BMCR 2013.12.29

Lyrik als Philologie: zur Rezeption hellenistischer Pindarkommentierung in den Oden des Horaz. Mit einer rhetorisch-literarkritischen Analyse der Pindarscholien. Litora classica, Bd 4

, Lyrik als Philologie: zur Rezeption hellenistischer Pindarkommentierung in den Oden des Horaz. Mit einer rhetorisch-literarkritischen Analyse der Pindarscholien. Litora classica, Bd 4. Rahden: VML Verlag Marie Leidorf, 2012. 513. ISBN 9783867574747 €42.80 (pb).

Scholia have traditionally played a rather marginal role in classical scholarship, occasionally mined for historical titbits and quotations of mainstream authors, but generally relegated to the fringes of literary study. Happily, this picture is beginning to change, and Gregor Bitto’s book on the Pindar scholia and their influence on Horace joins numerous other recent monographs and articles that explore these fascinating corpora from a variety of interpretative standpoints.1 As the first extended analysis of the literary critical procedures of the Pindar scholia, and by far the most detailed consideration of Horace’s engagement with scholarship on Pindar from the Hellenistic period, this book will be of interest to both Pindarists and Horatians.

The bulk of the book falls into three main sections. After an introduction detailing the methodological issues involved in assessing Horace’s debt to Pindaric scholarship, Bitto provides a rhetorical and literary critical analysis of the Pindar scholia (pp. 63-240). This chapter demonstrates in detail the Hellenistic commentators’ indebtedness to rhetorical theory, their conception of the poems as rhetorical structures with little emphasis on occasionality, and the parallelisms between the ancient treatments of epinician and of epideictic oratory: this last point is also taken up in greater detail in the third section. The second chapter (pp. 241-366) combs Horace’s Odes for traces of influence by Hellenistic scholarship, enlarging on connections noted by previous scholars and positing new ones. The third (pp. 367-450) dwells on the wider significance of Horace as a Kommentarleser, arguing that his conception of Pindar’s poetry was significantly shaped by his engagement with Pindaric scholarship as well as by his reading of rhetorical theorists, especially Dionysius of Halicarnassus.

The introduction deals with Pindaric scholarship in the Hellenistic period, drawing on the work of previous scholars such as Deas, Lefkowitz, Irigoin, Negri, and others. Bitto largely accepts the consensus that has formed about the development of Pindaric commentaries, and about the earliness of much of the material that the scholia contain. He stresses that commentaries were fundamentally acts of communication, and that their philological and historical accuracy (at least when measured by the standards of today’s scholarship) was less important than their ability to communicate information which helps later readers make sense of earlier texts (pp. 16-18). He argues for the importance of considering the scholia’s paraphrasing analyses as influences on how Horace, and other readers, related to the Pindaric corpus (p. 22), but recognises the methodological difficulties involved in this undertaking. Any such analysis must bear in mind the gaps in our knowledge of the Pindaric commentaries; much of the material that was probably available to Horace is not so to us. Furthermore, modes of critical writing such as the rhetorical analyses of Dionysius of Halicarnassus were also significant in shaping readers’ views of canonical literature, and the scholia should be seen as in dialogue with these.2 He also helpfully distinguishes between the rhetorical analyses of the scholia and the ‘receptional’ responses of authors such as Ps-Longinus and the biographical tradition, which tend to focus more on the affectivity of Pindar’s poetry and to construct him as a symbol of inspired poetic composition.

His lengthy analysis of the Pindar scholia (pp. 63-240) is useful for its thoroughness and typological clarity. He arranges scholia under various headings, ranging from biographical material and comments on relationships between poet and patron to discussion of Pindar’s uses of poetological imagery and literary tropes. There is also a long section on scholia that deal with Pindar’s poetic technique, and Bitto is readier to argue for commentators’ sensitivity to structural issues than previous scholars have tended to be (see e.g. pp. 123-6). While more could have been achieved by way of analysis of the relationships between the scholia and the poems on which they comment, the chapter will be of considerable use as a guide to a complicated body of material.

The second chapter (‘Rezeptionsspuren Hellenistischer Pindarphilologie’) is in some respects the most interesting part of the book, but also the one likely to provoke most debate. Bitto’s argument that Horace’s poetic engagement with Pindar, and his conception of his lyric project more generally, was influenced by his reading of Hellenistic commentaries on Pindar, is not new, although Bitto elaborates it at considerably greater length and in more detail than previous scholars. The general claim is not susceptible to much doubt: as has long been recognized, there are clearly places where Horace’s use of a motif or word derived from Pindar has been influenced by the scholia, and in many cases Bitto’s analyses of such passages are convincing. He shows, for example, that C.3.24.5-7 ( si figit adamantinos / summis uerticibus dira Necessitas / clauos) is likely to have been influenced by Σ P.4.124a (τουτέστι ποία ἰσχυρὰ καὶ κινδυνώδης ἀνάγκη παρώρμησε τοὺς Ἀργοναύτας;) as well as by the corresponding phrase in the poem itself (τίς δὲ κίνδυνος κρατεροῖς ἀδάμαντος δῆσεν ἅλοις;, P.4.71): Horace’s use of dira Necessitas seems to be modelled on the scholion’s κινδυνώδης ἀνάγκη. He is also sensitive to the influence on Horace’s poetics of the wider intellectual climate in which he worked. He puts forward a particularly telling argument in relation to the effect of scholarly biographies on Horace’s narrativization of his own life, suggesting that Horace’s autobiographical references reroute scholarly discourse: ‘erzeugen die Varianten, in denen Horaz seine mythologischen Erlebnisse erzählt, eine Ähnlichkeit mit den Varianten der biographischer Anekdoten, die archaischen Lyrikern zugeschreiben werden’ (p. 336).

Bitto sees more extensive connections between the two corpora than previous scholars, but many of his arguments are open to objection. One such is his attempt to see a connection between the opening of C.4.15 ( Phoebus uolentem proelia me loqui / uictas et urbis increpuit lyra) and interpretations of the opening of P.1 preserved in the scholia (p. 257). He points out that unlike in the poem itself, where ‘the footstep listens’ to the music (τᾶς ἀκούει μὲν βάσις ἀγλαΐας ἀρχά, P.1.2), the scholia make explicit Apollo’s role in ‘leading off’ the dancers by striking up a tune on the lyre (Ἀπόλλων μὲν προκατάρχει τῶν κρουμάτων, πρὸς δὲ τὰ κρούματα εὐρύθμως αἱ Μοῦσαι χορεύουσι, Σ P.1.5a). In addition to suggesting that the scholia’s interpretation provides a model for Apollo’s role as leader in 4.15, he also sees a connection between increpuit and the scholia’s use of κροῦμα and its cognates. A connection between the two passages is plausible, but in the absence of close verbal links we should be wary of pressing the notion. Apollo’s role in leading the chorus is obvious from the text of the poem, and to suggest that Horace required the mediation of the scholarly gloss for clarification imputes to him an unwarranted lack of interpretative imagination. Moreover, since κροῦμα is frequently used elsewhere as a technical term for striking the strings of a musical instrument, there is no need to posit that Horace’s use of increpuit derives from the employment of the term in the scholion.

Similar examples might be multiplied. In his reading of Glycera in C.1.19, Bitto argues (p. 259) that the metapoetic aspect of the phrase Pario marmore purius, which reworks Pind. N.4.81 στάλαν θέμεν Παρίου λίθου λευκοτέραν, is reinforced by the comment of the scholion that Pindar is speaking ‘allegorically’ of his poem as a statue (ἀλληγορικῶς δὲ τὸ ποίημα στήλην λέγει, Σ N.4.129c). Yet the self-referential force of Pindar’s phrasing, and its consequent potential to influence a reading of Horace’s appropriation, are clear enough not to require mediation by the scholion. Also problematic is his suggestion (p. 255) that annorum series et fuga temporum at C.3.30.5 is indebted to Σ P.6.4 (θησαυρίζεται γὰρ παντὶ τῷ χρόνῳ) on the grounds that the scholion introduces a focus on temporality absent from Pindar’s description of the ὕμνων θησαυρός (P.6.6-14). In the light of the difference between Horace’s specific, detailed elaboration of temporality ( series … fuga) and the scholion’s παντὶ τῷ χρόνῳ, why should we not posit a situation in which Horace has combined Pindar’s building imagery with the emphasis on time found at, for instance, Simonides PMG 531.5 (οὔθ’ ὁ πανδαμάτωρ ἀμαυρώσει χρόνος)?3 Given the importance accorded the theme of temporality in a range of ancient poetry, it seems rash to privilege the scholia to P.6 as a model. Yet while his individual readings are not always convincing, the chapter as a whole does succeed in its overall goal of highlighting the importance of scholarly reading to Horace’s engagement with Pindar. However, the interpretative development of some of these connections is not as ambitious or sophisticated as the complexity of the material warrants, as Bitto tends to content himself with pointing out parallels rather than developing readings, and more could have been done to integrate individual readings in this chapter into a coherent whole.

The third chapter (‘Synthese’) builds on the previous analysis, arguing for a conception of Horace’s project in the Odes as ‘philological lyric’, based as it is around a close, scholarly engagement with the Pindaric corpus. Central to this argument is a reading of C.4.2 which sees Horace combining Pindaric and Callimachean elements to produce an ‘eclectic mimesis’: Bitto argues that this notion was significantly influenced by the critical formulations of Dionysius of Halicarnassus (pp. 454-5). His readings are sensible and thorough without being especially original, although his account of 4.2 suffers from a failure to consider Morgan’s recent discussion of the poem and the role played by Sapphic metre in articulating the poem’s metapoetics.4 He also goes further than previous scholars in detecting Pindaric influence on the fourth book of Odes as a whole, arguing for Pindar as an important model for the book’s encomiastic strategies, and (more doubtfully) seeing the ordering of the poems in the Alexandrian edition of Pindar as affecting the running order of book four (p. 450). In his conclusions, he connects the poetics of combination at work in 4.2 with wider cultural issues, seeing Horace as paralleling Virgil in creating a ‘Vereinigung von Griechisch und Römisch’ in which ‘die Kultur ist die Raum der Fusion’ (p. 455).

Bitto notes that the response to Pindar and Pindaric commentaries is only a part of ‘das … weite Interesse Horaz’ an Literatur und Literaturwissenschaft’ (p. 451). In seeking to illuminate this aspect of the Augustan literary landscape, his book gathers together much material of central importance to future study of Horace’s relationships with his poetic and scholarly predecessors, and brings those relationships into greater prominence than has hitherto been the case. As such, and despite its interpretative limitations, the book performs a valuable service.5


1. Cf. e.g. R. Nünlist, The Ancient Critic At Work (Cambridge, 2009); S. David, C. Daude, E. Geny, and C. Muckensturm-Poulle, (eds.) Traduire les scholies de Pindare … I: De la traduction au commentaire: problèmes de méthode, (Franche-Comté, 2009); S. Matthaios, F. Montanari, and A. Rengakos (eds.) Ancient Scholarship and Grammar: Archetypes, Concepts and Contexts (Berlin, 2011).

2. While Bitto is surely right to stress, as others have recently begun to do (cf. R. Hunter, Critical Moments in Classical Literature (Cambridge, 2009), 126), the importance of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, it would have been interesting to see more emphasis on the role of Latin scholarly culture in shaping Horace’s approach to literary history. In particular, the contemporary development of literary criticism (if this is the right term) directed at modern poets (for which cf. e.g. Suet. De gram. et rhet. 16.3 on Quintus Caecilius Epirota: primus dicitur Latine ex tempore disputasse, primusque Virgilium et alios poetas nouos praelegere coepisse) could usefully be explored as a factor in the the scholarly climate of which Horace was part.

3. Cf. e.g. S.J. Harrison, ‘Simonides and Horace’ in D. Boedeker and D. Sider (eds.) The New Simonides: Contexts of Praise and Desire, (Oxford, 2001) 263.

4. Cf. L. Morgan, Musa Pedestris: Metre and Meaning in Roman Verse (Oxford, 2010), 224-37.

5. The book is well presented, and I found only a small number of typographical errors: p. 89 ‘unsre’; p. 128‘h öhne’; p. 350, incorrectly placed footnote number after ‘und Menander’; p. 428, comma missing after ‘license’ in quotation from Schiesaro; p. 501, incorrect numbering of section entitled ‘Vergleiche’.