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  • Asclepiades of Samos: Epigrams and Fragments by Alexander Sens
  • Christos Tsagalis
Alexander Sens. Asclepiades of Samos: Epigrams and Fragments. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. Pp. cxv, 353. $150.00. ISBN 978-0-19-925319-7.

Asclepiades of Samos has recently attracted special attention thanks to the publication of two fully fledged commentaries that do ample justice to his poetic skill and the enormous influence he exerted on the work of his contemporaries. After I. A. Guichard (Asclepíades de Samos: epigramas y fragmentos. Estudio introductorio, revisión del texto, traducción y comentario, Bern 2004), Sens has now made available to an English-speaking public for the first time a detailed and authoritative commentary of the entire epigrammatic production of this gifted Samian epigrammatist. I am making it clear up front that this is a highly commendable piece of scholarship, which should serve as a model for the kind of commentary scholars should be writing on such demanding Hellenistic poets as Asclepiades.

The first part of this book includes a lengthy (89 pages) introduction that offers a detailed presentation of the multiple contexts pertaining to Asclepiades: his life and works, the rise of the Hellenistic epigram, the relation between Asclepiades and inscribed epigram, the erotic epigram and its generic background, narrative voice and genre, Asclepiades and some of his famous contemporaries, the royal court, language and style, meter, and textual transmission. Sens is well informed with respect to secondary literature, covers all of his material with precision, and has a keen eye for matters pertaining to diction and meter, as his previous work also attests.

The commentary proper takes up the largest part of the book. The presentation is simple and straightforward: first comes the epigram, followed by a critical apparatus and a translation into English; second, Sens offers a general interpretation of the given epigram; and third, he continues with a line-by-line (if not word-by-word) commentary. [End Page 299]

Given the limited size of this review, it is hard to do justice to the sheer wealth of information and sound judgment contained in this edition. I will, therefore, focus on a few observations pertaining to a single epigram (11) which validate my overall evaluation presented above:

First, Sens rightly draws attention (68) to the blending in asyndeton of imperatival phrases pertaining to verbs both transitive and intransitive. This is a subtle point, for the absence of the accusative µε as object of αἶθε and κεραύνου is not a mere syntactical idiosyncrasy but an elaborate rhetorical strategy of a slow disclosure of information about who the addressee is and in what context he is to be placed.

Second, Sens convicingly shows (72) that it is better to take the dative ἐν with χθονί than with σεῖε (contra Ouvré and Knauer), since there is no other example of tmesis in the extant corpus of Asclepiades. He cites an example from A.R. 3.1308 and stresses that this phenomenon is easier with verbs like βάλλω and πίπτω “that allow a statement of destination.” Perhaps, in the light of the phrase χαλκείων χρυσὸς in l. 6 that evokes the famous Homeric phrase χρύσεα χαλκείων in the Diomedes-Glaucus meeting in Iliad 6.235–236, the use of ἐν χθονί may be due to Asclepiades’ knowledge of a Homeric text reading ἐνὶ χθονί instead of ἐπὶ χθονί in Il. 6.213 (cf. Il. 11.378). The simile in 12.156–158 would have also helped here: νιφάδες δ᾽ ὡς πῖπτον ἔραζε, | ἅς τ᾽ ἄνεµος ζαὴς νέφεα σκιόεντα δονήσας | ταρφειὰς κατέχευεν ἐπὶ χθονὶ πουλυβοτείρῃ. The phrase ἐνὶ χθονί (a v.l. of ἐπὶ χθονί) would indicate the falling of the snowflakes (νεῖφε) or hail (χαλαζοβόλει) produced after the shaking of the clouds (σεῖε νέφη). There may also be a sound-play on the initial and final words of this first couplet (νεῖφε–νέφη), which would nicely round off Zeus’ activity.

Third, the shift from grandiose to quotidian style with respect to the first and second distichs is effectively noted and explained by Sens (69 and 73), as well as the final revelation of the addressee of the first couplet that is effected only in the very last line of the epigram. I would also have liked to see here a brief note on another change observed between the first and the second couplet, i.e., that of the faster, “running” rhythm of the asyndetic imperatival clauses on the one hand, and the staccato...


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