BMCR 2017.02.38 Lather on Cazzato, Lardinois, The Look of Lyric: Greek Song and the Visual

From the BMCR blog:

Vanessa Cazzato, André Lardinois (ed.), The Look of Lyric: Greek Song and the Visual. Studies in archaic and classical Greek song, vol. 1. Mnemosyne Supplements. History and archaeology of classical antiquity, 391.   Leiden; Boston:  Brill, 2016.  Pp. xii, 391.  ISBN 9789004311633.  $175.00.

Reviewed by Amy Lather, Wake Forest University (latherak@wfu.edu)

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

This volume is a substantial and welcome addition to the burgeoning field of ancient sensory studies. As a conference proceedings of the Network for the Study of Archaic and Classical Greek Song, it vividly illustrates (as befits a study of vision) how traditional methods of analyzing Greek lyric can be fruitfully applied to new questions: here, the role and nature of sight and spectator in the lyric corpus. As Anastasia-Erasmia Peponi sets out in the introduction, “lyric vision” is a broad category that includes forms of lyric performance spectatorship as well as the techniques of visualization available to lyric poets that constitute a “visual imagination” (2). Given this concentration on visuality as both an embodied practice as well as a feature of poetics, this volume is also richly interdisciplinary. Numerous essays put lyric texts into dialogue with sculpture, architecture, and painting in order to contextualize lyric within a broader visual culture, and this is one of the great strengths of the collection. The diversity of the contributions testifies to the rich multiplicity of what Peponi terms the “visual demeanor” (p. 1) of lyric poetry, and the combination produces a veritable kaleidoscope of perspectives on the lyric eye.

In her introduction, Peponi (ch. 1) invokes the oft-cited Simonidean assertion that painting is “silent poetry” and “poetry painting that speaks” (Plut. De glor. Ath. 346f.) in order to delineate the two broad questions that shape the collection as a whole: (1) the particular visual sensibilities and practices that are manifested in the lyric corpus as well as in the material record; and (2) the politics and sociology of spectatorship. As each essay attests, these lines of inquiry are not easily untangled, nor would their division be desirable given their mutual influence on one another. Swift’s contribution (ch. 11), for instance, is particularly illustrative of this overlap in her reading of parthenaic lyric. According to this argument,  partheneia‘s emphasis on the attractive physical appearance of its performers constitutes a formal and distinctive feature of the genre (a “parthenaic motif,” p. 276) that corresponds to its social function of publicly displaying marrigeable young women.

Athanassaki (ch. 2) also tackles the interconnectedness of imagery and politics. Her contribution explores the political ramifications of Delphic sightseeing in focusing on the portrayal of Theseus in both the Athenian Treasury at Delphi and Bacchylides’ Fourth Dithyramb. While Athanassaki makes a case for the influence of Theseus’ depiction in the metopes on Bacchylides’ dramatization of Athenian trepidation at Theseus’ arrival, Lulli (ch. 3) identifies the converse interaction at work in the Pergamon Frieze’s visualization of Telephus. On this argument, Telephus is portrayed in the frieze in a way that reflects the influence of Archilochus’ and Pindar’s treatments of this figure, an evocation that seems designed to illustrate Pergamon’s status as an intellectual hub to rival Alexandria. Widening the lens to survey choral performance imagery more generally, Carruesco (ch. 4) offers a fascinating study of the geometric aesthetics present in painting and in descriptions of choral choreography. While at times his exegesis is as dizzying as the imagery he describes (especially in his discussion of concentric circles on the shield of Achilles, pp. 78–9), this is nonetheless a deeply thought-provoking interpretation of the relationship between chorality and kosmos.

In the first of several contributions devoted to sympotic imagery, Steiner (ch. 5) delves into the significance of Archilochus’s choice of the ape to characterize Kerykides in frr. 185–187 W. Drawing attention to how the figure of the monkey is consistently anthropomorphized as a site of social critique in both the literary and visual record, this essay offers a convincing new perspective on the poem by illuminating why the monkey is a fitting image with which to characterize an uncouth party guest. Jones (ch. 6) considers that ambiguous genre of the skolion, and while he presents a convincing case for a connection between the skolion and the symposium, the essay’s avowed concentration on generic categories renders the relationship between lyric diction and the examples of painting he adduces rather less clear than in other contributions. Cazzato (ch. 7) similarly restricts her scope to the generic context for Praxilla, but delivers a subtle re-interpretation of the view that understands Praxilla as a hetaira and the composer of bawdy songs. Demonstrating first how the attribution of a vase inscription to Praxilla has in fact misled scholars because of its sympotic imagery, she then demonstrates how the very kind of looking described in Praxilla fr. 8 would be at home in an epithalamium, given the dichotomy it depicts between the appearance of a maiden and that of a bride. Clay (ch. 8) caps off this set of contributions by offering a short but stimulating discussion of the different ways that poets visualize the symposium in terms of spatial organization.

Trieschnigg’s (ch. 9) is the sole contribution devoted entirely to tragic lyric, which recalls the distinction raised in the introduction between the “fixity” of Athenian drama and the “generally itinerant and centrifugal” (p. 5) nature of the lyric genres. It is for this reason that drama features relatively scarcely in this collection, but the inclusion of this essay reveals the interface between dramatic and non-dramatic forms of lyric vision as a fruitful direction for further study. This piece examines the prologue and parodos of Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, which is fertile territory indeed for the study of the relationship between seeing and hearing that she considers here. While she makes the intriguing suggestion that the chorus and the scout perceive the Argive army in distinctive ways because of their differences in gender and status, I was less convinced by her interpretation of the synaesthetic terminology in the chorus’s entrance song. In her attempt to demonstrate the chorus’s reliance on hearing as opposed to seeing, the emphatically visual language in this passage, and in particular the epithets used to describe the appearance of the army, are dismissed as “stock epithets,” which “may explain their presence in a narrative dominated by sound” (p. 223).

In chapter 10, Briand details the significance of light imagery (and φάος in particular) for the thematic and narrative structures of Pindar’s Olympians. While he is certainly right to identify images of bright, dazzling light as indications of the ability of praise to function as “a visual piece of art” (p. 250), I was left wondering about the implications of the “clair-obscur” device he identifies in several instances (pp. 244, 246). If darkness (and obscurity) is the natural counterpart of light, then it seems as though darkness (and not seeing) is equally as constitutive of praise’s “spectacular efficiency” (p. 247) as light itself. Swift (ch. 11) brings us into the realm of partheneia and the unique style of self-referentiality employed by singers of this type. First, she draws attention to how an emphasis on the visual splendor of performers is unique to  partheneia and is conspicuously absent from male choral songs. She then offers a reason for this, arguing that young women in choral performance “actively attempt to control and direct the gaze of their audience” (p. 282) in order to highlight their transitional status as potential brides. Equally attentive to the sexuality of the gaze is Calame’s contribution (ch. 12), which sets out to illuminate how archaic lyric evokes the eye of its audience in order to communicate asymmetric erotic desire as a physical sensation mediated through the gaze in particular. He thus ascribes a dual “semantic and enunciative role” (p. 299) to lyric descriptions of looking, since such allusions may be both a formal feature of poetic diction as well as a gesture to the physicality of choral performance.

In chapter 13, Bierl offers a nuanced study of the layers of interpretation implied in the transmission history of the Cologne Sappho. Disputing the popular reading of the Tithonus poem as Sappho’s personal lament about old age, he instead identifies its central themes as “aesthetic education in the Sapphic circle and…ideas of rejuvenation” (p. 312). It is particularly because of the latter that this poem came to be grouped with the two others that appear on this papyrus. All three poems, he argues, are united by the facets of Orphic beliefs that appear in each. This thematic arrangement in turn reflects the different performance traditions and transmission processes associated with the Sapphic poems. Similarly focused on transmission history is Ladianou’s contribution (ch. 14), which vividly explores how synaesthetic constructs in Sappho were treated by later authors as “an inherent characteristic” (p. 344) of her poetry. She argues further that these later authors also associate the fusion of the senses specifically with choreia, and thus suggests that post-classical readings of Sappho may provide evidence in support of the view that understands Sappho as a composer of works intended for choral performance. Both chapters (13 and 14) are exemplary readings that amply demonstrate the utility of the visual (and of constructions of the senses more generally) as a heuristic tool for literary history.

Kantzios (ch. 15) provides an appropriate finale to the collection through his lucid analysis of the complex ways of seeing adumbrated in the portrayal of a hetaira and an eromenos in poems 16 and 17 respectively of the Anacreontea. In both poems’ portraits, the dynamics of viewing mimetic art provide the template for a sophisticated way of visually objectifying the beloved, as each poems’ speaker imagines each beloved in the form of a naturalistic portrait of the ideal beloved. This in turn draws attention to the fact that the poems are themselves imitations of Anacreon’s poetry.

In the arrangement of the contributions a progression from macro-to micro-perspective becomes apparent, commencing with studies of modes of public and monumental viewing related to particular artifacts (Athanassaki, Lulli) and ending with a focus on the role of the individual reader-as-viewer (Bierl, Ladianou, Kantzios) in the classification of authors and genres. Given the multifarious nature of the topic, however, combined with the number and length of the contributions, the collection would have benefitted from a more systematic table of contents to alert the reader to the points of convergence and divergence between contributions. For instance, this reader was somewhat disoriented by the logic behind the organization of chapters 7–10 and their respective discussions of Praxilla fr. 8 (Cazzato), the organization of sympotic space (Strauss Clay), vision and sound in Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes (Trieschnigg), and the mytho-poetic significance of light imagery in Olympian 1 (Briand). More satisfyingly coherent is the last set of essays (11–15), which focus on the eroticism of lyric perspective and which thus usefully complement one another in their successive placement.

All in all, this volume comprises an invaluable resource for scholars of archaic and classical lyric and art and will prove equally useful for anyone interested in visual dynamics in the ancient world. The bibliography for each essay is thorough and up to date, further bolstering the work’s utility. It is a pity, however, that timing did not permit cross-referencing with the recently-published Sight and the Ancient Senses,1 as a number of essays in that volume would have provided useful corollaries to several of those contained here. But since the stated focus of this volume is Greek lyric rather than vision writ large, it is no grave matter and I cite this work only for the reader’s benefit.

The volume is extremely well-produced. I noted only the following handful of errata: “Atlanta” should read “Atalanta” on p. 138, there should be a space in “kottabosstand” on p. 161, and “consistently” should be replaced with “consistent” on p. 322.

Table of Contents

Lyric Vision: An Introduction (Anastasia-Erasmia Peponi)
Political and Dramatic Perspectives on Archaic Sculptures: Bacchylides’ Fourth Dithyramb (Ode 18) and the Treasury of the Athenians in Delphi (Lucia Athanassaki)
The Fight of Telephus: Poetic Visions behind the Pergamon Frieze (Laura Lulli)
Choral Performance and Geometric Patterns in Epic Poetry and Iconographic Representations (Jesús Carruesco)
Making Monkeys: Archilochus frr. 185–187 W in Performance (Deborah Steiner)
Observing Genre in Archaic Greek Skolia and Vase-Painting (Gregory S. Jones)
‘Glancing Seductively through Windows’: The Look of Praxilla fr. 8 (PMG 754) (Vanessa Cazzato)
How to Construct a Sympotic Space with Words (Jenny Strauss Clay)
Turning Sound into Sight in the Chorus’ Entrance Song of Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes (Caroline Trieschnigg)
Light and Vision in Pindar’s Olympian Odes: Interplays of Imagination and Performance (Michel Briand)
Visual Imagery in Parthenaic Song (Laura Swift)
The Amorous Gaze: A Poetic and Pragmatic Koinē for Erotic Melos? (Claude Calame)
Visualizing the Cologne Sappho: Mental Imagery through Chorality, the Sun, and Orpheus (Anton Bierl)
Female Choruses and Gardens of Nymphs: Visualizing Chorality in Sappho (Katerina Ladianou)
Imagining Images: Anacreontea 16 and 17 (Ippokratis Kantzios)


Notes:
1.   Squire, M. (ed.), Sight and the Ancient Senses (Routledge, 2016).

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