BMCR 2000.02.28

Economy of the Unlost (Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan)

, Economy of the Unlost (Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan). Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999. 147. $29.95.

This new study by Anne Carson (hereafter C.) attempts to read Simonides and Celan reciprocally against each other by using a collection of diffuse concepts drawn largely from Marxist economics to explore where they converge or diverge in their treatment of the poet’s role, the function of language and the world. The very idea of comparing two different poets from radically different cultural backgrounds, one a holocaust-haunted Jew who has left us a large body of poetry in German and one an ancient, purportedly mercenary Cean who has left us through the vicissitudes of time a large handful of fragments in Greek, is the high point of originality in a very slim book. Brevity may normally be the soul of wit, but ominously slim books with grandiose titles like Economy of the Unlost (hereafter EU.) almost always suggest that academic subgenre, the “lyrical” meditation that rests on a few scholarly posts and often shows a distinct lack of interest in truth or lucidity. On the score of truth, I regret to say that the book displays a casual respect for care, accuracy, evidence and logical reasoning. On the score of lucidity, it was clearly hatched under the outspread wings of postmodernism. Although C. emphasizes Simonides’ precision of style, his ἀκρίβεια, her own style frequently abandons it for a mélange of abstractions and imagery in which language plays meaningless semantic games with language. There are flashes of quirky and provocative originality scattered throughout the book, but her frequently opaque prose nearly obscures them and makes the reading of such a short text seem a nearly endless labor.

EU. falls into seven parts: (1) a brief Note on Method, (2) a Prologue, (3) four chapters entitled Alienation, Visibles Invisibles, Epitaphs and Negation and (4) an Epilogue. I will take them in that order, noting errors along the way. C. translates all the Latin, Greek and German except where noted.

The Note on Method begins with a quote from Hölderlin floating in splendid isolation at the top center of the page: “Nur hat ein jeder sein Mass.” The implication is that C. must go her own way according to her own individual standards. The book will unfold only in accordance with the slow uncoiling tension of the author’s wound-up spring. This will be the economy of its unlost mental energy in the jargon the author likes to affect. The following two pages present what amounts to an academic confession that is very important for understanding what she tries to do in the following chapters. She starts by contrasting the windowless room of aesthetic creation, where everything that is not apprehensible to immediate subjective experience must be removed, and the outer landscape of objective scholarship that deals in knowledge, facts and logic. She admits that her trainers opposed subjectivity strongly, but she has “struggled since the beginning to drive my thought out into the landscape of science and fact where other people converse logically and exchange judgments — but I go blind there” (vii). Since writing in the abstract is supposed “to involve some dashing back and forth between that darkening landscape where facticity is strewn and a windowless room cleared of everything I do not know” (vii), she faces a dilemma with academic writing. If she clears the room of everything that she cannot relate directly to her own immediate experience, a large part of scholarship must be trashed. C. never explains how she clears her own room, since she declares the clearing a mystery, but suggests that only a certain amount of the material retrieved from the land of facticity will work its way into her writing. Thought, she says pretentiously, finds itself locked inside this creative pressure cooker, “fishing up facts of the landscape from notes or memory as well as it may — vibrating (as Mallarmé would say) with their disappearance. People have different views on how to represent vibration. ‘Names’ and ‘activity’ are euphemisms for the work. You may prefer different euphemisms; I guess the important thing is to copy down whatever vibration you see while your attention is strong” (vii-viii). If we unpack this statement, it tells us that (1) only some facts will be retained, (2) there will be little method behind their retention, (3) they will be employed capriciously as they excite attention and (4) “creative” exploitation will take precedence over careful reasoning from evidence. That is a good summary of what EU. gives us.

The Prologue notes that economic metaphors provide a trope of intellectual, aesthetic and moral value. The trope probably does not antedate the invention of coinage. From this position, she poses two questions: “What exactly is lost to us when words are wasted? And where is the human store to which such goods are gathered?” (3). These are leitmotifs throughout the book, but she never attempts to answer them directly. The obvious senses that (1) powerful, efficacious or incisive words are wasted when the recipient does not understand them and (2) weak, useless or inapposite words are wasted when lavished on important issues do not interest her. What does interest her is subjecting the two questions to a sort of metaphysical trial by poem where the normal meanings of words have no value. She begins by comparing Celan’s “Matière de Bretagne,” which combines a wide range of other poetic traditions focused on a single dramatic moment when the false sail appears to Tristan, with two citations from Simonides: (1) a passage from Plutarch’s Life of Theseus (17.4, fr. 550 PMG) in which Simonides says that the false sail which misled Theseus’ father was red and (2) a scholiast who reports the words of the messenger sent to inform Aegeus of the true story (fr. 551 PMG). Celan’s use of negatives and negative theology is well-known, but C. now argues that the negative in the first and the counterfactual in the second passage show that “Negation links the mentalities of Simonides and Celan” (9). They do no such thing. In the Life of Theseus, the statement that the sail was “not white” belongs to Plutarch’s prose, the statement that it was a kind of red belongs to Simonides’ poem.1 Whether Simonides used a negative here is unknown. The messenger’s speech, which says simply “I would have given you a benefit greater than life had I come sooner,” a structure which must fill many thousands of lines in Greek verse, is subjected to the following flight of fancy: “Why must the economy of the false sail be contrafactual [sic]? Because it is an impossible idea conditioned by the negative event that already exists. Two realities for the price of one. No profit in fact changes hands — but the idea of it, added to the account of contrafactuality [sic], multiplies pathos and learning [sic]. Aigeus’ salvation is both adduced and canceled in the messenger’s spare comment. You could have your sail and falsify it too, if words were true” (8). The idea, as she expresses it shortly afterwards, that “The redness of his red sail stains fact deeply with the fixative of counterfact” (8-9) is merely false cleverness. Such reasoning would require us to construe innumerable other cases of contrary-to-fact statements in the same way.

The Prologue is a prologue for much more and much worse distortion of the sort we see here. C. compares a complete poem with two disconnected fragments from Simonides, one three lines long (fr. 550 PMG) and one a single textually uncertain line (fr. 551 PMG). She manipulates punctuation to affect meaning. She squeezes metaphysical significance from a perfectly commonplace grammatical form. She translates ὄνασα in the messenger’s speech with “given a profit” while ignoring the fact that it also (and here more probably) means “help,” “assist” or “benefit” because that is the only way to introduce an economic motif into her reading. She does, to her credit, translate the German of Celan with fair accuracy throughout the book, though she has a penchant for compound nouns, occasionally elaborates Celan’s imagery and sometimes misses nuances that Michael Hamburger catches in his Poems of Paul Celan. 2 In the “Matière de Bretagne,” for example, she translates the phrase “wandernde Wächte” in line 19 as “wandering watches” (4), which one can only call nonsense. Hamburger correctly catches the semantic nuance with “a shifting snow-wall”.3

The four chapters that make up the body of EU. liberally indulge the biographical fallacy. C. accepts numerous testimonia about Simonides as if they are accurate indicators of his personal opinions about poetry, language, alienation, hospitality, god and morality to name just a few. She is also willing to accept virtually all the fragments attributed to Simonides — especially the epigrams and epitaphs — as genuine. While I’m sure she knows how unreliable the ancient testimonia can be and how much of Simonides is spurious, she elects to play a kind of Foucauldian game with her readers: the poet as author is everything that the tradition says he is. We can as it were roll all the disparate traditions, both the true and false, the probable and improbable, into one lump and apply it en masse to the ancient poet. This neatly eliminates the need to critically assess our evidence. She is, however, much more careful about hewing to biographical fact with Celan, who is too near us in time for the same treatment.

Chapter 1 details two types of alienation, that of Simonides and that of Celan. Simonides, whom C. places on the cusp between the old gift economy characterized by ξενία and the new commodity economy characterized by coinage, is taken to represent “an early, severe form of economic alienation and the ‘doubleness’ that attends it” (19). Celan by contrast is estranged from German, both the language of his mother and the language of her murderers, but the need to create in German forced him to write as if he were always translating, always treating his native tongue as a foreign tongue (28-29). C. cites a passage from Celan’s Bremen speech that shows his belief in the persistence of language despite its tendency to accumulate burned-out meanings, hollow poeticisms and false sincerities: “Reachable, near and unlost amid the losses, this one thing remained: language. This thing, language, remained unlost, yes, in spite of everything. But it had to go through its own loss of answers, had to go through terrifying muteness, had to go through the thousand darknesses of deathbringing talk” (29). (Here we also see the origin of EU.’s title.) C. draws a specific parallel between the two poets by means of an anecdote in which the tyrant Hiero failed to offer Simonides hare at some banquet: “Like Simonides’ munificent host Hiero, the German language offers Celan a qualified hospitality, a murderously impure meal” (31). The section on Celan (28-38) revolves about the poems “Sprachgitter” and “Die Schleuse” but makes no original contribution and is largely recycled Celan scholarship. The two sections on Simonides (15-27 and 38-44) have many problems, which are listed in Appendix 1 for those who would like to tour the details. They are symptomatic of the whole book.

In many ways chapter 2 (Visibles Invisibles) is the most befuddled in the book. C. argues that Simonides, as our first literary theoretician, held an aesthetics in which the λόγος could depict unseen realities. She discovers his theory in an apothegm recorded by Michael Psellus that runs “O( λόγος TW=N πραγμάτων εἰκών ἐστιν.” C. derives a trans-syntactical meaning from it by attributing special significance to the physical placement of words, that is, the placement of λόγος and εἰκών on either side of πραγμάτων : “True to itself, the statement does what it says.” (51). Both nominatives “vie for the attention of the genitive πραγμάτων, which is placed to read in either direction and unite all three words like the hinge of a backsprung bow” (51). The poor verb ἐστιν, left otiosely outside, “insists on itself after other words have had their say and extraneous [sic] to their needs” (52). C. calls this harlequinade of philology an “iconic grammar” that renders a relationship between visibles and invisibles deeper and more dynamic than the visible surface of language. She then applies this iconic grammar to two poems: Simonides’ encomium to the Spartan dead at Thermopylae in Herodotus 7.228 and the Danae fragment. In the first she offers a deft analysis of Simonides’ “clean machinery of appositions” (55), but mistranslates ἐντάφιον as “epitaph” and plays rather too freely with the last two lines.4 In the second she rightly stresses the alignment of two consciousnesses, one present and accessible to us (=Danae) and one vanished inwardly (=Perseus), but then muddies her argument by a forced interpretation of the three verbs for “sleep” (ll. 21-22) that culminate in the prayer to Zeus:

But if to you the terrible were terrible,
you would lend your small ear
to what I am saying.
Ah now, little one, I bid you sleep.
Let the sea sleep,
Let the immeasurable evil sleep.
And I pray some difference may come to light
father Zeus, from you!

The shift from second-person to third-person imperative in the verbs is supposed to indicate a shift from a literal to a figurative register of sleep that “conjures up the differentiating power of God” (58). The sleeping Perseus cannot hear his wakeful mother’s warning about the terrors that lie about them, so she must imagine a different kind of sleeping: ” ‘If to you the terrible were visible,’ says Simonides to his audience, ‘you would see God.’ But we do not see God and a different kind of visibility has to be created by the watchful poet” (58). God appears as it were because in l. 23 Danae prays that “some difference may come to light.” This is a grotesque mistranslation of μεταβουλία, which means “change of will, mind or heart” in context.5 After another anecdote about Hiero’s request that Simonides define the attributes of the divinity, an anecdote that C. views as “a sort of concrete poem of man’s relationship with the Godhead” (61), we turn to Celan. C. draws impossible comparisons between the Danae fragment and Conversations in the Mountains before she turns to the brief poem “Alle die Schlafgestalten.” There is some clever juxtaposition of the sleep imagery in Celan and Simonides, though “sleep” means two very different things in each poet, and she plays the poem nicely against the prose Conversations. I was, however, particularly struck by the strange coincidence that C’s translation of “Alle die Schlafgestalten” is word-for-word identical to Michael Hamburger’s without any attribution.6 The poem is brief with very short lines, so a certain amount of similarity might be expected, but not word-for-word. I note a few of the more obvious errors of the chapter in Appendix 2.

Chapter 3 (Epitaphs) is vitiated by C.’s willingness to pretend that all the epitaphs she discusses are genuine. She asserts for example that of the three stones erected at Thermopylae to honor the men who fell with Leonidas, all are probably genuine but fr. 6 FGE most certainly is (76). Page however disagrees: “It [=fr. 6 FGE] has the peculiar distinction of being the only extant epigram whose ascription to Simonides may be accepted with fair confidence” (196). Her uncritical acceptance of the blatantly spurious (probably late) fragment fr. 79 FGE with its commonplace that “We are all owed to death,” a sentence that is she assures us “an important one for Simonides himself and for the whole epitaphic tradition” (80), leads her into an embarrassing biographical blunder. She traces the idea that life is a loan back to a custom on Ceos that required every male citizen to drink hemlock when he reached 60 in order to conserve food supplies. That is supported only by a reference to Strabo 10.486 in 81n22. She imagines that Simonides got his actuarial obsession with a debt to death from all the years he lived outside Ceos counting his borrowed time. But there is no evidence to support the scenario. Tim Parkin, who has a book coming out next year on old age in Rome, has very kindly given me the relevant citations on the “custom.” He notes that Ceos had a long tradition of senicide, but whether the tradition rests on historical fact is impossible to tell. Senicide may, for example, have occurred during a siege and then developed into an anecdotal tradition over the centuries. Tim certainly does not believe the sources justify C.’s allegation that hemlock was drunk at 60 in Simonides’ time.

The silliest thing in the whole chapter, however, is her effort to read the six words of fr. 86 FGE, using the text of Edmond’s 1927 Loeb Lyra Graeca II.374 rather than Page, as they might appear in stoichedon with TOMB SPINTHER SET cut in red over a black THIS UPON SPINTHER DEAD. She explains in 82n25 that Page prints “a slightly duller text” than Edmonds, as if dullness were a touchstone of textual criticism, and prefers the latter’s text because it “seems closer in spirit to the otherwise rarely artless Simonides.” It seems to her as if the collocation of the two incised lines could “reinflect Spinther from dative dependence on death to double subjectivity in his own sentence — just for an instant Spinther’s Spinther imitates himself in a semantic friction that generates two lives from one death and two men from one name” (83).

For the rest of chapter 3, almost every Greek translation involves tendentious renderings, but the worst occurs in fr. 9 FGE where ἄσβεστον κλέος becomes “Asbestos glory” and καθύπερθε becomes “down from above,” so that an omnikinesthetic “virtue down from above / keeps pulling them up glorying out of Hades’ house” (85). Try to figure out the mechanics of that! The only parts of the chapter worth reading concern Celan, though I note that her translation of “Grabschrift für Francois” is once more identical to Hamburger’s and again without attribution.7 The chapter ends with 99n58, which is supposed to tell us why Celan’s “hopes are small,” by pointing “Above, note 49.” There is no note 49 above or below that concerns Celan in any way whatsoever.

Chapter 4 (Negation) returns again to Simonides’ negative theology (100-08). C. claims to find an abnormally high proportion of οὔ and μή in the 1,300 words of his surviving legible fragments: 56 instances (100). This buttresses her belief that “Simonides’ poetic imagination conjures so vividly events that did not occur, people who are not present, possibilities that cannot be expected, that there come to rival the reality that is present and actual.” I have no idea what texts embrace her 1,300 words, but a careful search of the TLG CD-ROM produces a total of 40 instances. The ratio of negatives in Simonides and other poets is meaningless unless we know the method of sampling, which is not given. This whole section only discusses two fragments and reads very slapdash. The section on Celan, who certainly was influenced by negative theology and wanted to do something different with words he called “measuring out the areas of the given and possible,” is really quite good, especially the treatment of “Keine Sandkunst mehr” (114-17). The chapter shows somewhat less tendency to commit derridean excesses on English, perhaps because she had already squandered her fund of them.

The Epilogue, in a nice turn of economy, is the best part of the book. It explores the poet’s ability both to praise and to define reality with precision. Simonides’ frs. 542 (from Protagoras 339A-346D) and 541.1-9 PMG represent the power of words successfully to measure off the area of the given and the possible, while several works of Celan — most notably “Tübingen, Jänner,” Celan’s hymn to Hölderlin — represent his rejection of the notion that a modern poet can do what the ancient poet could do: differentiate accurately between good and bad, beautiful and ugly. The contrast of fr. 542 PMG with “Tübingen, Jänner” lets us view in close proximity an epinician poet who thought that his precision of language was juridical and a German-language poet who wrote a hymn to Hölderlin that ends in Salatwort, a kind of semantic silence. But even here there’s carelessness, which I’ve detailed in Appendix 3.

I have bothered to detail the flaws in this tiny book for three reasons. First, a major academic press has not seen fit properly to vet, edit, check and proofread the text. Second, the errors are of such extent and magnitude that they could seriously mislead someone not familiar with the scholarship, especially when Leslie Kurke assures us in the book jacket puff that it is a work of “meticulous scholarship.” Third, both the style and approach are an assault on reason, logic, language and humane studies by a writer who may have a “unique” form of scholarly discourse but is still held to the ordinary rules of evidence. Nor is this a case of playing my Orwell card against her Adorno card. There is no thought in this book to justify the prose, which no one could confuse with poetry. The expenditure of $29.95 on EU. is far worse than a zero sum game.


1. In 14n14, C. cites a fragment of Solon as fr. 13 West. It should be fr. 23, but she has used the older 1972 edition of M. L. West’s Iambi et Elegi Graeci Vol. II (Oxford, 1992) rather than the revised edition. The bibliography only lists the first edition, and incorrectly gives the date of both volumes as 1971. As a result, all references to West will mislead those who employ the revision. I see no reason to translate ὄλβιος as “perfectly happy,” and it is misleading to call παῖδες φίλοι“lovely boys.”

2. In detailing the ancient belief that Simonides was avaricious and the first professional poet, C. translates a scholiast as follows: “Simonides was the first poet who introduced meticulous calculation into songmaking and composed poems for a price” (15). She cites the source in 15n18 as “Kallimachos fr. 222 Pfeiffer.” This is incorrect. The scholiast is on Aristophanes Peace 695ff. Immediately after the translated passage, he cites Pindar’s riddling words in Isthmians 2.1ff., but it is another scholiast on Isthmians 2.1ff. who reports that Simonides was the first to compose epinicians for a fee and then cites Callimachus fr. 222 as evidence. C. has also mistranslated the word σμικρολογίαν with the phrase “meticulous calculation.” It means “stinginess,” “meanness” or “money-grabbing” in this context, as does σμικρολόγος a short distance below.

3. Between 15n18 and 15n19, C. quotes Aelian 9.1, Xenophanes and Peace 698-99 in several sentences on Simonides’ greed. Then in 15n19 she gives us a jumble of references to all the preceding quotations. It is normal practice for the material referenced in a footnote to bear on the sentence containing the footnote. Throughout EU. she tends to heap citations from several sentences into a subsequent footnote. This idiosyncratic practice makes it very difficult to coordinate citations with specific statements in the text, as 17n23 and 24 glaringly demonstrate. In the case of 15n19, she correctly attributes Xenophanes to the scholiast on Peace 697 (more properly 695ff.), but wrongly gives her very inaccurately translated quotation from Peace as 697 when it should be 698-99. Many footnotes contain a string of bare citations that possess only a hazy application to anything in the text.

4. In 16n23 C. cites Herodotus 3.131 for Democedes’ “annual” salary of a talent when it was his second year salary. She has also got the sequence of his financial progression wrong (16). Herodotus makes it clear he earned little or nothing in his first year on Aegina, one talent in his second year, 100 minae in his third year when hired by Athens and then two talents in the fourth year when hired by Polycrates.

5. C. is aware that it is hard to prove or disprove Simonides’ avarice (17), but having concluded that he suffered from economic alienation and “is like someone trying to live upright in an inverted world” (21), she forgets that and repeatedly attributes numerous opinions directly to him. The most egregious example is the subsection entitled “Grace and Hare” (19-22). She begins by citing the spurious Platonic dialogue Hippias Major 228c for evidence about how Simonides came to Athens, but the reference is to another spurious dialogue, Hipparchus 228bc (=Anacreon test. 6). It looks as though the reference to ” Hippias major” [sic] in 16n23 somehow migrated over to 19n31. Obviously, spurious dialogues cannot be used for Plato’s opinion. Next she quotes the story about the two boxes Simonides showed anyone asking him for a favor, one full of money and the other empty of favors. The citations in 19n32 take us through the scholiast to Theocritus 16 (it should be to Idyll 16.10ff.), Stobaeus 3.39 (it should be 3.10.38), Peace 697 (it should be the scholiast to Peace 695ff.) and several others. Stobaeus is clearer on the anecdote than the scholiast to Theocritus, which C. apparently used. Stobaeus says that when someone came to Simonides asking for an encomium or a favor but not offering any money, he then displayed the two boxes and explained their contents. Finally, with a little help from Marx C. performs an economic thought-experiment on the anecdote (20-21) that implies Simonides’ apparent greed was actually a political statement about the decline of χάρις as the commodity culture of money replaced the archaic gift culture of hospitality: one kind of χάρις is dying while another is thriving. Such thought-experiments only show that anything can be predicated to anything when we ignore the patent meaning of language and historical context. Even more airy is her interpretation of the story that when Hiero failed to serve him hare at a dinner, he parodied Iliad 14.33 with the line “Wide it was not wide enough to reach this far.” To C. this demonstrates Simonides’ delicate position as both a xenos and an employee of Hiero, since his payment for poetry has liquidated the mutual responsibility of xenia.“Stranded,” she concludes, “between ‘guest’ and ‘alien,’ Simonides sits watching this rich and ancient reality fall apart like an overcooked hare” (22). Here surely we have the economics of extracting the maximum from the nugatory.

6. C. quotes the spurious epigram fr. 88 FGE on a snow-cellar in Thessaly as genuine and again distorts it with a direct personal application to the poet: Simonides is reminding his host “that certain rules of grace are in abeyance at this dinner table” (23). In 22n40 she cites it as “Simonides fr. 88 φγε; 6 West; Athenaios 125c-d.” The abbreviation “FGE” refers to D. L. Page’s Further Greek Epigrams (Oxford, 1981), which is not listed in the bibliography as an abbreviation and must be deciphered from its full title under the Page entry. She eccentrically does the same in many references to “VS,” which is Diels-Kranz’ Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker. The West numeration should be fr. 25 West (1992) and Athenaeus 125c-d should be 125a-d.

7. The biographical fallacy rises to a crescendo in pp. 24-27, where C. deploys other anecdotes about Simonides’ avarice and entirely fictitious fragments, again presented as authentic, to plumb Simonides’ mind. We have such statements as the following: “Simonides experienced this loss of context from the inside. In his relations with the patrons who were also his hosts, he saw decorum break down” (24); “Once again Simonides is pointing to a tension between two economic systems” (25 on Athenaeus 14.656d); “We have seen in the poems and anecdotes above that Simonides likes to play upon his own alienation” (25-26); “We know Simonides entertained these questions [about the monetary value of poetry and its measurement] and that he dealt sharply with anyone who presumed to answer them for him” (26 on Rhetoric 1405b, where high pay induces him to write about mules); “Characteristically, Simonides makes a double statement about the economics of his situation” (27 on the spurious frs. 84 and 85 FGE).

8. In a subsection called “Memory” (38-44), C. attempts to read Simonides’ mnemonic system as “a paradigm of what the poet does in confrontation with void [sic]. He thinks it and he thanks it, we could say (borrowing a phrase from Paul Celan’s Bremen speech), for it is the beginning of an immeasurable moment of value” (40). She mines this bizarre notion from (1) Cicero’s account in the De oratore 2.86 about the collapse of Skopas’ roof after he had halved Simonides’ fee and (2) some passages in Theocritus Idyll 16.8 Skopas violated the contract of money for poetic memory, so the gods punished him; he didn’t realize the value of the words he was buying, but heaven did and sent the Dioscuri to rescue the poet. When Simonides recalled the seating order of the banquet, permitting proper burial, he exceeded the original contract with Skopas by an act of grace reminiscent of the old hospitality now dying from Greece (43). That gives rise to a capping bit of Schwärmerei: “His alienation flows open as experience and paradigm. His memory construct … is not artificial: Simonides had sat in the room that becomes his theater of memory; he ate dinner amidst the data. This poet is someone caught between two worlds, remembering both. His flame in every grain. For him, memory is both commodity and gift, both wage and grace” (43). The illogicality of such reasoning is not helped by more citation errors: 40n76 on the Dioscuri cites ” Kypria fr. 6 Allen,” but Allen is not in the bibliography; 42n79 on Simonides’ mnemonic system erroneously cites Callimachus Aitia 21, when it should be 64.1-14. More serious is her mistranslation of κοσμιότης as “sense of order” in the anecdote about Simonides’ habit of selling the excess food Hiero sent him (repeated from 25). Its proper meaning is “prudence,” “decorum” or “moderation” in context. But C. wants to connect κοσμιότης with the mental order of Simonides’ mind as he reconstructs Skopas’ collapsed banquet hall and the vanishing order of gift culture. As a consequence, she forces the wrong sense on it.


1. In 45n2 the citation of “LSJ s.v.” lacks a referent. This must be the bibliographical economy of ellipsis.

2. C. implies (46) that Longinus congratulated Simonides for his pictorial power in general, but Longinus only praises him for a specific poem.9

3. In 46n8 C. cites Pausanias 10.25.1 for Simonides’ Polygnotan inscription, but it should be 10.27.4. Rather more serious is her claim that Plutarch, in the Life of Themistocles 1.4, calls Simonides an authority on paintings in the town hall of Phlya. C. wants to argue that Simonides enjoyed the society and patronage of artists. Plutarch however merely reports that Themistocles, according to Simonides, paid for restoring and frescoing the Lycomid shrine in Phlya after the Persians burnt it.10

4. Gorgias fr. 11.51 footnoted in 49n19 has been incompletely and wildly mistranslated.


1. C. gets the Epilogue’s title of “All candled things” from “Die Ewigkeiten,” but only quotes the first five lines because (presumably) she wants to pull out “alles Gekerzte” without regard to its contextual meaning (121). Excerpting Celan is, as here, the surest way to distort his meaning.

2. In 124n8 fr. 542 PMG does not come from Protagoras 340A-348A but 339A-346A, a location that is clearly printed at PMG 282.

3. She states that Simonides’ fr. 542 PMG establishes the poet’s own epinician necessity “in sixteen negative and double negative formulations” (126). There are in fact a total of 14 negative particles. A slight difference, perhaps, but C. considers the number significant.

4. In her version of fr. 542 PMG, she mistranslates ” οὐδέ μοι ἐμμελέως τὸ πιττάκειον νέμετα I” as “Now if you ask me, the old saying of Pittakos does not define its terms properly” by ignoring ἐμμελέως and turns ἀμήχανος συμφορὰ into the alliteratively empty “misfortune machine.” It means of course an “irresistible or uncontrollable misfortune,” a misfortune that has no remedy, not a factory machine stamping out misfortune. One of the worst sins a poetic translator can commit, as Nabokov noted long ago, is to upstage the original text by embroidering the English to show how clever she is.

5. C. bothers to note that fr. 541 PMG is an epinician fragment “attributed to Simonides” (127) when she has virtually ignored the issue of spurious poems from the start.


1. C. tries to avoid this unfortunate fact with a little slight of punctuation. In her translation of the Life of Theseus 17.4, she places her first pair of quotation marks before ” not white,” contrary to the texts of both Plutarch and fr. 550 PMG, to get the negative into Simonides.

2. Michael Hamburger, Poems of Celan (New York, 1988).

3. Hamburger 125.

4. See for comparison M. L. West’s version in Greek Lyric Poetry (Oxford, 1993) 163.

5. West 164 has “grant some sign of a change of thy will.”

6. See Hamburger 337.

7. Hamburger 78.

8. C. acknowledges in 39n73 how historically unsound it is to use Cicero and Theocritus as evidence, since they are hearkening centuries back to an icon of Simonides’ life derived entirely from literature and gossip. “But,” she concludes, “this icon is our subject.” Here in the decent obscurity of a footnote she admits for the first time what we’ve known all along: “Simonides” is anything and everything the tradition says he is. But she constantly forgets that fact and applies biographical interpretations to the historical poet.

9. See ‘Longinus’ On the Sublime, ed. D. A. Russell (Oxford, 1964) 125n15.7.

10. See Frank Frost, Plutarch’s Themistocles. A Historical Commentary (Princeton, 1980) 64.