Bryn Mawr Classical Review 03.03.21


M.J.H. van der Weiden, The Dithyrambs of Pindar: introduction, text and commentary. Amsterdam: Gieben, 1991. Pp. iv + 242. $41.00. ISBN 90-5063-067-7. U.S. distribution: John Benjamins NA ($41.00).


Reviewed by Richard Hamilton, Bryn Mawr College.

This workmanlike edition of the exiguous remains of Pindar's dithyrambs sits firmly in the Northern European tradition of exact scholarship: honest, rigorous, lean, independent and detailed. The 240 pages on 50 readable lines aim at specialists, particularly papyrologists and text critics, but have enough of general interest to be in any university library. The book begins with a 30 page discussion of the dithyramb in general and Pindar's dithyrambs in particular and then proceeds fragment by fragment, giving first text and then commentary. It ends with a bibliography and three pages of indices (places discussed, Greek words, subjects and names).

The general discussion of the dithyramb improves on Pickard-Cambridge by addressing a range of topics independent of chronology (contents, musical aspects, rhythm and dance, style and vocabulary, performance), but the results are exiguous. The development is still seen to be linear whereas the variety of paeans suggests we should distinguish at least three co-existing types: informal dithyramb, contest dithyramb, cult dithyramb. The Sicyonian choruses to Dionysus are not discussed, nor is the distinction between dithyramb and nome. The good idea of a non-Dionysiac dithyramb could have been supported by fuller discussions of the Thargelia, the pyrriche and the Deliaka of Simonides, while the intriguing idea of "solo parts executed by professional artists" could have been amplified. The way virtually every poet is associated with (or against) innovation is not stressed, and the Pratinas fragment is discussed without clear issue ("it may have been part of a satyr play ... or a dithyramb"). Reliance on late and tendentious sources sometimes leads to odd assertions ("originally there must have been formal criteria to distinguish the various genres," citing Plato Laws). A)NABOLH/ is translated "dithyrambic prelude" despite its use in epic. The argument against Arch. fr.120 being a dithyramb ("the way in which the first person speaks about himself is not compatible with a cult song") is circular and fits ill with the author's repeated demonstration of a bardic "I" in dithyramb.

The section on Pindar's dithyrambs is much more useful and detailed, particularly the full discussion of the four characteristics of Dionysius' austere style as exemplified by the dithyrambs of Pindar, Bacchylides and Simonides in opposition to Sappho fr.1, Dionysius' example of the smooth style. In addition we learn that typical contents of the Pindaric dithyramb include: mention of spring time, mythic narrative, praise of the city, the poet's art but not gnomai. (Missing here is the use of the schema Pindaricum p.69, the adjective *BRO/MIOS p.38, the relation between myth and locale p.39, and the use of the word TELETA/, downplayed on p.67 despite the emendation of fr.346b5.) I would have liked something on dialect and on the myths, apparently confined to Perseus (70a, 70d) and Heracles/Meleager/Kalydon/Orion (70b, 70d/f, 70d/g, 72-74), with a passing reference to Hektor (70d/a). Also, Ares/war marches through the commentary without explanation (pp.73-4, 117-18, 218; n.b. QWRAXQEI/S fr.72) and even some puzzlement ("it is difficult to understand what the function of a Battle cry could be" 217). More important, the discussion of the dithyrambic "I" is relegated to individual notes (49, 78, 195) even though the author (unwittingly?) offers a fundamental challenge to the usual interpretation of the dithyrambic "I" as choral. Performance is assumed to be at a Dionysiac festival, despite the considerable evidence to the contrary, and so Argive fr.70a is assigned to the Agriania about which all we know is that it an Argive festival for one of the Proteids (or simply a festival for the dead) and that it is the name for contests in Thebes, and Theban fr.70b is assigned either to a putative Theban Agriania or the Lysioi Teletai. The discussion of the text which ends this section tells us that in P.Oxy. 1604 the title of 70a was added later, which is good to know, and that fr.2 "has been considerably corrected," though I cannot locate the fragment in the book.

The text is extremely generous: all relevant papyri are given in full, no matter how scrappy (e.g. 24 teeny fragments of fr.70d from P.Oxy 2445, omitted by Maehler). We find a diplomatic transcript with apparatus in the case of papyri (i.e., all but fr.75) and double apparatus for the text, the usual one for conjectures and emendations and another one for the scholia or testimonia (given in full). In the case of fr.75 this means a full page of testimonia (in 7 point type) for two lines of text. Translation and metrical analysis follow. I could find no major changes from Maehler (1989), but a number of small ones: new readings of a letter or space (70b26; 70d12; 70d/h11), dotted letters omitted (70a3, 6, 21; 70b4, 25; 346d3, 4; 70c5, 9, 10, 26; 70d35, 47; 70d/a7) and supplements, even from the scholia, omitted (70a10, 17; 70b22, 27, 28, 30; 346b1; 70d3, 8; 70d/a3, 14; 70d/b10; 70d/e2). Also the supplement *GORGO/N[WN at 70a5 is rejected; the title of 70b is "Heracles" not "descent of Heracles"; there is no break in 70b5 before NEA ("it is possible that 4-5 are not opposed in meaning to 1-3 ... we have in 23 a turning point"); in 70b11 DA/IS is read not DAI/S ("it seems to me questionable to change the long syllable into two shorts, when both the metre and the scribe demand otherwise"); in 70b14 CU/N is read not SU/N ("such a short period would be unprecedented in Pindar ... [though] Pindar does not seem to use CU/N elsewhere"). Fr.249id.b is now 249c and 346 is placed with 70b "even though the metre does not fit."

The commentary is thorough, independent, microscopic and devoid of rhetoric. Given the exiguous and doubtful remains, it appropriately begins with presenting the evidence exactly. Discussions of a single supplement often take half a page, with readings rejected because they will not fit the space (what used to be called the French method) and different interpretations of a few letters discussed in full. (Oddly the notes on 70a stop at v.18, missing comments on E)/MOLON 19, TELETAI=S 33, and possible supplements for Ionic ].NAIATO 35).

Lexical and grammatical commentary is full, but sometimes more could have been said about content: at 63 the possibility that SXOINOTE/NEIA 70b1 is opposed to "modern" KU/KLIOS XORO/S (3) might be considered; at 66: more is needed on Bacchic revelry; at 175 Chios in fr.70d/f might join with "long road of the gods" (itself an interesting puzzle) in fr.70d; at 190 it might be noted that the Olympians, not mentioned as such in the epinikia, coming to visit Dionysus reverses the action of 70b (though I find the ms. reading I)/DET' attractive here); at 192 with almost a page on the aspect of PE/MPETE we should have something about its meaning ("escort"?). These occasional weaknesses are outnumbered by the many excellent notes, my favorite being 203: "after narcissus and anemone, and at the same time as goldflower and hyacinth, the ME/LAN I)/ON (Viola odorata) comes, finally followed by the rose, the last of the spring flowers (Thphr. HP 6.8.1)."

The commentary format almost inevitably leads to some repetition (e.g. cletic hymns described with the same bibliography on 186 and 217) and fragmentation (e.g.the importance of sch.70a.10 -- "The Cyclopes entertained in a Dionysiac way" -- is not made clear in the introduction to the fragment or in the discussion of v.5, where the obvious supplement *GORGO/N[WN is rejected because of the scholium, but only at v.10). Also, some inconsistencies have crept in: "here A)NE/STAS' points to the permanent state of poetic genius ... it is uncertain whether ... the aorist is meant to refer to a permanent state" (80); "the relationship between TELETAI/, O)RGAI/, initiations etc. and special knowledge is often stressed" (198) whereas the use of TELETA/ "does not necessarily mean that Pindar refers to an initiation" (67); "Fr.78 is a good example of the opening of a cletic hymn ... this is not a real hymn" (216f).

High marks go to the use of visual evidence (though LIMC is not cited as much as it could be: pp.75, 87, 88, 103) and for the wide range of obscure modern references (at least one, I happen to know, in Afrikaans). Understandably, ancient scholars are discussed only as they contribute to the text: the term solecism in the scholia fr.70a goes unremarked; "the scholium explains O)/F[EWN but it is not clear why this is necessary" (p.75); and the interesting commentaries PSI 1391 fr.B and P. Berol.95 71v are noted only in passing.

This treatment of the texts will remain standard for many years; its indices and bibliography can easily be improved in reprinting. The bibliography misses Nagy Arethusa 1974 and West Studies in Greek Elegy and Iambus on -AMB-; Else Origins of Greek Tragedy on Arion, E)CA/RXWN and Sicyonian choruses; Davies CQ 1988 on Alexandrian classification; J. Röde Bauformen on astrophic form; Henrichs HSCP 1976 on despoina Cybele; Haydon AJP 1890 on the schema Pindaricum; Calame Choeurs on Artemis and dance; Lefkowitz AJP 1988, Heath AJP 1989 (important on DE/CAI motif discussed on p.194) and Carey AJP 1989 (all three also in CP 1991) on solo vs choral "I"; Cambridge History of Greek Literature on Stesichorus' Geryon; Slater ICS 1981 on civil strife vs joyful song and dance. The index of Greek words could include: SA/N (64), R(O/MBOS TUPA/NWN (69), KRO/TALA (71), R(IYAU/XHN (73), KLO/NOS (73), DRA/KWN (75), FQOGGA/ZOMAI (75), KLAGG/ (75), KHLE/W (77), E)/PH (80), BRISA/RMATOS (81), *GHRU/WN (92), KRO/TAFON (116), GU/ALA (156), A)/POPTOS (161), LO/GIOS (171), XORO/S (191), KISSODAH/S (197), W(/TE (201), NEKTA/REOS (202), PALINAI/RETOS (226). The index of subjects and names could include: anaphora, Babylon, epinikion, festivals of Dionysus, Orion, paean, and tmesis.