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Explaining Archilochus in antiquity: the indirect tradition

Enrico Emanuele Prodi

Università Ca' Foscari, Venezia

In the context of a research project on ancient scholarship on archaic Greek iambos, this paper focuses on exegetic material on Archilochus preserved by the indirect tradition.

Only little survives of ancient scholarship on Archilochus, but enough to cover a variety of kinds of sources. Fragments of one papyrus commentary, with an intriguing but incomplete subscription, have recently been published (P.Oxy. 4952). A few other papyri preserve marginal or interlinear annotations (P.Lond.Lit. 55, P.Oxy. 2310, 2315). A work comparing verses of Archilochus and Homer (P.Hibeh 173, see Slings 1989) and perhaps an iambic glossary (P.Oxy. 2328) complete the papyrological record. Lexicographers mined Archilochus’ works, like those of many other canonical authors, for rare words and unusual meanings: Hesychius, for instance, preserves some 66 entries which can be connected to Archilochus’ extant fragments. Finally, interpretations of Archilochus also survive in other sources that are not directly concerned with the elucidation of his text. The subject has been treated in general terms by Hauvette 1905: 97-110, Lasserre 1958: lxxxiii-xc, and most recently Porro 2007 and 2011, but beckons a more comprehensive and detailed investigation. This is particularly true of the material preserved by the indirect tradition.

The largest cluster of scholarly interpretations that can be recovered from the indirect tradition concerns Archilochus’ reference to an enigmatic ‘mournful message-stick’ (ἀχνυμένη σκυτάλη) in fr. 185 West. Athenaeus (10.451d) cites Apollonius of Rhodes’ Περὶ Ἀρχιλόχου on the use of white leather straps on the skytale (fr. 22 Michaelis, the only extant reference to this work). Elsewhere in the Learned Banqueters (3.85e), Athenaeus references a work by Aristophanes of Byzantium called Περὶ τῆς ἀχνυμένης σκυτάλης (fr. 367 Slater, likewise a lone surviving reference). The relevance of the extract quoted by Athenaeus to the Archilochean fragment is doubtful (a suggestion in Slater 1982: 336-41,see also Blank and Dyck 1984: 18-19, Slater 1986: 132-3), and the boundaries of the quotation are not clear, but the reference nonetheless proves Aristophanes’ engagement with the interpretation of the Archilochean text. The third relevant source are the Pindar scholia (Ol. 6.154a-b Drachmann), which quote a passage found ἐν Ἀρχιλόχου ὑπομνήμασιν on just the same subject. The quotation is regrettably lacunose and part of it appears to be somewhat garbled, but what survives allows an investigation of its relationship both with the treatises by Aristophanes and Apollonius and with similar remarks found in other scholia and lexica (schol. Ar. Av. 1283 Holwerda, schol. Thuc. 1.131.1 Hude, Synag. A σ 143 Cunningham, etc.). The transmission of exegetical material across scholia to different authors as well as between scholia and lexica is a known phenomenon (see e.g. Tosi 1988: 115-71, Ucciardello 2006); focusing on a specific chain of interpretations can enhance our understanding of its workings as well as of scholarly activity on Archilochus in antiquity.

The second example we shall examine also comes primarily from the Pindar scholia (Ol. 9.1a-k Drachmann). It concerns the impromptu ‘hymn to Heracles’ traditionally ascribed to Archilochus (fr. 324 West). Already in the early Hellenistic period Eratosthenes had busied himself with this composition in an unknown work (fr. VI 34 Bernhardy), and the scholia relate several other interpretations in addition to his. Once again similar explanations can be found in other scholarly sources too (schol. Ar. Av. 1764 Holwerda, Synag. A τ 164 Cunningham, etc.), and once again ancient commentators found themselves explaining multiple texts simultaneously; here, however, the difficulty in pinpointing the trajectory of the material is compounded by the equivocal status of the target text itself, which may or may not have actually been included in ancient editions of Archilochus’ works. But whether or not this material was ever actually found in a commentary to Archilochus, it nonetheless represents scholarship on a work attributed to Archilochus, and deserves attention accordingly. It also constitutes a valuable further example of the fluidity of boundaries within the realm of ancient literary interpretation.

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Lyric from Greece to Rome

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