Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.10.30

René Nünlist, Poetologische Bildersprache in der frühgriechischen Dichtung.   Stuttgart and Leipzig:  Teubner, 1998.  Pp. 412.  ISBN 3-519-07650-0.  

Reviewed by Stephen Instone, University College London (
Word count: 584 words

This is a curious book. It consists largely of quotations, with translations and brief comments, of passages containing imagery that have been culled from Greek lyric poetry. So what we have is a useful compendium of lines (mostly from Pindar) where there is mention of animals, messages or messengers, handiwork, healing, agriculture, hunting and sport, light, flowing [sic], flowers, clothes, the path of song, money, xenia, awakening, and, last but not least, honey.

In the introduction N. defines imagery as the non-literal use of language, e.g. similes, metaphor and allegory, and pays due homage to Silk's Interaction in Poetic Imagery (1974). Slightly surprisingly, there are also sections on whether the content of early Greek poetry is fictional, and on the reference of the 1st person in lyric. We then move on to the zoo. Animals for N. include songbirds, eagles, bees, beasts of prey and dolphins. How, having quoted P. 2.84-5, P. 10.53-4 and B. 10.9-10 he can conclude (67), 'Bemerkenswerterweise fehlt sie in Bakchylides' und Pindars Werk fast vollständig, vielleicht weil sie ihnen zu 'banal' erschien', I don't know. On Pindar's fondness for comparing himself to a messenger, or his work to a message, N. suggests that this serves to give an extra public dimension to the poet's work and that, since messengers and heralds were able to claim divine protection, Pindar thereby gives his own pronouncements a divine authority. The section on handiwork starts off with the Shield of Achilles and its influence as a passage containing imagery of symbolic significance. But what this significance is exactly has, of course, been hotly disputed, and half a page on the matter is a bit meagre. But N. is absolutely right to stress that Pindar's comparisons between his own poetry and other types of works of art add to the aesthetic appeal of his poetry.

Each of N.'s sections ends with a 'Zusammenfassung', but sometimes N. seems to be scraping the barrel for something to say. So on agricultural imagery we are told that most images refer to a very concrete activity and and are exceptionally clear (141). On hunting and sport, N. is convinced (143) that Homer's 'winged words' allude to arrows (winging their way to their target), and endorses (161) the questionable view that Bacchylides' interest in sporting events was greater than Pindar's. He is good on the resonances of Archilochus' 'blasted out of my mind with wine' (120.2; cf. Semele's fate), though it is a little unexpected to find it among light-imagery. And then we have the section on 'flowing' imagery, including thirsts and various kinds of pourings, and here the limitations of the book become apparent, as the section ends with quotation of O. 7.1-8 with no analysis at all. If N. had narrowed the scope of the book and tried to be less comprehensive in his quotation of examples, something more interesting might have emerged.

Finally, 34 pages of 'Zusammenfassende Auswertung', notes on the practices of all the authors touched on by N. Here he recapitulates that, in general, images add clarity and aesthetic appeal, and we learn that whereas Pindar merely tends to begin and end his odes with imagery (but keeps the mythical narratives free of them), B. follows this practice 'fast ausschliesslich' (350), and, what is more, that there is a greater use of imagery in Sappho than Alcaeus (343). Yes, this is a curious book, but, if you are curious to immerse yourself in selected imagery in Greek lyric poetry, you may not be disappointed.

Read Latest
Index for 1999
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:26:33, Friday, 03 April 2009