Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2019.02.16 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2019.02.16

Egbert J. Bakker (ed.), Authorship and Greek Song. Authority, Authenticity, and Performance. Studies in Archaic and Classical Greek Song, Vol. 3. Mnemosyne Supplements, Vol. 402.   Leiden; Boston:  Brill, 2017.  Pp. x, 295.  ISBN 9789004339699.  €114,00.  

Reviewed by Thomas R.P. Coward, Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia (

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

This edited volume, derived from a conference held in 2011, consists of thirteen chapters each with its own bibliography. It focuses on lyric and epic poetry from the archaic and classical periods, with some Hellenistic material. The overall topic is the relationship between a song’s performance and the function of the narrative voice within the song in describing, conveying, and enacting that performance. The chapters are grouped by topics such as performative contexts and settings (chs. 1–3), the ways a poet or a poem can create authority (4–10), and how this authority can affect a poem’s value and its performance (11–13). Bakker’s Introduction lays out the aims and interweaves them with summaries of the chapters. A general bibliography on the various approaches to Greek song is surprisingly lacking. Nevertheless, the introduction sets the scene.

The first chapter by Stehle imagines the first performance of Isthmian 2 and how the chorus as performers conveyed the themes and message of the song. Stehle proposes that the spoken first person belongs to the performers and becomes the source of authority. She argues that the chorus members were (young?) men of high standing and allies of the Emmenids, men who were known to the Akragantine elite. In line with her previous work, Stehle proposes that the chorus distinguishes between two kinds of friends, those who are aligned with money and female sex/praise and those who are trustworthy and spontaneous (male) praisers. She also suggests that Isthmian 2 was commissioned by an independent source other than the victor or his family, as this would make the praise more effective: all possible interpretations, but not provable.

In contrast to Stehle, Carey examines the role played by ‘voice’ (i.e. the identity constructed by the text) in songs sung in religious settings (paean, partheneion, dithyramb, and epinician). Carey examines examples from Pindar’s paeans and epinicians, the paeans of Iasyllos and Aristonous, and then the partheneia of Alcman and Pindar. He studies the poetics of self-representation, the strategies available and what influences them. Carey demonstrates that the authority of the ‘voice’ in cult songs derives from pragmatic markers in the song, and the major feature of the performance of a cult song derives from self-definition of a group of performers and self-referential comments by the narrator. This is a very good chapter and offers a useful examination of the big picture of cult songs.

Martin offers an understanding of skolia as “indirect songs”. Martin argues that skolia were a ritualized communicative strategy that were imitated in poetry. The term skolion is not immediately concerned with how one performs them, but more with the self-positioning that one brings to the performance. To demonstrate this strategy, Martin uses Cretan mandinadha to focus on social contexts rather than formal compositional techniques. He then examines a piece of skolia in performance (Ar. Vesp. 1219–50). Martin argues that there never was a literary genre of skolia, only a rhetorical strategy of indirection, and any song, whether improvised or reperformed, can be a skolion if it serves the performer’s purpose of indirection. These only became a literary “genre” after they lost their social and pragmatic contexts.1

Boterf examines the most notable instances where verse and prose authors identify themselves by their city of origin rather than by patronymics. In doing so, Boterf demonstrates a significant feature of ancient ideas of authorship, namely that authored compositions are associated with their home city and gain authority from that association. Surprisingly Boterf does not discuss examples from monody, although examples are referenced in note 17 without further analysis. There is plenty of good information and several useful points in this chapter, which may be of particular interest to those working on the development of prose.

Bakker argues that the meaning of the “seal” (of Theognis) is ambiguous and lies somewhere between being a “lock” on the poetry and a “signature” which identifies it to non-Megaran audiences. Bakker examines the meaning of Theognis’ sphrēgís (Theog. 19) and howsphragis differs in the literary tradition in order to question the canonical interpretation of the term. The “seal” indicates the static nature of the songs of Theognis, a striving for permanency with sepulchral overtones. Using the term “projected indexicality”, when poems and performances are meant to travel in time and place, the seal represents the tension between the desire to transmit aristocratic values in local symposia and the aspiration to attain panhellenic dissemination in an attempt to balance the notion of the ‘seal’ as a physical object and the mobility of the song’s aspirations. 2

Klooster’s clear and cogent chapter discusses the role of place in the authenticity of a literary experience. Using examples from Hellenistic poetry (Theocr. Id. 28, Dioscorides 24 HE, Nossis 11 HE, Call. Iamb. 13, and the Pseudo- Moschian Epitaphius Bionis), she considers how and why the original geographical context and local poetic traditions are important for the appreciation, creation, or adaptation of a specific type of poetry. Starting with Piso’s recollection of visiting Plato’s Academy (Cic. Fin. 5.1.2), she proceeds to show how the description of place in the text is used to convey authenticity rather than merely identify the location.

Harden examines instances of “embedded song” (the description or depiction of a performance within a poem)3 in Pindar, Nem. 5 and Bacchylides, Ode 13. These two poems contain contextual descriptions of the performance of a chorus of Muses, and of a mini-epic in the form of a partheneion, in which the choruses become the primary narrators of the poem. Harden states that “embedded song” directly reflects upon the style of Pindar and Bacchylides, who anticipated re-performance and were strongly aware of their song’s place in society and the tradition.4 Harden expresses surprise that there are not so many embedded songs in epinician odes. My own impression is that this was just another poetic device which did not need to be used regularly. Overall, this is a rather good chapter, which moves towards the implications of generic interaction of the partheneion and the epinician.

Swift examines Archilochus’ use of gnomes, examples, priamels, and mythological paradigms to show how the poet alters or subverts the expectations of audience and readers. The first two examples (25, 122 IEG) show how Archilochus plays with authoritative strategies for comic effect, and the “Telephus poem” demonstrates how a poem which appears serious in tone confounds audience expectations by manipulating conventional strategies and leaving itself open to ambiguity. Swift not only gives us insights into Archilochus’ style but also shows how he foregrounds the relationship between poet and audience and invites the audience to see themselves as active participants in conferring narrative authority. This is one of the best written and most useful chapters in the volume.

Carruesco looks at associations between Stesichorus and Hesiod, and at the character of Helen in epic and the Palinode(s). He reads the opening of the Palinode(s) as opposing human poet and divine patron, with Helen qua Muses and Stesichorus qua Hesiod; thus the Palinode(s) problematize the very status and function of both poem and poet. Stesichorus redefines the poet’s authority and reconciles the claims to panhellenic truth in epic with the epichoric and occasion-related variability of choral performance. This contribution would have benefitted from a conceptual framework explaining how Stesichorus uses Hesiod and Homer. Some minor points: transliterations are inconsistent, Ercoles’ numbers are missing, and χοροστάτις (p. 179), which was Blass’ conjecture and has been questioned, is missing its reference (Alcm. 1.84 PMGF). 5

Similarly, Liapis proposes that the relationship between human performer and divine patron is ambiguous and even contradictory. There is both a synergy between human and divine performer under the latter’s benign patronage, and a fierce antagonism that may result in the human performer’s incapacitation (poetic or physical). Liapis uses Thamyris, Linos, and Aesop to demonstrate this antinomic relationship. Liapis advances a hypothesis that every single performance constitutes a challenge to the divine agents of song, in particular the Muses (with Thamyris) or Apollo (with Linos and Aesop), and so raises questions of authorship, authority, and authenticity.

Garrison examines post-Classical epigrams ascribed to Bacchylides, Sappho, and Simonides. This refreshing chapter examines the role and function of pseudo-epigraphic compositions, which have previously been the subject of dating and authenticity questions. Rather than seeing them as fakes or forgeries included carelessly in the Garland, she proposes to read them as creative compositions in their own right. Garrison shows that they have been carefully and deliberately placed in the Garland to frame the reader’s approach and endow the neighboring Hellenistic poems with a Classical pedigree. Like Carey’s, Klooster’s, and Swift’s contributions, this is a strong chapter in this volume.

Boychenko studies 42 hymnic fragments of either Sapphic or Alcaic authorship in Voigt’s edition, and argues that Sappho and Alcaeus wrote different types of hymns; she then uses generic criteria to assign each fragment to one or the other author. Boychenko broadly asserts that Sappho composed hymns with an invocation to a god, a formal prayer, and first-person statements, whereas Alcaeus composed mostly impersonal narrative hymns. Boychenko focuses on Alcaeus 304 Lobel-Page/Sappho 44a Voigt, which she argues is more likely to belong to Alcaeus due to its narrative content and parallels with Hymn. Hom. Aphr.21–33. While the typology has merits, Boychenko acknowledges its limitations: for example, Alcaeus 34 and 129 Voigt have marked similarities with Sappho’s hymns.

The final chapter by Pitotto and Raschieri, having summarised the key problems and implications of the different textual arrangements of the Cologne and Oxyrhynchus texts of the last Sappho published from the Cologne collection (P.Köln 429 ~ 58 Voigt), proposes that the former is a performance-oriented edition, and the latter an authenticity-oriented edition derived from Hellenistic editorial work.

I noticed several typos, e.g. the translation of the same passage is inconsistent (pp. 106, 109), line numbers for Pind. Nem. 5.23–43 are missing (pp. 144–5), and ‘precise will’ for ‘precise way’ (p. 272).

In summary, several chapters are good and useful, yet there is something missing in the overall coherence of this volume. Connections or differences between chapters are rarely indicated. An epilogue would have helped to frame all the chapters together and draw some general observations. While the contributors approach authority and authenticity, they also engage with ‘tradition’.6 For authorship and authenticity to work, a tradition is needed, and this is not clearly signposted. Despite these reservations, several of the individual chapters are worth consulting.

Table of Contents

Bakker Introduction (pp. 1–7)
Eva Stehle, ‘The Construction of Authority in Pindar’s Isthmian 2 in Performance’ (pp. 8–33)
Chris Carey, Voice and Worship (pp. 34–60)
Richard Martin, ‘Crooked Competition: The Performance and Poetics of Skolia’ (pp. 61–79)
Nicholas Boterf, ‘Placing the Poet: The Topography of Authorship’ (pp. 80–98)
Egbert Bakker, ‘Trust and Fame: The Seal of Theognis’ (pp. 99–121) (23)
Jacqueline Klooster, ‘Authenticity and Autochthonous Traditions in Archaic and Hellenistic Lyric Poetry’ (pp. 122–138)
Sarah Harden, Embedded Song and Poetic Authority in Pindar and Bacchylides (pp. 139– 160)
Laura Swift, Narratorial Authority and Its Subversion in Archilochus (pp. 161–177)
Jesús Carruesco, The Invention of Stesichorus: Hesiod, Helen, and the Muse (pp. 178–196)
Vayos Liapis, On the Antagonism between Divine and Human Performer in Archaic Greek Poetics (pp. 197–221)
Leanna Boychenko, Sappho or Alcaeus: Authors and Genres of Archaic Hymns (pp. 239–264)
Elisabetta Pitotto and Amedeo Raschieri, Which Sappho? The Case Study of the Cologne Papyrus (pp. 265–286)
Index Locorum 287
Index Rerum 291


1.   On the Hellenistic classifications of skolia and other drinking songs, see G. B. D’Alessio BMCR 2000.01.24 and ‘Bacchylides’ Banquet Songs’ in Cazzato, V., Obbink, D., and Prodi, E. E. (2016) (eds.), The Cup of Song: Studies on Poetry and the Symposion (Oxford): 63–84, which are missing in the bibliography.
2.   Bakker uses the terms indexicality and indexicals for when the speaking voice becomes Theognis, not “playing” or re-enacting him (i.e. not by mimesis).
3.   A refinement of Power’s ‘choral projection’ which she connects with a strategy of praise that enhances a poet’s authority. See T. Power (2000), ‘The Parthenoi of Bacchylides 13’ HSCPh 100: 67–81.
4.   See Coward, T. R. P. (2016), Pindar and the Greek Lyric Tradition (PhD thesis: London) on this topic. I am now revising this for publication.
5.   G. O. Hutchinson (2001), Greek Lyric Poetry: A Commentary on Selected Larger Pieces (Oxford): 97.
6.   i.e. a repertoire of performed poetry that has consistent features of lexicon, themes, ideas, metres and stylistic registers.

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