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Ancient Literature (1)

Grammarians & Philologists


217 - 144
Aristarchus (Aristarchos), the most celebrated Grammarian and critic in all antiquity, was a native of Samothrace. He was educated at Alexandria, in the school of Aristophanes of Byzantium, and afterwards founded himself a grammatical and critical school, which flourished for a long time at Alexandria, and subsequently at Rome also. Ptolemy Philopator entrusted to Aristarchus the education of his son, Ptolemy Epiphanes, and Ptolemy Physcon too was one of his pupils (Athen. ii. p. 71). Owing, however, to the bad treatment which the scholars and philosophers of Alexandria experienced in the reign of Physcon, Aristarchus, then at an advanced age, left Egypt and went to Cyprus, where he is said to have died at the age of seventy-two, of voluntary starvation, because he was suffering from incurable dropsy. He left behind him two sons, Aristagoras and Aristarchus, who are likewise called grammarians, but neither of them appears to have inherited anything of the spirit or talents of the father.
  The numerous followers and disciples of Aristarchus were designated by the names of hoi Aristarcheioi or hoi ap Aristarchou. Aristarchus, his master Aristophanes, and his opponent Crates of Mallus, the head of the grammatical school at Pergamus, were the most eminent grammarians of that period; but Aristarchus surpassed them all in knowledge and critical skill. His whole life was devoted to grammatical and critical pursuits, with the view to explain and constitute correct texts of the ancient poets of Greece, such as Homer, Pindar, Archilochus, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Ion, and others. His grammatical studies embraced everything, which the term in its widest sense then comprised, and he together with his great contemporaries are regarded as the first who established fixed principles of grammar, though Aristarchus himself is often called the prince of grammarians ho koruphaios ton grammatikon, or ho grammatikotatos. Suidas ascribes to him more than 800 commentaries (hupomnemata), while from an expression of a Scholiast on Horace (Epist. ii. 1. 257) some writers have inferred, that Aristarchus did not write anything at all. Besides these hupomnemata, we find mention of a very important work, peri analogias, of which unfortunately a very few fragments only are extant. It was attacked by Crates in a work peri anomalias (Gellius, ii. 25). All the works of Aristarchus are lost, and all that we have of his consists of short fragments, which are scattered through the Scholia on the above-mentioned poets. These fragments, however, would be utterly insufficient to give us any idea of the immense activity, the extensive knowledge, and above all, of the uniform strictness of his critical principles, were it not that Eustathius, and still more the Venetian Scholia on Homer, had preserved such extracts from his works on Homer, as, notwithstanding their fragmentary nature, shew us the critic in his whole greatness.
  As far as the Homeric poems are concerned, he above all things endeavoured to restore their genuine text, and carefully to clear it of all later interpolations and corruptions. He marked those verses which he thought spurious with an obelos, and those which he considered as particularly beautiful with an asterisk. It is now no longer a matter of doubt that, generally speaking, the text of the Homeric poems, such as it has come down to us, and the division of each poem into twenty-four raphsodies, are the work of Aristarchus; that is to say, the edition which Aristarchus prepared of the Homeric poems became the basis of all subsequent editions. To restore this recension of Aristarchus has been more or less the great object with nearly all the editors of Homer, since the days of F. A. Wolf, a critic of a kindred genius, who first shewed the great importance to be attached to the edition of Aristarchus. Its general appreciation in antiquity is attested by the fact, that so many other grammarians, as Callistratus, Aristonicus, Didymus, and Ptolemaeus of Ascalon, wrote separate works upon it. In explaining and interpreting the Homeric poems, for which nothing had been done before his time, his merits were as great as those he acquired by his critical labours. His explanations as well as his criticisms were not confined to the mere detail of words and phrases, but he entered also upon investigations of a higher order, concerning mythology, geography, and on the artistic composition and structure of the Homeric poems. He was a decided opponent of the allegorical interpretation of the poet which was then beginning, which some centuries later became very general, and was perhaps never carried to such extreme absurdities as in our own days by the author of "Homerus". The antiquity of the Homeric poems, however, as well as the historical character of their author, seem never to have been doubted by Aristarchus. he bestowed great care upon the metrical correctness of the text, and is said to have provided the works of Homer and some other poets with accents, the invention of which is ascribed to Aristophanes of Byzantium. It cannot be surprising that a man who worked with that independent critical spirit, had his enemies and detractors; but such isolated statements as that of Athenaeus, in which Athenocles of Cyzicus is preferred to Aristarchus, are more than counterbalanced by others. A Scholiast on Homer (Il. iv. 235) declares, that Aristarchus must be followed in preference to other critics, even if they should be right; and Panaetius (Athen. xiv.) called Aristarchus a mantis, to express the skill and felicity with which he always hit the truth in his criticisms and explanations.

This text is from: A dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology, 1873 (ed. William Smith). Cited Oct 2005 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks

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