Monday, July 15, 2013


Cassandra Borges, C. Michael Sampson, New Literary Papyri from the Michigan Collection: Mythographic Lyric and a Catalogue of Poetic First Lines. New Texts from Ancient Cultures. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012. Pp. xvii, 171; 6 p. of plates. ISBN 9780472118076. $65.00.

Reviewed by John Gibert, University of Colorado at Boulder (

Version at BMCR home site


The papyri skillfully presented and studied in this volume have been partly known since the publication of P. Mich. inv. 3498 recto, a list of poetic first lines, by R. Merkelbach in 1973 and of the verso of the same papyrus, a fragment of lyric verse, by D. L. Page the following year (in vols. 12 and 13, respectively of ZPE; the fragments also appear in Page's Supplementum Lyricis Graecis (Oxford, 1974), as nos. 386 and 477). In 1999, Paul Heilporn, while digitally cataloguing the University of Michigan's papyrus collection for the APIS Project, made the exciting discovery that another Michigan papyrus, inv. 3250b, which along with 3250a and 3250c had been labeled as Coptic, not Greek, when it was acquired in 1925 and never published, joins with inv. 3498. As a result, the list of incipits (of songs by Alcaeus, Anacreon, and Euripides, along with others that cannot be identified) and the lyric verse (on a mythical, Trojan War-related subject) have tripled in size, each now consisting of some 44 lines or part-lines.

Borges and Sampson began their work as Ph.D. students in Michigan's Classics Department. They have made excellent use of the expert guidance and technical assistance available to them there and elsewhere (for example, at Brigham Young University's Ancient Textual Imaging Group), and presented their work at conferences of papyrologists and classicists, a great many of whose observations and suggestions are recorded throughout. Borges wrote the general introduction to the present volume and edited the incipits; Sampson edited the lyric verse.

In the introduction, Borges reviews the modern history of the papyri and reconstructs their compositional history in the third and second centuries BCE, including palimpsestic re-use of the recto for the surviving list of incipits. (The earlier text cannot be recovered.) The eight lines of inv. 3250a verso, col. ii (col. i is almost entirely lost) are an oddity discussed briefly by Borges and more fully by Sampson, who does his best to edit this difficult text in the book's final chapter. The first four lines, written in the hand that wrote the rest of the verso text, have something to do with farming, while the others, in the recto's hand, are apparently mythical or mythographical in content, but unrelated to the Trojan subject of the rest of the verso text. No more will be said about this fragment, which remains mostly a mystery, in this review.

The main interest of the incipit list, apart from some new scraps of lyric verse, derives from its unusual blend of authors and texts and its method of organizing them. Nothing quite like its combination of songs from popular plays of the popular Euripides with less accessible Lesbian lyrics has previously come to light. Borges documents the dialect, diction, and affinities of the unidentified lyrics and discusses the possible uses of such a catalogue. In her approach to the latter topic, the organization of the list under generic headings plays an appropriately large part. The first such heading to appear, "beginnings of parodoi," is also the clearest, though the lines collected under it do not all come from what modern scholars, following Aristotle, call parodoi. The other two, rather more puzzling headings are "[beginn]ings of parts" and "beginnings of the Simo[". After "parts" (μέρη), too little remains to clarify the intended meaning; in Aristotle's Poetics, the term occurs but is not technical. A tempting restoration of "Simo[" is the name of the poet Simonides, unfortunately neither confirmed nor ruled out by the incipits that follow, despite there being no fewer than six of them. Borges points out (29) that "several anthologies containing headings survive in the papyrological record, and several incipit lists exist, but the combination of incipits and generic headings is a distinctive feature" of the text presented here. She tentatively concludes that it is "not a school text but, rather, a more advanced scholar's private work," in fact "an unparalleled source for the ways in which the sort of information technology exemplified in the Pinakes of Callimachus was implemented by ordinary readers for their own bibliographic purposes" (17).

Sampson's edition of the verso texts and extensive commentary on them occupies four times the space allotted to the recto. The first reason for this is the semi-cursive and unrefined hand, which presents many more challenges than the recto hand. The decision to offer a diplomatic text and paleographical commentary, not deemed necessary for the recto, was a good one. The second reason is the difficult text itself. What gradually emerges is an astrophic, polymetric lyric that cannot be identified as either choral or monodic, let alone confidently attributed to a particular author or even genre. Reconstruction of its narrative framework— that is, given that what survives falls into roughly equal halves consisting of narrative and embedded direct speech, figuring out who narrates to whom and who is quoted speaking to whom—is the main puzzle, and if Sampson has correctly solved it, the new fragment adds to our knowledge of the careers of Sinon and Helenus before Virgil. (This is a gain for "mythography"; as for the lyric itself, it probably ought to be called "mythic(al)" rather than "mythographic.")

In a brief introductory section on "The Fragments" (36-9), Sampson tentatively reconstructs the roll in such a way that fr. 2, with two partially preserved columns of text, follows immediately on fr. 1, with one and a half. This has important consequences for his understanding of the narrative situation (below). In "The Hand" (39- 41), he adjusts Page's date (mid-second century BCE) to a somewhat earlier range (late third to mid-second century). He points out that in Ptolemaic papyri the distinction between school and book hands is not always clear and declines to classify the present example as either. Next come the "Diplomatic Text and Paleographical Commentary" (41-51), "Reconstructed Text and Translation" (51-5), and three more substantial introductory sections before forty pages of learned commentary and an appendix on colometry and meter.

"The Poem" (55-61) begins with undisputed points. The setting is Troy, and an expedition to the woods of Mt. Ida to cut wood and float it down the Scamander is described in agitated style, as evidenced by diction, rhetorical figures, and complex rhythms, probably including dochmiacs. A shift to third-person, past-tense narrative beginning with "When (s)he proclaimed (thus)" (fr. 2, col. 1.5) indicates that some of what precedes is direct speech. In fact, direct speech seems to go all the way back to fr. 1, col. i.5 (assuming the contiguity of frs. 1 and 2), where "Danaids, Danaids" are the first words after a dicolon; imperatives and vocatives follow. Before considering the speaker's identity, Sampson canvasses contexts in Trojan myth for the procurement of lumber. After giving good reasons for finding construction of a funeral pyre or ships or fortification of the Achaean wall unlikely, he settles on the Trojan Horse. From the narrative section following the speech, we glean references to "their army" and "chosen men of the Greeks." This army "was distressed," and the men "were preparing themselves . . . for the contest."

In "Narrative Framework" (62-75), Sampson tries to determine who narrates to whom, and who is quoted speaking to whom. Consideration of these interlocking puzzles depends crucially on clues already mentioned and other details of narrative and focalization, including an emphatically repeated use of the pronoun "us" that Sampson (following Richard Janko and Ruth Scodel) can accommodate only by assuming a second direct quotation, this time indicated neither by a lectional sign nor by a formula such as "when (s)he spoke." Throughout, Sampson relies heavily on the words αὐτῶν ἐπ̣η̣τ̣ύζετο | στρατόπεδον "their army became distraught" (fr. 2, col. i.6-7), where (1) αὐτῶν "their" is a key word bearing on the narrator's identity but could be interpreted otherwise (Battezzato suggests ἀϋτῶν "shouting, crying loudly," modifying the subject of ἐ̣κάρ̣υξε̣ in line 5), (2) ἐπ̣η̣τ̣ύζετο (read with difficulty) is an otherwise unattested compound of an epic verb in an unexpected tense (Diggle conjectures ἐπ̣ω̣⟨το⟩τ̣ύζετο, which provides a smooth introduction to the second direct speech, resonates well with its tone, and has a near parallel at Eur. Phoen. 1038 (active); alii alia), and (3) στρατόπεδον (clearly read) is a prosaic word whose more common meaning ("camp" rather than "army") should be kept in mind when trying to make sense of the passage. Despite these difficulties, however, Sampson's interpretation does make sense, and I am unable to add to the alternatives on offer.

After assembling the various clues and working methodically through the possibilities, Sampson concludes that the most likely narrator is Sinon, speaking to Trojans who have found the Horse left behind by the Greek army, and (here following Martin Cropp) that the agitated speaker Sinon quotes is Helenus, prophesying to the Greeks the necessity for building the Horse. If he is right, certain details that give him pause, having to do with the narrator's use of language that hints at a deceptive, military use for the Horse, will have to be understood as irony or double-speak: while the Trojans are deceived as to the Horse's true purpose, the poem's audience is allowed to savor multiple meanings. To me, this does not seem implausible in this evidently subtle text. Another worry, concerning the location of events narrated in fr. 2, col. ii, apparently derives from reading "hastening up to the city" in that column's ninth line. This is referred to as an "unlikely reading" in the discussion on p. 79-80, and indeed it seems to have been abandoned at a later stage of work, as it is neither read nor reported in the apparatus nor discussed in the commentary. As far as I can tell, this column narrates the woodcutting expedition and is compatible with the assumption of Sinon as narrator.

Among other frameworks Sampson considers, one deserves mention for its inherent interest and the indication it gives of just how unsettled many fundamental aspects of this text still are. Jennifer Clarke Kosak reportedly thinks that "the narrator may be a chorus of survivors from Troy or that the narrative may comprise a lyric monody sung by a Trojan survivor" (65), possibly female. The narrator's gender and number are indeterminate, but Sampson reports that Kosak is tempted to remedy this by reading, or rather conjecturing (since the space is too short) ζώ̣⟨σαις⟩ at fr. 2, col. i.8, taken as narrative rather than direct speech. Apart from the conjecture, the suggestion is more attractive than Sampson allows, as imagining a context for a retrospective narrative from a suitably informed point of view does not seem too difficult. Kosak imagines a context in which the sacrifice of Polyxena is also recalled; her reasons do not emerge from Sampson's report.

Concerning attribution of the fragment to a genre and author, Sampson reasonably argues for "nondramatic lyric . . . [by] a poet of New Musical dithyramb or citharoedic nomos from the late fifth or fourth century" (75). The commentary finds precedents for many of this poet's usages in Euripides, but I am not convinced that they establish him as a deliberate imitator of Euripides, and I do not see much reason to follow Sampson in considering Timotheus the likeliest candidate. Note that when considering whether the fragment may be dramatic, Sampson occasionally confuses two senses of "scene," namely "place referred to in narrative" and "stage setting in the theater." If the fragment were dramatic, it would certainly not require a change of scene in the latter sense.

The book is attractively produced, with helpful plates of the papyri. Typographical and other errors are more numerous than one would have liked to see in a book involving so many textual niceties, but the careful reader will quickly get to the bottom of them. An unrecognized point of some consequence is that Battezzato's ἀϋτῶν at fr. 2, col. i.6 would settle the matter of the quoted speaker's gender.

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