Philitas of Cos, Testimonia

LCL 508: 4-5



or more extended elegies?), their degree of subjectivity; potentially, though, this is a matter of literaryhistorical importance. So too the question of Philitas’ role in the development of bucolic, which is raised by the figure of Philitas the cowherd, rustic singer, and “love-counsellor” in Longus’ novel Daphnis and Chloe, combined with the hints of the importance of (the original) Philitas in Theocritus’ seventh Idyll. Some of the glosses (31, 36, 46, 48 ) in fact are on bucolic subjects. But without any indication of an interest in rustic themes among the miserable remnants of Philitas’ verse (unless 20 is pressed into service), we must for the moment be content either to speculate or to wait until new evidence turns up.

The other half of Philitas’ activity is represented by a glossary, a compilation of more or less obscure terms whose meanings were discussed. Its full title, the Ataktoi Glossai, is usually rendered Miscellaneous Glosses, on the understanding that the entries were not drawn up in any order (hardly conducive to ready-reference), but has also been suggested to denote words that somehow stand outside the rank and file, irregular, unusual, or heterogeneous words.5 A well-known fragment of the comic poet Strato (Test. 13) imagines a cook who speaks in nothing but Homeric vocables, much to the consternation of his master, who feels the need of Philitas’ reference-work to explain what it all means. For the joke to work, all we need is for Philitas’ work to have a reputation as a repository of arcane terms. It was not a specifically Homeric glossary, and although several words do occur in Homer, none is directly referable to the Homeric context (and some have completely



different senses).6 Almost all (save 54) are nouns, mostly (save 52) common nouns, on the subjects of drinking vessels, sympotic practice, food. Several are noted as dialectal peculiarites,7 and sometimes the definition is expanded into a little disquisition on local customs and practices (39, cf. 41). Rarely is a literary source identifiable (though, given the subject-matter, several words are paralleled in comedy); several will have a subsequent career in Hellenistic poets, although it is hard to prove that it was Philitas who gave them that impetus.8 They do not suggest that Philitas legislated for correct and incorrect usage, although this is apparently the point of a joke in Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae (Test. 22); has the Atticistic purism of Athenaeus’ own day crept into the interpretation of an early Hellenistic work of glossography?

There are several sources that make a joke of Philitas’ supposed thinness, apparently seeking to explain real, physiological thinness or slightness of build with reference to Philitas’ tireless questing after glosses: the absentminded professor who forgets to eat. Two of the sources (Test. 23a, b) use the word leptos, and allusion is possible (though not necessary) to the literary-critical aesthetic of leptotēs (refinement), so important for Callimachus and Aratus. One would like to be better informed about the relation of Philitas’ linguistic interests to his literary-critical values and practice.

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.philitas_cos-testimonia.2010