Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Peplos of Aristotle

On a recent web browse, I came across an anonymous but delicately written occasional blog called 'Winter evenings or Lucubrations on life and letters' ( Evening #2 is devoted to the titles of occasional pieces and in this I read that 'peplon' is such a title and how unfortunate it is for literature that Aristotle's poem Peplon has been lost to the world.

In truth, the Peplos of Aristotle has not been lost, it is not a poem and it is not by Aristotle but nevertheless it makes a good subject for a blog!

The first modern mention of Aristotle's Peplos (variously also described as peplov or peplus, Latin) is in a small work (Graesse calls it an opuscule) edited by Canter in 1566 (Basle: Guarinus) which was the translation into Latin of a group of epitaphs for Greek and Trojan heroes who fell in the Trojan war, and which had been first published by Henry Estienne at the end of his edition of the Greek Anthology of the same year (Paris: Stephanus, 1566). Estienne had not indicated an author of these forty-two distichs but Canter claims they are by Aristotle.

After Canter there are several references to the Peplos, peplon, peplus of Aristotle. It was included in Estienne's edition of the Struggle of Homer and Hesiod (Geneva, 1573). Daniel Heinsius issued an edition in 1613. It is referred to in the Tozzi edition of Alciato's emblems of 1618 with Claudius Minos' commentary and in Fabricius' Bibliotheca Graeca of 1718. There was an edition in 1798, edited by Gottlob Heyne with a further essay by Brunck (Durham: Pennington) by which time the number of epitaphs had increased to 58 and this last was reprinted word for word in the Classical Journal of September and December 1816 Vol. XIV.

Peplos in its literary sense therefore means, generally, a collection of occasional short pieces and, usually and more particularly, a collection of the epitaphs or epigrams describing the feats of famous people. I have only been able to locate two other contemporary peploi in this sense of which the most well known is that commemorating the death of Sir Philip Sidney, the Peplus Illustrissimi Viri D. Phillipi Sidnaei Oxford 1587 written by members of New College Oxford after he had been shot in battle the previous year. The other is the Peplus Italiae Paris: Morelli, 1578 by Giovanni Matteo Toscano a collection of occasional poetry by Italians living in France. There is also a Peplus Minervae Sarmaticus by Conrad Thamnitius of 1590/1 which is missing from the Royal Library in Copenhagen and about which I know nothing.

Why the name peplon, peplos, peplus for these collections? Well, as they say - to be continued. That will have to wait for the next entry.

Robin Raybould

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