Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.10.08

M. Di Marco, B. M. Palumbo, E. Lelli, Posidippo e gli altri. Il poeta, il genere, il contesto culturale e letterario. Atti dell'incontro di studio, Roma 14-15 maggio 2004 (Appunti Romani di Filologia 6).   Pisa/Rome:  Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, 2005.  Pp. 238.  ISBN 88-8147-402-6.  €55.00 (pb).  

Contributors: Luigi Bravi, Luca Bettarini, Valentina Garulli, Margherita Maria Di Nino, Emanuele Lelli, Valentina Raimondi, Claudio De Stefani, Elena Esposito, Claudio Meliadò, Enrico Magnelli

Reviewed by Alexander Sens, Georgetown University (
Word count: 2103 words

This volume contains the proceedings of a small conference on the "New" Posidippus papyrus (P.Mil.Vogl. VIII 309), a text that has generated great excitement among students of Hellenistic epigram since its publication in 2001. Though the two senior editors, Di Marco and Palumbo Stracca, make the claim in their preface that previous work on the new papyrus has largely focused on the poems themselves rather than on their relationship to other texts or to the broader social, historical and literary context, this is surely an exaggeration. In their attempt to relate the new poems to other texts, both literary and epigraphical, and to the historical and political context, the papers in this volume have a nice coherence. What makes them all the more remarkable and exciting is the fact that none of their authors is a senior scholar, at least in terms of academic position, though several of them are already well known and respected. For the gathering in Rome, the organizers assembled a group of talented group of young Italian philologists, none of whom to my knowledge as yet has obtained a permanent position in the Italian university system. On the whole, the papers are of high quality and offer great hope for the future of work on Greek poetry, at least in Italy, provided that economic exigency does not dissipate the energies of a promising generation of philologists. In the interest of full disclosure, it must be said that I read the paper by Enrico Magnelli at an earlier stage; that he acknowledges my advice is rather a mark of his generosity than of any significant contribution on my part.

The papers in the volume range widely, with an essay dedicated to most of the individual sections into which the poems on the papyrus are divided. One paper focuses on the organization of early "single-author" epigram collections (Bravi); two compare the work of Posidippus to that of his contemporaries (Lelli and De Stefani, on Callimachus and Leonidas, respectively); one gathers evidence for Ptolemaic propaganda in the epigrams and in Hellenistic epic (Meliadò), and another on the reception of the new poems the Imperial period (Magnelli). The rest focus more or less broadly on a single category of epigram: Bettarini examines the poems celebrating equestrian victories (hippika); Garulli treats the funerary epigrams; Di Nino looks at the "cure" poems (iamatika); Esposito explores what light the poems describing statuary might shed on a much-debated passage of Herodas 4; Raimondi looks more closely at a single poem in the lithika.

Luigi Bravi's paper ("Gli epigrammi di Simonide e il P.Mil.Vogl. VIII 309") considers what light the Milan papyrus might shed on the organization of the pre-Meleagrian collection of epigrams attributed to Simonides, the so-called sylloge Simonidea. In the broadest sense, the Greek Anthology shows traces of thematic grouping, as in the Milan papyrus, within broader generic sections -- thus, for instance, there are two almost contiguous groups of "shipwreck" poems within the funerary epigrams of the seventh book of the Anthology. The epigrams attributed to Simonides suggest a tension between narrow thematic and broad generic organization. Bravi allows for the possibility that the epigrams contained in the Milan papyrus might not all have been written by Posidippus but suggests that, if they are not, they might be by a group of closely associated poets, of which Posidippus himself was the head.

Luca Bettarini ("Posidippo e l'epigramma epinicio: aspetti linguistici") considers the characteristics of the section of the papyrus that contains epigrams celebrating equestrian victories in the panhellenic games. The first half of the paper examines the relationship of these epigrams to inscribed agonistic poems and shows that, as one might expect, the poet both evokes and varies the language and the thematic commonplaces of these inscriptions. The second half of the paper examines the Doric dialect forms in hippika, the section of the papyrus in which they occur most often. Here Bettarini criticizes my argument--actually a development of a suggestion made by the first editors--that some of the Doric forms outside of the hippika represent a stylized form of dialectal realism (e.g. Idomeneus in 64 Austin-Bastianini and the Cretan Menoetius in 102 Austin-Bastianini), but somewhat strangely, his paper neither acknowledges or attempts to make sense of the curious fact that Doricisms in the hippika are not uniformly distributed throughout the section but are clustered in poems that celebrate Olympian (as opposed to other) victories.

Valentina Garulli's contribution ("Posidippo e l'epigrafia sepolcrale greca") explores the relationship of the funerary poems to inscribed epitaph. In these epigrams, too, Posidippus seems to avoid certain words that are commonplace in the inscriptional tradition even while drawing on and adapting its themes and motifs. In the avoidance of certain words and concepts, however, Garulli sees more than mere studied variation. In her view, Posidippus tends to avoid focusing on the pathos of premature death or on the rapacity and cruelty of Hades, and that tendency may perhaps be understood to reflect his own more positive outlook on death. The paper concludes with a consideration of the fraught and ultimately unanswerable question of whether the poems were written for inscription; in Garulli's view, some portion of Posidippus' funerary epigrams were probably composed as real epitaphs, but then achieved a separate literary existence on the strength of their poetic quality.

Margherita Maria Di Nino's paper ("Posidippo e la letteratura incubatoria") focuses on the poems describing miraculous cures (iamatika) and contains a useful, if sometimes perhaps overly schematized, discussion of the relationship between these texts and the Iamata of Epidauros and the chronicles of cures from other sanctuaries of Asclepius. Here too, one sees Posidippus drawing on conventional language and themes while simultaneously varying it in interesting ways.

The question of the original destination of Posidippus' epigrams is one of the central questions treated in Emanuele Lelli's paper ("Posidippo e Callimaco"). This contribution, the longest is the volume, considers the relationship of Posidippus and his famous contemporary, and is rich and provocative, deeply learned and carefully argued, though some of its specific arguments are likely to arouse skepticism. Lelli's approach is to try not only to contrast Callimachus, a poet working with many genres, and the epigram-specialist Posidippus at the level of their use of language and treatment of theme, but also to construct a broader picture of the specific sphere in which they operated by examining the individuals they treat in their poems, and thus, by implication, the men and women who might be imagined to have commissioned them. In Lelli's view, this evidence generally reveals Callimachus to be a poet writing for, and of, a narrower circle of Alexandrian elite, whereas Posidippus' epigrams show the mark of a professional epigrammatist working for a broader ranger of clientele. It is of course notoriously difficult to know whether any particular epigram was intended for inscription or was intended instead as a literary exercise. Lelli rightly notes that some of Posidippus' poems seem to have been composed on commission, and this leads him generally to assume that poems like the funerary epigrams were intended to serve a pragmatic function. To some degree, this is reasonable, but there is also a certain degree of circularity involved. Poems that seem to have no possible practical function, like the erotic poems preserved in the Anthology via Meleager's Garland, are speculatively assigned to a hypothetical "Samian" period in which Posidippus was under the influence of his friend Asclepiades, as is the shadowy poem know as the Aesopeia, Aethiopia, or Asopia. In my view, Lelli sometimes goes too far in supposing that a particular epigram or group of epigrams was composed on commission for actual inscription or for some other pragmatic purpose. Some undoubtedly were, but, to offer one example, many will be troubled, given the manifestly programmatic concerns of the poems describing statues, by Lelli's claim that "with all probability" they were composed to accompany actual works of art.

Valentina Raimondi's paper (αἰπολικὸς δυσέρως in Posidippo 19 A.-B.: un richiamo al Ciclope innamorato infelice di Theocr. idd. e 11") is the most narrowly focused on a single poem. She looks in detail at the penultimate epigram in the lithika, 19 A-B, and in particular at the poem's engagement with other treatments of Polyphemus, with special attention paid to the meaning and literary function of the adjective δυσέρως in the epigram.

Claudio De Stefani's excellent paper ("Posidippo e Leonida di Taranto: spunti per un confronto") engages in a thorough and philologically rigorous comparison of the poetry of Posidippus and his near contemporary Leonidas of Tarentum, exploring the metrical and stylistic practices of the two poets and setting in juxtaposition their treatment of common themes. In each of these respects, the poetry of Leonidas seems in the broadest sense more "Callimachean" than does that of Posidippus. Thus, for example, Leonidas not only adheres more strictly to "Callimachean" norms for the division of words within the hexameter (inner metric), but also uses a wider array of compound adjectives. Although both poets share the refinement that characterize so much of the poetry of the age, they do so in different degrees, and Leonidas appears to have been more of a linguistic innovator; in this regard, De Stefani's conclusions are not wholly dissimilar from those reached by Lelli about the relationship between Posidippus and Callimachus (p. 96), though Lelli goes farther in describing Posidippus' language as, for the most part, "substantially traditional (even Homeric) and not particularly innovative." De Stefani's paper concludes with a discussion of the problem of Leonidas' date and a consideration of his interests and influences. There is also brief "Epimetrum criticum" proposing emendations to Leonidas 31.2 Gow-Page and 90.3 Gow-Page.

Elena Esposito ("Posidippo, Eronda, e l'arte tolemaica") explores the relationship between the poems that comment on statues (andriantopoiika) and the much-discussed ecphrasis of Herodas 4, where two female visitors to the temple of Asclepius comment on paintings they see there. In her view, the connections between that passage and the manifestly programmatic poems to be found among the andriantopoiika suggest that, despite its manifestly humorous tone, the description of Apelles' painting in Herodas' mime may reasonably be seen as a serious statement of the poet's own esthetic program. Moreover, she offers the suggestion that the laudatory treatment of Apelles in Herodas' poem may serve an encomiastic function analogous to that served by Posidippus' praise of Lysippus. Both artists were closely associated with Alexander, and praise of their work -- even in the mouth of critics like women in Herodas' mime -- and the privileged place they occupy in Posidippus' and Herodas' poetry may thus contribute to a broader claim by the Ptolemies to be the legitimate heirs to Alexander's dynasty.

One of the most striking features of the papyrus is the frequency with which the poems it contains specifically refer to Macedonian royalty, and considerable scholarly attention has already been paid to the ways in which the epigrams engage in Ptolemaic image-making. Claudio Meliadò's paper ("Posidippo, l'epos ellenistico e la propaganda tolemaica") makes a somewhat limited but nonetheless useful contribution to the growing body of literature on the propagandistic strategies employed by Posidippus in particular and Alexandrian poets in general. In it, he summarizes some of ways in which the epigrams engage with themes and subjects of importance to the ruling dynasty and then turns to the limited evidence for Ptolemaic propaganda in Hellenistic epos, with particular attention to P.Lit.Goodspeed 2 (= epica adesp. 9 Powell), a highly fragmentary but the nonetheless fascinating celebration of Aphrodite-Arsinoe.

Enrico Magnelli's paper ("Fortuna del nuovo Posidippo nella poesia imperiale") collects points of contact between the new epigrams and poetry of the Imperial Age. Apart from a few verbal points of contact between the poems of the papyrus and the epigrams in the Garland of Philip, the new texts seem to have exerted little influence on later epigram. A few apparent allusions to them may be seen in the work of Dionysius Periegetes (probably Hadrianic) and in Oppian, Triphiodorus, and Quintus of Smyrna, though some of these may be merely accidental points of contact. The influence of the poems on the papyrus reemerges in the fifth century and beyond in the work of Nonnus and poets working in the Nonnian vein like Agathias, Paulus Silentiarius, and John of Gaza. The lithika are more often evoked than other poems, though the total number of allusions does not allow for confidence about the statistical significance of their distribution.

In sum, the papers in this collection make a valuable contribution to the study of the new Posidippus, for which the contributors and those who assembled the participants and edited their work are to be congratulated.

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