BMCR 2021.04.35

The reception of Greek lyric poetry in the ancient world

, , The reception of Greek lyric poetry in the ancient world: transmission, canonization and paratext. Mnemosyne supplements, Monographs on Greek and Latin language and literature, volume 430. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2019. Pp. xiv, 575. ISBN 9789004414518. €124,00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This collection is the fifth volume in a series that memorializes events sponsored by the Network for the Study of Archaic and Classical Greek Song. Most of its essays were presented at the University of Reading in the Summer of 2013 in a conference on the reception of Greek lyric poetry from 600 BCE through 400 CE. The volume consists of a detailed introduction and 21 essays arranged into seven parts in terms of theme and time. In size, it is imposing; in scope, it is inspiring. The essays approach reception broadly with studies on topics that range from the early canonization of Greek lyric to the scholarly practices in Byzantine commentaries. Yet, this wide range of topics foregrounds a straightforward premise: we must contend with reception for a fuller understanding of melic, iambic, and elegiac poetry of the seventh through the fifth centuries BCE. To be sure, readers will find much with which to agree as well as much that is problematic here. Given the volume’s length, a critical review of each contribution is neither practical nor desirable. The second half of the editors’ introduction provides such a survey. Rather, a selective overview with more emphasis on the volume’s strengths than weaknesses is provided. Overall, something of value will be found in each contribution.

Often, such collections are uneven in style and quality. This volume is no exception. A more judicious selection of essays would be sufficient to highlight the influence of reception on our reading of Greek lyric. That some essays are little more than presentations of data would support such a selection. Yet, such a paring would weaken the whole. The volume’s larger view emerges from the plurality of approaches and the often-contradictory conclusions that it presents side-by-side. Part Two (Canons) is a cogent example. Here, Nagy argues that the Alexandrian canon of lyric poets arises from Panathenaic performances of the sixth through the third centuries BCE. Calame pursues the implications of his observation that Aristophanic comedy in the fifth-century BCE does not reflect the lyric cannon in an obvious way. Finally, Bartol ties the evolution of elegy as a genre both to performance and to the emergence of texts in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. Individually, each essay is sound and fascinating. Taken together, they demonstrate how overlap is essential to this volume. More importantly, they highlight how the volume allows contributions to travel similar paths to different conclusions. Similarly, in Part Six (Second Sophistic Contexts), both Caciagli and Schlesier consider Athenaeus’ representation of Sappho. Both, however, see Sappho’s social context through Athenaeus in different ways. Nevertheless, both show how this understanding has great consequence for our reading of Sappho. Throughout, there are many such groups of essays in which the plurality of approaches and conclusions is put to the service of the overarching emphasis: to read Greek lyric requires us to consider fully the context of transmission. The remains of early Greek song are untidy. This volume foregrounds that approaches to and understanding of the reception of Greek song are equally untidy. So, to remove even some of the weaker contributions would diminish a whole whose primary strength is not in the validity of the conclusions reached but rather in the plurality of valid approaches demonstrated.

For many, the introduction and the first section (Transmission) will be the most useful. Both contributions situate the reader in the collection’s larger discussion well. The introduction defines the study and outlines the work with detail and clarity. The editors observe that we must consider reception in terms of two related issues: transmission, or the ways in which a text has become available across time, and broader impact, or the ways in which those who receive a text use it. They give three reasons why these considerations are so pressing. First, using the terminology of Jan Assmann, the transmission of lyric is presented as a process of “excarnation,” wherein Greek lyric is “disembedded from its original context.” (1) Thus, transmission drastically transforms lyric and our ability to comprehend it. Second, Greek lyric is typically incomplete, and the fragments often show the influence of those who preserve them. Finally, we often cannot comprehend the remains of lyric per se. Instead, we rely on ancient commentaries, themselves often incomplete, to enhance our understanding. For these reasons, our ability to make sense of Greek lyric is intricately linked to reception. With this definition, the editors give a cursory, but illuminating, literary history that emphasizes how reception plays out at various times and the larger issues it raises. Finally, there is an exceptionally thorough overview of the volume. Instead of a simple précis of each contribution and section, the editors sketch out how and why the pieces work together to display a plurality of approaches and conclusions. This section is useful for navigating this long collection.

André Lardinois’ application of “New Philology” to the fragments of Greek lyric in Part One (Transmission) also stands as a useful introduction to the volume’s larger project. This essay gives a concise, historical overview of “New Philology,” a methodology that emerged in the early 1990s in Medieval Studies and focuses on social context, modern linguistics, and variant versions in textual criticism. With this approach, Lardinois directly calls into question the preference for reconstructing an ideal, original text that is dominant in textual criticism in the study of Greek and Latin poetry today. Put another way, Lardinois questions how readers of ancient poetry currently account for the impact of reception. Through examples from Solon, Theognis, Tyrtaeus, Alcaeus, and Sappho, he shows that variations in some surviving texts cannot be explained by scribal error or lapses of memory. These variations are ancient, deliberate, and significant. According to Lardinois, this situation reveals a need to reevaluate the texts that we use for Greek lyric which are often composites of different versions created through the informed ingenuity of modern editors. While this conclusion is indeed bold, the call for a method of textual criticism that emphasizes variants in the manner of a multi-text rather than downgrading them to a paratext in an apparatus criticus is not new. The reader can easily consult the multitexts of Homer (The Homer Multitext project) or Catullus (Catullus Online) to see how such reevaluation has taken shape for other ancient authors. So, while many will not agree fully with Lardinois, the essay’s strength is found not so much in the specific conclusions on whether a particular variant is deliberate and meaningful or whether it is prudent to abandon the current practice of textual criticism. Rather, its strength comes from the foregrounding of an approach (“New Philology”) that allows us to account for the textual messiness that surrounds most of Greek lyric as we have it without needing to sweep some of it under the rug. This contribution, along with the editors’ introduction, provides a solid foundation on which this collection of essays is built. Both opening pieces highlight the need to confront issues of reception with open eyes whenever Greek lyric is read and to value plurality when doing so, be it a plurality of texts, of approaches, or of conclusions.

All the papers that follow take seriously, implicitly or explicitly, the implications of approaching Greek lyric in the terms of “New Philology.” After Lardinois, Van Hilten-Rutten (Part 1), the only author to mention “New Philology,” applies this methodology to variants for Tyrtaeus fr. 4 to elucidate how different ancient authors present a given text and how this presentation denies us the ability to recreate a single, authoritative text. Hadjimichael and Bouchard (Part 3) give different views on the degree to which the Peripatetics were interested in lyric poetry but both underscore the need to account for this interest, or lack-there-of, when reading Greek lyric. In Part 4, Fearn and Capra (Part 4) show how the reception of Greek lyric in the late fifth and early fourth centuries BCE can be seen, in part, through intertextual engagements in Timotheus and Plato. Kazanskaya explores how the indirect, biographical tradition around Sappho has muddied the way we read the text that this tradition preserves. Bowie and Bitto (Part 5) also explore reception as linked to intertextual engagement. They focus on the Roman period to highlight how later reception has influenced our reconstructions and interpretations of archaic Greek texts. In Part 6, Romney and Klooster both explore how the influence of the biographical tradition that culminates with Plutarch has directed our interpretation of Solon’s elegiacs from different focal points and in different ways. Modini returns to the idea that poetic engagement offers insights into reception by focusing on how Aelius Aristides engages with Greek lyric to present himself as a lyric poet in his prose. Part 7 turns to scholarship and an explicit consideration of paratexts as artefacts that influence reception. Philips, Breuer and Neumann-Hartmann look at the different ways later scholarship, either scholia or larger scale commentaries, has left its mark on how we read and recreate Greek lyric texts. Prodi provides a comprehensive overview of titles for compositions by Simonides, Pindar and Bacchylides to lay the groundwork for understanding how titles played a role in conceptualizing genres as well as transmitting and interpreting poems. This overview is cursory and simplified by necessity. There is great nuance and intricacies in each of these individual contributions. It should, however, demonstrate that throughout the volume, the topics broached, the issues raised, and the insights provided can be traced back to topics, issues and insights suggested by “New Philology.” As noted, those looking for a more thorough and comprehensive survey will be well served by the editors’ introduction.

To be sure, the reader will find much to argue with in each essay. Above, I have tried to emphasize the volume’s strengths. I note here two superficial flaws. In terms of style, there is great inconsistency in the use of footnotes and in the length of essays. At times, the reader will encounter sentence after sentence, each with at least 3 footnotes in which a great deal of argumentation is added. The excessive use of footnotes for argumentation is more common in this volume than it perhaps should be. It also often complicates the arguments which already are complex. In terms of length, there is also a great unevenness. This criticism is not one over a few pages here or there. While for the most part, the essays are concise (20-30 pages in length). There are, however, some very long pieces (40-50 pages in length). In most cases, the inconsistency of length is not warranted by the content provided. An exception might be the essay by Prodi, which is 54 pages long. For me, this essay is a stunning example of scholarship and will be the one from this volume that retains its usefulness and relevance for years to come, especially its annotated catalog of titles. It certainly deserves to be expanded and one hopes that it will appear as part of a longer monograph. Whether it fits with this volume, however, is to be questioned.

Overall, this volume is well edited with only a few minor typographical errors. The general index, less than eight pages in length, is deficient. At random, I note that ἐλεγεῖα has no entry although it is significant to at least one essay. The index also contains the names of numerous modern scholars with references to one or two pages. In most instances, the utility of this practice can be questioned. Both details should highlight the limited use of the index. One will also miss an index of Greek words. Finally, the hard copy reviewed is of low quality with the spine not connected particularly well to the pages – a flaw one might not expect given the cost. Overall, however, the volume certainly achieves its main objective: to get the reader to reconsider how one approaches Greek lyric by valuing the reception of such poetry. It also does so by valuing a plurality of approaches and conclusions. In doing so, this volume will certainly prompt and contribute to many future discussions.

Table of Contents

1. Bruno Currie and Ian Rutherford, ‘The Reception of Greek Lyric Poetry in the Ancient World: Transmission, Canonization, and Paratext,’ pp.1-36.

Part I. Transmission
2. André Lardinois, “New Philology and the Classics: Accounting for Variation in the Textual Transmission of Greek Lyric and Elegiac Poetry,’ pp. 39-71.
3. Eveline van Hilten-Rutten, ‘Tyrtaeus the Lawgiver: Plutarch and Diodorus Siculus on Tyrtaeus fr. 4,’ pp. 72-91.

Part 2. Canons
4. Gregory Nagy, ‘On the Shaping of the Lyric Canon in Athens,’ pp. 95-111.
5. Claude Calame, ‘Melic Poets and Melic Forms in the Comedies of Aristophanes: Poetic Genres and the Creation of a Canon,’ pp. 112-128.
6. Krystyna Bartol, ‘Structuring the Genre: The Fifth- and Fourth-Century Authors on Elegy and Elegiac Poets,’ pp. 129-147.

Part 3. Lyric in the Peripatetics
7. Theodora A. Hadjimichael, ‘The Peripatetics and The Transmission of Lyric,’ pp. 151-181.
8. Elsa Bouchard, ‘The Self-Revealing Poet: Lyric Poetry and Cultural History in the Peripatetic School,’ pp. 182-202.

Part 4. Early Reception
9. David Fearn, ‘Lyric Reception and Sophistic Literarity in Timotheus’ Persae,’ pp. 205-238.
10. Andra Capra, ‘”Total reception”: Stesichorus as Revenant in Plato’s Phaedrus (with a new Stesichorean Fragment?),’ p. 239-256.
11. Maria Kazanskaya, ‘Indirect Tradition on Sappho’s kertomia,’ pp. 257-276.

Part 5. Reception in Roman Poetry
12. Ewen Bowie, ‘Alcaeus’ stasiotica: Catullan and Horatian Readings,’ pp. 279-294.
13. Gregor Bitto, ‘Pindar, Paratexts, and Poetry: Architectural Metaphors in Pindar and Roman Poets (Virgil, Horace, Propertius, Ovid, and Statius),’ pp. 295-317.

Part 6. Second Sophistic Contexts.
14. Stefano Caciagli, ‘Sympotic Sappho? The Recontextualization of Sappho’s Verses in Athenaeus,’ pp. 321-341.
15. Renate Schlesier, ‘A Sophisticated hetaira at Table: Athenaeus’ Sappho,’ pp. 342-372.
16. Jessica Romney, ‘Solon and the Democratic Biographical Tradition,’ pp. 373-394.
17. Jacqueline Klooster, ‘Strategies of Quoting Solon’s Poetry in Plutarch’s Life of Solon,’ pp. 395-416.
18. Francesca Modini, ‘Playing with Terpander & Co.: Lyric, Music, and Politics in Aelius Aristides’ To the Rhodians: Concerning Concord,’ pp. 417-438.

Part 7. Scholarship
19. Tom Phillips, ‘Historiography and Ancient Pindaric Scholarship,’ pp. 441-460.
20. Enrico Emanuele Prodi, ‘Poem-Titles in Simonides, Pindar, and Bacchylides,’ pp. 461-515.
21. Johannes Breuer, ‘Ita dictum accipe: Pomponius Porphyrio on Early Greek Lyric Poetry in Horace,’ pp. 516-532.
22. Arlette Neumann-Hartmann, ‘Pindar and his Commentator Eustathius of Thessalonica,’ pp. 533-552.