“Suspicious words: the Atticist Lexicographers and Xenophon”

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Project title: “Suspicious words: the Atticist Lexicographers and Xenophon” 

Acronym: AtLeX

Researcher: Dr Gabriella Rubulotta (PhD)

Supervisor: Prof. Giuseppe Ucciardello 

Host Institution: University of Messina, Italy

Funding body: European Union – NextGenerationEU (D.D. no. 247/2022)

ID: SOE_0000090


During the early Roman Empire, the phenomenon of Atticism tried to bring Greek literary language back to its classical Attic roots. However, which classical authors were taken as examples of this language is still under debate. Xenophon is one of the Attic 4th century writers whose standing in the Atticist canon has been judged to be controversial. AtLeX will study Xenophon’s reception within Atticism and offer the first systematic analysis of his presence in the most important Atticist lexicographers (Phrynichus, Pollux, the Antiatticist, Ælius Dionysius, the s.c. Philetairos). While reassessing the place of Xenophon among the authors representative of the paideia of the Imperial age, this inquiry will: - map the presence of Xenophon in Atticist lexica; - provide a better understanding on Xenophon’s role in the debate on Atticism, by analysing a corpus of lexical entries where he is called into question; - give a full assessment of the two facets of the reception of Xenophon’s language, by bringing together views of lexicographers and rhetoricians of the Imperial age (Pseudo-Aristides and Hermogenes). This research aims at contributing to Xenophon’s reception studies (a field which is receiving renewed attention); it will also provide a better understanding of the process of re-construction of Attic language and its contrasting tendencies. This research will benefit from an innovative approach that will interlace the fields of ancient lexicography and rhetoric. The project is consequential with respect to the doctoral thesis intitled La réception de Xénophon dans l’œuvre d’Ælius Aristide. Rhétorique et imitation à l’époque impériale carried out by G. Rubulotta at the University of Strasbourg, under the guidance of Prof. Laurent Pernot.

AtLeX is headed by Dr Gabriella Rubulotta and and will be hosted at the University of Messina, Dipartimento di Civiltà Antiche e Moderne (DiCAM). The project will be supervised by Prof. Giuseppe Ucciardello, in reason of the strong synergy with the research on linguistic purism and on the transmission of the lexicographers he is carrying out at the University of Messina.

AtLeX collaborates with the ERC project devoted to Atticism and lexicography, intitled “Purism in Antiquity: Theories of Language in Greek Atticist Lexica and their Legacy” (PURA), and the The Digital Encyclopedia of Atticism (DEA) led by Prof. O. Tribulato at Ca’ Foscari.

The project has received funding from the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP), Mission 4, “Education and Research” - Component 2, “From Research to Business” - Investment line 1.2, “Funding projects presented by young researchers”, funded by the European Union – NextGenerationEU (proposal no. SOE_0000090/ AtLeX).

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During the first centuries CE a powerful boost was given to the studies on Xenophon in the rhetorical controversies concerning correct oratorical style[1]. Xenophon was an important model of Attic prose for the authors of this period and this popularity explains the more technical interest of ancient grammarians and lexicographers in his language[2]. The Greco-Roman orator Dio of Prusa used these words about Xenophon during the 2nd century CE: “the character of his narrative style is attractive, pleasing, and convincing, being in a high degree true to life in the representation of a character, with much charm also and effectiveness, so that his power suggests not cleverness but actual wizardry” [3]. This is a striking example of the extent to which Xenophon’s language and style were appreciated by writers during the Imperial age. Having the ability to put complex things simply, the most important quality of Xenophon’s language was said to be simplicity, apheleia. Scholars have explored the narrative techniques of Xenophon, investigating his authorial voice and studying features of his speeches[4]. The reception of his language and, especially, of his vocabulary, however, have received considerably less scholarly attention. The lack of studies on the reception of Xenophon’s vocabulary is especially regrettable given that he was a recognised linguistic model for most of the post-Classical history of Ancient Greek[5]. Therefore, his standing in the Atticist canon is a matter of special interest. The Imperial approach to Xenophon has been investigated since the end of the 19th century. Studies, notably by Persson (1915) and Münscher (1920), focused on the transmission of Xenophon’s works down to the Byzantine age. The extensive inquiry on Atticism of Schmid (1887-1897) touched upon the issue of the influence of Xenophon’s language among Atticists. While collecting a number of words which Atticist writers would have borrowed from Xenophon, Schmid does not acknowledge him to be a model of language within Atticism. A step forward in this respect is Sgobbi (2004) with useful insights in the lexicographic use of Xenophon. Anyway, we still lack a comprehensive appraisal of Xenophon’s presence in Pollux’s Onomasticon, the Atticist lexicon where he is quoted most: the only works dealing with this topic are still two German dissertations produced in 1877 and 1909, not to mention the lack of proper studies on Xenophon’s quotations in other lexica (e.g. the Antiatticist, the s.c. Philetairos). Also, two rhetorical treatises of the Imperial age deal with Xenophon’s lexicon, though neither have their remarks on Xenophon been compared with each other, nor their possible interaction with Atticist lexica been explored. This is the gap AtLeX intends to fill along with a thorough investigation of Xenophon’s standing in the works of the main Atticist lexicographers. 



[1] BANDINI M. ‒ DORION L.-A. Xénophon. Mémorables, 3 vol., Paris, 2000-2011, p. CCLXXVII; see also N. PELLÉ, ‟Per un bilancio della fortuna di Senofonte storico e narratore in Egitto”, SEP 2, 2005, pp. 95-106. 

[2] L. PERNOT, ‟La réception antique de Xénophon. Quel modèle pour quels orateurs?”, in P. PONTIER (ed.) Xénophon et la rhétorique, Paris, 2014, p. 282. 

[3] Dio Chrysostom, On Training for Public Speaking (or.18) 14, (trans. Cohoon). 

[4] See notably E. BARAGWANATH, ‟The character and function of speeches in Xenophon” in M. FLOWER (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Xenophon, Cambridge, 2016, pp. 279-297; B. DUE, The Cyropaedia: Xenophon’s Aims and Methods, Aarhus, 1989; P. DEMONT, ‟Remarques sur la technique du dialogue dans la Cyropédie”, in Pontier 2014, p. 195-210; V. GRAY, The Character of Xenophon’s Hellenica, London, 1989; The Framing of Socrates: The Literary Interpretation of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, Stuttgart, 1998; D. L. GERA, Xenophon’s Cyropaedia: Style, Genre, and Literary Technique, Oxford, 1993; T. ROOD, ‟Xenophon’s Narrative Style”, in Flower 2016, pp. 263-278. 2004. 

[5] See e.g. R. CAVENAILE, ‟Aperçu sur la langue et le style de Xénophon”, Les études classiques 43, 1975 pp. 238-252; L. GAUTIER, La langue de Xénophon, Genève, 1911, pp. 66-84. 


 Selected Bibliography


R. CAVENAILE, ‟Aperçu sur la langue et le style de Xénophon”, Les études classiques 43, 1975

W. FALBE, Studia Xenophontea, Diss. Greifswald 1909

L. GAUTIER, La langue de Xénophon, Genève, 1911.

L. HUITINK, T. ROOD, “Xenophon de Halbattiker? Xenophons woordenschat, ‘zuiver’ Attisch en de ontwikkeling van de Griekse historiografie”, Lampas  53, 2020, pp. 418-434.

R. MICHAELIS, De Julii Pollucis studiis Xenophonteis, Halis Saxonum, 1877

K. MÜNSCHER, Xenophon in der griechisch-römischen Literatur, Leipzig, 1920, p. 163-176.  

W. SCHMID, Der Atticismus in seinen Hauptvertretern von Dionysius von Halikarnass bis auf den zweiten Philostratus, Stuttgart, 1887-1897, p. 655-656. 

A. SGOBBI, ‟Lingua e stile di Senofonte nel giudizio degli antichi” in DAVERIO ROCCHI – CAVALLI (eds.) Il Peloponneso di Senofonte, Milano, 2004, Milano, pp. 219-255. 


Communication and dissemination activities”  

  • Participation to the Celtic Conference in Classics (Coimbra, 11th-13th July 2023) with the paper “On Xenophon’s authority in Pollux’s Onomasticon” within the panel “Interfacing with linguistic norms, 323 BCE – 1453 CE”
  • Participation to the Third PURA workshop: Ἀττικοί and Ἕλληνες: Atticism and koine between linguistic practice and grammatical theory” ( Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia, 17th January 2024) with the paper “Pollux and Xenophon, between Atticism and the koiné”.