De kunst van het leerdicht
De kunst van het leerdicht

The Art of Teaching

Greek didactic poetry
Project member(s)
Dr F. Overduin (Floris)
Project type

Within the antique genre of Greek and Latin epic poetry (Homer, Vergil), modern scholars have defined a ‘subgenre‘ of so-called didactic poetry: the poet posing as a teacher, extensively presenting learned subject matter (e.g. pharmacology) to his audience, presented as his pupil. Although these didactic poems appear to have been very popular in antiquity, many of them, particularly those from the first centuries CE, are all but ignored by classicists. Modern readers, not used to the convergence of learning and literature, have found it difficult to appreciate these works as pieces of art. Although these poems have often been considered to be concerned with technical contents rather than elegant form, of late their distinctly literary nature has started to find recognition.

In my project I mainly focus on this literary character of Greek ‘didactic epic’. These poems are an intersection of contemporary scientific learning, literary aesthetics, and the epic-didactic tradition, against the background of the all-encompassing Roman empire of which its authors, although writing in Greek, had become part. I study the text as a vehicle of poetics, information, and instruction, as well as the poets’ interest in contemporary learning, and the self-fashioning of scholars writing their results in epic verse rather than prose, presenting themselves as men of letters. These poems are fascinating examples of the integration of learning and literature, thus questioning our modern opposition between science and arts & humanities. In the recent past this approach has led to publications on Nicander of Colophon, Eudemus, Marcellus of Side, Philo of Tarsus, Aglaias of Byzantium, Andromachus the Elder, and the Carmen de viribus herbarum. This project aims to expand this approach to further little-studied poems.

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