HELLENISTIC POETRY: A SELECTION

Edited by David Sider

Michigan (2017) p/b 579pp £40.29 (ISBN 9780472053131)

This weighty book has been devised specifically for classroom use. Right at the start S. expresses the hope that his selection will supplement three CUP ‘Green & Yellow’ volumes featuring Hellenistic poetry: Richard Hunter’s Argonautica III and Theocritus selection, and Neil Hopkinson’s anthology. ‘I had in mind advanced American undergraduates and graduates … the basic idea was to enable students to get through the text with minimal searching in the lexica or Smyth’s Greek Grammar.’

There are 44 extracts, of which six are anonymous offerings drawn from papyrus fragments or inscriptions, the rest representing 38 authors; 28 of them do not appear in Hopkinson’s selection. Only three epigrams make it; this is a pity (Hopkinson has 33), but the book is hefty enough without them, and there is apparently a ‘Green & Yellow’ epigram selection on its way.

There are 28 contributors, mostly American; Hunter and Richard Rawles are the only UK representatives. Each extract is free-standing, with its own editor, providing an introduction, bibliography, text, critical apparatus, and notes. Hence the collection can be used as a source book according to the needs of different classes and tutors. In this it performs a useful service.

Nearly all the usual suspects are here (Apollonius, Callimachus, Theocritus, Bion, Moschus, Nicander, Hermesianax, Herodas), plus some oddities: e.g. the Atthis epitaph from Cnidos; the ‘Tattoo elegy’—a curse poem, as Lloyd-Jones and Barns have correctly shown—including Rawles’s elegant explanation of the puzzling ‘I shall tattoo a white-toothed boar’; Ezekiel’s Exagoge, a drama in good iambic trimeters about the life of Moses; and a few fragments of Euphorion, frustratingly insufficient to throw much light on Cicero’s dig at the Roman neoterics.

S. is at pains to claim that not all the poets represented are ‘good’, observing that Timolaus’ arid playing with Homer ‘does not leave us begging for more’; but his claim that ‘the more one knows of the full range of Hellenistic poetry, the better appreciation one should have of the Roman poets whose output was shaped by a deep familiarity with it all’ is hardly bolstered by many of the chunks of learned library-stuff included. A few snakes go a long way. The ordinary, non-doctorate, student is far more likely to be engaged by Hopkinson’s CUP selection.

In fact, perhaps because of multiple authorship and an apparently light editorial hand, this selection often hovers uneasily between classroom textbook and scholarly dissertation. Too many contributors seem to subordinate S.’s sensible aim of helping students understand the text to an irksome display of technical learning, which can be of interest only to others working in the same narrow field. The exiguous Corinna extract is loaded with a 33-work bibliography, plus the information that the Terpsichorea fragment is written in ‘stichic glyconics with anaclasis, also known as choriambic dimeter or wilamowitzianum’. And a dense two-paragraph discussion on when the poetess wrote manages to review the evidence without mentioning any dates at all. A note on a witty epic parody by Matrô(n) (quoted by Athenaeus) reads ‘πολυτρόφα: “much nourishing” (good) and thus paroxytone’ (correcting the Loeb, but does the student really need it?). Some contributions are cluttered with square brackets, sublinear dots and lacunae: at home in e.g. Page’s PMG, but making little sense in a textbook aimed at ‘a level between a Bryn Mawr commentary … and a “Green & Yellow” one’. It is also a pity—especially e.g. in the case of the ‘better’ poets—that S. instructed his contributors that ‘literary matters [are] to be touched on only briefly’.

One can, as always, pick holes here and there. Hunter (on Callimachus fr. 178 Pf.12) seems to have forgotten he decided in his 1999 Theocritus selection that making a kissubion (‘a [large] rustic bowl’) out of ivy-wood is ‘technologically improbable’; I can’t find any evidence that phoiteo with a direct object (Callimachus fr. 194 Pf.30) can mean ‘I accompany’; and S. appears to have misunderstood the shepherdess’s state of mind at [Theocritus] 27.69-70. Still, provided a tutor follows S.’s advice and makes a careful selection of what is appropriate to his/her class, there is plenty here to engage the keen student, especially those intrigued by exotica and intent on further study. Doubtless it will appeal more in America than over here.

Anthony Verity

 

 

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