Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.6.20


Mark Andreas Seiler, POI/HSIS POIH/SEWS: Alexandrinische Dichtung KATA\ LEPTO/N in strukturaler und humanethologischer Deutung. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, Band 102. Stuttgart und Leipzig: Teubner, 1997. Pp. 263. DM 96. ISBN 3-519-07651-9.


Reviewed by Robert Schmiel, University of Calgary.

Seiler has given us a significant and challenging study of intertextuality in Alexandrian poetry. I am not sure that I am up to the challenge; heavily theoretical criticism in a foreign language amounts to double jeopardy. (I am indebted to Dr. David Mirhady for a second opinion on two especially knotty passages.) An overview will provide a useful orientation. Section A deals with method (25 pp.), Section B discusses Theocritos 25 as a contrafact to Call. frg. 254-268 C SH (82 pp.), Section C investigates the sublimation function of the reflexive kata lepton poetry of the Thalysia (Theoc. 7, 74 pp.), Section D takes up the overcoming of erotic pathos in Theoc. 11 (32 pp.), Section E looks at poetry about poetry about poetry in the cup ecphrasis of Theoc. 1.32-54 (13 pp.), and Section F presents the conclusion (6 pp.).

This is a dense work, full of detail; it does not lend itself to general discussion. I therefore propose to do Section A in summary fashion, pass over Section B, examine Section C on the Thalysia -- which seems to be central in every sense -- in more detail, then consider Sections D, E, and F briefly. (I shall also spend much more time summarizing Seiler's interpretations than critiquing them.) The advantage will be that the poem most crucial to Seiler's interpretation will receive the detailed consideration it deserves, the disadvantage is that scant justice will be done to the relationships which Seiler is continually revealing among the various texts -- the monograph deals with intertextuality, after all. Emphasis on the most important text will, I believe, provide a better understanding of Seiler's approach than would a superficial run through the whole.

In his introduction, S. remarks that there is often a complex relationship between what is on the surface and what is latent in related texts, that such concepts as 'foil', 'irony' or 'oppositio in imitando' often fall short. S. also takes the position that Alexandrian texts are to be read as coherent; that to make them out to be paradoxical, fragmentary, or aporetic constructs in the manner of post-structuralism or deconstruction is premature (pp. l-3). I applaud -- loudly.

In Section A, S. shows significant relationships among: (a) Hesiod, Theog. 23 and Theoc. 25.209 ("under sacred Helicon"), (b) Il. 1.45, Call. Hymn II.33, and Theoc. 25.206 and 265 ("and quiver"), and (c) Call. Hymn III.82 and Theoc. 25.206 ("hollow [quiver]"). "The virtual semantic systems, which overlie the texts, presuppose interpretive strategies which in pronounced fashion involve whole texts or groups of texts" (p. 12). S. follows in the path of Jakobson, Saussure, Eco, Barthes, et al. As an example of "konnotativen Isotopien" whose significance is greater to the extent that it is concealed, S. cites Hesiod, W&D 432 (a farmer constructs two wooden plows) and Call. frg. 259, 32 SH (a farmer constructs two wooden mouse traps). Here S. relies on sound parallels, as well as words or concepts: doi de th th and toi de d th d. The reference to Hesiod's plows can only be understood by using established codes: (a) plowman = poet, (b) Hesiod's anti-heroic ideology of work, and (c) grain as symbol of culture and sublimation. Callimachos, Theocritos, and Apollonios know and use the code as part of their "common esthetic group-idiolect kata lepton" (p. 20. KATA\ LEPTO/N refers to the light, refined, intellectual style associated with Philetas in particular, and which he had so fully achieved as to be liable to become air-borne in a strong wind, cf. especially pp. 34-7). In the last few pages of Section A, S. surveys the views of classicists on intertextuality: Pfeiffer, Herter, Pasquali, Giangrande, Bulloch, Conte, Bonanno, and Bing.

I shall summarize S.'s conclusions on the Thalysia (pp. 183 f.) by way of introduction to Section C. Intertextual reference and self-reflexivity make clear that, in the Komatas fable, bees and honey are metaphors for poet and poetry. It is then apparent that the central story of Lykidas' song is a parable of sublimation, which recalls the prologue of Callimachos' Aitia. Of what sort is this spiritual poetry which has the power of the real in that it allows the enclosed Komatas to survive? It is the enveloping Other, the complement of existence in a chest. The Thalysia is also the model of an initiation, and if so, there must be a relationship between initiation and festival. It necessarily follows that what Lykidas revealed to Simichidas must in essence be seen in the possibility of an imaginative E)/TOS W(/RION (85), which Komatas composed in the chest in order to survive. A poetic etos horion with the force of reality, that is what the Harvest Festival is for Simichidas after the initiation.

Since we recognize the act of poetic sublimation and the principle of intertextuality as the content of initiation, it is necessary to ascribe to the song of Lykidas an exemplary bucolic motif-system, and to identify Lykidas as the founder of Bucolic. The supposition that Callimachos appears in the guise of Lykidas can be supported in many ways: the name, origin, and destination of the goatherd support it, as do various motivic and other allusions, and the club (a pendant to that in Theoc. 25), with which Simichidas/Theocritos undergoes investiture as an Eleusinian proto-mystes Herakles.

There is a close relationship between the Thalysia of Theocritos and the Eleusinian and Athenian cult of Demeter. Central to both is the problem of the conversion or transformation of Eros and Force (Gewalt) into a cultural product. Theocritos represents this in the story of Komatas who, enclosed in a chest, creates an etos horion. What Simichidas is initiated into defines itself as poetry produced by denial of the outer world, by sublimation. Lykidas, alias Callimachos, and Simichidas, alias Theocritos, illustrate what we have found to be characteristic of the relationship between the poetry of Callimachos and Theocritos, reciprocal poetic reference, metaphoprically the 'nourishing' and 'being-nourished' of Alexandrian poets.

I now return to the beginning of the Section. (The reader should be advised that my discussion will still be selective; I am not able to retrace S.'s every step.) An important point, vital to S.'s argument, is that E)/TOS W(/RION is the object of E)CEPONA/SAS (7.85), not accusative of duration of time, as it has (always?) been taken (cf. the translations in footnote 260. Gow saw that the verb was "oddly used" in the usual interpretation, but the noun is strange in S.'s reading, "season of bloom," as well: "Was sich Komatas im lebenstiftenden Sublimationsakt in die Kiste hereindichtet, ist die überwältigende Fülle blühender Jahreszeit"). Lykidas is struggling to overcome his erotic pathos (S. takes E)C A)FRODI/TAS [55] as A)PO\ KOINOU= with both O)PTEU/MENON and R(U/SHTAI). Komatas' sublimation is an example for him. Simichidas' song also expresses the pain of erotic pathos, and ends with the desire for hesychia (126). Lykidas' song is an initiation song (note conversation, exchange of songs, gift of the stick). The capacity of poetry to eliminate the boundary between imaginary and real, as in Komatas' capacity to sublimate and produce poetry, explains why none of the expected events of a harvest festival are described. This is no communal Thalysia, but an intense personal experience of a summer day (pp. 114-6. The story of Komatas is centrally placed in the 157-line poem, and is marked by four rings, cf. pp. 118 f.)

S. has identified a considerable number of instances of intertextuality, almost all of which are convincing, and most beyond dispute. "From references to older texts, the poet's own, and those of his contemporaries, elements of meaning accrue to the new text which are not accidental but essential for an understanding of the work's intent. The reciprocal reference between contemporary poets in particular is presented here in the center of the initiation-poem of the Thalysia with the familiar metaphor of bees and honey; the reciprocal nourishment of Komatas and the bees is a metaphor for the dialectical principle of intertextuality" (pp. 112f.). The first three lines of Lykidas' song (7.52-4) are based on Anth. Pal. 7.264, 272 and 273, note especially the propemptic theme. Komatas' enclosure and nourishment by bees expresses the sublimation of physical confinement by means of the creative, poetic act, in a manner similar to that in the Aitia prologue. There Callimachos says that he wants to be changed into a cicada and eat dew, a metaphor for poetic inspiration. As Komatas must overcome his enclosure, Callimachos must overcome the burden of old age. The passages are intertextually related (Theoc. 7.82 f. and Call. frg. 1.32 M) via Theogony 81-4 ("Muses, sweet dew, mouth"). Above all, the story of Komatas represents the psychology of the creative process, as Freud expressed it in the concept of sublimation (pp. 124-30).

The song of Simichidas also points the way from being controlled to freeing oneself from the torment of love. In a pointed reversal, the main part of Lykidas' song has here the function of illustrating erotic pathos and the resultant pain. The prayer to the Erotes (115 ff.) has two "hypotexts," Anth. Pal. 12.166 and Arch. frg. 196a, 24 W: AI)AI=, PE/PEIRA ... A)/NQOS D' A)PERRU/HKE, cf. Theoc. 7.120 f. PEPAI/TEROS AI)AI= A)/NQOS A)PORREI=. The various allusions in the prayers to the Erotes cover the range of sexual desires: homosexual, heterosexual, incestuous fixation; pains of the rejected subject and of the object (pp. 133-6).

S. takes Simichidas' experience of the festival as an etos horion (p. 142), the festival itself as an ecphrasis of poetic activity (p. 145; cf. E)CEPO/NASA, 51; E)CEPO/NASAS, 85; E)/XON PO/NON, 139). Intertextuality relates Call. frg. 69, 11H and Hymn IV.300 f. with Theoc. 7.142 (PERI/ A)MFI/). That the springs around which the bees buzz (7.142) are to be taken as a metaphor for poetry is indicated by the intertextuality of Call. Hymn II.110ff. and Theoc. 7.135-46 ("bees, sacred water, spring").

Why does Theocritos set Simichidas' initiation into poetry, with its psychagogic possibilities, on Kos and at a festival of Demeter by means of an etos horion, which appears to be an allusion to Philetas (frg. 3,2 Pow.), and near the spring of Burina, also mentioned in Philetas' hymn to Demeter (frg. 24 Pow.)? Because Philetas was the originator of poetry kata lepton, especially in his hymn to Demeter. Simichidas is to be initiated into a poetry which lessens spiritual pathos and leads to hesychia (as in the songs of Sim. 63 ff. and Lyk. 126, pp. 152 f.)

S. sees a parallel between POI/HSIS POIH/SEWS and NO/HSIS NOH/SEWS in Aristotle metaph. L 7, 1072b, 20 ff.): "Poetry (poetic power) presents itself (composes or creates itself) when it expresses the object of poetry. For it (poetic power) becomes the object of poetry in poetic accomplishment, so that poetry (poetic power) and object of poetry are the same" (p. 157). As an example of poiesis poieseos S. cites the intertextuality between Pindar frg. 33 c, 4, Call. Hymn IV 36, and Theoc. 25.139-41. In this instance, however, S. relies on sequences of sound and word bits, and the example is not convincing (p. 158). S. also sees a relationship between the Thalysia and Epicurean philosophy in regard to autarkeia and eudaimonia (pp. 160-66).

Theoc. 25, which S. takes as Theocritean according to recent scholarship, is related to Call. Aitia. Theocritos puts a contrafact to part of the third book of the Aitia into the mouth of Herakles. Simichidas receives an attribute of Herakles in his initiation. Thus -- I omit most of the argument -- Theoc. 25 appears as a pendant to Theoc. 7. Intertextuality connects Theoc. 7.91 ff. and 25.207-10 by means of Hesiod Theogony 22 f. (being taught poetry under sacred Helikon, cf. pp. 6-14).

S.'s reading of the Thalysia, probably the richest and most complex of Theocritos' poems, will not deter future critics, and might well spark increased interest in the poem. But his valuable collection of instances of intertextuality, so perceptively and fruitfully applied to the interpretation of what is arguably the key poem for an understanding of Theocritos' poetry will be taken into account by all future students of the Thalysia and the Theocritean corpus.

To turn briefly to Theoc. 11. S. takes Polyphemos' devastating and painful resignation resulting from sexual libido (11.52 f.) as revealing an attitude diametrically opposed to Komatas' in the song of Lykidas. His alienation from Galateia does not produce the hesychia praised in the songs of Theoc. 7, but activism that ostensibly restores him to his senses (73 ff.) Although Polyphemos appears to have overcome his passionate fixation upon Galateia, the notion that poetry is an "easy and pleasant medicine" for love (Theoc. 11.1-4) can only be understood as ironic, especially in the light of Call. epigr. 46 Pf. H)= PANAKE\S PA/NTWN FA/RMAKON A( SOFIA/. In the second part of this section, S. considers intertextuality in regard to LEUKA\ GALA/(TEIA) and PAGI/S - PAKTA=S, etc.

In his conclusion S. distinguishes three types of intertextuality: (a) references to texts of earlier poets, (b) direct, and (c) indirect references to the texts of contemporary poets with whom reciprocal intertextuality is possible. "The intertextuality that I have shown here is a form of mastering earlier intellectual structures ("Bemächtigung voraufgehender geistiger Strukturen"), since neither a single word nor a joining of terms ("Fügung") finds a new application that is isolated from the original context, but through the allusion whole sections of text and their strategies are recalled and put to the service of newer, more complex and preferred strategies of the texts that make the allusions. The textual strategies of alienation, functionalizing, and condensation of elements of older texts and their strategies in the newly formed text are a kind of mastering of the tradition" (p. 231).


[Editors' Note: in the interests of persuading search engines to find this review for those who use the Latin spelling of a poet's name, we simply include here that name spelled "Theocritus "]