BMCR 2006.08.56

Lirica e Teatro in Grecia. Il Testo e la sua ricezione. Atti del II incontro di Studi. Perugia, 23-24 gennaio 2003

, Lirica e teatro in Grecia : il testo e la sua ricezione : atti del II incontro di studi, Perugia, 23-24 gennaio 2003. Quaderni del Dipartimento di filologia e tradizione greca e latina ; 4. Napoli: Edizioni scientifiche italiane, 2005. 254 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 8849511582. €20.00 (pb).

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This volume collects the proceedings of an all-Italian conference held in Perugia in late January 2003. As the one-page “Presentazione” explains (p. 5), it is the product of a research program that involved scholars in Messina, Catania and Perugia, and that produced already a first volume of conference proceedings in 2001.1 The research area covered by this project is quite a broad and ambitious one: “lo studio dei testi poetici greci, melici e drammatici, della loro trasmissione dall’età arcaica e classica, attraverso l’attività dei filologi bizantini, sino alla ricezione in età tardoantica e bizantina.” All the essays gathered here are presented as dealing with a topic related to this subject (although their chronological frame, scope and size vary considerably). The organizing criterion is a chronological one: lyric first, then tragedy, Old Comedy and finally New Comedy in Greece and Rome.

The volume opens with Grandolini’s contribution on Plutarch’s citations of Sappho. The works securely ascribed to Plutarch show familiarity with four of Sappho’s poems (31V, fr.158V, fr.55V, fr.49V): Grandolini is particularly interested in the value of Plutarch’s citations in reconstructing Sappho’s texts, and in how Plutarch adapts their lines to different contexts. After a close analysis of all the passages in which Plutarch cites, paraphrases or summarizes Sappho, Grandolini briefly turns to a question of more general interest: how did Plutarch know Sappho? Not directly, but through gnomologies, as the themes of the Sapphic lines that he cites indicate (e.g. self-control, education). This is confirmed at least in part by the fact that fr.55V is also present in Stobaeus’ Eclogae (3.4.12), one of the largest collections of quotations to have survived from antiquity. Further evidence for the presence of Sappho in school contexts is provided by an incomplete ostrakon dated to the second century BC on which a student wrote 17 lines from Sappho 1.2 V.2

Another lyric poet, Ibycus, is the focus of Ucciardello, who provides a 67-page discussion on the textual transmission of Ibycus’ works from Ibycus’ lifetime to Late Antiquity. Ucciardello focuses especially—but not exclusively—on the language in which Ibycus circulated. This issue was discussed long ago by Holsten, whose thesis was later developed by Wilamowitz: according to them, Ibycus, who came from Rhegium, a colony substantially Ionic in the VI century, originally used a more Ionic language. His works were made more Doric by later editors, as in Hellenistic and Roman times Rhegium became more Doric. Ucciardello reviews the linguistic peculiarities in Ibycus’ fragments and weighs the main arguments of Holsten and Wilamowitz. He substantially confirms their thesis, but allows the existence of several copies of Ibycus that circulated before the Alexandrian period, each (probably) with its own linguistic characteristics. For Ucciardello, Ibycus’ poems were recorded soon after their composition, and Ibycus, like Pindar later on, left copies of his works to those who had commissioned them so that they could be reperformed also at symposia (see especially on p. 29). Some of these editions, probably those that circulated in Ionic areas, had a more marked Ionic color, and one of them was probably the source of PMG 286. The rest of Ucciardello’s article deals with two specific fragments, PMG 333 (possible evidence for the presence of Ibycus in schools during the third century BC and PMG 334 (possible evidence for the existence of graphic variants in the Alexandrian period). Ucciardello concludes his long and learned paper with a section on the reception of Ibycus during the Roman and Byzantine times in which he discusses possible fragments of Ibycus in the extant lexicographies.

We move from Ibycus to Pindar with the contribution of Cannatà-Fera on the Nachleben of Pindar in the Greek literature of the late second century AD. Pindar opens his Isth. 2 with the comment that the poets of old could freely sing their love song “for at that time the Muse was not yet greedy (philokerdes) nor working for hire (ergatis)” (ll. 6-7). The philosopher Numenius of Apamea recalls these lines as he speaks about the relationship between the sceptic Arcesilaus and the stoic Zeno (fr. 25 des Places). According to Cannatà-Fera’s interpretation of this fragment, which probably presents a textual problem, Numenius is here saying that Arcesilaus, being a talented speaker, was able to impress the Stoics “for their Muse was not even then word-lover (philologos) or working for hire (ergatis).” She discusses the effects created by this parody and considers Numenius’ comments within the tradition that labeled the Stoics as poor speakers. She also suggests the parodic use of Pindar’s lines may go back to an earlier source, possibly comic.

Pindar is also relevant to Misiano, who focuses on three specific passages: Ol. 1.82-4, Ol. 8.37-40, Pyth. 4.152-5. Misiano explains the syntactic construction of these lines, so far considered irregular, by applying to them the findings of modern linguistic theories. Functional grammar distinguishes theme (“un elemento che, pur anticipando l’argomento della proposizione successiva, non fa sintatticamente parte di essa”) from topic (“l’elemento di una frase che ne costituisce l’argomento [e] che, a differenza del theme, è parte integrante di una proposizione,” p. 99). Therefore, a sentence can be articulated in two separable syntactic units, one of which, placed at the beginning, is the “theme construction.” This essay is largely a collection of comparanda drawn from different authors to what Misiano considers Pindar’s theme constructions, and closes with the some brief observations on the reasons why Pindar uses this device, to facilitate the reception of information by the audience, and to stress a specific element.

D’Alessio concludes the section devoted to Greek lyric with a long and interesting paper on the First Hymn of Pindar. In spite of the popularity that this Hymn enjoyed in antiquity (cf. Luc. Icaromen. 27), its text survives only in quotations and on a papyrus fragment. According to D’Alessio the hymn as we know it from Snell’s edition is “la collaborazione tra gli scarsi resti del testo e la fantasia ricostruttiva di Snell” and some of his predecessors (p. 115). D’Alessio presents this paper as a preliminary work for a future edition of the text: his main concerns here are the theogonic section of the hymn, the presence of more than one song in it, and some technical issues regarding the part of the hymn preserved by P.Oxy. 2442. The hymn contains a song delivered by the Muses at the wedding of Cadmus and Harmonia, and whose incipit is preserved by fr. 30. This ode, argues D’Alessio, did not extent throughout the whole hymn, but probably covered only the triads II and III and stopped before fr.33a, which describes the Heracles’ attack against the Meropes on the island of Cos (an episode that took place several generations after the wedding of Cadmus and that is narrated in the past). Fr. 33d, which deals with the birth of Apollo on the island of Delos, also lies outside the song delivered by the Muses. Wilamowitz initially suggested Pindar’s First Hymn to be a hymn to Zeus: this hypothesis later became an accepted truth for Snell and many others. According to D’Alessio, however, this hymn was in honor of Apollo: the reader interested in this topic is referred to his forthcoming article “Re-Constructing Pindar’s First Hymn : The Theban Theogony’ and the Birth of Apollo”.3 Finally, D’Alessio formulates some hypotheses on the overall structure of the hymn by discussing metrical issues as well as the lay out of POxy 2442, and concludes by reconstructing a possible sequence of the fragments of the hymn, followed by 2 appendixes and an addendum. There is much to learn here and to be looking forward to.

The drama section of the volume opens with Panzera’s contribution on the repetition of oracular sentences in Sophocles’ Ajax, Trachiniae, Oedipus the King, Philoctetes, and Oedipus at Colonus. Panzera’s main concern is how the repetition of the content of an oracle by different characters can be reconciled with the dramatist’s coherence in building his characters and plots. After analyzing the passages dealing with oracles in all of these five plays, Panzera concludes that these repetitions respond to a specific dramatic effect: “segmentando la rivelazione della verità egli (scil. Sofocle) mette in moto…un meccanismo di attesa.” This results in a “crescendo sia informativo sia emotivo” (p. 173). One wonders if this is specifically Sophoclean, but this issue does lie outside Panzera’s investigation.

The next paper, by Merro, is also concerned with Sophocles’ drama, and specifically with El. 62. In the prologue of this tragedy, Orestes entrusts the pedagogue with the task of announcing his death and backs up his plan by saying (ll. 62-4):

ἤδη γὰρ εἶδον πολλάκις καὶ τοὺς σοφοὺς λόγῳ μάτην θνῄσκοντας· εἶθ’, ὅταν δόμους ἔλθωσιν αὖθις, ἐκτετίμηνται πλέον·

Merro discusses the identity of the sophous mentioned here (an issue disputed already in antiquity). She reviews possible candidates, Pythagoras, Aristeas, Salmoxis and Odysseus, and concludes that sophous is a generalizing plural for the epic Odysseus and that palin refers to the several times in which Odysseus is considered to be dead in the Odyssey. She rules out any allusion to the plays in which Odysseus could have announced his death ( Penelope, Niptra, and Odysseus Pseudangelos, as suggested by Grossardt to justify the plural sophous) on the grounds that very little survives of them, and nothing can be securely said on their specific content. This is a safe course of action to take. However, tragic characters are not unfamiliar with fake deaths. Euripides’ Menelaus calls it an old trick ( Helen 1056), and the tragedy staged in Menander’s Aspis (cf. l. 329ff: on the relation among these two passages, Iph. Taur. 1031ff. and Soph. El. see Merro herself, p. 183 and n. 27, with further bibliography) revolves precisely around a fake death.

Foti introduces Euripides’ drama by discussing the attribution of Med. 49-95. In modern editions of the play we read that, after the nurse’s recollection of Medea’s trip from Colchis to Corinth, and her description of Medea’s plight, the pedagogue comes out and reveals Creon’s decision to ban Medea and her children. The scholion in the codex Par. gr. 2713 presents a striking feature in more than one place. It explains the masculine verbal forms with feminine ones, thus ascribing to the nurse what our text ascribes to the pedagogue. The attribution of the lines 49-95 varies not only in this scholion but also in some codices. There is no doubt, observes Foti, that the lines must be ascribed as modern editors do, since l. 65 contains the expression “by your chin” that is always addressed to a male: the pedagogue is the one who knows the latest news in Corinth. Foti then turns to explaining how a different attribution of these lines has found its way into the scholion and some codices, through the intervention of copyists, and in one case, an actor’s interpolation.

Tragedy, and specifically a long rhesis delivered by Sisyphus and quoted by Sextus Empiricus ( Math. 9, 50ff, p. 402), is the subject of Cipolla’s paper. This rhesis, that Sextus Empiricus ascribes to Critias and other sources to Euripides, is an account of the raise of human civilization from a beast-like state, through the introduction of laws to punish evil doing and of religion to punish secret crime. This essay is a point-by-point rebuttal of Pechstein’s reading of this rhesis as denying not the existence of the gods, but their omniscience. Cipolla eloquently re-states the traditional interpretation of these lines as atheistic: they deny the existence of the gods, and were perceived as such by both the fifth-century audience and later authors.

The last two papers are devoted to comedy. Loscalzo considers the portrait of the poet in Aristophanes’ Birds, the first of a series of intruders who visit the newly founded bird-city. This essay analyses the poet’s parody of the lyric poets of the past, e.g., Pindar, Bacchylides, Hipponax, and stresses the poet’s search for opportunities to sell his work. Loscalzo also identifies a play on the theme of “la frigidità del poeta e della sua opera” (p. 229): the poet, to whom in the end Peisetaerus gives a mantle and a jerkin just to get rid of him, feels cold’ because the bird-city is cold.

Finally, Sisti deals with rape as a plot device in Greek New comedy and in the palliatae. He identifies two main groups of plays (A, B) according to whether or not the rapist and the raped know each other. The B group (the two do not know each other) can be further divided into two subgroups, according to when the rape took place: long before the dramatic action (B1) or shortly before it (B2). Sisti then goes through all the comedies that feature a rape and discusses how they fit into this classification. That rape is frequent in New Comedy is something scholars, ancient and modern, have often noted. The reader interested in this issue could also profitably consult Rosivach’s lengthy discussion on this motif.4 The volume closes with the “Indice dei Luoghi Discussi” by Claudio Meliadó.

Assessing a volume of conference proceedings as a whole is not an easy task, especially when, like here, the contributions are very different in size and character, and the reviewer is likely to appear unfair to some of them. As my brief summary makes clear, these are all highly specialized papers written for a highly specialized readership. This is also reflected in their format. With only one exception (the article by Cannatà-Fera), the Greek and Latin texts are only rarely translated: readers with no training in these languages will not be able to, nor in all likelihood wish to, approach this book. The essays are presented as sharing an interest in the text and in its “ricezione:” they place themselves in the field of reception studies. Reception is a word as important as it is vast and elusive, often used as a trendy replacement for words like “heritage,” “influence” or “intertextuality.” Whatever is actually indicated by “reception,” these are golden days for this term. We now find it for the very first time in the third edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary, and Lorna Hardwick has recently written an entire monograph on reception studies in classics, identifying the trends and gaps of this field of research.5

Hardwick has stressed, among other things, the importance of reception of classical texts in antiquity as a “mediating factor between classical and modern cultures” (p. 4), and has devoted an entire chapter to reception in antiquity (ch. 2). This volume takes up precisely this area of inquiry, thus distinguishing itself from contributions on the reception of ancient texts in later times. The approach is, more often than not, a textual one. As the excerpt from the Presentazione quoted above makes clear, “ricezione” here is identified as “trasmissione,” although it also covers audience-response and interpretation of texts. More often than not, authors and texts are at both ends of the reception process. Performance and audience do not have the lion’s share, and this sounds (may sound?) like a reaction to the current trend. In an article published in 1995, Oliver Taplin, whose work in performance studies needs no presentation, claimed the move away from author to audience to be the main offspring of performance criticism during the last twenty years.6 Martin Revermann’s newly published book Comic Business. Theatricality, Dramatic Technique, and Performance Contexts of Aristophanic Comedy (Oxford and New York: 2006) now speaks of “a vibrant reperformance culture by the last quarter of the fifth century at the very latest” (p. 68). It also provides, among other things, a fine discussion of what it is indeed a “fundamental problem” (and a thorny issue), the authenticity of the transmitted performance script in view of reperformances (pp. 66-95). Performance and reperformance prove to be useful tools not only in studying the reception of Greek drama, but also of Greek lyric: what may come to most readers’ minds is the recent and valuable contribution by Bruno Currie, “Reperformance Scenarios for Pindar’s Odes.”7 Readers with an interest in performance studies will probably be a bit disappointed by this volume. So much about texts and authors, so little about performance, reperformance, performers, context(s) of performance, and audiences! Others may notice that there is little on the larger dynamics that lie behind the reception of Greek lyric and drama in antiquity. Here and there we read about schools and the role they played in granting the survival of texts, and it might have been interesting to hear more about this.

It would, however, be unfair not to conclude this review on a positive note. Anyone who approaches this volume (granted that s/he is not a novice) and who takes the time to go through the Italian text (generally sparing of pretentious grammar and of paragraph-long sentences) will take something valuable out of it. This book might not be as performance- and context-oriented as some might wish, but it does shed some light on the reception in antiquity of Greek lyric and drama from the archaic, classical and Hellenistic times. And we can all agree that this is, indeed, a most fascinating phenomenon.


Simonetta Grandolini, “Saffo in Plutarco” (pp. 7-20)

Giuseppe Ucciardello, “Sulla tradizione del testo di Ibico” (pp. 21-88)

Maria Cannatà-Fera, “Pindaro in una parodia filosofica (Numenio di Apamea, fr. 25 des Placet)” (pp. 89-97)

Serena Misiano, ” Theme constructions in Pindaro” (pp. 99-112)

Giovan Battista D’Alessio, “Il primo Inno di Pindaro” (pp. 113-149)

Daniela Panzera, “Iterazioni in Sofocle: le sentenze oracolari” (pp. 151-173)

Grazia Merro, “La falsa morte di Oreste e i sophoi di Soph. El. 62″ (pp. 175-187)

Francesca Foti, “Attribuzioni di battute nella Medea di Euripide” (pp. 189-199)

Paolo Cipolla, “La negazione del divino nella rhesis di Sisifo (Crizia, TrGF 43 F19)” (pp. 201-19)

Donato Loscalzo, “Vestire il Poeta (Aristoph. Av. 904-959)” (pp. 221-234)

Francesco Sisti, “Il motivo della puella vitiata nella nea e nella palliata” (pp. 235-246).


1. I lirici greci. Forme della comunicazione e storia del testo. Atti del I Incontro di Studi. Messina: 2001.

2. On this ostrakon see PSI XIII 1300, and more recently, R. Cribiore, Writing, teachers, and students in Graeco-Roman Egypt (Atlanta: 1996) pp. 231-232, no. 247; eadem, Gymnastics of the mind (Princeton: 2001) pp. 152-3.

3. Presented at the conference “Apolline Politics and Poetics” (Delphi July 4-11 2003). The conference proceedings are apparently to be published in a volume with the same title.

4. V.J. Rosivach, When a Young Man Falls in Love (London and New York: 1998), pp. 13-50, cf. also Appendix 2A-B on pp. 146-8.

5. OCD 3 1294-5 (by C. Martindale), L. Hardwick, Reception Studies (Oxford and New York: 2003) (reviewed in BMCR 2004.04.16).

6. “Opening Performance: Closing Texts?” Essays in Criticism 45 (1995), 93-120, on p. 109.

7. In C.J. Mackie ed. Oral Performance and Its Context (Leiden and Boston: 2004), pp.49-69 (the volume is reviewed in BMCR 2004.09.44).