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Philodemus

(c. 110 bc — 140 ad)


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(c.110–c.40/35 bc),

b. at Gadara in Syria, d. probably at Herculaneum; he came to Rome c.75 and eventually enjoyed the favour and powerful friendship of the Pīsōnēs. One of them, Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, was esp. attached to him and was perhaps the owner of the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum. Cicero's somewhat ironical praise of Philodemus shows that he was already well known to a Roman audience for his poetry in 55. His connections with Piso brought Philodemus the opportunity of influencing the brilliant young students of Greek literature and philosophy who gathered around him at Herculaneum and Neapolis, as is shown by Philodemus' addresses to and the responses of Varius Rufus, Virgil, Plotius Tucca, and Horace (who names Philodemus in his Satires). Although his prose work, discovered in c.1,000 papyrus rolls in the philosophical library recovered at Herculaneum (see papyrology, greek), is detailed in the strung‐out, non‐periodic style typical of Hellenistic Greek prose before the revival of the Attic style after Cicero (see asianism and atticism), Philodemus like Lucretius far surpassed the average literary standard to which most Epicureans aspired (see epicurus). In his elegant and often indecently frank erotic epigrams, some 35 of which are preserved in the Palatine Anthology (see anthology), he displays taste and ingenuity worthy of his fellow‐citizen Meleager 2. The success of these poems is proved by the allusions to, and imitations of, them in several passages of Horace, Propertius, Virgil, and Ovid. Although Cicero seems to imply that Philodemus' main activity was poetry, he makes clear that he also devoted himself, for Piso's benefit, to popularizing Greek philosophy, which he dealt with both systematically (Rhetoric, Poetics, Music, Ethics, Physics or, rather, Theology) and historically (in his comprehensive History of Philosophers, comprising an outline of the chronology of the Greek philosophical schools in ten books). His works covered a wide field, including in addition psychology, logic, aesthetics, and literary criticism. Esp. remarkable was his theory of art, which he conceived as an autonomous, non‐philosophical activity, independent of moral and logical content, acc. to which artistic worth is determined not by its content or meaning, but by its form or aesthetic value. His particular originality is obscured by the fact that his works were not selected for preservation in the manner of other canonical authors. Philodemus succeeded in influencing the most learned and distinguished Romans of his age. No prose work of his was known until rolls of papyri, charred but largely legible, containing his writings, were discovered among the ruins of the villa at Herculaneum (now in Naples).

See also philosophers on poetry.

See also philosophers on poetry.

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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