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  • Initiating the Viewer:Deixis and Visual Perception in Alcman's Lyric Drama
  • Anastasia-Erasmia Peponi

By thematizing the extra-linguistic context of its own performance, Alcman's Louvre Partheneion—the oldest extensive sample of choral poetry—turns deictic co-ordinates into a major subject of its discourse. Anastasia-Erasmia Peponi concentrates on a specific aspect of the song's deictic function, that relating to sight. While the dense deictic network of the song implies the chorus's interest in directing the audience's eyes toward the developing ritual, the interweaving of deixis with metaphor constantly alternates between mere vision and imaginary visualization. Through this shifting, the audience, although ostensibly summoned to perform the act of seeing (horan), is drawn into the intense activity of contemplation (theorein). Thus the deictic tactics of the poem pose questions relating to visual perception and, ultimately, to cognition. Finally, the interaction between deictic and metaphoric mechanics illuminates some of the major interpretive problems that the fragment has generated since publication.

A lecture by Charles Fillmore on deixis starts with a humorous introduction that includes a series of examples in which uncertainties about the anchoring of various messages in a communication situation causes misunderstanding and confusion on the part of their receivers (Fillmore 1997.59– 75, esp. 59–60). Among those hilarious examples, the one closest to Alcman's first Partheneion (PMG 1) is the last on Fillmore's list: "The worst possible case I can imagine," Fillmore says, "for a totally unanchored occasion-sentence is that of finding afloat in the ocean a bottle containing a note which reads, 'Meet me here at noon tomorrow with a stick about this big"' (Fillmore 1997.60). This hypothetical case finds its most precise expression in the Partheneion attributed to Alcman: the poem, found in a tomb in Egypt, contains—like Fillmore's bottle in the ocean—riddling statements from a first-person speaker who persists in anchoring her poetic message to a communication situation irrevocably inaccessible to us.

The poem, designed to be performed by a chorus of young Spartan maidens, seems to be structured in two parts. The first, mostly damaged part (1–35) includes the narration of a series of mythological events related to local Spartan tradition (Calame 1977.II.52–66 and 1983.313–22); the second part (36–101) is mainly dedicated to the verbal representation of the chorus's performance as that performance is being held. The first and [End Page 295] second parts were probably connected by thematic links that remain obscure. The second and better preserved part, however, offers a signal case in the study of deixis in archaic poetry and performance. Its uniqueness is due to the fact that it is not just a choral piece to be orally performed in a certain space and time by certain persons; in the process of thematizing the extra-linguistic context of its own performance, these very deictic coordinates are turned into the main subject of its discourse.

Thus the entire second part of the Partheneion poses a series of critical questions relating to deixis. In this paper, I concentrate on a specific aspect of the song's deictic function, the one relating to sight.1 Deixis, the verbal process of pointing towards an extra-linguistic context, is essentially—although not exclusively—a way of referring to sight. Not accidentally, then, the deictic network of the Partheneion appears to be particularly dense in the first thirty-seven lines of the section under discussion where sight becomes activated in various ways (36–72). Of course, the chorus's insistence on the act of viewing might have been dictated by the ritual they enact: a significant part of this ritual, supposed by some to venerate Artemis Orthria, is the coming of dawn and sunrise—a phenomenon intrinsically relevant to human sight.2 In my reading, however, I examine the complex verbal mechanisms through which optical perception in the Partheneion gets fully dramatized for an audience, thus turning the ritual into an essentially theatrical event.

The Interaction between Deixis and Metaphor

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There is such a thing as the vengeance of the gods:that one is blessed who devoutlyweaves to the...


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