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Reviewed by:
  • Timon of Phlius: Pyrrhonism into Poetry
  • Maria Noussia-Fantuzzi
Dee L. Clayman. Timon of Phlius: Pyrrhonism into Poetry. Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte, 98. Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 2009. Pp. x, 261. $154.00. ISBN 978-3-11-022080-3.

The aim of the book as stated in the introduction is to reconstruct the work of Timon of Phlius to the extent possible and to assess its importance in the literature of the early Hellenistic period (2). The latter is a twofold attempt: first at tracing Timon's influence in some of the work of the great Hellenistic poets such as Callimachus, Theocritus, and Apollonius of Rhodes; and secondly at establishing the presence of a Skeptic worldview in the avant-garde culture of the third century (the aesthetics of Skepticism). In this [End Page 521] reviewer's opinion the book succeeds admirably in creating a coherent picture of Timon, his world, and his place in the Greek literary tradition, but less so regarding an aesthetics of Skepticism and its presence in Hellenistic poetry. In competently locating Timon's Silloi in the context of Greek literature and philosophy, Clayman advances A. A. Long's seminal paper "Timon of Phlius. Pyrrhonist and satirist, PCPhS 24 (1978) 68-91, which laid the groundwork for such an approach (since it is the only other work in English to treat the Silloi as literature), and she paves the way for future work of the sort with texts of philosophers-poets/philosophical poetry.

Chapter 1 begins with the biographical tradition, whose principal source is Diogenes Laertius. Clayman points out that biographical material, even when it is not necessarily reliable historical information on the author, has a certain value as it is drawn from older sources that depend, in turn, on the literary tradition (3). This orientation is present in most research on ancient biography, but Clayman adopts it for a series of valuable and nuanced re-interpretations of the biographical anecdotes. Thus the vignette preserved in Athenaeus 10.438a on the drinking match between Timon and the Academic Lacydes, with its use of Homeric quotations, is nicely traced not to Timon's personal habits nor used as an element for establishing the chronology of the poet, but is connected to the spirit of his Silloi, where intentional Homeric misquotation is used for comic effect.

Chapter 2 analyzes Timon's Pytho and the Indalmoi by showing how Timon uses earlier philosophical imagery to establish Pyrrho as a unique figure in the Greek wisdom tradition and to claim for himself, and for Pyrrho, some of the prestige and aura of a recognized Greek philosophical tradition. In making these valuable connections, Clayman also finds convincing cases where Timon's Pyrrho seems inspired by Plato's similar depiction of Socrates (Apol. 22a, p. 51) or Plato's Good (Rep. 508e1-509a5).

Less convincing in this reviewer's opinion is the attempt at individuating possible literary precedents for the Indalmoi in the chreiai or in Antimachus' Lyde (pp. 72-74). Rather than to opt with Clayman for a connection with the Lyde or with the chreiai, a prose genre, it might be appealing to link the Indalmoi with the Callimachean Aitia's series of question and answer for didactic purposes, or with the tradition of philosophical poetry which starts with the archaic philosophers and for which from classical times we have a series of names, such as Scythinus Teius, Plato's contemporary, who put Heraclitus' dogma into verse.

Chapters 3 and 4 show how Timon seems to be acquainted both with biographical details or gossip about the philosophers as well as their written words. While there may be objections in the interpretation of specific fragments, Clayman gives the text of the Silloi its full literary weight. She also very successfully demonstrates how Timon's parody is less like that of his predecessors and more like modern parody (122). The book thus supplements the recent scholarly contributions by S. D. Olson and A. Sens on fourth-century parody and furthers our understanding of the genre of ancient parody.

Chapters 5 and 6 intend to show that poets (e.g., Callimachus and Theocritus) were aware of and responded to not...


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