by A.D. Morrison and Antonia Sarri
There is a striking difference in the degree of order one finds in two Greek fictional letter collections which are often read alongside one another, the letters of Aelian and Philostratus. The order of the letters of Aelian is stable, but the mss of Philostratus present two competing orders. As we shall see, the order in which the letters of the latter are read most commonly today turns out to be an order with a problematic claim to authoritativeness. The critical consequences are far from negligible.
Aelian’s twenty letters are transmitted in the mss under the title ἐκ τῶν Αἰλιανοῦ ἀγροικικῶν ἐπιστολῶν and have traditionally been ascribed to the Roman sophist Claudius Aelianus, which would put them in the late second or early third century A.D. (Philostratus refers to Aelian in his Lives of the Sophists 624–5). The order of the letters is 1–20 in all three of the earliest mss that preserve the letters of Aelian, which is the order (naturally enough) adopted in printed editions. (The mss relevant are Ambrosianus B 4 sup. (= Martini-Bassi 1906, no 81), Matritensis 4693, and Vallicelianus gr. 182 (=92 All.).
This stability in the mss and printed editions contrasts sharply with the situation for the letters of Philostratus. The critical consensus is that the author of these letters is Philostratus II ‘of Athens’, born in the latter part of the second century A.D., that is the same author as the author of the Lives of the Sophists and the Life of Apollonius of Tyana. There are a total of 73 letters: no MS preserves all of these. Most are erotic in character, and have anonymous addressees, but not all. The order in which the letters are usually read today reflects one of the main manuscript families identified by Kayser in his 1844 edition of the works of Philostratus (and also reflected in his 1870 Teubner). His ‘Family 1’ contains 58 letters, ordered (for the most part) in the sequence in which we usually read the letters today, though not all of the manuscripts preserve all 58 of these letters. Kayser’s ‘Family 2’, on the other hand, preserves 53 letters (1-39, 46-7, 50, 54-64) in a quite different order: 3, 54, 1, 2, 46, 20, 9, 55, 17, 63, 4, 21, 27, 22, 5, 47, 6, 7, 23, 8, 28, 11, 50, 10, 12, 56, 29, 24, 25, 57, 26, 30, 13, 31, 58, 59, 15, 60, 33, 32, 16, 61, 34, 62, 14, 35, 36, 37, 18, 38, 19, 39, 64.
Of the forty-seven letters shared between these two families (all of which are erotic in content, and all to unnamed addressees), twenty are found in abbreviated form in Family 1 (7-8, 10, 12-13, 15, 18-19, 21-22, 25-9, 33-4, 36, 38-9). Letters 65-72 are found in independent manuscript f (Laurentianus 59.30) and 73 in M (Matritensis 4693) and Parisinus 2775. These letters are different in content from the erotic letters, since they are written to named addressees and concern a variety of topics.
Why did Kayser prefer the order of Family 1? It appears that he thought the abbreviated versions of the shared letters as the work of a mature Philostratus revising his earlier work (Kayser 1844: i). But in fact (as Raïos has pointed out), there is in fact no evidence to support this hypothesis of two Philostratean editions of the letters, and good reasons for thinking that the shorter versions must be alterations of the longer. Letter 19, for example, clearly shows not only abbreviation, but also a change of addressee (from male to female) and some alteration of pronouns, with the omission of material which identified the addressee as male, to produce the shorter version. There remains much work to be done (not least on the letters not preserved in Family 2, esp. the non-erotic letters 65-73), but we can provisionally conclude that for the letters of Family 2, the order preserved in those manuscripts is likely to be more authoritative, and that we should read the letters in that order, not in the order used by Kayser and most editions since. Happily, the order of Family 2 is the one used by Kai Brodersen in his recent (2017) text and translation of the letters of Philostratus (Erotische Briefe / Erotikai Epistolai, Wiesbaden).