Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.04.33

Claudio De Stefani (ed.), Paulus Silentiarus. Descriptio Sanctae Sophiae; Descriptio Ambonis. Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana 2009.   Berlin; New York:  De Gruyter, 2011.  Pp. xlviii, 163.  ISBN 9783110221268.  $105.00.  

Reviewed by Steven D. Smith, Hofstra University (


Claudio De Stefani has prepared a superlative new edition of Paul the Silentiary’s Ekphraseis of Hagia Sophia and its Ambo, the most famous ekphrastic poems from late antiquity. The last edition of the poems was published a century ago by Paul Friedländer, and so De Stefani’s text, handsomely produced by De Gruyter, is most welcome.

The editor’s lengthy preface (pp. vii-xli) is followed by the conspectus siglorum, which contains the key to De Stefani’s abbreviations of names as well as a page and a half of abbreviations of Latin terms and phrases that will be helpful to anyone deciphering the apparatus criticus. Would that every edition of a Greek or Latin text came equipped with such a thorough key! There is a bibliography of prior editions of the poems, as well as three pages listing dissertations, commentaries, and translations.

The Greek text (pp. 1-88) is clearly presented, taking up approximately half of each page; below the Greek text but above the apparatus criticus one finds the abundant apparatus fontium, often taking up as much space on the page as the text itself. Here we see not only those ancient and contemporary poets who inspired Paul in the composition of his verses, but also Paul’s imitators throughout later Byzantine literary history. For many readers, the apparatus fontium will be the jewel in the crown of this edition.

Following the example of Martin West’s edition of the Anacreontic poems1 and so as not to overburden the apparatus criticus, De Stefani has collected in an appendix all of the manuscript’s orthographical errors (accents, breathing marks, etc.). The volume concludes with a full index of parallel passages (91-122), of great value in an edition that offers such an ample apparatus fontium, and an index verborum (123-163).

De Stefani’s Latin preface is divided into six sections. After a brief account of the occasion of the poems’ composition, De Stefani describes Heidelbergensis Palatinus Graecus 23, the famous tenth-century codex that is the only medieval manuscript of the poems. He agrees with Alan Cameron that the scribe (J) may be identified with Constantine the Rhodian,2 some of whose marginalia offer corrections of faulty text, but others of which De Stefani rejects as the scribe’s false emendations (x). De Stefani surmises that the scribe must have had before him only one copy, supposing that the survival of Paul’s ekphraseis at all was something of a miracle, as verse panegyrics seldom lasted long after the occasion of their delivery (xi).

De Stefani concludes this first section of the preface with a consideration of two quotations of the ekphrasis of Hagia Sophia found in the Souda (kappa 2578 = S. Soph. 125; omicron 950 = S. Soph. 824-825). The second lemma correctly transmits the optative form of the verb δέξαιντο, while the manuscript P transmits the faulty indicative δέξαντο. It is therefore likely that the Byzantine lexicographer found Paul’s verses in a source other than P. Ada Adler long ago conjectured that the source for the Souda’s citation of epigrams and of Paul’s ekphrastic verses alike was the Anthology of Constantine Cephalas.3 De Stefani goes a step further to conjecture that Paul’s ekphraseis were transmitted to Cephalas as part of Agathias’ Cycle, citing as support Agathias’ well-known praise of Paul’s description of the church as one of the greatest works of poetry from the age of Justinian (xiii).

This is an appealing suggestion, but I am not certain that the literary evidence is entirely in De Stefani’s favor. Agathias' remark (History 5.9) could well suggest that he deemed Paul’s ekphraseis an altogether different kind of work than his epigrams, both in magnitude and style. The ekphraseis, therefore, precisely because of their sublime quality might have seemed out of place in the far more secular world of the Cycle. Moreover, in his verse preface to the Cycle Agathias clearly explains the collection’s division into seven books (dedications to the old gods; inscriptions on buildings, sculptures, and paintings; funerary inscriptions; poems on the inconstancy of fortune; scoptic epigrams; erotic epigrams; and sympotic poetry, AP 4.3.113-133). Agathias makes no mention here of Paul’s ekphraseis, and it is difficult to guess where Agathias would have placed them in the anthology. It is easy to imagine that copyists of a later generation might have appended Paul’s iambic and hexameter verses on the church to Agathias’ collection of epigrams by contemporary poets. This seems an equally valid hypothesis explaining how the poems found their way into the Anthology of Constantine Cephalas.

After the discussion of the codex, De Stefani turns to the history of the poems’ many copies, its modern editions, and the scholars who contributed to those editions. In the third section, De Stefani sketches out the literary landscape of Paul’s age. Here he departs from the opinion of Averil and Alan Cameron that Paul and Agathias were roughly the same age,4 suggesting instead (following Madden’s argument)5 that Paul was the older of the two by about a generation. De Stefani also echoes McCail’s concern that on the estimation of Averil and Alan Cameron Paul would not yet have been 30 years old at the time of the poems’ composition and recitation.6 It is unlikely, according to De Stefani, that Justinian would have entrusted such a solemn responsibility to a tirunculus (xxv). The fourth section of the preface deals with Paul’s poetic style, while the fifth section describes Paul’s use of the iambic trimeter and dactylic hexameter. The preface concludes with De Stefani’s account of the conventions that he follows in the present edition.

I provide here a selection of some of the more noteworthy textual cruces:

S. Soph. 36 ἐκ τῶν τυράννων τῶ[ν ἁλ]όντων πολλάκις. De Stefani adopts the conjecture of Francesco Valerio, which is supported by parallel phrases in the Latin poems of Corippus (Johannis 3.20 captum … tyrannum, 3.28; In laudem Justini Augusti minoris pref. 11 captos … tyrannos, 3.123, etc.).

S. Soph. 149 τέλσα παρ’ ἐσχατόωντα καὶ ὠκεανίτιδας ἀκτάς. The codex reads κατ’ ὠκ., which both Bekker and Friedländer preserved in their editions. De Stefani’s correction is persuasive, based on a parallel construction in a verse from Agathias’ preface to the Cycle: καὶ παρὰ πορθμὸν Ἴβηρα καὶ Ὠκεανίτιδα Θούλην (AP 4.3b.8 = 4.3.54 Loeb).

S. Soph. 222 ὅττι σέθεν ζώοντος, <ὅτ’> ἐγγύθεν ἐστὶν ἀρωγή. Du Cange hesitantly supplied ὅτ’ in his 1860 edition of the text, which De Stefani asserts was correct on the basis of Nonnos Dionysiaka 30.151. De Stefani rejects Ludwich’s conjecture <οὗ> for metrical reasons. As he notes in the preface, the Nonnian hexameter very rarely admits correption with the diphthong ου (xxxvii, n. 116). Friedländer, following Wilamowitz, deleted the entire verse. But in the margin at this place in the poem, P also reads ὅττι σέθεν ζώοντος ἐπέχραε κάλλεϊ Ῥώμης, which De Stefani prints in his text as line 222a (following line 222). While the repetition of the half-line troubled Gräfe, De Stefani notes that Nonnos again offers a precedent: the half-line θνητὸς ἀνὴρ ἔφλεξε is repeated at Dionysiaka 31.96 and 97.

S. Soph. 333 ἄμβροτος ἀγρύπνοιο χέων κελάδημα χορείης. P reads λαῶν, with two additional suggestions that the scribe inserted in the margin: πέλων and τελῶν. Scaliger suggested λαλῶν (not a bad conjecture, according to De Stefani), while Friedländer offered Πλάτων (referring to the church of St. Plato) and Ludwich suggested λάων. De Stefani’s correction χέων must be right: in the apparatus fontium he offers no fewer than twelve parallel passages from Marcus Argentarius, Nonnos, Pindar, Alcaeus, Limenius, and Alexander Ephesius. Another possibility is χανών, for which De Stefani directs the reader back to S. Soph. 217 – but this is a mistake: Paul uses χανών at S. Soph. 212 (not 217). I agree with De Stefani, though, that χέων seems longe probabilius on the basis of the numerous parallel passages he cites.

S. Soph. 472 ἓν, στέ[φος ὥ]ς, κύκλοιο περίδρομος ὑψόθι νώτου. De Stefani’s conjecture fills the gap nicely, and his consultation of the manuscript corrects the previous edition of the text: Friedländer printed στε[φάνο]ις, but De Stefani notes that in P there is no iota after the lacuna, only a sigma.

S. Soph. 497-505 is lacunose, and De Stefani prints only metrical symbols for the vowel quantities possible in the lacunae at 497, 498, 500, 501, and 505, though the apparatus criticus offers an assessment of conjectures by Ludwich and Friedländer. De Stefani asserts (?) that τέχνη must be implied as the subject of the verb ἐπέπηξε at 497 (by comparison with S. Soph. 475 and also Gregory of Nazianzus; cf. Friedländer who supposed that the subject must be die Kuppel or der Kunstler).

S. Soph. 577 στήμονας, ὑψιλόφους, πυλέων ἄγχιστα παγέντας. De Stefani prints the reading in P, but acknowledges that it is difficult to make sense of the manuscript. He is unsatisfied with Gräfe’s conjecture replacing στήμονας with the verb ἥρμοσαν, and he wonders whether a verb such as δήεις must be understood or even whether a verse has fallen out of the text after 576. Moreover, he says, there is no precedent for στήμων as an adjective, though στήμονας does seem to produce a tricolon, a device that Paul uses also at S. Soph. 386 and 549.

S. Soph. 605 χαλκότορον δ’ ἀνὰ τοῖχον ἐΰγραφα δαίδαλα τέχνης. The reading in P is λαoτόρον, which Salmasius corrected to λαότορον, later accepted by Du Cange, Holstein, and Friedländer. The words λαoτόρον δ’ ἀνὰ τοῖχον clearly seem to go together (cf. S. Soph. 837 and Amb. 294), but De Stefani asserts that λαοτόρος does not allow a passive meaning and it is nowhere found as an adjective. De Stefani cites Oppian’s Halieutica 5.329 as the basis for his correction χαλκότορον, but I am not entirely persuaded. Oppian uses the word χαλκοτόρους to describe the “bronze-pierced” wounds of a dead sea-monster – a very different context. Further, Cyril Mango notes that “It is not clear whether Paul is referring here to the walls of the atrium or to the fountain that stood at its center”,7 so I am not certain why the wall would be more appropriately described as “bronze-pierced” rather than “stone carved” (vel sim.).

Amb. 65-67 ἄργυρον ἐν λάϊγγι περίδρομον· ἀλλ’ ἵνα μέσσῳ | κύκλον ἀναπτύξασα πανόλβιον ἀργυρέη πλάξ | τοῖχον ἀπιθύνῃσι. The passage has, as Mango notes, caused major problems for Paul’s editors and translators.8 De Stefani adopts Ludwich’s emendation ἵναἀπιθύνῃσι for the reading in P ἐνι … ἀπιθύνεισι. He rejects, however, Friedländer’s transposition of the phrases ἀργυρέη πλάξ and ἀλλ’ ἐνμέσσῳ.

De Stefani’s new edition of Paul’s ekphraseis is an impressive achievement and it will be the standard text for many years to come. We may now look forward to De Stefani’s commentary on the poems, which, he says in the preface, he hopes to publish soon (xxvi).


1.   Martin L. West (ed). Carmina Anacreontea. Editio correctior editionis primae (1984). Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1993.
2.   Alan Cameron. The Greek Anthology: From Meleager to Planudes. Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
3.   Ada Adler. RE, s.v. Suidas (Lexikograph), coll. 713-714.
4.   Averil and Alan Cameron. “The Cycle of Agathias.” JHS 86 (1966): 6-25.
5.   John A. Madden. Macedonius Consul. The Epigrams. Hildesheim, Zurich, and New York: G. Olms, 1995.
6.   R.C. McCail. “The Cycle of Agathias: New Identifications Scrutinised.” JHS 89 (1969): 87-96.
7.   Cyril Mango. The Art of the Byzantine Empire, 312-1453. Toronto, Buffalo, and London: University of Toronto Press, 1986: 85, n. 141.
8.   Art of the Byzantine Empire, 92, n. 178.

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