Philodemus bigraphy, stories - Philosophers

Philodemus : biography


Philodemus of Gadara ( "love of the people"; Gadara, Coele-Syria, c. 110 BC – probably Herculaneum, c. 40 or 35 BC) was an Epicurean philosopher and poet. He studied under Zeno of Sidon in Athens, before moving to Rome, and then to Herculaneum. He was once known chiefly for his poetry preserved in the Greek Anthology, but since the 18th century, many writings of his have been discovered among the charred papyrus rolls at the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum. The task of excavating and deciphering these rolls is difficult, and work continues to this day. The works of Philodemus so far discovered include writings on ethics, theology, rhetoric, music, poetry, and the history of various philosophical schools.


Philodemus was born c. 110 BC, in Gadara, Coele-Syria (in present-day Jordan). He studied under Zeno of Sidon, the head (scholarch) of the Epicurean school, in Athens, before settling in Rome about 80 BCE. He was a follower of Zeno, but an innovative thinker in the area of aesthetics, in which conservative Epicureans had little to contribute. He was a friend of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, and was implicated in Piso's profligacy by Cicero,Cicero, In Pisonem, 68–72 who, however, praises Philodemus warmly for his philosophic views and for the elegans lascivia of his Horace, Satires, i. 2. 120 Philodemus was an influence on Horace's Ars Poetica. The Greek anthology contains thirty-four of his epigrams.

The Villa of the Papyri

Apparently, there was an extensive library at Piso's Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, a significant part of which was formed by a library of Epicurean texts, some of which were present in more than one copy, suggesting the possibility that this section of Piso's library was Philodemus' own. The contents of the villa were embalmed in the eruption of Vesuvius, 79 CE, and the papyri were carbonized and flattened but preserved.

During the 18th-century exploration of the Villa by tunnelling, from 1752 to 1754 there were recovered carbonized papyrus rolls containing thirty-six treatises attributed to Philodemus. These works deal with music, rhetoric, ethics, signs, virtues and vices, the good king, and defend the Epicurean standpoint against the Stoics and the Peripatetics. The first fragments of Philodemus from Herculaneum were published in 1824.

"The difficulties involved in unrolling, reading, and interpreting these texts were formidable. Naples was not a particularly hospitable destination for classical scholars. Finally, the philosophies of the Hellenistic schools were neither well-known nor highly regarded until quite recently. These factors combined to cripple scholarly interest in and use of the Herculaneum papyri. Recently, however, in part due to the efforts of the International Center for the Study of the Herculaneum Papyri, these rolls have been the object of renewed scholarly work and have yielded many findings indispensable for the study of Hellenistic philosophy." Today researchers work from digitally enhanced photographs, infra-red and multiple-imaging photography, and 18th-century transcriptions of the documents, which were being destroyed as they were being unrolled and transcribed. The actual papyri are in the National Library, Naples.

Named for the philosopher poet, the Philodemus Project is an international effort, supported by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and by contributions of individuals and participating universities, to reconstruct new texts of Philodemus' works on Poetics, Rhetoric, and Music. These texts will be edited and translated and published in a series of volumes by Oxford University Press.

Philodemus: On Poems. I, edited with Introduction, Translation, and Commentary by Richard Janko, appeared in 2001 and won the Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit. "Philodemus’ On Poems, in particular, opens a window onto a lost age of scholarship—the period between Aristotle’s Poetics and Horace’s Art of Poetry, the works which define classicism for the ancient and modern worlds," Janko has written.

The Project's next volumes are scheduled to be:

  • On Poems V, edited and translated by David Armstrong, James Porter, Jeffrey Fish, and Cecilia Mangoni
  • On Rhetoric I-II, edited and translated by David Blank
  • On Rhetoric III, edited and translated by Dirk Obbink and Juergen Hammerstaedt.

List of Philodemus' works

This is a list of the major works of Philodemus found so far at Herculaneum.

Historical works

  • Index Stoicorum (PHerc. 1018)
  • Index Academicorum (PHerc. 164, 1021)
  • On the Stoics (PHerc. 155, 339)
  • On Epicurus (PHerc. 1232, 1289)
  • Works on the Records of Epicurus and some others (PHerc. 1418, 310)
  • To Friends of the School (PHerc. 1005)

Scientific works

  • On Phenomena and Inferences (PHerc. 1065)

Theological writings

  • On Piety (PHerc. 1428)
  • On the Gods (PHerc. 26)
  • On the Way of Life of the Gods (PHerc. 152, 157)


  • On Vices and Virtues, book 7 (On Flattery) (PHerc. 222, 223, 1082, 1089, 1457, 1675)
  • On Vices and Virtues, book 9 (On Household Management) (PHerc. 1424)
  • On Vices and Virtues, book 10 (On Arrogance) (PHerc. 1008)
  • Comparetti Ethics (named after its first editor; PHerc. 1251)
  • On Death (PHerc. 1050)
  • On Frank Criticism (PHerc. 1471)
  • On Anger (PHerc. 182)

On rhetoric, music, and poetry

  • On Rhetoric (on many papyri)
  • On Music (PHerc. 1497)
  • On Poems (on many papyri)
  • On the Good King according to Homer (PHerc. 1507)
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