BMCR 2021.07.15

A Hellenistic anthology

, A Hellenistic anthology (second edition). Cambridge Greek and Latin classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020. Pp. 360. ISBN 9781108472401. $105.00.

Soon after agreeing to review the second edition of Neil Hopkinson’s A Hellenistic Anthology, I learned that the author passed away on 5 January 2021 at the age of 63. Although I never met Professor Hopkinson, he was effectively a teacher of mine for many years. I came to know him through his text and commentary of Callimachus’ Hymn to Demeter (Cambridge University Press 1984), his first edition of this anthology (Cambridge University Press 1988), and other commentaries in the Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics series: An Imperial Anthology (1994), Ovid Metamorphoses Book 13 (2000) and Lucian: A Selection (2008). Although he left our academic community far too young, his contributions as a scholar are well known and impressive. The Times (Thursday 18 February 2021) described him as “one of the most influential commentators of his generation.” According to Richard Hunter, Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge, he was also a “brilliant and devoted teacher of undergraduates for nearly 40 years.”

Prior to the publication of the first edition of A Hellenistic Anthology, the only school texts of Hellenistic poetry I can recall were K.J. Dover, Theocritus. Select Poems (Macmillan 1971) and Jerry Clack, An Anthology of Alexandrian Poetry, published by the journal Classical World in 1982. I was especially grateful for the latter, even though the commentary was so sparse as to be unhelpful at times, because it was a convenient collection of various Hellenistic authors for classroom use. The appearance of Hopkinson’s anthology represented a significant step forward. Advanced undergraduate and graduate students alike benefitted from the general introduction, which provided a lucid description of the historical, literary and social background of the material, a well-chosen and finely edited sampling of Hellenistic poets, and best of all a judicious commentary that provided enough linguistic, literary, and historical information for students to make sense of some very challenging texts. No wonder he was such a successful teacher and scholar: his writing and teaching were so fully in sync.

In the preface to the second edition (ix), Hopkinson states that the book was thoroughly revised, the bibliography updated (with the inclusion of a section listing “Works Cited” not in the original), and that two Theocritean poems not in Richard Hunter’s Theocritus. A Selection (Cambridge 1999) were added (Id. 5 and 15). As he also aptly notes, the current edition complements David Sider’s recently published multi-authored Hellenistic Poetry: A Selection (Ann Arbor 2017). These books, plus Richard Hunter’s Apollonius of Rhodes: Argonautica Book III (Cambridge 1989) and Apollonius of Rhodes: Argonautica Book IV (Cambridge 2018), Jay Reed, Bion of Smyrna: The Fragments and the Adonis (Cambridge 1997), Alexander Sens, Asclepiades of Samos (Oxford 2011), Giulio Massimilla’s two volume edition with commentary Callimaco: Aitia (Pisa 1996 and 2010) and Annette Harder’s two volume text and commentary Callimachus Aetia(Oxford 2012), Susan Stephens, Callimachus: The Hymns (Oxford 2015),  Simon Hornblower, Lycophron: Alexandra (Oxford 2015) and a number of other important texts and commentaries are cited throughout (Hopkinson also mentions forthcoming selections from Callimachus and the Greek Anthology in the Green and Yellow series), and reveal just how much the terrain has changed since the original publication of A Hellenistic Anthology. I feel it would not be excessive to suggest that Hopkinson’s 1988 anthology was partially responsible for the attention that Hellenistic poets went on to receive after its publication; they were finally approachable. As for the bibliography, Hopkinson has incorporated new material up to as recently as 2019 within the introductions to the book and to the individual poets and their poems.

With regard to the nature of the revision, after scanning the introductory material, both for the book as a whole and individual sections, including the commentary, a cursory glance suggests that not much has changed, but a closer look reveals that this is not in fact the case. For instance, in the original edition Hopkinson states ad Aetia 1–7 (p. 91):

The Telchines ignorantly complain that although Call. is now advanced in years he has not produced a long poem on a single epic/heroic theme in thousands of verses—in other words, although he is a poet of high reputation he has not written a ‘major work’. The Aetia was indeed thousands of lines long and dealt incidentally with ‘the deeds of kings and heroes of old’ (3–5, if that is the right supplement); but it was written in elegiacs, it concentrated on aspects other than the ‘heroic’, and it consisted of a discontinuous series of episodes linked thematically rather than chronologically.

The new edition reads (p. 92):

The Telchines ignorantly complain that although Callimachus is now advanced in years (ἔτεα) he has not produced a long poem (ἔπεα) on a single grand theme in thousands of verses—in other words, although he is a poet of high reputation he has not written a ‘major work’. The Aetia was indeed thousands of lines long and dealt incidentally with some ‘deeds of kings and heroes of old’ (3–5, if that is the right supplement); but it was not written in the meter of epic, it concentrated on aspects other than the heroic, and it consisted of a discontinuous series of episodes linked thematically rather than chronologically.

The point is reinforced by the contrasting anaphora πολλάκι … πολλαῖς. Both the Iliad and the Ơdyssey begin with the anaphora of πολλός, a marker of grandeur, magnitude and comprehensiveness. Similarly, χιλιάσιν in line 4 evokes μυρί’ in the second line of the Iliad. The Zeus-hymns of Cleanthes and Aratu(370-400, 409-13) and the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite also begin with forms of both πᾶς and πολλός.

As can readily be seen, the original paragraph is tweaked slightly; one finds comparable instances of such tweaking throughout the second edition. I would note, however, that the added contrast of ἔτεα – ἔπεα offers a welcome addition, with the latter (ἔπος in Callimachus) appearing immediately after the main caesura of line 5 and the former ending the first half of the pentameter verse in line 6 (ἐτέων), metrically bookending the connection between the two significant and programmatically contrasting words. The new paragraph introduces intriguing connections between the Aetia, the Iliad and Odyssey, and other poems well worth further consideration. But as this sample and the pagination suggests, and correctly so, the underlying original text remains largely intact, and this too is welcome, as the original introductions and commentary required little improvement, but received much, thanks to such intelligent tweaking and occasional thought-provoking additions.

In looking more closely at the new items, Theocritus Id. 5 and 15, I find that they are of a piece with the rest of the work: brief but laser-focused introductions followed by succinct line-by-line comments intended to help readers understand what the texts say, without offering elaborate interpretation and thus allowing readers to go deeper into the poems on their own. Comments include grammatical help, with occasional references to Smyth, assistance with morphology and vocabulary, with occasional references to LSJ, and basic historical and cultural information necessary for understanding the texts. Hopkinson’s decision to replace references to Kühner-Gerthʼs Ausführliche Grammatik der griechischen Sprache (Hanover 1890–1892) with references to Smyth’s Greek Grammar (Cambridge MA 1956) will provide students access to a resource they can readily purchase or consult online, and as such might actually use (see, e.g., commentary ad Callimachus H. 5.87, Nicander Theriaca 334; in the new edition K.-G. was removed from the Abbreviations and Smyth added in its place). Throughout the text, names and words formerly abbreviated (Call., MSS) are spelled out (Callimachus, manuscripts).

My only criticism is that at times I wish Hopkinson were a little more generous with his comments. On Id. 5.21–22, for example, he states that “nothing sacred” (οὐδὲν ἱερόν), teased out as “no big deal,” is a proverbial expression, but offers no parallels to establish its nature as such. The contest between Comatas and Lacon in Id. 5 begins at line 80, but there is no explanation regarding the nature of the contest, which is only hinted at when it is over (ad Id. 5.139–40). It would have been useful for the first-time reader to know that Lacon was supposed to come back with more clever responses to Comatas’ leading couplets (e.g., the Muses love me; Oh yeah, but Apollo loves me [80–83]), thus prompting an evaluation of the give and take along the way. But these and other similar points I might mention are nugatory when compared to the overall contribution that the commentary provides for readers who attempt to make sense of what can be very challenging poetry. I should add that the new material is fully integrated within the rest of the book, with cross-references to the other poems and the appendix on the Doric dialect. So successful is the integration that one would not know they were absent from the first edition.

I am grateful that Hopkinson was able to complete this second edition before his untimely death. The changes and additions to the preexisting text, though seemingly slight, reveal careful rethinking and the updated bibliography connects both the original and the new material to current scholarly discourse. I feel confident that Professor Hopkinson will continue to live on as a “brilliant and devoted teacher” in this and in his other well-received publications.