Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.09.21

Lucia Athanassaki, Ἀείδετο πὰν τέμενος: οι χορικές παραστάσεις και το κοινό τους στην αρχαική και πρώιμ κλασική περίοδο. (Choral Performances and Their Audience in the Archaic and Early Classical Periods).   Herakleio:  Panepistemiakes Ekdoseis Kretes, 2009.  Pp. 385.  ISBN 9789605242923.  €22.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Katerina Ladianou, University of Patras (

[Table of Contents is listed at the end of the review.]

This welcome addition to the series New approaches to the ancient world published by Crete University Press, illustrates how contemporary methods continue to shed light on ancient texts. The four chapters that constitute the main body of the book are framed by an Introduction and Conclusion. The book is rounded off by a list of Abbreviations, an extensive multilingual Bibliography, a Figure Plate and indices of names and ancient sources.

In an extensive Introduction, including a short catalogue of the major choral poets and an Alexandrian list of the choral genres, Athanassaki stresses the importance of performance in the study of choral lyric, a path she pursues throughout the book. She presents the most up-to-date interpretative keys for reading choral songs, with ample reference to modern secondary bibliography and ancient authors regarding performance. After listing many issues that have troubled scholars (the boundary between monodic and choral performance; the identity of the speaking “I”; the ritual setting of such performances), she clearly establishes her own place within past and current scholarship and sets out her research parameters, which include not only actual choral songs but also different genres representing choral performances. It soon becomes evident that Athanassaki’s interdisciplinary approach benefits from art, architecture and epigraphic evidence as well the literary evidence.

Chapter 1 (The Chorus: identity and ritual roles) examines not only the ritual function of the chorus but also the identity and function of the choral persona. Choral odes, as Athanassaki shows, cannot be interpreted simply as the outcome of genre conventions; one must focus on the relationship between the ode and the context of its performance, especially the occasion of its composition, the religious setting of its performance and its ideological agenda. Concerns with the construction of the chorus' “I” permeate this section. In order to draw conclusions concerning re-performance and re-performability, Athanassaki focuses on three different categories of chorus representation. Allowing for the fact that the chorus’ self references usually point to a collective identity, she treats the first Alcman Partheneion (3C=1 PMGF) as an exception since it presents us with a “unique case of individualization of the chorus”. She then explores the possibility that it was re-preformed, and the circumstances of its possible re-performance, and argues that its construction and imagery point to a theatrical reality that would enable this to take place. This valuable point allows us to imagine possible Panhellenic re-performances outside a ritual setting. We might, however, expect Athanassaki to tackle Alcman’s ideological agenda, as she does with Pindar and Bacchylides in the chapters that follow, especially since this is the only female chorus she discusses.

To introduce her second category, the author examines Bacchylides Ode 18 as an example of a collective mythical identity, taking the opportunity to discuss the communicative tactics the poet employs to reflect the historical present through the dramatization of the past. Last but not least, Athanassaki tackles the thorny issue of the relationship between the chorus and kômos and provides a satisfying answer: the kômos is not a realistic representation but a role, and the poet artfully identifies the chorus with the kômos in order to reflect the joyful festive mood of the group. Chapter 1 ends with a discussion of choral persona and “phasmatic space,” a concept important for Athanassaki’s discussion. According to her, poets use the choral persona to lead the audience’s imagination away from visible space and into a phasmatic one. This helpful concept allows Athanassaki to show throughout the book that any spatial references can either refer to the space of the original performance and/or suggest an alternative place of re-performance.

The second chapter (Performances in shrines, I: Ritual and memory) introduces her discussion on performances in shrines, a topic pursued in chapter 4 as well. In a close reading of Olympian 14 and Pythian 6, Athanassaki attempts to reconstruct the context of their original performance. Although she refers to the problem of genre, she interprets Pindar’s poetic choices not according to genre categorization but in view of the first performance and possible re-performances. According to her reading, representation of the first performance is important not only for the audience of that performance but for future audiences as well, since it monumentalizes the ritual as a shared emotional experience.

One of the most important contributions is Athanassaki’s argument that both poet and audience are viewers of the monuments linked to the original performance, so that the enactment of the odes functions as an extension of that viewing experience. This line of inquiry has been pursued by other scholars, but Athanassaki’s achievement emerges in her discussion of the analogies between the visual and poetic representation that the audience is invited to find. For Athanassaki, the poetic representation of the performance seeks to conserve the memory of the epinician ritual for emotional and ideological reasons. In the case of Olympian 6, her analysis shows how the mythical exemplum is in dialogue with the sculpture of the east frieze of the Siphnian treasury. Reading the ode with Olympian 2 and Isthmian 2, Athanassaki convincingly shows how the repetitive evocation of the Delphic monument functions as a constant reminder of the ritual and aims at the monumentalization of the family’s kleos. As far as Olympian 14 is concerned, Athanassaki discusses both archaeological and literary evidence to show that the cult of the Charites is an integral part of the cultural tradition of Orchomenos. She then goes on to argue that the Pindaric focus on the Charites serves to reinforce the possibility of the ode’s re-performance at Orchomenos, in both ritual and sympotic context.

Chapter three (Performances in symposia: Ritual, ideology and politics) focuses on the symposium as a place for choral performance. Athanassaki examines Nemean 9 and Olympian 1 as two victory odes that inscribe the symposium as performance space, while Nemean 1 and Pythian 1 represent the symposium as an alternative performance place. This categorization allows her to draw valid conclusions regarding the odes’ reception. According to Athanassaki, sympotic imagery is not a poetic instruction to be taken at face value. Rather than pointing to an actual performance, poetic representations of symposia serve a larger ideological and political scope. Athanassaki’s choice of Pindar’s Sicilian odes helps her to explore further the ideological function of sympotic imagery in epinician poetry and to convincingly conclude that such imagery is employed to guarantee the success of the odes before a Panhellenic aristocratic audience.

In the final chapter (Performances in shrines, II: The ritual memorization of the polis’ kleos), Athanassaki further explores the significance of the constant evocation of sacred space, but now shifts her focus from the monumentalization of the family’s kleos to that of the polis as a whole. To that end, she chooses to discuss three odes that evoke Athenian monuments and shrines. Athanassaki reads Pythian 7 as inscribing both Athens and Delphi as places for possible performance. Since the exiled Megacles could not have been honored in his home city at the time of his victory, Athanassaki argues that Pindar purposefully leads the audience’s mind to Athens in order to point towards a re-performance in the victor’s hometown. Moreover, she argues that the ode’s reference to the restoration of the Delphic monument points not to the Alcmaeonids in particular, but to Athenian citizens in general, deflecting the possibility of phthonos and connecting the city as a whole to the famous temple. Bacchylides’ trajectory is different, Athanassaki points out. She argues that Odes 17 and 18 are in dialogue with Athenian monuments as well but shows that the poet uses the mythological exemplum in order to sing the praises of Athens in a way that emphasizes Cimon’s similarity to Theseus.

Athanassaki’s book is readable and accessible, her style clear and elegant. Apart from its most important contribution—the incorporation of material culture into discussions of choral poetry and its reception (reinforced here by a number of artful illustrations) --the book provides comprehensive and detailed analyses of the poems that help students, specialists and general readers alike to grasp their complexity, richness and density. The Introduction and Conclusion are concise and informative and could serve not only as explanations of the book’s thesis but also serve as secondary reading material for undergraduate and graduate courses. The main body of the book includes many samples of choral poetry, followed by much-needed translations into Modern Greek. The bibliography is admirably up-to-date and extensive, including important recent works in Modern Greek. Although I am sure that the Greek-speaking audience will appreciate the author’s choice to write in her native language, I regret that this important volume will therefore not have as wide an audience as deserved. I wholeheartedly hope an English translation is in the works.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: The Chorus: identity and ritual roles
1. The Spartan chorus. Alcman’s Partheneion (3C= 1PMGF)
2. The Athenean chorus. Bacchylides’ Dithyramb. Ode 18.
3. The role and identity of kômos in epinician odes.
3.1 Monodic or choral performance?
3.2. The identity of the speaking I
4. Choral persona and phasmatic space
Chapter 2: Performances in shrines, I: Ritual and memory
1. Performance at the shrine of the Charites. Olympian 14.
1.1 Phasmatic space and audience
1.2 Epinician performances in the context of public festivals
1.3 The poetic concept under the light of the long cultural tradition of Orchomenos
1.4 Epinician ritual: revoking and monumentalizing memory
2. Performance in the temple of Apollo. Pythian 6.
2.1 Evoκing the eastern frieze of the Siphian Treasure
2.2 The representations in the palaces of the Emmenides in Acragas
2.3 Visible and phasmatic space. Evocing the ritual memory
2.4 Glykeia de fren kai sumpotaisin homilein.
Chapter 3: Performances in symposia: Ritual, ideology and politics
1. The epinician symposium at Kallias’
2. The symposium in the palace of Chromius in Etna. Nemean 9
2.1 Overlapping of performance references
2.2 The political message of the ode to the Dorians of Peloponnesus and Etna.
2.3 War stories around a crater
2.4 Triumphal adventus and sympotic performance
3. Performance at the threshold of Chromius in Syracuse. Nemean 1
4. Performance in Hieron’s palace. Olympian 1.
4.1 The festivities context
4.2 Sympotic homilia
4.3 Mythical action. Divine and Heroic Symposia
4.4 Sympotic imagery and the Sicilian audience
Chapter 4: Performances in shrines, II: The ritual memorization of the polis’ kleos
1. Monumentalization of the Athenian kleosby the Alcmeonids. Pythian 7
1.1 The performance of the Ode
1.2 The triumphal homecoming of a hospitable prominent Camarinean who loved horses. Performance and encomiastic strategy
1.3 Megacles son of Hippocrates: hippotrophos, Cyloneus
1.4 The Alcmeonid’s horses at the eastern pediment of Apollo’s temple
1.5 Ritual monumentalization, viewing and re-performance
2. Monumentalization of the Athenian kleos by the Ceans. Bacchylides Ode 17
2.1. Historic and political resonances
2.2 Ode 17 in its artistic environment
2.3 Ode 18 and the Athenian Treasury
2.4 Ode 17 as a zographia lalousa
2.5 The geographic horizon of the Cean performance resonances
3. Ways of viewing
4. The radiance of Athenian kleos
List of Abbreviations
Figure plate
Index of names and topics
Index of ancient sources

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