CJ Online Review: Janko, Philodemus on Poems, Books 3-4

posted with permission:

Philodemus: On Poems, Books 3–4. With the Fragments of Aristotle, On Poets. By Richard Janko. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. xvi + 629. Hardcover, £105.00/$175.00. ISBN 978-0-521-11016-7.

Reviewed by David Sider, New York University

Is traveling summer after summer to Naples in order to read the world’s most recalcitrant (“illegible” is not always strong enough) papyri your idea of a good time? It is for Richard Janko, who describes one part of a his plan to make sense of the scraps before him—a part an ordinary classicist might regard as tedious—as “enthralling.” Having already published full-scale scholarly text and commentary of Book 1 of Philodemus’ On Poets (Oxford 2000; see my review at http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2002/2002-06-16.html), a mere eleven years later he has produced a similarly impressive volume on Books 3–4. “Mere,” by the way, is not meant to be snarky; first, the time from submission of the typescript until publication of a text this complex could not have been short; moreover, few people can equal Janko’s industry, as is shown by the fact that while other scholars are working on other texts for the Philodemus Translation Project, only Janko has so far published; and now twice (Dirk Obbink’s equally impressive text/commentary on Phil. Piety I is not part of the Project.) He has, furthermore, already produced a rough text of Book 2 and has begun his commentary. (Book 5, long known from Jensen’s 1923 edition, will be edited for this series by David Armstrong, Jeff Fish and Jim Porter, but in the book under review Janko has occasion to quote his own transcriptions of many as-yet unpublished passages from Book 5.)

Ordinary papyri may come in incomplete jigsaw puzzle sets, but for the most part they lie flat and can be read with the naked eye, with a binocular microscope providing further help in reading abraded letters. Those from Herculaneum have been steam heated, stuck together like a newspaper brought in from the rain and left to dry, now impossible to unroll without significant physical loss. Janko, however, not only does the best he can with whatever has been separated over the two and a half centuries since discovery, he even learns from the stiff curved surfaces what is denied papyrologists reading rolls found in Egypt. By calculating diameters of curved sections containing only a few columns, he can determine the length of the original roll and hence the length of the book. C = πd is only the beginning of pages of painstaking calculations most of us have forgotten how to read. (Janko in the introduction is right to thank his father for forcing him to learn algebra when all he wanted to do was read Greek.)

If reading the papyri is not enough—with naked eye, with binocular microscope, with photographs taken through an infrared lens, with computer enhancement—there may also be the disegni now in Naples and Oxford, the drawings made in the eighteenth century of layers that were then destroyed in order to get to the layer stuck below. Further, as is the case with Poet. Book 4, there may be a vast amount of unpublished notes made by scholars over the last two centuries. Janko has tracked down, even discovered, many of these; and learned of notes made by Jensen that were destroyed during World War II.

This has been a long prolegomenon to hint at Janko’s extensive proprattomena. Book 3 is included in this volume (if indeed it is from the third book) along with the meatier Book 4 because there is too little for it to be published separately, but has little solid to offer.

Book 4 is of great interest because in it Philodemus discusses poetic theorists, beginning (perhaps) with Democritus. As usual, Philodemus’ modus operandi is to review seriatim the views of his opponents (Janko calls them “adversaries,” which has a nice devilish ring). This produces great obstacles for modern readers, as the fragmentary nature of the papyri often makes it quite difficult to determine whether a particular sentence (which may in itself be largely comprehensible) is a belief of Philodemus or an opponent. Janko’s keen sense of Greek style is valuable here, as he examines even the smallest passage for hiatus (assiduously avoided by Philodemus) and particularities of vocabulary usage, such as μίμησις, which Janko translates as “representation” when Philodemus is quoting Aristotle, and as “imitation” when part of Philodemus’ own words.

The passage on Democritus is exiguous but still useful:

—……]ν Δημοκ[ριτ

εἴ]δωλα τ[

(.) παρι]στάμεν[α



“Democritus … images
… that present
themselves … music(?)”


Even if Janko’s “music” is wrong, Philodemus’
context alone
sets this passage in such a context. Scholars have often tried
to find a
unified field theory that would explain all of Democritus’
views, usually his
scientific and ethical theories—an especially good attempt is C.
H. Kahn, “Democritus
and the Origins of Moral Psychology,” AJP
106 (1985) 1–31—, but now
Janko can show
how his views of the inspired poet can also be folded into this
unity (pp.
208-213), giving powerful support to the conclusions reached by
I. G. Dellis, “Οἱ
ἀπόψεις τοῦ Δημοκρίτου γιὰ τὴν ποιητικὴ ἔμπνευση,” in L. G.
Benakis, Proc. 1st Int.
Cong. on Democritus (Xanthi
1984) 469–83. My only objection is that Janko makes too much of
the subtitle
given the Democritean work, ἢ προνοίης, which has been added to
περὶ εἰδώλων,
as if it were Democritus’ own, but surely this is Thrasyllus’
addition, just
like his subtitles to Plato’s dialogues, using what can be
thought of as an
exegetical ἤ. Still, whether due to the author or to Tiberius’
astrologer, it
must say something about the contents of περὶ εἰδώλων, itself
not necessarily a
title given the work by Democritus himself; cf. J. Mansfeld, Prolegomena: Questions to
be Settled before
the Study of an Author, or a Text (Leiden 1994) 71–4 (on
subtitles), 97–104
(“Thrasyllus on Democritus”).


Among other topics, epic and lyric poetry are
often, it would seem from the number of other poets named (e.g.,
Archilochus, Xenophanes), in comparison with and contrast to
other genres, in
order to point out ἴδια, “particularities” as Janko translates,
distinguish one genre from another. This could have been done
without naming
individuals, but—and this is an important part of Janko’s
is here discussing the views of Aristotle, who likes to support
his general
points with references to individual poets, as we see in his On Poetry. Since
ancient testimony
strongly suggests that he did this even more so in his On Poets, Janko makes a very good case that
Philodemus’ opponent
for much of this book (and into Book 5) is Aristotle, chiefly
for his views in
this no-longer-extant dialogue. His name can be found for sure
only once: col.
104.6–9 [τῶν περὶ τὸ]ν Ἀριστοτέ[λην]. (In fr. 3 col. i.7, ἀρισ[,
was supplemented as Ἀρισ[τοτέλ-
by Sbordone, but not by Janko.)


has no
trouble arguing that the phrase οἱ περὶ τὸν δεῖνα can mean ὁ
δεῖνα himself, here
Aristotle, but sometimes it can indeed simply mean the school
of ὁ δεῖνα, in
this case the Peripatus.
Still, given Philodemus’
regular practice, einmal
is surely much more than zweimal. Moreover,
Janko has no trouble
finding Aristotelian origins or parallels for many of the
passages in this
section. The question is whether the references are, as he
argues at length, to
Aristotle’s lost dialogue Περὶ Ποιητῶν or to one or another of
his other works,
especially given the number of parallels Janko himself cites
from the Poetics or


Believing that the former is indeed the case,
Janko now
gives us as the third part of his book the largest number of
fragments ever ascribed
to On Poets, one of
the few
Aristotelian dialogues not to have its own separate edition,
such as those On Ideas (Fine),
Justice (Moraux), Philosophy (Untersteiner),
the Protrepticus (Düring).
 Appearing here as a
natural outgrowth of Phil.
Poems 4, however,
this long section
cannot serve as a stand-alone commentary on its own, as would be
desired by
Aristotelians, since for the most part the brief commentary on
the fragments
refers the readers back to discussions tightly embedded in
Janko’s discussions
earlier, within the Philodemus sections.


More important, though, is the question of
how surely
Janko’s new fragments can be assigned specifically to On Poets. As with his equally problematic list of
titles, Diogenes Laertius’ compendious list seems to contain
variants as
separate works. The Theophrastus team (Fortenbaugh, Huby,
Sharples, and Gutas)
took the bull by the horns and simply arranged the many
fragments ascribed to
Theophrastus by subject matter, for the most part not bothering
with assigning
individual fragments to individual titles. For all the detailed
Janko brings to bear on the nature of Aristotle’s Poetics 2 and On Poets 1–3,
absolute proof is lacking, barring a new papyrus discovery.


Nonetheless, even if my doubts (which is all
they are) are
valid, the crucial point is that Janko’s reconstruction of the
text would not be
weakened in any way if Philodemus were arguing against one or
more unidentified
works of Aristotle—or even an unnamed Peripatetic associated
with οἱ περὶ τὸν Ἀρστοτέλη.
As with his first volume, which won the APA’s
Goodwin Award, and as no doubt will also be true of his
forthcoming third
volume on Philodemus’ On
Poems, Janko
has produced a monument of classical scholarship.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s