Classics Philodemus of Gadara
by
Holger Essler
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0246

Introduction

Philodemus of Gadara (b. Gadara c. 110–d. after 40 BCE) was an Epicurean philosopher (see also Oxford Bibliographies article in Classics “Epicureanism”) and poet of Greek epigrams (for a discussion whether the poet and the philosopher were different persons see Biography). After studying in Athens with Zeno of Sidon, the head of the Epicurean Garden at the time, he moved to Italy and became a protégé of L. Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, father-in-law of Julius Caesar and consul in 58 BCE. He seems to have been in contact with part of the Roman political and cultural elite, especially with members of the circle of Maecenas. Cicero calls him a personal acquaintance (In Pisonem 68) and may have drawn on his De pietate in the doxographical part of De natura deorum 1. Horace seems to be influenced by him in his Ars poetica and Philodemus himself addresses several of his books to high-ranking individuals: apart from his patron Piso, to C. Vibius Pansa Caetronianus, consul 43 BCE, to Virgil (also Vergil) and to his (and Horace’s) friends Plotius Tucca, L. Varius Rufus, and Quintilius Varus. Whereas Philodemus’s poems enjoyed some popularity during his lifetime and thirty-four of them were included in the Greek Anthology, all of his extensive philosophical writings are preserved only in the charred scrolls discovered at the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum. The majority contain philosophical works by Philodemus, some books are preserved in multiple copies, some appear to be drafts. They cover several areas, most prominently history of philosophy, ethics, aesthetics (rhetoric, music, poetry) and theology. The discussion can be very subtle and specialized. Philodemus often provides information about or quotations from Hellenistic sources otherwise lost or unattested. The scrolls are, however, heavily damaged and difficult to read. Thus analysis of the content of Philodemus’s philosophical writings largely depends on the availability of new and reliable editions of these papyri and many general conclusions depend on single readings (see the Oxford Bibliographies article in Classics “Herculaneum Papyri” by W. B. Henry).

Biography

No biographical account of Philodemus is preserved from antiquity and dates have to be inferred from scattered remarks in various and sometimes debated sources. Most of the more recent editions of Philodemus contain a biographical summary (see individual works, especially Philodemus 2007, cited under On Music). The evidence is conveniently collected in Sider 1997. Gigante 2002 gives a comprehensive account of Philodemus’s life and literary background, but reserves have been expressed against biographical interpretation of the epigrams (see Sider 1997, p. 40). Several details and dates are subject to debate: Puglia 2004 summarizes the arguments about Philodemus spending some time in Alexandria before moving to Athens. Regarding the time when Philodemus left Athens for Italy, reconstructions range from the sack of Athens by Sulla (86 BCE, see Sedley 2003) to the Asiatic campaigns of 74–65 (see Philodemus 2003, cited under On Poems, Book 1–4, p. 5f). The date of Philodemus’s death is unknown and the last event mentioned by him, Marc Antony bringing pygmies to Rome (usually dated to 40 BCE), rests on a controversial reading (summary in Longo Auricchio 2013).

  • Gigante, Marcello. 2002. Philodemus in Italy: The books from Herculaneum. Translated by D. Obbink. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

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    The first three chapters combine the archaeological evidence of the Villa dei papiri with the content of Philodemus’s literary work. The first edition was published 1995, the Italian version, Filodemo in Italia, was published in 1990 (Florence: Le Monnier).

  • Longo Auricchio, Francesca. 2013. Filodemo e i nani di Antonio. Valore di una testimonianza. Cronache Ercolanesi 43:209–213.

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    The most recent discussion of Philodemus’s account of Marc Antony bringing pygmies to Rome comparing a frieze with representation of dwarves; collects the bibliography on the reading and on the consequences for the chronology of Philodemus (fn. 19f. and 28).

  • Pesando, Fabrizio. 2014. Epicuri parietinae: Filodemo di Gadara ad Atene all’epoca del sacco sillano. In Il culto di Epicuro. Testi, iconografia e paesaggio. Edited by Marco Beretta, Francesco Citti, and Alessandro Iannucci, 163–176. Florence: Olschki.

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    Sets Philodemus in the context of the sack of Athens.

  • Puglia, Enzo. 2004. Perché Filodemo non fu ad Alessandria? Studi di Egittologia e papirologia 1:133–138.

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    A convenient summary of the discussion whether before moving to Athens Philodemus spent some time at Alexandria.

  • Sedley, David. 2003. Philodemus and the decentralisation of philosophy. Cronache Ercolanesi 33:31–41.

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    Sets the broader historical background for Philodemus leaving Athens and writing history of philosophy.

  • Sider, David. 1997. The epigrams of Philodemos. New York and Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Contains a useful collection of all testimonia with translation and commentary (pp. 227–234).

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