Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.04.06

Lucia Athanassaki, Ewen Bowie (ed.), Archaic and Classical Choral Song: Performance, Politics and Dissemination. Trends in Classics – supplementary volumes, 10.   Berlin; Boston:  De Gruyter, 2011.  Pp. viii, 562.  ISBN 9783110254013.  $165.00.  

Reviewed by Douglas E. Gerber, University of Western Ontario (

[The Table of contents is listed at end of review.]

The book under review results from a conference held at the Rethymnon campus of the University of Crete in 2007.

Richardson’s paper contains little that is new, but it provides a good survey of choral song and dance in hexameter poetry and the relationship of such references to what we see in later poets.

I doubt that any Greek choral song has caused more controversy than Alcman’s Louvre Partheneion. Many attempts at exegesis have met with little support, but such, I suspect, will not apply to Bowie’s fascinating analysis. It is admittedly hypothetical in places, but this is unavoidable given the various lacunae, especially the last four verses. In part, he argues that all ten girls are participating in a rite de passage, that Hagesichora and Agido are given pride of place because they belonged to the Eurypontid and Agiad royal houses, and that Peleades is a euphemistic term for the sirens “whom local myth represents as liable to carry off παρθένοι shortly before marriage, a danger that the ritual’s successful completion will either diminish or avert” (p. 63).

It is impossible to summarize Power’s lengthy and somewhat disjointed paper on Κηληδόνες in Pindar’s Paean 8 (Maehler). He stresses their choral identity and sees their representation as “(over)determined by a phantasmagoria of mythic, poetic, and material forms and images” (p. 71). To me at least there is something phantasmagorical about what Power imagines as the significance of their portrayal, but this is not to deny that there is much of value scattered throughout the paper.

Calame argues for the polyphonic nature of the poetic ‘I’ in Bacchylides, treating it as representative of the poet, the chorus, the victor, and the community to which the victor belonged.

Rawles is clearly right that the erotic voice of the chorus in Alcman is to be treated as representative of the community. In Ibycus frr. S166 and S257(a) he sees a fusion of “choral voice with the authorial voice.” Finally, he compares Pindar’s Pythian 6 and Isthmian 2, both containing eroticised praise of Thrasybulus, and here he suggests that a generic explanation alone is not enough, although it is not possible to be specific about the connection between these two poems.

Comparing primarily Alcman, Corinna, and Pind. fr. 94b, Lardinois makes a strong case for the view that ”choruses of young women were allowed to give a feminine twist to mythological stories or to present female figures in a favourable light. These songs are, however, not revolutionary or subversive. They propagate commonly accepted, feminine values, such as motherhood, love and marriage” (pp. 171-72).

According to Nagy, the “young men who sing and dance Ode 13 of Bacchylides are thereby re-enacting the Aeacidae of the heroic age” (p. 205). I do not see much in this paper that has not been said by others and especially by Nagy himself elsewhere.

Concentrating on Bacch. 1, 2, 17 and Pind. Paean 4, Fearn shows that “the ethnicity and political identity of the island and its inhabitants was a very complex issue, subject to articulation and renegotiation in a number of different arenas at different times and subject to different and competitive perspectives” (p. 234). This paper is a subtle and impressive treatment of the evidence provided by choral poetry.

Athanassaki provides a very perceptive analysis of Pythian 7, celebrating the victory of the Athenian Megacles while in exile. She demonstrates how Pindar subtly praises Megacles, counteracts the reasons for his ostracism, and constructs a song which would ensure a favourable response in Athens. The ode, as Athanassaki well demonstrates, is a striking illustration of Pindaric diplomacy.

Currie makes a strong case for “the possibility of privately funded epinicians being performed at publicly funded state festivals” (p. 277). Space does not permit an account of the evidence he provides, but I draw special attention to his excellent exegesis of Olympian 7.93-94 (pp. 283-88).

Morrison begins by attempting to define the meaning of patra in Aeginetan odes and concludes that a precise definition is impossible, except to say that it is larger than the oikos. In the rest of his paper, he concentrates on similar passages in different Aeginetan odes to suggest that the audiences would recall these similarities, from having heard either the first performance or a re-performance. Much of this is highly speculative, as he admits, but it is not for this reason implausible.

In what is the shortest contribution to the collection of papers, Clay proposes a possible solution to the Alexandrian placement of Olym. 1, a placement which violates the order of odes elsewhere observed. She suggests that the ode was placed first (probably by Aristophanes) “because it was thought to form part of a larger and unified sequence that embraced Olympians 1-3,” all composed for victors in the same games and which Pindar “conceived of as a Sicilian triptych.”

In an earlier article, Hubbard proposed various means by which Pindar’s epinician odes were disseminated prior to the book trade, and now he turns to the non-epinician works. In essence he argues that whoever commissioned the ode would want to have copies made for distribution. All this is quite reasonable. My only complaint is that on p. 359 he cites Arch. fr. 105 as proof that Archilochus claimed “to be the inventor of the dithyramb.” There is nothing about invention in the fragment.

Kavoulaki’s excellent analysis of the chorus’ awareness of their ritual identity in Aeschylus’ Supplices contains a lengthy and persuasive discussion of the meaning of στασίαρχος addressed to Danaus in v. 11 (West). She translates it as “leader of this formation,” but adds that it may also imply on a secondary level “leader of a faction.”

Swift has written an impressive paper on epinician imagery in Trachiniae and on the different portrayals of Heracles in the two genres. As she points out, “the play presents Heracles as a tragic character, but in doing so deliberately evokes his epinician persona. Thus, rather than being able to attribute the variations in presentation of Heracles to the demands of different genres, the audience is forced to set the two versions of Heracles side by side and to compare them” (p. 402).

Bierl concentrates on Lysistrata 1296-1321 composed in the Spartan dialect. Here, he argues, we have “more of an allusion than a clear individual reference, i.e. it is a case of choral intertextuality largely based on implicitness, where an atmospheric topos points to Alcman (p. 418). This may be at least partially true, but I cannot help feeling that he finds more allusions to Alcman’s partheneia than is justified. Certainly the wild cavorting envisaged in the passage from Lysistrata is not present in either of Alcman’s long partheneia.

Carey offers a highly probable explanation of the transmission of archaic lyric, especially Alcman, to the library in Alexandria. He concludes that “the larger corpora of lyric texts ... are likely to have arrived as book-texts and as whole corpora. They are also likely to have come ultimately from local archives in the relevant Greek states, including Laconia” (p. 456). At the end of his paper he lists the references to and citations of lyric poets in Greek comedy (Eupolis and Aristophanes).

The book concludes with a bibliography, list of contributors and their research interests, and appropriate indices. As is typical of a collection of conference papers the quality and significance vary, but on the whole this is a book from which anyone in Greek choral song will learn much. I certainly have.

Table of Contents

Nicholas Richardson, Reflections of choral song in early hexameter poetry (15-31)
Ewen Bowie, Alcman’s first Partheneion and the song the Sirens sang (33-65)
Timothy Power, Cyberchorus: Pindar’s Κηληδόνες and the aura of the artificial (67-113)
Claude Calame, Enunciative fiction and poetic performance. Choral voices in Bacchylides’ epinicians (115-138)
Richard Rawles, Eros and praise in early Greek lyric (139-159)
André P.M.H. Lardinois, The parrhesia of young female choruses in Ancient Greece (161-172)
Gregory Nagy, A second look at the poetics of re-enactment in Ode 13 of Bacchylides (173-206)
David Fearn, The Ceians and their choral lyric: Athenian, epichoric and pan-Hellenic perspectives (207-234)
Lucia Athanassaki, Song, politics and cultural memory: Pindar’s Pythian 7 and the Alcmaeonid temple of Apollo (235-268)
Bruno Currie, Epinician choregia: funding a Pindaric chorus (269-310)
Andrew D. Morrison, Pindar and the Aeginetan patrai: Pindar’s intersecting audiences (311-335)
Jenny Strauss Clay, Olympians 1-3: A song cycle? (337-345)
Thomas Hubbard, The dissemination of Pindar’s non-epinician choral lyric (347-363)
Athena Kavoulaki, Choral self-awareness: on the introductory anapaests of Aeschylus’ Supplices (365-390)
Laura A. Swift, Epinician and tragic Worlds: the case of Sophocles’ Trachiniae (391-413)
Anton Bierl, Alcman at the end of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata: ritual interchorality (415-436)
Chris Carey, Alcman: from Laconia to Alexandria (437-460)
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