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Ancient scholarship on archaic Greek iambic poetry

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ASAGIP (Ancient scholarship on archaic Greek iambic poetry)

Reporting period: 2016-10-03 to 2018-10-02

The project concerns the scholarly activity that was devoted to iambos in antiquity. Iambos was one of the pre-eminent poetic genres of ancient Greek literature. Its heyday was in the seventh and sixth centuries BC with the poets Archilochus and Hipponax. Iambic poems could cover a wide variety of topics, from the scurrilous, defamatory, and abusive to the pondered and serious – though it was the former that was thought throughout Greek literary history to embody the idea of the genre. Academic study of iambos began early on: the first such works which we know of were two exegetical works on Archilochus written by Aristotle and Heraclides of Pontus in the fourth century BC. The last scholar who could examine whole iambic poems directly was John Tzetzes, who must still have had access to a copy of Hipponax in the twelfth century AD.
The overall objective of the project was to gain a comprehensive, multi-faceted understanding of this scholarly activity on iambos across time. In order to do so it examined the various categories of evidence that are available for it. There are pieces of information on scholarly works on iambos in texts written by other authors (what Classicists call the 'indirect tradition'); these are especially useful for the earliest period of scholarship, in the late Classical and Hellenistic period, from which no relevant primary evidence survives. Fragments of papyri of the works of Archilochus and Hipponax provide valuable information on the editorial form in which these poems circulated in the Hellenistic and Roman period: from the internal organisation of these editions - the division of poems between the various volumes and the order of the poems within individual volumes - to corrections of copying errors and the apparatus of critical signs which scholars used to convey knowledge about the poems and individual lines. Some of the papyri also preserve marginal annotations written by readers, which range from the interpretation of individual words to variant readings found in other manuscripts.
Excavations in Oxyrhynchus, in Egypt, have retrieved fragments of two commentaries, one to Archilochus and one to Hipponax, which offer valuable information on the way ancient critics approached and explained iambos. There are also two other interesting papyrus fragments: one of them is a lexicon to iambic poetry, and the other - a very ancient manuscript for Classical standards, from the third century BC - is a comparison of verses of Archilochus with verses of ancient Greece's most revered poet, Homer. Dictionaries of literary Greek compiled in Late Antiquity and in the Byzantine period relied extensively on earlier scholarship on individual authors and genres, and the lexicon written by Hesychius of Alexandria is particularly noteworthy on this count: well over 100 of its entries can be connected with the text of the archaic iambic poets, and accordingly, the interpretations given by Hesychius for those entries can be traced back to earlier commentaries and sometimes combined with each other to unroll before our eyes an articulate discussion of a given passage. Finally, as mentioned above, John Tzetzes quoted Hipponax extensively, often giving his own interpretations of the verses he was quoting, and sometimes relying on earlier interpretations which he must have had access to. The project examined all of these categories of evidence individually before combining them into an account of the phenomenon in its complexity, contextualising it in the broader reality of ancient literary scholarship.
The project's importance is twofold. On the one hand, a better understanding of ancient interpretations of these texts helps us better understand the texts themselves. On the other, a contextualised, diachronic study of the interpretation of literature in antiquity provides a valuable insight into the continuity (and the lack thereof) in the task of the literary scholar. Reflecting on ancient interpretative practices help
"The investigation has been carried out through the study in the original of all the papyri that constitute the backbone of the evidence, in their present locations in Berlin, Cologne, Florence, London, Oxford (where most of them are kept, and where the Fellow spent a two-month training period), and Strasbourg.
The research findings have been disseminated through twelve conference/seminar presentations in Europe and North America, and through the publication of two articles in peer-reviewed journals; a third one is forthcoming. Also, the Fellow has produced drafts of several of the chapters that will constitute the project monograph. The main results have also been exploited through an international conference on the works of John Tzetzes, at the beneficiary's premises, which took place from 6th to 8th September 2018 (the publication of the proceedings is in planning).
The engagement of various sections of the non-specialist public has been performed through an interview article concerning the project, an activity on magic papyri, targeted at primary and middle-school children, during the European Researchers' Night 2017; and by live-tweeting the papers at the conference on John Tzetzes.
The main results to be mentioned are:
- An improved text of the marginal annotations preserved by the papyri;
- An improved text and interpretation of the two papyrus commentaries, especially the one on Hipponax (P.Oxy. XVIII 2176);
- The discovery that P.Oxy. XVIII 2174 fr. 5, a papyrus fragment which had previously been thought to be by Hipponax (and which scholars had thought was laden with implications for his poetry) probably belongs to a papyrus of Homer's Odyssey instead;
- An improved understanding of the structure of the ancient canonical edition of Archilochus and Hipponax, with special regard to Archilochus' ""Trimeters"" (of which the first fragment was identified) and ""Epodes"" (whose ordering criterion may have been discovered, with implications for the ancient conceptualisation of his poetry);
- An improved understanding of the iambic entries in the lexicon of Hesychius and the process of their incorporation into the lexicon;
- Gathering scholars from all over Europe into the first conference ever devoted to John Tzetzes, which will lead to the first edited volume on Tzetzes, to encourage further research on this important and somewhat neglected figure."
The state of the art on ancient scholarship was patchy. Some of the categories of evidence were only examined in part, and one by one; others, not at all. This project was the first to examine them all, to do so in detail, and to combine them into a comprehensive account of this intriguing and multi-faceted phenomenon. Dissemination by means of both published articles and talks at conferences and seminars has ensured that the results will feed into wider debates in Classics and improve current understandings of the subjects, also providing a blueprint for future similar research on other texts and genres.
Photo from the Researchers' Night activity on magic papyri (1)
Programme of the project conference (page 1)
Photo from the Researchers' Night activity on magic papyri (2)
Poster of the project conference
Programme of the project conference (page 2)