Archive for October, 2017

Elien en contexte!

A few days ago, I attended my first conference on Claudius Aelianus, organised by Arnauld Zucker and Marco Vespa from the University of Nice. As I just started the project, it was a timely occasion to meet scholars, who worked on Aelianus previously. The papers met all my expectations and I learned a lot about this author, the research questions linked to his works and the fascinating context, in which he lived and worked.


First Valentin Decloquement focused on the presence of Homer in Aelianus’ works and showed how Aelianus, like others – for instance Philostratus-,  played with well-known Homeric questions. These authors could take position, more or less parodically, in some of the controversies, and they could even defend their own original answers in others if they liked to. Aelianus’ works allow therefore an interesting view on the reception of the reception of Homer’s poems and this aspect of their works can also be seen as an answer to previous Homeric scholarship, especially the one developed in connection with the library of Alexandria. In this respect, Valentin’s presentation allowed me to see some connections between my previous research on Demetrios of Scepsis and the new one on Aelianus.

Then, there was a whole cluster of interventions on Aelianus’ way of using the animal world to speak about human behaviours. Tim Whitmarsh emphasised the distance Aelianus maintains between the two realms, especially in similes. He compared Aelianus’ approach to the one hinted at in Ps-Lucians, Lucius or the Ass, probably a Greek precursor of Apuleius’ Golden Ass. In allowing a form of metamorphosis, the author of this text, blurs the boundaries between the human and animal world and can experiment about this other world and the lost of identity that this may bring, either on the level of human/animal or concerning, when seen from a different angle,  an individual’s feelings of belonging to the Roman empire (or identity) or not. Emily Kneeborne developed this by comparing Aelianus’ use of the animal world with the one of Oppian. It has often been stated that Oppian’s and Aelianus’ works were close and that they shared common sources, but Emily’s presentation was enlightening as she showed in a well-documented analysis how differently the two authors worked and explored the animal examples to speak about human behaviours. This was then again expanded by Arnauld Zucker. He demonstrated how Aelianus keeps a difference between humans and animals despite the anthropomorphic vocabulary he often uses. The difference Aelinaus draws between the two worlds is much more subtle than acknowledged so far. It is based on a different definition of “animals”, which focuses more on the concept of “sophia” rather on the one of “logos” and this allows us to see how this author’s attitude to the notion of “nature” changed.

Finally, there was the presentation of Lucía Rodríguez-Noriega Guillén. She works on quotations, especially in Athenaeus and Aelianus, which made her contribution particularly relevant to my own project. She showed us, as did Emily, who individually Aelianus could use shared material.  Her case study came from Athenaeus. It has often been stated that in some passages, Aelianus was very close to Athenaeus and that the Deipnosophistai could have been Aelianus’ sources. However, it was used, most of the time, as a critique blaming Aelianus for not having quoted Athenaeus faithfully. Lucia showed, on the contrary, how theses presumed irregularities were actually made on purpose by Aelianus. Changing the reused passages, by adding elements, by modifying attributions, or by merging ideas, allowed him to compose his own statements, despite the permanent references to previous authors and their achievements. She also presented her long-term research project on quotations in the imperial period. The intermediary results can be seen on the website of the project ( ). It is already now an amazingly helpful tool for further research on quotations practices in antiquity! But the project should hopefully be developed in a second phase, where each of the 8’807 collected quotations will be analysed with regard to the purpose for which is what quoted, the relation to the original passage and the degree of literality!

Unfortunately the last speaker  (Lionel Gourichon) could not attend the conference and his paper was read by Marco Vespa. It was, however, meant to open up the perspective and to deal with the animals mentioned in Aelianus’ work. The research focused on birds and compared the evidence archaeologists gathered about the presence and exploitation of birds in Antiquity and what Aelianus told us about them. Comparing the two approaches was very interesting, but also highlighted the fact that, when compared to other works on animals from Antiquity, the one from Aelianus remains a literary endeavour, showing the marks of his time. It was a work of compilation, which was not primarily based on observations. This is of course not a critique, but rather a reminder to see his work as a product of his time.

Finally I would like to thank the organisers for having made possible these enriching encounters!