Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.04.31
Calum Alasdair Maciver, Quintus Smyrnaeus' Posthomerica: Engaging Homer in Late Antiquity. Mnemosyne supplements. Monographs on Greek and Latin language and literature, 343. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2012. Pp. vii, 224. ISBN 9789004230200. $136.00.
Reviewed by Laura Miguélez-Cavero, University of Oxford (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This book is a revised version of Calum Maciver’s PhD thesis (Edinburgh 2008) and aims to assess the poetic and literary qualities of Quintus Smyrnaeus’ Posthomerica, by analysing its intertextuality with the Homeric poems. At the centre of scrutiny are mainly the poem’s proems (absence of initial proem in 1.1-4; in-proem in 12.306-313), the ekphrasis of the shield of Achilles (5.6-101), Nestor’s gnomai (in 7.44-55 and 66-92) and similes (especially in book 1; 14.39-62 and 10.389-405, on Helen; 8.329-340 and 8.22-33, on Neoptolemus). Together with a sensitive and thoughtful reading of these passages Maciver provides a discussion of core features of this epic, including narratological aspects such as characterisation, the insertion of the poet’s narrative voice in the text, plot construction and intratextualities, and broader topics such as the general Stoic ethics of the Posthomerica and its engagement with other poets (Homer, Callimachus and Virgil).
In the introductory chapters, Maciver tentatively dates the Posthomerica “(3) to sometime between the respective compositions of Oppian and Triphiodorus, of around the early to middle third century CE” and sensibly notes that there is no way of proving that Quintus is in any way related to Dorotheus son of Quintus to whom the Visio Dorothei (P.Bodmer 29) is attributed in the colophon. He thinks that significant portions of the Epic Cycle were still extant in Quintus’ time, though Quintus did not have to follow its exact details. As for a theoretical contextualisation, the author works with Kristeva’s definition of ‘intertextuality’, as well as with Barthes’ ‘death of the author’ and understands ‘allusion’ as a rough equivalent for ‘intertextual relationship’. Aesthetically he sees Quintus as part of a widespread phenomenon of later recreation and redefinition of Homer , from “(16) the definitive Alexandrian epic of Apollonius Rhodius <to> the baroque and bizarrely original epic of Nonnus”. He rejects situating the Posthomerica within the ‘Second Sophistic’.1
The textual analysis itself begins in the third part of Chapter One (iii. (M)use-less Singing: Quintus’ Art?), where Maciver reads the initial lines of the poem (1.1-4) and the in-proem in book 122 as the two passages in which Quintus programmatically defines his relationship to Homer. The absence of an initial proem and of purely autobiographical material (the information in 12.306-13 could also be applied to Homer), puts the Posthomerica in the tradition of the Iliad. At the same time, the allusions to Hes. Th. 22- 28 and to Call. Aetia 1 fr. 2 are to be considered in poetological terms, as a guideline for reading the Posthomerica beyond the generic Homeric intertextuality and with at least a hint of Alexandrian allusive practice.3
Chapter two (Ecphrasis and the emblems of the past) relies theoretically on Becker, one of the best known interpreters of Homeric ekphraseis,4 to decode the description of the shield of Achilles in the Posthomerica as a mise en abyme of the whole poem, an emblem of how Quintus departs from his Homeric model (the description of the same object in Il. 18), presenting the primary narrator as mediator between the reader and the Posthomerica, the Posthomerica and the Iliad, and the reader of the Iliad and the Posthomerica. Maciver carefully analyses the second scene of the ekphrasis (5.17-24 wild animals and hunters with dogs) at the centre of an array of intertextual and intratextual parallels which seek to present the shield and indeed the whole poem as a Hesiodic, Aratean, Stoic and Quintean creation. The final section of this chapter develops Maciver’s earlier discussion of 5.49-56, the scene of the mountain of Arete,5 which he sees as pointing to the poem’s Stoic ethic of ponos. The emphasis on hard work as preliminary to acquiring excellence recurs throughout the poem, especially in references to arete/Arete (1.723-32, 14.195-203 on Arete as a tree, 12.287-96 Nestor on ponos). Maciver points out that it can also be related to school education, which frequently insist on ponos as the root of educational improvement.6
Chapter three (Speaking morality through gnomai) focuses on the use of gnomai in Nestor’s speeches to Podalirius (7.44-55, 66-92), which he demonstrates are at the centre of numerous intratextual parallels (3.5-9, 12.387-8, 5.595-7, 11.272-7, 14.97-100, 9.414-25, 9.491-508). Maciver proves that they often echo Homeric gnomai and their contexts, and relates them to post-Homeric and Stoic content, so that we are able to appreciate the Posthomerica both as still Homer and as an update of his epic. This chapter would have benefited from a joint reading of Quintus and the chapters on gnomai in the treatises of progymnasmata by Ps. Hermogenes, Aphthonius and Nicolaus.7
Chapter four (Posthomeric similes, Homeric likenesses) starts with an analysis of similes in book one of the Posthomerica, shown to be generated from preceding ones and thematically related to them. Maciver illustrates their Homeric intertextuality, often enriched by the comments of the scholia. In fact, the marked parallelism between similes and their contexts in the Posthomerica is rightly related to the obsession of the scholia with finding narrative correspondences for similes. Sections ii and iii explore the use of similes to cast characters in a particular light: Helen as an adulteress (14.39-62, 10.389-405 – a corrective presentation of the Homeric story) and Neoptolemus as a second Achilles and the hero of the epic (8.329-40, 8.22-33), who turns out to be a reading of the Iliadic Achilles.8
Maciver’s book attests to the growing academic interest in the Posthomerica, particularly visible in the last ten years. 2004 saw the publication of an English and a Spanish translation of the poem (A. W. James, Quintus of Smyrna. The Trojan Epic: Posthomerica, Baltimore – London; M. Toledano Vargas, Quinto de Esmirna, Posthoméricas, Madrid). In 2005, U. Gärtner published her study on Quintus’ possible ‘use’ of Virgil’s Aeneid (Quintus Smyrnaeus und die Aeneis: zur Nachwirkung Vergils in der griechischen Literatur der Kaiserzeit, Munich). In 2006 Manuel Baumbach and Silvio Bär hosted a conference at the University of Zürich, the proceedings of which were then published as M. Baumbach – S. Bär (eds.) (2007), Quintus Smyrnaeus: Transforming Homer in Second Sophistic Epic, Berlin. Bär later published his commentary on the first part of Book One (Quintus Smyrnaeus “Posthomerica” 1: die Wiedergeburt des Epos aus dem Geiste der Amazonomachie, Zürich 2009). Two recent PhD theses remain unpublished: K. Carvounis’ on Posthomerica 14 (Oxford 2005) and B. Boyten’s on the reception of the hero (UCL 2010).
Maciver’s book is to be commended for its methodological freshness, patient pursuit of intratextual parallels and his resourceful approach to Quintus’ interaction with Homer, both unmediated and through the prisms of Callimachus, Virgil and the Homeric scholia, among others. It is a welcome addition to scholarship on imperial Greek epic and will particularly attract readers interested in the reception of Homer, Greek and Latin epic and late antique aesthetics.9
1. More on this in C. A. Maciver (2012), “Flyte of Odysseus: Allusion and the Hoplon Krisis in Quintus Smyrnaeus, Posthomerica 5”, AJPh 133, 601-28, pp. 602-7.
2. On the in-proem, see also C. A. Maciver (2012), “Representative Bees in Quintus Smyrnaeus’ Posthomerica”, Classical Philology 107.1, 53-69, pp. 65-8.
3. Callimachus is also present in other roughly contemporary epic proems (Triph. 1-5; Opp. Cyn.), which implies that Quintus was also playing a fashionable game.
4. Especially A. S. Becker (1990), AJPh 111, 139-53. The chapter would have benefited from a consideration of ancient rhetorical theory onekphrasis, as analysed e.g. in R. Webb (2009), Ekphrasis, Imagination and Persuasion in Ancient Rhetorical Theory and Practice, Aldershot.
5. C. A. Maciver (2007), “Returning to the Mountain of Arete: Reading Ecphrasis, Constructing Ethics in Quintus Smyrnaeus’ Posthomerica”, in M. Baumbach – S. Bär (eds.), Quintus Smyrnaeus: Transforming Homer in Second Sophistic Epic, Berlin, 259-84.
6. R. Cribiore (2001), Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, Princeton, 250-1. The idea is condensed e.g. in the sententia “the roots of education are bitter and the fruits sweet”, developed by Ps. Hermogenes (Prog. 3.7-9 Patillon) and Aphthonius (3.4-11 Patillon), as an example of chreia and citing Hesiod.
7. See also, on the ancient contexts of the gnome: T. J. Morgan (1998), Literate education in the Hellenistic and Roman Worlds, Cambridge, 120-51; Formes brèves. De la γνώμη à la pointe, métamorphoses de la sententia, Poitiers 1979.
8. Also on similes in the Posthomerica: C. A. Maciver (2012), “Representative Bees in Quintus Smyrnaeus’ Posthomerica”, (above, n. 2). On Helen in the Posthomerica also C. A. Maciver (2011), “Reading Helen’s excuses in the Posthomerica”, CQ 61, 690-703. Both papers expand on the Vergilian intertext of the Posthomerica, mentioned in the book on pp. 191-2.
9. A few minor typos: p. 4, line 14, Kuntos for Kuintos; p. 19, n. 13, Schmitz 2007, page of citation omitted; p. 172, l. 23, “in the shadow Homer”; p. 176, n. 199, Nünlist 2009 not included in the final bibliography. Bibliography: Schmitz, T. and Schmitz, T. A. are the same person; Maciver 2011 is CQ 61.2, not CQ 62.1 as stated. References to entries in Der Neue Pauly do not include their authors and dates.