Saturday, September 16, 2023


A Common Trick

Basil L. Gildersleeve, review of Hermann Usener, Epicurea (Leipzig: Teubner, 1887), in American Journal of Philology 9.2 (1888) 229-231 (at 229-230):
Why, those who have called Diogenes [Laertius] a miserable compiler or an unqualified ass have done him too much honor. D. did not rise even to the dignity of being a copyist; he merely hired other people to copy for him, and on the strength of this literary activity took to himself the glory of authorship. In those days a man bought books as one buys wines, and decanted them as one decants wines, not without mixing vintages and blending manufactures. It was a common trick of the times to take what we should call text-books or manuals, add, cut out, change, and then publish them again under new titles as new books. Galen complains of it as Tertullian complains of it, and how justifiable these complaints were is shown by specimens of this doctoring process taken from the Laertian life of Plato, and from that part of book X which forms the setting of the Third Moral Epistle of Epicurus. In the latter case our friend, whom we will continue to call Laertius, sent to the shop a lot of 'copy,' consisting of a number of 'books' on the history of philosophy. This work belonged to a much earlier period, say to the time of Nero or the Flavii, and was addressed to some Neronian blue-stocking like Pamphila or to some of the concumbentes Graece of Juvenal. Together with this work were sent four compositions by Epicurus himself, and also a scholarly epitome of the Duties of the Sage according to Epicurus. The wild medley that ensued is what we have in our texts. But let us forgive Diogenes for the sake of the precious letters of Epicurus, without which we should be debarred from access to the esoteric discipline of the school.
"Concumbentes Graece of Juvenal" is a reference to Juvenal 6.191 (concumbunt Graece)..

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