BMCR 2021.08.09

Greek lyric poetry and its influence: texts, iconography, music and cinema

, , , Greek lyric poetry and its influence: texts, iconography, music and cinema. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2020. Pp, xxxvi, 355. ISBN 9781527559868 £67.99.

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

The book under review is the result of a conference held at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid in 2015. This collection of essays can be situated within the context of important research on Greek lyric in the last decade and its different approaches.[1]  The focus is on the texts themselves (Sappho and Anacreon are well represented), and on their philological and artistic reception, from Greek sculpture to Horace, from Fray Luis de León to Odysseus Elytis, from music to cinema. The result is a kind of anthology endowed with original contributions. Half of the contributions are written in English and half in Spanish. They use Greek characters for the quotations, and translations into the language of the specific essays.

The Introduction, by Fernando García Romero, sets the present-day coordinates of the subject with a solid bibliography.

The Texts section of Greek lyric poetry is divided into “Philological Studies of Greek Lyric” and “Influence of Greek Lyric Poetry on Posterity.” In “The Main Themes in Greek lyric: Anacreon’s Poetry as a Representative Example,” Alicia Esteban Santos presents the main subjects of Greek lyric by means of Anacreon’s poetry: love, symposium and wine, allusions to music and musical instruments, and the contrast of youth with old age. The author quotes poems regarding the contrast among epithets, verbal expressions, personal pronouns (me/you), and words inherent to the subjects. A second contribution by Esteban Santos under the same Philological Studies, “Anacreonte, cantor de Eros: análisis literario”, deals with Anacreon’s poems dedicated to Eros. Her study of meaning as it relates to composition is rather remarkable. In her analysis of Anacreon’s PMG 357 (14 Gentili) shehighlights the importance of number three in groups of deities, groups of verbs and groups of lines, in which parallels or contrapositions are established.

Felipe Hernández Muñoz considers the formula Ἔρως λυσιμελής through time, focusing especially on Sappho fr. 130 V=137 D: “first definition of love”, and a second fragment, 105a V = 116 D, which he deems “the first feminist text.” Nathaniel Hess explores metaphors related to small animals, whose suffering is somehow conceived as human suffering, in Lycophron’s Alexandra.

The Reception of Greek Lyric Poetry is represented by a Latin poet (Horace), a modern Greek poet (Odysseus Elytis) and a present-day Spanish writer (de Villena). In “Los líricos griegos en Horacio y a través de Horacio”, Vicente Cristóbal, an expert in Latin poetry, guides our steps from Greece to Rome, from Alcaeus, Sappho, Pindar, Anacreon, Archilochus and Hipponax to Horace, who rightly adapted the Greek lyric to his Latin poetry with the results of its projection into later Europe by means of his Epodes and Odes. In Spain, Fray Luis de León and Francisco de Medrano are the main followers.

“Blue words, Odysseus Elytis and Sappho, his “distant cousin”” by Penelope Stavrianopulu is an emotive and inspiring bridge between two poets born in Mytilene, Sappho and Elytis, and the common subjects explored by both: the Aegean Sea, love, the sun and moon, and the Greek language.

Francisco Martínez Real finds in Luis Antonio de Villena subjects close to Elegy and at times to the Iambic: “Within his poetry we find a plaint for time past, the brevity of youth, the fleeting nature of sexual pleasure, but also some truly acid satires on certain people or aspects of capitalist life.” Moreover, Villena’s affinity to Sappho is shown by his homoerotic poems or his melancholic stance.

The third part, “Greek Lyric Poetry in History, Iconography, Music and Cinema,” the Greek people, fully reflected in their lyric poetry. Pilar González Serrano introduces the social world of Sappho: “I shall attempt to signify her importance as an entrepreneur, first in charge of the family business, on the death of her father, and later as manager of the “House of the Muses”. In this centre, founded by her, a group of cultivated women, thanks to their participation as moderators of the social acts in which their services were requested, could be independent and free, enjoying, at the same time, sublime friendship”.

As for Iconography, Alicia Esteban presents lyric subjects and lyric poets through beautiful images mostly taken from Greek pottery. She finds images of gods and goddesses, such as Aphrodite, Eros and Dionysus, drawn according to lyric poems that she quotes side by side. This is also the case in the representations of music and dance, and the contrast Youth/Old Age. The whole is very beautiful. Fernando García Romero shows us texts and statues dealing with sport in Greece, splendidly sung by poets and carved by sculptors. He quotes poems by Pindar and Bacchylides, and finds sculptures related to the sports mentioned. The social consideration of athletes was very high, which is why some writers, such as Euripides and Plato, raised their voices against them.

The relationship between Greek lyric and music is addressed by the musicians Luis Calero and Leonardo de Arrizabalaga. Luis Calero tries to explain the relationship of Greek music with that of neighbouring Asia. There are references to an older music and a subsequent poetry coupled with music. “We shall try here to set out the differences that may be seen between the lyrical practice of these new composers and an allegedly older practice, mainly used for interpretation of the epic repertoire.” Arrizabalaga (“Anacreontis carmina: Setting Anacreon’s Verse to Music in the 21st Century”) set to music some poems by Anacreon: a performance of them was presented to the audience of the Congress (2015). The author roughly explains the features of Greek song metrics in order to elucidate their rhythms and his musical rendering.

Alicia Esteban Santos provides us with a review of some of the films set in Ancient Greece and Rome, not just the European or Peplum genre, but Hollywood creations as well. She focuses on the film Saffo, venere di Lesbo, an Italian movie directed by Pietro Francisci that includes all the Peplum features and differs from the traditional image of the poet. On the other hand, Mélinda Toën (“Sappho’s Cinematographic Representation: Portraits and Sapphic Affiliations. A Short History of Sappho’s Framing Forms”) devotes herself to reviewing lesbian-centric movies: “We tried to analyse what we mean by the term ‘lesbian affiliationsʼ: the representation of lesbians and their relationships in the on-screen incarnations of Marlene Dietrich (1930), Natalie Portman (2011) and Léa Seydoux (2013). In this way she adequately considers the social evolution of the concept of lesbians as painted by movies. Her study yields rather interesting results.

All in all, the essays under review provide us with an overview of Greek lyric, written by a group of literary authors and scholarsthemselves, who study both the texts and their impact on contemporary and subsequent generations, from Latin poets to cinema, from iconography to music, from the lyrical themes of ancient Greek poetry to the adaptation of some of them in Early Modern Europe. Illustrations on pottery and sculptures are collected in a high quality, colour fascicle in the centre of the book, as well as in a very detailed index of the images by Alicia Esteban at the end of the Introduction.

In the Bibliography I missed the edition of Sappho et Alcaeus by E.-M. Voigt (Amsterdam, 1971), although some of the authors quote it. Some important authors and works should have been mentioned in the articles: the Bibliography is scarce.

Authors and titles

I. Introduction
Fernando García Romero, Introduction: Archaic Greek Lyric Poetry.

II. Texts of Greek Lyric Poetry. 1. Philological Studies Of Greek Lyric.
Alicia Esteban Santos, The Main Themes In Greek Lyric: Anacreon’s Poetry As A Representative Example
Felipe G. Hernández Muñoz, La primera ‘definición’ del Amor y el primer texto ‘feminista’: comentarios a Safo, fr. 130 y 105a V (= 137 y 116 D), con algunas consideraciones sobre la pervivencia de la fórmula Ἔρως λυσιμελής en la literatura y escultura griegas.
Alicia Esteban Santos, Anacreonte, Cantor de Eros: Análisis Literario
Nathaniel Hess, When Doves Cry: Small Animals, Empathy, And Understanding In Lycophron’s Alexandra
2. Influence of Greek Lyric Poetry on Posterity.
Vicente Cristóbal López, Los Líricos Griegos en Horacio y a través de Horacio
Penélope Stavrianopulu, Las palabras azules, Odiseo Elytis y Safo, su “Prima Lejana”
Francisco Martínez Real, The Influence of Greek Archaic Poetry in the Works of Luis Antonio De Villena

III. Greek Lyric Poetry in History, Iconography, Music and Cinema.
1. Greek Lyric and History
Mª Isabel Conde Moreno, La Política en la Poesía Lírica Arcaica. Factores determinantes y paradoja épica.
Pilar González Serrano, Mito y Realidad de Safo de Lesbos
2. Greek Lyric and Iconography
Alicia Esteban Santos, Iconography of themes In Greek Lyric: The example of Anacreon’s Poetry
Fernando García Romero, Greek Lyric Poetry and its influence. The image of the athlete in Greek Lyric and Iconography
3. Greek Lyric and Music
Luis Calero, Lyric Musical Practice in the Epic Context of Archaic Greece
Leonardo De Arrizabalaga Y Prado, Anacreontis Carmina: Setting Anacreon’s Verse to Music in the 21st Century
4. Greek Lyric And Cinema
Alicia Esteban Santos, Una visión breve y personal de la Lírica y otros temas griegos en el Cine
Mélinda Toën, Sappho’s Representation in Cinema: Portraits and Sapphic Affiliations. A Short History of Forms Framing Sappho in Cinema.


[1] Let us remember some of the books that have appeared recently: Margaret Foster, Leslie Kurke, Naomi Weiss, edd., Genre in Archaic and Classical Greek Poetry: Theories and Models, Series: Mnemosyne, Supplements, Volume: 428, (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2019). Felix Budelmann, Greek Lyric: A Selection. Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018). Felix Budelmann, Tom Phillips, edd., Textual Events: Performance and the Lyric in Early Greece. (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2018). Anton Bierl, André Lardinois, edd., The Newest Sappho. P. Sapph. Obbink and P. GC inv. 105, frs. 1-4, Studies in Archaic and Classical Greek Song, vol. 2, Mnemosyne Supplements 392. (Leiden; Boston : Brill, 2016). Vanessa Cazzato, André Lardinois, The Look of Lyric: Greek Song and the Visual. Studies in archaic and classical Greek song, vol. 1. Mnemosyne Supplements 391. (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2016). Lucia Athanassaki, Ewen Bowie, edd., Archaic and Classical Choral Song: Performance, Politics and Dissemination. Trends in Classics – supplementary volumes, 10. (Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2011).