BMCR 2021.09.30

A commentary on Quintus of Smyrna, Posthomerica 13

, A commentary on Quintus of Smyrna, Posthomerica 13. Bamberger Studien zu Literatur, Kultur und Medien, 29. Bamberg: University of Bamberg Press, 2020. Pp. 348. ISBN 9783863097394 €20.00.

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The Posthomerica by Quintus of Smyrna is a 3rd century CE epic, composed in a conspicuously Homeric language and style. Its programmatic opening lines ‘When godlike Hector had been vanquished by the son of Peleus…’ illustrate the poem’s intention to continue the Iliadic story.[1] This is done in fourteen books of Homeric length, detailing (among other episodes) the fate of Penthesilea and Memnon, the deaths of Achilles and Ajax, the arrival and feats in Troy of Eurypylus, Neoptolemus, and Philoctetes, and Paris’ almost pastoral end, before turning to the Trojan Horse, the sack of the city and, finally, Greek victory. With the equally telling closing lines ‘… and those who survived the voyage through that dreadful tempest landed wherever they could’, the Posthomerica sets the Odyssey and (who knows?) the Aeneid on their way.

Scholarship has long since accepted the challenge of interpreting this remarkably Homeric epic in the light of its rich literary tradition as well as of its late antique identity, with a growing interest in Quintus’ own poetic originality. The range of literary methods used to approach the poem continues to expand.[2] With this comes an increasing need for detailed commentaries, an effort that is thriving, but still far from complete. No less than seven new commentaries have been completed within the last decade (including the one currently under review) and at least another four are in the making, mostly in the context of ongoing PhD projects. Based on the list provided by Renker himself (p. 15), which I have amplified with a few names from my own knowledge, Quintus’ readership will soon be able to rely on commentaries on almost every book.[3] If all of the ongoing projects reach completion, books 6 and 11 may well be the last parts of the Posthomerica left to be covered – future scholarship be advised!

Book 1  (1-219): Bär 2009
Book 2:  Campagnolo 2011/2012 and Ferreccio 2014
Book 3:  [in preparation by Katia Barbaresco]
Book 4:  [thesis on the funeral games by Stefanie Schmerbauch]
Book 5:  James & Lee 2005
Book 7:  Tsomis 2018a (published) and Langella 2018/2019 (open access PhD dissertation)
Book 8:  [in preparation by Jessica Tasselli]
Book 9:  Ozbek [in press]
Book 10:  Tsomis 2018b
Book 12:  Campbell 1981
Book 13:  Renker 2020
Book 14:  Carvounis 2019

The open access publication by Stephan Renker, which I have consulted in its printed form, is the result of a three year PhD project and focusses on Posthomerica 13 – a story marked by despair, chaos and bloodshed as the Greeks invade Troy and loot the city. Renker’s work pays particular attention to narrative structure. He proposes a new subdivision of book 13. Starting from previous insights by Vian, he adds that Quintus in the first half of this book seems to focus on death, while in the second half also shifting focus to survivors (p. 16-17). This proposed diptych structure allows us to consider the macro-dynamics of book 13 in a new light. On a micro-level, Renker identifies fifteen (seven + eight) episodes, which form the backbone of his commentary (p. 18-19). Each episode receives an introduction detailing its overall structure and literary precedents. Longer passages are then further subdivided, with a subtitle and detailed summary for each part. On a third level, Renker offers detailed lexical and intertextual line-by-line comments. Neither the original Greek text nor a translation of book 13 is included.

The approach of the commentary is outlined in a concise general introduction. Renker’s main concerns include diction (primarily Homeric), background to the characters, intertextual connections to a wide range of reference texts (Greek and Latin; poetry and prose; archaic, classical, Hellenistic, late antique, Byzantine), lexical and formulaic observations, bibliographical references and, ‘selectively’ (p. 12) his own interpretations. The guiding principle is that ‘Quintus is to be viewed as a poeta doctus who summons his predecessor’s work in order to give the lector doctus the opportunity to appreciate the arte allusiva at play’ (p. 12) – as such, Renker follows in the footsteps of established Quintus scholarship. This perspective proves particularly fruitful for the analysis of the passages of slaughter, chaos and inebriation with which Posthomerica 13 opens and closes. Renker points out several meaningful instances of ring compositions (e.g. the overarching scope of ἀνὰ πτολίεθρον p. 31 and again p. 301), word choice (e.g. Quintus’ description of symptoms of drunkenness p. 21-23; the connotations of the words ἀυτή p. 34-35, ἀκηδέστως p. 36-37, στρεφεδίνεον p. 37-38, and δυσάμμοροι p. 105), word position (e.g. the scattering of body parts p. 88; similarly p. 125 and 131), the repeated vivid blending of simile and reality (e.g. p. 114, 116, 118), the climactic suspense (e.g. p. 256), and even sound play (e.g. p. 47). Thus, he convincingly illustrates Quintus’ vivid poetic approach.

The relation of Quintus’ version of the sack of Troy to other sources is another focal point of the commentary. Renker identifies potential parallels to a wide range of reference texts, aiming ‘to explain the poem in the context of its intertextually relevant genre- or content-specific predecessors and its (suspected) contemporaries as well as successors’ (p. 12). Homer is, of course, the most notable name (e.g. the recurring parallel to the slaughter in Odyssey 22 p. 27-28, 85, 116; or a fascinating observation regarding two Homeric hapax legomena found near one another p. 78-79). In some instances, Renker’s focus on Homer remains rather narrow (e.g. for ἔμπλειον p. 36, it might have been interesting to also include Apollonius or other epic occurrences; similar narrowness of focus for Δαναοί p. 43 and λιλαιομένων p. 59; also for a few similes, e.g. p. 66-67, 174). Generally, however, the list of sources taken into consideration is impressive. Besides the incontournables such as the epic cycle, several tragedies, Hesiod, and Apollonius of Rhodes, Renker also includes references to Thucydides (e.g. p. 99), Lycophron (e.g. p. 49), Theocritus (e.g. p. 95), Aratus (e.g. p. 206), Nicander (e.g. p. 122), Strabo (e.g. p. 198), Pausanias (e.g. p. 198), Dio Chrysostom (e.g. p. 160, 219), and others; also Triphiodorus and both Oppians as well as Nonnus, Colluthus (e.g. 218), the Orphic Argonautica (e.g. p. 150) and refreshingly Tzetzes (e.g. p. 178), authors who deserve to be included in Quintus studies yet more often. Renker mentions them explicitly and as fully fledged reference texts on several occasions, even if this, in his opinion, need not suggest direct influence (see e.g. on Euripides p. 24).

Special attention is paid to the Latin tradition. Renker takes into consideration not only authors such as Vergil and Ovid (often-quoted in Quintus studies), but also Livy (e.g. p. 99), Propertius (e.g. p. 211), Horace (e.g. p. 211), Seneca, Sallust (e.g. p. 219), Lucan (e.g. p. 141), Hyginus, Dictys and Dares (p. 12). He zooms in on episodes such as the fate of Aeneas (p. 200-202) and specifically Calchas’ prophecy (p. 215) that are of special interest to Roman culture. A missed opportunity, perhaps, is that Renker is not very explicit about the hotly debated “Latin question,” as to how such non-Greek textual parallels should be approached methodologically. He does suggest inspiring examples, such as the impact of the opening storm in the Aeneid compared to the first lines of Posthomerica 13 (p. 26) or intriguing Latin counterparts for the treatment of female victims (p. 98-99). It would have been interesting to read more about Renker’s own view on these parallels.

The intra-textual coherence of Quintus’ epic is solidly taken into account by Renker, who offers regular overviews of all Posthomeric occurrences of narrative scenes (e.g. tis-speeches p. 36, the cow simile p. 182), topoi (e.g. ‘rather die than see something happen’ p. 170) or characters (e.g. Odysseus p. 60); the discussion of Priam p. 84-85 might have benefitted from a more intertextual approach, such as that of the discussion of Antenor, p. 197-198).

Renker provides extensive quotes in the original language for both intra- and intertextual references, and in many instances leaves their translation or interpretation to the reader (e.g. the scene of the Greeks leaving the horse p. 48-49; specifically also the roles of Sinon p. 52 and Odysseus p. 70 in that episode; the scene of Neoptolemus killing Priam p. 159-160; Aeneas’ deification p. 211). In other cases, Renker singles out a remarkable intertextual parallel to discuss (e.g. ἀμφαδὰ p. 55; the innovative pastoral setting of the simile p. 119; Andromache’s wish in the Iliad now uttered by the narrator p. 196; φλόξ p. 266) or points at Quintus’ own mastery of the different traditions (e.g. by comparing the existing versions of Menelaus’ confrontation with Helen p. 238).

One of the strengths of the commentary is Renker’s mastery of the secondary literature. His bibliography provides an extensive and up-to-date overview of Quintus scholarship (already in the introduction p. 13-15). Secondary literature is also solidly embedded in his line-by-line commentary. In some instances, Renker engages with these studies (e.g. Bettenworth’s concept of Antigastmahl applied to the whole of book 13 p. 28-31; the entanglement of two similes p. 78; Nesselrath and the Beinahe-Episode p. 239). Elsewhere, the entries remain concise, but readers are securely referred to further reading to consolidate their own interpretations (e.g. on battle scenes p. 83).

The commentary is user-friendly to navigate. The absence of indices is a pity, especially for the reader of the paper version, but can be mended by using the search function of the pdf file which is freely available online. Due to an unfortunate issue with the layout, Greek accented vowels in certain passages (of the printed version; less visibly so in the digital file) have a different font (e.g. p. 43, 130, 184, 187, 191, 211, 228-229, 233, 240, 251, 265, 266, 270, 272, 284, 293). A few typos I noted are ‘Barbar[e]sco’ (p. 15), ἀιλτρός (p. 232), and adverbappears (p. 292). More important for the reader are probably a few (undoubtedly accidental) mistakes concerning mythological names (‘Trojans are on their ships’ [instead of Greeks] p. 48, Menelaüs [Paris] p. 222, Menelaüs [Deiphobus] p. 225; on p. 226, it is not Menelaüs but Diomedes who fetches Neoptolemus from Scyrus together with Odysseus in the Posthomerica).

As Renker states, Posthomerica 13 is generally an understudied book (p. 15-16), and undeservedly so. With unique potential regarding narrative items such as cityscape,[4] the challenging literary representation of drunkenness, reflection on grim slaughter and the co-presence of virtually all surviving main characters of the epic, Quintus’ penultimate book offers rich opportunities for further study. Renker’s commentary serves as a solid reader’s guide, pointing to significant tendencies and passages as well as offering textual and bibliographical references for any scholar willing to tackle this part of the Posthomerica.


[1] Translations by Hopkinson, N. Quintus Smyrnaeus, Posthomerica. Loeb Classical Library. Harvard.

[2] Two of the most recent examples include the contributions by Maciver and by Greensmith in the forthcoming volume Greek and Latin Poetry of Late Antiquity. Form, Tradition and Context, edited by B. Verhelst & T. Scheijnen (Cambridge).

[3] Bär, S. 2009. Quintus Smyrnaeus ‘Posthomerica’ 1, Die Wiedergeburt des Epos aus dem Geiste der Amazonomachie. Mit einem Kommentar zu den Versen 1–219. Göttingen. Campagnolo, M. 2011/2012. Commento al secondo logos dei Posthomerica di Quinto Smirneo. Diss. Venice. Available online: Università Ca’Foscari Venezia Online . Ferreccio, A. 2014. Commento al Libro II dei Posthomerica di Quinto Smirneo. Roma. James, A. & Lee, K. 2000. A Commentary on Quintus of Smyrna, Posthomerica V. Mnemosyne Supplements 208. Leiden. Tsomis, G. 2018a. Quintus Smyrnaeus: Kommentar zum siebten Buch der Posthomerica. Palingenesia 110. Stuttgart. Langella, E. 2018/2019. Commento al libro VII dei Posthomerica di Quinto Smirneo. Diss. Milan. Available online: IRIS AIR, Ozbek, L. in press. Filottete in Quinto di Smirne. Posthomerica 9.333-546: introduzione, testo e commento (Philoctetes in Quintus of Smyrna. Posthomerica 9.333-546: Introduction, Text and Commentary). Pisa. Tsomis, G. 2018b. Quintus Smyrnaeus: Originalität und Rezeption im zehnten Buch der Posthomerica. Ein Kommentar. Trier. Campbell, M. 1981. A Commentary of Quintus Smyrnaeus Posthomerica XII. Mnemosyne Supplements 71. Leiden. Carvounis, A. 2019. A Commentary on Quintus of Smyrna. Posthomerica 14. Oxford.

[4] Avlamis, P. 2019. ‘Contextualizing Quintus: The Fall of Troy and the Cultural Uses of the Paradoxical Cityscape in Posthomerica 13’, in TAPA 149.1 (2019): 149-208.