Chapter 7

Homer as “Scripture”

Let us turn to the last of the five periods in the history of Homeric transmission, as formulated at the beginning of the fifth chapter. For the later Alexandrian scholars starting with Aristarchus, whom I put into period 5 of Homeric transmission, that is, into the most “rigid” period, the script or scripts stemming from the Athenian State tradition became “scripture.” This is the next thesis, which I will now develop by re-examining some key terms—and the ideas behind them. [1] Even before we consider the reasons for my use of the term “scripture,” however, we must start with the relevant Greek terms.
When a scholar like Aristarchus referred to the koinḗ or to the koinaí, I will argue that he was citing, from his own point of view, copies derived from the Athenian “City Edition” of Homer. Not that this version was the text for the Alexandrian scholar: it was a text, which had to be considered alongside other texts that the school of Aristarchus seems to have valued more highly for variant readings, like the “city editions” of Chios, Argos, Massalia, and so on. I think that Minna Skafte Jensen says it most incisively when she claims that the Koine too was a “city edition”—I would say the city edition by default—that is, the city edition of Athens. [2] It seems remarkable, she reasons, that a politikḗ or ‘city edition’ of Athens is never mentioned in the Homer scholia, in light of the numerous references to the politikaí of other cities. A ready explanation is that the politikḗ of Athens is indeed the koinḗ. {187|188}
In this connection, I agree with T. W. Allen’s view that the very word koinḗ had once conveyed in the context of Homeric transmission the fundamental idea of ‘common’ in the sense of ‘universal’. [3] The built-in Athenian ideology, I would further suggest, is that this text was koinḗ or ‘common’ to all because it was standard, authoritative. [4]
I also agree with Allen that the usage of the word koinḗ developed the negative connotation of ‘common’ in the sense of ‘vulgar’ only secondarily, in the context of the scholiastic tradition stemming ultimately from the school of Aristarchus, for whose followers koiná in the negative sense of ‘common’ (the neuter plural is cited for the sake of symmetry with the forms still to be cited) and dēmṓdē in the negative sense of ‘vulgar’ become synonymous with such descriptions as eikaîa ‘random’ or eikaiótera ‘random by comparison’ and phaûla ‘base’ or phaulótera ‘base by comparison’ in scholiastic references to the less “edited” versions of Homer, as opposed to the more “edited” ones described as khariéstera ‘more elegant’ and the like. [5]
Let me anticipate my conclusions. In an earlier era, at a time when an “edited” text of Homer was not yet conceptually distinguishable from any other text, I hold that the expression koinḗ in everyday usage would indeed have meant something like the Athenian “City Edition.” Such a usage could have been appropriate even in a later era, as in the time of Demetrius of Phaleron. For Demetrius himself, as reformer and standardizer of {188|189} Homeric performance traditions, there would have been a positive sense of ‘common’ inherent in koinḗ—a sense also connected in Athenian usage with the concept of control by the State. [6] The koinḗ would be considered ‘common’ to all, the prized possession of all—of all Athenians, at least. [7] Such a positive sense of koinḗ would have signaled the standardization—and, from the Athenian point of view, the universalization—of Homeric performance traditions. Any standardization of performance traditions could have led to relative standardization of written copies as well, including commercially available copies. Moreover, standardization of performance traditions could have provided an added incentive for the commercial production and sale of the Homeric text, to the extent that the very concept of a Standard Version of Homer implies to the buyer a prized and even unique possession.
All this is not to say that the standardization of Homeric performance—or perhaps even the concept of koinḗ—started with Demetrius. The idea of making the poetry of the heroic age a common possession can be traced back all the way to the middle of the sixth century BCE, the era when the régime of the Peisistratidai was already reforming the rhapsodic performance traditions at the Panathenaia. [8] And the idea continues in the fifth {189|190} century, the era of Pericles. [9] Still, the idea of a standard, as arguably realized by Demetrius through his specific reform of what I have been calling a State Script, implies a semantic narrowing that can be schematized as a progression from a “Common Homer” to a “Standard Homer,” corresponding respectively to period 3 and period 4. In other words, the concept of koinḗ may apply to both period 3 and period 4, with an intensification or specialization of ideology in period 4, when Homer becomes not only common to all—at least, from an Athenian point of view—but also the enforced standard for all.
In period 5, by contrast, which I equate with the era of Aristarchus and his school, the same word koinḗ could have come to mean, more generally, the Athenian City Text. The alternation of singular koinḗ and plural koinaí in the scholia reporting the views of Aristarchus suggests that he found some degree of variation within this textual tradition of an earlier era, but the Aristarchean convention of consistently juxtaposing the readings of the koinḗ or koinaí with the readings of other textual transmissions suggests that Aristarchus treated the koinḗ or koinaí as a distinct manuscript family. For him, the koinaí at his disposal may have been mostly commercial copies.
We know that Aristarchus also had access to the private copies of earlier Homer critics dating back to the era of Demetrius and even before, whose editorial work would have survived mostly in marginalia anchored in copies of the Homeric text. [10] Still, it appears that he would not have valued all that highly the work of the earliest critics—though he did value the earliest manuscripts. To put it positively, Aristarchus would have valued more highly the work of later critics like Aristophanes of Byzantium, who came far closer to his own standards of editorial judgment and practice. [11]
Still, it seems remarkable that there are in the Homer scholia practically no references at all to anything resembling the activity of “editing” the text of Homer in the fourth century—let alone fourth-century Athens. [12] We might have expected the most likely {190|191} candidates to be Aristotle and the whole Peripatetic School. [13] This school surely included Demetrius of Phaleron. [14]
Despite this silence, we have seen instances where Aristotle clearly speaks in terms of diórthōsis as an editorial procedure involving a Homeric reading. [15] So even if we agree that Aristotle {191|192} had no direct role in the production of a Homer “edition”—and I do not necessarily agree—he still speaks knowledgeably about the editorial activities of others. We have also noted other evidence for the existence of scholarly research on Homer in the fourth century. There was for example Isocrates’ negative account of ‘sophists’ who deliver in public learned commentaries, in the style of rhapsodes, about Homer and Hesiod. [16]
And there must have been scholarly research on other poetic traditions as well in the fourth century. Since the later Alexandrian critics seem not to have taken an active interest in performance traditions, whereas the earlier Athenian critics clearly did so, it seems to me most likely that the initial impetus for editing various non-Athenian songmaking traditions, including those of Alcman, Sappho, and Alcaeus, can be traced back to fourth-century Athens. I say this because the textual transmission of these songmaking traditions, mediated by the Alexandrian editors, reveals a wealth of details on the levels of dialect, prosody, and even orthography that could not have been preserved except through performance traditions. [17] And such traditions would be a most likely topic of research for scholars in fourth-century Athens.
I believe I have found an example of such a fourth-century scholar: in Isocrates’ Letter 8, To the Rulers of Mytilene (dated around 350), Isocrates is pleading for the restoration from exile of one Agenor of Mytilene in Lesbos, currently living in Athens and serving as the ‘music teacher’ of Isocrates’ grandsons (paideuthéntes ... tà perì tḕn mousikḗn, section 1). The father of these boys is Aphareus, a poet of tragedy. Isocrates goes on to say about Agenor of Mytilene (section 4): αἰσχρὸν γὰρ τὴν μὲν πόλιν ὑμῶν ὑπὸ πάντων ὁμολογεῖσθαι μουσικωτάτην εἶναι καὶ τοὺς ὀνομαστοτάτους ἐν αὐτῇ παρ᾿ ὑμῖν τυγχάνειν γεγονότας, τὸν δὲ προέχοντα τῶν νῦν ὄντων περὶ τὴν ἱστορίαν τῆς παιδείας ταύτης φεύγειν ἐκ τῆς τοιαύτης πόλεως ‘it is a shame that, while your city [= Mytilene] is acknowledged by all to be the mostmusical” and the most famed figures in that field [ἐν αὐτῇ] happen to have been born in your city, yet he who is preeminent {192|193} among those who are currently engaged in the historía of this paideía [maybe the ἐν αὐτῇ refers proleptically to this paideía] is an exile from such a city’.
This passage suggests to me that around the middle of the fourth century there was in Athens an ongoing tradition of research in Lesbian songmaking, and I think that Lesbian songs were at this time still represented primarily by Sappho and Alcaeus. We may note Isocrates’ use of the word historía, which I interpret as referring to Agenor’s research in establishing texts of these songs, as well as the word paideía, referring surely to the practical activity of teaching youths how to perform these songs. Isocrates goes on to argue (section 9) that Agenor and his kin, if they were restored from exile, would not be offensive to the older generation of Mytilene, whereas ... τοῖς δὲ νεωτέροις διατριβὴν παρέχειν ἡδεῖαν καὶ χρησίμην καὶ πρέπουσαν τοῖς τηλικούτοις ‘to the younger generation, they provide an activity [diatribḗ] that is pleasant, useful, and appropriate’. [18] Again we may note the ideology of paideía.
Let us return, however, to our immediate problem: why is it that we see in the Homer scholia practically no references to the activity of “editing” the text of Homer in the fourth century? There is a solution to be found if we can establish that the koinḗ tradition of Homer was linked to the editorial scholarship of the Peripatetic School in general and of Demetrius in particular. If that is the case, then there are clear and understandable reasons to account for any disinclination on the part of critics in the Library of Alexandria, from Zenodotus onward, to authorize explicitly this stream of scholarship—even if they themselves were the continuators of that scholarship. We will turn to these reasons presently.
The use of koinḗ ‘common’ in the positive sense of ‘standard’—and therefore, by implication, ‘universal’—is to be found in reference not only to the text of Homer, as just argued, but also to the sacred text of scripture, specifically the Hebrew Bible as translated into the Greek. Here I come to the original reason for my using the word “scripture”—with specific reference to the era of Aristarchus. {193|194}
In Jerome’s Epistle to Sunnia and Fretela (106.2), the word koinḗ, glossed in Latin as the vulgata or ‘vulgate’, is cited as designating two different Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible, namely, that of Lucianus and that of the Septuagint, as edited by Origen. [19] As we see from the context of Jerome’s reference, these two versions were ‘common’ in different regions of the early Church. The fact that koinḗ is the word used here to refer to the Septuagint is of special interest to Allen, who detects analogies between the status of the Septuagint in Origen’s edition of the Hebrew Bible and the status of the Koine in Aristarchus’ edition of Homer. [20]
The Septuagint is the fifth selís or ‘column’ in the six-column format of Origen’s edition of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Hexapla: the first column is the Hebrew text, the second is a transliteration into the Greek alphabet, and the third through the sixth are Greek translations, of which the fifth column represents the privileged but hardly exclusive authority of the Septuagint (Eusebius Historia Ecclesiastica 6.16). [21] Origen avoided the insertion of conjectures or emendations in the Septuagint column of his Hexapla; also, wording that was present in the Septuagint but absent in the corresponding Hebrew texts—that is, wording that Origen would have considered to be “interpolated”—was retained in the Hexapla and simply marked in the margins by the obelus. [22]
Allen envisages an analogous method in Aristarchus’ edition of Homer, with the Koine occupying a distinct status that is at least conceptually comparable to the distinct column occupied by that other Koine, the Septuagint, which Origen had annotated with such editorial marks as the obelus, the lemniscus, the hypolemniscus, and the asterisk (Epiphanius On Measures and Weights 2 and 7). [23] In the case of the Hebrew Bible, as Allen concludes, koinḗ could refer to different editions in different parts of the {194|195} world, but in any case it meant, wherever it was used, “the general or usual text.” [24] Allen goes on to argue that it once had meant “the general text” of Homer as well.
More than that: just as koinḗ designates a text that is sacred as well as common in the case of the Septuagint, so also the koinḗ text of Homer is sacred, in Allen’s judgment. [25] He justifies his specific use of the word “sacred” with reference to the Homeric koinḗ by arguing for its scriptural status in the editorial practice of the Alexandrians: “critics expressed their opinion of the genuineness of parts of it by signs appicted on its margin (as they did to Hippocrates also ...), without removing a jot or tittle from it (as they did not from Hippocrates either).” [26]
Although Aristarchus may have valued other textual traditions more highly, I agree with Allen that this Alexandrian critic treated the koinḗ version of Homer with some measure of respect, as a standard. I also agree that Aristarchus would have thought of the hypothetical archetype of the koinḗ version of Homer as a sacred text—sacred as far as the Athenians were concerned.
Here we return to the term Homēristaí, which Athenaeus (14.620b-c) seems to connect with a reform of Homeric performance traditions under the régime of Demetrius of Phaleron—and which I have tried to connect with the idea of an Athenian “State Script” of Homer. In the previous chapter, we have seen that the same term Homēristaí was actually used in Hellenized Egypt with reference to Homeric performers. Now I propose to go one step even further: the standard “script” tradition of Homeric performers in Egypt, who were known as Homēristaí, may have been derived from a “State Script” instituted for Homeric performers in Athens under the régime of Demetrius of Phaleron, who were also known as Homēristaí according to my interpretation of the passage from Athenaeus.
In any case, I must insist that the Koine tradition was for Aristarchus simply a “scripture,” not the “scripture.” Similarly, the Septuagint was simply one of six columns in the six-column format of Origen’s edition of the Hebrew Bible, the Hexapla. {195|196}
Mention of the Hebrew Bible brings us to the crucial testimony of the Letter of Aristeas, dated around 100 BCE. [27] This document dramatizes the genesis of the Septuagint in mythological terms that I think are closely analogous to a wide variety of narrative traditions where the synthesis of oral and textual traditions is pictured as an instantaneous cohesion, a spontaneous generation, a Big Bang. I have treated at length this type of narrative about the genesis of Homeric poetry in my 1992 essay, “Homeric Questions.” [28] Here I need only add two points. First, the narrative of the spontaneously inspired collective translation of the Septuagint by 72 assembled wise men, as reported in the Letter of Aristeas and other sources, fits neatly the specific rhetoric of distinct Alexandrian Jewish identity, as a 1991 article by Naomi Janowitz has shown clearly. [29] Second, it fits also the general rhetoric of generating an aetiology for a sacred text. As an aetiology, it reveals some remarkable parallels with the various aetiologies about the genesis of Homeric poetry.
The testimony of the Letter of Aristeas is relevant to our discussion not only because of the parallelisms between the status of the Septuagint and the status of Homeric poetry. Even more important, the Letter of Aristeas credits none other than Demetrius of Phaleron, the historical figure whom Athenaeus (14.620b-c) credits with reforming the Athenian traditions of Homeric performance, as the agent responsible for the actual commissioning of the Septuagint. On the basis of a variety of sources (Strabo 9.1.20 C398, Diodorus Siculus 20.45, and Diogenes Laertius 5.78), we know that Demetrius fled in 307 from Athens to Thebes, which had been refounded by his patron, Cassander, and then, after the death of Cassander in 297 BCE, he found refuge at the court of Ptolemy I in Alexandria, whose first wife, Eurydice, happened to be the sister of Cassander; [30] in Alexandria, Demetrius had a key role in instituting the collection of books that resulted ultimately in the Library of Alexandria. [31]
More than that, the Letter of Aristeas represents Demetrius as {196|197} advising King Ptolemy to commission the Septuagint for a specific purpose, that is, so that the régime may possess the sacred text of the Alexandrian Jews. Even though the narrative of the Letter of Aristeas confuses Ptolemy I with Ptolemy II, [32] the ideology that is being dramatized here is historically verifiable. [33] The Ptolemies developed the policy of possessing official sacred texts representing each of the major cultural constituents of their kingdom, a prominent example being the history of Egypt by Manetho. [34]
The partly mythologized role of Demetrius as the agent responsible for the Ptolemies’ acquisition of the Septuagint can be drawn into a parallel with his historical role in the acquisition of Classical Greek books for the Library of Alexandria (Letter of Aristeas 9–10). [35] The parallelism itself is of great historical interest. [36] With regard to the role of Demetrius as a collector of the {197|198} Greek Classics, it has been argued that it was in fact he who became the first de facto head of the Library of Alexandria, and that Zenodotus took over at the Library only around 291 BCE—or maybe even as late as 283 BCE, when Ptolemy II Philadelphus became sole ruler. In any case, 283 BCE marks the point when Demetrius, who had miscalculated in the politics of succession, became a persona non grata to the new king and was banished. [37] Demetrius had been a protégé of Eurydice, the first wife of Ptolemy I and sister of Cassander, Demetrius’ deceased patron; Ptolemy II, on the other hand, was the son of Berenice, the second wife of Ptolemy II. [38]
Here I return to my earlier argument that, for earlier Homer critics like Demetrius himself, the koinḗ could have meant the Athenian “City Text,” as reshaped through the diórthōsis of Aristotle and the Peripatetic School, while for later critics like Aristarchus, the same designation would have meant, more generally and more simply, copies derived from the Athenian “City Text.” Now that we see how Demetrius became a persona non grata to Ptolemy II and his descendants, we may ask whether such a debacle may have produced radical changes in any reference by later Alexandrian critics—starting already with Zenodotus, the protégé of Ptolemy II—to the Athenian “City Text” of Homer. Any reference by Alexandrian critics to the Athenian text, from that point onward, would be likely to underplay or even slight what may once have been a key role played by the Peripatetic figure Demetrius in a diórthōsis of this text—and even in its transformation into a Ptolemaic possession. [39] {198|199}
We see such a pattern of slighting even when it comes to the ultimate service performed by Demetrius for the Ptolemies. There is a celebrated remark by Strabo (13.1.54 C608–609) about Aristotle’s prestige as a renowned collector of books, and in this context it is he rather than Demetrius who gets the credit—despite the historical evidence indicating otherwise—for ‘teaching’ the Ptolemies how to achieve the greatest book-collection of them all, the Library of Alexandria: Ἀριστοτέλης ... πρῶτος ὧν ἴσμεν συναγαγὼν βιβλία, καὶ διδάξας τοὺς ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ βασιλέας βιβλιοθήκης σύνταξιν ‘Aristotle ... was the first that we know of to collect books, and he taught the kings in Egypt how to put together a library’.
This is not to say that Zenodotus and the Alexandrian critics that came after him slighted the Peripatetic tradition of Aristotle—all on account of the fallen Demetrius, that most visible of Peripatetics in early Alexandria. [40] I am saying only that a Homeric diórthōsis by Aristotle, if it was strongly identified with the subsequent editorial and political activities of Demetrius of Phaleron at the Library of Alexandria, would have faded from official memory along with the man who brought it from Athens. Or, even more likely, such a diórthōsis of Aristotle could have changed identities many times over, becoming transformed into the diórthōsis of Demetrius and then into the diórthōsis of Zenodotus, whose own editorial reshaping could easily have justified in any case such a change of nomenclature. [41]
The point remains that the pieces of evidence concerning the {199|200} activities of Demetrius of Phaleron add up to a premier example of a historical fact: that the ideology of actually possessing the text, whether by commissioning or by acquisition, was a key principle in the genesis of the Library of Alexandria. Witness this anecdote in Plutarch Regum et imperatorum apophthegmata 189d: Δημήτριος ὁ Φαληρεὺς Πτολεμαίῳ τῷ βασιλεῖ παρῄνει τὰ περὶ βασιλείας καὶ ἡγεμονίας βιβλία κτᾶσθαι καὶ ἀναγινώσκειν· “ἃ γὰρ οἱ φίλοι τοῖς βασιλεῦσιν οὐ θαρροῦσι παραινεῖν, ταῦτα ἐν τοῖς βιβλίοις γέγραπται” ‘Demetrius of Phaleron gave King Ptolemy this advice [paraínesis]: that he should possess [ktâsthai] and read [anagignṓskein] books about kingship and hegemony, giving this as a reason: “those who are near and dear to kings do not dare to give them advice [paraínesis] about the kind of things that are written in these books.”’
In this regard, not enough attention has been paid to a detail recorded in Plutarch’s Life of Alexander 8.2, on the authority of Onesicritus FGH 38 F 134 (who actually accompanied Alexander on his campaigns), concerning a copy of the Iliad known as ἐκ τοῦ νάρθηκος ‘the one from the casket [nárthēx]’, which Alexander the Great reputedly used to keep under his proskephálaion ‘headrest’ as he slept. This copy, Plutarch says, had been ‘corrected by Aristotle’, Ἀριστοτέλους διορθώσαντος (8.2): in other words, it featured the diórthōsis of Aristotle. Rudolf Blum is helpful in suggesting ways to visualize the nárthēx ‘casket’ as a container big enough to accommodate the text of the Iliad: he estimates the dimensions at 40 x 30 x 25 centimeters. [42] The discussion that follows offers a way to visualize the idea of a nárthēx under the proskephálaion, sometimes mistranslated as a ‘pillow’. But first I should note simply my conviction that the wording that is used here to describe Aristotle’s work on this copy, diorthoûn ‘correct’, may yet vindicate the historicity of Plutarch’s description, thus removing the doubts expressed by Rudolf Pfeiffer concerning whether or not Aristotle had produced his own edition of Homer. [43]
We have already seen some historical evidence linking this technical word diorthoûn with the school of Aristotle. [44] Also, in {200|201} light of Aristotle’s traditional sobriquet anagnṓstēs, I find it significant that Plutarch’s Life describes Alexander, precisely in the context of his possessing Aristotle’s edition of Homer, as philanagnṓstēs (8.2). [45] In this same context, Alexander is said to have taken along on his military campaigns not only this text of Homer as “edited” by Aristotle but also texts of the tragic poets Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, as well as texts of the dithyrambic poets Telestes and Philoxenus (8.3). [46] These texts of the three tragedians must be related to the official Athenian State Script of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, commissioned by the statesman Lycurgus (“Plutarch” Lives of the Ten Orators 841f). [47] In this connection, we may note the opinion of Rudolf Blum and others that Aristotle himself was the one who had produced, at the initiative of Lycurgus, these official Athenian texts of tragedy. [48] Like Aristotle, Lycurgus had studied in Plato’s Academy. [49]
What is essential for the present argument is not whether this story of Plutarch about Alexander stems from a historical fact. What matters is whether the use of the story is indeed a historical fact. I suggest that it is, and that it reflects an ideology promoted by the dynasty of the Ptolemies when they came to power in Egypt. The premise of this ideology, I suggest further, is that the Ptolemies had succeeded in taking possession of the most canonical text owned by Alexander the Great, his own copy of the Iliad. When the Library of Alexandria was founded in the reign of Ptolemy I, the core of its acquisitions may indeed have included texts from Alexander’s own library. The expression ἐκ τοῦ νάρθηκος ‘the one from the nárthēx’ (8.2), designating Alexander’s copy of the Iliad, seems typical of the terminology used for cataloguing new acquisitions in the Alexandrian Library. [50]
Let us return to the detail in Plutarch’s Life of Alexander 8.2 {201|202} concerning a copy of the Iliad kept in a box that was placed under the proskephálaion of Alexander the Great as he slept. I prefer to translate proskephálaion as ‘headrest’. The point is that the text was under the king’s head, so that the notion ‘under the headrest’ translates into ‘under the bed under the headrest under the head’. As we will now see, not only did the king possess the text: in the logic of the story, the text possessed the king—specifically the king’s head—in his sleep.
The narrative of the Life of Alexander tells of a dream that Alexander had after he conquered Egypt (26.3: νύκτωρ κοιμώμενος ὄψιν εἶδε θαυμαστήν), and according to my interpretation this dream was caused, in terms of the story, by the presence of the Homeric text under Alexander’s head. For the story of the dream, Plutarch cites as his source Heraclides Ponticus (F 140 Wehrli), and he adds explicitly that this was the story ‘believed by the people of Alexandria’ (26.3)—that is, that this story was accepted as a charter myth, as it were, of Alexandria. [51] Moreover, the story of the dream is explicitly connected by Plutarch with Alexander’s choosing to store the Homeric Iliad in a container (26.2: αὐτὸς ἔφη τὴν Ἰλιάδα φρουρήσειν ἐνταῦθα καταθέμενος). This container had been his most precious war-prize by far, a kibōtíon ‘box’ that had been captured from his defeated enemy, King Darius (26.1). The kibōtíon ‘box’ as described here by Plutarch is clearly identical with the nárthēx that we have already seen at an earlier point in the narrative (8.2). [52]
The dream of Alexander takes place after he has been pondering where he should found the ultimate Hellenic city; in the dream, an old man with gray hair appears to him and declaims the verses that we know as Odyssey iv 354–355 (Plutarch Life of Alexander 26.5). When Alexander awakens, he realizes that the apparition was Homer and that the mention of Pharos in the Homeric verses meant that he was destined to found the ultimate city at the very site that was to become Alexandria (26.5 and following). I see here a charter myth reflecting what I have just described as the ideology of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt—and, {202|203} more directly, the early ideology of the Library of Alexandria. This charter myth, to repeat, would have been founded on the idea that the Ptolemies now possessed the texts of Alexander the Great, especially Aristotle’s text of Homer. According to this charter myth, as Alexander reportedly inferred after his dream, he now had Homer as his military companion (26.3: οὔκουν [οὐκ] ἀργὸς οὐδ᾿ ἀσύμβολος αὐτῷ συστρατεύειν ἔοικεν Ὅμηρος)—and so too, according to this version of the story as believed by ‘the people of Alexandria’, did the Ptolemies (26.3: εἰ δ᾿, ὅπερ Ἀλεξανδρεῖς λέγουσιν Ἡρακλείδῃ [F 140 Wehrli] πιστεύοντες, ἀληθές ἐστιν). [53] What was ‘believed’ by ‘the people of Alexandria’ was the ideology of the Ptolemies. And this ideology, I propose, goes back to a time when Demetrius of Phaleron was still helping Ptolemy I acquire all the available books of Greek civilization, the most treasured of which could have been the text of Homer’s Iliad, the product of a diórthōsis executed by Aristotle himself.
Another prominent example of this driving idea, that the Library of Alexandria was predicated on the ideological principle of possessing the canonical texts, is the report of Athenaeus (1.3a-b) concerning the patron of Zenodotus, none other than King Ptolemy II himself, who reigned from 283 to 246 BCE: the king purchased the whole library of Aristotle from one Neleus, to whom it had been handed down by Theophrastus, who in turn had inherited it from his teacher Aristotle himself. Included in this collection, we might expect, were other valuable copies of Homer. But given the fact that Demetrius of Phaleron was a student of Theophrastus, we might also expect that any “State Script” of Homer, instituted under the régime of Demetrius while he was still in power in Athens, would have already incorporated the diórthōsis of Aristotle. If Demetrius had brought with him from Athens an authorized copy of such a “State Script” at the time when he was welcomed to Alexandria by Ptolemy I, then the later purchase of Aristotle’s whole library by Ptolemy II need not have significantly affected the Alexandrian textual transmission of Homer. This line of reasoning may explain in part why we find in the Homeric scholia no mention, attributed to the Alexandrian critics, of a Homeric diórthōsis by {203|204} Aristotle; the results of such a diórthōsis would have been already incorporated into the text as reshaped under the régime of Demetrius of Phaleron—and as further reshaped through the Homeric diórthōsis by Zenodotus and by the later Alexandrian critics. [54]
Yet another prominent example of such an acquisition of texts comes from Galen (17.1.607–608, Commentary on the Hippocratic Epidemiai 3.2.4. He tells of Ptolemy III Euergetes, who reigned from 246 to 221 BCE. It seems that this king had borrowed from the Athenians, who accepted a deposit of 15 talents, a state-owned text described as containing the scrolls of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, which was to be copied for the Library of Alexandria—and which was then never returned to the Athenians. [55] This text is evidently the same State Text of the tragedians that had been instituted in the era of the Athenian statesman Lycurgus ([“Plutarch”] Lives of the Ten Orators 841f). [56]
Galen tells the anecdote about Ptolemy III and the State Text of the three canonical poets of tragedy in the context of having recounted how Scroll III of the Hippocratic Epidemiai found its way to the Library at Alexandria. This scroll, he says, belongs to the τῶν ἐκ πλοίων category (Galen 17.1.606), that is, one of the old scrolls that had been borrowed ‘straight off the boat’, in that Ptolemy had the policy of requiring that any travelers to Alexandria should hand over whatever old scrolls they owned so that these could be copied, whereupon originals would be kept while new copies would be given back to their owners. Galen then goes on to say that the extent of just how far Ptolemy would go in pursuit of his policy is illustrated by the case of the Athenian State Text of tragedies. The deposit of this large sum of fifteen talents indicates the exceptional nature of this acquisition. Moreover, we see in the very fact of the acquisition a transformation in the status of the text from script to “scripture.”
So also with the acquisition of Homeric texts: what had been a {204|205} script in Athens becomes scripture in Alexandria for the scholars of the Library. And a major figure in this transition is Demetrius of Phaleron himself. More than that, he is an actual agent of transition. In terms of the sequence of five periods of Homeric transmission that I postulated at the beginning of the fifth chapter, the activities of Demetrius not only overlap between period 3 and period 4: they even anticipate period 5. With reference to the transition from period 3 to period 4, we have examined a source claiming that Demetrius was instrumental in the theatricalization of traditions in Homeric performance. If we accept this claim, we can say that Demetrius was primarily responsible for the mentality of what I have been calling the script. With reference to the eventual transition from period 4 to period 5, we have also examined a source claiming that Demetrius was a key figure in the founding of the Library of Alexandria during the interim years after he had fled from Greece and before he fell from grace with Ptolemy II in Alexandria. If we accept this claim, we can say that Demetrius had been instrumental in the Library’s acquisition of a copy or copies of the Koine, the more heavily edited versions of which I identify with the new Athenian State Script of Homer, instituted under his old régime. A parallel phenomenon is the later acquisition by the Ptolemies of an older Athenian State Script, the corpus of the three tragedians. [57] These scripts of the Athenian State become the “scripture” for a later Alexandrian editor like Aristarchus.
As we contemplate the standardizing or “scriptural” period of Homeric transmission, the era of Alexandrian transmission, it is enough to repeat one last time what I argued in the fifth chapter: that Aristarchus and his predecessors, even though they collected a wide range of variants, had in mind an editorial goal very different from the one I am advocating. They insisted on the idea of an original version of Homer, which must be reconstructed by way of sorting out the variants attested in surviving texts. I insist, by contrast, on the historical fact that the performance tradition of Homer stayed alive well beyond the sixth century BCE, and that {205|206} a primary heritage of this tradition—at least until the era of Aristarchus—was multiformity.
In the end, the textual tradition of Homer, as most strongly represented by Aristarchus, won out. Or, to put it more aptly, the performance tradition, as by now most weakly represented by the Homer performers of Hellenized Egypt, lost out to an ever more uniform text. {206|207}


[ back ] 1. For a historical analysis of the term “scripture,” see Smith 1993; cf. also Graham 1987, especially pp. 92–95 on the Arabic word qur’ān as a common rather than proper noun meaning ‘act of recitation’.
[ back ] 2. Jensen 1980:109.
[ back ] 3. Allen 1924:278.
[ back ] 4. In Plato Phaedrus 252b, there is a quotation of a pair of hexameters about Eros, nowhere else attested, that are supposedly taken from apótheta reported by ‘some of the Homērídai’ (λέγουσι δὲ οἶμαί τινες Ὁμηριδῶν ἐκ τῶν ἀποθέτων δύο ἔπη εἰς τὸν Ἔρωτα). As Lohse 1964:26 points out, following Lobeck 1829:861-863, apótheta conveys the idea of ‘removed from common usage and known only to a few’ (“communi usu exempta paucisque nota”) rather than ‘esoteric’ or ‘reserved’. Without entering the debate over whether these two hexameters are “genuine,” I simply draw attention to the idea of common usage as a principle ascribed to the repertoire of the Homērídai.
[ back ] 5. Allen 1924:278. On the implications of khariéstera ‘more elegant’ from the earlier standpoint of the fourth century BCE, see p. 122 above. The semantic heritage of dēmṓdēs ‘vulgar’ is also of interest. In Plato Phaedo 61a, Socrates implies that all mousikḗ except for philosophy is dēmṓdēs, in the context of explaining why he chose to engage in the mousikḗ of composing 1) a hymn to Apollo and 2) poetic versions of fables of Aesop (60c-d). Both of these poetic forms, he says, are a matter of mûthos, not lógos (61b: ἐννοήσας ὅτι τὸν ποιητὴν δέοι, εἴπερ μέλλοι ποιητὴς εἶναι, ποιεῖν μύθους ἀλλ᾿ οὐ λόγους).
[ back ] 6. I have already noted the expression en koinôi ‘in common possession’ in [“Plutarch”] Lives of the Ten Orators 841f. In this context, the expression means in the possession of the Athenian State, with reference to the texts of the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides that the State had commissioned to be transcribed and kept under its control: τὰς τραγῳδίας αὐτῶν ἐν κοινῷ γραψαμένους φυλάττειν καὶ τὸν τῆς πόλεως γραμματέα παραναγινώσκειν τοῖς ὑποκρινομένοις· οὐκ ἐξεῖναι γὰρ αὐτὰς ὑποκρίνεσθαι ‘...that they were to transcribe their tragedies [that is, the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides] and keep them under control in common possession, and that the recorder [grammateús] of the city was to read them as a model [paranagignṓskein] to those acting in the tragedies, for otherwise it was not permitted to act them [that is, the tragedies]’.
[ back ] 7. For an example of koinós in this sense, see Demosthenes 18.170: ἣν γὰρ ὁ κῆρυξ κατὰ τοὺς νόμους φωνὴν ἀφίησι, ταύτην κοινὴν τῆς πατρίδος δίκαιον ἡγεῖσθαι ‘as for the voice that the herald emits in accordance with the laws, it is just that it be considered the common possession [koinḗ] of the fatherland’. As Victor Bers points out to me, Isocrates 15.296 claims that the Attic dialect is the lingua franca of Greece because of its koinótēs, that is, because of its quality of being koinḗ, the common possession of all Greeks.
[ back ] 8. Cf. PH 160–162, with special reference to the promotion, by the Peisistratidai, of an Athenian ideology of shared poetic culture, as articulated in “Plato” Hipparchus 228d. Cf. also Aloni 1984 and 1986, along with the assessment of Catenacci 1993:7–8n2.
[ back ] 9. See ch. 5 p. 111n23.
[ back ] 10. See ch. 5. p. 121.
[ back ] 11. Cf. Ludwich 1884:118–122 and the critique of Janko 1992:26.
[ back ] 12. Pfeiffer 1968:72 argues: “the only pre-Hellenistic editor of Homer” was Antimachus of Colophon (late fifth century BCE). Pfeiffer means “editor” here in a strictly qualified sense: “we have no reason to assume that Antimachus made a ‘recension’ of the Homeric poems, collating manuscripts and emending the text; his work is never called a ‘diórthōsis’” (p. 94).
[ back ] 13. Pfeiffer 1968:72 interprets the silence of the Homer scholia concerning any “edition” of Homer by Aristotle to be proof that there was no such thing. On the general failure of the Homer scholia to mention Aristotle in the context of references to Aristarchus’ Homer research, see Lührs 1992:14, who goes on to survey instances where Aristarchus seems nonetheless to show an awareness of Aristotle’s views (pp. 13–17).
[ back ] 14. There are sporadic instances in the Homer scholia where the editorial judgment of a critic called “Demetrius” is actually still on record. In most of these situations, however, it is difficult if not impossible to know for sure whether Demetrius of Phaleron is meant. One obstacle is that there were other critics by the name of Demetrius, such as Demetrius Ixion, a contemporary of Aristarchus (in the Homer scholia, sometimes called Demetrius, sometimes Ixion; seven attestations where both parts of the name are given), mentioned prominently by Janko 1992.203. An even bigger obstacle, of course, is the nature of scholiastic writing, where the perspective of the latest scholiast tends to displace the perspectives of earlier ones. What may be obviously Demetrius of Phaleron to an earlier scholiast may easily be reinterpreted as, say, Demetrius Ixion by a later one. Nor does it help that the earlier Demetrius, as we will see, eventually became a persona non grata in Alexandria. Even if certainty is precluded, we find some examples from the Homer scholia. In the scholia A for Iliad VI 414c, Demetrius is cited as an authority for the reading ἁμόν (Δημήτριός φησιν ἀντὶ τοῦ ἐμόν). In the scholia AT for XIII 5b, he is said to interpret ἀγαυῶν as ‘splendid-looking’ (Δημήτριος δὲ ἀγαυοὺς τοὺς εὐειδεῖς). The scholia A to Iliad XIV 221a report that Aristarchus reads γε νέεσθαι where Demetrius reads γενέεσθαι, a form that the scholia reject as a false analogy (γε νέεσθαι τουτέστι πορεύεσθαι· οὕτως Ἀρίσταρχος. Δημήτριος δὲ "γενέ<ε>σθαι" ἀντὶ τοῦ γενήσεσθαι, βιαίως πάνυ· οὐδὲ γὰρ τὸ "πυθέσθαι" πυθέεσθαι γίνεται οὐδὲ τὸ λαβέσθαι λαβέεσθαι, ἵνα καὶ τὸ "γενέσθαι" "γενέεσθαι" γένηται); Janko p. 203 seems sure that we are dealing with Demetrius Ixion. In the scholia A for Iliad XV 194, where the attested manuscript tradition reads βέομαι φρεσίν, we see that Demetrius reads ἀποβήσομαι in the sense of ‘I will yield’ (διὸ οὐκ ἂν κατὰ τὴν αὐτοῦ γνώμην βιώσομαι, ἀλλὰ κατὰ τὴν ἐμαυτοῦ. Δημήτριος δὲ ἀποβήσομαι, εἴξω); Janko p. 248 again seems sure that we are dealing with Demetrius Ixion. The only case in the Homer scholia where a reference to Demetrius of Phaleron is incontrovertible can be found in Odyssey iii 267, where the scholia give πὰρ γὰρ ἔην καὶ ἀοιδὸς· οὕτω Δημήτριος ὁ Φαληρεύς: that is to say, Demetrius read what the majority of our attested manuscripts give, πὰρ γὰρ ἔην, as opposed to πὰρ δ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἔην, the minority reading (and the reading chosen in the OCT). In Athenaeus 5.177f–178a, there is a report of Demetrius’ negative judgment of the ethos reflected in Iliad II 409. Bayer 1942:146–147 argues that the technical language expressing Demetrius’ criticism, as in the case of the word parálēpsis, is anachronistic. I propose, however, that we give this report the benefit of the doubt, given the implications of marginal notation in this term parálēpsis. As we have seen, explicit references to marginal notation are a characteristic of Peripatetic text criticism. {I note with interest the term ἀττικίζων, which suggests that Demetrius too thought of an Athenian Homer.I note with interest the term ἀττικίζων, which suggests that Demetrius too thought of an Athenian Homer.}
[ back ] 15. See again ch. 5.
[ back ] 16. Isocrates Panathenaicus (Oration 12) 18–19 and 33, as quoted in ch. 5.
[ back ] 17. Pathfinding work by Risch 1946 on the early textual history of such poets.
[ back ] 18. We may compare the usage of diatribḗ as ‘performance’ in Isocrates 12.19, as quoted at pp. 123–124.
[ back ] 19. Allen 1924:278, 317, who also cites Basil In Esaiam 2 p. 447d ed. Garnier, where koinḗ refers, again, to a Greek version of the Hebrew Bible.
[ back ] 20. Allen 1924:315–320.
[ back ] 21. Allen 1924:315–317, quoting other texts as well besides Eusebius. We may note with interest the use of the word ktêma ‘possession’ in the passage from Eusebius that is cited here.
[ back ] 22. Neuschäfer 1987 I 99–100; cf. Lührs 1992:8n27.
[ back ] 23. Allen 1924:316; cf. Neuschäfer 1987 II 388n175.
[ back ] 24. Allen 1924:320.
[ back ] 25. Allen 1924:320.
[ back ] 26. Allen 1924:320. Allen’s relevant remarks about the editing of the Hippocratic corpus are to be found at his p. 313.
[ back ] 27. On which see Murray 1987.
[ back ] 28. Recast in HQ 70–75.
[ back ] 29. Janowitz 1991. {The Reverend P. Southwell of Queen’s College, Oxford, points me to the 14th ch. of 2 Esdras concerning the numbers 22 and 70 and 72.The Reverend P. Southwell of Queen’s College, Oxford, points me to the 14th ch. of 2 Esdras concerning the numbers 22 and 70 and 72.}
[ back ] 30. This crucial link between Demetrius and Ptolemy I was brought to my attention by J. D. Morgan (per litteras 30 November 1993).
[ back ] 31. Cf. Blum 1991:100–101, reviewing the discussions of Wilamowitz 1924 I 22 and 165, Pfeiffer 1968:96, 99-104. Both these earlier discussions stress the academic links of Demetrius with the school of Aristotle. Pfeiffer p. 99 remarks: “Demetrius was always a great favourite with Wilamowitz.” {Pfeiffer has in mind especially the discussion of Wilamowitz in his Antigonos von Karystos p. 291.Pfeiffer has in mind especially the discussion of Wilamowitz in his Antigonos von Karystos p. 291.}
[ back ] 32. J. D. Morgan comments (per litteras 30 November 1993): “I heartily agree with your argument that the Letter of Aristeas is evidence that Demetrius played a crucial role in collecting books under Ptolemy I, and that when it refers to Ptolemy II, that is a slip, whereas most previous scholars had thought that the Letter had right the name of the Ptolemy but had got wrong Demetrius’ role. It needs to be emphasized that confusion of one Ptolemy with another is a common error: e.g. P.Oxy. 1241, our primary source for the librarians, confuses Ptolemy I with Ptolemy IV and Ptolemy Philopator with Ptolemy Philometor.”
[ back ] 33. It is clear from the arguments assembled by Bayer 1942 (especially p. 99) that Demetrius was formally associated with Ptolemy I. On this detail, as Blum 1991.100 points out, the Letter of Aristeas has it wrong in referring to Ptolemy II. Blum pp. 116–117n27 takes to task Pfeiffer 1968:98 for making too much of the attested references to Ptolemy I instead of II. Blum p. 101: “one should not diminish the role of [Demetrius of Phaleron] in the foundation of the Alexandrian Library, as Pfeiffer and others have done.” Ptolemy II “supported the library during his forty years of government so lavishly that he was thought to have been its founder already in the second century BCE” (Blum p. 102, who as we have seen dates Letter of Aristeas at around 100 BCE). {Here Blum analyzes the Suda reference and calls into question the habit of referring to Zenodotus as the first Head of the Library [p. 101: “it does not say that he was the first head of the library,” my emphasis, only that he was a head], arguing that this position really became defined only later). Blum 102 even speculates that the rank of Zenodotus “was lower than that of Demetrios and that he was probably subordinated to him.”}
[ back ] 34. See Blum 1991:103, who points out that the History of Egypt by Manetho was dedicated to Ptolemy II Philadelphus. Blum also adduces a “translated” book on magic by “Zoroaster,” again in the reign of Ptolemy II, listed by the Callimachean Hermippus. Blum puts the Septuagint into a comparable context. {I draw attention here to the idea of a program for collecting national literatures—a program promoted by Ptolemy II (Blum 118n43 compares Charles V of France and his library at the Tour de Louvre: see Handbuch der Bibliothekswissenschaft 2nd ed. vol. 3, Wiesbaden 1955 p. 463). It makes sense, accordingly, that the Letter of Aristeas appropriates this Ptolemy for the sake of its own rhetoric. Janowitz has more to say about the rhetoric of the Letter of Aristeas.}
[ back ] 35. The relevant passage, as well as reinforcing passages from Tzetzes’ Prolegomena to his commentary on Aristophanes, are conveniently quoted by Pfeiffer 1968:100–101.
[ back ] 36. Although the Letter of Aristeas says that Demetrius of Phaleron was head of the Library under Ptolemy II, other sources indicate Ptolemy I, not II (Eusebius Historia Ecclesiastica 5.8.11 = Irenaeus Adversus Haereses 3.21.2) while still other sources give both possibilities (Clement of Alexandria Stromateis 1.48). J. D. Morgan comments (per litteras 30 November 1993): “With such variation in our sources regarding the identity of the Ptolemy and no variation regarding the role of Demetrius of Phaleron, it is clearly more systematic to give precedence to the latter.”
[ back ] 37. Blum 1991:101, 117n32, 127. Ptolemy II was a former pupil of Philitas of Cos: Pfeiffer 1968:124.
[ back ] 38. See n30 above. J. D. Morgan comments (per litteras 30 November 1993),: “The connection is now clear. Upon the death in 297 of his protector Cassander, Demetrius of Phaleron sought refuge at the court of Cassander’s sister, and while there promoted the interests of his protectress, with ultimately fatal consequences to himself.” So finally the relationship of Cassander and Demetrius, which had seemed as if it were merely a random association in the passage of Athenaeus (14.620b-c) that we considered in the last chapter becomes evident. Morgan continues: “I think it is easy to suppose that one of the important personal links between the two was a common enthusiasm for studying the text of Homer, with each inspired by the earlier work of Aristotle on this topic.”
[ back ] 39. The formulation of Pfeiffer 1968:95 is instructive: “the line Philitas-Zenodotus-Callimachus, of which we have stressed the non-Aristotelian character, met in Alexandria with a genuine Peripatetic line from Athens.” At its earliest stages at Alexandria, the Peripatetic approach was represented most visibly by Demetrius of Phaleron (Pfeiffer p. 96). For a discussion of instances in the Homer scholia where the views attributed to Aristarchus imply an awareness of Aristotle’s views on Homer, see Lührs 1992:13–17.
[ back ] 40. I agree with Slater 1989:42, who argues that the tradition of the Alexandrian school, which “is best represented in our surviving scholia,” was “rooted in the methods of the sophists as redefined by Aristotle.” Still, there are clear signs of anti-Peripatetic tendencies, especially in the line of thought represented by Callimachus: see Pfeiffer 1968:136–137.
[ back ] 41. In this connection, we may note that Rengakos 1993:11 cautions against the reductionist mentality, evident already in the ancient world, of crediting Zenodotus, by retrojection, with all or most pre-Aristarchean variant readings of Homer. On Zenodotus’ methods in editing Homer, see Rengakos pp. 18–21 (with whom I agree that the variants reported by Zenodotus are genuine textual variants, not glosses or cited parallels, as van Thiel 1992 argues).
[ back ] 42. Blum 1991:69–70n 45.
[ back ] 43. Pfeiffer 1968:71–72.
[ back ] 44. See p. 121 above.
[ back ] 45. On Aristotle as the anagnṓstēs, see p. 149 above. For a mention, in passing, of a rhapsōidós ‘rhapsode’ who performed at a grand feast, the context of many other performances as well, arranged by Alexander the Great, I cite Athenaeus 12.538e. Worth noting is the whole narrative of the feast in Athenaeus 12.538c–539a, reporting the account of Chares in his History of Alexander (FGH 125 F 4). Cf. Pickard-Cambridge 1968:280.
[ back ] 46. Telestes and Philoxenus are dated to the late fifth and early fourth centuries.
[ back ] 47. On which see pp. 174–175 above.
[ back ] 48. Blum 1991:42.
[ back ] 49. Blum 1991:42.
[ back ] 50. Witness the designation of a certain category of acquired texts as ἐκ τῶν πλοίων ‘straight off the boats’ (Galen 17.1.606.13-14), to be discussed at p. 204 below.
[ back ] 51. On the concept of charter myth, see Leach 1982:5, following Malinowski 1926.
[ back ] 52. On the use of the word kibōtós ‘box’ and its derivatives to designate the special storage place of texts containing a powerful political message, see PH 171–172, 431.
[ back ] 53. On Alexander as a “second Achilles,” see Plutarch Alexander 5.8, 15.9.
[ back ] 54. See p. 199 above. Even before the Ptolemaic acquisition of the library of Aristotle, we may expect that the Library at Alexandria already had selective access to the works produced by the school of Aristotle, as eventually represented by his successor Theophrastus: Blum 1991:59. {I save for another occasion a critique of Fortenbaugh on Theophrastus.I save for another occasion a critique of Fortenbaugh on Theophrastus.}
[ back ] 55. Pfeiffer 1968:82.
[ back ] 56. On which see pp. 174–175 above.
[ back ] 57. We may note with interest the comment of Pfeiffer 1968:192: “in contrast to comedy, tragedy seems to have been neglected by the scholars of the third century.” See also Blum 1991:83n155.