Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.12.29
ALSO SEEN: Simone Beta, Vino e poesia. Centoquinquanta epigrammi greci sul vino. Testo greco a fronte. Milan: La Vita Felice, 2006. Pp. 320. ISBN 978-88-7799-176-8. €13.50 (pb).
Reviewed by Alexander Sens, Georgetown University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Word count: 662 words
The volume under review is a collection of 150 Hellenistic and Imperial Greek epigrams containing references to wine (and the god Bacchus) and its consumption. The poems are arranged in approximately chronological order from Asclepiades to Agathias (with adespota interspersed in likely groups), accompanied by a facing translation, and followed by brief commentary. With only a handful of deviations, Beta follows Beckby's edition for the text of poems deriving from the Greek Anthology and Gow-Page's editions for poems from other sources; there is no apparatus. The collection seems designed for a general educated audience or for Italian students of Greek literature. Citations of secondary literature are sparse, and important works are not included; specialists will find little that is new, though they will be grateful to B. for providing easy access to an interesting collection of epigrams.
B.'s purpose, as defined in the introduction (p. 14), is to demonstrate the interconnectedness of wine and poetry throughout Greek literature in general and in Greek epigrams in particular. The collection is thus not restricted to epigrams on specifically sympotic themes, though these naturally occupy a central place in it. As stated, the book's goal--demonstrating the interconnectedness of wine and poetry--seems an easy one to meet, and, in the absence of substantial engagement with modern critical discussions of the issue, one might reasonably wonder what the book adds to the existing bibliography on the place of drinking in ancient literature. At their best, the notes situate the poems' references to drinking in a cultural context and help unpack their engagement with earlier texts. But their restricted scope means that the broader literary tradition is not always dealt with in detail, and (despite expectations created by the title and the first pages of the introduction) the commentary presents only a partial and not always helpful picture of how drinking and inebriation were used by poets to talk about their own literary practices. In the notes on Antipater of Thessalonica, AP 11.20 (Beta's 62), for instance, it would be helpful to find a fuller discussion of the programmatic distinction between drinking wine and drinking water, for which, see e.g. Knox, 'Water, and Callimachean Polemics,' HSCP 89 (1985) 107-19). Similarly, in the comments on AP 13.29 (Beta's 30), a well known epigram on Cratinus assigned without comment here (as by Gow-Page) to Nicaenetus, but in fact attributed to a variety of poets by the witnesses, there is no reference to the growing bibliography on Cratinus' poetics (e.g. Z. Biles, AJP 123 (2002) 169-204) and no discussion of the ways in which the literary manifesto placed in the mouth of the comic playwright might reflect them.
In the sense that this collection offers a broad perspective on the place of wine in the epigrammatic tradition, it will be of use to educated non-specialists and students, provided they are not looking for a comprehensive collection. To give only one example, B. prints as his number 96 an epigram by Plato the Younger, AP 9.748, of which the speaker is a figure of Dionysus carved in amethyst, but does not include Asclepiades or Antipater of Thessalonica, AP 9.752, which seems to be earlier. In any case, his reference to the latter poem in the notes makes no mention of the possibility (cf., e.g., K. Gutzwiller, GRBS 36 (1995) 383-98) that the Cleopatra mentioned in it is not Cleopatra Selene but the sister of Alexander the Great, and thus does not raise the interesting issue of the political resonance of alcohol consumption by the Macedonian nobility. The volume concludes with a long appendix surveying the history of toasting in European literature, from antiquity to modernity. Once again, there are few references to modern critical discussions and only limited engagement with the primary texts.
In sum, this book will be most beneficial to students of Greek poetry as a handy collection of texts for fuller investigation, and will likely be best appreciated by general readers interested in Greek sympotic culture and its literature.