Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.11.25
Kathryn Gutzwiller (ed.), The New Posidippus. A Hellenistic Poetry Book. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Pp. 394. ISBN 0-19-926781-2. £50.00.
Reviewed by Antonios Rengakos, Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki
Word count: 2502 words
[Titles are listed at the end of the review.]
This collective volume includes 14 contributions presented at a 2002 international conference on the "New" Posidippus, i.e. on the 112 epigrams preserved in the recently published P. Mil. Vogl. VIII 309 papyrus, as well as the translation of all the poet's 132 extant epigrams by Frank Nisetich. The papyrus is one of the most important Greek literary finds of the last decades. Unsurprisingly, its publication, in an excellent edition by Guido Bastianini, Claudio Gallazzi and Colin Austin, has already generated a voluminous bibliography. It is worth noting outright that the volume, edited by K. Gutzwiller, is the most rewarding fruit of this crop, offering several highly stimulating and innovative studies. As indicated by the subtitle of the volume (A Hellenistic Poetry Book), they deal with a major issue that has been exercising scholars since the publication of the papyrus, namely the construction of a poetry book not long after the poet's time. The papyrus is dated to the second half of the third century BC, just a few short decades following Posidippus' death. Should its epigrams be viewed as a compilation that may be traced, directly or indirectly, back to the poet himself, or have they been compiled by a more or less skilled and learned editor? The other major and originally much discussed question posited by the papyrus, whether all the poems should be attributed to Posidippus, i.e. the question of authenticity, is apparently of no major concern to the contributors of the volume. They all subscribe to the communis opinio, which attributes all poems to the Macedonian epigrammatist.
In the first part of the volume ("Papyrus rolls, Readers, and Editors"), W. Johnson views the Milan book-roll "as an artefact" and tries to reach conclusions from "the ways this book-roll was constructed and copied" in order to shed light on "its history as an object prior to its discard and reuse as cartonnage in the early second cent. BC". The material features of the papyrus roll lead him to conclude that the "overall look and feel are typical of the era". Its most unusual aspect is the inclusion of section headings. The papyrus was "a utilitarian book", not a showpiece, "created with a view to content rather than to display", although it does not show signs of intense and prolonged use (no lectional marks, many uncorrected errors etc.). Johnson then states his disagreement with the view of the editors of the papyrus and suggests, on the evidence of various indicators (the protokollon added later, the initial line very possibly added later, the stichometry also possibly a later addition etc.), that the extant first column was not necessarily the first column of the roll. Turning to the reader of the book, he points out exceptional indications of counting and selecting, which suggest that "the selection and editing activity was an essential aspect of the reader's approach to the text". Thus Johnson constructs a reader-second editor, and he hypothesizes that the readers of the Ptolemaic era "would no more assume the author's hand in the selection and arrangement of an epigram poetry book than ... [they] would assume the author's hand in the punctuation of Homer, Simonides etc. ". Although legitimate, this hypothesis is not particularly plausible. Nothing prohibits us from assuming that the reader responsible for the indications of counting and selecting used them consciously in a selection s/he knew (from the protokollon, for instance) or assumed to go back to the poet. The selection and editing may have been done for various personal reasons, e.g. in order to put together a collection for the sake of aesthetic pleasure, instruction etc.
Nita Krevans examines the editorial strategies that may be deduced from the arrangement of the poems in the papyrus. She stresses the difference between the sections of the papyrus and the thematically organized books of the Greek Anthology and characterizes the epigrams on stones and bird-signs as "most unusual sections". They display obvious affinities with prose wonder books (e.g. Callimachus' Collection of Marvels throughout the World, by Location, On Birds etc.), which lends a didactic tone to the collection. The same conclusion about the prose-didactic eclectic affinities of the Posidippus Papyrus is reached through the examination of the sequencing of poems within sections. The two main rules of arrangement ("keep poems on similar topics adjacent to each other" and "keep items which best match the section titles at the head of the section"; the epigrams on stones form an exception and may have originated in a collection with different arrangement) find parallels in the classification criteria used by Callimachus as prose-editor, and differ much from the criteria used by him as poet-editor in the Aetia.
In an attempt to explain the absence of "New Posidippus" from later epigram anthologies, Dirk Obbink introduces the term 'subliterary' ("verses composed only for an ephemeral existence and in fact not received into the canon") for the epigrams of Pap. Mil. He also identifies some other inscribed examples of Posidippean epigrams, known from papyri and apparently copied from private exemplars, as subliterary. According to Obbink, the Milan papyrus is not "an authoritative and exhaustive edition of the epigrams of Posidippus", since it does not include the epigrams that later tradition attributes to the poet. Obbink thinks that he finds substantial support for his thesis in the absence of epigram for Lysippus (AP 16.275 = AB 142) from the papyrus, which includes other epigrams dedicated to the artist (AB 62, 65, 70). One may legitimately wonder, though, whether the absence of AB 142 is as important as Obbink believes. Why should one rule out the possibility that the epigram in question was composed after the compilation of the Milan roll and could not be included in it, even if the poet himself put it together? Obbink concludes that the papyrus exemplifies "the Greek poetry book in statu nascendi from the composition of individual or at most paired poems to their gathering into collections by readers and editors". This conclusion contradicts most contributions to the volume, which stress in various ways the clever arrangement of the epigrams in the papyrus.
The second part of the volume ("A Book in Sections") includes three of its most interesting articles, written by Peter Bing, David Sider, and Alexander Sens. In his discussion of the self-referentiality of the Stone-Poems, Bing detects clear programmatic connotations of Hellenistic kata lepton poetics in the first part of the papyrus. He also discerns a conscious use of geographical names from around the inhabited world, which maps out a vast landscape reflecting the imperial aspirations of the Ptolemies. This use, combined with the major role women play in the Stone-epigrams and Ptolemaic queens in the dedicatory and equestrian ones, leads the author to the conclusion that the collection had been adapted "to the interests of a Ptolemaic queen or to one in her service".
Sider focuses on the first four epigrams of the section on weather signs and argues that they are versifications of some (unidentifiable) scientific prose treaty. (He speculates that their source was a work by a certain Dionysius who translated a work written by Mago the Carthaginian.) Sider justifiably calls these poems "didactic epigrams" and suggests that epigrams that include catalogs, in the manner of Hesiod, should be listed in this category. Such an epigram is Antipater's list of the female canon (AP 9.26), which has striking similarities with Posidippus AP 12.168.
Sens discusses very cogently the most carefully and symmetrically arranged part of the Mil. Pap., the Statue poems. He offers a programmatic and poetological interpretation similar to that of Bing, and concludes that "at least this section reflects the work of the poet rather than that of even the cleverest compiler". Sens deals extensively with the first four Statue poems and detects parallels with the Aetia of Callimachus, the poetry of Philitas, or Idyll 7 of Theocritus. He shows the self-referential character of these epigrams and suggests that Posidippus intertwines "the aesthetic qualities of the art objects and the literary characteristics of the poems themselves by creating an elaborate nexus of connections that link the artist, the narrator and the sculpted object".
The other two articles of this part of the volume adopt an art-historical perspective. Ann Kuttner views the Stone-epigrams as a "Ptolemaic gem cabinet". She shows that the Ptolemies collected precious stones and that Posidippus' catalog of stones is reminiscent of "inscribed temple inventories or narrated lists of precious objects carried through the streets of Alexandria in Ptolemaic spectacles". Andrew Stuart deals with the Statue-poems. The nine epigrams form a well-organized unit and are informed by the same ideology of artistic realism, "truth in sculpture", which "presupposes a single intelligence at work", i.e. Posidippus himself. Lysippus is presented consistently in the epigrams as an exemplary adherent of this style, and Posidippus appears to have used treatises on Hellenistic art, especially those of his contemporary Xenocrates of Athens.
The three papers in the third part ("Posidippus in a Ptolemaic context") deal mainly with Macedonian references in Mil. Pap. In the first contribution, Susan Stephens sees the reason for the purported enmity between Posidippus and Callimachus in the way the two poets choose to present their Ptolemaic patrons. Posidippus stresses their Macedonian origins and glosses over the Egyptian context, while Callimachus does precisely the opposite. Stephens also detects differences in the presentation of Arsinoe II as a warrior, in the tradition of warlike Macedonian queens. The image of the Callimachean Arsinoe recalls only indirectly or very succinctly the bravery of her female ancestors. However, as the author herself admits, it is only natural for the Macedonian Posidippus and the Cyrenean Callimachus to stress different aspects of the royal ideology that promoted the geographical areas more familiar to each poet. In this manner, they also boosted the effectiveness of the Ptolemaic propaganda. Thus there is no reason to assume that the different choices of the two poets were responsible for their enmity, which is not reliably attested anyway.
Marco Fantuzzi discusses the equestrian poems and in particular the Ptolemaic ideology underpinning this part of the papyrus. By means of a fascinating collection of historical evidence, Fantuzzi argues convincingly that Posidippus' insistence on the Macedonian origins of the Ptolemies and their participation in the Panhellenic athletic contests were motivated by their strong interest in Greek affairs and their claim to be the true heirs of Alexander the Great. Equally inventive is Fantuzzi's suggestion that the association of the Olympic victory of Berenice I with the earlier victory of the Spartan princess Cynisca points to a Spartan monarchic model. Egyptian queens apparently found it very attractive, as the heroic honors enjoyed by the Spartan princess offered a very welcome precedent for the queens' deification. Finally, Fantuzzi correctly suggests that, in the absence of relevant archaeological evidence, the epigraphical character of some of the equestrian poems, which seem to have been composed for "commemorative statues of the horses and/or chariot", points to a "fictitious monumental tradition".
Dorothy Thompson too stresses the pre-eminence of the Macedonian references in the epigrams but she also underscores the fact that Egypt and especially the city of Alexandria are present in Posidippus' work, as are references to the wider world of the Hellenistic East. Thus Posidippus turns out to be "a true Alexandrian poet whose concern is the wider Hellenistic world" and not merely Macedon or Egypt.
The fourth and last part of the volume is entitled "A Hellenistic Book and its Literary Context". The editor, Kathryn Gutzwiller, offers an exhaustive treatment of the main debate in New Posidippus scholarship, mentioned at the beginning of the review, i.e. the question whether the collection has been constructed consciously or not. Sharing the view of all the contributors to the volume except Obbink, she suggests that "this epigram collection was intentionally constructed to be read as a literary text". She traces the thematic coherence of the collection within as well as across sections and observes very insightfully that, in grouping the epigrams, the thematic principle is more important than generic typologies. She pays close attention to the openings and closings of the poems that are especially important for the identification of themes, the ones in which Posidippus incorporates a clear reference to the theme of the section. The thematic principle is then used by Gutzwiller successfully in the analysis of three groups of epigrams, epitaphs, stone-poems and omens. The thematic coherence across sections reveals "two sets of four related sections [stones, omens, dedications, epitaphs -- statues, equestrian, shipwrecks, cures], followed by a third, mostly lost set of indeterminate length and theme". Especially attractive is Gutzwiller's final suggestion that the so-called "seal" poem (SH 705) may have marked the end of the Mil. Pap. collection, since many of its images and themes have clear parallels in its epigrams.
Last but not least, Alessandro Barchiesi discusses the influence that Hellenistic predecessors (mainly Callimachus and Meleager) exerted on Latin poets in the construction of poetry books. In particular, Latin authors such as e.g. Martial throw light on the seeds of a "search for the perfect book", which may be detected in "New Posidippus". Beside the Callimachean tradition of the Aetia as the model of the well-planned book, Mil. Pap. seems to verify the existence of another trend in anthology construction, which was equally important to Latin poets. These anthologies were more "occasional", more "do-it-yourself" (to quote Gregory Hutchinson), but no less structured; for this model the activity of "readers, imitators, scribes and scholars" was no less important than the role of the author as "editor and architect".
To sum up: the search for the perfect book on Posidippus has now a model --one with mature, well-argued, and well-documented, sometimes ingenious contributions. It should be read widely and imitated by worthy successors.
Introduction: K. Gutzwiller (1)
The poems of Posidippus translated by Frank Nisetich (17)
Back from the Dead with Posidippus: Colin Austin (67)
The Posidippus Papyrus: Bookroll and Reader: William Johnson (70)
The Editor's Toolbox: Strategies for Selection and Presentation in the Milan Epigram Papyrus: Nita Krevans (81)
New Old Posidippus and Old New Posidippus: From Occasion to Edition in the Epigrams: Dirk Obbink (97)
The Politics and Poetics of Geography in the Milan Posidippus, Section One: On Stones (AB 1-20): Peter Bing (119)
Cabinet Fit for a Queen: The Lithika as Posidippus' Gem Museum: Ann Kuttner (141)
Posidippus on Weather Signs and the Tradition of Didactic Poetry: David Sider (164)
Posidippus and the Truth in Sculpture: Andrew Stewart (183)
The Art of Poetry and the Poetry of Art: The Unity and Poetics of Posidippus' Statue-Poems: Alexander Sens (206)
Battle of the Books: Susan Stephens (229)
Posidippus at Court: The Contribution of the Hippika of P. Mil. Vogl. VIII 309 to the Ideology of Ptolemaic Kingship: Marco Fantuzzi (249)
Posidippus, Poet of the Ptolemies: Dorothy J. Thompson (269)
The Literariness of the Milan Papyrus, or "What Difference a Book?": Kathryn Gutzwiller (287)
The Search for the Perfect Book: A PS to the New Posidippus: Alessandro Barchiesi (320).