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Reviewed by:
  • Singing Alexandria: Music between Practice and Textual Transmission
  • E. Christian Kopff
Lucia Prauscello. Singing Alexandria: Music between Practice and Textual Transmission. Mnemosyne Supplements, 274. Leiden: Brill, 2006. Pp. xiv, 241. $152.00. ISBN 978-90-04-14985-4.

Singing Alexandria consists of three essays investigating the transmission and influence of ancient texts with musical annotation. Prauscello argues for a nuanced and differentiated vision of the survival of musical texts through different periods of antiquity. The first chapter involves a painstaking rereading of significant ancient sources. The second chapter discusses two Euripidean musical papyri with new photographs. The last chapter argues for the influence of musical texts on Theocritus 29. Prauscello is successful in highlighting the diversity and variety of the influence of musical texts on ancient culture. The author believes that she has refuted some analyses and narratives that seek to explore examples of this variety.

She examines critically the textual basis of a narrative, developed by Thomas Fleming and the reviewer, that tries to explain the fact that the division of dramatic lyrics into cola found in medieval manuscripts has been observed in ancient papyri and, when allowance is made for misprints and slips, is coherent and reasonable. Wilamowitz attributed the convergence of the colometry of lyric verse in ancient and medieval copies to third century Alexandrian scholarship, but denied the validity of this colometry, which seems too good to Fleming and Kopff to be an accident. Readers can judge for themselves from Thomas Fleming, The Colometry of Aeschylus (Amsterdam 2007). T. Fleming, “The Survival of Greek Dramatic Music from the Fifth Century to the Roman Period,” in B. Gentili and F. Perusino, eds., La colometria antica dei testi poetici greci (Pisa 1999) 17–29, argued that the meager evidence [End Page 82] for texts with musical annotation supports the survival of fifth-century music until the Roman Empire. The annotation found on musical papyri could go back to the fifth century and the Alexandrians could have used it.

Prauscello reexamines these sources with scholarly rigor and makes valuable contributions to understanding them, but does not shake their role in the new history of the survival of fifth-century Greek music. A characteristic example is her discussion of the “Themison Inscription” (111–116), which was erected by the Senate and People of Miletus in the first half of the second century a.d. in honor of G. Aelius Themison, who “on his own composed music for Euripides, Sophocles, and Timotheus.” The inscription proves that fifth-century tragedies were performed with contemporary music then. Prauscello believes “we are entitled to suppose (according to the evidence previously examined) that in the second century a.d. the ‘original’ music of the three great champions of the past poetic tradition (tragic as well as lyric) was already lost beyond recovery” (112–3). We are entitled to suppose that tastes in music had changed. The rock musical Rent was based on the plot of La Bohème not because Puccini’s music was lost, but because popular taste has changed. The inscription calls Themison “the first and only one” to do this. Even if fifth-century music was lost beyond recovery in Themison’s day, the inscription is prima facie evidence for its survival until then, since he was the first and only one to compose scores for these texts. Prauscello finds “the most reasonable explanation of the phrase” in local pride resorting to “hyperbolic eulogistic formulae in order to praise a fellow-citizen” (115). The most reasonable explanation is that the inscription means what it says.

This careful and impressive work of scholarship adds much to our knowledge of ancient texts with musical annotation and promises well for future contributions from the author. The hyper-skepticism and preference for less likely interpretations of significant texts undermine but do not eliminate the value of this fascinating and challenging book.

E. Christian Kopff
University of Colorado, Boulder


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pp. 82-83
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