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

By Dirk Obbink | Go to book overview

9
Philodemus on the Technicity of Rhetoric

David Blank

It is one thing to attack the practice of an art or arts as useless or even harmful and quite another to say that a certain practice is not an art at all, but rather a mere knack, and then to claim that any attempt to make that practice into an art will fail. In his attacks on the liberal arts, Sextus Empiricus employs both these arguments, claiming, for example, that rhetoric teaches falsehood, that it does not achieve its end of persuasion with any regularity, and that if it is considered as a science, its principles (words, propositions, etc.) are non-existent. He informs us ( Adv. math. 6.4-5; cf. 1.1) that Epicureans argue dogmatically that an art is not necessary for happiness, but is rather harmful, while others aporetically attack the fundamental principles of an art, thereby destroying it entirely.

The transition between these attacks is helped by the fact that most Greek definitions of techne specified that an art must be useful, as did the definition attributed to the Epicureans: "art is a method accomplishing what is useful for life"1 and their claim that in fact it was need that gave rise to the arts in the first place.2

But just how clear is it that the Epicureans insisted that technai had to be useful; and insofar as they did so insist, for what or whom do technai have to be useful?

In a passage drawn from an Epicurean source, Sextus says ( Adv. math. 1.49-52) that there are two arts of grammar: lower grammar or "grammatistic, " the art of reading and writing the letters; and special, deeper or more perfected grammar, which deals with the origin and nature of language, as well as with the works of prose-writers and poets. Even Epicurus, he says, accepted that grammatistic was useful and even necessary, not just for philosophers, but for all men: for it is obvious that the end of every techne is something useful for life; some arts arose mainly to avoid ills (such as medicine), others to find what is helpful (such as navigation). Yet, when Sextus says that Epicureans attack the liberal arts as not necessary or as contributing nothing to happiness or wisdom, that is not to say that they are not technai, although Sextus incorporates them into his own attacks with just that result. All the

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1
Scholia to Dionysius Thrax 108.27 = Epicurus fr. 227b Usener, 205 Arrighetti: οἱ μὲν Ἐπικούρειοι οὕτωϲ ὁρίζονται τὴν τέχνηνׁ τέχνη ἐϲτὶ μέθοδοϲ ἐνεργου + ̑ϲα τῳ + ̑ βίῳ τὸ ϲυμϕέρον.
2
Cf. Diogenes of Oenoanda fr. 12 col. ii 8-10 Smith: πάϲαϲ (sc.τὰϲ τέχναϲ) γὰρ ἐγέν|νηϲαν αἱ χρει + ̑αι καὶ πε|ριπτώϲειϲ and Lucretius, On the Nature of Things 5.1029.

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