Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2015.05.32 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.05.32

Adelaide Fongoni, Philoxeni Cytherii Testimonia et Fragmenta. Dithyrambographi Graeci, 1.   Pisa; Roma:  Fabrizio Serra editore, 2014.  Pp. 134.  ISBN 9788862277204.  €52.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Roosevelt Rocha, Universidade Federal do Paraná (

The past decades have witnessed an increasing scholarly interest in the poets of the so-called “New Dithyramb” or “New Music,” a style that developed at the end of 5th century and in the first decades of 4th century B.C.1 Fongoni’s study of Philoxenus, which began its life as a PhD thesis at the University of Urbino, is the first in a series directed by Antonietta Gostoli on Greek dithyrambographers. Fongoni’s book unearths much fascinating material and paves the way for further developments in this particular field.

As Fongoni notes in the preface (p. 11), this is the first book to present the complete testimonia for Philoxenus’ life and career together with his surviving fragments. The Introduction (pp. 13-32) is dedicated to a discussion of testimonia. According to the Marmor Parium, Philoxenus died at the age of 55 in 380/79 B.C. Sometime around the year 390 he resided the court of Dionysius I, in Syracuse, and, because of his frankness towards Dionysius’ poetical ambitions or after a dispute with the tyrant over an aulos player called Galatea, he is alleged to have been made prisoner in the quarries, where he may have composed his Cyclops, a dithyramb about Polyphemus’ love sickness for the nymph Galatea. Fongoni argues that the abundance of anecdotes about the link between Philoxenus and the tyrant Dionysius I of Syracuse and, consequently, about his imprisonment is due to the particular personality of the dithyrambographer, traditionally depicted as a clever man, devoted to rhetoric. This is also confirmed by a series of aphorisms and proverbs attributed to him.

Whatever the truth of these biographical claims, Philoxenus was one of the most important poet-musicians of his time, along with Melanippides, Timotheus and Telestes. He and his colleagues promoted great changes in musical practices, introducing melodies with many notes and with large interval leaps, increasing the number of the strings in the cithara, and employing metabole, modulation between different harmonies or rhythms within one composition. As a consequence these poets were accused of having caused the degeneration of music with their innovations. Philoxenus’ style eventually was compared, by Aristoxenus to that of Pindar, the most famous representative of the old music, with its simple melodies, relatively few notes and easy-to-sing intervals. Scrutiny of the sources enables Fongoni to argue that from the 4th century BC the tropos of Pindar and Philoxenos grew into two poetical and musical tendencies which were representative of the ancient and new style respectively.2 Yet even revolutionaries can enter the canon, and that was what happened with Philoxenus and Timotheus, according to Polybius. Fongoni shares Brelich’s idea that the two musicians were part of a some kind of third musical katastasis, after the first by Terpander and the second by other Spartan poets and musicians such as Polymnestus, Sacadas and Xenocritus, in the 7th century. Moreover, because this phenomenon appeared in Arcadia, a very conservative region as far as local traditions were concerned, Fongoni suggests that the attitude towards the new musical forms had changed in the rest of the Greek world as well.

Following the introduction, we find a carefully selected Conspectus Librorum (pp. 33-38), a Siglorum Explicatio (p. 39) and the original texts of the 46 testimonia with apparatus followed by an Italian translation (pp. 41-71). Next we find the text of the 28 fragments attributed to Philoxenus, also with apparatus and a facing Italian translation. Of these, four are correctly, I think, considered dubia. From the Comparatio Numerorum (p. 95) we can see that Fongoni’s edition is the most thorough until now, with the largest number of fragments (19 more than in Diehl’s Anthologia Lyrica Graeca and 2 more than in Page’s Poetae Melici Graeci. Fongoni includes a fragment of P. Graec. Vindob. 19996 b III (13 = PMG 824 adn.), which she takes as a commentary on Philoxenus’ Cyclops on the basis of its content, as well as an epigram (fr. dub. 28) which had been excluded by Page for chronological reasons and whose Philoxenian authorship is defended by Fongoni on the grounds of both internal and external elements. In the commentary on the fragments (pp. 97-128), Fongoni paraphrases the texts and presents her interpretations on some important questions.

Fragments 1 to 14 are assigned to the Cyclops or Galatea. From them, Fongoni offers hypotheses on the place of composition and the title, on the content of the poem, on the origins of the myth and the innovations introduced by Philoxenus, and on the question of genre (for instance, was it a dithyramb, a drama or a lyric composition?). Fongoni’s answer to this last question is that the Cyclops was a dithyramb, but one of the 4th century B.C., combining dialog between two characters and monodic lyrical parts, so that at the formal level it would have resembled a tragedy to some. Besides this structural arrangement of Philoxenus’ dithyramb, which differs considerably from the traditional one, a totally innovative aspect is the treatment of the myth of the Cyclops and Galatea, whose first occurrence is to be found here. The introduction of Galatea originated from a popular tale the poet had heard during his stay in Syracuse. According to Phainias (fr. 2), he adapted the plot to his personal situation: behind the characters of Polyphemus, Odysseus and Galatea he disguised, respectively, the tyrant Dionysius, Philoxenus, and the female aulos-player with whom both Dionysius and Philoxenus had fallen in love. This competition for that woman would have been the reason for the imprisonment of Philoxenus in the quarries of Syracuse.

Philoxenus transformed the myth of the Cyclops and the Nereis in the story of an unhappy love with parodic and satiric purposes regarding the tyrant. This aspect is emphasized by the description of Polyphemus (Dionysius) like the traditional Cyclops, anthropophagus and ferine (frr. 8; 11; 12), but capable of transforming himself for love into a grotesque shepherd poet, herbivorous and unloved by Galatea. Philoxenus’ lovestruck Cyclops was favoured by the poets of the Middle Comedy and in Hellenistic and Roman literature most famously the Cyclops of Theocritus.

Another dithyramb attributed to Philoxenus was the Mysians, which is very important for our understanding of Philoxenus’ poetry because it is a concrete example of the dithyrambographer’s ability in using modulations, though its exact content is obscure. Plutarch in chapter 33 of De musica (fr. 16) provides us with the harmonic plan of Mysians: Hypodorian tonos at the beginning, Hypophrygian and Phrygian in the middle, Mixolydian and Dorian at the end. Fongoni thinks it plausible that the term tonos has in this context the meaning of harmonia and suggests that modulation from one to another harmony indicated the passage between different sections of the piece and accompanied the choral parts or the solo parts, which were more mimetic and virtuosic. Fongoni also presents a fragment (17) of a hymenaeus; two (18–19) of uncertain genre (The Genealogy of the Aeacids and Syrus); six (20–5) of uncertain works; and the last three of uncertain attribution. In the closing pages we find an Index Auctorum (pp. 129–31) and an Index Verborum (pp. 133–4).

This book is an important contribution to the study of the dithyramb in general and helps us to understand the place of fourth-century dithyramb in the history of ancient Greek music and how it worked to change the frontiers between genres. We hope that the next volumes in the series Dithyrambographi Graeci will be as well written and edited as this one by Fongoni.3


1.   Important books published on these poets in recent years include J. H. Hordern’s The Fragments of Timotheus of Miletus (Oxford, 2002) and Pauline LeVen’s The Many Headed Muse (Cambridge, 2014), on late Classical Greek Lyric Poetry.
2.   Furthermore, Fongoni distinguishes between two different meanings of the term tropos in a passage from Philodemus’ De musica: in line 1 it is to be taken as indicating each authors’ ‘personal style’, in the specific case Pindar’s and Philoxenus’s, while in line 3 it refers, more technically, to ‘dithyrambic mode’, as testified by Aristides Quintilianus, De musica 1, 12-13, p. 30 W.-I.
3.   I would like to express my gratitude to Professor Alex Sens, who helped me improve the text. Any remaining errors are my own responsibility.

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