BMCR 1998.11.38

Le langage de Simonide


This is a difficult book to read, an even more difficult one to appreciate. One has the impression that enormous industry went into its preparation (it started as a doctoral dissertation at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland) and everywhere there are signs that its author has immersed himself in the vast linguistic and philological learning that has preceded him. What then is the problem? It is not clear (at any rate to me, a non-specialist in Linguistics) that P. has presented the material that he has amassed in a crisp and coherent enough fashion to enable generalists, or even specialists in Archaic Greek literature, to see how exactly Simonides fits into the pattern enunciated by the book’s subtitle, “… the poetic tradition [sc. of ancient Greece] and its renewal.”

Here is a skeleton of how the book’s 574 numbered entries are structured. There are three main sections, Word-formation, Aspects of Morphology and Dialect, and Appendices. Section One, Word-formation, is itself divided into 2 parts, I Suffixes and II Compounds. I Suffixes is subdivided into two sub-parts, i “Primary Suffixes” and ii “Suffixes intended for the formation of secondary derivatives”. Primary Suffixes are dealt with in Chapters 1 – 6 as follows: suffixes in (1) – τ – and (2) μ – and μν -; stems in (3) ν and ρ and (4) – εω – (neut. nouns like στύγος and adjectives like εὐαγής); (5) the stem-suffix – νο – (nouns οὐρανός, παρθένος; adjectives like ἁγνός) and (6) “two other suffixes of the Caland-Wackernagel system” (- αλέος, – ιμος). Sub-part ii considers suffixes in (7) – ιο – (adjectives in – ιος, – σιος, – αιος, – ειος and related substantives), (8) – εος (adjectives in – εος and “substantivations” like ἀνορέα and γενεά), (9) – ιδ – and – αδ – (nouns like ἐλπίς and νιφάς; similar patronymics; Σιμονίδης), (10) “two denominative suffixes,” including adjectives in – συνος and nouns in – σύνη and suffixes of the type – εντ – ( χαρίεις from χάρις). Chap. 12 deals with adverbs under numerous (suffixal) sub-headings.

Part II Compounds (for me, for entirely personal reasons relating to my own research, the most interesting part of P.’s book) also has 2 sub-parts, Composition involving nouns and Compound verbs. The break-down is as follows: chap. 13 “possessive compounds” (the bulk of the compound adjectives in what survives of Simonides fall into this category; there are about 100 of them, of which about 40 don’t occur earlier [p. 337]: words like ἀθάνατος, ὠκύμορος, καλλίκομος, ἑλικοβλέφαρος); (14) compounds in which a verbal element appears in the first (“à ordre progressif”) or second member (“à ordre régressif”); (15) adjectives whose first element is a preposition, and (16) other compounds ( πανάμωμος, ἡμίθεος). Compound verbs are treated in chap. 17.

Of the two chapters in Section Two, (18) Problems of morphology treats Simonidean verb-forms (which show, on their Ionic sub-stratum, the usual, expected, admixture of Aeolisms and Dorisms, with a slight propensity for the latter) and various genitives and datives. On morphological grounds P. characterizes Simonides as “[un] poète lyrique qui vit en symbiose avec son temps” (p. 524), that is, he resembles more closely Pindar and Bakchylides than Stesichoros and Ibykos. Chap. 19 concludes that Simonides’ dialect is a lyric koine, one that artificially incorporates a variety of forms for reasons of metre, euphony and imitation.

The work’s Third Section provides several appendices of which the most substantial is a Lexicon of proper nouns, subdivided into names from mythology and history, ethnics, and toponyms. The book concludes with two Indices, one of Simonidean vocabulary and the other of passages cited from Simonides and other authors. There is a thirty-page bibliography which presents the works under various sub-headings, and here for once the author’s passion for classification creates problems for the reader. Since citations in the text are by author’s surname only, one has to do a certain amount of hunting to locate (e.g.) Schroeter ( p. 669 under “Études”) and Garrod (p. 682 under “Métrique et musique”).

I don’t know how many readers will feel as I did that dipping into P.’s study is to risk getting lost in a dense, thickly overgrown jungle: there are trees of various shapes and sizes, some with hanging tendrils and creepers, others with barely hidden but no doubt deeply receding roots. We long for a bit of sunlight, would give a lot for a machete or even a sharp pocket knife. Give us some air! Occasionally through the thick branches and lush verdure we espy Simonides’ fertile and inventive poetic soul, his splendid talents as a wordsmith. Savor, for example, 14 πανκοίτας (P.’s inventory numbers), 157 ὀλβιοτελής, 406 ἁδύοδμος, 426 πάμμητις, 428 πολυκώτιλος (with 421 χλωραύχην ), 445b δαμασίφως, 447 ὀνησίπολις.

When P. draws conclusions from the data, as he regularly does throughout the work, they are generally along the lines that Simonides is a poet of the fifth rather than preceding centuries, “… un poète qui n’a rien d’archaïque, mais qui appartient par les idées et par sa production poétique clairement au V e s. av. J.-C.” (P. toys with but cannot bring himself to firmly embrace L. A. Stella’s late chronology (pp. 21 and 543-4). Although Simonides’ linguistic usage is to some extent derived from epic (especially Hesiod) and elegy, “… très souvent les formules épiques apparaissent avec de légères retouches qui les réactualisent et les adaptent au cadre historique contemporain” (541). He is “modern” in that he shows numerous affinities to early classical choral lyric and Aischylos. There are some surprising overlappings with Euripides, but that may be because Euripides casts his linguistic net so widely. From the numerous allusions in Aristophanes (one and one-half cols. in P.’s index locorum, pp. 613-14) it seems that Simonides’ works were familiar at least in some circles in the late fifth century (p. 461 n. 27).

I register here some particular disagreements with positions taken by P. I don’t think ἀέναον (item 465 at Simonides 531.9, where it modifies κλέος) can mean “qui coule toujours” (p. 443), though it obviously means that at 581.2; Campbell renders “imperishable glory.” In several instances P. goes out of his way to challenge an interpretation put forward by A. Manieri in Rudiae 2 (1990) 77 ff., and generally P. comes off rather the worse. Manieri’s interpretation of ἀνεμοτρεφέων πυλάων at Simonides 612 as “portes comme grandes ouvertes laissant passer d’importantes masses d’air” (P., p. 168 n. 97) seems to me likelier than P.’s suggestion “portes ex validis arboribus.” There is some confusion in the way P. renders the fragmentary phrase πλαξιάλοι αρα… at Simonides 519 fr. 55.,6. He translates (his item 448) “qui frappe la mer,” but he also quotes with approval Rutherford’s comment πληξίαλος makes best sense of an island.” Since the epithet ought to be the reverse, not the equivalent, of ἁλίπλακτος and θαλασσόπληκτος cited by P. from Pindar, Sophokles and Aischylos, Manieri again seems closer to the truth with her “L’immagine del mare percosso forse dai remi,” which P. quotes disapprovingly (425 n. 74). And it seems to me that Manieri has got the epic ἀμουρός right: “poco visibile” (478 n. 8, à propos fr. 531.5, though here P. does not dispute the interpretation). P. glosses ἐπιέννυμαι (item 508) “être enterré,” but that surely is derived from the context, γῆν ἐπιεσσαμένη. Sometimes P.’s analyses seem strained. He ingeniously creates a double compound ἐξανάλλομαι (item 528) and proceeds to an even more ingenious analysis of the line in which it occurs (fr. 567.3-4) as a “double tmesis” with “external” and “internal” hyperbaton. Nor does it seem at all plausible to distinguish between μένω (“signification plus personnelle” [his emphasis]) and μίμνω (“exprime plus particulièrement l’idée négative de persévérer,” p. 499 n. 99), when it is likelier that they are nothing more than metrical alternatives, as P. himself allows (ibid.).

P. makes an interesting observation on Simonides’ apparent penchant for feminine abstracts in – ία (p. 248) and what strikes me as a very good analysis of τανυπτέρυξ applied to μυῖα (fr. 521.3; item 381).

But there are excursions that seem to get nowhere, or just peter out, usually because the citation is fragmentary and without real context. Exx. gr.: pp. 398-9 on Elegy 7.2 West 2 where three of the letters of ποντοβοα are dotted (although P. makes a cogent remark on this word being the “contrepartie maritime” of Pindar’s πεζοβόας at Nemean 9.34). Similar such inconclusive discussions are at items 180 [[ ὄργανον ]], 188 [[ πρῖνος ]], 207 ἅγιος, 269 βρότε ( ι) ος, 292 πλειάδες, 309 τιμήεις. Often it is the lack of context that leads to frustratingly meagre results: 200 ἐναίσιμος, 208 ἄιτιος, 214 ποταίνιος, 300 Ἀμαρσυάδας.

The book’s visual presentation is excellent and the proofreading has been carefully done for the most part. There are a few misprints or omissions that might mislead. On p. 207 the item number for ὑγίεια should be 256, not 259. On p. 405, 13. ἱμερο -: 70 should be 71, and on p. 406, 44. ὠκυ -: 43 should be :42 (these numerical cross-listings can be treacherous). At p. 277 n. 67 some references to Homeric passages have been omitted. In item 183.3 ( ἁγνός) the words χρυσόπεπλε Κλείω should have been included in the citation since they figure in P.’s discussion (the full citation is at p. 366, under item 398 χρυσόπεπλος). I think ἀεικέως (item 352, from fr. 507,1) is not “convenablement,” as P. renders, but rather the opposite. The Pausanias referred to on p. 543 was never “roi de Sparta,” merely Regent. I am not sure what to make of P.’s remark (p. 445, his item 467), “La forme du verbe βιᾶται est le futur passif …”

Probably my sense of frustration with the book is at least partly my own fault. I wanted the data to be presented in a way that would be more easily grasped, so that we might get a clearer notion of Simonides’ strengths as a stylist with words. When I made this remark to a friend more deeply steeped in Linguistics than I, he observed, “A careful compilation of the data is a very important achievement.” So readers of this review should take this counterbalancing judgement into account in reaching a final assessment of P.’s book.

It strikes me as a pity that fr. 586 δεῦτ’ [ εὖτ’ ] ἀηδόνες πολυκώτιλοι χλωραὺχενες εἰαριναί has thus to be broken up among its various components, and I am uneasy that P, despite generally appreciative comments at item 428, is prepared to dismiss χλωραύχην as “un epitheton ornans” [p. 391]. More satisfactory is Eleanor Irwin’s “with throbbing throat” (cited by David Campbell ad loc.). Likewise the sonority of Simonides 571 gets lost between item 322 ὀρυμαγδός and 527 αμφιταράσσομαι. Stella’s in my opinion unsuccessful attempts to lower the traditional dates are at RFIC 24 (1946) 1-24 (given correctly at 21 n. 11; to be corrected on p. 669 sub“Stella”). It is the rather peculiar riddle recorded by Athenaios (3.125 C; Simonides Elegy 25 West) from Kallistratos about snow brought from Mt. Olympos to cool drinks; see D. L. Page, Further Greek Epigrams (Cambridge, 1981) “Simonides” LXXXXVIII. I note some misprints: p. 220 Euripide; p. 230 n. 115 sense (also p. 425); p. 266 n. 14 expressions; p. 410 for lélégiaque read élégiaque; p. 483 n. 25 for temèse read tmèse; p. 619 under Eschyle PV – 762, the ref. should be to [item] 392 n. 105, not 104. In this well-known passage concerning Krios’ haircut I think P. is wrong to introduce Koster’s ἐφήξατο for the MSS’ ἐπέξαθ’ ὁ (pp. 41 n. 19, 328-9 n. 75, and 543 n. 8). Aristoph. Clouds 1356 with Schol. R seems to me to be conclusive.