- The Idea of Iambos by Andrea Rotstein
In this volume on arguably the most ephemeral and juvenile poetry to survive from antiquity, Rotstein has given us a mature and substantial study, one that is sure to become the standard reference on the ancient scholarly reception of Greek iambos. A testament to the still powerful tools of the philologist, a word study lies at the heart of this 350 plus page volume (in fact, the conclusion offers a new dictionary entry for the word iambos , and a very welcome one at that). But this is no undigested list of testimonia funneled into a set of representative categories. In fact, the real force of the study lies in its careful attention to the contexts that produce each period’s unquestioned and seemingly self-evident categories of literary organization. As Rotstein states, “In spite of their apparent objectivity, dictionary entries reflect comprehensive interpretations of the history of terms, which are in themselves contingent. . . . Revisions of lexica are necessary not only due to the emergence of new evidence but also of new frame-works [End Page 289] of interpretation” (347). In this, her book-length revision of the history and meaning of iambos, Rotstein pays careful attention to the various contingencies that arise (and disappear) from archaic to early Hellenistic Greece.
Rotstein’s first of five large sections crafts a methodology from various strands of cognitive studies, especially those concerned with literature and language. Of course, scholars who are more knowledgeable in these fields than I may have quibbles with Rotstein’s use of this or that concept. Nonetheless, the methodology is a model of sensible theorizing. Rotstein convincingly marries her theoretical concepts to actual ancient practice. Thus, because the cognitive theory tends to resonate with various methods of categorization many of us are already familiar with, it is not so much a “new” framework of interpretation, as it is the most complete and sensible collation of potential ways of seeing the genre through time. As evidence that there is a problem of categorization, Rotstein offers a broad survey of the corpus, distinguishing the ancient canon of iambic poets (Archilochus, Hipponax, Semonides/Ananius) from the received iambos (i.e., any poet who has a reasonable claim to have composed iambic poetry in one form or another). Rotstein systematically surveys every possible iambic poet to the fourth century and her resultant judicious list (as well as her rationale for inclusion or exclusion) will become standard.
In order to explore in detail the emergence and development of the narrow and received iambos, Rotstein offers four further large sections that attempt to tell the history of the genre from Archilochus to Aristotle. Part 2 offers a pair of chapters on ancient theories of iambos, one focusing on Aristotle and the other on other ancient critical work. She concludes these two chapters with a summary of the three ancient paradigms for the conception of iambos: the Aristotelian, the educational (both of which are related and rely on essential, dominant features as well as prototypes as principles of categorization), and the Stoic/Epicurean. Her narrow iambos is generated in the Aristotelian paradigm and its elaboration through education, while she suggests her received iambos might have arisen under the Stoic/Epicurean paradigm.
In part 3, Rotstein turns to the word study proper, surveying the use of iambos and iambeion from its first attestation in Archilochus (fr. 215 W) through the fourth century (up to Aristotle). She shows that, from the very beginning the term has a generic (and possibly rhythmic) valence, but resists interpretations that see invective as central to that generic definition (until the fifth century). Part 4 concerns iambic performance, with one chapter on iambos and music and a second on the public performance at mousikoi agônes, rhapsodic contests, etc., a welcome corrective to the current consensus that sees the symposium as the primary occasion of iambic performance. The final large section deals with the centrality of Archilochus to the conception of the genre into the fourth century and...