Why the recent spate of publications about Parthenius of Nicaea, an unlikely celebrity if ever there was one? It isn’t that any new evidence has been brought to bear concerning his influence on the ‘neoteric’ poets in Rome. There is, though, a fair bit of literary-historical mileage to be got out of the dedication of the Erotika Pathemata to the poet Cornelius Gallus, and quite a lot more from the connections of the Erotika Pathemata to Hellenistic poetry, historiography, mythography, romantic fiction—and also, as this new book contends, to the visual arts.
Kai Brodersen announces that it is ‘an der Zeit, den fast vergessenen Text des Parthenios aus dem 1. Jahrhundert v. Chr. neu zu präsentieren’ (p. 9); the rhetoric of rescue is undermined somewhat by the list of recent bibliography listed on 19-20, culminating in my own little volume published in 1999. So how does Brodersen’s contribution advance matters? First, this is the first German language translation of the Erotika Pathemata apparently since L. Mader’s Griechische Sagen, Bibliothek der Alten Welt (Zürich and Stuttgart, 1963). Second, it illustrates the text with a selection of vase-paintings taken from one of Germany’s foremost collections of ancient vases, in Mannheim. A public collection founded in the second half of the nineteenth century, this was formerly held in a building severely damaged in the war; it is shortly to go on public display again when the archaeological collection of the Reiss-Museum (founded 1957) is refurbished. This book presents itself as a foretaste of the riches in store when it does (cf. pp. 10, 21, 125). The vase paintings were chosen by Claudia Braun, who has also supplied a commentary.
The book opens with a ten-page (unfootnoted) introduction. In a potted biography, Brodersen runs through the little that the Suda tells us about P.’s life, and the less that can be surmised from other sources. Herein he opts for the earlier date for P.’s capture (73 BC, when Nicaea fell to the Romans, rather than 66/5, final defeat of Mithridates by Pompey). He evokes the high posthumous regard in which P. was held, surmising from the anecdote in Galen’s De sententiis medicorum that P. soon became a Schulautor, and pointing out Gregory of Nazianzus’ allusion to the story of Comaetho. In his introduction to the Erotika Pathemata, he agrees with me that the manuscript’s indications of ‘sources’, or, better, parallel versions, most probably derive from a late-antique grammarian rather than the author himself. He is generally au fait with the current state of research, though Enrico Magnelli would no doubt be surprised to hear that Alexander of Aetolia, author of the long fragment quoted in the fourteenth story, is a ‘sonst unbekannten Dichter’ (p. 17).1 He underscores the comparatively small number of editions of the work between the sixteenth century and the twentieth, which he attributes to prudery.
Brodersen has inspected Pal. gr. 398 (P), in which the Erotika Pathemata uniquely survive; he is acquainted with it through another of this famous manuscript’s uniquely-preserved treatises, which he has previously edited.2 His text has no apparatus criticus, though he indicates omissions and supplements by brackets in the text itself, and there is a list on 121-3 of other places in which his text departs from the manuscript (all conjectures are unattributed, but when checked appear to contain no new suggestions by B. himself). He accepts that the manuscript’s mysterious sign that looks like, but is not identical to, an -ou- ligature, equates with
His translation—which precedes the Greek text, taken chapter-by-chapter—furnishes the stories with glossing sub-titles (no. 3, ‘Odysseus und Penelope nach dem Happy End’; no. 8, ‘Der Barbar als Edelmann, oder: Doppeltes Spiel einer Ehefrau’), and also supplies a few helpful glosses, expansions, and explanations in round brackets in the course of the text. A native German speaker is better qualified than I to judge how idiomatic it is. What matters most is the way he renders the introductory dedication, in which he construes
Claudia Braun’s additional notes (pp. 124-39) describe the history of the Mannheim collection of ancient vases, and summarise the development of black- and red-figure vase painting, before an informative paragraph about each item. Her exposition is clear, precise, aimed at the intelligent non-specialist. Of course, the vase paintings themselves (all of which with one exception come from the 7th-4th centuries BC) don’t illustrate the stories in Parthenius himself, nor are they claimed to (‘Begleiter zum mythologischen “Notizbüchlein” des Parthenios’, which ‘wie der Text selbst die Vielfalt des antiken Mythos veranschaulichen’ is how Brodersen himself puts it on p. 21). Rather, they are chosen for their bearing on a theme or motif or character (especially deities) taken from the story, and they range through various species of relevance all the way to the downright irrelevant but ingenious. For example, the first, that of Lyrcus (who got drunk and impregnated his host’s daughter), is illustrated nicely by a Silenus with wine-skin; Odysseus’ death through an encounter with a sting-ray (no. 3) is illustrated by a plate depicting three fish—’probably bream’; while Eulimene, a Cretan casualty of pre-marital pregnancy, is illustrated by a ‘Bügelkanne’ from Lindos, c.1380-1200 BC (the most tenuous connection of the lot). The innuendo-laden choice of Electra and Orestes to illustrate the incestuous brother-sister pair Byblis and Caunus reminded me of George Steiner’s interpretation of the relationship between Antigone and Polynices. But all in all, we should sooner admire Claudia Braun’s ingenuity in finding something that (more or less) fits, rather than be disappointed by inexact matches (although I was a bit sorrowful to find the sensational story of Thymoites’ necrophilia (no. 31) anodynely rendered by a live woman with naked Eros). And we should be grateful for the photographs themselves (newly produced by Jean Christen), which are of high quality (all black and white), and which certainly fulfil their function, to whet the appetite for the reopening of the Mannheim collection.
In sum: an unpretentious and useful book, pleasantly produced, with no aspirations to being a fully-fledged scholarly commentary. It also retails at a sixth of the price of mine.
1. E. Magnelli, Alexandri Aetoli: Testimonia et Fragmenta (Florence, 1999).
2. Philo of Byzantium: see K. Brodersen, Reiseführer zu den Sieben Weltwundern (Frankfurt a. M., 1992).