IAMBUS & ELEGY: New Approaches

Edited by Laura Swift and Chris Carey

OUP (2016) h/b 383pp £72.00 (ISBN 9780199689743)

This book assembles ‘selected papers’ from a conference on Greek iambus and elegy held at University College, London in 2012: after a distinctly useful Introduction, it offers 16 contributions from 17 authors. The editors tell us that the study of early Greek poetry has undergone a renaissance in recent decades, an assertion which the thirty pages of bibliography go a long way to confirm; the present volume’s intention is to ‘showcase’ some of the ‘cutting-edge’ work being done. Readers are likely to find it useful to have at hand the Loeb Library volumes which cover Greek elegiac and iambic poetry (especially D.E. Gerber, 1999). With so many contributions, only brief comments here are practicable.

The book’s contents are divided into four main parts: (1) Poetry in Performance, (2) Charting Genre, Creating Traditions, (3) Cultural Interactions, (4) Ancient Receptions and Intertext. In Part 1, Ewen Bowie’s ‘Cultic Contexts for Elegiac Performance’ makes some ‘fragile speculations’, concluding that, of four Ionian poets of the mid-seventh century, Archilochus, Mimnermus, and Callinus may have composed elegies for cultic performance; of Semonides of Amorgos, not a line survives. Accordingly, he suspects that the ‘shape and function of archaic elegy’ are more complicated than had been supposed, with community, rather than Panhellenic interests to the fore. In ‘Choral Elegy: The Tyranny of the Handbook’, Cecilia Nobili, rather similarly, suggests a more flexible choral/monody boundary than has previously been allowed, with re-performance, exemplified by Theognis (or ‘Theognis’), becoming the ‘best proof’ of the freedom which characterizes the ‘multi-faceted’ genre of elegy: the reviewer emphasises that there is much more to this piece than this summing-up can convey.

Deborah Boedeker gives us, in ‘Coarse Poetics: Listening to Hipponax’, the first of three items on this poet, opening with the startling opinion of A.D. Knox, uttered in 1929, that H. was ‘by common consent one of the greatest of Greek poets’. She goes on to discuss the choliambic and (sometimes) ‘ischiorrhogic’, i.e. broken-hipped, metre that is (probably) his invention, and follows it with an account of his ‘exuberant compound neologisms’ and frankly obscene language. As she observes, H. does not spare himself, presenting himself in outrageous situations, both sexual and scatological. She plausibly suggests that H. is well aware of how ‘transgressive or bathetic’ he appears—B. gives ample quotation to back it—so we have a ‘shrewd narrator, telling of his misadventures knowingly and gleefully’. A lively contribution, in which the work of one or two other scholars is quietly modified or queried. Donald Lavigne closes Part 1 with ‘Archilochus and Homer in the Rhapsodic Context’, acknowledging much help from other scholars to bring it to a successful completion. He examines the evidence that A.’s poetry was transmitted through rhapsodes in the late fifth and fourth centuries, closing with a long quotation from Dio Chrysostom which compares Homer with A.: both are peerless, but where Homer praises, A. is known for his ability to censure everyone—including, of course, himself.

Part 2 starts with Andrea Rotstein on ‘The Ancient Literary History of Iambos’, which should ideally be read after, or in conjunction with, the same author’s admirable The Idea of Iambos (2010). Here Callimachus (can we ever do without him?) enters the frame with his Iambi frag.191, 1-4 (not quoted, and perhaps most easily found in the relevant Loeb Callimachus, by C.A Trypanis (2004 reprint); for, says R., ‘the missing chapter in the historiography of iambos should be looked for in the realms of literature, not of scholarship’. Callimachus, writing in choliambics, rejects the ‘Boupaleian confrontation’, sc. of Hipponax , with iambics without licence (and puerility, as in Cato the younger). Such an approach ‘transcend(s) the archaic iambos, implying continuity and change’. In ‘Mapping Iambos: Mining the Minor Talents’, Chris Carey sets himself a demanding task, valiantly essayed. Scanty indeed are the λείψανα of poets such as Ananius (text in Gerber), and when C. opines that texts of the non-canonical authors were relatively scarce after the Hellenistic age, one can only agree; even the (unpleasant) Semonides may have faded from view by the early centuries AD. Again, when C. says that the works of iambic authors could travel from one side to the other of the Greek world, how much reliance is he placing on the mention by Epicharmus (around 500 BC) of Ananius in Syracuse? The book’s Introduction refers to a ‘vibrant’ tradition beyond the three names of the canon—Hipponax, Archilochus, and Semonides—but papyrus remains hardly seem to confirm this. ‘Simonides’ Personal Elegies’ is the title of David Sider’s short but interesting contribution. When is an epigram not an epigram? When it is excerpted from an elegy. The rather tiresome result is that to find Simonides’ work in one place, D.A. Campbell’s Loeb (Greek Lyric III, 1991) is, says Sider, effectively the only place. Simonides, it seems, composed personal elegies which narrated tales of his having composed verses, and now Callimachus enters the picture at Aetia fr.64 Pfeiffer/Harder; Simonides had included his own sepulchral epigram within his elegy, and Callimachus extends this to compose such an epigram within an elegy spoken in the name of the dead Simonides, ‘a Callimachean distillation of Simonides poetics’: this is indeed ‘toying with genre’ (Harder). Elegies and epigrams were mixed, and, in due course, poems were casually added under the Simonidean rubric (Syllogae Simonideae): in the end, as Sider ruefully says, we have to try ‘to separate true from not so true epigrams, a literary challenge’.

In ‘Writing Solon’, by Antonio Aloni and Alessandro Iannucci, the authors aver that ‘scholars have overlooked the process that leads to the written redaction of a poetic work or genre, and of the resulting “book” format’. The argument here becomes complex, but they conclude that Solon’s poetry was rediscovered in the time of Ephialtes, who relocated the Solonian laws to the Agora, and that Critias (who, Plato says, definitely fixed the logos atlantikos learnt from Solon, and handed down orally in his own familial clan) became responsible for a sylloge including some of his own songs and other poems traditionally performed and perceived as Solonian. The thesis is interesting, and carefully argued, with a useful comparison with the Theognidea, but (for the reviewer) it remains a theory that will need more testing. ‘Archilochus’ Elegiac Fragments: Textual and Exegetical Notes’ by Anika Nicolosi marks a welcome return to the almost forgotten (it sometimes seems) business of establishing and explaining the text. One example is the well-known fragment 2 (West), in which the poet three times sings ἐν δόρι (‘on my spear’), followed by what he gets from it—bread, wine, and ?bed: not so, says Nicolosi: Archilochus is complaining that in wartime he has to drink reclining—but he has ‘placed his symposium in his spear’ (it is a somewhat complex argument). In Fragment 13 (West), she interestingly punctuates differently from West, with a resultant rather different effect in the fragment as a whole, and in fragment 331 (West) she finds a sexual topic, usually ‘denied to exist in elegy’. As always with an article of this kind, there is no real substitute for reading it in full, an act which fully engaged the reviewer’s interest.

Part III opens with Laura Lulli’s ‘Epic and Elegy: A Complex Relationship’. No startling new theory is advanced, and Lulli’s statement that ‘elegy develops a striking interest in many topics which were either marginally treated in epic poetry or completely absent’ is clearly correct—even though we must start from Archilochus, the ‘most Homeric’ of poets, as ‘Longinus’ observed, and as Lulli copiously illustrates; she also examines the elegy dealing with the myth of Telephus, finding a pattern of ‘continuity and innovation’. Perhaps, too, common occasions of performance helped to create ‘cross-fertilization between the genres’. With Margarita Alexandrou’s ‘Mythological Narratives in Hipponax’, we read that Hipponax’s favourite ‘intertext’ is the Odyssey, with which he had a pervasive and ‘multi-layered’ engagement—yet one which usually remains indirect and allusive. But she adverts here to a possible more direct engagement, depending on the interpretation of two long papyrus fragments, which she quotes in full, and which ‘seem to focus on the mythical figures of Odysseus and Heracles’, possibly including a ‘unique instance of a mock-heroic parody of the Odyssey’. If she is right, then the use of myth may take ‘iambos closer to mainstream lyric than we used to think’. In any event, we can agree that there are, as she says, severe limitations to our knowledge of the archaic iambic corpus. Next, Tom Hawkins offers ‘Bupalus in Scheria: Hipponax’s Odyssean Transcontextualizations’. He believes that parody plays an important role, making his case via six steps, of which the fifth is to demonstrate that Hipponax in (the four lines of) fragment 39 uses a more allusive strategy to evoke the Homeric account of Odysseus’ meeting with Circe, but with an ‘inverted discourse strategy’. Hawkins’s article also includes a well-illustrated account of the black-figure vases that depict the confrontation between Odysseus and Circe found in the Theban sanctuary of the Cabiri, and wonders whether this may incorporate an ‘early reception of Hipponax’s Odyssean mythology’. Might the (hostile) painter Bupalus have portrayed Hipponax like the (degraded) images of Odysseus on these vases? In ‘Poetics and Precedents in Archilochus Erotic Imagery’ Laura Swift concentrates on his erotic fragments, where the poet’s imagery is at its ‘richest’. She starts with the ‘body as meadow’ (fragments 30 and 31 West) and finds the poet creating, by his use of language, an erotically charged image, while in frag. 48 he goes further, suggesting that the ‘(women in his poetry) are sexually available and perhaps even promiscuous’. In frag. 188 West, the poet displays the imagery of the locus amoenus for abuse, and in the Cologne epode (frag.196A West), printed here in full, Archilochus makes extensive use of nature imagery to achieve the same ‘invective contrast’ between youth and old age, while leaving certain crucial details ambiguous, as part of a ‘strategy to titillate’. (The reviewer notes that no fewer than twelve scholars have offered their widely differing views about the orgasm at line 52). S. concludes by averring that the poet’s ability to ‘revitalize well-worn images … is crucial to his self-positioning as poet operating in a genre which seeks to tell narrative in a subversive, humorous and unexpected way’.

Part 4 sees C. G. Brown opening with ‘Warding off a Hailstorm of Blood: Pindar on Martial Elegy’. Who composed the excellent (the view of others beside the reviewer) inscription of the third century BC from Acarnania, given here in full? We do not know: but its point lies in its explicitly linking a heroic death with martial elegy, coloured by the poetry of Tyrtaeus. Brown finds an elegiac background in two of Pindar’s odes, where he drew on themes from Callinus and Tyrtaeus (Isthmian 7) or Homer’s Hector (Nemean 9). Paula da Cunha Corrêa looks in detail at Euenus in her ‘The ‘Ship of Fools’ in Euenus 8b and Plato’s Republic 488a-489a’. Euenus—the passage is quoted in full—compares his dismal state to being on board a ship about to sink in bad weather, the helmsman having been disposed of. The parallel with the ship of state in Plato is far from exact, since the problem there is not the weather but the crew, who throw the state into civil strife—though the ‘riotous consumption of the cargo or goods’ is present or implied in both places. And it is certainly relevant that in Plato’s Apology 20a-b Euenus himself is described as a poet who taught human and political excellence: so could there have been rivalry between Euenus and Socrates? —this seems to be denied in the Phaedo at 60d. The book closes with Julia Nelson Hawkins and ‘Anger, Bile and the Poet’s Body in the Archilochean Tradition’. It is a long paper, well-argued and illustrated by apposite quotations (one from Gaetulicus, first century AD, is especially to the point: see AP 7.71) and Hawkins suggests that Archilochus represents something of a halfway point between the Homeric body and the body of the Presocratics and Hippocrates.

In this long and detailed book many interesting theses are advanced. Some of them may not stand up under further investigation, but that in no way invalidates their being proposed; and the reviewer has certainly seen his knowledge of, especially, Hipponax, broadened in a welcome way. The international nature of the conference, and therefore of the subject as a whole, is shown by the fact that only four of the contributors come from the UK, two of those being the book’s editors. The production is compact and elegant, and the reviewer noted only one bad, and perhaps not immediately obvious misprint; on page 61, where we read ‘an early third-century Sicilian phylax play’, read ‘phlyax’ for ‘phylax’.

Colin Leach




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