This paper reevaluates the influence of Leonidas of Tarentum on the Greek epigrammatists of the 1st century BCE. Scholars have noted a shift in Greek epigram of this period away from, for instance, traditional erotic themes and towards occasional poetry and the depiction of the poet’s own life and social milieu (Laurens 1965; Cogitore 2010). This paper will argue, through the close examination of a few representative epigrams, that the poets of this period follow a common set of conventions in their representation of themselves within their work. In particular, it will argue that Leonidas, a figure whose influence on earlier Greek epigram is already well-known (Gow-Page 1965 and 1968; Gigante 1971; Gutzwiller 1998), served as a common model for the self-representation of poets of this time. In so doing it will shed light on Leonidas’ reception in antiquity as well as the generic development of epigram after Meleager.
Leonidas wrote himself into his own epigrams, creating a vivid poetic persona imbued with the ethical principles of ancient Cynicism. He communicated his ethical message through sermons in the manner of diatribe, dedicatory and funerary epigrams on humble members of society, and epigrams about his own life. In AP 6.302, which will serve as my primary example in this paper, the poet addresses mice that have invaded his hut (καλυβÎ®ς, 1) in search of food, bidding them to go elsewhere since he leads a simple life (λιτÎ¬, 7), keeping only enough food in his meal-tub (σιπÏη, 2) for himself. Mock-epic diction and the use of the language of religious imprecation contribute to the vivid characterization and the ethical urgency of the speaker; meanwhile, the poet’s material circumstances are made into symbols of his ethical outlook.
While some later epigrammatists (e.g. Ariston, AP 6.303) imitate this poem quite directly, others range further afield while still engaging with the poem’s quasi-religious language, ethical content, imagery, and key words. I will discuss three examples in detail in order to illustrate some of the techniques used by the epigrammatists in engaging with Leonidas and one another. In the first of these, AP 11.44, Philodemus recasts Leonidas’ address to the mice as an invitation, rather than a prohibition. He bids Lucius Calpurnius Piso to come to his simple cottage (λιτá½´ν καλιÎ¬δα, 1) to enjoy a dinner in honor of Epicurus. Like Leonidas’ hut and his simple food, Philodemus’ cottage and unpretentious fare are symbols of his ethical outlook on life. Cynic irascibility is here transmuted into Epicurean friendliness, and Leonidas’ imprecation becomes a kind of prayer directed to Piso, who will enrich the company by his very presence (á¼„ξομεν á¼κ λιτá¿†ς εá¼°κÎ¬δα πιοτÎρην, 8).
In accordance with his hedonistic predilections, Antipater of Thessalonica (AP 11.20) recasts Philodemus’ Epicurean dinner party as a raucous symposium in honor of Homer and Archilochus. Returning to Leonidas’ quasi-religious language, Antipater shoos away not mice, but pedantic, water-drinking poets from his wine-jar, excluding them from the ritual pouring of libations. Merging Callimachean and Leonidean terminology, Antipater rejects those who drink “plain water” (λιτá½¸ν á½•δωρ, 4). Antipater has thus made his symposium and his wine-jar, in a way analogous to Leonidas’ hut and meal-tub, serve as physical representations of his ethical and poetic principles.
Crinagoras (AP 5.545) ingeniously references both Leonidas and Philodemus at once. He presents to Marcus Claudius Marcellus a copy of Callimachus’ Hecale, a poem featuring a prominent scene of hospitality offered by a humble person (Hecale) to a hero (Theseus). The setting of this hospitality is a simple hut (καλιÎ®ν, 3). Like Leonidas, Crinagoras has an ethical purpose—to inspire Marcellus to a virtuous life (κλεινοá¿¦ τá¾½ αá¼¶νον á¼´σον βιÏŒτου, 6) in part through the appreciation of poetry. Like Antipater’s krater or Leonidas’ meal-tub, meanwhile, the book Crinagoras gives to Marcellus serves as a physical symbol of the ethical principles he espouses.