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Argeia and Thersander in Antimachos’ Thebaid?

Michael Haslam

In this paper I venture a proposal for Antimachos’ Thebaid. While it was his elegiac Lyde that stirred dissension among the Alexandrian poets, it was the Thebaid, his major work, that secured him a place in the canon of epici. Little is left of it. But there does exist a large fragment of a scholarly ancient commentary, published by Vogliano in 1935 (P.Mil.Vogl. I.17, 2nd cent. CE), just in time for inclusion as an appendix in Bernard Wyss’s still indispensable edition of Antimachos’ remains (Wyss 1936, 76-90). The commentary is unequivocally on Antimachean epic: one would expect it to be on the famed Thebaid. I believe that it is, and that it yields important information about the poem.

Reluctance to accept the Thebaid as the (exclusive) subject of the papyrus commentary has been based primarily on the fact that several of its lemmata appear to concern Artemis/Eileithuia rather than the saga of the Seven against Thebes. The first surviving lemma is a one-and-a-half line reference to her (fr. 174 Wyss [F99 Matthews]), and subsequent lemmata imply a birth and afterbirth cleansing (esp. frr. 178-179 W. [F103-104 M.]). In later lemmata, however, an Erinys appears (line 47 δὴ τότ’ Ἐρεινὺϲ ἦλθεν …, fr. 187 W. [F112 M.]), and this, as is widely recognized, would well suit the Thebaid, especially if the Erinys is Oedipus’, as Paul Maas (ap. ed. pr.) appealingly speculated.

Maas dealt with the problem of coherence by positing an unsignaled switch from the shadowy Artemis to the Thebaid in the course of the commentary fragment. The idea has been embraced by some scholars (Barber 1938, 1968 [“an erudite commentary on his Artemis (end) and Thebais (beginning)”], Trypanis 1981) but falls foul of invariable commentary practice. The commentary must surely be on a single work (cf. Lloyd-Jones and Parsons at SH 65: “eiusdem carminis esse credas”), no doubt on a single book. Victor Matthews, for his part, the most recent editor of Antimachos, is alone in assigning the entire commentary to the Artemis (Matthews 1996, pp. 44-45, 266-310), on the strength of the lemmata referring to the goddess; but these are wholly inadequate grounds for such an attribution, and most scholars reject the very existence of an Antimachean Artemis. Antimachos’ one and only epic, in fact, appears to have been the Thebaid. (The probability that the Deltoi was elegiac has been bolstered by a papyrus fragment published in 1994 [Brashear 1994].) 

So it is reasonably safe to proceed on the assumption that the commentary is on one of the many books of the Thebaid. And it is not too hard to accommodate the problematic lemmata. The presence of Artemis/Eileithuia is accounted for by the childbirth, evidently the focus of this section of the poem, followed by the sudden appearance of the Erinys. Clearly, it is a significant birth. I propose that the mother is Argeia (Adrastus’ daughter, Polynices’ wife), and the newborn child Thersander (who was to rule Thebes after the expedition of the Epigoni). The proposal is a simple one, may even seem an obvious one, but seems not to have been made before. I find no competing identifications.

If this is right, it is of considerable interest that Antimachos involved Argeia and the infant Thersander in the story of the expedition against Thebes, and I end by briefly sketching something of the significance it may hold for the poem itself and for the poem’s relations with other treatments of the saga both earlier and later (Statius’ Thebaid among them), matters which invite fresh exploration beyond the scope of this paper. 

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Intrageneric Dialogues in Hellenistic and Imperial Epic

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