Philodemus and Poetry: Poetic Theory and Practice in Lucretius, Philodemus, and Horace

By Dirk Obbink | Go to book overview

7
Content and Form in Philodemus:
The History of an Evasion

James Porter

What -is important is to recover our senses. We must learn to see
more, to hear more, to feel more. Our task is not to find the maxi
mum amount of content in a work of art, much less to squeeze
more content out of the work than is already there. Our task is to
cut back content so that we can see the thing at all.

Susan Sontag, "Against Interpretation" ( 1964)


1. Ancient Aesthetics and the Discourse of Criticism

Jensen's publication, in 1923, of the remains of a book from On Poems by Philodemus brought to light one of the richest sources we currently have on the state of poetic theory during the Hellenistic period, and on the connections between those developments and their classical antecedents in Plato and Aristotle. Figures known only by name or for obscure achievements, such as Neoptolemus of Parium and Crates of Mallos, were drawn out of their prior darkness and isolation and restored to an importance that subsequent research has only reaffirmed. The so-called "heretic" member of the Stoa, Aristo of Chios, emerged (if the attribution right) as an expositor of a challenging theory of aesthetic value which appears to have been unique.'1 Shadowy extras, like the so-called kritikoi ("Critics"), were revealed as having occupied an influential place in the field of ancient literary criticism, prior to Crates and Aristo. In Jensen's wake, it can now be shown that fields of inquiry as remote as physics, epistemology, music, and literary criticism consorted together in the Hellenistic era with an intensity that ought to make us wonder afresh about some of the better known examples of literary criticism from antiquity, where such cross-disciplinary connections are less obviously apparent (e.g., Dionysius of Halicarnassus

____________________
1
On the controversial Aristo and his poetic theory, see Asmis 1990b,and J. Porter, "Stoic Morals and Poetics in Philodemus", CErc 24 ( 1994).

-97-

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