49th International Philological Conference (IPC 2020) in Homage to Professor Ludmila Verbitskaya (1936-2019)

Pseudo-Phocylides: A Greek-Jewish Gnomic Poem from Alexandria

Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr
Friedrich Schiller University Jena

Ключевые слова, аннотация

Hellenistic Judaism, Ancient Jewish ethics, reception of the Torah, Jewish poetry.


The pseudonymous gnomic poem attributed to the Milesian poet Phocylides (6th c. BCE) consists of about 230 hexametric verses. From Byzantine up to earlier modern times the work has been used in Christian schools for moral education or stylistic exercises. Today, there is a consensus among modern scholars about the Jewish origin of PseudPhoc. The poem testifies to a very high level of Greek classical education in ancient Jewish non-rabbinic circles (at least a command of the language of Homer and some philosophical learning from Plato and the Stoics!). By virtue of its (pseudonymous) author and its literary form, the work belongs to ancient Greek gnomic poetry. The opening section (vv. 3–8) functions as an abstract of fundamental ethical admonitions. The last line before the concluding verses of the poem appears like a summary: «Let there be purity of the soul where there are purifications of the body». The focus of admonitions lies on interpersonal behaviour, social relations in the family as well as in the society, trustworthiness in business and in court and, in particular, on sexual ethics. Not mentioned at all are specific Jewish regulations for religious life like circumcision, Sabbath laws, the temple cult or precepts for ritual purity and food regulations.