Twenty five years after M. L. West’s radical statement that the preserved fragments of the Distaff, the celebrated master piece of Erinna, actually were a masculine forgery,1 comes this extensive work on the testimonies and fragments of a renowned but mysterious poetess. It should be said from the beginning that Neri thinks that she really existed and wrote at least some of the poems attributed to her. But authorship is only one of many subjects covered in this excellent edition. Neri has carried out an exhaustive analysis of the testimonies and fragments that includes a fresh examination of a considerable amount of manuscripts and papyri, not to say of published material, to which he gives very accurate reference. Every testimony and fragment receives a line by line commentary that should not be overlooked by future editors of those works, and some of them are completely re-edited. The quality of this work is not hampered by the opinion that Neri (or his readers) has about Erinna’s biography; it stands by itself.
The book is divided into an introduction on Erinna (pp. 7-114); edition of the testimonies and fragments with facing Italian translation (pp. 115-179); commentary (pp. 180-461); three appendices (on the critical apparatus, language, and metrics, pp. 463-578); bibliography (pp. 579-639); indexes (pp. 641-718) and four photographs of PSI 1090.
Since for many centuries Erinna was nothing more than a name, Neri begins his book with the Nachleben (pp. 7-34). His account will be appealing for everybody interested in the history of classical scholarship and the configuration of the literary canon, and especially for those interested in the reception of literature written by women and how they get in or out the canon in different periods. As reconstructed by Neri, Erinna’s reputation was linked in Antiquity to that of Callimachus and the poets labelled as Callimachean. Between the IV and I centuries BCE there is a coherent series of epigrams that laud Erinna as a model of oligostichia and refined taste; while in the I-II centuries CE there is a reaction to the Callimachean style in which Erinna is also attacked. From being a radical author (a woman, supposed to have died young and to have written only some influential lines), Erinna was transformed into an example both of a specific form of poetry (Callimachean) and of feminine poetry in a broad sense. Both characterisations are already in the earlier testimonies; the first became less important after antiquity, but the feminine character increased its importance from Renaissance to the present day. Erinna’s history in the last five centuries is more or less the same as that of other ancient women writers, shifting from being considered marginal or exceptional to receiving an enormous amount of scholarship. The attribution to Erinna of many poems (some of them really absurdly) from Orsini’s 1568 Carmina novem illustrium feminarum to the discovery of PSI 1090 in 1928 are narrated in an amusing, well-informed style. Pages (pp. 35-53) on the life of the poetess are a balanced summary of the information fully exploited in the commentary of the testimonies. Of special interest in the chapter on the literary work (pp. 55-114) is the reconstruction of the Hellenistic edition of Erinna’s Distaff, as far as can be inferred on the basis of PSI 1090, and a reconstruction of the text (pp. 91-94).2
The complete list of passages edited and commented on by Neri in the second part of his book runs as follows:
Testimonies: 1a) Herodian. I 257, 9 17s; 1b) id. II 455, 9; 1c) Theognost. Can. 509; 1d) Est. ad Il. 2. 814, 351, 39-41; 2a) Et. Gen. s. v.
Fragments: 1) SH ; 2) Erinn. fr. 7 Hartung; 3) SH 402; 4) SH 401. Dubia: 5) Erinn. 1 HE (AP 7. 710); 6) id. 2 HE (AP 7. 712); 7) id. 3 HE (AP 6. 352). Spuria: 8) SH ; 9) Melinn. SH 541; 10) Cleobulin. 1 IEG2; 11) id. 2 IEG2; 12) id. 3 IEG2; 13) id. AP 14. 101; 14) Panarc. pp. 93s. IEG2 (a-b); 15) Simon. 17 (PMG 522); 16) SH ; 17) SH 1002.
Neri’s most important contribution regarding the testimonies3 is his scrupulous reconstruction of the history of Erinna’s name. His study of the pride epigrams on the poetess (test. 4-12) is especially illuminating, as they clearly show the shift from the original
As for the fragments, Neri argues for the authenticity of frs. 1 and 2 (less so for the latter), which have been considered spurious by most previous critics. Fr. 3 has been commonly considered a suitable part of 4 preserved by indirect transmission, and Neri agrees. To the 54 fragmentary lines of the Distaff preserved in PSI 1090 (fr. 4 = SH 401) Neri devotes a compact commentary of almost two hundred pages (pp. 233-430), a thesaurus criticus of conjectures and supplements (pp. 477-493) and a papyrological commentary (pp. 501-507). Acute literary and papyrological sense is shown in every section, but the reader would have been helped by having the whole material in the same section. As an editor of fragments, Neri is most conservative, i.e., he prefers to discuss supplements and conjectures in the commentary rather than including them in the edited text; from this point of view, he works differently on the testimonies and on the fragments. Neri considers dubia the three epigrams ascribed to Erinna in the Greek Anthology (frs. 5-7), that have been considered spurious by most critics. Frs. 8-17 are spurious.
Pages 521-548 deal with dialect and linguistic features, an interesting aspect of Erinna’s work, sometimes considered a forerunner of Hellenistic dialect blending. The scarce corpus really does not help: if the dialectal choices of Callimachus and Theocritus are difficult to assert, we cannot expect more from Erinna’s fragmentary lines beyond a confirmation of her debts to the lyric and epic traditions. Neri’s description is in any case useful to compare it with the practice of other Hellenistic poets. More or less the same applies for metrics (pp. 551-577), the study of which characterises Erinna as a rather conservative poetess.
In Neri’s impressive bibliography (pp. 579-639) we can find references to almost every word written on Erinna from a philological point of view. Indexes also are exhaustive, including a welcome index of manuscripts, very useful when working with indirect transmission and fragments.
Neri’s is a complex and very rich book, in which it is not always easy to find the way, and the reader must sometimes gather from different sections; in any case, this is a common problem of long books and specially of those from doctoral thesis. The exhaustiveness of Neri’s research and the high quality of his exposition excuses him, nevertheless, for having written such a mega biblion on a poetess who composed only 300 verses.
1. Erinna, ZPE 25, 1977, 95-119. On the reactions against West (some of them a little exaggerated), see Neri, pp. 31-32. Lloyd-Jones even offered an interesting parallel with Rimbaud: an adolescent from a lonely town who transformed the poetry of his time, producing a literary myth (see Étiemble’s classic Le mythe de Rimbaud).
2. Most of this material had been previously published in ZPE 115 (1997), 57-72.
3. For this section, the author reworks his prior publication Studi sulle testimonianze di Erinna, Bologna, 1996.