Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.06.05

U. Heidmann (ed.), Poétiques comparées des mythes. De l'Antiquité à la Modernité, En hommage à Claude Calame.   Lausanne:  Payot, 2003.  Pp. 264.  ISBN 2-601-03329-0.  €20.00.  

Contributors: Jean-Michel Adam, David Bouvier, Claude Calame, Sylviane Dupuis, Jacqueline Fabre-Serris, Neil Forsyth, Ute Heidmann, Mondher Kilani, Olivier Thévenaz

Reviewed by Charles Delattre, Université de Paris X Nanterre (
Word count: 1261 words

Poétiques comparées des mythes is a product of the Groupe de Recherche interdisciplinaire en Analyse comparée des discours, whose seminar has been held at the University of Lausanne in recent years. Ute Heidmann's Préface (pp. 5-12) outlines the heterogeneous fabric of this volume: most of the papers are related to the world of Antiquity, whereas others (by N. Forsyth, by J.-M. Adam and U. Heidmann) deal with nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature. General anthropology is the subject of the last paper (by M. Kilani). However, unity is achieved thanks to the prominent figure of Claude Calame, who initiated and directed the Lausanne seminar, and whose works1 are repeatedly referred to throughout the volume. The book is quite understandably dedicated to him. The Preface gives clear and short resumes of the different papers and also defines the originality of the team's work. Even if the final papers have only a remote connection to the world of Antiquity, reading them could be of value for everybody invested in this field. Interdisciplinary approaches have once again provided rich and interesting analysis.

Claude Calame's "La création poétique de Thésée par Bacchylide" (pp. 13-43) is a study of Bacchylides' Dithyramb 17 Snell-Maehler that focuses on social relationships between genders and pragmatic discourse analysis. Theseus, after throwing himself into the sea, emerges as an ambiguous young fiancé who combines some characteristics of a νύμφη. Such a peculiar scheme is compared to social behaviour in Papua New Guinea, specifically among the Iatmul and the Abelam. Bacchylides' narrative, conceived as an aetiology of the Delia festival, becomes a myth of "autothalassy", just as the myths of Erikhthonios and Kekrops define the Athenian autochthony.

U. Heidmann's "La comparaison pour méthode" (pp. 47-64) begins by defining once again Claude Calame's theory and practice: the myth doesn't provide either one absolute meaning or a universal one. The meaning of a myth depends on its conditions of production and its reception by an audience. Pragmatic study of the narrative is therefore essential. Oddly enough, I am not convinced by what follows. U. Heidmann gives a short and critical résumé of Charles Segal's Orpheus, The Myth of the Poet, and then gives her own interpretation of Virgil's Orpheus. Although she takes the precaution to mention that "la représentation d'Orphée ne se réduit bien entendu pas à cette signification", further explanation and more details are required. This lack of development may be a consequence of the fact that Virgil is not her primary aim: her study of Rose Ausländer's poem, Orpheus und Eurydike, published in 1979, is more convincing.

"Surgissement / détournement de mythes" (pp. 65-84) is an analysis by S. Dupuis of some of her own poems, where myth and poetic writing are associated. Paul Celan's Tübingen, Jänner is also a part of the study.

With D. Bouvier's "Aux origines du concept de poésie" (pp. 85-105) we go back to something more traditional and technical. Whereas archaic poetry can be conceived as an ᾠδή, a singing, D. Bouvier sees in the emergence of the metaphorical ποίησις a paradox, in the way that something immaterial is implicitly compared to artisanal work. This could be seen as the result of a process reflecting changes in the relationship between the Muse and the poet, particularly at the end of the sixth century, but D. Bouvier convincingly shows that the paradox already occurs in Homeric poems. Based on the description of Achilles' shield in the Iliad, the author shows how artisanal work is at the border between making and representation, and progressively invades the field of the aoidos.

O. Thévenaz' "De l'Aphrodite de Sappho à la Vénus d'Horace" (pp. 107-127) is a convincing paper that strictly follows Claude Calame's commendations, and claims its inspiration from "l'esprit du groupe de Recherches Interdisciplinaires en Analyse Comparée des Discours" (p. 108). Sappho's Ode to Aphrodite is read not as intended by Sappho herself, probably in an oral context, but as Horace read it, as the first of her poems in the alexandrine edition. The transformation of oral poetry into written poetry is a first step, and Horace introduces a new level when he imitates it and writes what will become the first poem of book 4 of the Odes. Through intertextual analysis mingled with pragmatic study of the poetic narrative, O. Thévenaz's analysis opens up an interesting approach not only to elegiac poetry but also to Horace's own reflection on elegiac poetry.

J. Fabre-Serris' "La fabrication de l'humain" (pp. 129-152) is a well documented but rather breathless study of the topic of human race and its creation in Virgil and Ovid, with some insights into Lucretius. Along with the Hesiodic theme of the succession of the human races (although there is no reference to Hesiod in the paper), the author deals with the Spartoi at Thebes and their similes in the quest for the Golden Fleece, the metamorphosis of ants into the Myrmidons and the creation by Pygmalion of a statue that is transformed into a real woman. In her search for a theme that would unite all these accounts, J. Fabre-Serris analyses the category of transgression, seeing the creation of humanity as a gesture that would defy the gods, and the category of pietas: only the introduction of pietas into the act of creating humanity permits the creation of a viable race. Moreover, transgression is also marked by sexual values: creating humanity is an artificial imitation of sexuality. I am not entirely convinced by the author's demonstration, perhaps because there is so much to say about this topic: the lack of space undermines J. Fabre-Serris' conclusion.

N. Forsyth's "Le Prométhée de 1816" (pp. 153-186) and U. Heidmann and J.-M. Adam's "Du récit au rocher" (pp. 187-212) seem to be linked together, as they study the figure of Prometheus through the works of Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley and Lord Byron (N. Forsyth), and in a posthumous "Prometheus" by Franz Kafka (U. Heidmann, J.-M. Adam). Although they do not deal with the world of Antiquity, they nonetheless follow the theme developed by J. Fabre-Serris in her own paper, i. e. the creation of the human race.

M. Kilani's "L'art de l'oubli" (pp. 213-242) takes us out of the world of literature and into the world of modern theory of anthropology. There is nothing really new in M. Kilani's paper, but his clear and sensitive prose is a welcome reminder of some important categories: the relationships between myth and history, history and memory, memory and knowledge guide his work.

J.-M. Adam's Postface (pp. 243-256) is a rather administrative and at the same time theoretical presentation of the work achieved by the seminar at Lausanne.

Through interdisciplinary approach, this tribute to the work of Claude Calame has produced a rather neat volume, in which very few typos are noticeable: diptique instead of diptyque p. 21; Xeuxis instead of Zeuxis p. 147; ave instead of avec p. 150. Part of Bacchylid's text (after Claude Calame's paper), as well as Sappho's and Horace's poems (after O. Thévenaz' paper) are written in Greek or Latin and translated into French (the translation has been taken from the Budé collection), which is very convenient. However three typos occur in Bacchylid's poem (p. 44, v. 95, τ instead of τ; v. 108, ὑγροι ̂σι instead of ὑγροῖσι; v. 118, θέωσιν instead of θεfλωσιν) and one in Sappho's poem (p. 124, v. 6, ἐμας instead of ἔμας). Even less noticeable, but still very disturbing, is the title given on p. 4 to the picture on the front page: "Prometheus fictor" or even "Prometheus plastes" would be more Latin than "Prometeus plasticator" (sic).


1.   Particularly Mythe et histoire dans l'Antiquité grecque. La création symbolique d'une colonie, Lausanne, Payot, 1996, and Poétique des mythes dans la Grèce antique, Paris, Hachette, 2000.

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