Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.10.02

A. S. Hollis (ed.), Callimachus, Hecale. Revised second edition.   Oxford/New York:  Oxford University Press, 2009.  Pp. xiii, 439.  ISBN 9780199562466.  $130.00.  

Reviewed by Konstantinos Spanoudakis, University of Crete (
Word count: 2184 words

[Acknowledgement: A. S. Hollis was the external examiner of my St Andrews, Scotland PhD (1996).]

"I believe that this is a superb piece of scholarship": thus a reviewer of the first edition, but similar praise was bestowed upon this Hecale by (almost) all critics.1 And yet the hopes of the author were characteristically modest: "My own edition is certainly not intended to supplant Pfeiffer on the Hecale (which would be a most arrogant ambition) but to supplement him and to be used in conjunction with his work; my hope (not entirely fulfilled) was to have something new to say on every fragment" (p. 45). The subject is no mean thing for Hellenistic poetics since Hecale, besides all else, appears to have been conceived as a literary manifesto in action: in a way the story of Theseus looks like that of the degenerate epic genre; the hero is out to defend his honour (cf. fr. 17.2 with p. 428) but ends up finding himself in need of 'hospitality' lavishly but humbly provided by a garrulous, highly unepic 'old' woman, once 'noble' but now 'impoverished' (fr. 41), Hecale. The old woman and the hero spend all night speaking ill of kings (fr. 54) and their talk seems endlessly unepic or subversive of epic, fr. 58 'the lips of the old woman are always in motion'.2 Once the mighty deed with the Marathonian bull is accomplished, the spectators, upon seeing the prodigious beast, desire to flee but they are calmed by Theseus whose first concern is his father's worries. The protagonists appear to be talking and acting as metapoetic agents.

In the first edition of the book under review Hollis rearranged into the narrative sequence of the poem eighty three fragments as against Pfeiffer's thirty five. This is by no means a frivolous exercise of scholarship but rather the outcome of a hard-won progress that owes much to the keenness and talent of the author. Hollis is clearly endowed with a gift for writing commentaries. As a reviewer of the first edition formulated it, "the commentary is magisterial: full .. and yet succinctly expressed".3 Notwithstanding the author's modesty, from using it again and again over the years I gradually formed the impression (?) that Hollis' commentary has achieved what Aristotle says about works of art attaining beauty by means of mesotês (EN 2.6.9): not a single word that needs to be said is missing and not a single one that is there seems to be superfluous. Hollis' chapter on metre in the Introduction of the volume has long served as a reference point written by an authentic connoisseur of Callimachean delicacies.

In this second edition, dedicated to the late Spencer Barrett (1914-2001) who received thanks at various places in the first edition, this first edition is reprinted unaltered, even though it contained a limited number of minor misprints which could have been corrected.4 The original text of the book is now supplemented by the following additions: a translation of the fragments (pp. 405-24), ten pages of "Additional Commentary" (425-35) and "Additional Bibliography", which consists of the author's publications on Hecale after his edition had come out, and "Addenda to the Indexes".

The translation of the fragments is accurate and impeccable. Naturally, it makes use of partial translations already contained in the commentary. In the case of non verbatim quotations from Hecale (e.g. frr. 12, 38-39, 82- 83, 91, 179) the essence of the information, rather than an exact translation of the source, is given in brackets. The diegesis is not translated. Conjectural supplements are not bracketed but the reader is warned when the text is damaged. The "Additional Commentary" mainly consists of summaries of Hollis' publications on Hecale that appeared between the years 1991 and 2004. But there is more. In an additional note to fr. 28 an Attic hydria, dated to c. 460 BC and considered to be the first representation of the Theseus and Hecale myth, is described. It is interesting that L. Lehnus (ZPE 95 [1993], 6) associated the kalathos depicted on the hydria with the Suidas entry ταλασήιον ἔργον 'wool-work' singled out by Hollis as a possible citation from Callimachus and indeed from Hecale (Appendix V [i], on p. 360 of the first edition). Furthermore, D'Alessio in his discussion of this hydria5 postulated a literary, conceivably theatrical source for the scene depicted, independent from the treatment of the story in Philochorus (FGrH 328 F 109). His attractive suggestion would chime well with a fragment such as 29 'She made him sit down on the couch'. Another additional note reveals how fr. 37, when correctly read, can be integrated as fr. 36.2, as had often been surmised. In an additional note to fr. 83 Hollis teases out Michael Choniates' νήκουστος 'unheard' as a possible Callimachean word from Hecale, but the ensuing expression δεῖπν' Ἑκάλεια has the air of a focalisation too. Another additional note attached to fr. 137 is concerned with an inscribed elegy from Kandahar (Afghanistan) commissioned in the later 2nd cent. BC by Sophytos the son of Naratos (Hellenised forms of Indian names) 'who practised the art of Hecatos [Apollo] and the Muses' using two rare words from Hecale (now SEG LIV.1568). This is going to be discussed in greater detail by Hollis in his contribution "Greek letters in Hellenistic Bactria" to the forthcoming volume Culture in Pieces. Studies in honour of Peter Parsons, edited by D. Obbink and R. Rutherford. In one instance there are second thoughts: the author would now retract a tentative supplement to fr. 4.2 (p. 426). There is rarely a reference to other literature on Hecale published in the meantime: a notable exception is a reference to E. Livrea's integration of fr. 4 in SH 280.6

As quite a few reviewers of the first edition observed, Hollis is at his best in surveying Hecale's influence on Roman and later Greek poetry.7 Failing the appearance of new papyri, Hollis continued working on this field even more vigorously and his contribution in the collective volume Callimaque edited by L. Lehnus and F. Montanari (Fondation Hardt. Entretiens sur l'antiquité classique XLVIII, 2002, 35-57), entitled "Callimachus: Light from Later Antiquity", comprises discussions of Callimachean reception in Synesius of Cyrene, Michael Choniates, the great lover of Callimachus Gregory of Nazianzus and the lexicon of Hesychius. Many entries from the latter with a Hellenistic ring, as well as Oppian of Apamea's and Nonnus of Panopolis' reception of Hellenistic poetry were discussed by Hollis in previous papers.8 From this perspective a most interesting question is the reception of Hecale by Christian poets of the Eastern empire. This is mostly associated with the hospitality theme. In his well documented article on Gregory of Nazianzus in RAC XII (1983) B. Wyss noted (l.c. 850-1) that the hospitality of Hecale to Theseus functions as an antitype to the biblical story of the hospitality of the widow of Zarephtha to Elias (I Kings 17.8 f.) and this is certainly true since St Gregory Carm. (and Michael Choniates) referred to the latter in vocabulary strongly reminiscent of the former. The passages are cited and discussed by Hollis in his Appendix III "The Hospitality Theme", p. 353.9

The narrative framework of Hecale involving warm hospitality, departure of guest, unpredictable death of host, return of guest and a quasi immortalisation of the host by the guest primarily recalls the Lazarus episode. How would a Christian poet 'read' Theseus' weeping upon the news of his host's death (Diegesis xi.1-3), or his question about the tomb of Hecale (fr. 79 'Whose tomb is this which you are erecting?'), or the 'immortalisation' of Hecale through the honours instituted by Theseus (fr. 83 = Michael Choniates Theano 379 'and although she died he placed her in an undying memory' [Greek θέτο 'placed' toys with the notion 'buried']). A Christian reader who had an eye to discern elements susceptible to a 'double' reading was above all Nonnus. His paraphrase of John 11 (on Lazarus) reproduces the pattern of the incipit of Hecale Ἀκταίη τις έ̓ναιεν 'An Attic woman lived' followed by her place of residence, most probably her name (M. L. West ap. Hollis p. 425) and her hospitality (fr. 2). So Nonnus Paraphr. 11.1 Ἦν δέ τις [< John 11.1] ... Λάζαρος ἀνήρ 'There was ... a mortal man Lazarus', followed by his place of residence and the hospitality of Martha and Maria (19 φιλοξείνους γυναῖκας 'hospitable women', cf. Hec. fr. 80.3) to Christ.

Hollis notes (344 n. 24, 351) that Brongus' hospitality of Dionysus in Dion. 17 evokes by name (17.52) the Molorcus episode in Aetia III, and yet Dion. 17.55 is an echo of Hec. fr. 36.5. But the imprint of the Hecale--Lazarus narrative framework outlined above is most visibly recognizable in the Staphylus episode which takes place after the battle at Taurus, and covers book 18, 19 and the initial part of book 20 of the Dionysiaca. Staphylus, king of Assyria, pleads with Dionysus not to overlook his house. Dionysus is welcomed and entertained according to proper etiquette. When, after a dream, he sets out on a civilising mission in Assyria, Staphylus unexpectedly dies. Dionysus, without apparent motive, returns, consoles his family and organises (or, rather, institutes: 19.60 θῆκεν) artistic funerary games in honour of the deceased Staphylus, thereby bestowing 'immortality' upon his former host (cf., for instance, Dion. 19.104-5). Rob Shorrock has argued that the Brongus and Staphylus episodes are consciously designed as different ways of imitating the Hecale.10 The Staphylus episode was most probably devised by Nonnus himself. A step further would be to 'read' it as meta-poetry, in the sense that it broadly reworks and ingeniously blends Hecale and Lazarus traits, and therefore produces a combined 'comment' on both texts.11 In a letter to the reviewer (27 July 2009) Dr Shorrock elaborates on the Lazarus episode as an embodiment of the allusive process: "Lazarus is all about bringing things back to life to the general acclaim (or alarm!) of those watching; Nonnus likewise brings Callimachus' Hecale back to life within his own text with the result that his readers marvel at his great skill".

At the level of verbal reminiscence Dion. 18.336 μνῆστιν ἔχων σταφύλοιο φιλοστόργοιο τραπέζης 'remembering the hospitable table of Staphylus' recalls, in diction and context, Hec. fr. 80.3-5 πολλάκι σεῖο, / μαῖα, < > φιλοξείνοιο καλιῆς / μνησόμεθα 'Often, Mother, we shall remember your hospitable cottage'. But note that Staphylus' young son Botrys is still ἀκερσικόμης 'with unshorn hair' (Dion. 18.12) like, in all probability, Theseus in Hec. fr. 14 'still the first growth of hair'. Later Botrys will shave his head to dedicate his hair to his deceased father (Dion. 18.348-51), as Theseus apparently did in order to dedicate his hair to Delphi (Hec. fr. 15). Besides, Dionysus' defeated hopes, after the death of Staphylus, to celebrate together with his host, after the Indian war, the consummated wedding of Botrys (Dion. 18.365-8, 365 ἐλπίδα δ' ἡμετέρην φθόνος ἥρπασεν 'envy has snatched our hope') looks like Theseus' defeated hope to reward Hecale for her hospitality, Dieg. xi.2 ὡς ἐψευσμένος τῆς προσδοκίας 'belied of his expectation' etc.

A different modus of reception can be observed in Artemis' much-discussed address to Aura, an avowed virgin raped by Dionysus and now pregnant with Iacchus, the third Dionysus, in Dion. 48.834 οὔκ ἴδον, οὐ πυθόμην ὅτι παρθένος υἷα λοχεύει 'neither did I see nor did I learn that a virgin gives birth to a son' (the present indicative λοχεύει amusingly suggests a repetitive act). The line is famous because it is thought to evoke associations with Mary's parthenogenesis of Christ.12 It is apparently modelled on Od. 23.40 οὐκ ἴδον, οὐ πυθόμην ἀλλά etc. where Eurycleia informs Penelope about the massacre of the suitors. But such striking verbal reminiscences in Nonnus often say only half (and sometimes even less) the 'truth'. At the level of reminiscences, or, in the eyes of a late antique reader, 'reflections' of earlier literature, Nonnus may have contaminated his verbal model with Hec. fr. 70.6-8 dealing with the obscure birth of the mythic Attic king Erichthonius, 'secret, unspeakable - in birth whence he came I neither knew nor learned ... [οὔτε νιν ἔγνων / οὔτ' ἐδάην ... ́ ... ὡς δῆθεν etc.], but a story of ancient birds has it] that supposedly Earth bore him under Hephaestus'. Other echoes of this Callimachean fragment in Nonnus indicate that it was one of his favourites.13

On the side of Greek literature, over the years Hollis has published articles on Callimachus and Nicander, as well as on a variety of fragmentary Hellenistic poets such as Philitas, Rhianus, Euphorion, Eratosthenes and Parthenius, and wide-ranging contributions on the reception of Hellenistic poetry in Roman and later Greek poetry. The publishing house may consider bringing these together in what would be a most valuable collection of scripta minora. Adrian Hollis and Attic Hecale enjoy a lengthy history of scholarly engagement. Hollis' first ever publication in 1965 was concerned with Hecale 14 and this second edition consummates his long-standing attention to Callimachus' lovable poem. But his efforts were not spent in vain: his work has made Hecale look an even better poem.


1.   The quotation is from J. Clauss, BMCR 02.03.07, cf. also G. Arnott, LCM 17 (1992), 27 "scholarly, meticulous and comprehensive edition". A different, but perhaps unfair, picture is given by S. Stephens, "Commenting on Fragments", in: R. K. Gibson, C. Shuttleworth Kraus (eds), The Classical Commentary. Histories, Practices, Theory (Mnem. Suppl. 232), Leiden--Cologne--Boston 2002, 69-75.
2.   Translations of Hecale fragments are sourced from Hollis. All other translations are by the author of this review.
3.   G. Arnott, l.c., 29.
4.   A few were noted by J. Clauss, BMCR 02.03.07 (but for ""ahout" (p. 38)" read ""to he" [= be] (p. 38 n. 4))". I have noticed wrong accents in the Greek in frr. 71.15, 73.12, 74.12, and a breathing in fr. 13.
5.   G. B. D'Alessio, Callimaco, I, 4th ed., Milan 2007, between pp. 62-3, where there is also a photograph of the hydria in question.
6.   E. Livrea, KPECCONA BACKANIHC, Florence 1993, 9-10, an article on Hecale inspired by Hollis' book.
7.   Cf. G. Arnott, l.c., 29; J. E. G. Zetzel, CPh 87 (1992), 109 ("particularly Nonnus"); F. Williams, CR 44 (1994), 17.
8.   Cf. A. S. Hollis, "[Oppian] Cyn. 2.100-158 and the Mythical Past of Apamea-on-the-Orontes", ZPE 102 (1994), 153-66; "Some Neglected Verse Citations in Hesychius", ZPE 123 (1998), 61-74, the value of which was acknowledged, with corrections, by Chr. Theodoridis, ZPE 134 (2001), 67-69. On Nonnus: "Some Allusions to Earlier Hellenistic Poetry in Nonnus", CQ n.s. 26 (1976), 142-51 and "Nonnus and Hellenistic Poetry" in: N. Hopkinson (ed.), Studies in the Dionysiaca of Nonnus, Cambridge 1994, 43-62. Many Nonnian reminiscences from the Hecale are recorded in the edition itself.
9.   On this see now J. Taylor, Classics and the Bible. Hospitality and Recognition, London 2007, 79-82. For a splendid treatment of St Gregory's ties with Hellenistic poetry and the Cyrenean in particular see now Chr. Simelidis, Selected Poems of Gregory of Nazianzus: I.2.17; II.1.10, 19, 32. A Critical Edition with Introduction and Commentary, Göttingen 2009, 30-46.
10.   R. Shorrock, The Challenge of Epic. Allusive Engagement in the Dionysiaca of Nonnus, Leiden-- Boston--Cologne 2001, 146-52.
11.   For a preliminary discussion see F. Gonnelli, ed. Dion. XIII-XXIV, Milan 2003, 323. The Budé volume--quite useful in other respects--knows nothing of it.
12.   See F. Vian, ed. Dion. XLVIII, Paris 2003, 71 with further references. The line is discussed anew in R. Shorrock's forthcoming The Myth of Paganism. Nonnus, Dionysus and the World of Late Antiquity.
13.   Cf. A. Hollis, CQ n.s. 26 (1976), 145-6.
14.   A. Hollis, "Some fragments of Callimachus' Hecale", CR 15 (1965), 259-60.

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