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Hipponax’ Poetic Initiation and Herodas’ ‘Dream’

Vanessa Cazzato

The proposed paper makes a significant contribution to the understanding of one of the most baffling and the at the same time influential (in Hellenistic times) poets of archaic Greece, namely Hipponax, a key exponent of iambos, itself still among the most controversial genres of Greek poetry (as demonstrated in the book-length study by Rotstein [2010]).  The paper presents some new evidence in support of recognizing in a series of late testimonia the vestiges of a poem recounting Hipponax’ own poetic initiation; it makes the first attempt to interpret this scene of initiation, and in doing so it comments briefly on the poetics of both Hipponax and his literary heir Herodas.   

The putative fragment of Hipponax’ poetic initiation does not appear in the edition of West and only appears among the testimonia (T 21) in the edition of Degani. That the texts of T 21 goes back to Hipponax’ own account of his poetic investiture was argued independently by Rosen and Brown in 1988, picking up on a suggestion made in passing by Koster in 1922. In an article published in 1990, Bob Fowler added a further two lines drawn from another – independent witness. Their arguments were susceptible to the objection that the passages might have derived not from Hipponax himself but rather from a later source, an extract from a comedy or a Hellenistic poem about Hipponax. However, this explanation is shown to be improbably in light of a number of suggestive allusions to the Hipponactean initiation on the part of the Hellenistic poet Herodas in his own scene of poetic initiation in Mimiamb 8 and in his programmatic Mimiamb 1: Herodas would undoubtedly have been looking back to Hipponax himself rather than to a later story about Hipponax.

Having placed on more secure grounds the identification of a poem of poetic initiation the paper goes on to offer an interpretation of this puzzling scene, an encounter on the seashore between Hipponax and a cantankerous old women washing wool. This is done by reference to skoptic practices such as took place at the Eleusinian festival and the Thesmophoria as well as by comparison with other fragments in Hipponax’ corpus. The old woman is understood to represents an old prostitute who is emblematic of Hipponax’ poetics. Further aspects of Hipponax’s poetics are then teased out by commenting on the manner of Herodas’ allusions. The mimiambographer is picking up on important aspects of Hipponax’ poetry, including his privileged intertextuality with the Odyssey and his self-fashioning as Odysseus the mistreated beggar in disguise of the second half of the epic. Some brief concluding remarks speculate on some of the reasons why Hipponax might have been so inspirational to the Hellenistic poets. 

Session/Panel Title

Hellenistic and Neoteric Intertexts

Session/Paper Number

18.1

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