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Philodemus in Italy: The Books from Herculaneum

by Marcello Gigante, Dirk Obbink

Buy the book: Marcello Gigante. Philodemus in Italy: The Books from Herculaneum

Release Date: December, 2002

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: Marcello Gigante. Philodemus in Italy: The Books from Herculaneum

Catullus' Socration: Philodemus and His World

Tomorrow evening in Egypt an ancient tomb near the Great Pyramids will be opened for the first time in nearly five millenia, a story making headlines and the focus of a TV show on Fox. But, unknown to the average public, the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum (Herculesville) , buried under volcanic ashe and pyroclastic flow (along with Pompeii and Stabiae) in 79 A.D. from Mount Vesuvius' eruption, is an equally fascinating and important dig site--and not only because the Villa was once owned by Julius Caesar's father-in-law, L. Calpurnius Piso, father of Calpurnia (see Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.) The Villa contained a small but substantial library of nearly 2,000 papyrus rolls, discovered in the mid-Eighteenth century. The papyri were in terrible condition, and only after an intensive, meticulous unrolling procedure were their contents, Epicurean philosophy, authored mostly by Philodemus, brought to light. Philodemus, a philosopher and poet (110-35 BCE) , was born in Gadara (now Palestine) but moved to Italy during the last years of the republic. Famous for his witty epigrams, a few of which are preserved in the Palatine Anthology, Philodemus eventually settled in Naples, where he taught the intelligensia, people like Lucretius, Horace, and Virgil. Not much was known about Philodemus before the discovery of papyri at the Villa, but the Philodemus Papers, with titles ranging from On Rhetoric, to On Music, to On Poetry, illuminate much about his character and temperment, a man who thought that orators should be well-trained, music is vulgar, and poetry, although a worthy pastime, should not deter one from philosophical pursuits. Although I would like to, I must stop about Philodemus, as Marcello Gigante and Dirk Obbink's excellent survey explains this man and his work in much more detail, along with other writers found in the collection (and they're better writers too.) Gigante and Obbink (both college professors) are also involved in improving the state of the existing texts (both rolled and unrolled), whereby Philodemus' views should be even more clear by the end of the century. I do not know when these revised translations will be published --check here at Amazon. Both have studied specific aspects of these papyri texts; Gigante has specialized in studying one of the few Latin papyri editions found in the library--the historian Tacitus' Germania, while Obbink, a professor of Classics at Barnard, has translated Philodemus' own On Piety, also publishing a very important book about Philodemus' poetic and philosophical influence on the bards Lucretius and Horace (SEIZE THE DAY!) Gigante, after studying the architectural plan, has conjectured, because more sculpture has been discovered in areas of the Villa hitherto unexcavated, that more papyri rolls may be found in these areas, a theory which I think is true. Gigante, a professor at the University of Naples, would like to begin more exploratory excavations now, but government bureaucracy--not to mention Italy's money crunch--impedes his intentions. It is impossible to predict what texts preserved on papyri are still buried--many would bet on more Epicurean philosophy like Philodemus and others, the majority of material found so far, but it's hard to say. How about the Poems of Catullus, Verona's dark prince, whose character Socration (Pocket Socrates) is probably Philodemus)--in their original order? Or some writing by Varro, who wrote nearly a thousand books? Or how about Ennius' Annales (a bust of a poet [the Pseudo-Seneca], some think to be Ennius, was found in the library.) Whatever the case, Gigante, Obbink, and other scholars who have dedicated their lives to the Philodemus Project deserve the chance to find out. Good work, guys! We find Philodemus to be a lover of people, although he disapproved of most of their actions.

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