Friday, December 13, 2019


Claudio De Stefani, Studi su Fenice di Colofone e altri testi in coliambi. Spudasmata, Band 178. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag, 2018. Pp. 202. ISBN 9783487156828. €39,80 (pb).

Reviewed by Alexander Sens, Georgetown University (

Version at BMCR home site

The six extant fragments of Phoenix of Colophon, comprising roughly 80 choliambic verses, are important evidence of early Hellenistic poets' engagement with archaic iambos, and especially the work of Hipponax, who, to judge from Callimachus' Iambi, Herondas' Mimiambi, and several early epigrams, appears to have been a subject of considerable interest in the early third century. These fragments were printed in J. U. Powell's Collectanea Alexandrina (Oxford, 1925) and E. Diehl's Anthologia lyrica graeca (fasc. 3: Iamborum scriptores) (third edition, Leipzig, 1952), but have not been the subject of a dedicated monograph since G. A. Gerhard's edition and commentary, Phoinix von Kolophon (Leipzig and Berlin, 1909), and they have in general received only limited attention. De Stefani's volume, growing out work on the poet over almost three decades, touches on all of the extant fragments of Phoenix except one (6 Diehl).

The first two long chapters, constituting roughly two-thirds of the volume, offer critical editions of two of the longer fragments, with detailed philological commentary. The first of these, originally published as SCO 47 (2000) 81–121 and reprinted with some minor (mostly bibliographical) additions, is a critical edition of fr. 2, the so-called koronisma, in which the speaker begs for food for 'the crow, child of Apollo' and prays that those who make donations might receive good in return. The second, a full treatment of fr. 3 Diehl (an implicitly moralizing poem on the Assyrian king Ninus), is new. There is some repetition between the two chapters: thus, for example, the textual tradition of Athenaeus, the source of both the fragments (and, indeed, of all of the extant fragments but one), is covered twice (23–25, 70–74), as is the question of the relationship of Phoenix' moralizing to Cynic philosophy (17, 54–58).

De Stefani is an excellent philologist and commentator. Both chapters clearly situate the fragments in their cultural and literary context and raise fundamental questions of interpretation. Fr. 2, for instance, bears a resemblance to a Rhodian folk song (carm. pop. PMG 848) and has been variously understood as an example of 'Cynic begging-song', as a sort of erotic paraclausithryon, or (more likely, in De Stefani's view) as a metaphorical appeal for poetic patronage like, for example, Theocritus 16. The discussion of the Near Eastern cultural background of fr. 3 is particularly clear and helpful. The commentary, primarily philological in focus, is robust, judicious, and deeply learned.

De Stefani's texts are based on autopsy of the manuscript of Athenaeus (A) and those of its Epitome (CE), and each is fortified by a full and clear apparatus and a conspectus of conjectures. The text of Athenaeus contains a number of errors, and editorial intervention is often necessary. De Stefani's text and apparatus of these fragments are the best now available and should now become the standard reference. To give one example, at fr. 3.3, the 'reading' preferred by Diehl, καὶ τἆλλα, is based on Kaibel's erroneous reporting of the text of A, which in fact has ταλλα (not καὶ ταλλα), and De Stefani is right to join Powell in preferring CE's τάλαντα; in general, in fact, De Stefani holds that where A and CE differ, the latter generally contains a superior text. De Stefani offers a number of suggestions of his own in the apparatus and commentary, but the only one to be elevated to the text is the ingenious correction of fr. 3.4, a verse whose second half is preserved in distorted form by A (ουδιζωνεδιζητο) and omitted in CE. The line, part of a passage on Ninus' unwillingness to perform his official duties, apparently concerns the king's lack of interest in the heavens. It has been variously emended; most proposals assume that the second half of the verse opens with οὐδ(ε), but De Stefani suggests the asyndetic and chiastic ὃς οὐκ ἴδ᾽ ἄστρα, ζώδι᾽οὐκ ἐδίζητο ('he did not look at the stars, did not search for the signs of the zodiac'), with the corruption resulting from a metathesis of elements (ζωδι > διζω), a phenomenon documented for the manuscripts of Athenaeus and other authors in the commentary. Whether this is correct is of course uncertain: the corruption would be a complicated one, but it is at least worth noting that the natural expectation that the second half of the verse should open with a conjunction might have facilitated the error.

The final third of the book comprises a series of much shorter studies. The first of these is a brief discussion of fr. 1 Diehl, the one fragment of Phoenix transmitted on papyrus rather than by Athenaeus' Deipnosophistae. The fragment, deriving from a partially preserved anthology of moralizing literature (P.Heid. 310), treats the unjust distribution of wealth and the disjunction between material prosperity and moral worth. De Stefani offers a brief discussion of its literary background, suggesting that the verbal and thematic resemblance between the fragment and several passages of Dio Chrysostom may point to a common prose model, perhaps a Cynic text.

There follows a short discussion of fr. 4 Diehl, a fragment of three verses in which various military items are equated with features of the symposium. De Stefani suggests that the unusual expression κόμη δὲ τόξα ('hair is a bow'), where κόμη has been widely emended, should be retained not only as an image of femininity (thus Gerhard) but as preparing for the final expression 'μύρον χεῖτε᾽ (χεῖτε Lachmann : κεῖται Ath.).

The next chapter revisits a textual problem in the opening of fr. 5 Diehl, where De Stefani reaffirms his earlier suggestion (Emerita 2 [1991] 197–8) that ἴδρις ἀστέρων might be read for transmitted ὅστις ἀστέρων; readers will appreciate the analytical discussion of the passage and its relationship to Call. fr. 191.66–8, but the chapter does not open particularly new ground.

The remaining chapters treat choliambic poems by other authors. The first of these is a substantial discussion of an anonymous fragment preserved on several papyri, including P.Heid. 310. The discussion ranges widely from the relationship of the collection to the De Virtute of Gregory of Nazienzus to several lacunose passages of the fragment itself; along the way, De Stefani offers an interesting suggestion about Lycophron's source at Alexandra 35–37. De Stefani's proposal for verse 85, based on similar passages of Cercidas and Callimachus, is attractive, even if his suggestion that all three are drawing on a Hipponactean model involves some venial circularity.

The final chapter is a brief study of a second-century CE epitaph in choliambs for Amazaspus (IGUR 1151 = GVI 722), a prince of Georgian Iberia and a Roman ally. The language of the epitaph is stylistically elevated. De Stefani identifies several tragic features, but also a number of unusual lexical items absent from tragedy but found in the iambic trimeters of Lycophron's Alexandra, which he posits as their source.

On the whole, the volume makes a valuable contribution to the study of Hellenistic choliambic poetry and of Phoenix in particular. All of the chapters offer material of interest, but the first two, with their critical editions of frr. 2 and 3, are the most important parts of the book. They leave ground for wishing that De Stefani had integrated them into a critical edition and commentary dedicated to all the extant fragments of Phoenix.

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