Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.05.40 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.05.40

Francesco Valerio, Ione di Chio. Frammenti elegiaci e melici. Eikasmos, 21.   Bologna:  Pàtron editore​, 2013.  Pp. 173.  ISBN 9788855532280.  €20.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Cosetta Cadau, Trinity College Dublin (

Valerio’s volume offers a new edition and a commentary of the elegiac and melic fragments of Ion of Chios, with the exception of the fragments from the Χίου Κτίσις, which is not included here as it is in the forthcoming edition of the historical fragments of Ion by Eduardo Federico for the collection I frammenti degli storici greci. The need to publish stems from a new assessment of the manuscripts; the examination of wider bibliography also requires a new edition, which is complemented by testimonia. A modern commentary is long overdue, since the only commentaries to these fragments date back to 1836 (editions by Nieberding and Koepke) and 1798 (the sixth volume of the Animaduersiones in Anthologiam Graecam by Friedrich Jacobs), while Leurini’s edition (1992) includes an extensive Latin apparatus, but no commentary. The objective of the commentary is to offer a comprehensive exegesis for each fragment, ranging from textual to linguistic analysis, from stylistic to literary, from historical to metrical, etc. (p. 35).

The volume is neatly structured in three main sections: a comprehensive thirty-two-page introduction, the text (which includes also an Appendix coniecturarum and a translation), and the commentary. The volume also includes a bibliography, tabulae comparationis (which help the reader identify the fragments in the new numbering of Valerio’s edition versus prior editions), and indices of the sources, the words, the loci and of the names and rerum notabilium. With the present review, I attempt to offer an overview of the book’s content and scope and its innovative contribution to existing scholarship.


This section opens with a biography of Ion (section 1), with information mainly from the author himself (p. 6). Ion’s birth-year is unknown and can only be retrieved indirectly from Plutarch’s Life of Cimon, where a passage of Ion’s Ἐπιδημίαι is paraphrased. The matter is rather debated, with some scholars dating the episode quoted— Ion attending a banquet with Cimon at Laomedon’s house in Athens—after 476 (which would place Ion’s birth between 490 and 485), and others preferring a dating in the mid-sixties of the fifth century (which would place Ion’s birth between 485 and 479). Valerio favours the earlier dating mainly stressing two arguments. Firstly, the recent re-interpretation by Federico of παντάπασι μειράκιον, used by Plutarch to describe Ion’s age at the time of his arrival to Athens; Plutarch always employs this expression to define young men who have just turned twenty and thus Ion would have been a mature young man when he turned up at the banquet. A second element in favour of the earlier dating comes from another Plutarchean quote of the Ἐπιδημίαι, where Ion is said to be present at the time of Cimon’s speech to the Athenian assembly in favour of supplying Sparta with help during the Messenian war: the above-mentioned point made by Federico re-dates this speech to 468/467, and it is also probable that Ion actually took part in the Athenian expedition in aid of Sparta, if we believe that he recited one of his elegies on this occasion in the presence of Cimon and of the Spartan king Archidamos.

Ion’s connection with Cimon is also discussed in this section, as is his encounter with Aeschylus, with whom Ion attended a boxing contest during the Isthmian games, in the early days of his arrival to Athens (again, Plutarch is the source for this). Other milestones of Ion’s biography are also discussed here, such as the first performance of one of his tragedies, his encounter with Sophocles during the Samian war (441/440), and his death, alluded to by Aristophanes in a joke in Pax: since the comedy was staged in 421, we should date Ion’s death shortly before this year in order for the joke to be fully enjoyed by spectators.

A brief survey of Ion’s works (section 2) moves from tragedies and satyr plays via historic elegy (Χίου Κτίσις), and both historic and philosophical prose (Ἐπιδημίαι, Τριαγμός and Κοσμολογικός) to the more strictly “lyric” areas of his production, the elegies and the melica (sections 3 and 4). The majority of Ion’s elegies deal with symposia, a topic that was not unknown to Archaic elegists, but that is now approached with fresh perspectives and with new expressive instruments, by means of a baroque style which shares similarities with contemporaneous dithyrambographers. Valerio argues that Ion’s production of μέλη includes subgenres (εἴδη) such as hymns, dithyrambs etc., against the previous editions by von Blumenthal and Leurini, which presented his μέλη as another standalone category besides the others. This lyric production is centred on the two main themes of peculiar myth and personification of abstract or unanimated concepts such as Kairos, Wine and Thalassa (fr. 11: this is perhaps an innovation by Ion, as this personification is not documented again before Hellenistic times, p. 128). The morphology, vocabulary and style of Ion’s elegies and melic production rely heavily on epic tradition, although Ion introduces some innovative adjectives – mainly compounds – that in several instances constitute absolute hapaxes.

The reception and tradition of Ion’s works is treated in the next section (5): among Ion’s advocates are Callimachus, who presents Ion as a model of πολυείδεια (i.e., the ability to compose poetry in multiple genres) and λεπτότης, and the Anonymous of the Sublime, who associates Ion with Bacchylides and opposes their measured and consistent elegance (which can, at times, lack appeal) to Pindar and Sophocles’ strategy to counterbalance moments of high and of low expressiveness. A survey of existing scholarship (section 6) and the criteria for the current edition (7) conclude the Introduction.

Ionis Chii Fragmenta elegiaca et melica

The text presented in the edition is based on the main manuscripts of the tradition of each source: this process has led to some amendments and improvements on previous editions (pp. 39-41). The apparatus is preceded by an apparatus testimoniorum, which (for the testimonia) collects parallels considered useful for the exegesis and contextualisation of the passages and (for the textual fragments) indicates the source. A modern translation into Italian of the 15 fragments is provided at the end of this part.


The commentary to each fragment, clearly and neatly organised, begins with an introduction containing the text’s sources, its structure and summary, its position within the elegiac genre (or other, for fragments 7-15), and a brief evaluation.

Innovative contributions regarding the presence of Pythagorean elements in the elegiac and melic fragments of Ion are provided at various stages. First, the discussion on the relevance of the number three, which is used to suggest a connection with the triadic principle enunciated by Ion in his Τριαγμός, substantiates the author’s argument on the concealed Pythagorean presence throughout fr. 1. (pp. 80-82). Similarly, Valerio favours the identification of the addressee of the epitaph in fr. 5 with Pherecydes of Syros, who was, according to tradition, Pythagoras’ teacher, and also the first to profess the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, an element which appears in this text in the form of the joys of the afterlife (τερπνὸν βίοτον). The topic of fr. 8 (the personification of Kairos) adds more substance to the Pythagorean theme, as Leurini shows how Kairos was deified precisely in Pythagorean contexts. Furthermore, fr. 116 L (Diogenes Laertius 8.8) makes Ion link Pythagoreanism to Orphic doctrine, a connection made also by Herodotus (p. 105).

Valerio successfully argues against Osann, who placed fr. 3 in a sympotic context due to the presence in it of oregano, identified by him as an ingredient to aromatise wine. It is here clarified that the passages brought as evidence by Osann are irrelevant, since, in Aristotle’s Περὶ Μέθης, oregano is actually not listed among the popular ingredients of such an aromatic decoction, and in Cato’s Agr. 127,2 oregano is not an ingredient added to wine, but a plant from which wine can be made (p. 95).

Additional valuable contribution comes from Valerio’s connection between fr. 2 and an 8th C. BC epigram engraved on Nestor’s Cup (CEG 454), which provides further evidence on the unusual syntax used at lines 9-10 (p. 93).

A comprehensive survey of the scholarly debate about the dating of fr. 2 leads Valerio to place the fragment (with Pelling and Federico) during Cimon’s first campaign (468/467 BC). Style and hymnic structure are discussed exhaustively and are often successfully used to reinforce the fragments’ attribution to Ion (e.g. p. 86 and p. 94) as well as to hypothesise the content of lost lines in texts (e.g. fr. 9, p. 118). Valerio also employs tradition-related and thematic elements to examine the genre of fr. 13, which he believes to be a dithyramb, against West, Gentili-Prato, Campbell and Leurini (who assigned it to an elegy) (pp. 133-134).

The reasons behind disagreements from and/or amendments to previous editions are well presented and defended by the author, who relies on grammatical evidence (as in fr. 1, 8, correcting Leurini; fr. 5,3, against Roeper; fr. 12,2), style (fr. 1,9, against Jacobs), linguistic grounds (fr. 1, 11, disagreeing with Iannucci), traditional sympotic code (fr. 1,15, disagreeing with Dover, and fr. 2, 9-10, disagreeing with Jacoby and Huxley), textual tradition (fr. 4, refuting Di Giglio; fr. 7, supporting Luppe; fr. 12, 2-3). Equally, his position remains cautious when evidence does not seem conclusive, as happens to be the case with the thorny matter of attributing the auctoritas of κύκνος ὑπὸ πτερύγων in fr. 7 (pp. 113-114). Valerio occasionally proposes his own conjectures in the attempt to emend corrupted text passages, as in fr. 2,3-4, where he plausibly defends his argument.

The commentary aims to be a “continental” one (p. 35), i.e., a commentary that aims to branch out from the text under discussion to other ancient literature (according to M. L. West’s definition): in it, references to other coeval and later works are duly included, making it accessible, extremely clear and easy to consult. The introduction provides a useful instrument to survey existing information, sources and scholarship on Ion. The text is presented clearly, with an accurate and modern translation, and is accompanied by a useful commentary. This book is a valuable resource and it provides fascinating insights into the role of Pythagoreanism within Ion’s work.

Read comments on this review or add a comment on the BMCR blog

Read Latest
About BMCR
Review for BMCR
Support BMCR

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010