Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.02.08

Claudio Meliadò (ed.), E cantando danzerò, PLitGoodspeed 2. Orione. testi e studi di letteratura greca 1.   Messina:  Dipartmento di scienze dell'antichità, 2008.  Pp. 157.  ISBN 8882680207.  €40.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Kathleen McNamee, Wayne State University (

This masterful book comes as close to a definitive edition as we are likely to get of this peculiar papyrus, given its abysmal condition. It is a model of good, deep scholarship, restrained in judgment, and (given the complexity of the subject matter) remarkably clear and concise.

Meliadò's introduction has three parts. In the first, dealing with the papyrus itself, he reviews its complicated publication history and takes note of recent work through 2007 (S. Barbantini). He identifies the unedited document on the recto as a list of Arsinoite names and thus undermines the original dealer's claim of Hermopolite provenance. Although the exact original order of the columns of poetic text on the verso remains unknown, Meliadò is able, as the rest of the book demonstrates, to group the fragments in plausible new arrangements, and on this basis he creates a new system of numeration; there is a concordance table correlating it with the various numbering schemes to date. His minute physical description of the text enables him to draw a sort of voluminological profile of the book. This section concludes with a review of the scribe's unorthodox orthography and its possible implications about the purpose of the text (as a copy of inscriptions? a stonecutter's model? a 'script' for performance?). Very little in the papyrus, least of all this question, can be determined with certainty, and one of the chief virtues of Meliadò's work, throughout, is the prudence and restraint with which he lays out his suggestions.

In the second part of the introduction, Meliadò surveys the tangle of accumulated editorial theories about the poems' content and date. He distinguishes three hexametric poems: a hymn to Aphrodite, a theogony, and an epyllion on Andromeda. (The unassigned fragment f is choliambic.) Each identification is hard won and authoritatively argued in the commentary that accompanies the text, although certainty is elusive at nearly every step. His third section, on language and meter, reviews the poet's diction: a "baroque" pastiche that Meliadò speculates may be an attempt to compensate for lack of talent. He identifies the writer's principal lexical sources (among others, Homer and the Homeric Hymns; Pindar and Bacchylides; and lyric and elegiac poetry). Detailed metrical analysis, laid out in multiple tables, indicates the poet's placement of caesuras, the frequency with which he violates metrical rules, his use of spondaic lines, and the accentuations occurring at caesuras and line-end.

The text and commentary are the heart of the volume. Full diplomatic text and the articulated edition are on facing pages, and each is accompanied by full apparatuses (previous editors' readings; scholars' supplements and parallels from literature). A translation follows, surely an exercise in frustration for the editor, since the lacunose condition of the papyrus makes it almost impossible to be sure of syntax in many parts. The excellent commentary is dense with bibliography in which Meliadò moots what seem to be all imaginable interpretations and presents his decisions in neat, economical Italian. He lays out complex yet plausible nexuses of literary references that justify his readings and organization. Most impressive is his cautious suggestion of linkages among the poems, which may indicate their locale, namely, Palestine. He points to Ps.-Scylax' description of a section of that coast, where the geographer locates, along with other possibly relevant features, three points to which the poems specifically refer: a sanctuary of Zeus, Mt Carmel, and the setting of the Andromeda myth.

In the first poem (hymn to Aphrodite, fr. a), Meliadò uses linguistic and metrical analysis to establish an imperial (not Hellenistic) date for the papyrus. This disposes of the awkward question why a poem of such mediocre quality should have been preserved from the Ptolemaic period until the copying of the papyrus in the 2nd century C.E. It also provides support for taking Ἀρσινόα Πτολεμαι (fr. a, col. I, line 5) as a reference to a city foundation rather than to the queen, since a poem celebrating Queen Arsinoe some centuries after her death is hardly likely. (The second line of this poem, ὁρχήσομαι αὐτὸς ἀείδων, provides, incidentally, the title of his book.) In the theogony (fr. b), along with conventional features like giants and a marriage of Zeus, the obscure story of the battle of Heracles and Asterus on Cos also surfaces. Meliadò patiently and impressively pieces its details together from disparate sources. His new suggestion that the third poem (fr. c-e) treats the Andromeda myth is rooted in linguistic analysis. Beyond this he rightly dare not go; frr. f-i float unassigned.

The volume and variety and, sometimes, the obscurity, of the sources Meliadò assembles, and the intricacy of the connections he draws among them are impressive. If I have one cavil, it is that he might sometimes have been more discriminating in reporting linguistic parallels. Editors can easily discover parallels and seeming parallels nowadays, but not all phrases in an unknown text are remarkable, and not all parallels are worth recording. The phrase τερπνὰ τὰ γαίης (fr. b col. I line 2), for example, strikes me as unexceptional. Two parallels turn up in a search of TLG: one from the Greek Anthology (Asclepiades) and the other Paulus Silentiarius (6th cent.). The latter seems anachronistic, and I am not sure either is relevant. Meliadò reports both, but without comment. In the absence of discussion, the supposed parallels are uninformative and puzzling.

The volume concludes with two appendices (letters exchanged by Powell and Goodspeed; bibliographic abbreviations), a full set of color plates of good quality, and two indices (an index of Greek words in the poems and an index of passages cited from ancient authors). An Italian index and a list of modern authors cited would make the complex arguments of the book much more accessible, since readers will certainly want to revisit particular arguments. (For example, Meliadò makes a strong case that the Arsinoe of fr. a is in Palestine, not in Cyprus or Egypt. The intricate argument is one I needed to review, but finding it easily was a challenge.) A complete bibliography incorporating the references that pack the commentary would also be useful. These are quibbles about mechanics, however. The scholarly achievement of this edition is outstanding.

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