Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.6.7


M.A. Harder, R.F. Regtuit, G.C. Wakker (edd.), Theocritus. Hellenistica Groningana II. Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 1996. Pp. viii, 267. ISBN 90-6980-064-5.


Reviewed by Brian W. Breed, Harvard University.

This is the second volume, following Callimachus (1993), of papers from the Groningen workshops on Hellenistic poetry, which bring an international group of scholars together to present and discuss pre-circulated papers drawing on a range of disciplines and approaches. Theocritus the polyeides poet naturally benefits from this polyeides format. Discussion ranges thankfully beyond the bucolic poems; of T.'s types only the epigrams and Aeolic poems are entirely neglected. The emphasis of the thirteen papers in the volume is on literary appreciation of T., his technique, distinctive poetic idiom, and his reworking of the literary tradition, while complementary studies apply textual criticism, research into early book collections, and linguistics. Ten papers are in English, three in German. Greek is not always translated.

The two linguistic papers are by J.G.J. Abbenes, "The Doric of Theocritus, A Literary Language," and Gerry Wakker, "The Discourse Function of Particles: Some Observations on the Use of MA/N-MH/N in Theocritus." Abbenes reexamines the question of the status of T.'s language between spoken usage and literary artifact. A comparison of the distribution of long E and long O (EI-H, OU-W) in the genuine Doric poems of T., hymns 5 and 6 of Callimachus, Alcman, and Doric/West Greek prose reveals shared tendencies distinct from the Hellenistic koine, and Abbenes explains these as a categorial and limited adaptation by the Hellenistic writers of severe Doric vocalization, a literary touch, not a natural phonological change found in any one dialect. The impetus for this could be the severe Doric orthography of archaic lyric texts (i.e. Alcman) in the Alexandrian period. The earlier conclusions of Magnien, Ruijgh, and Molinos Tejada are modified. Wakker considers from a functionalist perspective examples of the use of the particle MA/N-MH/N in T. to argue that it is an "affirmative attitudinal particle," that is, that a speaker uses MH/N in order to assert the truthfulness of his or her statement in anticipation of disbelief or misconception on the part of an addressee. Not all cases in T. self-evidently accord with this view: some appear to be adversative or progressive connectives. Wakker analyses these as affirmative on the interactional level of discourse (where the speaker indicates his relationship to his statement), combined with the adversative or progressive function on the representational level (the level of discourse concerned with the state of affairs) or presentational level (which marks relations between parts of the discourse). There is a helpful introduction to the terms of discussion for the non-specialist.

Kathryn Gutzwiller with her paper, "The Evidence for Theocritean Poetry Books," uses what we know about the arrangement of T.'s poems in the manuscripts and papyri to argue for an early, perhaps 3rd century, but non-authorial, edited collection of all T.'s poems. This existed prior to a bucolic collection that combined some of T.'s poems with others that were not by him, such as poems 8 and 9 in the present corpus. All the mss. (except the Vatican family, which has poem 2 after poem 1) are consistent in having at their beginning poem 1, then 3-7 in various orders, then 8,9. The Laurentian family preserves the order 1-5-6-4-7-3-8-9; this is alphabetical by first word up to 3, and to Gutzwiller's mind it represents the archetypal order of the collection of bucolic by T. and others. The Vatican order followed by modern editions she traces to various complicated re-arrangements by early scholars such as Artemidorus, including the postponement of 5 so as to juxtapose 1 and 6 (which are both Daphnis poems) and advancing 2 from its position after the bucolic poems so as to juxtapose it with 1 (with which it shares the feature of a refrain). She suggests that one of the early editors wrote the A)/LLOS O( XI=OS epigram and one coined the term EI)DU/LLIA for a comprehensive T. collection; we should understand the word to mean "short poems in various forms, EI)/DH." Gutzwiller adds an appendix about the order of poems in the Antinoe papyrus, in which the group of non-bucolic hexameter poems also shows an artistic arrangement.

The identification of T. with a bucolic genre after his lifetime helps Gutzwiller's temporal scheme. The question of T.'s personal understanding of his project in writing bucolic and whether we can speak of a bucolic intentionality to the poetry hangs over the entire collection, and there is no agreement about T.'s generic status. Richard Thomas perhaps occupies one extreme position in arguing that generic labels are not much use at all for T. and may be detrimental to understanding the poet's idea of his project when he steps out of the world of herdsmen. His "Genre through Intertextuality: Theocritus to Virgil and Propertius" looks at poems 24 and 22, usually classified as hymns, and their models. Thomas would define genre in the non-performative context of the period in terms of the models: poem 24's primary model is Pindar N. 1 and so hymnic. Discordant elements, however, particularly non-heroic and comic touches, intrude into the poem, causing an "engagement with and deflation of the original hymnic mode" (231). The end result is a poem whose origins we can trace to a variety of models and performative genres, but to which no single label can apply. Poem 22 similarly shows a generic multiformity, a hodgepodge of models from different literary registers including T.'s own bucolic form and imagery (Thomas compares the stichomythia and locus amoenus in the poem to poems 4 and 7). He argues that the assimilation of bucolic in the hymnic/epic makes it difficult to speak of T.'s "compositional mentality" in terms of entrenched categories. A similar fluidity in combination of models which blurs distinctions of genre is briefly paralleled in Virgil (with Theocritus in mind) and Propertius (with the Eclogues in mind).

This investigation of Theocritean intertextuality and intratextuality is complemented by the contribution of K.-H. Stanzel, "Selbstzitate in den mimischen Gedichten Theokrits." By mimic poems Stanzel means the bucolics and urban mimes, the non-heroic or non-mythological poems, though the connections Thomas points to would serve Stanzel's own purpose well. He sees cross-references between poems of different types within T.'s corpus not as disruptive but binding, forcing readers to juxtapose, for instance, Simaitha in 2 and Polyphemus in 11. He contends that comparison of this purposeful literary device with Homeric formulae is not apt. Of particular interest are poems 7, 1, and 2, and the repetition within these of lines, half lines, and phrases from other poems by T.; in these three poems Stanzel sees themes from across the corpus achieving definitive expression. A weakness of the approach here is that, while Stanzel denies absolute certainty, he relies on speculative relative chronology (as laid out by Di Benedetto): with the repetition of 5.100-01 at 1.12-14, for instance, "beruft sich Thyrsis auf die Äußerung eines anderen Ziegenhirten" (214). Because 1 supposedly is later than 5 the reference works in only one direction; this is limiting. Appealing, however, is Stanzel's observation that Theocritus refers to himself, always with variatio and changes of context, in the same ways that he and the other Alexandrians refer to Homer.

Advancing a more convincing literary argument for a point of relative chronology as well as addressing connections of poems across generic boundaries is A. Köhnken's "Theokrits Polyphemgedichte." Categorization of 6 as bucolic and 11 as heroic has prevented some from reading poems 6 and 11 together. By focusing instead on their shared subject, Köhnken shows that to achieve its literary point poem 6 presupposes poem 11, though he perhaps does not need to say that 11 is "bucolic" in reaction to others who see it more closely aligned with 13 and so "heroic." I do not see that 6 and 11 both have to be bucolic in order to be read together. Köhnken is convincing in showing how understanding of the innovation in 6 on the Polyphemus and Galatea story relies on the reader's knowledge of poem 11. In 6 Daphnis as singer plays the role of an observer on the situation of poem 11; Damoetas' reply as Polyphemus, which has struck other critics as odd, in fact responds point by point to Daphnis. Köhnken then sees 6 as a continuation of 11 which can help readers understand the previous poem. This leads him to conclude that by FA/RMAKON in 11 T. means a palliative, temporary relief from the pangs of love, while eros continues and can crop up again, as it does for Polyphemus in poem 6. This is perhaps not fair to Polyphemus' status in 6 as a role played by Damoetas and to the control he and Daphnis have over their particular representation of the theme of Polyphemus and Galatea.

Ewen Bowie in "Frame and Framed in Theocritus Poems 6 and 7" takes a more formally centered approach to poem 6 and nicely supplements Köhnken's study. He looks precisely at the interaction between the relationship of Galatea and Polyphemus as created by the songs of Daphnis and Damoetas and the represented relationship of the two herdsmen. At the conclusion of the singing contest Damoetas kisses Daphnis, E)FI/LHSE (6.42), and there is an erotic flavor to the whole poem. The two inset songs function as two potential lovers' way of discovering the other's feelings: "Daphnis' assurance that Galatea really does feel E)/RWS for Polyphemus, and Damoetas' that Polyphemus' indifference is a feigned indifference, offers reassurance to the other that his desires are reciprocated" (94). Bowie then sees a similar communicative function at the level of the relationship of the poetic 'ego' to his addressee, Aratus (6.2); the poem's speaker plays inhibited E)RASTH/S to Aratus (this last point already advanced independently by Ott). Simichidas' song in poem 7 about Aratus the E)RASTH/S of Philinos, Bowie sees as colored by the speaker's erotic interest in one of his internal audience, Amyntas, who at the beginning of the poem is simply Amyntas (7.2), but after Simichidas' performance becomes O( KALO\S A)MU/NTIXOS (7.132). The pleasant spot where the poem ends, towards which the characters are moving, would be a suitable spot for the seduction Simichidas' song might show he has in mind.

Poem 7 naturally figures prominently in the collection; W.G. Arnott considers it as representatively Theocritean in his essay "The Preoccupations of Theocritus: Structure, Illusive Realism, Allusive Learning." This is something of a "greatest hits" survey of T., using well-known passages to illustrate T.'s achievement in the three categories of the title. So poem 1 exhibits fine balance and parallelism of structure in responsion between speakers and between frame and insets; poem 7 the use of real-world detail of names and places to involve the reader in the illusion of reality in a poetic fiction; examples from 1 and 7 show the poetry's demand of supplementation from the reader's knowledge of what is not said. In the last section Arnott offers his own learned interpretations of the death of Daphnis in 1 and the encounter with Lycidas in 7. As Arnott seems most interested to tell us why he likes Theocritus so much, Alan Griffiths, in "Customising Theocritus: Poems 13 and 24," sets out what he does not like about those two poems and then gets rid of it. Self-confessedly subject to pre-conceived ideas of what T. should be like, he identifies some problems and then does what it takes to make them go away. This mostly means excising lines as intrusive paraphrases or the tampering of an ancient schoolteacher with a prudish streak. So for instance 13.75: PEZA= D' E)S *KO/LXOUS TE KEI\ A)/ZENON I(/KETO FA=SIN was added to help Heracles save face, "a quite deliberate interpolation" (109). And Griffiths' T. ended poem 24 at l.104, before the list of Heracles' teachers, which was the work of a self-important teacher improving on his author. The Lille Callimachus, a teaching copy with elementary commentary, is advanced as a precedent for the kind of book we are supposed to imagine. The piece's "I don't expect you to take me seriously" tone does conceal a sensitive feeling for what makes sense in a poem. Whether Griffiths' version of T. makes better sense is left as a matter of personal opinion.

Richard Hunter devotes his article, "Mime and Mimesis: Theocritus Idyll 15" to the nature of imitation/mimesis in that poem. The mime form gives the poem the task of representing both real life and a literary tradition. Self-consciously and problematically Theocritus points, in a particularly Hellenistic way, to both types of mimesis through the form, language, and content of his mime. How, for instance, can one Doric speaker complain about the Doric of other characters (15.87-93) in a poem written in Doric and indebted to Syracusan mime? If the likely connection with specific works of Sophron is true, the poem can be said even to imitate the arrival of Syracusan mime at the Ptolemaic court. The second part of the poem and of Hunter's article turn to consider court ideology. The inset Adonis song imitates -- indeed plays in hexameters the role of -- a lyric festival hymn, but replaces expected ceremonial elements of an Adonis hymn with ecphrasis of the palace tableau and praise of Berenice. Theocritus' literary connections encomiastically associate Arsinoe and her festival with the mythic world and the literary world of epic, not with the everyday present and Sophron. In terms of form, the poem has come a long way from miming real life. Hunter has significantly re-worked this paper to appear as a chapter of his 1996 book Theocritus and the Archaeology of Greek Poetry (Cambridge UP).

The three remaining papers, N.E. Andrews' "Narrative and Allusion in Theocritus, Idyll 2," Alexander Sens' "A Man of Many Words: Lynceus as Speaker in Theoc. 22," and Hans Bernsdorff's "Parataktische Gleichnisse bei Theokrit" all deal with T.'s technique and its relationship to Homer. Similes in T. are a prime locus of Homeric imitation. Like T.'s other similes the paratactic ones, similes without the connecting markers W(S, TOI=OS etc., draw on Homeric material. Bernsdorff in three sections of his article (i) compares the paratactic similes with the usual hypotactic Homeric practice, (ii) distinguishes this figure from the related figures of priamel (e.g. 10.30-31) and paratactic comparison (5.110-1, Pind. N. 4.82-5) in order to show that his examples are to be associated more closely with Homer, and then (iii) offers interpretation of the three occurrences of paratactic similes in T., 17.9-10, 13.62-63, and 14.39-40. He makes it clear that there are no textual problems with these passages, something Gow understood. The example from poem 17, where the poet in choosing his terms of praise for Ptolemy compares himself to a woodcutter on heavily forested Ida, receives the most attention. Here the omission of the connecting words of both "Wie-Teil" and "So-Teil" leaves poet and woodcutter in bare juxtaposition, so that the reader is thereby forced into making the connections, taking on what is usually the poet's role: "Indem der Leser mit dieser Aufgabe konfrontiert wird, kommt ihm der Prozeß des dichterischen Ordnens zu Bewußtsein, also gerade der Vorgang, der den Inhalt der Passage ausmacht" (85). The simile represents the poetic act in a metaliterary way while also creating certain implications for T.'s relationship to Homer and Ptolemy's to Homeric heroes.

Andrews and Sens are both interested in Theocritean narrative technique and how it capitalizes on Homeric allusion. Andrews makes a thoroughgoing application of I.J.F. de Jong's "narrators and focalizers" to Simaitha's monologue in poem 2 and reads Simaitha's narrative of the course of her love affair with Delphis as a Homericizing self-presentation. Attempting to counter readings which see Simaitha not in control of what she is saying and so ironized for the knowing reader, Andrews takes her as fully in command of her rhetoric and so able to present "a believable narrative voice of naïve innocence" (22). In appealing to Selene she uses Homeric allusion to add credibility to her representation of herself and others, and to show Delphis in particular in an unfavorable light. He might have been a courtly Odysseus, but with his speech, as focalized by Simaitha, he proves himself untrustworthy. It is in fact Delphis who is ironically not in command of rhetoric, as Simaitha represents him saying what will make him look bad and her good. Andrews' emphasis throughout on Simaitha's interest as narrator in what she says, her focalization, is quite helpful and entirely convincing. But to read Delphis negatively through Simaitha's focalization is it necessary to free her from the grip of authorial irony? Some other Theocritean lovers telling of their affairs -- the herdsman of 3, Polyphemus in 11, the speaker of 30 -- seem clearly to be humorously ironized; perhaps the focalized reporting of speech by Simaitha simply adds a further level of irony.

Finally Sens' piece, which also deals with narrative, voice, Homeric intertextuality, and irony. This paper unpacks several places in the poem that have been thought, notably by Gow, to be problems. Sens shows that insufficient attention has been paid to the characterizing role of Lynceus' words, and so he adds to the arguments for rejecting the idea that the text of the poem should be altered to allow Castor to respond to Lynceus' criticisms. Homeric allusions are used to create expectations which are disappointed: e.g. ME/G' A)U/SAS (22.144) should introduce a vaunting battlefield speech; when the formula is applied to Lynceus' distress at the thought of fighting, "the speech frame and the contents of the speech are at odds with one another" (189). Lynceus emphatically reveals through his speech that he is unaware of his situation, namely that he is facing a fight with a god whom he believes is his mortal cousin; the poet capitalizes on the reader's knowledge of the situation and of Homer for irony. An inescapable and very epic battle awaits the unknowing speaker: "Lynceus ... is sadly out of his element: a man of post-Homeric values and sensibility trapped in an 'Iliadic' frame, he fails to understand the reality, played out at the stylistic level in the narrative that frames his speech, of the heroic world in which he finds himself" (199-200). To this article Sens attaches an appendix adducing new arguments for dating this poem and poem 13 after the Argonautica.

All told this is a very satisfying collection, though there is little consistency in it about what sort of poet T. is. To what degree is he a bucolic poet or an epic poet? to what degree ironic or not ironic? Is he comfortable with generic boundaries, unconscious of them, or out to flout them? The benefit lies in the diversity; Theocritus perhaps more than most poets deserves to be looked at from a variety of angles. The level of interest for all thirteen essays remains constantly high. The Dutch team of editors deserve credit for organizing this series of conferences and making the proceedings available and useful to others. This volume is only slightly marred by editorial slips, which cluster in the footnotes and bibliographies, some at least seemingly attributable to the decision to publish in English. The third volume of Hellenistica Groningana will cover genre in Hellenistic poetry and will hopefully appear soon.