Jerry Clack (ed.), Meleager: Poems. Wauconda: Bolchazy-Carducci, 1992. Pp. vii + 160. ISBN 0-86516-254-9. US$18.00.
Rand Afrikaans University
This is an attractive volume, that invites the reader with its 'garland' cover design, its neat appearance, trim format and polished contents: all redolent of its Alexandrian subject-matter. It is also a very useful volume, that offers the reader the full text of Meleager and saves time-consuming searching through the 'labyrinth' (p. v) of the Palatine and Planudean Anthologies. There is a brief but adequate introduction on the life of Meleager (pp. 1-2), 'The Garland' (pp. 2-6), and the nature of the epigrams (pp. 6-12), followed by the text of the poems, essentially that of Gow & Page (pp. 13-47),(1) a commentary (pp. 49-103), an index giving the epigram numbers in the Anth. Pal. and Anth. Plan. (pp. 105-6), an index of proper names (pp. 107-11), and a vocabulary (pp. 113-60).
Two general points of criticism can be raised. Those who prefer to teach students as far as possible to attach its own meaning to each verbal form, will be irritated by the practice in the vocabulary of giving the meanings of verbs in the infinitive form. Then, although reference is made in the commentary to various studies, there is no bibliography. This diminishes the usefulness for the undergraduate audience at which the work is aimed (p. v).
The commentary is consistently helpful, especially on difficulties of language and sense. Although one appreciates the demands of economy, one feels that too little assistance is offered on interpretation (unless the author is blessed with exceptional students!). As illustration (also for misleading or incorrect comment) I offer the following. No. 2 (AP 7.417): Nothing is said of the personification in the epigram; and QRE/PTEIRA and PA/TRA are conflicting concepts, deliberately juxtaposed. No. 7 (AP 5.179): The observation that there is a 'new metaphor in each couplet' is not quite correct. Also, it should be explained what the metaphors are: 'fire' and 'wound' (couplet 1); 'fire' (couplet 2); and 'runaway slave' (couplet 3). No. 23 (AP 5.197): The judgement that this is 'A rather undistinguished epigram', lacking M.'s succinct phrasing (p. 65), requires justification. There are in fact surprises. Each girl's special feature is catalogued: Timo's hair, Demo's skin (physical attributes), but Ilias' (surely unexpected) PAI/GNIA and lamp. The reader also does not expect the ending: after the series of oaths, revenge or cursing with the lover's last breath is more expected. Instead, the lover, even if a victim of Eros, vows to continue loving until his last breath. No. 24 (AP 5.198): It needs to be demonstrated why this poem, also containing a catalogue of girls' special features with a surprise element, is 'more successful' than the previous epigram. No. 27 (AP 5.172): Rather than viewing the poet as having just arrived at dawn (p. 66 ad 2, p. 67), and hoping to spend the coming night, it is surely more apt to understand that someone else spends the day with Demo (as in the next epigram), and that the poet has been with her all night, and that the dawn therefore arrives too soon. No. 37 (AP 5.177): The good comment can be refined: the epigram does not so much evoke a town crier's 'public denunciation of Eros' or a 'diatribe' (p. 70), as a public notice of an escaped slave (not animal). Hence all the attributes (especially his uncertain parentage!), for others to recognise Eros. Then (again the surprise), the town crier/poet finds Eros hiding in the beloved's eyes. No. 39 (AP 5.195): The bald statement 'This is a rather unsuccessful epigram' needs explanation. No. 50 (AP 5.163): C. correctly observes that lines 1-2 are inconsistent with the rest, but the bee does not 'attack' Heliodora or become transformed into a 'raging monster or a jealous lover by Heliodora's charms' (p. 74). The reader is invited to visualise a bee, nourished on flowers, alighting on Heliodora's skin, mistaking it for a blossom. This is a compliment, but the lesson is unexpected: Love is not only sweet (the blossom and bee), but also has a bitter sting (the bee). No. 52 (AP 5.166): DAKRUXARH= (2) is not 'welcoming tears' (75), but 'delighting in tears' (as on p. 122: 'joying in tears'). Although SKOLIW=N O)/RTHRWN is a crux, the probable sense of SKOLIO/S is 'unjust' or 'unfair', meanings that should be added to SKOLIO/S in the Vocabulary (p. 152). No. 53 (AP 5.214): The comment is too cryptic. The idea of Eros throwing a ball in the love-game occurs in Anacreon 358 PMG. What, then, is 'novel'? Throwing the heart? And why should this be 'slightly distasteful' to modern audiences, who hear daily of 'giving', 'taking' or 'breaking' hearts? The judgment is purely subjective. And in what way is the epigram 'in the Meleagrian tradition'? No. 55 (AP 12.147): The comment is too brief: 'vivid, original in concept, and witty' need elucidation. No. 56 (AP 7.476): The term 'striking' (on lines 4 and 8) needs explanation. No. 64 (AP 5.190): More is involved than the 'gale which sweeps lovers off their feet.' Love is represented as a sea-storm, with winds of jealousy, and there is a sustained image of the lover as a sailor. No. 71 (AP 5.182): More should be said of the poet-lover's indecision, doubts and eventual urge to accompany Dorkas.
There are some smaller discrepancies: AP 7.419.4 (no. 4): XA/RISIN is given, but in no. 3 (7.418.6) XA/RISIN and in no. 5 (7.421.14) XA/RITAS. AP 7.421 (no. 5): XAI=RE is included in the lemma, but not translated. AP 5.141 (no. 44): 'than the music of the gods' should be 'than Apollo's lyre.' AP 7.352 (no. 132): Many scholars of repute would disagree that the Lygambes-theme in Archilochus is indeed fictitious.
A few printing-errors are easily corrected: 'should be noted' (p. vi, line 9 from the bottom); 'was' written twice (p. 62, line 7); KA/LLOS U(PHNIOXW=N (p. 68, line 18), POLIO\S and PRO/TONOS (p. 78, line 13 and 12 from the bottom) must be in 'bold'; 'deflect' (p. 88, line 15); 'the' written twice (p. 90, last line); 'that the enemy' (p. 91, line 20); spiritus lenis on A)KMAI=ON (p. 77, line 10).
Some of the titles in the commentary are witty: 'The Musicianly Grasshopper' (no. 12); 'Questa o quello' (no. 18); 'Buzz Off' (no. 33); 'Hercules Minor' (no. 34); 'Bee in the Bonnet' (no. 50); but less appropriate are 'The Savage Scratch' (no. 49: too harsh for an erotic tickle); 'Timarion's Lipstick' (no. 59: over-clever, even banal, and doesn't do justice to the text's two images).
This is a worthwhile product of good sense, clear thinking and useful and accurate information. All the more's the pity, then, that it is unlikely to be read by students of Greek in South Africa, for whom Hellenistic literature means only the New Testament.
(1) A.S.F. Gow and D.L. Page, Hellenistic Epigrams (Cambridge 1965).