BMCR 2017.03.03

Submerged Literature in Ancient Greek Culture, Volume 2: Case Studies

, , Submerged Literature in Ancient Greek Culture, Volume 2: Case Studies. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2016. x, 396. ISBN 9783110434576. $112.00.

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

The fringe has become a popular place in classical studies, with growing interest in ancient literature outside the canon. Recent scholarship has explored various theoretical paradigms for the study of neglected texts and genres, many adapted from other humanistic disciplines or the social sciences. Within the last decade alone, we have seen great and little traditions, centers and peripheries, and even network theory used to make sense of antiquity’s least-studied literature.1

The second volume of Submerged Literature in Ancient Greek Culture contributes to this dialogue the concept of the “submerged”: “texts [that] benefited from neither control nor protection, either because no community had any interest in their preservation, or because it was in the interest of a community that they be concealed, or even suppressed” (2). The first chapter (“Introductory Notes”) discusses the origins of the submerged in the work of the late Luigi Enrico Rossi and in seminars organized by his pupils between 2012 and 2014. The editors, Giulio Colesanti and Laura Lulli, articulate the advantages of the approach: its combination of “philological analysis with the historical cultural perspective” (5); its analysis of submerged literature on synchronic and diachronic axes; and its insights into the formation of canonical literary traditions. The aim of the second volume is to “[test] the aptness and utility of applying the category of the submerged…in ancient Greek culture beyond the strictly literary sphere” (6).

The nineteen contributions to this volume fall into six thematic groups, organized by object of study: the submerged in ancient Greek literature, sacred and ritual texts, medical texts, visual art, papyri, and music.

In the first section, contributors are primarily interested in excavating submerged Greek authors and genres. Giovanni Cerri argues that the submersion of the Presocratic philosopher Leucippus and his contributions to early atomic theory lies in the pseudepigraphic attribution of his writing to Democritus and the hostile reception of Epicurus. Heinz-Günther Nesselrath investigates the life and literary genres of Sopater of Paphos, and posits two historical explanations for why the Hellenistic poet’s verses are reminiscent of Middle Comedy. S. Douglas Olson analyzes an Erechtheid Casualty List from Marathon, once buried in the estate of Herodes Atticus. He not only contextualizes the list among other Marathon monuments and epigrams, but also analyzes the significance of the inscription to the provincial Greek elite of the Second Sophistic.

The next two chapters in this section highlight the emergence of submerged genres in canonical authors. Stefano Jedrkiewicz considers Socrates’ interest in versifying Aesopic fables in the Phaedo. In this poetic project, Socrates appears to “fix” the fluid Aesopic repertoire in textual form, but Jedrkiewicz claims he does so only to submerge these poems “by denying them any use in his speech” (77). Livio Sbardella proposes that Theocritus, in contrast, seeks to showcase submerged popular traditions at the center of his poetic program. In the Hellenistic period, he argues, we see a “new dialectic between elite culture and popular culture” (81).

The first section concludes with lost genres at the geographical margins of the Greek world. Federico De Romanis analyzes the Periplus Maris Erythraei as the lone survivor of an otherwise submerged body of Indian Ocean travelogues; he also expands upon the recent hypothesis that the text was transmitted in a library of Arrian’s books. Giusto Traina traces historiographical treatments of Armenia, a land little studied by Greek authors until the third century BCE. Traina flips the search for Armenia on its head by investigating the evidence for Armenian interest in Greece under Tigran the Great.

The second section, sacred and ritual texts, contains three contributions on the role and regulation of writing in ancient religious contexts. Enzo Lippolis emphasizes the importance of cult and ritual in the development of Greek writing culture, from the origins of the Greek alphabet to the “emancipation” of writing from religious contexts in the fourth century BCE. Sergio Ribichini, on the other hand, explores the restriction and concealment of the texts of ancient mystery cults, whose liturgies and sacred tales were submerged in “mystic silence” (174). Finally, Franco Ferrari seeks out submerged Orphic communities with a study of inscriptions on a mirror and bone plaques from Olbia.

The third section, Greek medicine, comprises a single chapter on the Hippocratic corpus. Amneris Roselli calls attention to gynecological and nosological texts as a bricolage of Greek medical writing. Analyzing parallel redactions and variants within the corpus, she proposes that these treatises preserve material from the earliest generations of Hippocratic physicians and temple medicine.

In the fourth section, contributors search for evidence of submerged cultural practices in Greek visual art. Revisiting dance scenes in Geometric poetry, Matteo D’Acunto foregrounds the social function of dance in archaic Attica and Argos. The iconography of musicians and dancers provides a rare look into an otherwise lost art form. Bruno D’Agostino sheds light on the world of archaic potters and painters with a study on depictions of craftsmen in Corinthian pinakes. Luca Cerchiai concludes this section with a chapter on the earliest depiction of Theseus abandoning Ariadne in an Attic kylix. He resists past interpretations of the scene as a work of Athenian propaganda and tests new approaches to visual representations that fall outside the canon.

The fifth section of the volume treats literary and paraliterary texts in the papyri of Hellenistic and Roman Egypt. Lucio Del Corso surveys the most common non-canonical genres preserved in Greek papyri: gnomic texts, sympotic songs, scientific treatises, and fictional narratives. In addition to the intellectual contexts in which these texts circulated, Del Corso describes the “coexistence of ‘high’ literary language” alongside lower registers of expression (285). Raffaele Luiselli’s chapter focuses on the papyrus fragments of the Acta Alexandrinorum, and uses this case study to imagine the interpretive community of other anonymous literary traditions. She argues that the Acta were marginalized from elite cultural institutions due to their status as entertainment literature.

The sixth and final section, music, is perhaps the most reflective on the definition and process of submersion in ancient Greek culture. Michele Napolitano ascribes the paucity of documents with musical notation to the relatively late textualization of Greek music (fifth century BCE), and offers a comparative study of the transmission of Gregorian chant. Angelo Meriani investigates a revival of musicological treatises in the early Roman Empire, which simultaneously suppressed texts that did not fit neatly into the two theoretical approaches acknowledged by Ptolemy. Eleonora Rocconi offers the final chapter on how ethnomusicology may help classicists unearth Greek folk music from comic and tragic plays. She compares metrical and phonetic patterns in Aristophanes’ Peace and Euripides’ Electra with modern Italian folksongs.

The submerged is an attractive approach to the study of non-canonical texts, genres, and culture because it does not presume that such artifacts were denied canonization on the basis of aesthetic or intellectual deficiencies. Rather, as the shipwreck metaphors in Del Corso’s and Napolitano’s chapters make plain, the vast majority of Greek cultural production has suffered submersion: the survivors include happy accidents and special classes of artifacts singled out for preservation. As a whole, the volume succeeds in turning our attention away from essentializing theories of the popular, the fringe, or the marginalized in antiquity. Instead, contributors ask readers to consider the historical contexts and social institutions that shape reception and transmission: to recognize how pseudepigraphic attribution, religious custom, or late textualization could determine the destiny of an author or artist.

To that end, the most constructive chapters in this volume are those that connect the study of submerged texts and traditions to the processes of their submersion: performance and reading contexts, methods of transmission, and institutionalized protection or suppression of cultural artifacts. Less successful are those that focus narrowly on resuscitating a neglected author or genre. While such contributions may certainly appeal to specialists, it is not always clear how they advance our understanding of cultural submersion in Greek civilization. I also remain skeptical of chapters that attempt to uncover elements of “popular” or “folk” culture from “elite” texts. Elite and non-elite peoples and ideologies are inextricably entangled in the culture they produce, and it is a myth to believe that we can extract the submerged cleanly from the substance it is submerged in. Nonetheless, this volume presents a refreshing perspective on the non-canonical across an array of Greek textual and cultural traditions.

All contributions are in English, although not all chapters include English translations of cited Greek passages. I found no typographical errors. The volume includes three indices ( nominum, rerum notabilium, locorum) and a helpful list of contributors with biographical and contact information. Readers will also appreciate over fifty maps, photos, and figures, many of them in color.

Authors and Titles

1. Giulio Colesanti and Laura Lulli, Introductory Notes
2. Giovanni Cerri, A Scholarch Denied: Leucippus, Founder of Ancient Atomism
3. Heinz-Günther Nesselrath, Sopater of Paphus and the Phylax Plays
4. S. Douglas Olson, Reading the New Erechtheid Casualty List from Marathon
5. Stefano Jedrkiewicz, To Produce Poetry in Order to Submerge It: Socrates’ Aesopic Experience (Plat. Phaedo 60 b1-61 b7)
6. Livio Sbardella, The Muse Looks Down: Theocritus and the Hellenistic Aesthetic of the ‘Submerged’
7. Federico De Romanis, An Exceptional Survivor and Its Submerged Background: The Periplus Maris Erythraei and the Indian Ocean Travelogue Tradition
8. Giusto Traina, Traditions on Armenia in Submerged Greek Literature: Preliminary Considerations
9. Enzo Lippolis, Sacred Texts and Consecrated Texts
10. Sergio Ribichini, Covered by Silence: Hidden Texts and Secret Rites in the Ancient Mystery Cults
11. Franco Ferrari, Orphics at Olbia?
12. Amneris Roselli, The Gynaecological and Nosological Treatises of the Corpus Hippocraticum: the Tip of an Iceberg
13. Matteo D’Acunto, Dance in Attic and Argive Geometric Pottery: Figurative Imagery and Ritual Contexts
14. Bruno D’Agostino, Potters and Painters in Archaic Corinth: Schemata and Images
15. Luca Cerchiai, Ariadne and Her Companions
16. Lucio Del Corso, A Tale of Mummies, Drinking Parties, and Cultic Practices: Submerged Texts and the Papyrological Evidence
17. Raffaele Luiselli, The Circulation and Transmission of Greek Adespota in Roman Egypt
18. Michele Napolitano, La cathédrale engloutie. Greek Music from the Perspective of the Submerged.
19. Angelo Meriani, The Submerged Musicology of Ancient Greece
20. Eleonora Rocconi, Traces of Folk Music in Ancient Greek Drama
Index Nominum
Index Rerum Notabilium
Index Locorum
Editors and Contributors


1. Redfield’s concept of “great” and “little” traditions serves as a paradigm for the transmission of ancient elite and popular culture in the introduction to L. Kurke, Aesopic Conversations: Popular Tradition, Cultural Dialogue, and the Invention of Greek Prose (Princeton 2011). The model of center and periphery has been a subject of debate in G. A. Karla (ed.), Fiction on the Fringe: Novelistic Writing in the Post-Classical Age (Leiden 2009) and T. Whitmarsh, Beyond the Second Sophistic: Adventures in Greek Postclassicism (Berkeley 2013). D. Selden, “Text Networks” Ancient Narrative 8 (2010) 1-24, has also described the circulation of multiform prose scriptures and fictions in the Roman Empire as compositional networks.