BMCR 2008.02.47

Gli epigrammi di Simonide e le vie della tradizione. Filologia e critica 94

, Gli epigrammi di Simonide e le vie della tradizione. Filologia e critica ; 94. Roma: Edizioni dell'Ateneo, 2006. 179 pages ; 23 cm.. ISBN 8884761247 €38.00 (pb).

After years of near total neglect, books on Simonides have been appearing with great frequency in the last decade, thanks in large part to the attention paid this poet on the publication of significant new papyri fragments of an elegy or elegies on the Persian Wars.1 Now comes Bravi’s monograph on the epigrams, a revision of his doctoral dissertation. This is not an attempt to replace Denys Page’s detailed commentary on (almost) every epigram credited to Simonides in the ancient world (and then some; Page, added a few anonymous epigrams to his ‘Simonides’ section—the quotation marks around the name are his). Rather, Bravi first reviews the questions surrounding the collection of epigrams that circulated under Simonides’ name and then treats three broad topics covered by most of them: (ch. 2) Eventi e personaggi della storia politico-militare, (3) Atletismo ed epigramma, and (4) Reflessione sull’arte. In each of the three topical chapters there is a last section dealing in detail with a total of twenty-nine epigrams, that is, less than a third of those attributed to Simonides.

In the first chapter, entitled simply “Gli epigrammi di Simonide,” Bravi treats the basic interrelated questions surrounding this corpus, namely how and when it came into being and that of the epigrams’ genuineness. Page notoriously thought that only one out of over the more than one hundred ascribed to Simonides was likely to be genuine, which is overly pessimistic. Page could proceed on this basis, because he thought (not argued) that the collection was first formed in early Hellenistic days, long after anyone could have had any reasonable grounds for assigning authorship to any anonymous inscriptional poem. This collection is nowadays called Sylloge Simonidea, whose adjective permits “Simonideslike” poems to be included, but the edition from which Meleager drew was undoubtedly more narrowly entitled Ἐπιγράμματα Σιμωνίδου just like Bravi’s first chapter.2 The Sylloge, a convenient term although there may have been more than one such collection in antiquity, may have been put together at any time between the fifth century and Meleager in ca. 120 BC. Bravi is therefore altogether too Page-like in referring to the “fatto” that its date is the end of the fourth century (p. 20). But we know that Simonides’ lyrics were easily available (= published) in the fifth century (pity poor Phidippides), and Boedeker has shown that Herodotus probably knew his elegies. Thucydides 1.132.2 cites an epigram that may be his. Preger, Sitzler, Hiller, and Erbse were all comfortable with the idea that his opera omnia were collected by someone in the fifth century who would have known which epigrams Simonides wrote (Preger suggested Simonides’ nephew Bacchylides). This answers the question raised forcefully by Wilamowitz (and reprised by Page) how such anonymous pieces could be assigned an author. Later, in the strange manner we see with other authors (Theognis, Anacreon, Homer [in the hymns], et al. —and Hippocrates among prose authors), other epigrams were added if they seemed to be in the manner of Simonides. I’m partial to this idea (and adduced some argument for it in my Bruss-Bing chapter), but it must be admitted that the evidence is lacking; the epigrams may well have been gathered later than the fourth century, although it then becomes harder to figure out why the collection was entitled The Epigrams of Simonides.

That is, if someone were gathering inscribed epigrams from scratch in the late fourth century or after, why arbitrarily assign them to one poet?3 Putting Homer and the hymns assigned to him as a special case (because the attribution antedates the fifth century), the parallels with Theognis and Anacreon (and probably Hippocrates as well) suggest that such collections begin with a core of genuine works and grow from there. Moreover, the inclusion of poems (best at this point not to specify genre) that were surely not inscriptional (e.g., the poem satirizing Timocreon) makes for even less of a unified collection, for, in addition to inscribed epigrams by various authors (none of them named other than Simonides), it also contains short poems that are “literary,” that is, designed either for the symposium or the papyrus page. Once again, it seems more likely that an early collection of real Simonides was added to by Meleager’s time. Bravi maintains the idea, put forward earlier by Reitzenstein and Boas, that this collection of Simonides was a product of Isocrates’ school (p. 21), which is an idea that should have been allowed to molder forgotten.

Bravi nicely lays out the evidence for Meleager’s source for Simonides in his Garland (pp. 21-22), traces of which can be seen in the three runs of Simonidean epigrams that were maintained in the Anthologia Palatina now split between Heidelberg and Paris: 6.212-217; 7.248-259, 507-516). The first group comprises dedications (as are all in book 6); the second comprises polyandric monuments for those fallen in famous battles, including Thermopylae, which, as Bravi points out, suggests arrangement by theme as well as by author; and the third is for individuals. Since, however, these three groups contain a number clearly or almost certainly not by Simonides, the particular Sylloge Simonidea available to Meleager represented a late stage of the collection’s development. Bravi (p. 24-25) offers a tripartite breakdown of where its non-Simonidean contents could have come from: (a) a gathering of inscribed poems attributed to Simonides largely on the basis of oral tradition, (b) inscribed poems for which no author was ever given, and (c) a combination of material from diverse sources. This seems reasonable enough, but it offers no handle with which to judge the genuineness of any particular poem other than external historical considerations (such as, famously, the epigram on the death of Sophocles, who survived Simonides by many decades). Bravi, believing in a fourth-century origin for the collection, argues (p. 25) that the various themes associated with Simonides (sport, war, art, etc.) were used to “create” a book of Simonidean epigrams, but it is just as likely (I would say more likely) that an original fifth-century collection (which may have contained Simonides’ opera omnia) was augmented by similar material.

Bravi provides a useful survey of the ways in which Simonides’ epigrams survived (pp. 26-30): first in inscriptions; then in the anthologies, which for Simonides means Meleager’s Garland, some part of which showed up in the now-lost compendious anthology of anthologies compiled by Cephalas, of which again some part exists in the two major (and some minor) abridgements of Cephalas, the Anthologia Palatina (see above) and the Anthologia Planudea (in Venice); and third in the “tradizione indiretta,” which means those authors (before and after Meleager) who had access to a book of Simonides or to one or another form of the Sylloge Simonidea. Of these perhaps the most important is Aelius Aristides, who in at least two places demonstrates acquaintance with a non-Meleagrean source. First, and most famously, in Περι τοῦ παραφθέγματος (2.510-13 Dind.), he seems to have open before him a book containing both lyrics and epigrams; and then in Ὑπὲρ τῶν τεττάρων (1.342 Lenz), he says ὥσπερ οὓς Σιμωνίδης εἰώθει τιμᾶν ἐν τοῖς ἐπιγράμμασιν. But if the first passage argues that he had a complete Simonides (an Alexandrian edition, most likely), then the epigrams he quotes in this extended passage, where he does not explicitly say “by Simonides” every time, have a stronger claim to Simonidean authorship than other epigrams ascribed to him only by the anthology tradition.

An edition of all of Simonides put together in the fifth century would probably have been divided roughly by genre, but what criteria would have been applied? Bravi believes in “fictional epigrams,” but all our evidence suggests that the word ἐπίγραμμα in the fifth century was limited to texts inscribed on stone (words written on vases too, but this does not pertain here), in which case it would be anachronistic to call the Timocreon poem an epigram, as he does (p. 32). Rather, it (if genuine, which at the moment I am willing to believe), if [?]recited at a symposium (or similar meeting of friends) should be considered an elegy—which goes against current usage, it is true. But just as there have been some recent fruitful articles about the placement or use of epigrammatic verses in poems of a different sort,4 it is easy to think of a sympotic setting, in which the participants did not quibble over whether they were reciting ἐλεγεῖα (which simply means anything, of any length, in elegiac couplets, even something so short it would be indistinguishable from a Hellenistic “epigram”) or an ἐλεγεία (which, from Aristotle on, referred to the sympotic, martial, or public poems of Solon, Tyrtaeus, Mimnermus, et al.). In particular, they did not think that what they were reciting over drinks had to be long. One distich or a hundred, so long as the time and the cups were filled, nobody would complain. Bravi, working on the assumption that the first collection of Simonides’ epigrams was late, does not have to distinguish between epigrams as the term was understood in the fifth century and the literary form they took later, but I, thinking the collection early and planning my own edition, am forced to do so. Inscribed ἐλεγεῖα tend to be short (the commissioner pays by the letter); viva voce ἐλεγεῖα tend to be long (we’ve got all night). Length alone, though, cannot be a criterion for Simonides, however much it became in Hellenistic times.5

Bravi’s second chapter, on some of the historical epigrams, has benefited from Petrovic’s dissertation, which has now been published in book form (see n. 1, above). Bravi begins (p. 37) by questioning whether it is legitimate to isolate “historical” epigrams from the rest. The simple answer is that it is so for us, although it remains doubtful that the Greeks would have been so discerning. The problem is analogous to the very similar question posed by “historical elegies,” a useful term for us, but one altogether unknown throughout antiquity.6 Bravi next offers a broad survey of other historical epigrams, those extant on stone, which provides excellent background to Simonides, since his too were inscribed, and indeed some of those quoted in the literary sources overlap with (always fragmentary) inscriptions. Bravi discusses their manner of narration and motivation, and then their grouping by the battles they commemorate, which include the most famous ones of the Persian Wars, which has made them important historical documents ever since antiquity. Those commissioned by the Corinthians are particularly important in countering Herodotus’ account of their actions in battle, as the author of [Plut.] de Herod. Malign. demonstrates (while showing a little malignity of his own).

One should, however, have Hansen’s Carmina Epigraphica Graeca close by, as Bravi rarely gives more than CEG numbers. (His citation of elegies by Gentili-Prato numbers alone will also slow down those who have only West’s IEG on their shelf.) He notes how often Simonides is named as the author of the historical epigrams by our sources, and how this has understandably led to a general hesitancy to accept any as truly Simonidean. Bravi himself is not much concerned with questions of authenticity, although he does touch upon the matter in the treatment of individual poems. On p. 43, e.g., he cites Sim. Ep. 21 FGE, without pointing out that no ancient testimony ascribes it to Simonides. This does not affect his argument, but the reader could be led astray here. (A list on pp. 35-6 classifies the epigrams usually by type—e.g., “stor[ico]”—but one of the classifications is “non sim[onideo],” which does not mean that it cannot be “stor” as well; 21 FGE is, by Bravi’s criteria, mistakenly called “stor.”)

As mentioned above, every chapter ends with an appropriate selection of epigrams, this chapter containing the most (twenty in number). For the most part Bravi follows Page’s numeration and text (not even giving Greek Anthology citations), so this book is not intended to be an edition. There is a translation, but no critical apparatus, although many of the interesting variants are brought up in the discussions that follow each poem, where Bravi discursively goes over the ancient sources and their contexts, other than the Greek Anthology, which apart from an occasional heading has no meaningful historical context. For the texts, then, we must continue to consult Page, the newer Budés, and (for the historical epigrams) Petrovic (above, n. 1). Instead, he offers an introduction to the major issues involved that nicely complements Page. Throughout, he shows himself to be remarkably thorough and up to date on the scholarship, especially when it comes to citing some truly obscure (for an outsider) Italian articles and chapters in recent proceedings of one conference or other whose title gives no hint that an important article on Simonides is contained therein. Even when Bravi does not advance the scholarly issues, his discussions of the poems he has chosen are to be recommended as the place to begin.

Only isolated comments on individual epigrams can be noted here.

1 FGE. Bravi mentions Callimachus fg. 384a Pfeiffer as a parallel for this epigram’s splitting a word (between vv. 1 and 2 in Simonides; between the two halves of the pentameter in Callimachus). It should also be noted that the word split in Callimachus is Διος‐ | κουρίδεω, which is almost certainly an allusion to Simonides, since, as Callimachus himself records (fr. 64.1-14 Pf.), it was the Dioscuri who saved Simonides from death; cf. J. H. Molyneux, “Simonides and the Dioscuri,” Phoenix 25 (1971) 197-205.

2 FGE. It is not true that this epigram is found “in due luoghi dell’ Anthologia Planudea III b 4,18 e III 5,52 ( App. Plan. 26).” Bravi is following the indications of place given in the Budé, but has failed to recognize that the second place is not in the Venice ms. but in its copy in Paris (Par. gr. 2272), which combined Planudes’ duplicated books I a and I b, …, IV a and IV b to produce the simple series I-IV. The Budé’s second location is thus in the newly combined book III with its new numeration (section 5, epigram 52) within it in the Paris ms. It is easy to see how Bravi was confused by this odd (may we call it chauvinistic) favoring of the French ms. (I was confused myself for a while until Claudio De Stefani kindly examined the Planudean manuscript for me in the Biblioteca Marciana to confirm that, as I thought when I was there reading the ms. last year, this epigram appears there but once.) (This is the only epigram of Simonides to appear in the duplicated books I-IV; hence all other Simonidean epigrams have only one location given in the Budés for the Venice ms.)

3 FGE. Bravi does not mention that this epigram is attributed to Simonides only by P.Oxy. 2535, which is important, since Page makes no mention of this papyrus. (It had already been published, but Page did not live to apply the ultima manus to his typescript.) Autopsy has convinced me that the first iota in Σιμωνί |[ δης is quite secure, more so than is indicated by Turner’s description in P.Oxy.7 Incidently, this seems to be the only literary text found on papyrus and stone (two inscriptions, actually), as well as in medieval manuscripts. Are there any others?

8 FGE. Bravi follows Page in taking ἐκ πάντων with ἡμῖν rather than the following τοῦτ’. Page, however, thought the phrase odd, but cf. Il. 18.431 ὅσσ’ ἐμοὶ ἐκ πασέων Κρονίδης Ζεὺς ἄλγε’ ἔδωκεν, 4.95-6 κῦδος ἄροιο, ἐκ πάντων δὲ μάλιστα Ἀλεξάνδρωι, DGE s.v. ἐκ A IV 1.

14 FGE. Bravi usually prints Page’s text but here prefers the inferior one of B[runa] M. Palumbo Stracca, Boll. Class. 6 (1985) 58-65, without defending her refusal to print a Doric text, although the Corinthian inscriptions from this date clearly favor such forms. Bravi also follows her in accenting ἐστάθεν, which he overtranslates as “furono erette queste statue femminili,” when in fact the only nominative subject for this sentence is αἵδ’, and ἔσταθεν (as it should be accented) means in the first instance merely that “these (women)” stood (intransitive, as it is in Ap.Rh. 4.1330; cf. Hes. Th. 674 κατέσταθεν) in prayer, but probably with the underlying meaning that they stood as a chorus ( χορόν often is the direct object of ἵστημι), that is, that their prayer took the form of a choral ode. Then there is the question of what the epigram was attached to. One source says bronze statues, another says a pinax (without further specification), while a third does not say. It would be nice to imagine that here we have an example of Simonides writing a poem about an accompanying image, since he is quoted as saying that “the word is the eikon of things,” and “painting is silent poetry and poetry is a speaking painting” (T 47 a-b Campbell). Bravi, however, does not investigate this intriguing matter.

19a FGE. This poem (called an epigram by [Plutarch]) praises the Theban general Democritus, but not in any recognizable epigrammatic type (votive, sepulchral, commemorative), which has led many to wonder whether it is a fragment either of an epigram or of an elegy. Bravi seems to align himself with the “opinione corrente” that it is indeed an epigram (complete?) because (i) other Simonidean epigrams read like elegies and (ii) its neat style seems more epigrammatic than elegiac. The first argument fails because “Simonidean authorship” can never be proved and should never be adduced in an argument like this. The second can be countered by the short elegies found in Theognis and elsewhere. An opportunity was lost here to discuss the larger issue of epigram vs. elegy in the early classical period,8 as well as to treat in more detail the matter of the nature of the various ways in which Simonides’ name was attached to various poems (or excerpts) before the Alexandrian period, when the scholarly edition of all his works was produced and (later) Meleager drew from a sylloge of his epigrams the ones he wanted for his anthology of epigrams.

21 FGE. As mentioned above, no ancient authority ascribes this epigram to Simonides, although Bravi is right to point out that Aelius Aristides quotes it in the course of a long passage along with others, some of which he ascribes to Simonides, none of which is demonstrably not by him; see above. If any epigrams not expressly assigned to Simonides deserve to be included in an edition of his epigrams, these do. (I speak as a future editor here, not yet certain whether to include them.)

45 FGE. Bravi nicely disposes of the arguments for this epigram being a composite of two originally separate compositions (the second one beginning with a γάρ -clause!), one celebrating the battle of Eurymedon, the other a later one off Cyprus. Bravi defends Aristides’ ἐν γαίῃ over ἐν Κύπρῳ (Diod. Sic., A.P.), but should have considered the possibility that Aristides, who (see above) had access to a complete edition of Simonides, offers the correct reading in the other places where he differs from the Anthology, most notably in reading the Homeric ἐφέπει rather than ἐπέχει. Although the battle of Eurymedon may well have taken place in the year of Simonides’ death, Bravi is right to keep open the possibility that this magnificent poem is his, perhaps his last.

Ch. 2 contains a brief but useful introduction to agonistic epigrams (pp. 90-94), followed by a review of those attributed to Simonides (pp. 95-101), spelling out the typology in greater detail. These pages, which may be recommended to anyone working on inscriptional victory odes, are followed by a selection of individual epigrams, treated similarly to those in the preceding chapter. For Simonides, of course, each type of commission may have been of equal value (did he charge by the line?); for us an epigram on the battles of Thermopylae, Marathon, Eurymedon, etc., has far greater historical value than one in honor of just one athletic victory by an unknown contestant. Nonetheless, there are some artistically interesting examples of this genre represented here, even if Simonidean authorship may often be doubted. Again, a few isolated comments.

25 FGE. This distich in honor of Milo of Croton’s seventh victory at Olympia is at variance with statements elsewhere that he won only six at this venue; hence Bravi is quicker than Page to deny Simonidean authorship, but if later prose authors thought he won only six times, seven is more difficult to explain as coming from a late epigrammatist than if Simonides had written it, knowing a truth that had gone astray by the time of Pausanias. That is, either emend to “six times” with Sibelis or assume that the author (who may well be Simonides) knew what he was saying; but don’t dismiss Simonidean authorship so quickly.

87 FGE. Bravi says that the name Alcon is not found elsewhere in Greek, but in fact it occurs in Adaeus 1.2 Gow-Page, who adduce two other literary examples (neither of them, strangely, Sim. 87); and then, amazingly, LGPN III.A lists six inscriptional and numismatic individuals with this name in Greek and two more in Latin transcription from southern Italy. Since this one-line hexameter poem ends in the monosyllabic adverb πύξ, Bravi rightly notes that most monosyllables in hexameters occur before the bucolic diaeresis; it is worth adding that this is the only hexameter instance of πύξ as last word and that the only other instance of this word after the bucolic diaeresis also occurs in an epigram ascribed to Simonides (31 FGE).

The final chapter deals with a number of epigrams functioning as artist signatures ascribed to Simonides; that is, the artist, and usually the subject, is given as it would be if it accompanied a statue or painting: 32a & b, 33a & b, 48, 56, 57, 58, 63 FGE. As is in the preceding chapter, Bravi’s introductory comments can be recommended as a general review of the subject, but others have discussed the relationship between epigram and art in greater detail.9 On the whole these epigrams are rather uninteresting (which does not mean that they are not by Simonides). Most function as the equivalent of simple museum labels: 33b says simply that “Cimon painted the door on the right; Dionysius painted the door on the right as you leave.” Perhaps there is some humor to be found in each artist’s having painted the right door (that is, neither the sinister one), but not much. The most attractive of the lot is 56, in which the accuracy of Praxiteles’ depiction of Eros is vouchsafed by its coming from its archetype ( ἀρχέτυπον) in his heart, the love he feels toward Phryne. Of this group, Bravi discusses three, of which the most interesting is 63, which, in addition to naming the subject (Artemis) and sculptor (Arcesilas), oddly mentions that payment for this statue was made in two hundred Parian drachmas with goat insignia. Bravi convincingly argues (p. 131) that that the specificity of payment in Parian money (of any amount) suggests a time of composition, most likely in the fourth century, when Paros was monetarily independent.

Bravi’s book ably succeeds in its aim to serve as an introduction to the major problems (and delights) involved in reading the epigrams assigned to Simonides. The differences of opinion expressed above are not meant to detract from its obvious value. As is still common in Italy, the volume has been handsomely produced and is inexpensively priced. I have noticed only one significant typo: p. 60, l.1, on 40.1 FGE, read ἀγχεμάχων.


1. O. Poltera, Le langage de Simonide: Étude sur la tradition poétique et son renouvellement. Bern 1997; D. Boedeker and D. Sider (eds.), The New Simonides: Contexts of Praise and Desire, Oxford 2001; L. Kowerski, Simonides on the Persian Wars: A Study of the Elegiac Verses of the “New Simonides,” New York and London 2005; A. Petrovic, Kommentar zu den simonideischen Versinschriften, Leiden 2007. Forthcoming is the publication of R. Rawles’ revised London dissertation, Simonides and Simonidea: a Study in Poetic Tradition (Cambridge University Press). Counting Bravi, these are almost as many books on Simonides as were published in the twentieth century before Poltera: Boas 1905, Oates 1932, Christ 1941, Kegel 1961, Molyneux 1992, Carson 1999 (which, inexplicably and inexcusably failing to take account of the new discoveries, deserves to be kept with the earlier books). Texts and commentaries are also promised by Poltera and by E. Cingano and Sider.

2. See my chapter ” Sylloge Simonidea,” in P. Bing and J. Bruss (eds.), Brill’s Companion to Hellenistic Epigrams: Down to Philip (Leiden 2007) 113-30.

3. The early collectors of inscribed epigrams are credited with geographical organizing principles: Philochorus of Athens collected Ἐπιγράμματα Ἀττικά; Aristodemus of Alexandria Θηβαικὰ ἐπιγράμματα; and Polemo περὶ τῶν κατὰ πόλεις ἐπιγραμμάτων. Since Simonides is the only author regularly to be credited with authorship of anonymous inscriptions, it is not likely that the works were divided into Simonidean and non-Simonidean sections, but of course these authors were likely to have noted those epigrams assigned to him.

4. E.g., Martin Dinter, “Epic and epigram—minor heroes in Virgil’s Aeneid,” CQ 55 (2005) 153-69; id. “Tragedy and Epigram,” in L. Milano and E. Cingano (eds.), Greece, Rome and the Near East (Venice, forthcoming); R. F. Thomas, “Melodious tears, sepulchral epigrams and generic mobility,” in M. A. Harder, R. F. Retguit, and G. C. Wakker (eds.), Genre in Hellenistic Poetry (Groningen 1998) 205-23.

5. On the desirability of brevity in Hellenistic literary epigrams, see my “Posidippus old and new,” in B. Acosta-Hughes, E. Kosmetatou, and M. Baumbach (eds.), Labored in Papyrus Leaves: Perspectives on an Epigram Collection Attributed to Posidippus (P. Mil. Vogl. VIII 309) (Cambridge, Mass. 2004) 29-41.

6. An article on this subject came out too late for Bravi to have seen: D. Sider, “The New Simonides and the Question of Historical Elegy,” AJP 127 (2006) 327-46.

7. For a new edition of this papyrus, see my “Simonides Epigram 3 FGE in P.Oxy. 31.2535,” ZPE 162 (2007) 5-8. After this article was in press, Andrej Petrovic per e-litt. offered the convincing supplement for line 16 init. ἐκ τῆς Ἀττικῆς, which fits the sense and space perfectly.

8. See now A. Aloni and A. Iannucci, L’elegia greca e l’epigramma dalle origini al V secolo. Florence 2007.

9. See, e.g., J. Svenbro, Phrasikleia (Paris 1988; Engl. tr. Ithaca 1993); É. Prioux, Regards Alexandrins: Histoire et théorie des arts dans l’épigramme hellénistique (Leuven 2007), with a rich bibliography on the subject, many recent entries in which analyze the ecphrastic epigrams in the new Posidippus papyrus. Of course Prioux’s book was unavailable to Bravi.