Monday, March 4, 2019


Felix Budelmann, Greek Lyric: A Selection. Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pp. xvii, 321. ISBN 9780521633871. $32.99 (pb).

Reviewed by Anna Uhlig, University of California, Davis (

Version at BMCR home site

Following his exemplary helmsmanship of the 2009 Cambridge Companion to Greek Lyric, the arrival of Felix Budelmann's "Green and Yellow" commentary on the same has been eagerly awaited by many. With its publication this year, Budelmann lives up to our expectations and then some, providing a much-needed resource for the study of Greek lyric poetry and a volume that will be of substantial and wide-ranging benefit to the field for years to come.

Like all commentaries in the Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics series, Budelmann's volume is tasked with satisfying the needs of multiple different audiences: undergraduates encountering ancient texts and authors for the first time, graduate students seeking to consolidate and advance their expertise, and established scholars seeking new insight into well-known texts. Budelmann strikes an elegant balance between these different registers, providing a commentary that wears its erudition lightly enough not to alienate novices even while dispensing sophisticated interpretive and philological insight.

Of the three hats that Budelmann wears here, the first is, in my opinion, the most consequential. Those who have taught Greek lyric poetry to English-speaking undergraduates will know all too well that the lack of a serviceable commentary ranks near the top of the many challenges that this undertaking can pose. Campbell's Greek Lyric Poetry (first published in 1967 and reissued with then newly recovered fragments in 1982), whatever else one thinks about his charmingly dated approach, has long been inadequate to the needs of students who are often still grappling with basic Attic morphology and syntax, to say nothing of fragmentary Aeolic verse. The breadth of Campbell's selections, including an ample helping from nearly every preserved archaic lyric poet alongside works of elegy and iambic, has much to recommend it. But the abundance of Greek, which comprises nearly one third of Campbell's printed pages, comes at the cost of the comments, which are often quite cursory and rarely give students much help cutting their interpretive teeth. Hutchinson's 2001 intervention, Greek Lyric Poetry: A Commentary on Selected Larger Pieces, while offering much of interest to the established reader, hardly solved the problem of how to teach undergraduates. Hutchinson, it should be said, never intended to provide an undergraduate textbook (as the volume's price tag alone makes abundantly clear). Still, there are those (and I group myself amongst them) who will have tried to supplement Campbell's anemic notes with a dose of Hutchinson's heady reflections. But where Campbell's sparsity underserves the undergraduate, Hutchinson overwhelms, offering far more technical guidance than most students (even graduate students, in many cases) are equipped to process.

Into the breach arrives Budelmann. Unlike either Campbell or Hutchinson, he ensures that notes provide critical help on basic questions of morphology (particularly dialectical oddities) and syntax. His prose, here as elsewhere, is admirably clear, free both of obscurantist jargon and the invidious "cf." that renders so many commentaries all but useless to twenty-first century undergraduates. Sources of uncertainty or dispute, whether textual or interpretive, are cogently explained and accompanied by laudably even-handed rehearsals of the various scholarly positions. Where texts remain inscrutable, as they so often do in the lyric corpus, Budelmann is quick to assure less-practiced readers that their incomprehension is shared by those whose job it is to understand such things.

At the same time, Budelmann ensures that students confront, and begin to practice, the many technical skills that serious engagement with the almost invariably fragmentary remains of lyric poetry requires. The introduction to each poem includes not only a general overview of the work, but a "source" section detailing the context(s) of the text's preservation (though a more thorough discussion of provenance would have been welcome in certain cases) and a dedicated section on "metre" which not only outlines the structure but discusses, often in some detail, the nuances and possible implications of the metrical schema. In addition, an open dialogue between apparatus criticus and notes discussing textual interventions invites students to scrutinize (and perhaps even take a turn at) the sausage-making process that produces the modern editions of these poems. Budelmann's instruction and insights will benefit students of all levels and his unfailingly unpretentious tone will encourage many to delve into facets of these text which might otherwise see too daunting.

For all of its utility regarding the nuts and bolts of reading Greek lyric, the real value of Budelmann's volume goes beyond mere practical instruction. His interventions consistently reflect an interpretive prowess and aversion to dogma that will be familiar to many from Budelmann's other work. Thematic reflections in the introductions to individual poems encourage students to approach texts with an eye to interpretation as well as comprehension, as with the helpful indication of the shifting geographic focus of Anacreon 348 PMG (190) or the diversity of perspectives taken in Stesichorus' Geryoneis (155–6). Lemmatic comments help students to maintain this critical awareness; deceptively simple references to ring composition or metaphoric expression draw attention to the complex structures and thematic developments within a given work.

It is with respect to his interpretive perspective that Budelmann's work will, I think, have the greatest positive influence on our field. Budelmann's approach to Greek lyric is stubbornly, one might even say radically, non-doctrinaire. He neither authorizes nor condemns the various theoretical approaches that have been ventured over the past half-century – formalism, structuralism, new historicism; rather he assembles what is best of each, providing an interpretive toolkit that makes space for the individual curiosity and creativity of his readers, no matter how green. The methodological openness that undergirds the volume as a whole is epitomized by the insistently heterogeneous portrait of lyric that launches the general introduction. Eschewing any essentializing definition of what "lyric is", Budelmann employs the more malleable rubric of "lyric as" to explore the many lenses through which Greek song can be viewed. Such unaffected broad-mindedness will come as a breath of fresh air to those accustomed to the demands of ideological purity that creep into much scholarship on Greek lyric.

There is only one respect in which Budelmann's volume does not unequivocally supersede its predecessor, and that is with regard to its somewhat more limited selection. Firstly, Budelmann's work includes only works of lyric stricto sensu, excluding the many iambic and elegiac authors treated by Campbell. Bacchylides is also omitted, since he (like his contemporary Pindar) is the subject of a dedicated commentary in the Green and Yellow series. Of the authors who remain, each is represented by fewer works than are found in Campbell. So, e.g., Budelmann includes two works by Alcman compared to Campbell's twelve; five by Anacreon compared to Campbell's seventeen. That said, Budelmann does include a substantial section of Timotheus' Persians, which is entirely absent from Campell, and the relative amplitude of Budelmann's selections from carmina popularia and convivalia help to give a more rounded sense of the types of song that filled the Greek-speaking world. Furthermore, despite its more limited scope, Budelmann's volume contains more than enough material to fill an undergraduate course. The primary upshot of Budelmann's reduced coverage is, therefore, that the ubiquitous graduate reading list entry "Lyric —selections from Campbell" will not soon be updated to "Lyric—selections from Budelmann". But in every other respect, Budelmann has produced a commentary that should become the first port of call for the study of Greek lyric poetry.

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