CUP (2nd edn., 2020) p/b 347pp £24.99 (ISBN 9781108459563)
This Hellenistic Anthology—now issued as a second edition, with a greater contribution from Theocritus—is a welcome addition to the Green-and-Yellow series. It contains extracts from 14 poets of the period (third to first centuries BC), many of whom—but by no means all—were based in Alexandria. Faced with an Anthology, reviewers all too often tell their readers what they would have included: trivially, I would have welcomed an extract from the anonymous Lament for Bion, but this is a well-thought out and eclectic selection. Indeed, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit to never having heard of Cleanthes and Phanocles: from the first, a long-lived Stoic, who probably never saw Alexandria, we have a ‘rough-hewn’ Hymn to Zeus; from the second, a short elegiac piece on the death of Orpheus.
The Introduction manages to convey a lot of information in a relatively short space: it covers (i) the background (mainly historic, with the Greek language, especially Attic, taking over—of course Doric retained a role, especially in poetry), (ii) Alexandria, a centre of culture, where the famous library was founded—Callimachus was almost certainly not one of its librarians—and (iii) Hellenistic poetry. It should be unnecessary to name the three great figures: Callimachus, Theocritus, and Apollonius of Rhodes; they are followed, at a respectful distance, by Aratus (whose Phaenomena influenced Virgil), Lycophron’s Alexandra, and the lively ‘mime composer’ Hero(n)das, writing in ‘limping iambics’. Of the others, Moschus and Bion have a certain charm, Nicander shows ability in turning pharmacology into verse, Simias adequately demonstrates the pointless nature of his speciality, the technopaegnion, the former slave Rhianus ponders moodily on the follies of mankind, and Machon writes in iambics—the appropriate metre—on a glutton: the remaining two are mentioned above. The text, which comes with a brief but deftly chosen apparatus criticus, concludes with some excellent epigrams, and a ‘skolion’, or drinking song.
We then have the Commentary. This is unequivocally excellent. H. introduces each poet, at greater or lesser length with a terse bibliography (also appended, if appropriate, to the commentary on individual poems, which are themselves given introductions). The notes are a model of their kind: relevant, concise, precise, with a merciful absence of ‘scaffolding’, i.e. references to earlier scholarship. Of course, Green-and-Yellows come without a translation (and in one or two cases, no English translation may exist: thus H. makes allowance for difficulties. notably in the case of the demented ravings of Cassandra in Lycophron’s Alexandra). For Callimachus, H. first takes extracts from the Aetia, and discusses, inter alia, Callimachean poetry and polemics (e.g. whom was he attacking when he expressed his distaste for epic poetry?): pp. 83-91 are strongly recommended. H. also gives us two of the Hymns, and, in one place or another we have several of his epigrams. (Attacks on Callimachus by later epigrammatists only go to show how influential he was; and at Rome both Propertius and Ovid knew his work well).
We think—rightly—of Theocritus as the deeply influential founder of pastoral poetry, composed in literary Doric with its imagined world of musical goatherds, but H., in his generous selection from six idylls, shows us that there is more: here we also have the Cyclops (idyll 11), the sorceress (idyll 2), and the women at the Festival of Adonis (idyll 15): all are fully introduced. As for the bucolic idylls (the origin of the word is uncertain), H. sums them up by emphasising that there is an ‘ironic distance’ between naïve characters and superior reader. Apollonius of Rhodes is by no means easy to read, although his ‘language, diction and phrasing are closely Homeric’: the Argonautica is a ‘self-consciously Callimachean poem’ (whether or not he had quarrelled with Callimachus as a young man, long before he became head of the Alexandrian Library). H. provides four extracts from the (relatively short) epic: ‘Medea’s dilemma’ (from book 3) is the longest and arguably the most interesting, a view developed by H., who says that for most readers this (the Medea episode) is the high point of the epic. The section devoted to Epigrams (33 strong) includes some familiar items from Callimachus, but Meleager, ‘Plato’, and a notably ingenious one from Philodemus also feature.
For the major authors in the Anthology—and some of the less well-known—full commentaries and, especially, translations exist. Since it may be assumed that the anthology is not aimed at practising scholars nor at those still at school, it may perhaps find its market at undergraduate level: in which case, even with H.’s invaluable help, translations may well be called on. H. devotes as much care on minor authors—see, for example, the introduction to Moschus’ Lament for Bion, p. 260—as he does on those of greater fame. This helps to create an excellent work: those who are called on to make use of it can count themselves fortunate indeed. There is a bibliography and Indexes; the book also has four outline maps of the relevant areas of the Mediterranean.