Inimitable Sources: Rhetoric and Canonical Texts

Inimitable Sources: Rhetoric and Canonical Texts (Homer, the Qur’an and the Bible)

Filippomaria Pontani

In the framework of the Working Group "The Learned Practices of Canonical Texts," following on his work concerning the rise of grammar from canonical texts in different linguistic areas, Filippomaria Pontani investigated the role played by Homer, the Bible, and the Qur'an in the shaping of the respective rhetorical traditions. As a Hellenist, he focused above all on the Greek tradition, and particularly on the issue of Homer as the "father of rhetoric," a very old cultural myth stretching its roots well into the fifth century, and (perhaps surprisingly) still partly alive in our own day. Passages of various authors such as Plato, Xenophon, Ps.-Plutarch, Quintilian, Ps.-Dionysus of Halicarnassus, along with a brief hint to the role of Homer in day-by-day linguistic and rhetorical education (paraphrases, progymnasmata, declamationes etc.), helped understand both the reason why knowledge of rhetoric as a techne (with all the problems entailed by this term) was often read into Homer's poetry and into the speeches of his characters, and how this idea influenced the nature and scope of the exegesis on the Homeric poems, the so-called rhetorical scholia (figures of scholars like Telephus of Pergamon might prove very interesting in this connection). 

The comparison with the Arabic and Hebrew tradition served as a summary. However, it proved useful to share some ideas about the bearing of the "i'jaz" dogma on the development of rhetorical studies in Arabic quarters (from al-Khattabi to al-Baqillari) and on the more distinctly rhetorical analysis of Qur'an and islamic poetry (chiefly in the work of al-Jurjani and al-Zamakhshari; but the matter is still far from settled in our days), as well as the late development of a rhetorical doctrine on the text of the Hebrew Bible (the most remarkable, if heterogeneous, examples being Moses ibn Ezra's Kitab in Medieval Andalusia and Messer Leon's Nophet Suphim in Italian Humanism).

  • Filippomaria Pontani, "Only God knows the correct reading!" In: M. Niehoff (ed.), Homer and the Bible in the Eyes of Ancient Interpreters, Between Literary and Religious Concerns (Leiden: Brill, 2012).