BMCR 2011.05.62

Hellenistic Collection: Philitas, Alexander of Aetolia, Hermesianax, Euphorion, Parthenius. Loeb Classical Library 508

, Hellenistic Collection: Philitas, Alexander of Aetolia, Hermesianax, Euphorion, Parthenius. Loeb Classical Library 508. Cambridge, MA/London: Harvard University Press, 2009. xix, 662. ISBN 9780674996366 $24.00.


‘Hellenistic’ literature is preserved largely in fragments. Scholars and students have access to annotated bilingual editions of the preserved works of the major poets and of other less prominent Hellenistic authors but the great mass of fragmentary texts, some of them of considerable literary and historical importance, is a field usually reserved for the specialists, who can make use of various important scholarly collections, such as Powell’s Collectanea Alexandrina and Lloyd-Jones and Parsons’ Supplementum Hellenisticum, updated by Lloyd-Jones’ Supplementum Supplementi Hellenistici, that also supplement Pfeiffer’s monumental Callimachus (BMCR 2006.12.26). With the exception of Callimachus, though, no up-to-date bilingual annotated collection of these fragmentary texts is available to the general reader.

J. Lightfoot’s Hellenistic collection partly fills the gap, in a reliable and sensible way. This is a “selection of Hellenistic literature” (p. vii), not an “anthology”, offering a comprehensive edition of the testimonia and the fragments (and, in the case of Parthenius, of his single entirely preserved work) of five Hellenistic writers whose output is mainly but not only poetic: Philitas of Cos, the shadowy ‘founding father’ of Hellenistic literature (late 4th- early 3rd century);1 two more peripheral early 3rd-century poets, Alexander Aetolus and Hermesianax; Euphorion, a mid-3rd-century poet and scholar who represents at the highest degree some of the features that may seem to embody the potentially less appealing aspects of Hellenistic poetry (extremely concentrated learnedness, obscurity, and apparently gratuitous playfulness); and Parthenius of Nicaea (late 2nd- early 1st century) who arguably played a key role in setting literary trends in late Republican and early Imperial Rome. While the chronological and geographical range is fairly comprehensive, from the point of view of genre Lightfoot ’s selection is somewhat limited, her authors (or, at least, the bulk of their preserved fragments) being all representatives of the mainstream elegiac and hexametric production of works prevalently concerned with love stories and/or mythological narrative.

The collection is preceded by a concise and terse general introduction, explaining the criteria of the edition, and touching on a few crucial themes, such as the range of generic expressions of elegiac poetry, the weight of Hesiod’s legacy, the importance of making poetry on literary history, and the mutual interaction between poetry and scholarship. Lightfoot’s comments on these are generally accurate, up-to-date and to the point. I am a bit puzzled, though, by her statement, that in this period “we do not find literary commentary, in the sense of extracts or lemmata from a text followed by explanatory or interpretative comment on it”, a form of scholarship that “was not really developed until the end of the Hellenistic, or beginning of the Roman period” (p. xiii). Apart from the abundant scholarly material from this age that found its way into later scholia, Hellenistic papyri have preserved extremely interesting examples of this very format even for works of Hellenistic poetry, ranging from the very elementary explanations found in the early 2nd-century papyrus with Callimachus’s Victory of Berenice to the fully fledged commentary on the epigram on the “Oyster”, unconvincingly attributed by its first editor, F. Lasserre, to Philitas.2

Each of the selected authors is preceded by a useful, brief introduction and an up-to-date bibliography. The collection opens with Philitas himself, famously the first to be described as “at the same time poet and critic” by Strabo (Test. 3). For his works Lightfoot could avail herself of three recent full-scale monographs3 but her bibliography includes the most recent scholarship. Even so, however, Test. 2, with biographical information on the poet provided in the scholia on Theocritus’ Idyll 7 in a papyrus from Oxyrhynchus, should have been updated with the new readings of C. Meliadò in ZPE 147 (2004), 21. Both in the old and in the new reading, the form of the name of the poet’s mother ( Εὐκ̣τιόνη, according to Hunt, Εὐκαλιόνη, according to Meliadò) seems to be otherwise unattested,4 and I wonder whether the original name might not have been the fairly frequent (predominantly, but not only, in Attica) Εὐκολίνη. Another case where recent scholarship might have prompted different choices is that of the new Posidippean epigram with the description of a bronze statue of the poet by the famous silversmith Hecataeus. According to the text accepted by Lightfoot, Hecataeus “rendered that punctilious old man with his whole art, maintaining truth’s strict canon”. According to the conventions of the ekphrastic genre, however, it is surely more likely that Hecataeus with his art rendered the old man “in his entirety” (supplementing, with W. Lapini, ὅλ̣[ον κ]α̣τεμάξατο τέχνηι).5

For Alexander Aetolus the standard reference work remains E. Magnelli’s excellent monograph (Florence, 1999). It is slightly awkward, though this conforms to Lightfoot’s general practice, that this poet’s main fragment, 34 lines on the unhappy story of Antheus, thrown in a well by the wife of his host, whose advances he had rejected, is not printed in this section at all but in that of Parthenius’ Sufferings in Love, our only source for the text.6

No recent reliable edition, on the other hand, is available for Hermesianax of Colophon, famous mainly for a long excerpt from his poem Leontion, a huge extract from a playful list where traditional and made-up and surreal love-stories (including Homer’s love affair with Penelope, and Hesiod’s with Ehoie) set into motion Greek literary history (concluded, not by chance, by Philitas) and philosophical thought. Language and style of this paradoxical catalogue do not always live up to its potential verve. Its text, quoted by Athenaeus, and preserved in a single manuscript, is fraught with corruptions and difficulties. Lightfoot provides an independent new text, incorporating recently published conjectures and suggestions. The apparatus, however, is not entirely reliable. At v. 16, for example, Musurus’ conjecture is attributed to a Musaeus (a slip: Musaeus is the mythical poet mentioned by Hermesianax in the preceding lines); at v. 37 ἔτι belongs to Schweighäuser, not to Caspers; πολιῶι is attributed to Hermann, but this was already the text printed in earlier editions, while at 33 Ἰκαρίου is due to Hermann (the manuscript has Ἰκάρου, Lightfoot has no note in the apparatus). This section includes also the edition of a papyrus text of Hellenistic date, with a fragmentary elegy where the speaker curses an unnamed adversary, threatening to tattoo him with representations of famous punishments. Its attribution to Hermesianax, based on a tenuous textual link, has not been universally accepted, and this scepticism is shared by Lightfoot.7

The Hellenistic author best known for curse poetry is Euphorion of Chalcis, whose recherché output enjoyed a remarkable fortune among poets and grammarians in the ancient world. His 210 fragments and 17 testimonia fill up 280 pages, far more than one third of the entire volume. Here too no comprehensive recent edition of the same standard as those of Philitas and Alexander is available, but a few useful monographs have recently contributed to a better reconstruction of his works.8 These texts do not lend themselves easily to a concise bilingual edition. A mature assessment of this mobile and controversial intellectual and of his influential work is still a desideratum, and having made his fragments available to a wider audience of scholars and students is already no small achievement. Within these limits, Lightfoot has succeeded in providing a useful and generally reliable working text. Some recent significant textual contributions, though, have been missed, including A. Ciampi’s fresh collation of an important papyrus in Florence,9 that rules out previously supplements, confirms other ones, and provides a few entirely new readings, especially in the scholia, where, for example, it is now clear that the annotation printed and translated by Lightfoot at the top of pp. 252 f. does not mention a place called Pagrai in the Caucasus, but Sicilian toponyms: Syracuse, Mylai (modern Milazzo) and a nearby river (apparently mentioned by Callimachus as well, a new addendum to his fragments). Here too the apparatus is not always entirely reliable: at fr. 26 col. ii, for example, δούρα[τι at v. 22 does not belong to Lloyd-Jones and Parsons, but to Norsa and Vitelli , and at v. 24 λ̣[ευ]κανίην does not belong to van Groningen, but to Latte. At the end of the fragment no explicit indication is given to the reader that it actually coincides with the end of the poem itself. At fr. 121 our source mentions a commentary ἀνεπίγραφον on Euphorion’s lost Gaping Dionysus : Lightfoot translates the word as “untitled”, but it is more likely what the commentary lacked was the name of its compiler.10 At 127 Lightfoot translates ἠὲ πόθεν ποταμῶν κελέβηι ἀποήφυϲαϲ ὕδωρ as “you have drawn river-water in a cup- how can that be?”: a likelier alternative, perhaps, is that πόθεν here is specified, as usual, by the following genitive ποταμῶν and that the meaning was simply “from which/some river”. At fr. 128 the person described as hunting with a dog ( κυνηλατέων) sporting a prominent leather-belt and a newly wiped sword ( αὐτῶι ϲὺν τελαμῶνι νεοϲμήκτωι τε μαχαίρηι) is very probably Orion. Nonnus, Dion. 3.1-3 describes the constellation in similar terms ( ἄκρα δὲ φαίνων ἀννεφέλωι τελαμῶνι φαεϲφόρα νῶτα μαχαίρηϲ Ὠρίων, with τελαμῶνι and μαχαίρηϲ in the same metrical sedes), and Nicander, the only other author to use the verb κυνηλατέω, applies it to Orion. According to Euphorion fr. 67 not even a child would fail to recognize his constellation. The source quoting this latter fragment draws attention to the brightness of its stars, particularly those in the “belt” and the “sword”. We may venture to imagine that fr. 128 might have followed fr. 67 after a very short interval. Lightfoot follows previous editors in supplementing, with Schneider, the genitive κυνηλατέοντοϲ at the end of the previous line but, of course, there is no need to assume that the word was in this case.11 At fr. 130 a new examination of the lexicographical sources and of the Arabic version of Galen I published in 2006 shows that Euphorion’s πέμφιγεϲ were neither “droplets” nor “breezes”, but “ghosts”.12 Regarding fr. 152, Lightfoot’s idea (p. 383 n. 183) that Euphorion’s ναυαγόϲ in the sense of “one who leads / is a captain of a ship” would presuppose a scansion different (with a short alpha) from that of the usual meaning of the word (“shipwrecked”) is very doubtful: nominal compounds from ἄγω, as a rule, have a long alpha (or an eta). Fr. 183 should be excluded from a collection of Euphorion’s fragments as the traces of the name quoted in this papyrus commentary on Pindar are not compatible with this reading.13 Lightfoot’s edition includes the fragments of Euphorion’s prose works. These range from medical lexicography to the history of musical instruments and of athletic competitions. Fr.193 deals with the prehistoric monsters that once inhabited the island of Samos, “able to create fissures in the earth through their cries alone”. Aelian, explicitly quoting Euphorion, calls them νηάδεϲ. Traces of this tradition are preserved also in other sources, examined in detail in a 1999 article by E. Magnelli (not mentioned by Lightfoot), who, partly reviving a 19th-century scholarly opinion, argued that these terrific beasts were in fact called νήιδεϲ, the “Slow-witted Ones”, suggesting a possible link to Callimachus’ Telchines.14

Parthenius of Nicaea was the subject of Lightfoot’s first excellent monograph, with a commentary on the poetic fragments and the one extant prose work of this author, whose shadow hovers in many literary history of 1st-century Latin poetry. Captured by the Romans during the third Mithridatic war, and possibly a freedman of the ‘neoteric’ poet Cinna, he dedicated his collection of love stories to Cornelius Gallus and is widely thought to have exerted a significant influence on Virgil and other contemporary poets. Parthenius enjoyed great fame throughout the Imperial period and counted among his fans the emperors Tiberius and Hadrian (perhaps the author of a Greek epigram on the restoration of his tomb: Test. 4). Lightfoot includes the same texts as in her previous edition, in a slightly different format (with a new critical apparatus for the papyrus fragments), and with some updates. The edition includes two papyrus fragments (55 and 56) whose ascription to Parthenius is very doubtful (Lightfoot herself is sceptical). It is a pity, though, that two further papyri (964.1-20 SH and POxy 4711) recently attributed to the poet are merely mentioned without actually being printed. Their claim to a Parthenian authorship is not weaker than that for fragments 55 and 56. Bernsdorff has made a strong case in favour of the ascription of POxy 4711 (a leaf of a 6th-century CE parchment codex with a series of short elegiac poems on themes related to metamorphosis) to a much later author, but the debate on this text has raised so many interesting issues, with possible implications on the literary history of the genre, that most readers of Parthenius’ fragments would have certainly benefited from its inclusion.

The collection is concluded by Parthenius’ Sufferings in Love, 36 short stories drawn from (mostly Hellenistic) poetic and erudite sources and dedicated to Cornelius Gallus as possible subject-matter for further poetic elaborations in Latin verse. Apart from their interest for reconstructing lost Greek narrative poems and the background of much, lost and preserved, Latin poetry, these stories are an interesting mixture of mythography, paradoxography, and historiography, offering points of contact with the novel. Most of them involve incestuous and other illicit passions, such as necrophilia, and end in suicides, murder, or accidental killings, but the grim content is conveyed in a detached and thoroughly nonjudgmental narrative style that makes this collection more intriguing. Not surprisingly, they are far more easily accessible than the poetic fragments and have enjoyed a much greater popularity.15 Lightfoot had already earned well-deserved praise for her previous treatment of this work in her 1999 edition and now makes the results of her efforts available to a wider readership in a revised and improved version.16

The Loeb series imposes restrictions of space, and these are difficult texts to read. In most cases Lightfoot manages to find the right balance between concision and the need to provide the necessary information to different categories of readers. Only occasionally the lack of explicatory notes may make life complicated for the uninitiated reader. For some examples of this, and other cases of criticisms of details, I refer to the comments section of the blog-version of this review.

All in all, this is an excellent tool that will render a good service to the study of Hellenistic literature.


1. All dates are BCE.

2. Cf. K. Spanoudakis, Philitas of Cos (Leiden, Boston, Köln, 2002), 335 n. 1. The text is not included in Lightfoot’s edition.

3. Cf. L. Sbardella, Filita. Testimonianza e frammenti poetici (Rome, 2000), E. Dettori, Filita grammatico. Testimonianze e frammenti,(Rome, 2000), Spanoudakis (above, n. 2).

4. According to Spanoudakis (above, n. 2), 26 (writing before Meliadò’s new reading), Euktione “is unattested elsewhere in the Aegean and it is a rare name altogether, which suggests some elitism”, but I have been unable to trace any occurrence at all.

5. Cf. W. Lapini Capitoli su Posidippo (Alessandria, 2007), 266, with previous bibliography.

6. At v. 21, Passow’s different punctuation of the transmitted text, still, in my opinion, the best solution for this tormented passage, should have been mentioned in the apparatus or in a note.

7. To the bibliography on this add R. Rawles, “Homeric Beginnings in the Tattoo Elegy”, CQ 56 (2006), 486-495 (and the corrections in CQ 57.1).

8. B. A. van Groningen’s posthumously published Euphorion (Amsterdam, 1977), though harshly criticized in reviews, and not based on a first-hand assessment of the manuscripts, is still very much worth consulting, and Lightfoot rightly mentions several of his suggestions in her apparatus, adopting a few ones in her text. We should be looking forward to E. Magnelli’s announced edition, already preceded by several articles and by a preliminary monograph, Studi su Euforione (Rome, 2002).

9. A. Ciampi, “Euforione: testo e scolî in PSI XIV 1390”, in Comunicazioni dell’Istituto Papirologico <[G. Vitelli]> 7 (2007), 9-28.

10. Cf. the sch. A on Eur. Med. 9, p. 143 Schwartz, quoting a commentary ἀνεπίγραφον on Pindar (corresponding to sch. ad Ol. 13.74).

11. I find that I have been anticipated in this by Magnelli (above, n. 8), 118 n. 71 followed now, by A. Debiasi in QUCC 94 (2010), 99-119, on p. 112 (who further speculates that Euphorion treated Orion’s myth in his Hesiod). The conjecture is likely enough, and should at least have been mentioned in a note.

12. Cf. G. B. D’Alessio in ‘Le ῟Ωραι e le πέμφιγεc : fr. 43.40-41 Pf. (= fr. 50 M.)’, in G. Bastianini, A. Casanova (eds.), Callimaco. Cent’anni di papiri (Florence, 2006), 101-117.

13. Cf. Magnelli (above, n. 8), 129, n. 8, referring to my inspection of the papyrus. In Lightfoot’s own edition the relevant letters are printed as if they were in a gap, though their traces are visible both on the papyrus and in its reproductions.

14. ZPE 27 (1999), 52-58. On the text of another of Euphorion’s prose fragments cf. L. Lehnus, “A Callimachean Medley”, ZPE 147 (2007), 27 f.

15. The bibliography on this work is steadily increasing. To Lightfoot’s own updates add also A. Zucker (ed.), Littérature et érotisme dans les Passions d’amour de Parthénios de Nicée (Grenoble, 2008).

16. Mistakes and slips noted in reviews of the 1999 edition have generally been corrected. I am not sure that the solution now adopted at 33.2 (Zangoiannes’ γήμαϲθαι <βούλεϲθαι>) actually solves the linguistic problems involved in the transmitted text.