On its surface, Pindar’s poetry is ostensibly un-Homeric. Hence, Wilamowitz, with his biographical approach, concluded that the “Dorian aristocrat” just did not like the Ionic bard. Yet more recent studies have rightly emphasized that Pindar is much more sophisticated than his disparaging of Homer in Nem. 7 suggests. In more than one way, he can be understood as a precursor to the Alexandrian poets of the third century. It is thus an enticing topic to look at the ways he read and transformed the Homeric epics, to ask whether we find clever allusions and “Alexandrian footnotes” in his poetry. A decade ago, Frank Nisetich published an elegant little book on the subject,1 but a more sustained study is still needed. It would have to address difficult problems, however: what exactly did “Homer” represent for Pindar? Was it just our text of the Iliad and the Odyssey, was it the entire epic tradition? In what form? How could Pindar conceive of this oral tradition as a text? And how can we deal with the fact that so much of archaic lyric poetry is lost, that Pindar may in fact be referring to, say, Stesichorus’s and Ibycus’s rewriting rather than directly to the Homeric epics?
Margarita Sotiriou has devoted her 1997 Ph.D.-dissertation at the Freie Universität of Berlin to this subject, yet the book that grew out of her thesis cannot be considered a scholarly contribution to the study of Pindar. It is decidedly amateurish and unsophisticated in methodology and style, and it raises the disturbing question whether the German academic system can continue to flood the shrinking market of scholarly monographs with unrevised dissertations of questionable value.
In the three pages of her introduction, S. makes it clear that her aim is to gather all the relevant material, not to give interpretations. Accordingly, the bulk of her book is made up of — often uncommented and always untranslated — lists of “parallels” between the Pindaric epinicians and the Homeric epics and Hymns. S.’s attempt to structure these lists into categories (Homeric epithets, formulae, maxims, mythological allusions, Homeric reminiscences, and Homeric scenes) fails because her categories are totally arbitrary — she never tries to justify why she chose just these and no other terms. The book offers no conclusion, and it is hard to see what inferences could be drawn from S.’s lists, which contain some interesting items but hide them in a mass of irrelevancies.
It is always questionable whether a reviewer has the right to criticize authors for writing the book they have written and not something the reviewer would have liked to read. S. is outspoken about the fact that her study is meant to collect the material, not to interpret it. Yet her lack of interest in the methodology and terminology of literary criticism is truly disturbing. She uses terms such as “allusion,” “reminiscence,” “echo,” “source” or “influence” indiscriminately, and she never seems to realize that every one of them carries its own ideological baggage. What her approach boils down to is a curiously nineteenth-century Quellenforschung : Homer’s text was used by Pindar as his “Vorlage,” which he either adopted verbatim (“wörtliche Übernahme”) or changed according to his whims. This dated mode will be unacceptable even to the most traditional classicists.
Even apart from the unknown territories of litcrit, S.’s patchy use of scholarly literature betrays the amateurishness of her work. She never brings to bear recent books and articles on Pindar in a systematic way, and she is utterly unfamiliar with anything in Homeric criticism. She has not understood what key terms such as “type scene” or “formula” mean (cf. her breathtakingly naïve definition, p. 68), and she is uninterested in recent scholarship on the meaning and use of Homeric epithets. She sometimes gives unsystematic references to explanations in the Lexikon des frühgriechischen Epos (e.g., 32: out of 16 epithets, only
Even on the modest level of using dictionaries and concordances, her scholarship is slipshod. Purely lexicographical claims frequently turn out to be wrong. E.g., she claims (57) that the epithet
In addition to all this, the book is marred by numerous misprints (about one per page; the most serious I caught was on p. 123 n. 57: “Sch. P. 3.493” should read as “Sch. P. 3.182a”). The topic of Homeric influence on Pindar is thus still awaiting the treatment this fascinating subject deserves, and there is possibly room for more than one Ph.D.-thesis here. Yet anyone undertaking such a study will do better to start from a fresh look at the epinicians and the wealth of material collected in the commentaries on them than from S.’s book.
1. Frank J. Nisetich, Pindar and Homer (American Journal of Philology Monographs 4), Baltimore 1989.