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This book covers an important gap as it tries to propose the first complete French translation of Philostratus’ Lives of the Sophists (Βίοι Σοφιστῶν) and Epistolae (Ἐπιστολαί). After a long Préface written by Pierre Sorlin (Des Sophistes, Encore, p. IX-XXIV) there is an Introduction (p.1-40) followed by a short list of some Chronological Landmarks (Repères Chronologiques, p. 41-47) and then the reader can find the translation of the Lives of the Sophists (p. 51-165), Epistolae (p.169-211) and two Appendices (p. 212-214) [a French translation of Philostratus’[1] Letter to Aspasius and Prologue, the Greek text of which can be found in Kayser’s (1844 and 1870-1871) or Westermann’s (1849 and 1878) editions]. Afterwards, there are the Notes (p. 215-315), the Bibliography (p. 317-330) and an Index (Index des Noms Propres, p. 331-344).

In the Introduction, the translators are trying to justify the titles of Philostratus’ two works (Vies des Sophistes Lettres érotiques). In the first place, they make some assumptions concerning the absence of article in the Greek title (Βίοι Σοφιστῶν) pinpointing that there is a mixture of Greek and Latin language and structure used by Philostratus in the Lives of the Sophists (p. 2, note 1). As for Epistolae (Lettres érotiques), they suppose that a copyist or librarian may have added the qualifier so as to classify Philostatus’ work with the one of Alciphron which was arranged in four divisions (Letters of Fishermen, Farmers, Parasites and Courtesans): « Le qualificatif a pu être aussi ajouté par un copiste ou un bibliothécaire soucieux de classer l’œuvre à côté de celle d’Alciphron, à peu près contemporaine, avec ses quatre livres déclinant les styles épistolaires selon les ῾῾catégories socio-professionnelles᾽᾽ de leurs réducteurs prétendus » (p. 3). After the identification of Philostratus as the writer of the works in question, G. Bounoure and B. Serret base their research on some historical facts and textual signs in order to date his works. Moreover, they cite some of the main points of Bourquin’s critic on the Lives of the Sophists, as an accurate indication of the structure of the book, the way sophists are divided into three categories and the omissions that are omnipresent in Philostratus’ presentation of sophists. Furthermore, they show the link that exists among the sophists of the second sophistic (deuxième sophistique) [2], as they are presented by Philostratus, in the center of whom Herodes Atticus can be found.

Additionally, they try to explain Philostratus’ snobbishness, as it is expressed by Christopher P. Jones[3]. Philostratus explicitly manifested his admiration for Athens and Smyrna, leaving other cities such as Ephesus and Pergamum in distance. The superiority of Athens and Smyrna was in close relation to Herodes Atticus, the master of sophists who was educated in the Asian city and became an eminent figure of rhetoric in Athens.

Another indication of the writer’s snobbishness is the fact that he avoids referring to any technical rhetoric commentaries or terms and to specialists of that kind. For him, being a sophist is not a profession but a noble leisure activity for an elite of people with a flair for eloquence, who are in close proximity to the Roman Emperors and keep an intellectual affiliation with them. Consequently, living in cities which were under oligarchy, their role was to reinforce social barriers, reduce political tensions or rivalries and defend the privileges of their co-citizens. Not only did they manage to be a link between their city and the Emperors but they were in charge of keeping the classical grandeur of the Greek world alive. Thus, they should have a vast knowledge of the illustrious Greek texts and be able to recall the great historical deeds of Greek people through implicit or explicit references with a view to satisfying their audience. Their role was also to balance the delicate relationship that existed between the Greek subjects and the Roman Emperors. The allusion to the glorious past and the abundance of references to famous Greek writers known to everyone served this purpose. What is more, Philostratus’ detailed depiction of sophists’ spectacles, costumes, manners of declamation in front of the audience could be judged as a reliable and veracious source of information.

In the end, the translators underline the difficulties they had to overcome while translating the Greek text, and they present an overview of the most significant works regarding the Lives of the Sophists and Epistolae as appeared from the Renaissance to the 21st century. The presentation of some chronological landmarks that can familiarize the reader with the most important historical events relevant to Philostratus’ narration precedes the French translation providing a helpful bridge to the main text.

The French translation both of the Lives of the Sophists and Epistolae follows the Greek texts trying to provide the general view of Philostratus’ work. The long sentences are in accordance with the Greek text keeping a firm grip on it. Although the translation is well developed and close to the Philostratus’ text, it is somehow polished revealing its academic background that can be regarded as a way of presenting a well-organized but in some cases ornate style of writing. Sometimes, G. Bounoure and B. Serret explain why they use a particular word/phrase in order to translate a Greek one which helps the reader get a profound view of the text and the meaning of the word/phrase used (see: p. 219, note 11· p. 229, note 75· p. 261, note 68). However, they rarely give some information about the structure of the text (see: p. 234, note 115). The notes that follow the translation of Philostratus’ works are exhaustive and in many cases explanatory, providing the reader with the necessary information so as to get a precise and profound view of the text. Some of them are based on historical facts and events or refer to the tradition of the manuscripts, others give an elaborate account of sophists that are mentioned by Philostratus offering a detailed description of them, while a great number of the notes function as references to the works of prominent Greek writers (Homer, Plato, Isocrates, Demosthenes, Aristophanes) or to other scholars that translated Philostratus’ works in question (W. Wright, M. Civiletti, A. R. Benner and F. H. Fobes). In the end, the reader can find a sufficient bibliography divided in two categories (1. Éditions et traductions consultées et 2. Autres travaux cités) which not only presents a range of works that are closely related to Philostratus’ texts translated in French by G. Bounoure and B. Serret but also covers a variety of matters mentioned or analysed in the book.

On the whole, as we were lacking a complete French translation of Philostratus’ Lives of the Sophists and Epistolae, this book can facilitate the work of French scholars who mainly study the Greek literature under the Roman Empire during the first centuries AD or readers who want to get a general view of the majority of the most eminent sophists in Antiquity. Even though in some cases the translation is ostentatious, the writers attain their goal offering a well-arranged work worthwhile reading it.

Panagiota Daouti, Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier III Université Capodistria d’Athènes

Publié dans le fascicule 1 tome 122, 2020, p. 365-367


[1]. The translators argue that the Letter in question is written by Philostratus of Lemnos and not the writer of the Lives of the Sophists (see: p. 297, note 330 and p. 313, note 2).

[2]. The translators prefer the term deuxième sophistique instead of the more English version seconde sophistique (p.2, note 2).

[3]. C. P. Jones, « The Survival of the Sophists »  in T. Corey Brennan, H. I. Flower eds. East and West. Papers in Ancient History Presented by G.W. Bowersock, Cambridge‑London 2009, p. 113‑125.