Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.04.16 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.04.16

Bruce Karl Braswell, Didymos of Alexandria, Commentary on Pindar: Edited and Translated with Introduction, Explanatory Notes, and a Critical Catalogue of Didymos’ Works. Schweizerische Beiträge zur Altertumswissenschaft, Bd 41​.   Basel:  Schwabe Verlag, 2013.  Pp. 325.  ISBN 9783796529016.  €82.00.  

Reviewed by Enrico Emanuele Prodi, Christ Church, University of Oxford (

Editing the fragments of Didymus Chalcenterus must be a formidable task. Credited with 3500 books by Athenaeus and the Suda and with 4000 by Seneca, according to Quintilian he wrote more than anybody else. The last – and indeed the only – modern scholar who had the brazen guts to collect what he believed to be all his surviving fragments was Moritz Schmidt, whose edition appeared in 1854; unsurprisingly, the feat has not been attempted since. Now, the late Bruce Karl Braswell’s edition of Didymus’ Pindaric scholarship goes a long way towards replacing Schmidt’s outdated work and (hopefully) bringing the study of this author to a position befitting his importance in the scholarship of his day.

The book does much more than it says on the cover. In the first and longest chapter of the Introduction, an edition of the testimonia for Didymus’ life and the scholarly environment in which he was active (pp. 27-36) and a survey of later authors’ (mixed) views on him (36-9) are followed by a “Critical Catalogue” of the works certainly or conjecturally attributed to him (40-103) for a total of sixty-six items plus three dubia and seventeen dubiae sedis fragmenta (two of which falsa). Thus, roughly a third of the book is devoted to Didymus, his context, and his work beyond the hypomnemata to Pindar on which it professedly focuses. This is the fullest study of Didymus to have appeared for over a century and a half, and will be essential reading for any serious student of ancient scholarship, or indeed of Greek literary culture in the late Hellenistic and early Imperial age.

The Catalogue presents all explicit testimonies for each of Didymus’ works and the ancient passages on whose basis a Didymean work has been postulated, rightly or wrongly, by modern scholars. Braswell regularly chooses to err on the side of generosity and includes conjectured books whose existence he doubts (e.g. Cat. 5, 14); in the case of the commentary to Sophocles (Cat. 15), “nowhere cited unambiguously” but whose existence he finds likely, he resorts to printing all the fragments assigned to it – including a spurious one (9). The Testimonia and most items in the Catalogue are translated and annotated as necessary. Although one will dispute some details,1 the supplementary material is rich, up to date, clearly presented, and to the point.

The Introduction is rounded off by three brief chapters more closely concerned with Didymus’ Pindaric commentaries. Chapter II (pp. 105-11) reviews Didymus’ engagement with the opinions of earlier commentators of Pindar. Chapter III (113-26) brings together “the main lines of the grammarian’s interest and his characteristic approach to the solution of problems” (113): his trademark use of historical sources, his references to other poets (largely Homer), his attempts at textual criticism, and so forth. Both chapters are useful itemised summaries of Didymus’ Pindaric scholarship in action; an overall assessment of his “achievement” as a Pindarist is sketched in Chapter IV (123-6).

While rightly demanding that Didymus be seen in the context of Alexandrian scholarship with its historical limitations rather than damned on modern standards, Braswell does not attempt to excuse his numerous mistakes and absurdities, such as the “truly Pythonesque” Fr. 23 (p. 124); indeed he may sometimes appear over-critical, as on Fr. 40 or 44. Overall, the discussion is concise but balanced and informative. A lone exception is the section on ‘Conjectures’ (119f.), where the first of the three that Braswell ascribes to Didymus is probably not a conjecture at all (Fr. 17, see below) and the second is not Didymus’ own emendation but a transmitted variant (Fr. 19, rightly explained ad loc.), while Didymus’ other genuine conjecture (N. 6.31 Βουδίδαι(σιν), Fr. 53) goes unmentioned.

The core of the volume contains the text, apparatus, and translation, with Notes and/or a Commentary as required, of the known fragments of Didymus’ commentaries on Pindar (pp. 131-264). Braswell presents a total of sixty-eight genuine fragments or groups of fragments, nine of which were not in Schmidt; four dubia arguably come from a commentary on the Paeans which may be Didymus’; one falsum closes the collection. So as not to “open the door to subjective judgements”, only fragments explicitly attributed to Didymus by ancient sources are included (p. 51 n. 98). One cannot disagree with this healthily drastic approach, although a slight drawback is that scholia which anonymously duplicate material otherwise known to be Didymean (e.g. schol. O. 2.138b, cf. Fr. 4; 5.29d, cf. Fr. 8b; 6.160d and presumably 158a, cf. Fr. 11) are not cited. However, at Fr. 35 Braswell does print an anonymous scholion that is indirectly identifiable as Didymean (35c, cf. 35a) – alongside another that has no apparent relevance to Didymus and indeed contradicts him (35b).

The text is Braswell’s own, although based on Drachmann’s edition of the Pindaric scholia (only Frr. 14b and 68 come from other sources). Braswell is commendably generous with context: when a scholion relates the views of several ancient scholars, he usually prints it whole rather than excerpting Didymus’ comments. Consequently, anyone wishing to dispute Braswell’s judgement on the exact boundaries of a quotation should be able to do so on Braswell’s own text. Excessive trimming may have occurred at the end of Fr. 4, but given the very nature of the material, a degree of contentiousness is intrinsic to any such choice. The apparatus is generally exhaustive; only at Fr. 2a Drachmann’s deletion of Ἱέρωνι (Ἱέρων a.c.) καὶ Θρασυβούλωι Θήρων κηδεστής, which Braswell accepts, unaccountably goes unreported. The Notes and Commentaries provide valuable explanations and supplementary material.

Braswell also gives his own text, apparatus, and translation of the Pindaric passages in question. One wonders whether it might have been more advantageous to the reader to print the Alexandrian vulgate on which Didymus and his colleagues worked, rather than a modern critical text from which their comments are sometimes far removed (e.g. Frr. 4, 21, 31); Braswell’s discussions of the relevant Pindaric passages could easily have been restricted to the notes, where indeed they often appear already. Nonetheless, Pindarists will find much of value there, e.g. on O. 3.30 (p. 142) and N. 4.59 (217f.).

The translation of the fragments calls for special attention. Scholarly Greek, with its elliptical, quirky, and highly stereotyped style, can be puzzling even for those well versed in higher prose; Braswell deserves credit for helping his reader along this potentially unfamiliar path as well as for the intellectual honesty of always making it clear what exactly he believes his text to mean. His translation is, as a rule, an accurate and very readable guide to the Greek. In several instances, however, one must question his interpretation of the text, and the reader should be aware that the translations (and consequently, on occasion, the Notes and Commentaries), although generally correct and helpful, are not always wholly above doubt. A full list of suggested emendations would be inappropriate for this review, but since the volume will (deservedly) be the standard edition of Didymus’ Pindaric commentaries for the foreseeable future, and given the importance that Braswell’s translation is likely to have for many of his readers, it is expedient to offer a few examples:

Fr. 2b (schol. O. 2.29d): Jacoby’s alternative punctuation of the sentence at 19f. (FGrHist 566F93b) was worth mentioning; at any rate, νεωτερισμοῦ must go with ἐπειρᾶτο, not with κατηγορεῖν.

Fr. 10 (6.115a): understanding κατὰ τοῦ ἑνός (3) as “in opposition to the plural” makes the scholion contradict the recurrent notion that Pindar can use the plural for the singular (see Drachmann III pp. 354f. s.v. pluralis pro singulari, noting especially schol. O. 2.80a); I would tentatively suggest reading the expression as equivalent to ἀντὶ τοῦ ἑνός ‘instead of the singular’.

Fr. 17 (9.34c): Didymus’ μαλακαῖς (4) must be an interpretation, however absurd, not a conjecture as Braswell suggests; on the ambivalence of ἀντὶ τοῦ see W.J. Slater in J.N. Grant, Editing Greek and Latin Texts, New York 1989: 53. If the phrase truly indicated an emendation, Didymus would be said to have conjectured μαλεραῖς (the transmitted text) for μαλακαῖς, not the reverse.

Fr. 32 (P. 8.113c): αὐτόν (3) is Pindar not Argos, and τὰ Ἑκατόμβαια object not predicate: ‘But Didymus says that here he calls the Hecatombaea ‘local contests’ of the Aeginetans on account of their kinship’ (sc. with the Argives).

Fr. 40 (N. 1.49c): ὅτι Πίνδαρος (28f.) ‘that Pindar wishes to signify here too what he said about Aetna’ in the quotation which follows (P. 1.33f.), i.e. that a good start promises great achievements.

Fr. 48 (4.95b): πιθανώτερόν ἐστιπαρειλῆφθαι (9f.) ‘it is quite plausible that the conjunction δέ stands for γάρ’.

Fr. 51 (5.10a): Braswell consistently translates ὀπώρα with “late summer” (Didymus’ interpretation), but in the earlier explanation reported at 2-4 the meaning must be “fruit” (LSJ s.v. II), as Didymus’ reaction μὴ τὸν καρπόν, ἀλλὰ τὴν ὥραν also demands.

Fr. 60 (10.49b): τελούμενα (4) presumably ‘which are celebrated’. Given τῶν ἐν Ἄργει ἐπιφανῶν (an odd way to describe a mythic hero), I suspect αὐτός (6) is Theaeus rather than Adrastus.

Fr. 65 (I. 1.60): a misplaced end-quote in the translation risks sending the reader of 7-9 off track: read ‘to understand the statement “for those who devise a lordly vaunt” with reference to those who praise the victors’. The paraphrase that the scholiast goes on to offer (9-11) is not particularly perspicuous, but the only way I see of squaring it with the next sentence is to take τοῖς εὑρόντεσσι with φθονεῖν rather than with προσήκει and imagine a comma after ἀρετήν: ‘it is fitting not to envy those who devise a lordly vaunt, i.e. the song addressed to those who have acquired excellence through expense and labour’.

Fr. 67 (2.19a): the Commentary assumes that the scholiast’s report of Didymus’ views only goes as far as νίκη (10), while surely it reaches all the way to γέγραφε (11), as both γάρ and the sense suggest. The Note appears to misreport Schmidt, whom I take to have said (correctly) that the concluding remark γελοίως was aimed at, not made by, Didymus.

Typos are few and negligible,2 but the copy-editing could have been more careful, especially with regard to matching translation to text and footnotes to bibliography.3 Otherwise, the book is very well produced.

Despite these petty criticisms, ‘Braswell’s Didymus’ is a work of great scholarship. The author “kept in mind two groups of potential readers, those whose interests are primarily in the poetry of Pindar and those who are interested in ancient scholarship as a special discipline” (p. 13): members of either group will peruse this volume with much profit, and those who – like this reviewer – belong to both are bound to find it a particular boon. Bruce Karl Braswell passed away scarcely three months after the book saw the light, leaving the back cover’s tantalising promise of “a history of Pindaric scholarship from antiquity to the end of the eighteenth century” all too sadly unfulfilled; let this Didymus, alongside Braswell’s monumental Pindaric commentaries and his numerous other publications, be a lasting testament to his scholarship and a reminder of the gratitude Hellenists the world over owe to him.


1.   E.g. Test. 1: the nickname Χαλκέντερος is in fact attested earlier than the Suda, namely in Amm. 22.16.16 (cited on the next page). Test. 4: the last two sentences belong with the continuation of the entry, concerned with ἀντέρως ‘mutual love’ and rightly relegated by Braswell to a footnote, not with the opening section on Anteros the grammarian (whose own relevance to Didymus is unclear); the “implication” of a liaison between Anteros and Apion is therefore illusory.
2.   Pp. 28, 284 “Rhode” (lege Rohde); 50, “thr”; 78f., “Hagias” (Hagnias); 96, “an Chenaean”; 119, ὀνυμάζομαι (ὀνυμάξομαι); 148, “Phainasa” (Phaisana); 289, “wikipedida”.
3.   Cat. 11, κακούργοις translated as though it were *κακούροις; Cat. 15 fr. 8, ὡς Πῖός φησιν not translated; Cat. 41, δι᾽ ὧν παρέθετο not translated; Fr. 8a, πλινθεύοντες (14) not translated, resulting in a misstatement in the Commentary; Fr. 23, Κόρινθε printed in the text (14) but Κορίνθιε assumed in the translation; Fr. 25, quotation marks in text and translation do not match; Fr. 37 transl., ‘Aetnaean’ missing before “Zeus”; Fr. 41, last two lines not translated; Fr. 47, ἐν Σαρδοῖ ‘in Sardinia’ (17) translated as “in Sardis”; Fr. 65 transl., end-quote missing after “envy him”. I have not cross-checked the bibliography throughout, but West (1965) and Diggle (1970) are missing.

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