BMCR 1999.04.20

Pindarus Homericus. Homer-Rezeption in Pindars Epinikien. Hypomnemata 119

, Pindarus Homericus : Homer-Rezeption in Pindars Epinikien. Hypomnemata ; Heft 119. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1998. 295 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 9783525252161 DM 85.00.

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 μείλιχος is explained with a quotation from LfgrE), yet she neglects even the new commentaries on the epics (11: on βαθύκολπος, the reader is given a reference to a bare definition in LfgrE instead of to the extended discussions of West on Od. 1.154 or Edwards on Il. 18.121-5).

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 νεόκτιστος is used by no Greek poet apart from Pindar, yet cf. Nonnus 6.385, and see νεόκτιστος in Bacch. 17.126, Aesch. frg. 78c51 and Nonnus 18.294 (cf. p. 35 n. 124 where she states that ἀταρβής is “Homerisches hapax“: Il. 13.299; Od. 3.111). Her lists of epithets are often misleading or simply wrong. On the Homeric ἱππόδαμος, S. writes (17): “Typisches Attribut der Troer (Il. 4.509) bei Homer, das oft auch für Diomedes gebraucht wird (Il. 5.415). In den Hymnen bezieht es sich auf Kastor (33.3).” From this, readers would not guess that ἱππόδαμος is in fact used for a number of heroes in the Homeric epics: Antenor (twice), Atreus (twice), Diomedes (8 times), Hector (5 times), Hippasus (once), Hyperenor (once), Nestor (once), Thrasymedes (once), Tydeus (twice), and indeed even Castor ( Il. 3.237 and Od. 11.300). S.’s remark on δῖος (16) verges on the absurd: “I[sth]. 8.21 δ. Αἰακὸν – Il. 1.121 δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.” Instead of quoting just one (apparently arbitrary) example of such typical epithets, she should have given details about the frequency of their occurrence and their metrical position. And she ought to have addressed the question to what extent such parallels can indeed be labeled cases of “Homerrezeption.”

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.