aleator classicus

Reading at Random in Classical Literature

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 3.11

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Gellius, another Random Reader extraordinaire, discusses two of the many vexed questions about Homer, while preserving for us a little snippet of one of Accius’ works (although this appears to be Gellius’ prose summary of Accius’ verse, which perhaps explains why Gellius is not at his most elegant here).

super aetate Homeri atque Hesiodi non consentitur. alii Homerum quam Hesiodum maiorem natu fuisse scripserunt, in quis Philochorus et Xenophanes, alii minorem, in quis L. Accius poeta et Ephorus historiae scriptor. M. autem Varro in primo De imaginibus, uter prior sit natus, parum constare dicit, sed non esse dubium, quin aliquo tempore eodem vixerint, idque ex epigrammate ostendi, quod in tripode scriptum est, qui in monte Helicone ab Hesiodo positus traditur.

Accius autem in primo Didascalico levibus admodum argumentis utitur, per quae ostendi putat Hesiodum natu priorem: “quod Homerus,” inquit “cum in principio carminis Achillem esse filium Pelei diceret, quis esset Peleus, non addidit; quam rem procul” inquit “dubio dixisset, nisi ab Hesiodo iam dictum videret. de Cyclope itidem,” inquit “vel maxime quod unoculus fuit, rem tam insignem non praeterisset, nisi aeque prioris Hesiodi carminibus involgatum esset.”

de patria quoque Homeri multo maxime dissensum est. alii Colophonium, alii Smyrnaeum, sunt qui Atheniensem, sunt etiam qui Aegyptium fuisse dicant, Aristoteles tradidit ex insula Io. M. Varro in libro De imaginibus primo Homeri imagini epigramma hoc apposuit:

capella Homeri candida haec tumulum indicat,
quod hac Ietae mortuo faciunt sacra.

On the age of Homer and Hesiod there is no agreement. Some people have written that Homer was older than Hesiod: among these are Philochorus and Xenophanes. Other people, that he was younger: among these are Lucius Accius the poet and Ephorus the writer of history. But Marcus Varro, in the first book of his On Portraits, says that there is no certainty as to which was born first, but that there is no doubt that they lived at pretty much the same time; he says that this can be shown from an inscription written on a tripod which is said to have been set up by Hesiod on Mount Helicon.

However, Accius in the first book of his Stage Productions makes use of very weak arguments by which he believes he proves Hesiod to be the older, “because,” he says, “when Homer said at the beginning of his poem that Achilles was the son of Peleus, he did not add who Peleus was”. He says, “He would undoubtedly have said this [i.e. who Peleus was] had he not seen that the same thing had already been said by Hesiod.” Accius says, “Likewise, concerning the Cyclops, Homer most certainly would not have omitted such a striking thing as the fact that he had a single eye, unless it had been made equally well-known by the poems of his predecessor Hesiod.”

There has also been a great deal of disagreement about Homer’s homeland. Some say he was from Colophon, others say he was from Smyrna. There are some who say he was Athenian, and there are even some who say he was Egyptian; Aristotle recounts that he was from the island of Ios. Marcus Varro, in the first book of his On Portraits, put this epigram by the portrait of Homer:

This snow-white kid marks the tomb of Homer,
because with it the people of Ios make an offering to the dead.

Gellius doesn’t quote the epigram of Hesiod, but it is evidently what we know as AP 7.53. I leave you to decide whether it is a genuine work of Hesiod…

Ἡσίοδος Μούσαις Ἑλικωνίσι τόνδ’ ἀνέθηκα,
ὕμνῳ νικήσας ἐν Χαλκίδι θεῖον Ὅμηρον.

I, Hesiod, dedicated this to the Muses of Helicon,
having defeated divine Homer with a hymn in Chalcis.

Varro’s De imaginibus, or Hebdomades, was a work comprising 700 portraits of famous people. I haven’t consulted Joseph Geiger’s The First Hall of Fame: A Study of the Statues in the Forum Augustum (Mnemosyne Supp. 295), Leiden 2008, but chapter 3 includes discussion of this work of Varro’s.

Written by aleatorclassicus

June 30, 2010 at 12:00 PM

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