Wisconsin (2015) h/b 243pp £65.95 (ISBN 9780299305406)
‘Who has not spoken of the boy Hylas?’, Vergil asked rhetorically (Georgics 3.6). The story about Heracles’ young squire and/or love-interest, who upon fetching water is pulled into a pool by one or more nymphs, has indeed appealed to many. H.’s appropriately slender book (a revised version of his PhD thesis, defended at Leiden University in 2010) looks at several versions of this story, focussing on, but not limited to, those of Apollonius (Ch. 1), Theocritus (Ch. 2), Propertius (Ch. 3), as well as Valerius Flaccus and Statius (Ch. 4). His argument is that these poets use Hylas, whose name in antiquity was etymologized as hylê, ‘woods’ but also ‘poetic subject-matter’, as an emblem for their own post-Homeric personae, and the myth as a way of allegorically meditating on their poem’s place in a developing literary tradition. Thus this book is not so much concerned with mythology or with providing full discussion of all poetic and/or prose treatments of Hylas as it is with intertextuality and matters of poetic self-presentation (and the representation of one’s predecessors).
The author’s argument is well-made. He looks at key self-reflexive passages in Hellenistic and Roman poetry that are associated with the programme most famously espoused in Callimachus’ rallying call within the Aetia-prologue and his statements in the Hymns to Delos and Apollo. H. convincingly shows how these poetics (conveniently labelled ‘Callimachean’ throughout, though they may have been developed by earlier or contemporary poets) are implicitly present in the versions of the Hylas-myth. These stories then take on additional, ‘metapoetic’, significance as thematisations of the difficulty of writing poetry after Homer and as representations of the choices made by the poets vis-à-vis Homer and their direct predecessors, including poets who also treated Hylas. Intertextuality lies at the heart of this volume and much attention is paid to the cumulative effect of every new rendition—its negotiations with genre, gender, sexuality both within the poem itself and its relations to previous treatments. The longue durée explored in Echoing Hylas can be compared with that of M. Fantuzzi’s Achilles in Love (Oxford, 2012).
The book is well-written and deals with its complex subject in a clear and accessible manner. It is not an extensive theoretical exposition on the workings of intertextuality, such as G.B. Conte’s The Rhetoric of Imitation (Ithaca, NY: 1986) or S. Hinds’ Allusion and Intertext (Cambridge, 1998), but in the course of its argument makes many observations which would not be unworthy of these (and other) scholars. I have found only a handful of typos, none of which impedes the sense (e.g. p. 197n.3 refers to ‘Albrecht 1977’ instead of ‘von Albrecht 1977’, Euphorion in the Index appears as ‘Eyphorion’).