Robert L. Fowler, Early Greek Mythography. Vol. 2: Commentary. Oxford, OUP. 2013.
Most of the time we are aware of how large areas of the ancient world are irretrievably lost to us, in literature as well as in the material world. Fragments there are, and the art of bringing the text fragments together has been part of the history of our disciplines; many collections have turned into lasting achievements and the names of their authors have become household words. Commenting is yet another matter and thought to be a different gift from gathering and editing; whereas most commentaries regard it as their task to open a preserved work to a contemporary audience, the commentary on a lost area is a very rare thing indeed. It both reconstructs and explains, and success will manifest itself when we understand what we have lost, and how important it still is.
Greek mythography is such a field. Its fragments never made it into the Teubner volumes of the nineteenth century Mythographi Graeci but were hidden away in the huge maze of Jacoby. Fourteen years ago, Robert Fowler presented a collection of the fragments of Early Greek Mythography, giving us the outline and all the recoverable details of a lost continent of early Greek prose; we were grateful for an important and accessible volume. Now, he has followed up with a commentary that shows how important these lost treatises and their authors were for the beginnings and development of the Greek prose book, the appropriation and systematization of mostly local narratives, and the emergence of Greek historiography: not by chance we count early historians such as Hekataios, Akousilaos and Hellanikos among them.
But commentary might be too modest a term, or then it might well be the new model for reconstructive commentaries for our century. Far from following a text with his explanatory voice, in this case of mostly lost texts the commentator first leads us through the many narrative variations of early Greek mythology, from the theogonical beginnings of time to the end of mythical time in the great migrations of Ionians, Dorians and Aiolians: this embeds each preserved bit of text in the wider background of early Greek story telling. He then gives a gazeteer of the single authors, with biography, prose style, and a reconstruction of the lost work; giving back not just the outlines of the work but also the sound of the author’s language is intriguing. Such stereoscopy – through one eye of mythology and the other of philology – leaves us with a truly three-dimensional view of the landscape we have lost, and it seems almost certain that “Fowler” will become yet another household name.
It is therefore with considerable pleasure and pride that we award the 2014 Charles J. Goodwin Award of Merit to Robert L. Fowler.
Goodwin Award Committee
Peter T. Struck, Chair
Barbara Weiden Boyd