948; Caecilius of Caleacte 12930, 164,
Psychostasia 4; in Aristophanes Frogs 2, 3, 165
57, 1052, 130, 145, 147; in Longinus 302, Callicles, in Platos Gorgias 6870
130 Callimachus 24, 106, 15961, 168
Aesop 190 cannibalism 72
Agathon 5 Catullus 1223
Ajax, in Odyssey 6 chorus, in tragedy 1517
allegory, allegorical interpretation 9, 28, 534, Cicero 113, 191. See also Index of passages
1767, 179, 181, 188, 192, 195, 197 discussed
Amphion 51 Circe 188
Amycus 151 classicism, the classical 3848, 10727
anger 6, 145, 194, 196 colonialism 72
anthologies, poetic 182 comedy, history of 78106
Antisthenes 54 Cook, James 72
Apollo 1439 Cratinus 79
Apollonius, Argonautica 14354, 162. See also Cyclops, the 5377, 14952
Index of passages discussed
Apollonius of Tyana 190 Demetrius, On Style 30, 32, 133, 13958,
Apuleius, Metamorphoses 556, 118, 200 168
Aratus, Phainomena 13941 Demetrius of Phaleron 161
Arimaspeia 1345 Demosthenes 129, 130
Aristarchus 196 Derveni papyrus 26
Aristophanes Acharnians 58, 88, 1545; Clouds Dicaearchus 74
3, 12, 67, 79; Frogs 27, 1052, 95, 99, 12834; didactic poetry 1
Wasps 701; in Plutarch 7889, 106; Dio Chrysostom 1516; Oration 5, 1214,
parabases 96. See also Index of passages 3948. See also Index of passages discussed
discussed Diogenes the Cynic 76
Aristophanes of Byzantium 125 Dionysius of Halicarnassus 5, 19, 2930, 35, 161,
Aristotle 7, 13, 82, 88, 98, 1013, 105; Homeric 1645; On Imitation 10727. See also Index of
Problems 21; Poetics 15, 202, 105, 1668; passages discussed
Rhetoric 323. See also Index of passages Dionysus 179; in Aristophanes Frogs 18, 235,
discussed 368, 112, 1313; in Euripides Cyclops 647
Athena 195
Atticism 129 Ennius 95
authadeia, authades 56, 34, Epicharmus 926, 99
46 Epicurus, Epicureanism 104, 177
epiphany, divine 1419
banauson 812 Eratosthenes, Erigone 65, 168
bees, image of poets 124 Eumolpus, in Petronius 1213

216 General index
Euripides 46, 99; Antiope 51; Bacchae 657; Naevius 95
Cyclops 7, 5377; Electra 8, 19; Orestes 27; Neoptolemus, critic 3
Phaethon 312; Philoctetes 3948; in
Aristophanes Frogs 47, 1052, 131, 201; in Odysseus 446, 5377, 176, 198201
Longinus 302, 130. See also Index of Old Oligarch 104
passages discussed Orpheus 501
Eustathius 9, 534, 73, 148, 176, 179 Ovid, Amores 1.15 95

Favorinus 100 Pandora 119

Paris 11718
Galen 83 Parrhasius 119
goat, Dionysiac animal 58 parrhesia 1045
gods, in epic 1419, 1978; in tragedy 289, pastoral poetry 57
42 Pheidias 117
Golden Age 714 Philitas 24
Gorgias 12, 35, 37, 131, 177, 187 Philochorus 65
Philodemus 7, 104, 107
Helen 114, 117, 120, 188 Philoxenus, Cyclops or Galateia 58
Heracles 1501 Phoibammon 112
Heraclitus, Homeric Problems 54, 69, 177, Pindar 1256
195 Plato 7, 1217, 39, 53, 89, 11314, 11617, 134,
Herodotus 8, 121 1635, 1789; Euthydemus 1214; Gorgias
Hesiod 18; Aspis 136, 139; Works and Days 6870; Ion 184; Laws 1417; Protagoras 2,
757 12, 23, 79; Republic 278, 89, 113, 16970,
Hippias 12 1745, 1818, 194; Symposium 11013, 11516.
Homer 118, 130, 15460, 173, 184, 1978; Iliad See also Index of passages discussed
4, 170, 1916; Odyssey 5377, 14952, 1835, Plautus 64, 81, 89100
198201. See also Index of passages discussed Plutarch 103; Comparison of Aristophanes and
Horace Ars Poetica 14, 29, 4852, 90106; Menander 7889, 99, 102, 103, 106; On
Epistles 2.1 909; Odes 3.30 120; 4.1 125; 4.2 listening to lectures 169; How the young
1247; Satires 1.4 97, 99106; 1.10 90. man should study poetry 1, 23, 25, 27,
See also Index of passages discussed 169201; How to tell a friend from a flatterer
Hyperides 129 105; Sympotic Questions 823, 178. See also
Index of passages discussed
Ikarios 65 Polybius 37, 121
Isocrates 37, 124 proagon 11
problems (zetemata) 215, 413, 62, 1668
Longinus, On the Sublime 20, 29, 95, 111, 113, Prodicus 22
118, 119, 12868, 181. See also Index of passages prologues 42
discussed Protagoras 22
Lucian, Imagines 11920 psychagogia 378
[Lucian], Onos 556 Pythagoras 173
Lucilius 90, 989, 103, 162
Lucretius 188 Quintilian 47, 96, 108, 1623
Lycurgus 179
Lysias 18, 35, 129, 1645 Sappho 1256, 134
satire, Roman 96, 99106
Machon 98 satyr-drama 569. See also Euripides, Cyclops
madness 1423 Sicily, comedy in 94
Maximus of Tyre 114 silence 57
Menander 99, 100; in Aulus Gellius 801, Silenos 5377
8990; in Plutarch 7889, 103, 106, 170 similes 141, 1567
metaphors, metaphorical language 32 Sirens, the 1767
metatheatre 579 Socrates 54
mimesis 10727; in Plato 183 Sophists 1114, 22, 68
General index 217
Sophocles Philoctetes 3948 Timaeus of Tauromenium 132
Stoics, Stoicism 197 Timon of Phlious 88
storms, epic 134, 13941, 149 tragoidia, etymology of 58
style, types of 2936, 1257, 1304, 15760 trochee, trochaic verse 924
sublimity, sublime effects 6, 302, 34, 119, Troy, Trojan War 62
Varro 99, 100
Talos 153 Vergilius Romanus 978
Terence 936, 100; Adelphoe 103, Virgil 2, 6, 1501, 15460, 1623
Theagenes of Rhegium 181 wine 647, 701, 86, 1779
Theocritus 58, 92, 151, 159, 168
Theophrastus 32, 105, 136 Xenophanes 28, 29, 88
Thersites 879, 101, 103, 105 Xenophon 54, 119, 12868
Thetis 179, 1813
Thucydides 8, 37, 71, 1234 Zeus 623, 70, 73
thymelikon 81 Zeuxis 11320