φιλόλογος: What Could It Mean?

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship Vol.1

φιλόλογος

“The word φιλολογία has a somewhat varied history[1]. It is first found in Plato, where it means the ‘love of dialectic’ or ‘of scientific argument’[2]. The corresponding adjective φιλόλογος is applied to ‘a lover of discourse’[3], as contrasted with a ‘hater of discourse’[4]. It is applied to Athens as a city ‘fond of conversation’, in contrast with Sparta and Crete with their preference for brevity of speech[5]. Socrates applies it to himself in a studiously ambiguous sense, either ‘fond of talking’, or ‘fond of speeches’ (like those of the orator Lysias)[6]. Elsewhere, when added to φιλόσοφος, it means a ‘lover of reason’[7] Thus its uses in Plato are as varied as the meanings of the word λόγος, ‘speech’, ‘discourse’, ‘conversation’, ‘argument’, ‘reason’.

Aristotle describes the Spartans as having made Chilon, one of the ‘Wise Men’ of Greece, a member of their Council, although they were ἥκιστα φιλόλογοι, ‘the least literary of all people’[8]; and in the ‘Aristotelian ‘ writings we find included under the general phrase, ὅσα περὶ φιλολογίαν, questions of reading, rhetoric, style and history[9]. Thus far, the word has not yet acquired any narrower signification. When Stobaeus (in the fifth century of our era) in telling an anecdote of Pericles, uses φιλόλογος in one of its later senses, that of ‘educated’, in contrast to ‘uneducated’ (ὰπαίδευτος), he is not really quoting the language of Pericles himself, but is only reflecting the usage of a later age[10].

The first to assume the title of φιλόλογος at Alexandria was the learned and versatile scholar, astronomer, geographer, chronologer, and literary historian, Eratosthenes (c. 276-195 B.C.). The same title was assumed at Rome by a friend of Sallust and Pollio, a Roman freedman of Athenian birth, Lucius Ateius Praetextatus (fl. 86-29 B.C.)[11]. The term is applied by Plutarch to those who, in reading poetry, are attracted by its beauty of expression. In late Greek it is mainly found in two senses (i) ‘studious’, ‘fond of learning’, (2) ‘learned’, ‘accomplished’[12] The first is approved by the Atticist Phrynichus; the second is condemned[13].

The word is frequent in the familiar Latin of Cicero’s Letters; philologia is there applied to the study of literature[14], and philologus means ‘learned’ or ‘literary’[15]. Vitruvius calls Homer poetarum parens philologiaeque omnis dux, ‘the father of poetry and the foremost name in all literature’, and describes the Pergamene princes as prompted to found their famous Library by the delights of philologia, or ‘literature’[16]. In Seneca’s Letters philologus is contrasted with grammaticus in the lower sense of the latter: the philologus (he observes) will notice points of antiquarian interest; the grammaticus, matters of expression[17]. Lastly, in the fanciful allegory de nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, written by Martianus Capella in the fifth century, the bride Philologia appears as the goddess of speech, attended by seven bridesmaids personifying the seven liberal Arts. In modern Latin the meaning of philologus had been made much more comprehensive. It is now used in the sense of a ‘scholar’, thus including all that ancient writers understood by grammaticus in the higher sense of the term, and much more besides, — not only a knowledge of the languages of Greece and Rome but also a knowledge of all that contributes to the accurate understanding of their literature and their art. Those who in modern Latin are called philologi were in ancient times known either as grammatici (in its higher sense), or as critici.

Having briefly traced the history of the word φιλόλογος, we may now deal no less briefly with the two terms which in modern Latin, and in French and German, it has ultimately superseded, the terms γραμματικός and κριτικός.”

[1] Lehrs, De Vocabulis φιλόλογος, γραμματικός, κριτικός (Königsberg, 1838); reprinted in Appendix to Herodiani scripta tria, p.379-401, 1848; cp. Boeckh, Encyclopädie…der philologischen Wissenschaften, p. 22-24

[2] Theaet. 146 A.

[3] Ib. 161 A.

[4] Laches 188C.

[5] Laws 641E; cp. Isocr. Antid. 296, where φιλολογία and εὐτραπελία are characteristic of Athens.

[6] Phaedrus 236 E.

[7] Rep. 582 E.

[8] Rhet. Ii 23, 11

[9] Probl. xviii, p.916 b.

[10] Stobaeus, 70, 17

[11] Suetonius, De Grammaticis, 10

[12] Lehrs, l.c. p. 380 (1) eruditionis amicus, studiosus; (2) eruditus, litteratus

[13] P.483 Rutherford,     Φιλόλογος· ὁ φιλῶν λόγους καὶ σπουδάζων περὶ παιδείαν· οἱ δὲ νῦν ἐπὶ τοῦ ἐμπείρου τιθέασιν τοὔνομα, οὐκ ὀρθῶς.

[14] Ad Att. Ii 17, I; (Cicero filius) ad Fam. Xvi 21, 4; συμφιλολογεῖν = una studere, ib. § 8.

[15] Ad Att. Xiii 12, 3; 52, 2; used as a Subst. in xv 29, 1 and ad Quinti fr. Ii 10, 3.

[16]  vii Praef. § 8 and § 4

[17] Ep. 108 § 29

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4 responses

    • Yeah, there isn’t any good text available online, due to the notorious unreliability of scanning technology. I’m actually going through the book in totally sequential order so that we (eventually) have the full text on the site (with hyperlinked footnotes). If I’m not totally sick of it by then, it would be nice to then add extra commentary and cross-references to it.

      • This is an insane project (and I mean that in the best of ways). Is there any OCR technology that can speed along the process? Have you looked for scan and convert apps for your phone?

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