Archive for January, 2008

There is maybe more to be said about Skepsis

Many interesting details can be gathered about Demetrios’ hometown and it is surprisingly often mentioned in connection with outstanding scholars.

Most famously there is Neleus of Skepsis, pupil of Aristotle and Theophrastus. According to Strabo’s famous passage (13.1.54), he inherited the library of Aristotle and took it to Skepsis. A first (rather naive) question comes to one’s mind: Why did Neleus want to take the Library to Skepsis? Well, it is his hometown (as it is the hometown of Demetrios). But a second well-known details about the story is striking. Why did Neleus’ heirs want to hide Aristotle’s library from Pergamon? Why were the Skepsian not simply proud of helping the Library of Pergamon to become a rival to Alexandria? According to Strabo Skepsis was subject to the Attalic Kings then. Could this then be explained by some local pride, some claim, let’s say, for an own center of scholarship?

Further, our geographer and antiquarian is also a native of Skepsis and his work on the Trojan Catalogue was considered as a monumental contribution to Homeric scholarship even in Antiquity. It is also often quoted because he gives a very independent version or explanation of an Homeric problem. Most famous is, of course, his claim that Skepsis was the royal residence of Aeneias, who never left the Troad, and his own son Ascanius as well as Hector’s son Scamandrius were the heads of a long dynasty ruling over Skepsis (13.1.52-53). This statement too could well have been motivated by local pride.

But there is still more to be added. There is for instance a third scholar from Skepsis, who is even less known than our Demertios. His name is Metrodorus of Skepsis. He was, according to Strabo, a philosopher who changed to politics later (13.1.55). He is also known to have written a historical work, while being at the court of the anti-roman Mithridates. His History may have had a rather anti-roman touch but more interesting for us, he is linked to Demetrios of Skepsis by Diogenes Laertius (5.84: Μητρόδωρον προεβίβασε).

Moving from the people living there to the place itself, there are also two strange details to be mentioned. First, Strabo tells us at lenght the history of Skepsis, its previous location under the name of Palaeskepsis and the temporary forced migrations of its population. Second, several explanation for the name of Skepsis are given by different sources. The scholia (ΣD Il. 20.3) mention a link to the episode of Paris’ judgment, in Stephanus of Byzantium it is linked to the episode of Rhea hiding her children and giving stones to their father (σκήψασθαι). Strabo links it to περίσκεπτον (seen from far away, 13.1. 52). But Strabo’s comment following this explanation is more striking: he considers the name of Skepsis as being a barbarian name and wonders if Greek etymology can be applied in this case.

So the idea one gets from these evidences, is the one of a rather old native (maybe even prestigious) settlement, or at least one which has a history that could be believed by some as going back to the time of the Trojan War or beyond, so that the need was felt (because of its importance, its age or the pride of the local scholars) to find some explanation for its non-appearance in the Homeric text.

This is however in contrast with Cook’s archaeological description of the site…


J.M. Cook, The Torad, Oxford 1973.

P. Pédech,”Deux Grecs face à Rome au 1er siècle av. J.-C.: Métrodore de Scepsis et Théophane de Mitylène”, REA 93, 1991, 65-78.

News about Another Geographer

A few weeks ago, I received the advertisement of a new book by L. Canfora about the so-called Artemidorus papyrus:


I am looking forward to discovering this book and the Italian scholar’s argumentation about this exceptional text.

For more details about Canfora’s point of view, one may follow the discussion on the blog: What’s New in Papyrology? . In particular the following post gives the current discussion Artemidorus papyrus

New Roles for Libraries

Since the Library of Alexandria, and notoriously there, the main task for libraries was to collect as many book as possible in order to show the wealth, literary commitment and the political influence of a Hellenistic sovereign. Soon this huge amount of rolls became however difficult to handle and methods for storage and cataloging had to be found. Otherwise the rolls or the texts they contained were lost again as soon as they entered the library.

In our modern age of digitization, this problem remains relevant and it could become the major task for librarians, as suggests Greg Crane in a paper given at the APA in Chicago. In fact, in future the role of the libraries could shift from the one of acquiring and collecting books, journal and texts to the one of exporting the texts already in their institutions and making them available to a readership, which will no longer come to them but read the sources from their homes through their computer.

To come back to the comparison with the Alexandrian library, the community of scholars living in the buildings of the Library seems, in this modern perspective, also a reality that may disappear. The major question would then also switch from the one asking who is allowed to enter an institution in order to consult books, to the one of who the institution is able to reach.

For Greg Crane’s paper, see “Planning a Digital Library for Classics from Image Books” (Gregory Crane, Tufts University) at The Stoa Consortium