Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period, 330 B.C.-A.D. 400

By Stanley E. Porter | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 23
PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA

Thomas M. Conley

University of Illinois, Urbana, USA

The crucial importance of Philo's rhetorical practices has only re cently been acknowledged. Scholars have always recognized that rhetoric must undoubtedly have been part of Philo's education; but the consensus seems to have been that he never became very good at it. Hence, for example, Wilamowitz's complaints about Philo's “labyrinthine” periods, Bousset's objections to his “perpetual” repeti tions and “profound monotony that tortures the reader”, and Colson's characterization of him as “an inveterate rambler”.1 These judgments are far too severe. While he is, to be sure, not the simplest of writers, Philo is usually more in control of what he is doing than he is given credit for, and in fact does what he does very well.

Just how important Philo's rhetoric is and how saturated it is by classical rhetorical theory and practice can no longer be a matter of serious dispute. The last twenty-five years have seen a number of stud ies that have advanced and deepened our understanding of the extent to which Philo's style, composition, and indeed exegesis reflect not only aspects of Hellenistic school training but serious rhetorical concerns on the order of those raised by such giants in the history of rhetoric as Cicero. Just how central rhetoric is to a right reading of Philo remains of course a matter of some disagreement. There are some who have limited their observations to the appearance of tech nical vocabulary or to traces they find of, for example, “chreia composition” in the Allegories, or of epideictic loci in the Lives; some who have detailed the stylistic textures of Philo's remarks on various passages from Genesis and Exodus as complementary to the ideas

1 See U. Wilamowitz-Mollendorff, Kleine Sckriflen, IV (Berlin: Akademie, 1962), pp.
624–25; W. Bousset, The Religion des Judentums im spathellenistischen Znlatier (3rd edn.;
Tübingen: Gressmann, 1926), p. 454; F. Colson, Introduction to the LCL Philo (Cam
bridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press and Heinemann, 1929), p. x.

-695-

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