BMCR 2003.01.20

The Fragments of Timotheus of Miletus. Oxford Classical Monographs

, , The fragments of Timotheus of Miletus. Oxford classical monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. xxii, 266 pages ; 23 cm.. ISBN 0199246947. $72.00.

Timotheus of Miletus was born in the middle of the 5th century and probably lived well into the 4th. He was famous — and controversial — in his own time as an exponent of the so-called “New Music”, and the 11 surviving titles of his poems ( The Mad Ajax, Artemis, Elpenor, Cyclops, Laertes, Nauplios, Niobe, Persians, The Birthpangs of Semele, Skylla, The Sons of Phineus) and 19 fragments (all = PMG 777-804, plus part of a line preserved by Philodemus) suggest a taste for epic themes and for tales of grief, madness and terrible suffering. Far and away the most important of the fragments is P.Berol. 9875 = PMG 791, which contains substantial portions of Timotheus’ Persai, a “nome” (i.e. an astrophic composition sung to the accompaniment of a lyre) that describes the Persian defeat at Salamis. Timotheus’ Greek is crabbed and obscure, and has won him few modern admirers; Wilamowitz, the original editor of the Persai papyrus, described it as “immensely difficult” and said the author bored him. Hordern’s book is in origin an Oxford D.Phil. thesis written under the direction of Martin West, with input from James Diggle, Gregory Hutchinson, Dirk Obbink and Peter Parsons. Hordern repeatedly sheds light on an almost impossibly obscure author, and as this is likely to be the only full edition of Timotheus produced in this generation, it is impossible not to be grateful for its appearance. There are nonetheless significant problems with the book which make it difficult to recommend wholeheartedly.

Hordern begins with a substantial Introduction, which treats inter alia Timotheus’ life and the reception of his work in antiquity; the style, language and metrical structure of what survives of his poetry; a brief history of two of the most significant genres in which he composed (dithyramb and nome); and the Persai papyrus. Hordern assembles an enormous amount of information, and one cannot help but admire his industry and learning. But the sheer mass of (sometimes patently dubious) evidence cited and the detailed and often necessarily inconclusive treatment of modern scholarly controversies makes much of the discussion heavy going. In his preface, Hordern acknowledges that the process of transforming the dissertation — a genre in which extended discussion of minor points is almost obligatory — into a book was difficult, and notes that the manuscript had to be “pulled into shape” at a late stage by one of OUP’s senior copy editors. Much more might profitably have been trimmed from this section, and some of the remainder ought perhaps to have been moved into footnotes.

Hordern has made a painstaking study of the Persai papyrus, and his text is very different and in most ways much more satisfactory than that offered in PMG. Thus he gives a far better report of the fragmentary first column and the badly damaged section at 110-14, and consistently uses sublinear dots to indicate questionable readings, as PMG almost as consistently does not; and he has greatly expanded the critical apparatus and completely reworked the colometry (although more on this below). The text itself is relatively clean,1 if more oriented to an audience of papyrologists than to the average professional reader, for whom e.g. νομάσι with a note in the apparatus recording the original reading would have served far better in 78 than Hordern’s νομ{μ}άσι, especially given the enormous number of similar minor errors in the papyrus. Hordern’s tentative and inconsistent handling of damaged but restorable sections of the text is also puzzling. If Περσᾶν, for example, “seems certain” in 53 for the transmitted περσαν (thus 49-59 n.), it ought to be printed, at least if one is going to print βάσιμον . . . δίοδον four lines below, where the papyrus once again lacks accents and the text as a whole is no easier. And if ἑ]λιχθεὶς is “universally and rightly read” in 58 (thus 49-59 n.), why not print it? But the more substantial cause for alarm is the critical apparatus, which contains a disturbingly large number of errors, omissions and the like. Thus on pp. 88-91 (four pages chosen at random), 10 ἐκεῖσε lacks an accent; 34 Wilamowitz is not credited for his supplement of the text (which Hordern prints), although the supplement adopted in PMG is mentioned and attributed to Diehl; “42 ποσί τε Page” is actually a reference to 44, where we read “suppl. Page”; but this too is misleading, for the note on “42-3” (read “42-4”) informs us that χ]ερσίν in 44 is in fact Wilamowitz’ supplement, not Page’s; 47 Hordern prints διεξ (with a sublinear dot beneath the delta) in the text but δ]ιεξ in the apparatus (no explanation in the commentary, if this is a simple papyrological issue); 71 the entries are out of order, and the second is actually on 70-1; 79, 102 and 124 no one is credited with correcting the papyrus’ readings; 87 read “86-7” (and the font for “87” is too large); 123 the accent on the first δυνα{ς}τά is bad. There are other peculiarities as well. Throughout most of the apparatus, Hordern uses abbreviations to refer to Danielsson (“Dan.”), Edmonds (“Edm.”) and Wilamowitz (“Wil.”), and initials for contemporaries who offered him their thoughts on the text (“JD” for Diggle, “GOH” for Hutchinson, and “MLW” for West). Capital letters ought really to be reserved in such contexts for manuscript sigla, and “MLW” in particular is no shorter than “West”; but then on p. 92 we momentarily have “West” and “Diggle”, while on pp. 96 and 98 “Wilamowitz” is written out in full. Some basic proofreading and checking has apparently been omitted, as again in the commentary.

Timotheus’ Greek is at many points almost impenetrable, and the tattered state of the Persai papyrus makes matters worse. Hordern therefore wisely translates the fragments or, in the case of PMG 791, each large section of text as he comes to it.2 Unfortunately, he frequently fails to translate fully, particularly when there are problems of any sort with the text. Thus in his translation of PMG 791.40-71, he omits 50-1 (damaged but clear); at PMG 791.139-49, he omits the second half of 142 and all of 149; and at PMG 791.237-40, he omits τῶιδ’ in 240 and has “Paean” for “Pythian”. And, although the metrical structure of Persai is extraordinarily complex and has been completely reworked here, and although Hordern scans the text and offers some high-level technical discussion of this aspect of it, he fails to provide explicit analyses along the lines of “cho ia” (as PMG, much to its credit, does) or even to divide feet. All but the most expert users will thus find some very basic aspects of this commentary far less helpful than they might — or were seemingly intended to — have been.

Because Hordern is a student of West’s, it comes as no surprise that he has a great deal to say on textual and linguistic matters, as well as on potential connections to Near Eastern (especially Old Persian) sources. There is much of interest and value here, and even when Hordern does not convince, he opens up important questions.3 On more broadly literary issues, the commentary is less revealing. To cite but one example, PMG 780.1-3 (from Timotheus’ Cyclops) describes how a single ivy-wood cup ( δέπας κίσσινον) of dark wine was mixed with twenty measures of water; as Hordern notes, this must be a reference to the wine Maron used to drink in precisely this way (H. Od. 9.208-10) and which Odysseus offers Polyphemus in a κισσύβιον at H. Od. 9.346. In the final two verses of the fragment, Timotheus describes the mixture as “the blood of Dionysus and the newly-flowing tears of the nymphs”, and Hordern offers some parallels for the first periphrasis and suggests that the adjective serves to emphasize the freshness of the water. But surely the more significant point is that these are conspicuously awful images and horribly appropriate for a brutal story of murder and grief. So too part of the point of characterizing a drowning character as “a man of the plain (?), lord of a land that can be crossed in a single day” ( PMG 790.40-2) must certainly be that he is not so good at making his way through water; while, on a larger scale, Hordern omits any synthetic discussion of the overall narrative structure of Persai (the preserved portion of which lurches back and forth between a grand, Olympian perspective on the battle and close-up descriptions of individual “barbarian” characters, who offer short, pathetic speeches), or its theology, or its imagery. This relative restriction of focus is perhaps not worth dwelling on, for all commentaries have their strengths and weaknesses. What is more disturbing is — once again — a consistent carelessness on smaller if still important matters. Thus e.g. at PMG 791 fr. 1.3, 4 the lemmata in the commentary are different from what is printed in the text, as again at PMG 791.46, 48, 118; while at PMG 791.112-13 Hordern asserts that one might print Ἕλλαν’ | Ἄ[ρη, although what he means is apparently Ἄ[ρη . . . Ἕλλαν’. As for references to other ancient texts, I checked 100 in the commentary more or less at random. 17 of these were defective or misleading or inadequate in some way,4 and there were less serious problems (words omitted from quotations with no indication of the ellipse and the like) in a number of others. This is an astonishing — and quite unacceptable — rate of error in what ought to have been a definitive and thus very carefully vetted text. Critical editions and commentaries are so complicated, so difficult to produce and so exhausting to proofread that they almost inevitably contain a few typos, as anyone who has published one can attest. But this is an extreme case, and it is impossible to escape the conclusion (supported by other evidence, cited above) that Hordern’s Timotheus was rushed into print before it should have been. The result is an important but flawed piece of work, which takes a limited view of its subject but simultaneously cannot be relied upon in matters of detail. Hordern has succeeded in making Timotheus’ poetry more accessible than it has been for perhaps two millenia. But until a second, much-corrected version of his edition appears, the task he has so admirably begun cannot be regarded as complete.


1. But print πλαγὰ at PMG 791.8, and Διὸς at PMG 791.196. The text of Persai in PMG, on the other hand, contains a remarkably large number of bad accents (e.g. at 38, 45, 51, 117).

2. Unlike some other recent OUP editions, on the other hand, very little of the Greek embedded in the Introduction or commentary is translated, and non-classicists will find this volume largely inaccessible.

3. The absence of an Index Verborum — or indeed of a Greek index of any sort — is therefore all the more surprising and unfortunate.

4. E.g. p. 101 on 778(a)-(b) for “Diogenes, TrGF 45 = Semele F 1″ read “Diogenes, TrGF 45 F 1.6-8″; p. 110 on 780.1 for “Hes. Op. 593″ read presumably “592”, but the passage is irrelevant in any case; p. 111 on 780.1 at E. Alc. 757, μέλας is used of the grape, not the wine; p. 113 on 780.3 for “Anacreon fr. 356.3-6” read “Anacreon fr. 356(a).3-6″; p. 169 on 791.76 for ” Herc.” [sic] read ” Herc. 1190″, and E. Hec. 1063 is misquoted; p. 184 on 791.100-1 [A.] PV 399 is cited in different forms in two successive notes; p. 187 read ” IG I3 1179.6″, and the verse is inexplicably cited in the post-403 alphabet; p. 246 on 791.237-40 for “Isyllus, CA 134.58-60″ read “58-61″; p. 247 on 791.238 for ” PMG adesp. 937″ read “937.15”, and for “Thgn. 885 εἰρήνην” read ” εἰρήνη“; p. 249 on 792 for “Carcinus” read “Carcinus II”.