This paper examines the intriguing piece published as P.Oxy. 4648, “Prose on Star-Signs Quoting Homer, Hesiod, and Others,” edited by Dirk Obbink. Published a decade ago, it plainly calls for attention, but has received virtually none. (Glenn Most took over Obbink’s version of the Hesiod section unameliorated in his Loeb Hesiod, as T151.) I attempt to reach a more satisfactory reconstruction of the text, one that yields a better understanding of what is being said both about Homer and about Hesiod, and along the way to elicit something of the significance that the text holds for ancient literary criticism of each poet.
The text is written in a practiced bookhand, probably of the later 3rd century CE, reportedly on the back of a petition; there are remains of 33 lines of just one column, broken at either side. What is under discussion is poets’ practical understanding of the constellations. When our column begins, the author is discussing Homer; he moves on to Hesiod (appending mention of Aratus as Hesiod’s zelotes); then to Aeschylus and Sophocles; and there the papyrus breaks off. I propose to deal with the sections on Homer and Hesiod, the first 23 lines.
The first tolerably clear (albeit largely restored) statement we meet is that Homer’s veiled meaning (αá¼°νιττÏŒμενοÏ²) is that everything is controlled by the movements of the constellations. I suggest that the author is here addressing a passage in the description of the Shield of Achilles, Il. 18.483-9 (485 á¼ν δá½² τá½° τεÎ¯ρεα πÎ¬ντα τÎ¬ τ’ οá½ρανá½¸Ï² á¼Ï²τεφÎ¬νωται), and investing it with cosmological import, in line with Crates’ take on the Shield as a mimema tou kosmou. Then, on my understanding of the text (different from Obbink’s), he proceeds to say that Homer conferred his astronomical knowledge on Odysseus. Homer made advance arrangements (προοικονομá¿¶ν) for Odysseus’ skill at navigating by the stars in the Odyssey (5.272ff.) by endowing him with the ability to tell the time of night by the stars already in the Iliad (10.252f.), thereby lending plausibility to the Odyssey episode. This implies that Homer wrote the Iliad with the subsequent Odyssey in mind, and tailored the prior poem accordingly, an interesting and unusual view of Homer’s compositional procedures. I float the suggestion (without arguing the case) that the section on Homer may represent the Homeric criticism of Crates.
Then comes Hesiod. Obbink took the papyrus’ “[X knew] these things likewise” to mean that Homer knew seafaring just as Odysseus did, but I argue that the sense is that Hesiod knew the workings of the constellations just as Homer did, this effecting the transition from the one poet to the other. On this view the author is not differentiating the two according to their respective arenas of seafaring and farming (so Obbink, supplementing accordingly) but uniting them in their shared understanding of star-signs: he’s a lumper not a splitter. (Cf. H.H. Koning, Hesiod: The Other Poet (2010), who unfortunately seems unaware of this text.) It is significant that the poet—Homer for Obbink, Hesiod for me—is introduced as á½ á¼¡δυ]επÎ®Ï² (suppl. P.J. Parsons ap. Obbink, irresistibly). I note the doubly allusive appositeness of conferring this distinctive epithet on Hesiod. It is the epithet that Hesiod applies to his Muses (Cat. 1.1/Th. 1021, Th. 965); and in the later Greek and Roman tripartite classification of styles Homer’s ΝÎÏ²τωρ á¼¡δυεπÎ®Ï² (Il. 1.247-9) was the archetype of the “middle” style, the prime exemplar of which was Hesiod (Quint. 12.10.58-64, 10.1.52, cf. Dion.Hal. de comp. 23, Dem. 40). I conclude by restoring coherence to the remainder of the Hesiod section, which defeated Obbink and Most.