OUP (2019) h/b 400pp £90.00 (ISBN 9780199565054)

The late-antique Posthomerica, Quintus of Smyrna’s epic imitation of Homer and continuation of the Iliad, is experiencing a veritable Renaissance that so far has seen the appearance of standalone commentaries on books 1, 2, 5, 7, 10, and 12, as well as several valuable studies of the poem’s literary ambitions. With this rich and excellent commentary, a much revised and expanded version of her 2005 DPhil dissertation (Transformations of Epic: Reading Quintus of SmyrnaPosthomerica XIV), Katerina Carvounis (hereafter ‘C.’) gets in on the action in a scholarly aristeia that significantly raises the bar for future commentators.

The closural book 14 is structured around three major events: Helen’s return to the Greeks and reunion with Menelaus, the sacrifice of Polyxena to appease Achilles, and the cataclysmic storm upon the return of the Greeks and the death of Ajax of Locris.

Throughout, C. is sensitive to intertextual, lexical, narratological, literary, and stylistic matters. A solid introduction addresses some old chestnuts as well as some fascinating new topics. Alongside traditional discussions of the Posthomerica’s contents and reception (xviii-xix), issues of dating (xx-xxxiii; C. follows the consensus in placing Quintus in the third century AD, xxii-xxvi), models and sources (xxxiii-lxv, including the matter of whether Quintus was familiar with the Epic Cycle), and the manuscript tradition (lxvii-lxviii), C. carefully considers book 14’s functions as the closural book within the Posthomerica as a whole and its relations to other works that pick up the mythological thread where Quintus leaves off (lxv–lxvii). This last section is particularly neat as it takes the reader down some well-trodden paths, only to point out several undiscovered vistas along the way. C. acutely discusses book 14’s role in filling in the mythological background between the end of the Iliad and the beginning of the Odyssey. Not only did Quintus set himself the task of bridging the narrative divide between the two Homeric epics (hence, the events of book 14 follow from the Iliad, but also should predict or rather cause the events of the Odyssey), but he also had to find a middle ground between the different portrayals of the gods in both poems. 

In discussing the Posthomerica’s retrospective ‘anticipation’ of the Odyssey’s storyline C. arrives at one of the most controversial questions surrounding Quintus’ epic. Did Quintus know Latin? And if so, to what extent? Would he have used Greek translations of Latin works? The issue has divided scholars, although the scales are gradually beginning to move in favour of a positive answer (see esp. Ursula Gärtner, Quintus Smyrnaeus und die Aeneis: Zur Nachwirkung Vergils in der griechischen Literatur der Kaiserzeit Beck, 2005). C. adds new observations of her own and is not afraid to query and interpret Latin parallels. Just as the Odyssey was viewed as the ‘sequel’ to the Iliad, and the Posthomerica inserts itself into the gap between these poems, the Aeneid famously presents itself as a paraquel to the Odyssey; hence Quintus had ample scope to present the Posthomerica as a ‘pre-text’ to the Aeneid as well. Perhaps the section on Quintus’ Latin models could have been expanded beyond Vergil by including a discussion of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which itself contains a mini-Aeneid (Met. 13.623-14.582) and, like Quintus’ poem, plays around with chronological and mythological boundaries, although there are several spots in the commentary where Ovid peeks around the corner, as do Seneca’s tragedies (mostly, of course, Agamemnon and Troades), while Catullus, Lucan, Silius Italicus, Statius, and Valerius Flaccus make isolated appearances.

These topics, and much more, are pursued in finer detail in the lemmatic commentary, which is preceded by the text of book 14 (taken from Francis Vian’s ground-breaking Budé, Quintus de Smyrne: La suite d’Homère [3 vols. Les Belles Lettres, 1963-1969, second edition 2003]). The indices of Greek words discussed, passages cited, and general matters and bibliography show exactly how widely read and informed C.’s work is and abound with references to Greek and Latin epic and tragedy. These texts are brought to bear on Quintus’ narrative, with ample attention to how they add to the Posthomerica’s texture through lexical and narratological imitation, characterization, and more. At the same time, C.’s expert untangling of the Posthomerica’s dense intertextual fabric also shows the manifold ways in which its poet dares to innovate and invent; C. therefore also makes the case for Quintus as an independent poet in his own right.

A very minor criticism is that C.’s commentary bucks the trend of including a translation with the text and commentary, although in Quintus’ case there arguably is less need for this, given the number of recent English translations (e.g. Alan James, Quintus of Smyrna: The Trojan Epic (Posthomerica), Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004; Neil Hopkinson ed., Quintus Smyrnaeus: Posthomerica HUP, 2018; Calum Maciver, Quintus Smyrnaeus’ Posthomerica in: Tim Whitmarsh et al. (eds), Collected Imperial Greek Epics, University of California Press, 2020 [forthcoming]). The book is meticulously produced, with only a handful harmless typos (p. lii, n. 140 ‘Tsaggalis’ > ‘Tsagalis’; in the bibliography the repeated ‘Livrea, H.’ must be ‘E[nrico]’).

This commentary is a treat to anyone who loves epic, mythology, and ingenious storytelling—a model of the academic genre. Those teaching or interested in the tradition of the Trojan War will find it indispensable. While Vian’s Budé will remain the port of call for those looking for the text of and notes on the whole epic, C.’s commentary on the Posthomerica’s final book complements and rivals Vian’s edition for coverage of the entire poem. Quintus deserves a wider audience and this book will be a firm shove in the right direction. One hopes that C. will apply her formidable powers of exegesis to one or more of the Posthomerica’s books awaiting a stand-alone commentary.

Gary Vos