Monday, May 2, 2011


Maria Noussia-Fantuzzi, Solon the Athenian. The Poetic Fragments. Mnemosyne Supplements 326. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2010. Pp. xiv, 579. ISBN 9789004174788. $230.00.

Reviewed by Douglas E. Gerber, University of Western Ontario (

Version at BMCR home site

I begin with a description of the book's contents. The introduction (pp. 3-78) consists of five chapters entitled "Solon's Life," "Solon the Sage," "Solon the Politician and Legislator," "Solon's Songs, Our Solonian Poems, and the Theognidea," and "Solon's Imagery (Simile and Metaphor)." This is followed by a text of the fragments numbered according to the edition of Gentili-Prato (but containing some divergent readings), the commentary, bibliography (pp. 528-66), index of primary sources, and index of names and topics. West's equivalent numbering is included throughout.

The book is the result of a fairly long gestation period, beginning with her 1999 University of London dissertation and followed in 2001 by a book aimed at the more general reader, Solone. Frammenti dell'opera poetica, for which she wrote the introduction and commentary and Marco Fantuzzi provided a translation. Solon has always been the subject of historical and political studies, but his poetry has attracted much less interest.1 Now at last we have an extremely thorough treatment of both aspects. Noussia-Fantuzzi has shown that Solon is a much more competent poet than critics have often assumed. She is especially good at demonstrating his indebtedness to or deviation from earlier poets, in particular Homer and Hesiod. Parallels are often cited in full, a feature which saves the reader from the effort of having to look them up in order to determine their relevance. She is equally thorough in her treatment of the views of others on a particular fragment or passage, explaining in detail why she agrees or disagrees with them, and she is not afraid to admit that in some instances the evidence is not strong enough to enable one to reach a decision. When this occurs she will simply state what she believes to be the likeliest explanation. On the few occasions where she disagrees with my Loeb edition, I must confess that I think she is justified.

There are times when her introduction to a fragment seems to me to be unnecessarily long. This is especially true with regard to fr. 27 West. Interesting though the introduction is, much of it is not particularly relevant or helpful for an understanding of the poem. Given the length of the general introduction it may appear uncharitable on my part to complain about omissions, but I am surprised that there is not at least a brief discussion of Solon's metres. A comparison between especially his elegiac couplets and those of other early elegists would have contributed to an appreciation of Solon as a poet. More too could have been said about poetic language. She devotes pp. 67-77 to simile and metaphor, but omits any analysis of such features as enjambement, alliteration, chiasmus, ring composition, gnomic sayings etc. Such features are treated in the commentary as they occur, but it would have been helpful to have them assembled together.

I heartily recommend this book. It is thorough, shows balanced judgement, and provides the reader with all the tools necessary for an understanding of Solon's poetry. There are occasional infelicities of English usage and some misprints, but these are inconsequential.


1.   An exception is Christoph Mülke, Solons politische Elegien und Iamben (fr. 1 – 13; 32 – 37 West). Einleitung, Text, Übersetzung, Kommentar. München: Saur 2002, 414 pages; see BMCR 2005.05.26.

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