Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1998.3.02

James Clauss and Mary Depew (edd.), Syllecta Classica Vol. 6. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1996. Pp. 104. $15.00. ISSN 1040-3612.

Contributors: Richard A. Billows, Peter Bing, Richard Hunter, Mary L.B. Pendergraft, Voula Tsouna-McKirahan, Michael A. Williams.

Reviewed by Benjamin Hughes, Department of Classics, University of California, Berkeley,

Word Count: 2,812.

The sixth volume of Syllecta Classica is a collection of papers drawn from several areas of study of the Hellenistic World, historical, literary, philosophical, religious. From the outset it should be said that the editors' decision to include these articles together as one volume is to be highly commended. While a variety of perspectives on the Archaic and Classical periods is the norm, the Hellenistic era is more often than not compartmentalized in several disciplines which do not engage with one another as often as they might. There is however a growing trend (in particular some of the volumes of collected articles in the U.C. Press Hellenistic Society and Culture series are emblematic of this) to take a more panoptic view of the Hellenistic era. The sixth volume of Syllecta Classica is an excellent addition to this larger focus.

In their introduction (p. vii) the editors note that although the papers invited for this volume were originally united only by chronological period, it became clear on reading them that they shared more than a historical time-frame. I would draw attention especially to two features which characterize all the of the six articles collected here. All are concerned, albeit in different areas, with the complex and multi-layered relationship of the Hellenistic world to the cultural past, to the heritage of Archaic and Classical Greece, a heritage which is at one and the same time the object of preservation and re-fashioning. And all six challenge traditional interpretations of their subjects, suggesting, in a broad sense, a period in which these subjects, whether literary work or religious movement, are far more integrated into their surrounding world than distanced from it.

The relationship to the past and to the feats of past figures is an integral feature of the early Hellenistic monarchies, all of which were at once the heritage of Alexander's empire and of the ambitions and successes of his generals. In his discussion of the phenomenon of co-regency among Alexander's Diadochoi and their sons in "The Succession of the Epigonoi" Richard Billows shows that the relationship of the Epigonoi to this successful military heritage was a problematic one. None of Alexander's generals were scions of royal families; it was their association with Philip and Alexander and subsequently their own military successes which enabled them to assume the diadem and the status of king. Transferring this status, a personal rather than dynastic one, to the next generation was not necessarily guaranteed, and it was to ensure their sons' succession that the Diadochoi beginning with Antigonus the One-Eyed proclaimed their sons co-regent (the one of the Diadochoi who did not, Lysimachus, may in part for this reason have lost his kingdom). This co-regency was not the creation of a subordinate king or viceroy, but rather a way of closely and obviously associating the son with the successful father on the throne. Therein however, B. argues, lay the insecurity of the Epigonoi; compelled to invoke the successes of their fathers to justify their own royal status they could not but emphasize at the same time their own lesser deeds and abilities. Only occasionally among the Ptolemies and Seleucids was co-regency utilized subsequently (and then only for the most part by stronger figures).

Legitimizing a Hellenistic realm through the past is also, Richard Hunter argues in "The Divine and Human Map of the Argonautica", one of constant undercurrents of this epic poem. Taking as his point of departure recent studies in Vergil's Aeneid which emphasize the retrojection of the Augustan present into the epic past, H. proposes the Argonautica of Apollonius Rhodius as one, and a very important, model for such a strategy of retrojection. In this two-part study of the voyage of the Argo H. shows that careful detail to geographic and aetiological narrative is not merely a demonstration of poetic virtuosity or antiquarian knowledge but rather a mapping of Ptolemaic legitimization in and through the epic past. In the first section H. examines the journey of the Argo in Book II through the Symplegades and along the shore of the Black Sea. Apollonius' version of this journey is notoriously more detailed than the cryptic lines of Pindar (P.4.207-13) and Theocritus (Id. 13.21-4). H. argues that the detail of Apollonius' version of the voyage following the fixing of the Symplegades (an event unknown to the Argonauts but known to the poem's audience) reflects the "attainment of knowledge and control through the eastward advance of Hellenic culture"; the Argonauts sail in the epic along a shore unfamiliar to them but one carefully mapped by a poet writing on an area of considerable Ptolemaic interest. In the second part of his study H. turns his attention to the parallel of the religious world of Apollonius' poem and that of the Ptolemaic possessions and areas of interest in the Mediterranean. Here too retrojection of his contemporary world into the archaic past is the means by which the Hellenistic poet reclaims his cultural heritage. A series of dedications from a certain Artemidorus of Perge on the island of Thera (IG XII, 3), an island essential to Ptolemaic Mediterranean interests, refer to, among other deities, the Dioskouroi, the Cabiri, Homonoia and (perhaps, the supplement is unsure) "the heroines". These divine figures of the Hellenistic world are all central deities of the Argonautica (with the Dioskouroi indeed doing double duty in Book IV as gods and Argonauts). Here too Apollonius casts the contemporary world into the world of epic, at once claiming for the contemporary realm an archaic heritage and expanding the realm of that archaic heritage.

Scholars working with the first hymn of Callimachus (to Zeus) and the twenty-fourth idyll of Theocritus (Herakliskos) have drawn attention to the element of retrojection in these works; Zeus lauded for his exercise of the virtues of Hellenistic kingship, Heracles given the education of a Hellenistic prince. Relatively little attention however has been given to contextualizing the Argonautica in its own political and cultural world; indeed hitherto the poem has been seen more often than not as an escape from the contemporary. H. has made a very good beginning of re-orienting the modern reader of the poem to some of the complex threads which bind it to the setting of its composition.

Invoking the past through its re-fashioning is a characteristic of the poet Callimachus in a number of genres; the poet's relationship with his poetic models is one of continual reference and variation. In his "Callimachus and the Hymn to Demeter" Peter Bing addresses the relationship of the sixth hymn of Callimachus to the Homeric hymn to Demeter, a relationship which has been argued in the scholarship to be tenuous at best. B. questions this interpretation, and shows rather that the presence of the Homeric hymn behind the Callimachean hymn to Demeter is a constant if "oblique" one, and that the Hellenistic poet's relationship to his model is rather one of "deliberate distancing" (p. 30). B. turns first to the verbal and thematic allusions to the Homeric hymn, allusions which can indeed be termed distanced references. For a hymn which opens with the statement that the subject of the song will not be that of the Homeric hymn, the search of Demeter for her daughter Persephone, there are many images and lexical choices, albeit differently placed in the later work, which are clearly meant to recall the Homeric hymn.1 B. then turns to one of the most striking features of this poem, the feminized poetic voice, 2 and shows that by a series of subtle touches in address, in simile, and in perspective Callimachus both sustains and calls attention to this feminized voice throughout. In the concluding section of his article B. draws together these two lines of analysis to pose the related questions "for whom is this poem composed?" and "what is its purpose?", and suggests that this hymn may be a reflection of Callimachus' own aesthetics presented to an audience attuned to these, and one which would appreciate the divergence from both "generic" and "masculine" expectations. 3

The adjective LEPTO/S is one of the words associated with Callimachean aesthetics, and generally thought to have to do with style. In "Euphony and Etymology: Aratus' Phaenomena" Mary L. B. Pendergraft offers a quite different perspective, and suggests rather that the adjective is also meant to evoke sound. P. begins with an overview of the evidence for attributing to the adjective LEPTO/S a connotation of "pleasing aural qualities"; in particular she looks to Callimachus' use of this term as emblematic of a vocabulary of euphony (and one might add of cacophony as well). Following in part on van Groningen's emphasis on poésie verbale and the integral importance of sound effects within Hellenistic poetry,4 P. enlarges on these observations to focus on Aratus' interest in language, especially with onomatopoeia and etymology. A brief but careful survey of Aratus' lexical choices to reflect bird sounds shows a greater awareness of the sounds themselves than similar weather-predicting texts, and of the ability of the Greek language to reflect these sounds. A similar survey of Aratus' use of etymology in the Phaenomena again highlights Aratus' interest in the clarifying and indeed didactic faculties of language. In both of the areas of onomatopoeia and etymology P.'s study is especially illuminating for the reader considering Aratus as a Hellenistic successor in a long tradition of didactic hexameter verse.

P. then turns to Aratus' use of pleasing aural qualities to affect his audience. This section of her study is of particular interest at this time due to renewed discussion of Hellenistic poetry as art performed as well as read. Under three headings, "Functional alliteration", "Aratean formulae" and "Heightened emphasis", P. analyses repetitions of sound in Aratus as an aspect of euphony, or the aural LEPTO/S, and demonstrates in a close reading of two passages (Ph. 765-772 and 367-385) how the poet uses repetition of sound to support the sense of a self-contained thematic unit. Finally P. concludes with a discussion of two groups who are especially known to have appreciated Aratus, poets influenced by Callimachus' aesthetics and students of Stoic philosophers interested in theories of language; there is convincing testimony that the Stoics were interested in some of the same aspects of language and sound discussed in this essay, namely onomatopoeia, etymology and euphony. The relationship between Hellenistic poetry and contemporary philosophical movements is a notoriously enigmatic one; an interdependence which is seemingly self-evident is at the same time very difficult to follow due to the fragmentary nature of so much of the little which has survived. P.'s study here provides much incentive for further revision of the strands of this relationship.

One of the philosophical movements which flourishes in the new horizons of the Hellenistic era is Skepticism, associated in this period with the teachings of philosopher Pyrrhon of Elis. To Skeptics is often attributed a social conservatism, the seemingly logical result of a rejection of dogmatic philosophy. In "Conservatism and Pyrrhonian Skepticism" Voula Tsouna-McKirahan takes issue with this attribution, and demonstrates that a rejection of dogmatic philosophy need not imply a re-assertion of "ordinary values, institutions and practices as the only legitimate foundation for moral and political life"; the Skeptics are rather disinclined to follow equally the dogmatism of "ordinary values, institutions and practices". Following the fourfold scheme of observance of common life laid out by Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism (PH) 1.23-24, T.-M. looks in turn to each of these four areas, nature, affectations, laws and customs and instruction in the arts, and in regard to each questions whether the Skeptics may be claimed to be conservative. In the first two sections of the article T.-M. focuses on the attitudes of the Skeptics, and points out that for the Skeptic to commit himself to the prevailing norms of ordinary life would be to commit himself to the claim that ordinary life could effect the practical virtue which philosophy could not, whereas the Skeptic in fact would deny this equally. In other words the Skeptics do not seek to attribute to ordinary life the dogmatic authority they deny to philosophy. T.-M.'s argumentation is especially elucidating on the Skeptic's construction of laws and customs, which would seem to pose a problem vis à vis suspending cognitive judgement. T.-M. shows (convincingly) that adherence to laws and customs need not involve dogmatism; the individual may comply with such a "contract" without passing judgment on its quality (i.e. correct or just).

In the third section of her article T.M. focuses on the practical conduct of the Skeptics, and addresses the question whether the Skeptics, although not conservative in attitude, might nonetheless be so in practice; here again disinclination to philosophical dogmatism need not mean an adherence to the conventions of everyday life. Suspension of cognitive judgment is a reaction to the disturbances created by conflicting appearances; it is carried out itself A)DOCA/STWS "without belief".

Modern misconceptions of the individual's relationship with the society around him is also a central aspect of M. A. William's "The Harvest of Hellenism and the Category 'Gnosticism'", a study which calls into question the value of the term "gnosticism" as a category for understanding quite disparate phenomena classed under this rubric. W. begins with an assessment of Hans Jonas' influential definition of "Gnostic" sources as containing an "anticosmic dualism" which distinguished them from the classical Greek tradition. This has been held to be particularly prevalent in certain aspects of "Gnostic" belief and conduct of life; approach to scripture, attitude toward the world, and attitude toward the body. W. shows that there are three major problems with this modern construct "gnosticism" as represented in the surviving sources. 5 1. The features from which this construct is composed turn out in large part to be flawed; W. selects two such features, the alleged "Gnostic" anticosmism and treatment of the body, and shows that in both cases the sources in fact suggest compromise and adherence to a larger Greek heritage rather than deviance from standard social norms. W. is especially convincing in demonstrating in several instances how the often somewhat ambiguous statements of heresiologists come to be understood as evidence for "Gnostic" beliefs and practices. 2. The term "gnosticism" is itself unclear, and there is a too great lack of specification in the classification of the various figures who are thought to fall under this category. 3. The assumption that a religious innovation has within itself its own origin is misguided.

W. suggests that many of the surviving sources do share two concepts: a demiurgical creator of the cosmos which is inferior to a higher transcendent being and the idea that the body is the temporary home of a soul which in some sense existed before in a transcendent realm to which it has the possibility of return. Both are, as W. argues, concepts which have parallels in contemporary Greek thought, and need not in and of themselves necessitate the construct of a "Gnostic religion".

All the essays in this volume are concerned with the engagement of the Hellenistic thinker, whether general, poet, philosopher or religious practitioner, with the world around him, with a world which both receives and redefines its Greek heritage. As an addition to a growing body of work on the Hellenistic world and its borrowed past, this deceptively slim volume will prove a rich addition. The text is well presented, with relatively few errors; the reader should note "going" for "doing" in the last sentence of p. vii, and that something has gone slightly awry with the second sentence of p. 81.


1. Particularly striking in this part of his article is B.'s discussion of the enigmatic word U(LOTO/MOIO (line 229) of the Homeric Hymn and the tale of Erysichthon cutting down the sacred tree of Demeter as a Callimachean expansion on this problematic Homeric term. Attention might also be drawn here to the appearance of U(LOTO/MOI at line 3 of P.Oxy. 2327 fr. 5 (from the New Simonides fragments) and Theocritus Idyll XVII line 9 U(LA/TOMOS; both of these are works of hymnic character.

2. B. draws attention at p. 34 n. 25 to the debated gender of the lock of Berenice (fr. 110 Pf., Cat. c. 66 -- therein the origin of part of the debate). Another passage worth noting here is Iamb. III (fr. 193 Pf.) lines 35-38 and the poet's desire first to a celebrant of Cybele and then of Adonis.

3. In conclusion B. points to the reader involved in "a shift in sensibility" from the male-oriented hymn I to the female-oriented hymn VI; a striking parallel here is Theocritus Idylls XIV and XV which also evoke two gender-specific settings.

4. B. A. van Groningen, "La poésie verbale grecque" in Mededelingen der Koninklijke Nederdandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, afd. Letterkunde 16 (Amsterdam 1953).

5. This demonstration comprises elements selected from W.'s book Rethinking "Gnoscticism", Princeton University Press, 1996.