DIALECT, DICTION, AND STYLE IN GREEK LITERARY AND INSCRIBED EPIGRAM

Edited by Evina Sistakou and Antonios Rengakos

De Gruyter (2016) h/b 425pp £82.99 (ISBN 19783110496499)

This book of heavyweight scholarship, with 21 contributions from scholars who include the Regius Professors at both Oxford and Cambridge, resulted from a ‘Trends in Classics’ conference held in Thessaloniki in 2015. It is, to put it mildly, not a book for the faint-hearted: each article is accompanied by plentiful footnotes and an individual bibliography. Since it will not be possible in this notice to give detailed comment upon every contribution, though each and every one merits attention, the reviewer will perforce limit his remarks to the points which have seemed to him to be of especial interest. In what follows, references are given as they appear in the relevant articles, but possession of, or access to, the five volumes of the Loeb Library Anthologia Palatina (A.P.: 1918) or the various texts and commentaries of Gow and Page (HE and GP: 1965, 1968) is recommended. The (revised) Loeb of Callimachus’ Epigrams dates from 1954; Pfeiffer’s second Callimachus volume dates from 1953. Greek is quoted extensively, and is usually translated.

Section one (‘Dialect and Diction’) examines dialect in particular, always a problem area given that dialectal composition can be compromised by the process of textual transmission (as both Gow in his Theocritus (1952), and GP (1965) rightly emphasised). Can ‘unexpected’ Dorisms be explained? Euan Bowie in ‘Doing Doric’ shows that poets—especially Erucius—use the dialect to evoke a Leonidean or Theocritean pastoral world, yet occasionally the pattern is puzzlingly broken, by him, and by others: the case of the five Nicaean poems commemorating Sacerdos, three of which use Doric, leaves B. clutching at straws for a plausible reason, especially given that the (probably) Nicaean Apollonides uses no Doric in his 31 surviving poems.

Dee L. Chapman, in ‘Callimachus’ Doric Graces’ (A.P. 5.146), explains why the Graces, opening with an Attic definite article, have a Doric definite article by line 4: the epigram’s subject is Berenike II, and both Berenike (here Berenika, Doric) and Callimachus hailed from Cyrene and were native Doric speakers. Yet elsewhere Callimachus spells the queen ‘Berenike’. In the epigram, Callimachus, who gives the queen the epithet ἀρίζηλος, is adverting to the same combination of name and (non-Doric) epithet in Theocritus, Idyll 17, though there the queen is Berenike I: is Callimachus conferring ‘some of the weight of Theocritus’ argument for the Ptolemies’ divine, heroic, and Doric qualities’ to his own slight epigram? In addition, the three epic-Ionic Graces, joined by Berenika, have become four Doric ones, and Chapman persuasively demonstrates (but the argument is too long and detailed for summary) just how this transformation gradually and elegantly takes place over the epigram’s four lines.

Taylor Coughlan’s long and costive ‘Dialect and Imitation in Late Hellenistic Epigram’ seeks to establish dialect choice as a literary device used by ‘copycat’ epigrammatists such as Antipater and Archias, so that the ‘Imitation becomes an intellectually satisfying act of reception’: the reviewer was not quite convinced that the result ‘underscore(d) the dynamic role of dialect choice in … epigram’ (and see Richard Hunter’s comment below). In another long article, Lucia Floridi’s ‘The Language of Greek Skoptic Epigram of the I-II Centuries AD’, aims to show that a better understanding of the style of the relevant authors (Lucillius, Nicarchus, Ammianos) can help in the exegesis of their poems; several common traits are identified, though Nicarchus is more given to indelicacy than the other two. This is a strong piece, with much enjoyably technical material.

The book’s second section—‘Form and Design’—opens with a valiant, and by no means unsuccessful, attempt by Regina Hoeschele in ‘Unplumbed Depths of Fatuity: Philip of Thessaloniki’s Art of Variation’ to rescue the eponymous author from GP’s scathing condemnation. Notably, she claims, he ‘systematically varies Meleager’s way of interweaving poems’, operating on both a ‘micro- and macro-textual level’: this is less daunting to read than it may appear. Gregory Hutchison’s ‘Pentameters’ discusses the way in which in a pentameter the word at the caesura and the word at the end of the line agree with each other ( or are in apposition). In particular, H. takes issue with the claim by S.R Slings that Callimachus ignored the feature in his epigrams; and the practice of Catullus in relation to Callimachus also comes into consideration. (The article is markedly less demanding to read than some others in this collection). Demetra Koukouzika, in her ‘Epigrams in Epic? The Case of Apollonius Rhodius’ tackles a frankly unpromising theme, but on the back of two passages from Homer, she suggests a few passages with (semi) epigrammatic content, such as the death of Tiphys, summarised in four lines at Arg. 2.854-7, or the introduction to the killing of Apsyrtus at Arg.4.445-9; the fate of Kleite at Arg.1.972-7 is compared, perhaps optimistically, with Callimachus’ superb epigram on the death of Basilo (Pfeiffer 20). Other pithy examples are given, and readers can make up their own minds: the reviewer is doubtful.

Jan Kwapisz asks ‘When is a Riddle an Epigram?’ and opens with six examples of riddles. He goes on to suggest that ‘certain formal similarities between riddles and epigrams may be due to … the fact that both genres evolved in the same peculiar Hellenic environment’; he devotes especial attention to the Alder Riddle by Philitas (fr. 8, Lightfoot), deciding that G. Cerri’s answer to the riddle (2005) is correct; it is the Homeric alder, to be solved by knowledge of the Odyssey. He finally discusses Callimachus’ fascinating ‘Nautilus’ epigram (Pfeiffer 5), arguing that all is not as it seems, and that it contains a riddling element. Giulio Massimilla offers ‘The ἀπὸ κοινοῦ Construction of Prepositions as a Feature of the Epigrammatic Style’, and after giving examples from the ‘Three brothers’ epigram composed by nine different authors, all from A.P. 6, he looks at other instances, concluding that this construction was regarded as appropriate for the epigrammatic style, to achieve both brevity and refinement. (Here the reviewer notes that a slight variation of the construction is to be found elsewhere, in drama and in Plato: R. Renehan, Greek Textual Criticism 1964, pp. 84-5).

The final section is devoted to ‘Style in Literary Epigram’ (three headings) and ‘Style in Inscribed Epigram’. Egbert J. Bakker’s ‘Archaic Epigram and the Seal of Theognis’, in heavily academic language, claims that ‘inscribed epigram serves in a number of ways as a model for the body of written poetry bearing the name of Theognis … poetic fame is conceived as a monument, a tomb, and Theognis’s elegiac poetry as equivalent to an epigram’. Bakker ‘sides with’ those who take the famous sphregis to be the naming of Kurnos in the vocative case, to be ‘found in every genuine Theognis song’. If we may ignore the obvious risk of circularity here, the reviewer adds that Bakker’s conclusion is anything but novel. Michael. A. Tueller writes on ‘Words for Dying in Sepulchral Epigram’, looking at ὄλλυμι, φθίω, θνῄσκω, and κτείνω in detail, with examples; he goes on to discuss euphemism and metaphor, finding Leonidas of Tarentum to be particularly creative in his use of metaphor—examples are given, and ‘no two deaths are the same’; Callimachus, though, goes deeper, as at A.P. 7.451 on Saon, son of Dicon. He is a poet who finds ‘the void of death profoundly disturbing’, as indeed can be shown by work not given here: see, especially, A.P. 7.524.

‘A Little-studied Dialogue: Responses to Plato in Callimachean Epigram’ comes from B. Acosta-Hughes. A-H. says that most of the Platonic recollections are to be found in thirteen Callimachean epigrams that have homoerotic love as their theme, while a ‘surprising number’ of the proper names that feature in Callimachus have parallels in Platonic dialogues (he lists five). A first is A-H.’s positing a Platonic model for Epigram 21 (Pfeiffer), an epitaph for the poet’s father; the key lies in the rather rare word βασκανίη (envy) found there and in Phaedo 95b5. Whether the poet is responding in an ‘agonistic manner’ to Plato, or in one that may ‘be more aligned’, the important point lies in Plato’s large-scale presence in many of the poet’s epigrams. This is followed by ‘Style and Dialect in Meleager’s Heraclitus Epigram’, by Kathryn Gutzwiller. Little need be said about this admirable article, one of the most persuasive in the book. G. concentrates on the poem’s literary aspects (it is quoted and translated in full), to show how diction, dialect and style interact to reflect the content and manner of Heraclitus’ own writings as interpreted through his biographical tradition: the man comes down to us as arrogant—compare the (anonymous) A.P. 7.128, usefully quoted in full, and A.P. 9. 540, where the implication is that Heraclitus’s works are difficult (δύσβατος, ἀτραπιτός). In her article, G. walks us through the Meleager epigram, showing, for example, how he marks his knowledge of the philosopher’s writings by replicating his distinctive old Ionic dialect. O si sic omnes! Richard Hunter’s ‘A Philosophical Death’ discusses an inscribed epitaph from Miletos for (among others) Hestiaeos, a man with philosophical interests derived from Socrates and Plato rather than from ‘Epicurean hedonist and godless’ precepts: Aristippus and the Cyrenean school are referred to. Are we to gather that a certain attitude to the prospect of life after death is implied? The natural texts to look for in Plato are those at the end of the Apology, in the Phaedo, and at Phaedrus 245c2 (for immortality of the soul), and thus it is not surprising to find our elegist consigning Hestiaeos to the ‘holy Chambers of the blessed’. This is another convincing and crisply written article, which offers much more than this brief account can convey.

In ‘Novice Pastoral Eros and its Epigrammatic Critics’, Marco Fantuzzi opens with the reply from Callimachus (A.P. 12.150), to Theocritus Idyll 11, telling us that poetry is the remedy for the pangs of love; he then gives us the pastoral, sub-Theocritean dialogue in distinctly elegant elegiacs between Agathias and Paulus Silentarius, the latter of whom chides Agathias for giving in to the demands of his legal studies rather to his desire for his girlfriend on the far side of the Bosporos. F. suggests that even in the 6th C AD there was still a challenging dialogue between rustic landscape and Eros: perhaps so, but there are other, less dramatic, possibilities, as indeed is indicated by the following contribution. ‘Pastoral Markers in Hellenistic Epigram: The Fan-Fiction Approach’, by Nita Krevans, poses the question of how to determine if an epigram is ‘pastoral’. If Theocritean pastoral is successful ‘verse’, then fans will want to recreate and enter this ‘distinctive world’. Take Theocritus 5 (A.P. 9.433): is it a forgery, as modern scholars aver? Krevan regards it as ‘completely authentic as a canonical creation inside the Theocritean universe’, whereas Callimachus 36 (Pfeiffer 22) rejects Doric, and ‘retains a transgressive independence from the canonical pastoral world’. Meleager (A.P. 12.128) is exquisitely balanced between two worlds: pastoral and sympotic, but in Meleager (A.P. 5.139) ‘the invitation to the pastoral has been “violently repudiated”’. But pastoral remains, it is claimed, as a ‘free-standing fictional space across the millennia of Europe in literary history’.

The book is completed by articles on five inscribed epigrams (titles are sometimes abbreviated). Francesca Anglo gives us ‘Sundial for a Deceased Woman’ with two affecting epigrams from Pamphylia for Zobalima, set up by her affectionate husband: the second of them includes the rare adjective θυμήρης, found in Homer applied to Penelope (Od. 23.232). Valentina Garulli (‘Hapax legomena in Inscribed Funerary Epigrams’) finds 131 instances of hapax in 1838 epitaphs collected by W. Peek (1955). The majority are compounds, Asia Minor providing the majority, followed by the islands and mainland Greece, and, says G. (who offers roughly 30 examples), can produce some ‘unskilled and unnatural results’. David Petrain’s ‘Hearing Heracles on the Tabula Albani’ is notably well illustrated: the tablet itself appears to date from the 2nd C AD; the twelve canonical labours are composed in hexameters in Koine dialect; other of his deeds are in (Doric) prose. It seems, says Petrain, that the artisans of the Tabula Albani had paid close attention to the Tabula Chigi (with words in Doric) and to the Tabulae Iliacae of earlier dates. Andrej Petrovic asks (‘Casualty Lists in Performance’) whether in historical reality the names of those fallen in battle were read out, orally performed and perhaps even (orally) transmitted? He suggests that there is an ‘association between a casualty list and its oral performance within the framework of the invention of the art of memory’, Simonides of Keos being key as the inventor of mnemonics. Ivana Petrovic (‘The Style and Language of Epigrammatic Programmata’) points out that ‘inner purity as a phenomenon is attested as early as Hesiod’, though, in the inscriptional evidence, inner purity as a requirement for entering sacred ground first appears in the 4th C BC: the implied speaker in the metrical epigrams is the divinity who holds the temple—and who alone can assess the visitors’ state of mind. (It is notable that in the long inscription from Lindos, the prose regulations about purity regulations are in Koine, while the short verse text which follows is in Doric.)

This is indeed an imposing and important volume, though one might feel that occasionally contributors could have usefully borne in mind Richard Hunter’s comment (p. 271) ‘that in many cases we must honestly admit ignorance that we do not know why an epigram, or some words within it, are given a particular dialectical colouring’. Given its subject and cost, buyers seem likely to be mainly at university library level. Production values are up to de Gruyter’s invariably high standard (but near the close of p. 82, correct the meaningless ‘tight’ to ‘thigh’).

Colin Leach

We welcome your comments; please send via our social media.
Back to Reading Room