Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.04.24

Salvator Lavecchia, Pindari Dithyramborum Fragmenta.   Rome and Pisa:  Edizioni dell'Ateneo, 2000.  Pp. 301.  ISBN 88-8147-262-7.  EUR 72.30.  

Reviewed by Peter Wilson, New College and the University of Oxford
Word count: 2692 words

Dithyramb has long been the ugly sister of the Dionysian family. While the last thirty years have seen an explosion of fruitful approaches to her dramatic siblings, very little of the interest lavished on them has come her way. This is in part due to simple misfortunes of survival but also because the genre became a victim of its own success in the wrong circles: the radical innovations of the latter fifth century known as the 'New Music' found their home in the dithyramb, and the musical and socio-economic changes that went with them were as unpopular with influential élite critics as they seem to have been pleasing to mass audiences in Athens and beyond. There are signs, however, that things are changing. Zimmermann led the way with his useful monograph;1 Ieranò's collection of and commentary on the testimonia to the genre stands in the same series as Lavecchia's (hereafter L.) work and dovetails nicely with it.2 Csapo's forthcoming study of the New Music as a sociological phenomenon should itself revolutionise study of the field;3 while renewed interest in Bacchylides promises to advance further our understanding of the development of this most polymorphic of genres. A new text and commentary of all the Pindaric fragments for the Fondazione Valla are promised by d'Alessio.

What L. gives us is a text with minor divergences from Snell-Maehler's; and a prudent and full commentary that stresses above all the historical and religious dimension of Pindaric dithyramb. It distinguishes itself from its still very useful predecessor by van der Weiden 4 principally by the case it makes for a special and profound relation between the genre as exemplified by Pindar and Dionysiac cults of a specifically 'teletic' colouring. Given their exiguous nature, the fragments do have a strikingly large number of references to τελεταί in a Dionysiac ambience: fr. 70a.33; fr. 70b.6; fr. 346.5 with PSI 14, 1391 fr. B, col. 1.28; fr. 70c.6; and L. gives us many more reasons to envisage a home in Dionysiac mystery-cult for these poems. He focuses on connections between myth and cultic reality, drawing attention to the many signs of dithyramb's deep cultic embeddedness: the centrality of Dionysus and Semele; kletic hymns to the god; extended descriptions of Dionysiac festival actions -- especially of the place and season of performance, as well as forms of music and dance -- that represent the lived reality of cult, and show us a Dionysus fully present among his worhippers: 'Il ditirambo è Dioniso che nel canto partecipa alla festa, compenetrandola di sé' (p. 12). This orientation is clearly signalled in L.'s brief Introduction -- 'Il ditirambo Pindarico come emanazione delle τελεταί dionisiache' -- which also includes a discussion of style and metre and an account of the relevant papyri, which he has re-examined. Although this is very much a study of the fragments in their religious context rather than across the sweep of the genre's literary development, L. well observes the tendency to mimesis in them, pointing out that this was to be a dominant marker of the genre's evolution. He fittingly sums up Pindar's relation to the tradition as 'un ipertradizionalismo dei contenuti e un ardito sperimentalismo nelle forme della loro trasmissione' (p. 15).

A metrorum conspectus, an index verborum and a translation of such fragments as show sufficiently reconstructable sense to merit it follow the text. The commentary is followed by a slender general index.

L.'s apparatus is ample: he is generous in recording conjectures, relevant comments of scholia and, for instance, such things as where the punctuation and accentuation are (and are not) as given in the papyri. We are fortunate in our editores principes: Grenfell, Hunt (with assistance from Bury and others), Lobel. The cases where L. has taken a new direction are very few and largely inconsequential: for instance, at fr. 70a.4, L.'s identification of a possible omicron after the delta (where van der Weiden saw traces of an alpha) opens up the possibility of a self-referential 'glorious flowing hymn' (λειβόμενον δό̣[κιμον ὕμνον). His reinterpretation of the mark at the end of line ten of the same fragment, removing the full stop of previous editors, firms up the possibility that the ]λ̣εεν at the end of that line is to be construed as an infinitive with πρεπει in the opening line of the following strophe.

Minutiae of this sort aside, it is in his work on the dithyramb for the Thebans known as the Heracles or Cerberus that L. has made a major contribution to the study of the text. In brief, L. has made the restoration of Pindar. fr. 346 (Maehler) to this dithyramb -- an ascription already proposed by Lobel -- rather more secure. L.'s single most important new reading is the tau for the iota of fr. 346b.3 (Maehler) (]τ̣α for ]ι̣α), which permits him to identify a responsion between the first three fragmentary verses of fr. 346 and 'significative porzioni' (p. 106) of fr. 70b.16-18, the end of the first strophe of the poem. As a result fr. 346b.4ff. (Maehler) may represent the start of a (hitherto unknown) epodic structure. L. is also a little more conservative in his presentation of the text of fr. 346: the few fragmentary words which Maehler printed separately as fr. 346(a) are deduced from the important second-century A.D. commentary on the text transmitted as P. Oxy. 32, 2622 (= frr. 346(b)-(e) Maehler). Just how much of that commentary is poetic text is unclear, and L. prints none of 346(a) (Maehler) in his own text: one has to dig in his apparatus and commentary to see what he does indeed regard as plausibly Pindaric. A recognition of the eschatalogical dimension of this poem (see further below) also leads L. to suggest the possible inclusion in it of fr. 137, the famous Eleusinian makarismos, the attribution of which to Pindar's Threnoi was always only an hypothesis.

At the start of the poem (fr. 70b.4) -- just after the (in)famous reference to the 'san [which] came false from the mouths of men' -- L. sees a mu or nu rather than a pi at the end of διαπεμ̣[.].[ and removes as illegible the alpha normally printed in the following space but one. Thus any form of διαπετάννυμι ceases to be possible, and as for the rest of the line: 'lectionem nullam inveni idoneam' (p. 34). He thus has no time for the remains of 'fair-navelled' (εὐομφάλοις) -- applied to 'circular [choruses]' -- that d'Angour so brilliantly and to my mind convincingly conjured from the gloom of this line.5

Nearly a third of the entire book is devoted to commentary on this poem. L. begins with a clear account of the rather complex jig-saw of fragments. His new reading will already be known from his earlier publications,6 but it is important to have it more widely diffused, and some of its ramifications more succinctly expressed, in this format. L. gives us a full discussion of the historical and religious issues raised by this extraordinary piece (pp. 109-121). These centre on the interaction between a Theban cult of Dionysus and the Eleusinian cult of Demeter and Persephone: now that fr. 346 is more securely placed within this Theban song, we are faced with a dithyramb that opened with the curious 'mini-history' of change in the form -- 'In the past the song of dithyrambs proceeded stretched long-drawn-out...but now...' -- proceeding, through the tantalising gap in line four (see above), to declare that the 'newer' kind of song models itself on a form of orgiastic Dionysian teleta held by the Olympians themselves -- 'knowing [well] what kind of Bromios-revel the Ouranidai hold also beside the sceptre of Zeus in their halls' -- and that went on to narrate an account of Heracles' descent to the Underworld, his encounter with Cerberus and meeting with Meleager; and, moreover, it presented the hero as establishing 'from Eleusis' a teleta for his townsfolk for Persephone and the gold-throned Mother. References to Eumolpus and (probably) to Mnamosyne and καιρός in the same fragment make the presence of a 'dimensione...misterica' (p. 111) and of 'influenze pitagoriche' (p. 185) all the more abundantly clear.

The historical, religious, poetic and political implications of this are potentially enormous: for our notions of the nature and function of the genre of dithyramb, for issues of the diffusion -- or is it 'theft' ? -- of Eleusinian cult, of relations between Attica and Thebes early (?) in the fifth century. Working on the foundations provided by Lloyd-Jones,7 and bringing to bear the fruit of private correspondence with him, L. judiciously sets out much of the evidence that is needed for these questions to be pursued further. Given that archaeological discoveries continue to roll back the date by which we can confidently claim that Greeks turned to Dionysus the 'Liberator' (Lysios) and 'god of ecstatic bakkhoi' (Bakkhios) in the hope of liberation from ills in and after this life, L's exposition is indeed timely.

A significant question prompted by this material but not raised by L. is whether and how it might relate to recent Athenian interest in a cult of Dionysus under the Boeotian purview -- namely, that of Dionysus Eleuthereus. I would suggest that this dithyramb may have a direct relevance to that Athenian act of cultic appropriation that was to have such a glorious future. For d'Angour's compelling reading in lines 4-5 sees the chorus sing of how 'now the young men have been spread out in well-centred circles' ( κύκλιοι -- the term commonly used for the dithyrambic chorus in fifth-century Athens and elsewhere). A dithyrambic chorus of Thebans, whose song tells of the importation of the Eleusinian cult from Attica to Thebes, may thus have opened that same song with a proud declaration of the novelty of the kyklios khoros -- in a Theban milieu. Was this a direct competitive riposte to the recent appearance -- in the city that had 'stolen' Eleuthereus -- of massive new circular khoral performances devoted to him?

However, as already noted, L. does not think the opening of the poem contained a reference to the 'well-centredness' of these kyklioi. More contentiously (I would suggest) he also detects no choreographic dimension in the term σχοινοτένειά -- 'stretched out like a reed' -- that describes the song (ἀοιδὰ) of dithyrambs in the opening line. For L. the meaning is acoustic and rhythmic -- the old-style song is criticised for having used long periods with few strong pauses, something that the ecstatic, staccato rhythm of this song abundantly corrects. Yet an acoustic meaning is surely not incompatible with a kinetic one -- 'straggling', or 'in a long line'. And the use of the verb ἕρπειν of the song seems almost to require a 'choreographic' dimension. L's discussion of this strange opening seems to miss something of its complexity and crafted, enigmatic quality. He gives us little sense of the rhetorical or poetical point of such language as 'In the past, the reed-stretched song of dithyrambs crept about and the san came counterfeit from their mouths...' To do so, he might have drawn on his own excellent observations (pp. 119-21) on the role of αἰνίγματα and ἀλληγορίαι in mystic contexts, as Hardie has done recently to very telling effect.8 Hardie argues that ἀοιδά in line 1 contrasts the 'ignorance' of the old ways of dithyramb with the 'knowledge' (εὖ ε]ἰδότες 5) of the new via an etymology of that ἀοιδά based on a privative alpha and the verb 'to know'. A puzzle of this sort posed for its original audience seems a very fitting way to introduce a song that presents a katabatic myth which may itself be a riddling allegory for those in the know concerning the future after death for the initiated.

The 'first person' debate that has loomed large in Pindaric studies in recent years will find some fuel in L's discussion of the first-personal reference at lines 23ff. of this poem -- ἐμὲ δ'ἐξαίρετο[ν] κάρυκα σοφῶν ἐπέων. He shows how the image of the poet as a herald and the language of σοφία are especially fitting for a religious choral poem with the mystic dimensions of this one. We might wonder further whether the κάρυξ might have a distinctly Eleusinian ring to it, especially given that this is to be a herald for a Hellas probably described as καλλίχορος (25).

Like most editors before him, L. regards fr. 70c as likely to be the remains of a Corinthian commission, the sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone on the Akrokorinth -- where archaeology has revealed a strong Dionysiac presence in recent years -- as the likely place of performance. The combination in this fragment of a reference to stasis with an elaborate account of Dionysiac festival activity -- including what must be an urgent kletic hymn to the god (9) -- is truly tantalising. L. surveys the proposed supplements of line 3 -- ]ο̣ιτο μὲ̣ν στάσις -- without offering a preference: παύσα]ιτο (Schroeder -- the παύσο]ιτο of the apparatus (p. 42) must be erroneous; correctly at p. 219); καταλύο]ιτο (van der Weiden); μὴ γένο]ιτο (Zimmermann). There must be a strong case for a compound of λύω (διαλύ]ο̣ιτο might also be possible), given their prevalence as the verbs for the 'releasing' of stasis and their appropriateness to the god known as Lysios in Corinth (Paus. 2.2.6).

L. has some thought-provoking suggestions for possible mystic resonances in P. Oxy. 26, 2445 fr. 1 (=70d Maehler). For instance, from the language of line 18 -- δολιχὰ δ' ὁδ[ὸ]ς̣ ἀθα̣νάτω̣[ν -- he deduces that the experiences of the hero Perseus may have been assimilated in this dithyramb to the kind of initiatory voyages elsewhere associated with figures such as Aristeas of Proconnesus; the ὁδοί of Eleusinian initiates and the dead of Hipponium are also brought into the picture.

The paltry remains -- traces might be a better word -- of a dithyramb Pindar wrote treating the myth of Orion tease yet further. L. draws out illuminatingly the possibility that this song -- which may have stood first in the Alexandrian collection (p. 276) -- included a kind of history of the form; and hypothesises that satyrs were involved in its narration of Orion's blinding: a fragmentary discussion of the genre preserved in the third-century A.D. Papyrus Berol. 9571v mentions the blinding of Orion in a Pindaric dithyramb just before an 'Aristotelian' account of the origins of tragedy from dithyramb, probably through the mediation of satyr drama. It is as though the dithyramb were being cited as evidence for the Aristotelian theory. The relation between dithyramb and satyrs, both in formal generic terms and more broadly, is one of the many dithyrambic matters that needs more study. It persisted well beyond Pindar's day. For instance, in 335 B.C. the choregos Lysicrates chose to celebrate his victory with a dithyramb by decorating his lavish monument with a carving of satyrs apparently engaged in the myth of Dionysus' capture by Tyrrhenian pirates.

This commentary well and truly demonstrates that these fragmentary songs are important, neglected documents for Dionysiac religion (cf. p. 12). It provides firmer ground for understanding what manner of religious activity the performance of a Pindaric dithyramb was; and it adds a further glimpse to our ever-widening view of mystery cult. If at times the commentary feels a little 'under-interpretative' (for instance, I would have liked to hear why L. thought an extended critique of excessive philotimia might find a home in a dithyramb: p. 244), that is probably no more than a matter of personal taste. The commentary is at its best when it weds its central religious concerns to close stylistic and philological analysis (for instance in the discussion of the schema Pindaricum at fr. 70b.8 and fr. 78.2).

This is a welcome addition to a very valuable and (in their paperback form) affordable series. The only complaint possible on the production side is the curious and frequent metamorphosis in font size - clearly the result of production demands (cf. p. 98, where the size changes mid-word) rather than anything more meaningful. One can hope that it will help promote study of these important and neglected fragments.


1.   B. Zimmermann, Dithyrambos: Geschichte einer Gattung, Göttingen, 1992.
2.  G. Ieranò, Il Ditirambo di Dioniso: le testimonianze antiche, Pisa / Rome, 1997.
3.   E. Csapo (forthcoming) 'The Politics of the New Music' in P. Murray and P. Wilson (eds.) Music and the Muses: the Culture of 'Mousike' in the Classical Athenian City, Oxford.
4.   M. van der Weiden, The Dithyrambs of Pindar, Amsterdam, 1991.
5.   A. d'Angour (1997) 'How the dithyramb got its shape', CQ 47, 331-51.
6.   S. Lavecchia (1994) 'Il "Secondo" Ditirambo di Pindaro e i Culti Tebani', SCO 44, 33-93; (1996) 'P. Oxy. XXXII 2622 e il "Secondo Ditirambo" di Pindaro', ZPE 110, 1-26.
7.   H. Lloyd-Jones (1967) 'Heracles at Eleusis: P. Oxy. 2622 and PSI 3891 [=Pindar fr. 346 S.-M.]', Maia 19, 206-29.
8.   A. Hardie (2000) 'The Ancient 'Etymology' of ἀοιδός', Philologus 144, 163-75.

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