GREEK LYRIC: A Selection

Edited by Felix Budelmann

CUP (2018) p/b 321pp p/b £24.99 (ISBN 9780521633871)

The last 40 years have seen much activity in the publication and interpretation of Greek lyric papyri, as well as full-scale critical commentaries on, for example, Alcman (Calame 1983) and Stesichorus (Davies & Finglass 2014). B.’s selection in the excellent CUP ‘green-and-yellow’ series is therefore timely. He takes a purist line over the Alexandrian canon (only Alcman, Sappho, Alcaeus, Stesichorus, Anacreon, Ibycus, Simonides, plus a few popular songs and skolia included); no elegy or iambus, Pindar or Bacchylides. For students, this will represent a comparative supplement to, rather than a replacement of, Campbell’s standard selection (Bristol Classical Press 1982); there are slightly more lines in B., but most of the difference is accounted for by the welcome inclusion of 92 lines from Timotheus’ extravagantly florid Persians. The other main departures are Sappho 58b (a dark meditation on old age), and some extracts from Stesichorus’ Geryoneis. But seekers after the canonical poems of Sappho, Anacreon and the rest will not be disappointed. 

The commentary is in general decidedly more literary than Campbell’s. B.’s introduction to his complex subject and its scholarly history is a model of its kind. In only 23 pages he covers the disputed questions of definition (genre vs metre), performance (monody vs choral), and the ‘I’ lyric voice, as well as more technical matters of transmission, metre, and dialect. This is a remarkable feat of clarity and compression; it covers recent scholarship as well as mainstream topics—there is of course more extended discussion in the commentary—while at the same time being exactly what you would want to put into the hands of a student completely new to the subject. 

Who is this selection for? The blurb says it will ‘be of interest to higher-level undergraduates and graduate students, as well as to scholars’, which is probably right; but it would be a pity if it also deterred bright sixth-formers, rare birds though they are these days, from picking it up. Sappho 1, say, Ibycus 286 and 287, and the tyrannicide skolia need little learned exegesis. Of course no selection is going to please everyone; but given the existence of scholarly commentaries where proper room is devoted to the reconstruction of papyrus texts, a case could possibly have been made for omitting the more fragmentary remains of Stesichorus in favour of e.g. Alcaeus’ storm poem and Sappho 94 (τεθνάκην δ’ ἀδόλως θέλω). Timotheus is clearly something of a favourite with B., and many otherwise knowledgeable classicists will enjoy the longish extract here from his vivid Persians—‘loosely tethered’, as B. says, to the battle of Salamis: ‘from their hands they dropped their ships’ mountain feet (=oars), and from their mouths jumped their bright-shining children (=teeth)’. Aristophanes couldn’t have made it up.

Anthony Verity

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