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Demetrius Laco's Citations and Literary Culture

Michael McOsker

It was a common belief in antiquity, shared by many today, that Epicureans eschewed literary studies (e.g Cicero, In Pisonem §70, most interpretations of Epicurus fr. 568 Usener). Philodemus is one exception; Demetrius Laco is another. In his works, he cites a variety of authors: other philosophers, as we would expect, but also literary authors and scholars working in such disparate fields as medicine and grammar. The later two groups are rather unexpected in Epicurean texts, biased as they are usually taken to be against literature and the liberal arts. The goal of this paper is to use these citations to reflect on the kind of engagement with literature and the arts Epicurean philosophers had. That Demetrius generally does not taking his citations from anthologies or grammatical literature is suggested by his honesty in admitting that he found a line of Aeschylus in Aristophanes of Byzantium; this implies that he found the other passages he uses through his own reading Citations will be handled in three groups: Hippocratic, literary, and grammatical. Citations of philosophers will not be treated here. The citations of Hippocrates are puzzling:1 he is not quoted as a medical authority but instead, like the literary authors, to provide parallels for textual criticism. There is no evidence that Demetrius was a doctor, who could be expected to have these works to hand; rather, I argue that doctors were participants in ancient philosophical debates. Sextus “Empiricus” (actually a Methodist doctor) and Philodemus' On Signs and Sign-Inferences provides evidence for this position.

Demetrius may have come across his references in his readings of contemporary debates. Investigation of literary authors reveals not just the expected authorities, such as Homer and the tragedians, but some further afield, such as Alcaeus, Callimachus, and Sophron.2 Additionally, Empedocles is cited for a stylistic point, rather than a philosophical one. Demetrius cited these authors either for textual critical purposes as parallels for proposed grammatical or lexical features, or to illustrate discussions of poetics. The fact of this discussion is per se evidence for greater engagement with literature than expected, and the range and variety of of reading is informative. Finally, there is quotation of Aeschylus embedded in a fragment of Aristophanes of Byzantium in a work on textual problems and interpretative cruxes in Epicurus (PHerc. 1012, col. 22.1-5).3 Here, the Epicurean's use of a grammatical treatise will be correlated with his use of grammatical and textual critical terminology to draw conclusions about Demetrius' technical grammatical education and textual-critical practices.

These considerations suggest that the Epicureans were better read than Cicero thought and that ancient philosophers ranged more widely in their reading than often assumed. Even if Hippocrates is fully left out of account, the range of Demetrius' citations is still informative. They should be taken as empirical evidence, in good Epicurean style, for a greater engagement with literature and the arts than has been hitherto suspected.

1. See Roselli (1988) for a treatment of the citations of Hippocrates.

2. See Parisi (2011) on Euripides, Liberman (2002) ad fr. 358, Hordern (2004) ad fr. 16.

3. Romeo (1988) ad loc., Crönert (1906) 121 n. 526a. The fragment was overlooked by Slater (1986).

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Herculaneum in Word and Text

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