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date: 29 September 2023



  • Patricia E. Easterling


In Classical Greek the word kanōn (lit. ‘rod’) was used to mean ‘rule’ or ‘standard’; hence its use as the title of a manual on proportions by the sculptor *Polyclitus (2) and as the name of a statue illustrating his principles. The word was later applied by Christian writers to what became the approved selection of books of the Bible, but it was not used in pagan antiquity in the sense of a list of chosen ‘best authors’. (*Dionysius of *Halicarnassus uses it of (e.g.) *Lysias as ‘the perfect model of the Attic dialect’ (Lys. 2), and *Photius in the 9th cent. ce applies it to any author who represents the ‘standard’ of the genre or the model for another writer: e.g. *Thucydides (2) is the kanōn for *Cassius Dio, Bibl. 35b33.) The idea of compiling lists of the best writers in a particular genre, such as the Nine Lyric Poets, was attributed by Roman writers to Alexandrian scholars, particularly *Aristarchus (2) and *Aristophanes (2) of Byzantium (Quint.


  • Greek Literature
  • Reception

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