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The Dialectics of Genre: some aspects of secondary literature and genre in antiquity

A discussion of the characteristics of 'metatexts' such as commentaries in Greco-roman antiquity
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  CHARTER  TEN The  Dialectics  of  Genre: SomeAspects  ofSecondary  Literatureand  Genre  in  Antiquity INEKE SLUITER Products of  ancient  Greek literature are characterized to a high degree by  their self-positioning  vis-ä-vis  predecessors and  contemporaries,  and by their  deepconsciousness of forming part of a tradition, whatever their  authors'  views on their  relation  to that  tradition.  These elements  are  all-pervasive,  but mostly un- dercover, in  the  familiär  literary strategies of Imitation and  emulation.  In  this paper, I will deal  with  literature that is explicit about its  second-order  Status,  itsdirect relation with and dependence on an earlier text or author: those works ofancient scholarship whose explicit purpose is to elucidate a text or an oeuvre. 1 This  class of  scholarly work  includes  lexica,  paraphrases,  the  so-called  ττβρί󰀭 literature ( on specific  topics in ancient  authors),  έπίµ € ρισ󰀭µοί  (exhaustive, word󰀭for󰀭word  discussions), scholia,  ζητήµατα  Ι  άπορήµατα  Ι  προβλήµατα󰀭 literature  with  or  without  leseis (that  is, the  identifkation  of  critical  problems in  ancient texts, sometimes  with solutions ),  Äpitomafi,  and  commentaries(conventionally distinguished by the explicit presence of lÖmmata sections of  the source-text  that  are then being explained). 2  Note that some literary (forexample, poetic) work, while laying claim to independent literary Status, can often  be construed  äs  a (critical) commentary on a literary example  that functions  äs  a  subtext. By  contrast, although their  titles  seem  to  claim  no more than secondary  Status  for the works they designate, some commentaries are  the  vehicles  of  independent scholarly  thought,  so  that  the  choice  of  genre  is 183  184  InekeSluiter at  least  in  part  a  rhetorical  device,  both  a  topical  expression  of  modesty  and of the  less  modest claim that their  views  are  backed  up by the  füll  weight of  the tradition. In the following, I will mainly concentrate on commentaries, and withinthat group especially on those that do not  focus  primarily on providing  ele- mentary  help  with a text that is mainly studied qua poetry or exemplary  lan- guage  (for example, scholia  on  Homer  and the  tragedians; lexica),  but  thatrather engage  the  didactic content  of the  source-text (for example, Galen's com-mentaries on Hippocrates, the commentators of Aristotle and  Plato,  the techni- cal  commentaries  on  Aratus).  It  is in  this group that questions  of  genre  äs  dis- course  strategy are  most  urgent. Doctors, philosophers, astronomers, and other ancient  intellectuals  were  committed  to  advancing  their disciplines.  If  they chose to  present their  often  srcinal work under  the  guise  of a  commentary, itis  well worth  asking  why.Commentaries are an interesting  case  study on genre in that they bothinstantiate a genre in  their  own right and contain some of the earliest reflections  on  genre  in  Western European literature, both  of the  texts com-mented on, and their own. I will explore  both  these aspects. Commentaries are especially  abundant  in the  time  of the  Roman Empire.  It is  less well-known  how much  evidence  we  have  for  commentary activities  in the  Classical  and  Hellenis- tic  periods. Therefore,  I  will  give  a  brief survey  of  commentary literature  from the fifth to first  centuries  B.C.E,  in the first  section  of  my paper.  In the  secondsection, I will argue that the genre of the commentary and the persona of the commentator emerge  äs  a  function  of  four  areas  of  tension. This will comprisea  modern  construction  of the  parameters  of the  genre.  The  third  section  deals with  the  efforts  of ancient  commentators  to  classify  their source-texts  and  with the  question  whether  these  classifications  are  based  on  generic  considerations. Thus this section looks at the use of the concept of genre by the ancient com-mentators themselves.  The  fourth  and fifth  sections  deal  with ancient ideas  on the genre of the commentary: in the fourth section, I examine the question ofwhether  secondary  literature itself  was  ever recognized  äs  a  separate genre  in ancient classifications  of  genre  (eidographia);  in the fifth  section,  the  question  is whether  the  commentators themselves ever tried  formally  to  define  and subclassify  the genre of their own work in their commentaries.It will  turn  out  that  the commentators are aware of the concept of genre and use it in the  explanation  of  their source-texts.  As for the  genre of the commentators'  own  work,  it is  perfectly  possible  for the  modern  Student  to define  the  elements  that  are  constitutive  of it, but it  hardly plays  a  role  in an-  The  Dialectics  of Genre  185 cient  classifications  of genre. Moreover, although the ancient commentators arecertainly engaged in a constant  effort  of self-positioning, the distinctions theydraw in order to do so are not primarily conceived in  terms  of genre. Early  Commentaries Greek  commentary literature srcinates with  the  exögetai  of  sacred texts. Theremust have been a  long  oral tradition of interpreting divine signs, meteorologi- cal  phenomena,  and  possibly even oracles  before  the  focus  became purely tex-tual (van  Bekkum  et  al.  1997:163f.).  Once tradition had been captured inwriting, its preservation and transmission became increasingly embedded in the  creation  of a  secondary literature  (from  the  fourth  Century  B.C.E.).  Exegesis was  also called  for in the  context  of  poetry  and  philosophy. Homer  and  Hesiodprovoked reactions  on the  part  of the  lonian  philosophers  and the  sophists,  but Diogenes  Laertius  (9.15; compare 6.19) claims that  the first  actual  exegesiswas by Antisthenes, and that its subject was Heraclitus.  It  is questionable whetherthis  refers  to a  full-blown  commentary.This survey will  be  restricted  to  what  is  known  of  commentaries  whose  in- terest  is not  primarily literary  from  the  fourth  to the first  centuries  B.C.E.,  com-mentaries  on  philosophical,  medical,  and  astronomical  texts:  Xenocrates  and Speusippus recorded ideas about  the  Interpretation  of  Plato  (it is  doubtfulwhether these  constituted  commentaries ),  Heracleides  Ponticus  and  Crantorcommented  on—once  again—Heraclitus,  äs  did Cleanthes and  Sphaerus  (D.L.9.15).  Proclus  claims  that Crantor  was  also  the first  exegetes  of  Plato  but  doesnot expatiate on the  form  that this  exegetical  activity took  (in PL Tim. l  75.30).There  are  third-century papyrus fragments  that apparently  contain  a commen- tary  on  Plato's  Phaedo  (Barnes  et al.  1991:5). 3  Theophrastus  and  Eudemus  fol- lowed up on the  initiative taken  by the Platonists,  although  it is not  clear whether they wrote exegetical commentaries or just reacted to previous  schol- arship  in  independent  writings.  Posidonius  may or, more  likely,  may not  havewritten  a  commentary  on the  Timaeus. 4  Potamo  of  Alexandria,  a  contemporary of  Augustus,  composed  a  commentary  on the  Republic.  Our  earliest extant Plato-commentary  postdates the period described here: it is the Anonymous in  Theaetetum,  probably dating from the  late  first Century  B.c.E. 5  Later  exam- ples  of secondary literature on Plato include monographs on particular topics ( pen-literature ),  concordances,  and  lexica. Secondary  literature  on Aristotle postdates the period described  here. 6 Turning  to  Epicurus,  we  know  that  in  Philodemus's library there were cop- ies  of his  work with variants  and  critical  tools.  Philonides  of  Laodicea (second  186  InekeSluiter Century  B.C.E.)  collected Epicurus's work  (vita  Philon.  PHerc.  1044,  fr.  66.6ff.) and maybe used an  Athenian  archetype  that  had been kept in  the  Garden  after Epicurus's death (Puglia  1993:51f.).  Philonides also wrote  a  commentary  on the mathematical work of his teacher Eudemus, a commentary on book 6 of Epicurus's  De  rerum natura,  and a work on the commentary of Artemon. Thelast title  is  interesting, because  it is an early  instance  of a  study provoked  by  sec-ondary literature, rather than immediately by the primary sources. Philonides'scommentary  on  book  6 of  De rerum natura  may  also have been  a  commentaryon a commentary by Eudemus.  Alternatively,  it may have been a report on lec-tures about Epicurus  (Puglia  1988:53).  Artemo was the  author  of a  commen-tary  on 33 of the 37  books  of the  De rerum natura  (maybe supplemented  by Philonides). Philological-philosophical  work  on  Epicurus also  included  mono- graphs and summaries of the master's works to  facilitate  their study (Puglia1988:55). Zeno of Sidon (ca.  150-175),  a slightly older contemporary ofDemetrius Lacon, revised the transmitted texts and pronounced verdicts onquestions of authenticity. 7  Demetrius Lacon writes on textual and exegeticalproblems  in  Epicurus  (PHerc.  1012), ca.  second/nrst  Century  B.C.E. 8  His  work follows  the  aporiai/luseis  model.  It is not a  running commentary  but  rather  a collection  of  short  essays  of an  exegetical  and  philological nature  on  specific points and problems in Epicurus's doctrine (Puglia 1988:81). Like  the  Alexandrian philologists (notably Aristophanes  of  Byzantium),Demetrius Lacon shows an interest in lexicographical problems in Hippocrates (Puglia  1988:79). This  is an  indication that, broadly speaking,  we are  dealingwith  one  unique intellectual  network from  the later  third  Century  B.C.E,  on- wards:  philology  is  available  äs  a  paradigmatic method,  a  responsible  way of looking at texts, and (philosophical/technical) commentators  avail  themselves of  this  tool, 9  whereas  Professional  philologists do not restrict their attention to poetic  texts but extend it to, for example, Hippocratic studies. The texts that were of  interest  to  this Republic  of  Leiters are far  more  wide-ranging than  our more narrow conception of literature would  lead  us to assume. However,among the more  pur-sang  philologists, interest in prose texts was generally lim-ited. The historians were studied to some extent; 10  Callimachus worked onDemocritus; 11  Hippocrates  was  studied  for  interesting phenomena  of  dialect;and the Suda reports that  Asclepiades  wrote emendations of philosophicaltexts.  But we  also hear that Aristophanes  of  Byzantium criticized Epicurus's  use of  language (D.L. 10.13) and that the grammarian Diodotus wrote a commen-tary on Heraclitus claiming that his work is not about nature but about the con- stitution  of the  state  (politeia),  with  phusis  just  serving  äs  an  Illustration (D.L.9.15). As pointed out  before,  grammarians—and illustrious ones at  that—  The  Dialectics  ofCenre  187 wrote  lexica  on  Hippocrates  (in  fact,  according  to Erotianus,  Xenocritus  of Kos was  the  first to do so at  all). 12  In  the  third  section  below,  we  will  see  that Aristophanes  also worked  on  Plato. Hippocratic writings provoked  secondary  literature  at  least  from  Bacchius (end  of the  third  Century  B.C.E.),  and  perhaps  even  from  Herophilus  (twogenerations  earlier) onwards. Hippocratic studies consisted mainly  of glossography,  exegesis,  and  hints  for  practical therapy based  on  Hippocratic principles. 13 A  last group  of  commentaries  deals  with astronomical work: Aratus's  di- dactic poem, a poetic adaptation of Eudemus's prose work on astronomy, wascommented  on in the  second  Century  B.C.E,  by  Attalus  and  Hipparchus, amongothers. All  of  this illustrates what  Geffcken  has  called  the  Kommentar-Atmosphäre in the  Alexandrian  era (1932:408). And in  fact,  we  read that when the art of  grammar  was  introduced  in  Rome,  so was the  genre  of the  commen-tary (Suet.  Gramm.  2). In  Alexandria,  we find the  roots  of the  Western Great Texts approach to education: the (textual/exegetical) study of great predeces-sors, both in literature and in any other field. Ancient  Commentaries:  The Dialectics of  Genre If  one  constructs  a  modern picture  of the  genre  of  ancient commentaries,  four sets of oppositions stand out  throughout  antiquity.  (1)  There are two  funda- mental assumptions about the source-text, namely (a) that it is a great text but (b)  that  it  needs  the  commentator's  efforts  to be  optimally  effective  (authority versus  unclarity).  (2) The  commentator  has to find a  balance between  (a)  mak-ing the most of his source-text (a strategy that is bound to increase the  impor- tance of  his  own work) and (b) maintaining the intellectual attitude of an inde-pendent critical thinker (charity versus criticism). (3) The commentator ischaracterized  by  having  a  dual professional  affiliation:  (a) he is the  colleague  of his source-author, qua philosopher, mathematician, physician, and so on, and at  the same  time,  (b) he belongs in the tradition of commentators, with a spe- cific  competence  in  grammar  and  exegesis.  He  will  feel  the  need  to  downplaythese latter  qualifications  in  favor  of the former, in accordance with the ubiqui-tous contempt for the mere  grammarian ( mere grammarian versus real scholar ).  (4) Finally, there are the modes of transmission: (a) the stable writtennature  of the  source-text contrasts with  (b) the  improvised, oral aspects,  and fluid  nature,  of the  commentary (written versus  oral). 14  In  what  follows,  I  shall discuss  each Opposition in turn.
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