UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The development of the biographical tradition on the Athenian orators in the Hellenistic period Cooper, Craig Richard


By the time Dionysius of Halicarnassus came to compose the brief biographies that introduce his essays on the ancient Athenian orators common histories of a variety of literary figures had already been assembled by earlier compilers of bioi into a collection known as the koine historia. This anonymous collection of biographies was the source that rhetoricians and other writers turned to for a standard account of an orator's life. This dissertation sets out to examine the development of the biographical tradition behind the common history, as it came to be preserved in a collection of bioi known as Ps.-Plutarch. In ancient times a canon of the ten best Attic orators was recognized. In Plutarch's collection of essays, the Moralia, is preserved a set of brief biographies of the orators of the canon, but this collection is no longer considered a genuine work of Plutarch. The introduction provides an extensive review of past scholarship on the problems of the nature and authorship of this collection, generally known as Ps.-Plutarch. It shows that the biographies are composites that were expanded through centuries of additions from a primitive core. The basic biography, which is still discernible and was originally composed by a grammarian, perhaps Caecilius of Caleacte (30 B.C.), was modeled on the biographies of the koine historia. The biographies found in this anonymous collection are themselves the product of Alexandrian scholarship. Chapter 1 examines the common history as the source of the biographies of Dionysius and Ps.-Plutarch. A comparison of their lives of Isocrates shows that the author of Ps.-Plutarch not only used the same source as Dionysius but also made a number of substantial additions, particularly of an anecdotal kind, to his account. These additions were taken from two places: from the same common history and f r om the biographer Hermippus. But the same comparison reveals that this biographer was an important source not only of the anecdotes on Isocrates, but also of much of the common history as it was preserved by Dionysius and Ps-Plutarch. Hermippus proved an important source for the compilers of the common history, since he himself gathered together and transmitted existing traditions on the orators. Chapters 2 and 3 examine and evaluate the historicity of the earlier contributions of Demetrius of Phalerum and Idomeneus of Lampsacus. The former treated Demosthenes in a treatise on rhetoric; the latter the orators Demosthenes, Aeschines and Hypereides in his polemic on the Athenian demagogues. The evidence indicates that Hermippus picked up, incorporated into his own biographies and transmitted into the later tradition their treatments of these orators. The final chapter (4) is devoted to Hermippus himself. He was a highly respected biographer and scholar in antiquity and his biographies were characterized by their rich mixture of anecdote and erudition. In particular attention was paid to his collection of biographies On the Isocrateans, which was schematically arranged into a diadoché as a construct of the history of 4th century Attic prose. From there attempts were made to reconstruct the scheme and content of his biographies of Demosthenes, Hypereides and Isocrates. From this study it became apparent that the type of biography written by Hermippus was essentially antiquarian in approach. Much of the research was into literary sources. That is to say much of the biographical information was inferred from texts, whether of the orator under consideration or of contemporary comic poets, or even from other antiquarian works, such Demetrius' work on rhetoric. In the end this type of biography was itself a product of same antiquarian interests that characterized much of the scholarship of the Alexandrian period.

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