BMCR 2008.10.15

Junge Hirten und alte Fischer. Die Gedichte 27, 20 und 21 des Corpus Theocriteum. Texte und Kommentare, 29

, Junge Hirten und alte Fischer : die Gedichte 27, 20 und 21 des Corpus Theocriteum. Texte und Kommentare, Bd. 29. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2007. x, 247 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 9783110192247. €63.55.

This Münster Habilitationsschrift deals with three poems of the Corpus Theocriteum, each of which is transmitted only in a single branch of the manuscripts traditions. The majority of interpreters regards them as spurious: id. 27 (‘Oaristys’), id. 20 (‘Bukoliskos’) and id. 21 (‘Fishermen’).1 The author’s main purpose is neither to write a new commentary on these pieces (which would have been welcome at least for idd. 20 and 27, for which the last commentary is Gow’s (1952), while id. 21 has been treated quite recently by Belloni2) nor to discuss the authorship of the poems once again in detail (this had been the dominant aspect of research until recent decades). Kirstein rather wants to contribute to certain problems of the texts (often concerning the question of completeness) and to shed light on their relation to other poetry, especially to undoubtedly genuine poems of the Corpus Theocriteum. Since Kirstein tries to show, however, that the quality of these poems is high, and low quality had always been an argument against Theocritean authorship, he regards his results also as a contribution to the question of authenticity.3

Kirstein presents a new edition for all three texts,4 together with a German translation, which is generally accurate.5

After giving a useful survey of the transmission and earlier scholarship for each poem, Kirstein presents a section “Interpretation” in each case, which contains the main results of his work.

Although id. 27 has a narrative ending without an equivalent in its beginning, Kirstein thinks that the poem in its transmitted extent is complete. According to him, this unattested form can be explained by an aesthetic principle which he calls “retrospektive Verständniserhellung” (‘retrospective explanation’) and detects also elsewhere in the poem: For instance we do not learn before l. 5 that Daphnis tried to kiss Acrotime before the poem and the dialogue start. Accordingly, Kirstein tries to show against most of the interpreters that id. 27 can be understood without assuming the loss of a narrative introduction and of a beginning of the dialogue. I would agree that the abrupt starting with the mythical exemplum of Helena (1-2) is possible and can be understood by what follows, and Kirstein’s suggestion that the exemplum has a programmatic force for the whole poem is worthwhile.6 But what arouses suspicion is that in addition to the abruptness of the beginning of the dialogue a counterpart of the narrative frame at the end (67-71b) is missing, too. There is no parallel for such a technique in Hellenistic Poetry and Vergil’s Eclogues, as Kirstein himself remarks (p. 72).7 Furthermore, the appearance of ll. 72-73 (address to a shepherd) points to the incompleteness of the poem (the five lines in which Kirstein on p. 74 is dealing with these verses are unsatisfying). Thus we have the combination of several anomalies which seems to be overwhelming evidence for a lost beginning.8

Kirstein follows Sider’s interpretation9 that Daphnis does not seduce Acrotime but that right from the beginning the girl clearly tries to extract a promise of marriage from him. Unlike Sider Kirstein stresses that Daphnis wants to marry her, too.10 But his evidence for this interpretation seems doubtful to me: Acrotime alludes to marriage in l. 7 (calling herself ἄζυγα), but Daphnis does not take the hint before a second allusion (21-22): is this probable if he has marriage in mind already from the beginning? His behaviour rather suggests that he is either manipulated by the girl or that he recognizes her wish to bemarried and chooses the promise of marriage as a strategy to win her. The fact that he confirms his promise after having sex (l. 62, perhaps in 66) is not inconsistent with that assumption.11 Kirstein’s most important evidence, however, are lines 71-71b, which are part of the narrative frame. Here Kirstein translates κεχαρημένος εὐνᾶς with “glücklich über das Ehelager” which is misleading, since εὐνή should mean the same as ἀνίστατο φώριος εὐνή three lines before, namely “Liebeslager” (as Kirstein translates it there). The reference to the Homeric use, given in footnote 189, is not helpful, because in Homer εὐνή certainly can mean ‘marriage bed’, but also ‘sex outside marriage’. Kirstein should have consulted not only LSJ but also the LfgrE (2, 787, 18-20: “wo man beischläft…, von ehelichem und ausserehelichem Verkehr”). To me one of the strategies of this idyll seems to be the ambiguity of words denoting marriage, cf. l. 25 γάμοι‘marriage’, taken up by Daphnis in l. 26, l. 33 ‘wedding’, but l. 58, where γάμος refers to Daphnis’ and Acrotime’s sex the cypresses witness (so the trees must not be called “Trauzeugen”, as Kirstein p. 66 does).12 Kirstein himself (p. 65, n. 189) remarks the ambiguity of λέκτρον in 35 and 40.

In id. 20 Kirstein finds the same principle of “retrospektive Verständniserhellung”, since, for instance, shepherds are not addressed before l. 19, but must be present also during lines 1-18. Because of these and other similarities Kirstein regards idd. 27 and 20 as ‘companion pieces’,13 with id. 20 written in conscious opposition to id. 27. This is a bold hypothesis which should have been proved much more in detail than Kirstein does. The evidence he adduces (happy vs. unhappy love, the motif of kissing in the beginning, a speaking woman in either poem) is far too vague.

On p. 102-6 Kirstein analyses the structure of id. 20. Following de Falco,14 Kirstein sees the main caesura in the address to the other herdsmen ποιμένες (l. 19). Here Kirstein offers some elucidating observations on structure, especially on the use of ring composition, e.g. at the beginning and at the end of Eunica’s speech (ll. 2b-10). I am not totally convinced, however, by Kirstein’s hypothesis that the herdsman’s speech in ll. 19-45 picks up all elements of Eunica’s speech in 2b-10a in a reversed order. According to Kirstein, there are the following correspondences:

Eunica criticises: his profession l. 2b-5 = 3,5 ll.
his behavior l. 6 = 1 l.
his appearance l. 9-10a = 1,5 ll.

The oxherd defends: his profession l. 30-2 [not 33!] = 3 ll.
his behavior l. 26b [not 25b!]-29 = 3,5 ll.
his appearance l. 19-26a [not 25a!] = 7,5 ll.

A real correspondence between the middle sections (on ‘behavior’) is hardly there: apart from the difference in length, l. 6 is dealing with the oxherd’s looking, talking and sporting, while ll. 26b-9 concern his musical abilities; only ll. 26b-7, on his voice, pick up ὁπποῖα λαλεῖς in 6; cf. also λαλέω in 29 (if it is right there), which is a far more evident link15 than “die gegensätzlichen Begriffe” (p. 105) ἄγριος (l. 6) and ἁπαλός (l. 26), since the former is in Eunica’s section on behavior, the latter in the oxherd’s section on appearance.

Pp. 106-37 contain a detailed comparison with the undoubtedly Theocritean poems, esp. idd. 3, 6 and 11. Id. 20 shows a smaller interest in the world of herdsmen (despite the strong opposition between town and country), since there is no bucolic scenery in the beginning, and the life of herdsmen is present only in the imagery used in the description of the oxherd’s outer appearance. Whereas the herdsman of id. 3 feels ‘true love’, this one shows nothing but anger about the rejection and apparently does not wish to win Eunica back. Kirstein interprets this as a lack of ‘deeper emotion’ (p. 109). In the description of his own beauty the oxherd of id. 20 also picks up Theocritean models, but clearly exaggerates them. Kirstein’s analysis of the mythological examples in lines 34-43 (which seems lengthy because of a fruitless accumulation of mythological variants) shows how the examples, although partly taken from Theocritean models, are fitted into the context of the poem, for instance by stressing the scenery of the mountains which appear also in l. 30 and 35, the motif of kissing which is the starting point in l. 1, or the fact that goddesses loved oxherds.16

Kirstein detects a similarity of structure also between id. 21 and 27, since 21 has no narrative ending which would correspond to the narrative introduction, whereas in 27 we find it the other way round. At the same time, however, Kirstein tries to show that the last five lines of id. 21, spoken by the hetairos, form a counterpart to the first five lines of the narrative frame. It is true that this passage has a similar moralising tone, but further formal links are not discernible for me (according to Kirstein both parts share a technique of putting keywords of the poem at the end of the line). And even if we accept this observation, I cannot see how Kirstein can regard it as a close relation in language and content and use it to reject Arland’s objection that the poem is not suitable to prove the sententia of the first line.17

In his chapter on id. 21, Kirstein provides a detailed survey of the motif of fishermen in Hellenistic literature and art18 and stresses the similarity between Leonidas’ epigrams on fishermen and id. 21. Here he adopts Gutzwiller’s idea (developed for Leonidas) that by giving a detailed picture of the fishermen’s life the author of id. 27 does not ridicule this profession but tries to show the value and dignity of this craft, which had been neglected in former poetry. Part of the more realistic representation is that common elements of Theocritean bucolic poetry are missing, particularly song and love. Nevertheless Kirstein finds also strong connections especially with Theocr. id. 10 (which is, however, the most realistic poem among the doubtlessly authentic idylls). Furthermore, Kirstein maintains (p. 177) that not only the content of id. 21, but also its form resembles Theocr. id. 10: whereas id. 21 starts with an auctorial introduction (ll. 1-21), which has no direct counterpart at the end, id. 10 starts with a dialogue and ends with three lines which Kirstein calls “auktorial”. This is misleading, because these lines of id. 10 are spoken by Milon (that is, a figure of the dialogue, who addresses his partner Bukaios in l. 57!). The auctorial narrator in the beginning of id. 21 addresses an extradiegetic figure called Diophantos. One could rather say that the exhortation of the hetairos at the end of id. 21 corresponds to Milon’s at the end of id. 10.

To sum up: no sceptic will be convinced by Kirstein’s book that one of the three poems is genuine (but that was not his primary aim, as we remember), and many of his observations on the relation to the former bucolic tradition are not new. The main achievement of this work, however, is its vigorous attempt to explain the three poems as artifacts with their own value and to try to understand the peculiarities of their form before condemning them as inferior products of a ‘late’ development. This is a step in the right direction, and Kirstein’s results in this field, although I was not always convinced by them, are certainly a valuable contribution to our understanding of post-Theocritean pastoral.


1. Kirstein treats the poems in this order, for he regards id. 27 as direct model of id. 20; because of its strong realism he sees a wide gap between id. 21 and the rest of the Corpus Theocriteum, including idd. 20 and 27, cf. p. 215.

2. L. Belloni, (Teocrito). I Pescatori. Como 2004.

3. On p. 215 Kirstein draws the cautious conclusion, “…dass die untersuchten Gedichte bemerkenswerte literarische Eigenheiten aufweisen, die eine Autorschaft Theokrits zumindest nicht ausschliessen.”

4. The information “Codices: D C” at the top of the apparatus of id. 27 (p. 34) gives the wrong impression as if both codices were independent witnesses, but as Kirstein himself remarks (p. 18), C depends on D (cf. the treatment in Gow’s OCT apparatus, p. 112). The same line (“Codices: D C”) by a mistake slipped into the apparatus of id. 20 on p. 90, just before the correct information about the manuscripts in the next line. P. 165: in id. 21. 44 καί τις τῶν τραφερῶν ὠρέξατο the adjective is commonly explained as ἐυτραφῶν (sc. ἰχθύων), a meaning not found elsewhere. This is difficult, and the transmission has rightly been doubted (e.g. by Gow). In his edition Kirstein prints the transmitted text, but in the interpretation (p. 165) he cautiously conjectures τρυφερο=ν, pointing to v. 18, where Ahrens’ τραφερὰν instead of transmitted τρυφερὸν is widely accepted. Kirstein’s explanation, however, is odd: “Das Adjektiv τρυφερός, ‘üppig’, in Bezug auf einen Fisch wäre zwar auffällig, passt jedoch gut zu dem im ganzen aussergewöhnlichen Traum vom goldenen Fisch.” But the problem lies in the fact, that although τρυφερός can be adapted to a fish, as in Xenocrates of Aphrodisias ap. Oreibasius 2. 58. 6 (of mullets and basses), in this and the other examples assembled by LSJ for the connection of τρυφερός and flesh, body or parts of the body (s.v. Nr. ἰ, the word means “delicate, dainty…tender, soft-fleshed”. But what we expect at this stage of the story is a synonym of μέγαν (49), not a qualification of the flesh. Kirstein’s translation “üppig” seems to refer to LSJ, Nr. II, where τρυφερός, however, means “…luxurious, voluptuous”, of “persons, their life and habits”.

5. I would only criticize Kirstein’s translation “warum greifst du drinnen an meine Brüste” for id. 27. 49 τί δ’ ἔνδοθεν ἅψαο μαζῶν, because “drinnen” is no appropriate translation for ἔνδοθεν which means “within my gown” (Gow). P. 95 “und hast du, Kronos-Sohn, dich nicht um eines jungen Rinderhirten willen in einen Vogel verwandelt” ignores the meaning of ἐπλάγχθης in id. 20. 41 (on ἐπλάγχθης there is also a strange remark in n. 409 on p. 133: “Die homerischen Gedichte kennen das Simplex nicht.” But cf. only Hom. Od. 1. 2). See also n. 17 below.

6. As already proposed by D. Sider (Theokritos 27 Oaristys, WJb 25 [2001], 99-105), 102, whose interpretation of τὰν πινυτὰν Ἑλέναν Kirstein should have discussed in greater detail than he does on p. 68-9.

7. The narrative ending of Horace’s second epode ( Haec ubi locutus faenerator Alfius), cautiously adduced by Kirstein (p. 72: “Zu einem gewissen Grad vergleichbar…”) is not comparable, because no similar element of surprise is visible in id. 27.

8. On p. 74 Kirstein points out that in the narrative frame of ll. 67-71b only such elements appear which are found in the preceding dialogue. But this does not mean that they cannot refer to a lost narrative introduction. On the contrary, I wonder whether there is a hint at a lost introduction in the use of the word ψιθύριζον (68) which would fit very well in a beginning imitating Theocr. id. 1. 1. The title Ὀαριστύς‘chatting’ (although not found before the edition of Iunta and Callierges, cf. Kirstein p. 42-3) might reflect this use of ψιθυρίζειν in a lost beginning.

9. Cf. n. 6.

10. Although according to Kirstein (p. 63) Acrotime’s and Daphnis’ wishes are not completely identical: “Daphnis ist primär an der sofortigen geschlechtlichen Vereinigung interessiert und erst sekundär an der beabsichtigten Ehe, die für Akrotime das Wichtigste ist.”

11. This is directed contra Kirstein p. 64: “Daphnis’ Rede in v. 32, dass Akrotime Kinder gebären werde, könnte dort noch als Mittel der Verführungskunst aufgefasst werden, in v. 66 bestätigt die Wiederholung aber wohl doch die Aufrichtigkeit seiner Absichten.”

12. For an ambiguous use of γάμος in other bucolic poetry cf. H. Bernsdorff, Das Fragmentum Bucolicum Vindobonense. Göttingen 1999, p. 101.

13. Cf. A. Köhnken, Darstellungsziele und Erzählstrategien in antiken Texten. Berlin 2006, 127-141 on Theocr. Id. 6 and 11 and R. Kirstein, Companion pieces in the Hellenistic Epigram, in: A. Harder et al. (edd.), Hellenistic Epigrams. Leuven 2002, 113-135; in the book under review Kirstein does not use the term ‘companion piece’ though.

14. V. de Falco, Sopra alcuni idilli teocritei, Rivista Indo-Greco-Italica di Filologia-Lingua-Antichità 8 (1924), 47-64.

15. Surprisingly not noted by Kirstein.

16. In an ‘Anhang’ (p. 137) Kirstein gives a list of passages in later literature, which imitate id. 20. This is strange because there is no equivalent for the two other poems treated in Kirstein’s book, most of the parallels were already noted by Gow or S. Posch, Beobachtungen zur Theokritnachwirkung bei Vergil, Innsbruck 1969, and there is no further interpretation of any of the adaptations (apart from a short footnote on Catull. 99, p. 105, n. 303).

17. The structure of id. 21, proposed on 155-6, is not convincing in all aspects: ll. 19-21 are obviously still part of the exposition and do not belong to the dialogue (on p. 155 Kirstein calls these verses an “auktoriale Einführung in den Dialog”), because the indication of time in l. 19 clearly continues the situation described in ll. 6-8b (two fishermen are lying in their hut). This becomes evident by the use of the connecting καί (in l. 19, modelled after Theocr. id. 7. 10) which does not appear in Kirstein’s translation.

18. Of particular interest is the Vatican-Louvre type of an old fisherman. Kirstein points to another similar realistic depiction of old age and reports an idea of the archaeologist Dieter Salzmann, that the statue represents not (as usually taken) an angling fisherman, but one who makes a surprising discovery. As Kirstein remarks, this would be an important parallel to id. 27 where Asphalion dreams of catching a golden fish. I am not able to follow Kirstein’s and Salzmann’s argument: certainly the fisherman’s face shows signs of excitement, but why does that exclude that he held a fishing rod in his right hand, with a hooked fish at its end (this would be what happens to Asphalion in his dream!)? The strain and posture of the right arm makes this assumption most probable. Thus I cannot find any reason to doubt the communis opinio about the Vatican-Louvre fisherman (the further archaeological material adduced on p. 196 represents actions which are very different). I would agree, however, that the statue might illustrate an idea similar to that of the poem: the fisherman appears as someone who is exposed to the power of Tyche more than others (a motif which can be found also elsewhere in literature, as Kirstein on p. 197-198 shows).