Bryn Mawr Classical Review 04.02.05


Lutz Kaeppel, Paian: Studien zur Geschichte einer Gattung Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1992. Pp. xxvi + 428. ISBN 3-11-012967-1.


Reviewed by M. W. Dickie, University of Illinois at Chicago.

The starting point for K.'s able and learned discussion of the paean is A.L. Harvey's conclusion (CQ n.s. 5 [1955] 172-3) that the existing instances of the genre from the 5th century B.C. have very little in common with each other and certainly not enough for us to identify the defining characteristics of the type. The characteristics Harvey had primarily in mind were formal ones such as meter, vocabulary and the way in which the refrain I)H\, I)E\ *PAIA/N or some variant on it is employed. In K.'s view, Harvey was bound to come to a negative conclusion, since the paean in the 5th century is not to be defined by its formal characteristics. What gives the genre its identity at this time is its place in life (Sitz im Leben), more specifically the state of mind that gives rise to the cry or song. Paeans are addressed to a god either in gratitude, because the singer has been saved or preserved from some peril, or because the singer feels the need of divine assistance in the face of a threat to his well-being. From the middle of 4th century B.C. on K. believes a very different classificatory system determined by formal criteria obtains.

The 1st chapter of K.'s work is devoted to the question of how best to look at genre. Here he has been heavily influenced by the Rezeptionsästhetik of H.R. Jauss. He has, however, not apparently taken account of more recent work on genre such as Alastair Fowler's Kinds of Literature (Cambridge, Mass. 1982). The 2nd chapter deals with the change in classificatory principles that K. believes occurs between the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. This is followed by a survey of the uses of the term paean in the 5 th century, which in K.'s opinion shows that paeans were addressed to a healing god, either in thanks for help rendered or because the god's aid was needed. The chapter is concluded by an account of such formal structural elements as paeans possess: the epiphthegma and the dialogue, in the first person on the singer's part, between the singer and the god. The 3rd chapter is a detailed study and commentary on Pindar's fragmentary 4th Paean, in which K. succeeds brilliantly in both recreating the poem's run of thought and in illustrating features common to paeans. Two very different paeans, Bacchylides 17 and the Erythraean paean, are the subject of chapter 4, the one a long narrative poem that the Alexandrians classified as a dithyramb, and the other a song made up largely of pre-existing formal elements. They illustrate respectively the genre exploited and pushed to its limits and the way in which paeans could be mechanically constructed for different occasions and places. Chapter 5, one of the high points of the book, is a minute analysis of Philodamos' paean to Dionysius (CA pp. 165-171). Chapter 6 offers conclusions and a survey of the results obtained. The second part of the work consists of a collection of testimonia bearing on the genre and a corpus of all known paeans.

The advantage of using occasion and circumstances over formal characteristics as the common element that unites all of the ceremonial paeans of the 5th century is great. They can all, so far as we can tell, certainly be seen as either expressions of thanks to a healing deity for release from misfortune or as prayers for preservation from misfortune or as a combination of both. Yet one has the uneasy feeling that to look at paeans in this way is to take the easy way out and to abandon any hope of finding further common elements that would either show paeans are distinguishable from other forms of hymns and prayers or whose absence would show they were very often indistinguishable. There is another way of looking at genre, not incompatible with K.'s approach and indeed complementary to it, that might have usefully been exploited. If it is occasion that determines the genre of the poem and the hearer's expectations for it, then occasion should also have an effect on the content. Songs addressed to healing deities by a chorus from a given community and performed at a given place and occasion will very often have had certain features in common. K. might here have taken a leaf out of Francis Cairns' book (Generic Composition in Greek and Roman Poetry [Edinburgh 1972] 6-7) and looked, in conjunction with his consideration of occasion, at content as a criterion of genre. He might have gone on to consider the topoi characteristic, though not specific to the genre, some of which he in fact identifies in his account of Pindar's 4th Paean. In deciding to concentrate on one fragmentary paean, Pindar's 4th, and one marginal instance, Bacchylides 17, K. has eschewed the possibility of producing a richer and more detailed picture of the ceremonial paean.

Despite his lengthy discussion of Rezeptionsästhetik, K. does not really exploit that notion in his treatment of Pindar's 4th Paean and Bacchylides 17, nor does he make anything of the idea of genre as an instrument that makes certain forms of communication possible. The topic of the pleasures that the audience derives from their knowledge of the way in which the genre of paean has been employed remains unexplored. It must be conceded in fairness to K. that it would be hard to exploit the theme of generic expectation, if the audience's expectations of the genre amount to no more than that it should be a song asking for help or song of thanks addressed to a healing deity.

The case that K. makes in favor of the 5th and the 4th and later centuries' having different classificatory principles for the paean rests on two pieces of evidence, a priamel in Pindar's threnos III (fr. 128c Maehler) and the assertion in Plato's Laws that in the old days hymns, dirges, paeans and dithyrambs all had a distinct form and were kept separate (DIH|RHME/NH GA\R DH\ TO/TE H)=N H(MI=N H( MOUSIKH\ KATA\ EI)/DH TE E(AUTH=S A)/TTA KAI\ SXH/MATA), whereas now dirges are mixed up with hymns and paeans with dithyrambs (700a7-e4). The priamel in question begins with the assertion that the songs for the children with golden spindles of Leto are paeans performed on the occasion of their festivals (E)/NTI ME\N XRUSALAKA/TOU TEKE/WN *LATOU=S A)OIDAI/ / W(/[R]IAI PAIA/NIDES 1-2) and goes on to speak of the dithyramb celebrating Dionysus and then of the three daughters of Calliope, who, to preserve the memory of the dead, sang respectively of Linus, Hymenaeus and Ialemus (2-10). The priamel's purpose is clearly to pass through songs for different gods performed at different occasions so that it may culminate in a song to be performed as a lamentation for someone who has died. For K. the priamel shows that in Pindar's eyes and in those of his contemporaries the paean is to be defined as a song sung in celebration of Apollo and Artemis on the occasion of some festival (35) and that the form of the song plays no role in Pindar's or their consciousness of what constitutes the genre.

Besides the obvious objection that to base a thesis for a change in consciousness on two pieces of evidence is fraught with risk, there is the problem that the authors of priamels are necessarily not the unbiassed recorders of the presuppositions of their generation; a priamel involves a process of selection; from the many different ways in which a topic can be looked at the poet picks out the one that fits his purpose and ignores the rest. In the priamel in question, Pindar has necessarily to look at paeans and dithyrambs as songs sung on certain occasions for certain gods, since what he is interested in is the threnos as a song to be sung for someone on a certain occasion. This is the factor that determines the aspect of the paean and dithyramb he presents. Now it may be that Pindar could conceive of the paean and dithyramb in no other terms. It nonetheless remains the case that the evidence of a single priamel is not the firmest foundation on which to erect a theory about what genre meant to a Greek of the 5th century.

In Plato's Laws, the Athenian Stranger's complaint that the sharp distinctions in genre and form that in the old days separated hymns from dirges and dithyrambs from paeans is no longer observed does not really show that his definition of genre rests on purely formal criteria. He seems, if anything, to employ both functional and formal criteria in his definition of genre: functional: hymns are prayers to the gods and are the opposite of dirges (700b1-2); formal: the birth of Dionysus defines dithyrambs (700b4-5). We are on surer ground in thinking, when we come to the Alexandrians, that they used purely formal criteria to classify lyric poetry. That they should have done so is not altogether surprising, since what they were classifying were texts that were for them, to some extent, though not entirely, museum-pieces divorced from life. Some discusssion of how these different expectations of genre arose would have been invaluable.

The conclusions that K. draws from his survey of the evidence about the significance of the paean in real life, that it is a cry uttered to a healing deity, either as an appeal for his aid or in gratitude for help given, leaves me with the uncomfortable impression that this neither quite captures the exalted state of mind in which some paeans were uttered nor the effect that they had, uttered as a battle-cry, on those crying out (cf. M.L. West, Ancient Greek Music (Oxford 1992) 15: "It (sc. the paean) was frequently sung by soldiers or sailors at moments of exaltation, whether going into battle, or during it, or returning from it in triumph;" on the inspiriting effect of the paean before battle, cf. Aesch. Sept. 268-270: O)LOLUGMO\N I(ERO\N EU)MENH= PAIW/NISON / *E(LLHNIKO\N NO/MISMA QUSTA/DOS BOH=S / QA/RSOS FI/LOIS, LU/OUSA POLEM/IWN FO/BON). When the Queen Mother in Aeschylus' Persae, to describe her black and fear-ridden state of mind, says that in her eyes all that is to be seen shows hostility on the gods' part and that in her ears no paean cries its sound (BOA=| D' E)N W)SI\ KE/LADOS OU) PAIW/NIOS 605), what seems primarily to be at issue is a cry expressive of a mood of joy, triumph and exultation or a cry that creates such a mood, at any rate one that is the polar opposite of her black and dispirited frame of mind (Cf. Hdt. 5.1.3: NIKW/NTWN DE\ TA\ DU/O TW=N *PERINQI/WN, W(S E)PAIW/NIZON KEXARHKO/TES; Xen. Anab. 4.3.19: E)PEI\ DE\ KALA\ H)=N TA\ SFA/GIA, E)PAIA/NIZON PA/NTES OI(= STRATIW=TAI KAI\ A)NHLA/LAZON, SUNWLO/LUZON DE\ KAI/ AI( GUNAI=KES A(/PASAI). Paeans uttered before, in or after battle may, accordingly, have had a life and meaning of their own, which bore little relationship to paeans sung at weddings or symposia, let alone the ceremonial paeans composed by Pindar and Bacchylides for religious festivals.

K.'s treatment of Pindar's 4th Paean is exemplary and displays both an acute feeling for the Greek and a sensitivity to literary issues. In contrast to much recent work on Pindar this is the product of a mind deeply-engaged with Greek language and thought. On K.'s interpretation, the poem is a prayer on the part of the Ceans, thankful for a life that has suffered no hurt, asking the god for peace and happiness for the future. To persuade the god that they are deserving of these gifts, they point to their contentment with their own modest land and their refusal to reject what is at hand in favor of the distant; that is to say, they show themselves conscious of the limitations of their mortal lot. This seems to me to be an entirely plausible reconstruction of the run of sense in the poem. One point of detail deserves particular mention and that is K.'s interpretation of vv. 28-30 (A)LL' O(/ GE *ME/LAMPOS OU)K H)/QELEN / LIPW\N PATRI/DA MO[NA]RXE[I=N] A)/RGEI / QE/MENOS OI)[W]NOPO/LON GE/RAS) as meaning that Melampos did not wish to lay aside his prophetic office and leave his fatherland to be sole ruler in Argos rather than that Melampos did not wish to rule in Argos, once he had left his fatherland. Melampos as a man who did not wish to leave his homeland for greater ambitions elsewhere makes perfect sense in the context of the poem's argument.

K.'s discussion of Bacchylides 17 is necessarily less detailed, since the poem is complete and much more work has been done on it. He takes the poem to illustrate his contention that it is function, not form, that in the 5th century determines a poem's genre. K. also holds that the poem pushes at the limits of the genre. He argues that the Alexandrians had mistakenly assigned the poem to Bacchylides' dithyrambs because it is a narrative: Theseus leaps into the sea, after being challenged to that feat by Minos, and returns safe and sound to his comrades, honored and feted by the gods of the sea. For K. it is a paean performed by the Ceans at Delos at some time in the 470's in honor of Apollo and as an expression of gratitude to the Athenians for their having saved them from the Persian. K. argues in support of this thesis that the song was performed by a Cean chorus at a festival on Delos, the story told in it can be construed to represent the salvation of the Ceans and the other Ionians from the Persians by the Athenians, and finally the paean the Athenian youths utter, after they are saved by Theseus' safe return (128-9), fuses indistinguishably into the paean of thanks that the Cean chorus are singing to Apollo in recounting the tale of Theseus' salvation.

This is an attractive theory persuasively presented. That the poem is a paean is probably now uncontroversial. Given the circumstances of performance, a festival on Delos honoring Apollo, and the subject of the poem, Theseus, the man credited with having at Delos first danced the dance the Cean chorus was itself perhaps dancing (Plut. Thes. 21), the audience would not have had much difficulty recognizing long before the poem reached its conclusion that this was a paean. That Bacchylides was here pushing the genre to its limits is possible but in view of our limited knowledge of the form taken by such ceremonial paeans not quite certain. K. here does come rather close to acknowledging that formal considerations played an important part in people's expectations about the shape a paean would take when he speaks of Bacchylides' risking a complete break with all the formal elements of the paean (287).

The fact that Theseus is the focus of the poem's concern and not the Athenian youths leaves the impression that the subject of the poem is Theseus' successfully meeting Minos' challenge and not his saving his companions. If there is anything to that impression, then the analogy between the Ceans' situation and that of the Athenian youths might have been lost on the audience. However that may be, K.'s theory presupposes an audience able without any apparent cues to see immediately the relevance of the tale they have just heard to a contemporary situation. This is a little hard to accept, unless the occasion on Delos was tantamount to a staged Athenian love-fest, not a wholly impossible idea.

K. in his treatment of Philodamos' Delphic paean for Dionysus manages to make sense of most of the poem on the basis of what is said in it without having, as previous interpreters had done, to invoke external factors. This is a great advance. He demonstrates convincingly that the poem represents a sustained assimilation of Dionysus to Apollo. In his analysis of the 10th strophe, a makarismos on those who will build a temple to Apollo and adorn it with statuary, K. yields to the temptation to interpret what is said in the light of what has recently emerged from the storerooms at Delphi, a figure of Dionysus, garbed as Apollo Kithaerodos and surrounded by maenads, that had adorned the west gable of the 6th temple of Apollo. K. takes the makarismos to be a variation on the orders Apollo in the preceding and succeeding strophes gives about honors to be accorded Dionysus at Delphi. That may well be the case. The makarismos promises blessings in return for a gold temple for Apollo and golden statues (XRUSE/OIS TU/POIS 123), amongst which apparently Dionysus will stand, surrounded by goddesses, his hair shining, and he himself embellished with ivory in the local way (KO/MAN / D' A)RGAI/NONT' E)LEFANTI/[NW|] / [E)N] D' AU)TO/XQONI KO/SMW| 125-127). Two features of the description lead K. to identify the statue with that from the west gable: its having goddesses around it as the real statue had maenads around it; and its being garbed in the local way as indeed the real statue dressed as Apollo Kithaerodos could have been said to have been. The references to gold and ivory K. dismisses as metaphorical, but they are not so easily explained away. Philodamos would at first sight appear to have a chryselephantine cult-statue in mind, though the details of what he is describing are obscure because of lacunae in the inscription. The dedication of so splendid an object would certainly merit a makarismos. Whether architectural sculpture on a gable would be thought worthy of that response is unclear. Secondly, the gold temple should be taken to refer to a temple embellished with gilding. A recently-published inscription from Naples is apposite here: a phratry rewards a benefactor who had spared no expense in giving the phratry's headquarters a gold roof with amongst other honors two busts with gold shields (SEG 39.1055.11-12, 23-24). Finally, the AU)TO/XQWN KO/SMOS is just as likely, if not more likely, to refer to a wreath of laurel peculiar to the Pythian Games, though in legend from Tempe in Thessaly, as it is to a tunic (for KO/SMOS used of a wreath, cf. Pi. O. 3.13, 8.82-3, P. 2.10).

The reservations that I have about this book are far outweighed by its many excellences. It is a pleasure to read and use. K. writes in an admirably straighforward and unpretentious style. His courtesy to his reader is exemplary in the helpful summaries he provides. At the same time, the clarity of the summary is an indication that K. is fully in command of what he is saying and has thoroughly thought through what he wants to say.