BMCR 2004.10.16

Reminiszenzen früher Lyrik bei den attischen Tragikern: Beiträge zur Anspielungstechnik und poetischen Tradition. Zetemata, Heft 118

, Reminiszenzen früher Lyrik bei den attischen Tragikern : Beiträge zur Anspielungstechnik und poetischer Tradition. Zetemata : Monographien zur klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, Heft 118. München: Beck, 2003. 288 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 3406517439. €59.90.

This reworking of a 2001 Freiburg Habilitationsschrift begins with a quote from Sir Kenneth Dover: ‘agnostic to the point of nihilism’. This decidedly negative tone is then confirmed by the programmatic opening sentence, which proclaims that the book deals with (many) loci similes which have unjustifiably progressed to the status of ‘Reminiszenzen’, and (a few) loci similes which have undeservedly retained this status. This is slightly misleading, however. After going on to consider some 108 cases of close verbal similarity between tragedy and lyric (used as a blanket term which includes iambic and elegiac poetry), Bagordo (B.) is in fact prepared to give strong support to the claims of 22 of these to be allusions (Anspielungen) as such, and more tentative support to 8 more.

B. offers us a 23 page Introduction and a 10 page Conclusion, the bulk of the book (189 pages) being devoted to the discussion of the 108 cases. B. wisely organises his material from the perspective of the ‘lyric’ poets, considering in turn passages from Archilochus (7), Hipponax (3), Semonides (2), Tyrtaeus (1), Mimnermus (2), Solon (5), Xenophanes (2), Theognis (8), Alcman (2), Stesichorus (6), Ibycus (1), Sappho (12), Alcaeus (11), Anacreon (3), Simonides (3), Bacchylides (10), Pindar (27), Ion of Chios (1), Carmina Popularia (1), and Carmina Convivialia (1), these passages being, in each case, placed alongside their look-alikes from the tragic corpus. The passage discussions vary in length and complexity, sometimes involving a consideration of the theoretical and interpretative issues raised in the Introduction.

This Introduction, which could be better organised, is nevertheless useful in establishing the platform from which B. operates, although it naturally covers much well-trodden ground. B. canvasses the range of different possible relationships where similar expressions occur in the work of two poets. In the context of his survey of related scholarship, he commends Richard Garner’s book on poetic allusion1 both in general, and also in terms of its formulation of an ‘anatomy of allusion’ and the new light thrown on the role of Pindar and Bacchylides as models for Euripides in particular. However, he also endorses the criticisms that Garner doesn’t really discuss the question of the motivation behind the tragic poets’ use of allusion, and that he doesn’t deal anywhere with the connection between ‘Anspielung, “Kollusion”, Imitation, Entlehnung und Anklang’. Interestingly though, B. himself doesn’t really try to deal with this definitively either, nor with the precise relationship between these terms and ‘Reminiszenz’, ‘Reflex’ and ‘Rückgriff’. He characterises the concept ‘Intertextualität’ as applied to Greek literature (at least to the end of the fifth century) as a ‘contradictio in adiectis’ (mainly on the basis of the pesky interference of orality in the mix), but basically puts the attempt to come up with a new term into the too-hard basket and signals that he will use the term occasionally. He notes in this context problems with the term ‘Literatur’ as well, but again concedes that he must fall back on conventional usage.

B. deals sensibly with the question of where Homer fits into any study of the lyric poets and the tragedians, concluding that where the tragedians take over an expression found in both Homer and lyric poetry the source can be assumed to be the former (he acknowledges the possibility of a common source behind post-Homeric and Homeric poetry itself). The prerequisite for identifying a lyric ‘Reminiszenz’ in the tragedians, he concludes, is its ‘Nicht-Homerizität’.

In the subsection entitled ‘Anatomie einer Reminiszenz’ (pp. 23-8), B. suggests that the sole criterion for establishing a ‘Reminiszenz’ in a loci similes context lies in the degree of particularity of the locus. Where there’s a certain degree of lexical or syntactical ‘Prägnanz’ and recognizability, he continues, so the affinity of one locus with another or its dependence on it is more obvious. And he adds that ‘Prägnanz’ doesn’t necessarily imply complexity.

The next stage of the argument is that where the conditions mentioned above exist, the second poet’s intentionality in adopting the first poet’s words can be taken as certain — which, while a reasonable rule of thumb, does not allow for the possibility that, on occasion, the second poet may just be drawing subconsciously on his personal poetic memory bank even if it indeed happens to be the first poet who has contributed this particular expression to it.

A related issue, which B. usefully discusses, concerns the level of education in general among the different groups who will have made up the tragedians’ audience, and more specifically their familiarity with the different types of ‘lyric’ poetry. This is tied up too with other questions such as the means of transmission of this poetry, the history of an institution such as the symposium, the possible adaptation of ‘choral’ lyric to a monodic context, and the extent to which a tragedian desired or indeed could rely on particular members of his audience to identify allusions. Touched on too is the change-over from a basically oral tradition to more of a ‘book culture’, which is seen as being given a boost in the last third of the fifth century.

The significance of comedy is also discussed, the basis of a comparison with tragedy being that the types of reference to lyric poetry in the former are generally, though not exclusively, parody-orientated. The specific mention by name in the surviving comic corpus of the majority of the nine canonical Melic poets, taken in conjunction with the numerous verbal reflections discussed by Chr. Kugelmeier,2 is seen as the best evidence for knowledge of such poetry on the part of at least a certain percentage of the fifth-century theatre audience.

The final and in some ways most important aspect considered in the Introduction concerns gnomic and proverbial language. While B. notes the close relationship between the ‘literary’ and the ‘proverbial’ traditions, he basically rules out the possibility of any literary ‘Reflex’ in a locus characterised by ‘proverbial’ language. We’re simply dealing in this situation, he assumes, with general poetic language and a nameless literary tradition.

It’s not possible here to offer a comprehensive discussion of the merits of B.’s interpretations of the individual passages, and so a few examples must suffice (B., of course, while promising to present his material as objectively and thoroughly as possible, acknowledges the high degree of subjectivity involved in the process of categorising, and concedes that some readers will find him too mean, and others too generous, in his choice of passages to be counted as genuine ‘Anspielungen’ as he condemns the others to the more shadowy realms of the poetic tradition).

In connection with Archilochus, B. rightly categorises Dionysus’ words at E. Ba. 614 ‘I saved myself’ as a purely linguistic parallel with Archil. Fr. 5, 3 W. He also, again rightly in my opinion, sees the expression ‘(with souls) in the arms of the waves’ (Archil. Fr. 213 W) as a common enough metaphor which is in a number of fifth-century dramatic contexts — which therefore disqualifies ‘the arms of the sea (are teeming with monsters…’ A. Ch. 587f) as an ‘Imitation’, as has been suggested. B. has similarly good grounds for ruling out Aeschylus’ use of the epithet μηλοτρόφος to qualify Asia (Pers. 763) as a reference to Archil. Fr. 227 W, given the use of the epithet elsewhere as a qualifier of Libya, Arcadia and Thessaly. More debateable perhaps is B’s scepticism about any significant direct connection between the Archilochean fable of the fox and the eagle and the parodos of the Agamemnon. But it must be admitted that the fable tradition itself, and a possible Homeric model as well, muddy the waters.

B. does accept the description of Menelaus at E. Or. 1531f as a ‘Reminiszenz’ of Archilochus’ vain and implicitly cowardly general, and appears to have good grounds for doing so, even if the stereotype, which may indeed well emanate from the poem of Archilochus, might have become for some members of the audience at least simply a traditional stereotype, the precise source being forgotten. Similarly convincing (on account of shared vocabulary, especially the rare word λεωργός) is B.’s acceptance of a direct link between lines 3-5 of the PV and Archil. Fr. 176 and Fr. 177 W. He is in two minds about the suggested connection between A. Ch. 123 and Archil. Fr. 126 W.

Turning to Pindar, we find that B. discusses 27 tragic passages as possible candidates for ‘Anspielung’ status, but accepts the claims of only four of these unconditionally. The lucky four are the references to first the Typhon myth and then the Themis oracle in the PV, plus two supposed compliments associated with Pindar’s native city — the opening two words of the parodos of the Antigone (identical to the opening of the surviving fragment of Pindar’s 9th paean), and A. Th. 774 (reading πολύβατος) as connected with the Theban poet’s qualification of the Athenian agora. B. only considers four of the other Pindaric passages to be even possible as direct sources, and provides detailed demolitions of the case for other direct Pindar/tragedy links, for example the idea that certain features of the language used by the chorus in the parodos of the Ajax present an epinician hero. Most potential examples are argued simply to reflect the common poetic language or poetic tradition.

For the record, B.’s 22 definitely accepted cases also include five from the elegists (three from Solon, two from Xenophanes), one each from Alcman, Anacreon, Simonides, Bacchylides, Ion of Chios and the Carmina Popularia, and two each from Sappho and Alcaeus (two of the ‘Anspielung’ passages are actually parodies found in E. Cyc., the link with comedy being noted). The regrettable loss of so much lyric poetry (and tragedy for that matter!) which might radically alter the picture is, of course, admitted.

Much has been written in recent years about intertextuality, allusion or whatever, and so there is little in B.’s book that could be described as new and exciting. He has, however, done scholarship a service by offering such a comprehensive account specifically of the tragic/lyric nexus — this is confined, of course, to linguistic considerations, broader aspects such as motifs, myth in general and connections of a metrical, musical and compositional nature being specifically excluded. B. has also done well in demonstrating the danger of being too quick to conclude that loci similes must somehow be more than, well, just loci similes.

The book is, in general, tidily presented. I had difficulties from time to time in understanding exactly what B. was driving at, and there appeared even to be the occasional quasi-contradiction. This may, however, say more about my comprehension of German than about B.’s ability to express himself clearly at all times. Without claiming to have applied the eagle eye, I did notice a few glaring misprints, most notably three within three pages in the Conclusion (gewöhliche for gewöhnliche p. 227, Gendakenguts for Gedankenguts p. 228, and Delisches for Delphisches [presumably] p. 229).


1. Richard Garner, From Homer to Tragedy: The Art of Allusion in Greek Poetry, London and New York 1990.

2. Chr. Kugelmeier, Reflexe früher und zeitgenössischer Lyrik in der Alten attischen Komödie, Stuttgart und Leipzig 1996.