BMCR 2005.01.15

La parola inestenguibile. Studi sull’epinicio pindarico

, La parola inestinguibile : studi sull'epinicio pindarico. Filologia e critica ; 90. Roma: Edizioni dell'Ateneo, 2003. 174 pages ; 23 cm.. ISBN 8884760380. €34.00 (pb).

This book consists of an introduction (7-11), a list of bibliographical abbreviations (13-19), and three chapters: 1. “Epinicio ed epos” (21-84), 2. “Repliche dell’epinicio” (85-119), 3. “La Musa artigiana” 121-60). It ends with two indices: places discussed (161-67), and modern scholars quoted (169-77). The three chapters are enriched by expansive and learned footnotes. Nowhere does Loscalzo (hereafter L.) specify which edition he follows when quoting Pindaric odes; nor does he say at whom this book aims, although one easily deduces that it is for scholars and graduate students who are familiar with Pindar. Long Pindaric Greek quotations are usually accompanied by an Italian translation provided by L. himself.

L.’s overall analysis argues for the superiority of epinician poetry to contemporary poetic genres and artistic products in the ability to ensure inextinguishable glory and memory of the laudandus and the laudator. The odes were a concrete kosmos, a sort of real goods, like the contemporary craftsmanship’s products, which the rich laudandus could leave to his descendants and which thus could be repeatedly performed, after their first performance in the context of the victory’s celebration. As an acquirable product, the odes could also be exported and so pass from place to place, which means that they could be re-performed even out of the victor’s hometown. In L.’s view, it is precisely this kind of real mobility through time and space that promotes the epinician ode’s function of perpetuating memory (8).

The first chapter mostly deals with the superiority of epinician ode to epos. The discussion focuses on Ol. 2. 83-88: the image of the eagle and the ravens is re-interpreted in light of the contrast that, according to L., occurred between choral lyric poetry and epos.1 The eagle, i.e., the σοφός, whose knowledge and skills are inborn, and the ravens, i.e., the μαθόντες, do not symbolize, as has been often thought, the contrast between Pindar’s excellent odes and Bacchylides’ or Simonides’ lesser ones. They symbolize two different literary genres: the highest, represented by Pindar, and the lowest, represented by the rhapsodoi (35-43). Since ravens were considered capable of repeating and imitating others’ sounds, i.e. of learning from somebody else, in L.’s view they can symbolize the contemporary epic poets and professional reciters. Also, the characteristic of παγγλωσσία fits well both the ravens and epic poets (44-5). As to the reason why Pindar feels the need to claim the superiority of his genre, symbolized by the eagle, precisely in relation to epos, L. argues that the great popularity still enjoyed by epic compositions and performances in the 5th cent. B.C., in spite of new trends and social changes, made epos the most suitable genre for immortalizing fame, to such a degree that epos could appeal to the laudandi more than epinician odes did. Therefore, Pindar, aware and afraid of the imminent decline of epinician, has to show that his poetry is able to ensure an unending glory, as well. In L.’s view, to show this throughout his production Pindar highlights two negative aspects of epos : (a) the fact that its composers are not original but just professional reciters (53-8), and (b) παγγλωσσία (58-9). Further, the poet bases the defense of his own poetry on two arguments: (a) the brevitas of his odes (59-69), and (b) the anteriority of lyric poetry to epic poetry (69-72).

In chapter 2, L. wonders whether, when claiming the superiority of his poetry to any other material-artistic products in spreading and preserving fame through space and time, Pindar alludes to performances really repeated on occasions and in places other than those within the victory’s festival or merely conjectures about unlimited potential performances of epinician odes (91). L. thinks that real re-performances through time and space are what Pindar meant, though admitting the conjectural nature of his arguments (91-92). First, going beyond Irigoin’ theory, L. proposes the existence of more than two copies of the same ode, which might make the ode more easily circulate. Also, the copy destined for the victor’s family could have musical notations as well as that destined for the chorodidaskalos. Provided that some members of the family were expert in music, the odes might have had repeated performances, accompanied by music, during both domestic and public occasions. Then, focusing on the issue of the concrete spreading through space, L. discusses Nem. 6.29-34. Considering that the Bassidai (the laudandus‘ family) were sea-traffickers, L. states that Pindar’s words ἴδια ναυστολέοντες ἐπικώμια refer to the family’s real practice of exporting their victory’s odes to be performed in the foreign lands they reached by sea-trafficking. It is not a metaphorical cargo; it is a real one. This, L. concludes, would justify Pindar’s statements about the spreading of his odes through the whole Hellenic world (108-9), and this is the immortalizing power that Pindar ascribed to his poetry, which otherwise, in L.’s view, is only a petitio principii (108).

In chapter 3, L. describes Pindar as a τέκτων of the praise-song. On the basis of this image, L. analyzes several Pindaric metaphors drawn from contemporary craftsmanship and architecture. His analysis is accurate from both the linguistic and cultural points of view. When commenting on the metaphor of weaving (144-47), L. quite acutely raises the question why Pindar at times chooses a feminine art like weaving as metaphor for his poetry (145), but unfortunately never answers this question. Then, L. discusses the reasons why Pindar does not employ metaphors drawn from painting although he hints at sculpture, even though in polemic terms. Finally, L. focuses on the social role of the poet as artisan and gives a valuable overview of Pindar’s own and other authors’ ways of thinking about the category of craftsman (155-59).

Many of the arguments, as unfolded in each chapter, seem to be circular and questionable. Also, L. often falls into inconsistencies.

First regarding the decline of the epinician genre and the appeal of epic performances L. seems to assume that Pindar treats his odes as if the decline constantly affected his poetics. Yet the epinician odes were mostly composed within 490-460 B.C., while the ancient evidence L. adduces, to argue about the decline, involves the last quarter of the 5th cent. and beyond it and is not drawn from Pindaric production.2 On the other hand, we do not see an increasing concentration of poetic claims late in Pindar’s production, as we might expect close to the actual period of epinician genre’s decline. That at Pindar’s time there was a competition among several kind of public spectacles and professions is true, and this may be the reason why Pindar defends his poetry throughout the whole career by keeping his present time in mind rather than by being concerned about the future of epinician genre.

Pindar’s supposed worry about epic performances and the related interpretation of Ol. 2. 86-88 arouse some perplexities, as well. Pindar opposes the poet’s traditional, inborn sophia to learned knowledge and skills, but these could be achieved by everyone, not exclusively by the rhapsodoi. In the end, we also cannot forget that Pindar had to compete for commission and, consequently, for as great an audience as possible. Thus, contrary to L.’s arguments (43 and n. 67), the competition issue may make the polemics against peer poets like Simonides and Bacchylides in the context of an epinician performance more understandable than polemics against epic poets, especially given that epic encomium (the only possible epic ‘antagonist’ to epinician odes) developed only at the end of the 5th cent. (see L., 46, 50).3 Furthermore, although L. distinguishes (without any persuasive evidence) three kind of more or less contemporary epic poems (mythological, historical and encomiastic, he actually focuses on the performances of professional reciters (53-4), without specifying which kind of epos should be the ‘antagonist’ of epinician. Also, when discussing the superiority of epinician poetry, L. seems not to take firmly into account that epinician poetry and epos are two different genres, with obviously different characteristics and purposes. Thus, for instance, epinician’s refusal to tell everything and its preference to select are more likely due to the different nature of the lyric ode than to an innate superiority. Besides, when assessing epos on the basis of both brevitas and selection criteria, L. seems to be affected by Alexandrian precepts rather than by Pindar’s. The other reason of epinician poetry’s superiority is also questionable. In L.’s view, it is the anteriority of the lyric genre compared to Epic poetry: “Il secondo aspetto della polemica con l’ epos è dato dall’anteriorità del genere lirico: l’ epos sarebbe più recente e pertanto il compositore di epinici si servirebbe di modelli più nobili, proprio perché più antichi” (69). Here, again, it is not clear about which kind of epos he is talking. Moreover, the fact that Pindar insists on the ancient nature of epinician songs (70-2) is not clear evidence that Pindar considers Lyric poetry superior to epic poetry because the former is more ancient than the latter.

Neither persuasive nor clear are L.’s arguments concerning the possibility of real re-performances of the odes through time and space, before a large audience capable of spreading the news and of preserving them. It seems that L. doubts the persistence of the poetic word per se (he talks of petitio principii), and thus needs to anchor it to tangible facts. For instance, L. believes that Pindar’s hints at the odes’ shipment (mostly expressed by the verb πέμπω) indicate a real, actual habit. Poetry constitutes a concrete cargo which, being transported through space, is able to really spread fame and glory. However, although L. emphasizes this concrete, material aspect of Pindar’s odes, he cannot avoid employing terms as metaphors, images, and topos in such a way to contradict his own idea (see, e.g., L.’s discussion on Pyth. 2. 67-71: 110-2). The terminology employed to indicate the re-performances is at times confusing, as well: riedizione (e.g., 93, 99, 101), replica (e.g., 93), riesecuzione cantata (e.g., 94), ripetute edizioni (e.g., 95), riuso (e.g., 99). It is not always clear whether L. talks about re-performance of an exactly same and entire ode without new interventions by the poet, or about repeated performance of a portion of the same ode. Peculiarly questionable seems L.’s assumption about the existence and the circulation of several copies of the same ode, assuming that the poet himself could have arranged a first collection, and intervened to change his poems, cut off some parts, make them suitable for new circumstances (98-9).

As to the possibility for epinician odes to be really transported and so performed elsewhere, there is a certain unevenness in the evidence. L. focuses on only one passage, Nem. 6.29-34, and the peculiar verb, ναυστολέω, to prove it was a habitual custom.4 L. also talks of external evidence testifying the fortune of the odes and their possibility of being re-performed. In fact, L. reports only one, Aristophanes Clouds ll. 1355-6, to argue about both the popularity of the odes and the habit to perform them in sympotic circumstances. Yet he quotes the same Aristophanic evidence in the book’s Introduction, when talking of the opposite circumstance, i.e. the decline of epinician genre (9, on which see my footnote 2).

Finally, L.’s overall discussion about Pindar and the painting (152-4) provokes perplexity. After having stated that Pindar never compares his poetry with the painting, L. refers to the opposite evidence provided by Simonides (fr. 190b Bergk; Plutarchus, De glor. Athen. 346f). He comments on it, first by ascribing to Simonides a mimesis theory nowhere ascribed to him then by contrasting Simonides’ presumably consequent interpretation of poetry with Pindar’s one in such a way to imply that Pindar does not care for the painting since, as presumably interpreted by Simonides, this art is close to epos. Thus Pindar, hostile to epic genre, cannot contemplate painting. Among other questionable arguments L. introduces in this section, one must notice the cursory and misleading discussion of such an important concept as mimesis; as a result, there is a certain confusion between Plato’s and Aristotle’s concept of poetry as mimesis (see 154 and n. 99).

Although L.’s analysis shows knowledge and expertise in dealing with Pindaric poetry, due to the several inconsistencies and some quite weak arguments, the general and final impression is that of certain confusion.5


1. In the first Chapter, L. first analyzes Ol. 2. 83-86 (21-9), and focuses on the poet’s image as archer. His discussion is confusing and contradictory. Not only does L. give to the words συνετοί and βήλη more than one meaning, which, in turn, do not always match each other (as to συνετοί, see, e.g., 26-7; as to βήλη : 23; 24; 26; 27; 33 and n. 38; 72-3), but also, although he proposes a new interpretation of the expression ἐς δὲ τὸ πὰν, according to which ἐς τὸ πὰν has an adverbial meaning (i.e., altogether, absolutely), and δὲ is copulative, his reasoning constantly implies a contrast either between few wise individuals and all people or between a limited and a widespread understanding of the odes’ contents (72; cf. also 34).

2. L. mentions Aristophanes, Clouds 1353 ff., Plato, Leg. 2, 658a-e (9), and Euripides, fr. 755/1 Page (84 and n. 188). As to the first two authors, the discussion is too cursory if one considers that L. refers to them as important evidence of what he is arguing. Also, with reference to Aristophanes, passing over the incorrect, or misprinted, date (424 B.C.) ascribed to the Clouds, to consider the notoriety of Euripides as being due to his choice of indecent subjects, like incest, and consequently to defend the youth’s preference for Euripides’ rhesis is misleading and strongly diminishes both the reception of the dramatist by the contemporary audience and the meaning underpinning that Aristophanic passage. Note also on p. 158 there is also an incorrect reference: it is Frogs 1008 ff. instead of Clouds 1006 ff.

3. To dismiss altogether any reference to contemporary cultural trends is not as simple as L. seems to imply. At least, one cannot avoid considering the overall impact that the novelty of Simonides’ activity could have on Pindar’s poetics. For a well-known episode recorded by Cicero ( De orat., II.86), according to which Simonides invented the method of memorizing, which meant, in a way, to make memory no longer the exclusive, divine, inborn competence of the poets, see, e.g., M. Detienne, Simonide de Céos ou la sécularisation de la poésie, “Rev. Etud. Gr.” LXXVII (1964), 405-419. As to the contrast between inborn sophia and learned knowledge/skills, possibly involving hints at contemporary trends likely shared by other lyric poets, see, e.g. Bacchylides, fr. 5 Maehler.

4. Moreover, although L. analyzes πέμπω to support his idea, it is not clear whether or not he examines all occurrences. Among passages L. reports, peculiarly questionable is Nem. 3. 76-80, about which it is not clear what L. really thinks since there is a large inconsistency between text and footnotes (see 114-5 and nn. 81, 83).

5. At times L. seems erroneously to report other scholars’ thoughts. Namely, on G. Pasquali see L. p. 51 n. 90, and cf. G. Pasquali, Orazio lirico, Firenze 1920, p. 302; on G. Arrighetti see L. p. 158 n. 108, and cf. G. Arrighetti, La cultura letteraria in Grecia, Roma-Bari 1989, p. 3, where Arrighetti says exactly what L. thinks the scholar has never thought and stated.