But the activity of the Alexandrian school is expressed with more proper characters and with a special abundance of production in the field of philology and literary historiography. The task it takes on is directed both to collect, review, interpret the texts of the previous classical literature, and to establish the chronology of the past, the biographies of the authors, etc., and also to establish the qualities of language and style, the principles of grammar and the like. In this stand out the major merits of the Alexandrians, who gave a vast increase to the complex of philological studies, inherited from the ancient tradition of the Sophists and particularly from the school of Aristotle.
The ranks of such scholars are opened by Zenodotus of Ephesus (about 325-260), who was the first prefect of the Library of Alexandria, and gave the first edition of the Iliad and the Odyssey divided into books (24 for each poem) and provided with critical signs. He is followed by Callimachus, Apollonio Rodio, Eratosthenes, Euphorion, etc .: that is, several of the most celebrated poets of this age; for the poets too are largely philologists, and the severe occupations of criticism are mixed with the cult of the muses and the direct exercise of art. Eratosthenes had a singular importance, especially in geographic research and in chronology. He had found himself receiving influences from both the Peripatetic and the Stoic doctrine; but he was also the first to assume, in contrast to the philosophers, the title of ϕιλόλογος, sanctioning a clear dissociation of the purely philological and grammatical spirit from the philosophical spirit: a dissociation which was in the nature of the times and which, if it was useful for the material development of the researches, it must on the other hand cause not a little damage for the purposes of a true deepening of the studies. After Eratosthenes the philological spirit triumphs in full, and has its greatest champions in Aristophanes of Byzantium (about 257-180) and in Aristarchus of Samothrace (about 217-145). Aristophanes of Byzantium carried out a vigorous activity as editor of Homer, of Hesiod, of the lyrics, of the comedians, of the tragic ones, etc.; he also cultivated lexicography and grammar, establishing the principles of a method in the study of language, which was called analogy, that is of “regularity”. Aristarchus of Samothrace refined even more the tools of textual criticism, exercising them on a large number of authors, especially on Homer; and to the editions he usually added extensive commentaries of an erudite and exegetical character. From his school (it is said) about forty grammarians came out, among which Dionisio Trace, who composed the first Greek grammar that has come down to us, based on the principles of analogy, must be remembered.
But immediately after Aristarchus the school of Alexandria began to decline. Meanwhile, in competition with it, another philological school had arisen in the kingdom of the Attalides, in Pergamum, where Eumenes II (197-59) founded a large library, introducing the use of the so-called “parchment” in place of papyrus, of which the Ptolemies forbade exporting out of Egypt. The parchment philologists differed considerably from the Alexandrians, above all because they maintained a closer contact with philosophy; and they did not draw on the principles of Peripatetic philosophy – which was the most favorable to the inclinations of philologism – but depended directly on the influence of the Stoics. Therefore they did not have much sympathy for the works of textual criticism; rather they cultivated chronological and historiographical research (as did, for example, Apollodorus of Athens, attaching himself to the studies of the Alexandrian Eratosthenes); and they turned, with special preference, to the treatment of theoretical problems, such as those concerning the origin and constitution of language, where they contrasted the Alexandrian method of analogy with the method of anomaly, that is of “irregularity”, which had its roots in Stoic doctrines – already expounded by Chrysippus – and was certainly inspired by a greater breadth of ideas. Likewise they willingly devoted themselves to the interpretation of poets, directing attention not so much on form as on content (as they then said), on the substratum of concepts, on educational value, etc.; therefore they frequently used the allegorical interpretation, which also derived from the Stoic teachings, and which was bitterly fought by the Alexandrians. Their main representative was Cratete di Mallo, who in 168 a. C. had occasion to come from the East to Rome; hence parchment philology soon began to spread among the Latins.
The habit – which was more or less rooted in every form of philology and erudition – of detaching the word from thought, also gave an increase, as is natural, to the manifestations of rhetoric, that is to those manifestations in which one grazes most. intellectual idleness. In fact, following the changed political conditions, the art of eloquence had largely lost not only its practical significance, but also all inner foundation. Then it turned into a generally empty exercise, on fictitious themes, which were carried out without the heat of life, for pure verbal display. While there was no interior foundation, precepts grew instead: an increasingly abstract and formal precepts of which we know many scholars (especially known, from the century BC, Ermagora di Temno). Various schools and addresses arose, in relation to the various grammatical and linguistic doctrines: neither was it merely a question of dictating norms to true and proper “discourses”, but one turned to teach, in general, the style of prose. The spread of Hellenism in the regions of the East had determined the formation of a new language and a new literary taste, in which elements and trends much richer and different from those of the ancient classical prose were mixed. These elements and trends had their expression in the so-called “Asian style” (represented for example by Egesia di Magnesia, from the 3rd century BC), to which the “Rhodian style” approached, although it was more temperate. (represented by Posidonio, by Molone di Rodi of the 1st century BC, etc.). After all, Asianism it did not do anything but support the development of Greekness, that is, it corresponded to the historical process of Hellenization of the East, and therefore had something quite vital in itself: it also connected with some of the most lively currents in contemporary philology and philosophy, that is to say with the doctrine of anomaly, with the doctrine that in works of art he wanted originality, passion rather than imitation. But in contrast to Asianism, a strong reaction emerged, atticism, which had all the more power the more the Greek spirit was exhausted and turned on itself: in fact it began to predominate towards the end of the Hellenistic period, in the 16th century.. I a. C., and then in the Roman period. It was a current of purism, which preached a return to the models of Attic literature.