Scholia Reviews ns 20 (2011) 2.

Douglas L. Cairns and J. G. Howie, Bacchylides: Five Epinician Odes (3, 5, 9, 11, 13). Text, Introductory Essays, and Interpretative Commentary. Arca, Classical and Medieval Texts, Papers and Monographs 49. Cambridge: Francis Cairns, 2010. Pp. xiv + 380. ISBN 978-0-905205-52-6. UK£80.00.

Roosevelt Rocha
Universidade Federal do Paraná, Brazil

After the masterful German edition of Bacchylides' epinicians prepared by Herwig Maehler was published in 1982 many scholars may have believed that it would not be necessary to make another edition with commentary of these poems.[[1]] Nevertheless, the years have passed by, the studies of Bacchylides have made some progress, and the bibliography has increased and got richer. Besides, Maehler's edition has never been fully translated into English; an abridged version was prepared and published by the Cambridge University Press in 2004, but not all the epinicians were included in this edition.[[2]] For these and another reasons, the new book by Douglas L. Cairns must be acclaimed by scholars and the general public who are interested in the works of Bacchylides and in ancient Greek poetry generally.

In his acknowledgements (p. ix) Cairns states what his intention was when he decided to prepare this edition: to make Bacchylides' epinicians more accessible, dealing as carefully as possible with the traditional, historical, and cultural context in which the poems were produced. For this, the book also brings a new translation of the epinicians under consideration, made by Cairns and Howie, the author of important papers about early Greek poetry and the translator of Detlev Fehling's Herodotus and his Sources (Liverpool 1998).

In Chapter One (pp. 1-62), Cairns presents a general introduction to the poems in which he deals with the problems related to Bacchylides' life: the dates of birth and death, his kinship with Simonides, the chronology of his poems, the question of the poet's exile in the Peloponnese and the rivalry with Pindar. Cairns then discusses how the Bacchylidean texts became known -- mainly after the publication of P. Lond. Inv. 733 by F. G. Kenyon in 1897. In this section Cairns deals with the problem of the definition of the epinician ode as a genre (very briefly, because he will turn his attention to this theme again some pages further on) and shows that Bacchylides was renowned in his day, at least among those who used to commission his poetic services. A proof of this is the fact that some Bacchylidean Odes were commissioned for the same victory celebrated in other epinicians by Pindar. And then it is almost impossible escape from comparisons, parallels, and intertextual discussions. The next section in the introduction is about epinician poetry in general. Here Cairns presents the features that define the epinician: the basic criterion (to celebrate a victory in an athletic game) and the formal characteristics. In this discussion he dedicates some paragraphs to put in perspective the Bundyan revolution.[[3]] Cairns recognizes the importance of Bundy's achievements, but he asserts that (and this is a meaningful statement to understand the author's proposal) 'a study of epinician rhetoric needs also a sociological, political, and historical awareness that transcends the more or less monolithic models not only of Bundyism but the anthropological oriented New Historicism' (p. 20). So, to sum up, Cairns thinks it is important to study the context, as he said before in the acknowledgments (pp. ixf.). In the sequence he presents and summarizes the odes that he will study in more depth in the next chapters. He writes also some pages about the performance of the poems and on Bacchylides' style. At the end of the introduction he makes clear his criteria for the establishment of the text and for the translations. He declares that he has not examined the papyrus himself and does not claim to do a substantive contribution to Bacchylidean textual scholarship, because he does not suggest supplements or emendations. For this the apparatus to the Greek text is very simple, designed just to attribute and support his readings. About the translation Cairns claims to be unpretentious, because he wants the result to be readable to beginners in the study of Greek language or to those who do not know any Greek at all. The first draft of the translation was made by Gordon Howie and then Cairns revised and reworked the text to adapt it to the aims of the volume under review.

In the next five chapters (from 2 to 6, pp. 63-151) Cairns presents an introduction to each ode chosen by him (Odes 3, 5, 9, and 11). He writes about the occasion on which the poem was performed, about the form and structure of each epinician, about the myth or myths told or alluded to in the poems and about the argument. All these chapters are organized following this pattern. Just to give an example and also to remark on the only chapter that is a little bit different, I will make a brief comment on Chapter 5, where Cairns writes about Ode 11. This ode was composed to celebrate the victory won by Alexidamus of Metapontum, son of Phaïscus, at the Pythian games at an unknown date, maybe in the period between the years 476 and 468 BC when Bacchylides must have been in South Italy composing Odes 5 and 3 for Hieron of Syracuse, if we accept Severyn's hypothesis.[[4]] The poem has the usual three main sections, but the last one is not like the other odes' final sections, because it does not return to the explicit praise of the victor. Rather, it constitutes an ornament to the central myth of the ode dealing with the worship of Artemis at Lousoi in Arcadia and her cult at Metapontum established by the 'Achaeans' after their victory and their return from Troy. Cairns makes a point about the role that the Ring-composition has in the Ode 11. According to him, this strategy may not always be explicit, but Bacchylides seems always to have this in his mind. Cairns states also that, in this ode, a different kind of mythical narrative is used, called 'lyrical', where the tale is not told following a chronological line, in contrast with the 'epic' narration that arrange the events in a diachronic sequence. Cairns claims that 'absolute symmetry is avoided by insertion of non-corresponding elements' and 'by the expansion of the Proetids into a subsidiary, tertiary ring' (p. 105). So the way Bacchylides composes his ode creates a 'system of echoes and correspondences' that 'serves both to integrate the various sections of the ode and to emphazise and articulate its key themes as aspects of a single, coherent argument' (p. 106). This subtlety in form and structure is reflected also in the manner that the poet manipulates and articulates the mythical elements. Ode 11 has three mythological elements: the healing of Proetus' daughters; the dispute between the brothers Proetus and Acrisius and the settlement of Tyrins; and the foundation of Metapontum by the 'Acheans'. According to Cairns (p. 107) 'the last of these is in fact the starting point for the other two'. With this in view, Cairns starts his discussion of the myth dealing with 'The foundation of Metapontum', which is the culmination of the entire ode. In his explanation, Cairns stresses the archaeological, cultural, and historical aspects contained in the ode, in conformity with the project announced in the first pages of the book. Then Cairns discusses also the first and the second mythical elements, both dealing with the history of Proetus and his daughters. In the last section of his introduction to Ode 11, Cairns shows how the mythical elements are the main vehicle of the poem's argument.

In the next pages (pp. 152-95) we find the Greek text of the odes and the translations in facing-page format. As I mentioned before, Cairns' text is not a new edition, but he chose to use the facsimile of the papyrus directly, taking some emendations and supplements from the earlier editions. He employs the numbering of Maehler's Teubner edition, but the text is not the same. For example, in the problematic Ode 13, verses 155-63, Cairns chooses to print a very 'clean' text, with the fewest possible interventions. But, in the translations, Cairns and Howie felt freer, I think, to accept supplements, most of the time by William S. Barrett, but sometimes also by David Fearn.[[5]] The translation is in prose, but, in this kind of text, it is almost impossible to escape from poetry. It is clear that they want to make the result readable for every type of public. Even so we can feel the Greek poetical ethos as we read.

After the translations we find the commentaries on each ode. Cairns' commentaries complement rather than surpass Maehler's. He says things and deals with arguments that Maehler did not in his own edition, both because the bibliography has evolved and because Cairns is more interested in discussing the archeological, historical, and cultural aspects of the poems. He is concerned with formal issues also, but, as it seems to me, what he intends is to make a balance between form and content. In the last pages (pp. 333-80) we have the vast updated bibliography (pp. 333-56), a useful index locorum (pp. 357-68) and a general index (pp. 369-80).

To conclude in just a few words: this is an attractive book and I am sure that it will become indispensable to those who, for any reason, want to understand Bacchylides most important epinicians.


[[1]] Herwig Maehler (ed.), Die Lieder Des Bakchylides. T.1, Die Siegeslieder. 2, Kommentar (Leiden 1982).

[[2]] Herwig Maehler (ed.), Bacchylides: A Selection (Cambridge 2004).

[[3]] For this see Elroy L. Bundy, Studia Pindarica (Berkeley 1962, Digital Version 2006).

[[4]] A. Severyns, Bacchylide: Essai Biographique( Paris 1933) 94.

[[5]] W. S. Barrett, Greek Lyric, Tragedy, and Textual Criticism : Collected Papers, edited by M. L. West (Oxford 2007) 232-84; David Fearn, Bacchylides: Politics, Performance, Poetic Tradition (Oxford 2007).