Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2011.10.08

Lucia Athanassaki, Richard P. Martin, John F. Miller (ed.), Apolline Politics and Poetics: International Symposium.   Athens:  European Cultural Centre of Delphi, 2009.  Pp. xxxv, 702.  ISBN 9789608852044.  €40.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Froma I. Zeitlin, Princeton University (

(The reviewer apologizes for the lateness of this review.)

It must have been a truly gala occasion. More than thirty-five scholars gathered at Delphi in July 2003 for a week- long International Symposium, whose subject, fittingly enough, given the location, was the god Apollo himself. Though the aim was to investigate the range of influence exercised by Apollo and his oracle on “ancient political, religious, and cultural life,” much of the volume is devoted to the literary tradition, both Greek and Roman. It took six years to produce this 700 page volume, consisting of thirty-three often-expanded essays, and a lengthy introduction by Lucia Athanassaki, Richard Martin, and John Miller, the organizers of the symposium. The first part, REPRESENTATIONS, contains essays on the Homeric Hymn to Apollo (5 contributions), Homer and Hesiod (3), Lyric (4), Tragedy (3), Vase Painting (2), Roman Epic and Lyric (3), and finally, the Survival of Apollo (1). The second and shorter part, SOCIETY, is further subdivided: Politics and Ideology (4), Apollo, Delphi, and the Social Order (5), and Siting Apollo (3), a more miscellaneous category, which takes up Sparta, Kos, and a look at Delphic Apollo between medicine and magic. One misses a piece on the Homeric Hymn to Hermes as well as greater attention to the iconographical tradition outside of vase painting, especially sculpture, where the god is a favorite subject for representation. A detailed review of each of the essays is obviously out of the question, but the twenty-page introduction gives a useful summary, first of each heading, and then of every paper in that section (much appreciated by this reviewer). Individual bibliographies follow each essay. There is no list of contributors and no indices, and very little cross-referencing from one essay to another. Authors and titles are listed at the end of this review.

This volume, like all such collections, offers a wide-ranging assortment of topics and a few genuinely provocative pieces, but without a whiff of the post-modern. The quality of submissions is generally way above the line; my personal favorites were Felson, Griffith, Kavroulaki, and Graf, but virtually all the essays were stimulating and informative, even if I did not agree with all their methods and, at times, too ingenious conclusions.

The Homeric Hymn to Apollo is an obvious starting point for investigating the god’s representation as foundational of the two most important cult sites, Delos and Delphi. These essays take a variety of approaches, ranging from close structural and semantic readings to historical reference. Strauss Clay queries the reasons for the Pythia's absence in the Hymn and concludes that the poet’s reworking of the myth is slanted towards an Olympian hegemony, “untainted by any female and chthonic associations.” Nagy offers a characteristically Nagyan semantic analysis comparing the Hymn and Hesiod’s proem in the Theogony to argue for the shift from the local to the Panhellenic and sketches out an evolutionary pattern that differentiates the solo performer (like Apollo himself) from the choral group. Richardson intriguingly argues for a tripartite structure instead of the usual division into Delian and Pythian parts, namely, the birth narrative, the foundation of the oracle at Delphi (including the victory over the serpent), and the appointment of the Cretan priests of Apollo. He stresses the emphasis on cultic and aetiological associations, along with suggestions of historical 6th-century references to the reorganization of the Pythian games and the events of the so-called Sacred War. Continuing the search for historical context, Aloni boldly contends that the hymn was composed for a festival in honor of Delian and Pythian Apollo, held only once at Delphi (523-22 BCE) at Polycrates’ behest, and authored by the poet Cynaethus (whom Aloni also identifies as the poet of the Odyssey). Like Richardson, he emphasizes the novel idea of Cretan priests, who, in Aloni’s view, given their proverbial identity as liars, provides a traditional paradigm that is “synonymous with fiction, irony, and comic effect,” all with the aim of undermining Delphic authority. Finally, Karanika studies the two examples of the word, ololygê, each occurring in the Delian and Delphic sections, and each in epiphanic circumstances, one at the birth of the god and the other at the installation of his cult at Delphi; through semantic analysis of other occurrences in epic, lyric, and tragedy, Karanika suggests the significance of the ritual cry as it evolves in its usage and its status as related to the paean cry, typically uttered by men.

Homer and Hesiod are the subject of the next three essays. Maronitis explores the respective characterizations of the god in each epic, noting especially his role as citharode and archer, which comes to the fore in the Odyssey, as befits a hero who, like Apollo, excels in both activities. Scully draws attention to the notable absence of Apollo in the Theogony, in order to suggest that the idealized representation of Olympian harmony in the poem substitutes Zeus, as the embodiment of the new dispensation, in place of Apollo's more typical role as chorêgos of this harmony. Bassi, on the other hand, turns to the curious presence of the stone at Delphi that stood as a marker or sêma of Cronus’ defeat in disgorging the substitute of Zeus after the latter was successfully born, and investigates the relationship of visual and tangible objects to the flow of narrative in respect of time and space.

A shift from hexameters to lyric poetry provides the next transition that consists of four essays. D’Alessio leads off with a new look at Pindar's fragmentary first hymn, adducing both recent papyrus scraps and poetic parallels. He proposes that the addressee was not Zeus but Apollo; as such, the early papyrus edition would be closer to the Theognidea and hymn of Alcaeus, which both begin with poems to the god of Delos and Delphi. Felson, in an excellent piece, ambitiously looks Apollo in three Pindaric odes. Like most gods, she observes, he acts in two registers, the one "human and inside story-time, the other timeless and divine.” As a questing hero in a time-bound world, Apollo does not lose his status as a divinity and agent of change, and so Pindar can elevate a human victor to the godlike, that is, the Apolline. Calame challenges the usual opposition between paean and dithyramb, as assigned to Apollo and Dionysus respectively, in two significant examples, Bacchylides 17 and the Paean of Philodamus; both reverse expectations: the first is a dithryamb to Apollo and the second, a paean to Dionysus. he concludes that performative contexts for each song are responsible for the shift in genre. Tsagalis also investigates the genre of Bacchylides 17, this time to argue that the ode, in its depiction of the Theseus myth, intentionally fuses features of dithyramb and paean, occasioned by the political and cultural circumstances of the post-Persian war alliance between Athens and Ceos that was centered at Delos.

Tragedy next comes into the picture with four essays, although the genre is also later treated by Griffith and Ruffy. Johnston argues that in the Eumenides Apollo’s oracular strategies are trumped by Athena’s political rhetoric, as befits its context of 5th-century Athens. Kavroulaki is more ambitious and more nuanced. Studying three representative examples (Aeschylus’ Oresteia, Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus, and Euripides’ Iphigenia in Tauris), she points out that the god’s oracular function predominates, but only under certain circumstances: as responses to critical inquiries and dilemmas, by which Apollo’s plot-shaping powers can and do turn words into actions. Stehle connects (if in overly schematic fashion) the transgressions of ritualized speech acts of prayer and prophecy to sexual roles in reproduction and their inversion in Euripides’ Ion: the “false” father, Xuthus, takes the part of the mother; the true mother, Creusa, is denied her proper role in reproduction, only to be reinstated in the final revelation by Athena, the dea ex machina, that also privileges another “mother”, i.e., autochthony, the hallmark of Athens and Creusa’s own legacy.

Two essays on vase painting conclude the Greek side of Apolline representations: Shapiro, perhaps wisely, does not attempt to address the vast iconographical record of Apollo, but confines himself to the identification of the temple boy, Ion (as in Euripides’ play), and even more restrictively, to a small group of red figure vases dated to the mid- 5th century. This is typical detective work beloved of skilled iconographers. Carpenter more ambitiously addresses three representations of Apollo on three large volute craters found at the same site (Ruvo), inspired, he claims, by Greek tragedy: Thus, contra the typical Hellenocentric view, Apulian culture did not acquire Greek pottery merely for its prestige value, but was well aware of complex imagery by the end of the 5th century.

Rounding out this entire section on Representation are three fairly lengthy essays on Roman literary texts by Casali, Thomas, and Newlands. All offer subtle and suggestive readings that explore the intertwined poetic and political dimensions of Apollo’s role under Augustus (Vergil and Horace) and the Empire (Statius). Standing alone in a rubric all its own is Clay’s fine piece on two Italian representations of Apollo, “From Dante’s Buono Appollo to Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne” (381-400). Part two has far more diffuse topics and often longer essays (some, like Athanassaki’s, much longer). I will be much briefer. The first four papers ("Politics and Ideology") "explore the uses of Delphi in shaping elite ideology and influencing civic and interstate politics." Athanassaki argues exhaustively for the pervasively positive image of Apollo in Pindar’s victory odes, interpreting it as an ideological ploy that aids in defining a positive aristocratic model for elites in various Greek cities. Griffith offers a rich and rewarding exploration of Tiresias’ representation in tragedy to “bring out some of the interesting ways in which the 5th-century Athenians’ complex and conflicting attitudes, habits, beliefs, suspicions, and anxieties about the consultation and proper use of oracles and prophets are reflected in and contribute to the dynamics and outcomes of the relevant scenes." Teiresias is not some divine representative but rather an “integral member of the Theban political community” in the causes he espouses and the outcomes he predicts. Sfyroeras ingeniously (and convincingly) teases out Apolline elements in Knights: the ritual background of the Thargelia, the function of Apolline oracles in the plot, the lurking allusions to Marsyas and his fate, and finally, the expulsion of the pharmakos (Paphlagonian-Cleon). Ruffy looks to inter-state politics in analyzing the prominence of Athens and her patron goddess in Apollo’s installation at Delphi in four texts: Aristonous’ Paean, Aeschylus’ Eumenides, Euripides’ Orestes, and the Homeric Hymn to Apollo. Ruffy stretches her points at times, especially in proposing the twinning of Apollo/Athena and Orestes/Iphigenia as well as in the oblique relevance of her historical references, but the piece is strenuously argued and may be more convincing to others.

The next grouping, “Apollo, Delphi, and the Social Order,” encompasses a miscellany of essays: first, Philosophy (Morgan's content is self-evident from the title), and Plutarch (Nikolaidis, a welcome look at a later tradition, especially in a close reading of The E at Delphi); next, Religion (Graf, a nice exploration of different theories about Greek altered states of mind) followed by the theme of sexuality in two rather unconvincing essays, both concerned with Apollo’s erotic adventures. Hubbard suggests that Apollo’s lack of success in heterosexual and pederastic affairs stems from his liminal role in initiation in which he plays the role of both adult and adolescent. He attributes the god’s failure to problems caused by premature sexual activity as social mores developed in time. Kakridis, on the other hand, proposes an entirely different reason for Apollo’s lack of success with the women he woos: the god’s brilliant qualities (radiance, beauty, wisdom, wealth) are responsible for his failed courtships of mortal females.

The last topic, “Siting Apollo,” consists of three disparate essays. Cartledge explores the paradoxical prominence of the god and his festivals at the expense of Athena, the poliadic goddess (Poliachos, Chalkioikos), and speculates on the anomaly. Rutherford focuses on a law probably passed on the occasion of the Coan synoecism of 366 BCE. Finally, Zanetto, like Rutherford, looks at a single text: the first epigram of the Iamatika of the new Milan Poseidippus (95 Austin-Bastianini) regarding the dedication of a bronze skeletos to Pythian Apollo rather than, more logically, to Asclepius, the patron of physicians.

To conclude: this volume presents the work of a distinguished international roster of scholars, drawn from a variety of fields, most of whom have proven records as experts in their chosen subjects and display both confidence and extensive annotations.

Table of Contents

Athanassaki, L, R. P. Martin, John F. Miller: Introduction (xv-xxxv)
Strauss Clay, Jenny, “The Silence of the Pythia” (5-16)
Nagy, Gregory, "Perfecting the Hymn in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo" (17-44)
Richardson, Nicholas, “In Search of an Oracle: The Homeric Hymn to Apollo” (45-54)
Aloni, Antonio, “The Politics of Composition and Performance of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo” (55-65)
Karanika, Andromache, “The ololygê in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo: From Poetics to Politics” (67-77)
Maronitis, Dimitrios, “Apollo and Odysseus: From the Iliad to the Odyssey
Scully, Stephen, “Apollo and the Dance of the Olympians” (91-107)
Bassi, Karen, Zeus' Stone: Objects and Time in the Delphic Landscape (109-125)
D'Alessio, Giovan Battista, “Re-Constructing Pindar's First Hymn: The Theban "Theogony" and the Birth of Apollo” (129-47)
Felson, Nancy, “Epinician Apollo in Story Time: Pythian 9, Olympian 6 and Pythian 3” (149-68)
Calame, Claude, “Apollo in Delphi and in Delos: Poetic Performances between Paean and Dithyramb” (169-97)
Tsagalis, Christos, “Blurring the Boundaries: Dionysus, Apollo and Bacchylides 17” (199-215)
Johnston, Sarah Iles, “’From Oracles, What Useful Words Have Ever come to Mortals’? Delphic Apollo in the Oresteia” (219-28)
Kavoulaki, Athena, “Coming from Delphi: Apolline Action and Tragic Interaction” (229-48)
Stehle, Eva. “Speech Genres and Reproductive Roles in Euripides' Ion (249-62)
Shapiro, Alan, “Apollo and Ion on Classical Athenian Vases” (265-84)
Carpenter, T.H., “Apollo and the Apulians” (285-96)
Casali, Sergio, “The Theophany of Apollo in Vergil, Aeneid 9: Augustanism and Self-Reflexivity” (299-327)
Thomas, Richard, “Homeric Masquerade: Politics and Poetics in Horace's Apollo” (329-52)
Newlands, Carole, “Statius' Programmatic Apollo and the Ending of Book 1 of the Thebaid (353-78)
Clay, Diskin, “The Survival of Apollo: From Dante's Buono Apollo to Bernini's Apollo and Daphne” (381-400)
Athanassaki, Lucia, “Apollo and his Oracle in Pindar’s Epinicians: Poetic Representations, Politics, and Ideology” (405-71)
Griffith, Mark, “Apollo, Teiresias, and the Politics of Tragic Prophecy” (473-500)
Sfyroeras, Pavlos , The Comic Poetics of Apollo in Aristophanes' Knights (501-19)
Ruffy, Maria Vamvouri, “Apollo, Athena and Athens at Delphi” (521-46)
Morgan, Kathryn, “Philosophy at Delphi: Socrates, Sages, and the Circulation of Wisdom” (549-68)
Nikolaidis, A.G., “What did Apollo Mean to Plutarch ?” (569-86)
Graf, Fritz, “Apollo, Possession, and Prophecy” (587-605)
Hubbard, Thomas, “Ephebic Liminality and the Ambiguities of Apolline Sexuality” (607-32)
Kakridis, Fania, “Apollo the Lover” (633-40)
Cartledge, Paul, “Sparta's Apollo(ne)s” (643-54)
Rutherford, Ian, “The Koan-Delian Ritual Complex: Apollo and Theoria in a Sacred Law from Kos” (655-87)
Zanetto, Giuseppe, “Delphic Apollo between Medicine and Magic” (689-99)
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