BMCR 2019.01.13

The Epigrams of Crinagoras of Mytilene: Introduction, Text, Commentary

, The Epigrams of Crinagoras of Mytilene: Introduction, Text, Commentary. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. xi, 578. ISBN 9780199565825. $130.00.


Crinagoras of Mytilene is not a familiar name to most classicists, which is regrettable; he deserves to be on graduate reading lists, and certainly merits greater study on the part of those interested in the work of Virgil, Horace, and Propertius.1 To date, those interested in or curious about this poetic contemporary of Julius Caesar and Augustus were served primarily by the magisterial edition of the so-called Garland of Philip by Gow and Page.2 Maria Ypsilanti has produced a major edition of the fifty-one epigrams of Crinagoras, with introduction, text, translation, and commentary. Her volume is based on an original 2003 London doctoral thesis; the present volume represents a major revision and expansion of that work. It appears at a time of renewed anglophone and continental interest in the poets of the Anthology; this volume represents a major achievement in the study of imperial Greek poetry, a book that will hopefully serve to inspire other single-volume treatments of poets from the collection.

Ypsilanti’s edition is commendable not only for the authoritative, sober judgment that it brings to the work of Crinagoras, but also because this Augustan Age poet should be far better known than he is, even if only for his significance to the study of selected historical events from the period. Reading through the epigrams is a study in se of the delights of the genre: the birthday poem on winter roses for a young woman soon to be married; the offering of a copy of Callimachus’ Hecale to Marcellus; a meditation upon the lunar eclipse that accompanied the death of Cleopatra Selene; the epitaph for the dead Hymnis, daughter of Evander; the escape of a parrot that had been taught to salute Caesar Augustus (a poem of appreciable humor and charm); the celebration of Tiberius’ victories from Armenia to Germany; a lament for Corinth (destroyed by Mummius in 146 BCE and still experiencing the consequences of resettlement); the gruesome image of an abandoned skull that provides an eerie memento mori – all this and more constitutes the varied subject matter of the collection. The literature of the Augustan Age has been the subject of an immense bibliography; Ypsilanti’s work will provide a fresh window into the period, even for those who had some prior familiarity with Crinagoras’ verse. This is especially true with respect to the poems that deal with Roman adventures and disasters in Germany (including the infamous Varusschlacht). Appearances of and references to gods and goddesses are treated with noteworthy skill; one is treated throughout to miniature essays on the poetic history of the immortals (here one may single out the study of the gods and spirits of war). There is relatively little surviving verse from the crucial period when Tiberius was in the ascendant; Crinagoras merits closer study (alongside Manilius) for verse commentary on the imperial transition.

The commentary is especially rich on intertextual parallels (including the influence of Crinagoras on later Latin poetry), and on lexicography. There is an impressive familiarity with other major philological commentaries on display here, coupled with an authoritative presentation of the relevant history. Ypsilanti’s Crinagoras is thoroughly grounded not only in the tradition of Greek epigram, but also in the contemporary history of the Roman world. This is one of those editions where the commentary is as much a delight to read as the original Greek; suffice to say that Crinagoras has found in Ypsilanti a well-deserved, impressive critic. The notes are rich in parallels and imitations from other Greek imperial poets (Ypsilanti knows her Oppian and Quintus Smyrnaeus quite well); geography is unfailingly presented with precision and wide-ranging knowledge; material culture and archaeology make for notes as richly detailed as those on literary tropes, genres, and historical antecedents. Crinagoras also provides a case study on the question of literary patronage under Augustus; it is likely that Crinagoras knew Parthenius of Nicaea (who wrote an elegy named after him), and the examination of his work offers a rich opportunity to investigate both the contemporary literary circles and the productions of collections of verse under Augustus. The relative social status of emissaries to imperial courts and diplomatic relations between client states and officials in Rome supply other thoroughly explored topics of inquiry. Ypsilanti’s edition provides the philological and historical grounding for a rich assortment of possible topics for further exploration. It should also be noted that Ypsilanti’s work affords the reader a good exercise in the perilous enterprise of composing a poet’s biography largely from the evidence of his own collection; the treatment of Crinagoras’ life in this edition is both sophisticated and restrained.

The author’s introduction has especially helpful sections of notes on the Latinisms in the epigrams; on rare or hapax vocabulary; on Homeric imitations; and in particular on meter. For those confused by the complicated manuscript tradition of the Anthology and related collections, Ypsilanti’s untangling of the morass is a model of scholarly clarity. Testimonia for the author are included in full. There are extensive indices that include a quite detailed list of passages and vocabulary for ease of reference, and a bibliography of admirable range and depth.

The present reviewer was urged in graduate school to pursue Crinagoras as a possible topic of research. The advice was not taken, though not without regret given the inherent richness of his verse. It is a pleasure years later to recommend Ypsilanti’s work without reserve to anyone interested in Augustan poetry or Greek epigram. Crinagoras deserves to emerge from the shadows, and this volume provides exactly the needed conduit for his epiphany.


1. Crinagoras is regrettably not included in the brief selection of epigrammatists to be found in Neil Hopkinson’s Greek Poetry of the Imperial Period: An Anthology, Cambridge, 1994 (one of the four published volumes in the short-lived “Imperial Library”); he is however among the many poets in Jerry Clack’s An Anthology of Alexandrian Poetry, The Classical World Special Series, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1982 (a collection that merits more attention for its utility to students than it has received).

2. The Greek Anthology: The Garland of Philip. Edited by A.S.F. Gow and D.L. Page. Cambridge, 1968 (2 volumes).