Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.07.33 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.07.33

Christos Tsagalis, Poetry in Fragments: Studies on the Hesiodic Corpus and its Afterlife. Trends in Classics—Supplementary Volumes, 50.   Berlin; Boston:  De Gruyter, 2017.  Pp. xxv, 292.  ISBN 9783110536218.  €109,95.  

Reviewed by Thomas J. Nelson, Trinity College, Cambridge (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The past decade has seen a flurry of interest in the Hesiodic corpus and its reception. This edited volume builds on that interest by focusing on Hesiodic fragments—terrain which is itself far from untrodden.1 Like many edited volumes, the book is a mixed bag, with some excellent and intriguing contributions, but it displays an occasional lack of consistency and coherence, perhaps reflected in the very vagueness of the editor’s mission statement: the volume ‘aims at bringing together a number of studies treating different aspects of this variegated material,’ exploring ‘questions of the three more common facets of Hesiodic research on fragmentary poems:’ genre and context, the Catalogue, and later receptions (p. xix). Within this wide remit, the volume’s contributors have produced a similarly variegated range of readings.

One recurring focus of the volume is the relationship of the Hesiodic fragments to Hesiod’s fully extant works and to Homer’s two epics.

Aloni starts the volume by flipping the concept of ‘fragment’ on its head, turning our fully extant Hesiod into a fragmentary collection: he argues that the Works and Days is a sylloge akin to the Theognidea, likely performed in a sympotic setting. His case rests on the poem’s various connections with lyric and elegiac poetry: ainoi and kennings, mythological narratives, and paraenesis embedded in a turbulent socio-political climate. He ends by branching out to explore the comparable ‘open textuality’ of other Hesiodic works: the Theogony, Catalogue and Aspis. This is an attractively fresh perspective on the Hesiodic corpus, but Aloni may invite at least one potential objection to his thesis: as he acknowledges, some of these elements also feature in the hexameters of Parmenides, Empedocles, and Xenophanes (p. 11n. 33), which might suggest that they are merely generic features of didactic hexameters, rather than anything distinctively sympotic or anthological.

Ercolani’s subsequent chapter may also challenge Aloni’s case, since it describes many of the same elements under the heading of ‘traditional wisdom’: kennings, riddles, proverbs, gnomai and prescriptions. In his own quasi-epic catalogue, he explores the presence of these features in the fragments of various Hesiodic poems (Wedding of Ceyx, Melampodia, Precepts of Cheiron, Megala Erga, Astronomia), highlighting their similarity to key traits of the Works and Days and emphasising the unity of the Hesiodic corpus as a ‘storehouse of knowledge’. In total, between 33 and 67% of extant fragments from each analysed poem are identified as ‘wisdom fragments’. But we should perhaps ask how representative these fragments really are, and whether these ratios may not reflect the priorities of later excerpters, who were often drawn to the self-contained nature of such ‘wisdom elements’ (cf. p. 264 n.87 on proverbial topoi in Eustathius’ letters).

Koning emphasises the shared world view of the Theogony, Works and Days and Catalogue of Women, and argues for a strong teleological thrust to the Catalogue, centred on the destruction of the age of heroes and Zeus’ imposition of order on the earth (paralleling his imposition of order on the divine realm in the Theogony). In particular, he focuses on two children of Zeus as complementary agents of this destruction: Helen (a second Pandora) and Heracles (a second Zeus). Especially illuminating are his comments on the oath of Helen’s suitors as exhibiting the decline of the heroic age into deception and evil (p. 106), but I am less convinced by his attempts to whitewash Heracles’ character by downplaying the ambiguities of various epithets. When Heracles’ enemies are described in positive terms, we cannot simply dismiss these adjectives as ‘generic’ (pp. 110–111); we should acknowledge the resulting tensions and tackle them head-on.

Davies turns to Homer as a point of contrast. He highlights the recurrent interest of Hesiodic fragments in both etymology and aetiology (eponymous ancestors, city foundations, protoi heuretai)—an interest which he argues aligns them with Hesiod’s ‘authentic works’ in opposition to Homeric epic. The result is another useful catalogue of material, but I fear that the contrast with Homer is overly schematic: I was struck, for example, by the similarities, rather than differences, between Il.6.402–3 and fr. 296.2–3 M–W (p. 87). Davies also displays an enviable knowledge of folklore and comparative traditions; he spends some time arguing that an episode from Norse myth is a legitimate parallel for fr. 148b M–W (pp. 89–90), but he does not go on to outline the interpretative benefit of adducing it as such.

Despite the book’s broad title, it is the Catalogue of Women that dominates the majority of the volume. In addition to Koning’s paper discussed above, five others have a catalogic focus.

Kyriakou takes the female emphasis of the Catalogue seriously, rightly arguing that the heroines are not mere structural props for successive lines of male heroes, but protagonists in their own right, with their own form of female aristeia. In particular, she highlights the poet’s emphasis on female agency through the recurring relative clause τέκεν / γείνατο, which keeps the women in the driving seat. At times, her piece is unnecessarily jargonistic, which does no favour to her readers,2 but she nevertheless makes a strong case for the mother as the privileged link between generations.

Tsagalis follows Ercolani and Davies in providing another useful catalogue of material: different kinds of sound-play in the Ehoeae, from simple alliteration to complex cases of aural association. In each case, he analyses the thematic value of the sound-play, which variously accentuates, parallels and isolates the content of each passage. His study offers an impressive array of examples, but I was left wondering how these techniques compare to early Greek hexameter poetry more widely. Tsagalis implies at the start and end that this catalogic sound-play is a distinctive novelty, part of the generically hybrid Catalogue’s search for ‘its own style’ (pp. 191–2, 213). Further comparison with Homer, fully extant Hesiod and the Homeric Hymns could have been a useful control for this claim. As it stands, it is unclear how the aural elements that Tsagalis identifies compare with those he has discussed before in his earlier work on sound and rhythm in the Iliad.3

Personally, I found the contributions of Steiner, Sammons and Ormand most rewarding and innovative.

Steiner combines literary and visual evidence to explore the close affinity of choruses and catalogues in the archaic and early classical period. Going beyond their shared emphasis on plurality, she highlights their similar themes (kinship, locality, age) and arrangement (both linear and circular). Amid numerous compelling remarks, she focuses on a specific case study: the Asopids, who are not only frequently presented in catalogic form but also serve as an archetypal chorus (cf. Pindar, Bacchylides, Corinna and Aeginetan art). Her piece is wide-ranging and informative, and it raises many larger questions about the relationship between epic hexameter, catalogue poetry and choral lyric, as well as the performance context of these works. Steiner gets the most out of both textual and artistic sources; we should look forward to her forthcoming book which will expand on this topic.

Sammons focuses on the generic multiplicity of the Catalogue, exploring how it manipulates and balances competing structures, each of which is a distinct sub-genre of epic poetry: exemplary catalogue, comprehensive genealogy, and narrative elaboration. In the process, he highlights many of the poem’s key structural and thematic axes: a tendency to progress from simple list to more elaborate catalogue; the consistent introduction of female before male offspring (except in the case of Althaea’s children, where Deianeira is postponed after Meleager to enhance the focus on Heracles); the use of the ἠ’ οἵη formula to backtrack to an unfinished genealogical line; and the artful arrangement of competing themes (the dominant paradigm of a girl wooed by a god balanced by others of divine favour, divine displeasure and immortalisation). His piece effectively complements Kyriakou’s study of the Catalogue’s female focus, in particular by highlighting how the sons of Aeolus do not receive their own catalogue, but are rather incorporated into the running female genealogies: the poet catalogues men by cataloguing women.

Ormand argues for a direct two-way intertextual relationship between the Hesiodic Catalogue and Stesichorus. He suggests that Stesichorus’ treatment of both the oath of Tyndareus and his adulterous daughters is indebted to the Catalogue (fr. 87 Finglass ~ fr. 204.78–85 M–W; fr. 85 Finglass ~ fr. 176 M–W), before going on to contend that the unusually enjambed εἴδω[λον] of the Catalogue (fr. 23a.21 M–W) is a passing allusion to the eidolon of Helen in Stesichorus’ Palinode (frr. 90, 91b Finglass). The resulting picture of interactive and competitive allusion is attractive, but our limited evidence and uncertainties of chronology make the case a little precarious. The ultimate test is the interpretative payoff of these allusions, especially regarding the eidolon: what does the Stesichorean intertext add to our understanding of Hesiod’s fragment? If we accept Ormand’s preferred εἴδω[λου] in fr.23a.21 M–W (as a reference to Helen), we have little more than a knowing nod to Stesichorus’ innovation. But if we retain the more popular εἴδω[λον] (as a reference to Iphimede), we might then have a more complex and meaningful allusion: ‘Hesiod’ follows Stesichorus’ lead in rewriting a foundational moment of the epic tradition, allusively redeploying his eidolon motif. Just like Helen’s presence at Troy, Iphimede’s sacrifice becomes an imaginary fiction, further destabilising the ‘truth’ of the epic tradition. The final section on reception is the least coherent of the volume. There are only two papers, one Roman, the other Byzantine. But while the former focuses on the reception of a single Hesiodic text in a single Ovidian poem, the latter has a far broader purview. Nevertheless, both papers are of considerable interest.

After a survey of the general connections between the Hesiodic Catalogue and Heroides, Michalopoulos focuses on Heroides 9 and explores how Deianeira’s words are closely engaged with the Catalogue. A recurring leitmotif of his argument is that whereas the women of the Catalogue are mute, Ovid’s elegiac heroines are given voice and the ability to challenge the cardinal features of the epic, heroic world. Amid many perceptive remarks, I was especially attracted by the notion that Phaedra’s turba numeremur in ista (Ov.Her.4.101) may reflect a metaliterary wish to be enumerated in the Hesiodic Catalogue (p. 229): we could reinforce this reading by noting the potential metapoetic valence of silva in the following line (for which, cf. Hinds, S. (1998) Allusion and Intertext, Cambridge, pp. 12–14). Nevertheless, in the case of Heroides 9, I feel that Michalopoulos does not fully tackle the presence of Sophocles’ Trachiniae as a competing intertext (despite his acknowledgement on p. 232). The closest verbal echoes between the Catalogue and Ovid’s poem can point equally, if not more, to the tragedy: Deianeira’s words (infecit, 9.142; tunicae tabe, 9.144; inlita Nesseo misi tibi texta veneno, 9.163) may perhaps relate to the Catalogue (φάρμακον…[ἐπιχρί]σ̣ασα χιτῶνα, fr. 25.21 M–W), but we can find similar and closer such language in Sophocles’ play (e.g. παρὰ Νέσσου φθίνοντος ἐκ φονῶν, Trach.557–8; ἔβαψεν ἰός, 574; χιτῶνα τόνδ' ἔβαψα, 580; τὸν ἐνδυτῆρα πέπλον...ἔχριον, 674–5; τὸ φάρμακον, 685). Why, then, should we prioritise or even think of the Catalogue here? The question is answerable, but it needs addressing directly.

To round off the volume, Cardin and Pontani offer a wide-ranging, erudite and enlightening survey of Hesiod’s reception in Byzantium. After a general overview of Hesiod’s Byzantine fate, they focus on the fragments’ reception in Tzetzes and Eustathius, investigating how the poems were mined as an authoritative source of genealogical, lexical and syntactical information. They close by exploring the ideological appropriation of a single fragment (fr. 5 M–W) by Italian Humanists who sought to legitimise the unity of the Greek and Roman worlds through the kinship of Latinus and Graecus—a fascinating case study of Hesiod’s lasting authority and cultural significance.

In sum, therefore, the volume contains a rich array of papers, despite its occasional lack of coherence. There are a number of helpful cross-references between some contributions, but a fuller index would have helped unlock further connections (as it stands, the current two-page ‘General Index’ lacks ‘Homer’ and ‘Iphimede/Iphigenia’, despite their frequent mention in the volume; in addition, an index of passages cited would have helped overcome the inconsistent citation of fragments by different editions: Merkelbach–West, Hirschberger, Most). The volume could have also benefited from further proof reading, since it is sadly marred by typographical errors, unidiomatic English, inconsistent spelling and many incomplete or missing references. Nevertheless, there is much to commend in this volume, which demonstrates just how much attention this ‘variegated corpus’ of Hesiodic poetry still demands.

Authors and Titles

Christos Tsagalis—Introduction (xiii–xxvi)
Part I: Genre and Context
† Antonio Aloni—Hesiod Between Performance and Written Record (3–28)
Andrea Ercolani—Fragments of Wisdom, Wisdom in Fragments (29–46)
Deborah Steiner—Choruses and Catalogues: the Performative and Generic Context of the Asopids in the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women (47–82)
Malcolm Davies—The Origin of Things: A Study in Contrasts (83–96)

Part II: The Catalogue of Women
Hugo Koning—Helen, Herakles, and the End of the Heroes (99–114)
Kirk Ormand—Helen’s Phantom in Fragments (115–134)
Irini Kyriakou—Female Ancestors in the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women (135–162)
Benjamin Sammons—The Hesiodic Catalogue of Women: A Competition of Forms (163–190)
Christos Tsagalis—Sound-Play in the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women (191–216)

Part III: Hesiod’s Fragments in Rome and Byzantium
Andreas N. Michalopoulos—Hesiodic Traces in Ovid’s Heroides (219–244)
Marta Cardin & Filippomaria Pontani—Hesiod’s Fragments in Byzantium (245–288)


1.   In addition to the works cited in Tsagalis' Introduction, we could note Ioannis Ziogas’ 2013 study of Ovid’s reception of the Catalogue of Women (see BMCR 2013.11.14), Kirk Ormand’s 2014 The Hesiodic ‘Catalogue of Women’ and Archaic Greece (see BMCR 2015.07.13), and Henry Mason’s 2015 Oxford DPhil thesis on the Aspis.
2.   E.g. p. 147 n. 46: ‘The patronymic is another discursive form of the genealogical references naming solely the father. Having a retrospective dimension the patronymics do not occur in the prospective references structuring the genealogical narrative but they do describe a male or female figure when he/she is mentioned as ancestor.’
3.   Tsagalis, C. (2001) ‘Style and Construction, Sound and Rhythm: Thetis’ Supplication to Zeus (Iliad 1.493–516)’, Arethusa 34.1, 2001, 1–29.

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