Philo of Alexandria, Reader of Homer and the Archaic Poets

Beyond his unquestionable familiarity with Homer (one of the authors he cites most often), Philo explicitly names and cites other archaic poets as well, mainly Solon and Pindar. In this paper I explore Philo's use of the archaic poets (from Homer to Pindar) along with his philosophical position regarding poetry more generally. Apart from direct citation, it appears that Philo had certain passages from Homer and other archaic poets in mind when writing in his own voice, employing expressions, metaphors, etc. that evoke these early poets. Colson mentions some of these traces and reminiscences, which are harder to detect since Philo does not provide an attribution, in his notes and collects them in the indexes. I intend to add more Philonic passages to that roster, and also to show that some of those cited by Philo are typical examples in contemporary grammatical and rhetorical works. It is therefore not unreasonable to ask whether Philo was using the texts of these poets directly or rather citing them from the handbooks of rhetoric that had ample circulation by his time and were part of the educational canon. Finally, I intend to reconsider Philo's position regarding poetry. As is well known Plato had a complex relationship to poetry: he seems to condemn narrative poetry outright in Republic Book X, yet he frequently cites the poets, from Homer to the tragedians; what is more, his own writing is often highly poetical and includes terms, phrases and constructions that are unique to poetry (some recent publications have therefore revised the traditional view of Plato’s negative attitude towards poetry). Philo is principally a Platonist in outlook, yet he does not censure poetry. I hope to show that Philo's position may be closer to Plato's in this respect than is commonly supposed.