Bryn Mawr Classical Review 03.01.06


Poetarum Melicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, vol. I. Alcman Stesichorus Ibycus. post D. L. Page ed. Malcolm Davies. Oxford: Oxford University Press 1991. Pp. xiv, 336. ISBN 0-19-814046-0.


Reviewed by Michael W. Haslam, University of California at Los Angeles.

Anyone who thinks of classical literature as a fixed corpus has not had much to do with ancient Greek lyric. Of the Alexandrian canon of nine lyric poets only Pindar has a medieval tradition, and that only of the epinikia. A hundred years ago the situation changed dramatically, and it has not stopped changing since. Complete poems still come few and far between -- still none of Alkman's, Stesichoros', Ibykos', Simonides', or Alkaios', and only one of Sappho's -- but the bits and pieces are varied and substantial, and continually transform the literary landscape. Denys Page's 1962 Poetae Melici Graeci (PMG) was a landmark, but papyrus accessions kept on coming. In his 1968 OCT Lyrica Graeca Selecta he was able to include as an appendix the newly published fragments of Stesichoros' Geryoneid, and his 1974 Supplementum Lyricis Graecis (SLG) enhanced its otherwise meager attractions by extending its prescribed scope and appending the Cologne Archilochus. What has appeared since then is less sexy but not negligible, and the most obvious value of Malcolm Davies' new edition is that it sweeps up what has appeared in the interim. His too has an appendix, of tantalizing new Stesichoros (which it was a misleading misjudgment to label inedita: the ed. pr. came out in 1990).

This is PMGF vol.1: three more volumes are projected, to be published, according to the dust-jacket (not on oath), at two-yearly intervals. The fact that PMG is to be replaced by a four-volume set does not mean that there is four times as much ancient Greek lyric poetry today as there was thirty years ago. For one thing, the volumes will be smaller. For another, PMGF is to include Sappho and Alkaios too, so that of the canon of nine, only Pindar and Bakchylides are exempted. Given the excellence of Voigt's edition it is hard to imagine why the Lesbians are to be included, unless merely to reclaim them for Oxford. But much of the extra bulk is due to Davies' inclusion of two sorts of non-poetic material excluded by Page, testimonia and modern exegesis.

This volume's poets are Alkman, Stesichoros, and Ibykos. For Alkman, nothing much new has accrued in recent years, and still less that is readable: a few broken but interesting lines of narrative (S5(b)/P.Oxy.3213), scraps of Lyrics bk.6, with colophon, the first unambiguous evidence for a sixth book of Lyrics (4(a)/P.Oxy.3209, cf. 158), and tattered remains of a commentary (S5(a)/P.Oxy.3210) -- all in Calame's 1983 edition, which Davies lays under heavier obligation than is apparent at first sight: a new edition of Alkman was not among the world's most pressing needs. For Stesichoros and Ibykos, the gains have been immeasurably greater, and to have gathered them between a single pair of covers is the most valuable service rendered by this book. For Stesichoros, PMG could offer only citations and a couple of exiguous papyrus fragments (209, seemingly from the Returns, and 222, seemingly from the Boarhunters) -- enough for a 50-page chapter in the revised edition of Bowra's Greek Lyric Poetry, but still pathetically little. SLG was able to add the exciting remains of the Geryoneid (S7-87), along with fragments apparently from the Sack of Troy and the Eriphyle (S88-147, S148-50), and the huge void which used to be Stesichoros continues its population explosion: PMGF's two most important augmentations are the chunk of the Lille poem which for want of a title we may call the Thebaid (222(b)) and a set of numerous other fragments perhaps of several poems, the Boarhunters among them (222(a)/P.Oxy.3876); to elicit continuous text from the latter is an outstanding challenge. For Ibykos, appropriately, the same picture on a smaller scale. To a revised version of the Polykrates fragment SLG added a batch of torn pieces which Martin West attributed rather to Stesichoros ("haud recte" Davies, following Page, who did not condescend to mention the competing attribution; S166-219/P.Oxy.2735), and PMGF further adds another batch, whose attribution to Ibykos (again by West) is uncontested (S257(a)/P.Oxy.3538). Davies makes no mention of fragments which might be thought to have a good claim on Stesichorean or Ibycean authorship (P.Oxy.3696, 3697, cf. P.Haun.7 ap. P.Oxy.LIII p.31 n.3); presumably these are to be dumped in the adespota. Incidentally, the way now lies open for a radical and comprehensive reappraisal of the history of ancient literature. The resurrection of Stesichoros is liable to transform the way we look at early epic, lyric, and tragedy, and is not without consequence for Roman poetry too.

The testimonia are divided into two sets, TA and TB, "life" and "art." Davies' efforts to impose a tidy organization on his motley material are continually and sometimes comically thwarted by its recalcitrance. The Suda's entry for Alkman is split between TA12 and TB1 (the information that Alkman was of servile descent unhappily finds itself in the wrong half), and the only bit of it that Page saw fit to print, E)/GRAYE BIBLI/A E(\C ME/LH KAI\ *KOLUMBW/SAS, appears again later, without cross-reference, among the "fragments" (158, where differently punctuated -- one of numerous such small inconsistencies). The information that Stesichoros' poems occupied 26 books, on the other hand, remains hidden in a "Life" sub-section. (At one book per poem -- though the Oresteia apparently took up two -- we thus have the titles of about half his poems.) I miss what is perhaps the most important testimony bearing on the question of Stesichoros' date, his reference to the ps.-Hesiodic Shield (269). It has to be said that comparison with Campbell's Loeb edition, unpretentiously but excellently updating Edmonds, is not always in Davies' favor. This is partly because of the greater accessibility of Campbell's presentation, but partly also because of certain incoherencies in Davies'. He starts by telling us (in Latin) that Aristotle, Krates and Aristarchos held that Alkman was Lydian, while Sosibios and others, out of patriotism, held that he was Laconian. This is just what Pfeiffer says in his History of Classical Scholarship. No harm in repeating it if it is true, but is it? No doubt Krates and Aristarchos agreed on some things, but the evidence had better be good; Davies purports to give it, but does not. For Aristarchos he refers us to his TA1b, labelled "Schol.B in Alcm. fr.1" (in fact an excerpt from an ancient commentary, P.Oxy.2389), whose text is given merely as: TOU\S [*I)BHN]OU/S FHSIN TH=S *L[UDI/AS E)/QNOS EI)=]NAI. [A)PO\ T]OU/TOU DE\ BOU/LET[AI ... O(/TI] *LU[DO\S H)=N] O( *A)LKMA/N. *SW[SI/BIOS DE\ TO\ T]W=N [*I)BHNW=]N E)/QNOS A)POF[AI/NEI. (I have added a couple of square brackets inadvertently omitted by Davies.) Who is the subject of FHSIN, we want to know. Aristarchos? Why should anyone think so? Davies gives no clue. In fact, as you will discover if you turn to Campbell, the supposition depends upon putting OU(=TOS rather than e.g. *KRA/THS into the hole that directly precedes TOU\S [*I)BHN]OU/S -- something that Davies, however, does not do; he does not even report the suggestion. The same papyrus commentary unequivocally rejects the Lydian hypothesis (fr.9 i 11-15, reporting Aristotle & [Krates] A)PATHQE/NTES), as does the Suda (reporting Krates PTAI/ONTA): that is Alexandrian scholarship, not local patriotism!

Page also refrained from exegesis -- "futile ratus," as he explained, "brevia praecipere in rebus quae explanatione plenissima indigent." Davies is not deterred. He provides little by way of actual exegesis, but many references to secondary literature, in a separate apparatus following each item's app.crit. Stesichoros is excepted, for Davies has a separate commentary on him forthcoming (if not out) and eagerly awaited; he has been instructing us to see this or that note in it for the past five years or more. If I have a reservation about this secondary apparatus, it is not so much that the selection is idiosyncratic and the coverage uneven, or that some of the references are tiresomely recurrent (and the name of Davies disproportionately prominent), as the more general consideration that it further caters to the editor's built-in tendency to lay down the law. I would have preferred bibliography unmediated by Davies' heavy and somewhat sciolistic judgmentality. Still, I have already been led to one or two places where I have found enlightenment, so gratitude is in order.

The volume is surprisingly difficult to find one's way about in. Testimonia apart, there are three groups of texts to be accommodated -- those already in PMG, those in SLG, and more recent accessions --, and the incorporation of the post-PMG accessions within PMG's organizational framework leads to a phenomenally messy result. The Conspectus at the back helps (though its page-references are unreliable), but after working my way through the volume, and knowing all the material beforehand, I find I am still getting lost. Problems of ordering are compounded by problems of numbering. Fragments of a single manuscript are sometimes given individual numbers (Page's practice in SLG), sometimes gathered all under a single number. Davies puts S1 before 1, thereby implying disagreement with Page's interpretation of *A)LKMA=NOS H( A)RXH/. But he acquiesces in Page's unwarranted ascription of 3-4 to bk.1. 4(a) is a set of new accessions. 13(a) -- the "(a)" here not meaning an accession to the PMG items -- duplicates what has already been given as TA1a. Then comes S2-4. S5 has become TA11b; its place is taken by S5(a)-(c), three very diverse post-SLG accessions. Then we start all over again with bk.1, this time the "book-fragments." Davies took Calame to task for introducing a new numeration for Alkman, but of the superiority of Calame's arrangement there can be no question.

The editions of the poetic fragments themselves, while generally sound enough, are disappointing. It would have been unreasonable to hope for an edition to compare to Pfeiffer's Callimachus or the Supplementum Hellenisticum, but did this have to be quite so tralatitious a work? Davies shows remarkably little independence. His edition makes virtually no advance over the work of earlier scholars, either in text or in interpretation. Nowhere does he make any textual contribution of his own. Page's texts already enjoy greater authority than properly belongs to them, simply by virtue of their being standard; to reprint them merely invests them with more, ossifying what must once have been fresh and stimulating. AU)/TA still stands in the Louvre Partheneion, 1.45 -- meaning something between AU)TA\ and AU(/TA, perhaps? (And if A)UEIROME/NAI is to be "corrected" to A)UHR-, why not TEI/REI likewise?) Texts anesthetize by their very familiarity. No one blinks at *KINU/RA at 3.71, but I would be far happier with KINURA\ (A(PALH/, NE/A Hsch.). Where Davies does not have Page to follow, the reader is sometimes let down badly. In the commentary on fragments S5(a) (P.Oxy.3210), for example, Davies simply reproduces the unarticulated transcript of ed. pr.: Campbell is much more helpful, without being any less accurate. Similarly with 222(a): it is not a considerate editor who confronts his readers with transcripts such as ]OUDETISESTARETA[ or ]TW=NPARADA[]MON[ (fr.64(b) 4-5) and leaves it at that . And there are some dismaying lapses in Davies' textual judgment. In the Lille Stesichoros (222(b)), I am most surprised that he accepts AI)/TE in v.228, without so much as mentioning AI)/ GE (cf. Parsons, Actes du VIIe Congr&eGRAVE;s de la F.I.E.C. 2 [1983] 522 n.30, and Bremer's commentary ad loc.). And at 222(a) fr.62.5 it is astonishing that he prefers KAQ[E/S]AIS (pple.) to KAQ[AR]AI=S in 5 (and since he is that sort of editor, he not only prefers it, he asserts that it is preferable); if 6-7 A)IO/NESSI is understood as referring to linen, as at Bacchyl.17.112, KAQARAI=S presents no difficulty, and KAQE/SAIS does not deserve a place even in the apparatus, let alone in the text.

It was not, of course, an easy task to edit "post D. L. Page," as the title-page has it. Most of Page's exegetical comments (for his abnegation was thankfully far from total) are reproduced, often within quotation marks and labelled "(Page)." Piety is served, but Davies is not above fiddling with Page's words even when purporting to be quoting him verbatim (e.g. he substitutes "Alcmanem" for Page's "Alcmana" at Alcm. TA1 ~ PMG 13, and "citharoedica" for "citharistica" at TA2 ~ PMG 10 -- the former footling, the latter deleterious), and to have Page filtered through Davies gives the reader an unwelcome layer of intermediation to cope with. Davies also takes it upon himself to indicate the prosody in cases where a short vowel precedes a plosive-liquid combination, but he misses about as many as he catches, and its helpfulness is outweighed by its obtrusively adding to the necessary extratextual clutter of brackets and dots (S15 8-12 is extreme). It would have been more helpful to give metrical schemes. The general impression is one of imperfectly executed fussiness: tinkering in lieu of substantive action. Davies earns our thanks for the drudgery of compiling and updating, and will have his reward of fame in our citations of lyric fragments henceforth by their Davies number; but his magisteriality is unbecoming. What with the epigonal character of the edition, the various sorts of added material, and the appalling typesetting, we have a book that is singularly lacking in the elegance and perspicuity of PMG.

There is more to editing than technique. But from someone who has evinced such concern with minutiae of Editionstechnik, the deficiencies in this regard are surprising.

There is far too much textual duplication. Fragments of ancient commentary are liable to be printed first as testimonia, then as "fragments"; it is very uneconomical, and convenience would be as well served by cross-referencing. The bit of the Suda given as Stes. TA6 (under "de nostri aetate") is presented in different form in TA19 (under "de nostri aetate et familia"), with no reference from one to the other; TA9 repeats a bit of TA2. Simon.fr.564, with its reference to Homer and Stesichoros, is quoted not only at TA1a but also at 179(ii), where it only obscures the Stesichorean quote itself.

There are all kinds of inconsistencies, and reports are sometimes mindlessly incorrect. At S5(b)18, Luppe did not suggest A)/ISMATA (?!) but A(SMATA = H(/SMATA; but surely FI/LTATA makes other suggestions redundant. (Davies takes his apparatus almost verbatim from Calame, fr.241; it was ungenerous not to provide a comparatio numerorum with Calame's edition.) In the Stes. Suda entry Jacoby did not postulate a lacuna after *EU)KLEI/DOU H)\ *U(E/TOUS (what would be gained by that?) but suggested that H)\ *U(E/TOUS might represent KAI\ and the mother's name (the same idea occurred independently to me). Davies sometimes gives dates for manuscripts, sometimes not; it seems to be by carelessness that he dates P.Oxy.2387 (3) to the second century (it is much earlier); likewise with P.Oxy.3210 (S5(a)), which he might have mentioned is part of the same MS as P.Oxy.2389 (7 etc.; the scattering is regrettable). In Alcm.TA17 sc. not TOI=S EI(LWSI but TOU\S EI(LWTAS. At 3.72 Davies perpetuates Page' s erroneous and misleading report (based on a misreading of Lobel) of something written over the end of P]ARSENIKA=N. 193.8 should be PALINWID[I/AI DIA>]LLA/TOUSAI. In 14 E)S is restored, but EI)S is the expected form and better suits the space; no doubt also in 21. Davies' attempts to improve on Page's apparatus are not always happy. For 11, if ERWS is to be mentioned, also to be mentioned are the cancellation-dots above epsilon and rho. In 20, the problematic ME[TA\] TW=N QE.[...]DWN, it is distortive to say "*QES[TIA]DW=N suppl. Page," when Page pointedly refrained from so supplementing. At 217.1 Davies follows Page in printing DIH]GH/MASIN, but it looks too short for the space: TOI=S DIH]GH/MASIN would fit, as would Sicherl's MUQOLO]GH/MASIN. This is just a sampling.

Misprints and false references are shockingly frequent, but more troublesome than either is the erratic spacing and positioning. And the usability of the volume is severely impaired by the deplorable fact that it has no word-index. Indexes are reserved for the last of the four volumes. That means a wait of six years -- if the project stays on schedule.

This review has turned out more negative than I meant it to be. I should make it clear that the book bears ample testimony to Davies' assiduousness, is fundamentally reliable, and (even without index) will be very useful. Davies has discharged the highly important function of scholarly middleman, agglomerating the work of Lobel, Page, Barrett, West, Führer, Barron and others, so that once again the world has an up-to-date (i.e. only incipiently out-of-date) Oxford edition of the surviving output -- such as it is -- of these three Dorian poets. My criticisms are born of my frustrations in using it and my dismay at the glitches, coupled with my disappointment that it does not make more of an original contribution to scholarship.

I add one more thing. Any edition, and this one more than most, aspires to a definiteness or even a definitiveness that stands in interesting tension with the provisionality that the nature of the material enjoins. It attempts to fix, to pin down, to control, is essentially a closed or closing enterprise. Thanks to Davies, we now have the patient thoroughly etherised upon the table -- but let us remember, only etherised, not mummified.