Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.05.33

G. O. Hutchinson, Greek Lyric Poetry. A Commentary on Selected Larger Pieces.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2001.  Pp. xiii, 532.  ISBN 0-19-924017-5.  $115.00.  

Reviewed by Douglas E. Gerber, University of Western Ontario (
Word count: 645 words

I begin with some primarily factual information. First, a list of the passages on which Hutchinson comments: Alcman 1 and 3 PMGF, Stesichorus 222(b) PMGF, Sappho 1, 16, 31, 96 V., Alcaeus 129, 130b, 208 V., Ibycus S151 PMGF, Anacreon 347, 358, 417 PMG, Simonides 542, 543 PMG, Bacchylides 3, Pind. Olym. 6, Soph. Ajax 1185-1222, and Eur. Medea 627-62. The apparatus criticus is ample and especially full where papyrus readings are concerned. In many instances Hutchinson has personally examined the papyri and sometimes also the relevant MSS. The book concludes with a lengthy bibliography (pp. 468-507), index of passages discussed (pp. 509-14), Greek index (pp. 515-19), and general index (pp. 520-32).

Prior to the commentary Hutchinson provides a general introduction to each poet. These introductions are thorough, normally running to 6 or 7 pages, though Sappho gets 10, Pindar 12, and tragedy 12, and include information on art, archaeological finds, historical background, dialect etc. (all with extensive bibliographical references). There are also briefer introductions to each poem, and these provide a metrical analysis. The sequence of long and short syllables is printed and the metrical structure is discussed in some detail, but it is only in the discussion that actual names are given to the cola and these are not always provided.

As Hutchinson states in the preface, his "book does not attempt to offer a final or decisive account but aspires to advance in some measure, by a personal, selective, but detailed treatment, the understanding and literary interpretation of this poetry." A key word here is "literary" and in that sense his treatment of the poetry is excellent. In contrast to many other attempts at literary criticism, this is based firmly on the text. Rarely does one find such high standards of textual and literary criticism combined. No one working on any of the poetry included here can afford to neglect Hutchinson's commentary. That said, it must also be emphasized that there are some surprising omissions. To give just one example, no mention is made of the controversy over the meaning of χρυσόθρον' in Sappho 1.1. I agree with him that the second part of the compound denotes a throne, but in view of the number of critics who have argued for a different meaning, some discussion would be expected.

Hutchinson's style is generally clear, but there are also occasions when he makes statements which because of their brevity are not easy to comprehend. Consider, for example, the following: "καλέσθαι is a Homeric future" (p. 400 on Olym. 6.56). Does he mean that the future middle here has passive force, as sometimes is found in Homer? Hummel in her La syntaxe de Pindare (p. 248) treats it as a present. Consider also his note on ἐπιχθονίοις (p. 397 on Olym. 6.50): "the dative here suggests a divine perspective behind Aepytus' own." I do not understand what this is supposed to mean.

With regard to the texts themselves Hutchinson is relatively conservative, often preferring to obelize passages (Alcm. 1.49, Stes. 222(b).215 and 228, Sappho 1.18-19, 31.9, 13 and 17, Ibyc. S151.24-26, Sim. 543.3 and 11, Bacch. 3.96, Pind. Olym. 6.15 and 82, Soph. Ajax 1190). In some of these passages and also in some others he suggests emendations, but confines them to the apparatus. Lacunae tend to be left unfilled unless the supplement is quite secure. Occasionally he prefers to adopt a text that is less well attested, such as τέκος for τέκνον in Olym. 6.62.

As with any commentary there are explanations which do not convince, but it would serve no useful purpose to list them. It must suffice to repeat that this is a valuable contribution, not only to the understanding and appreciation of the poetry involved, but also of the poets themselves. Given the length, the introductions to the various poets are models for their combination of information and sound judgement.

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