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Reviewed by:
  • Dithyramb in Context ed. by Barbara Kowalzig, Peter Wilson
  • Marios Skempis
Barbara Kowalzig and Peter Wilson (eds.). Dithyramb in Context. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. Pp. xvii, 488. $199.00. ISBN 978–0-19–957468–1.

This volume is successful in many respects: it offers an updated epitome of genre history for the dithyramb, adopts multifocal perspectives while treating it (epigraphy, iconography, music history, history of religion), and spends a lot of energy on the qui vive for new interpretative pathways. The editors’ connoisseurship in song-culture of the archaic and classical period has brought to light an indispensable tool for any future work done on the genre. [End Page 435]

Part 1 stands out because it puts forward the dithyramb’s para-Dionysiac semantics: the musical transculturalism, as promoted by the Arion story and dolphin imagery, classifies the dithyramb as an intensely Panhellenic song-type (Kowalzig); metamorphic and initiatory patterns of mythic narrativization suggest that the dithyramb, as a rule, reenacts Dionysiac mythology (Lavecchia); Lasos’ Hymn to Demeter shows how a local variant of Eleusinian myth resembles Dionysiac mystic cult and thus presents dithyrambic features (Prauscello); tragedy appropriates aetiological contexts for dithyramb performance (Battezzato). All these contributions reveal lateral aspects of the genre’s much-celebrated Dionysism, which is here, in contrast to other studies, not taken for granted, but inquired into.

Part 2 surveys genre history via the performance-focused concept of the “circular chorus” and examines complementary aspects of the topic: D’Alessio looks into the extent to which circular choruses have grown to be typical of dithyramb performance; Fearn inquires into the possibility that Bacchylides is aware of his use of respective terminology by virtue of the generic flexibility it ensures in cases where the narrative hovers between, for example, paeanic and dithyrambic semantics; Ceccarelli draws attention to the evidence of the epigraphical record in the Classical and Hellenistic periods, which disfavors the label “dithyramb” over a variety of terms that designate the performers’ age and social status in song-and-dance competitions, largely circular by name; Hedreen’s investigation of the degree to which circular choruses in archaic vase painting represent dithyramb performance helps contextualize textual evidence on a cross-media basis; D’Angour draws significant conclusions about the ἀπαρχαί of genre history deriving from Archilochus and the formalization of choral structures by Pindar. In spite of the coherent inner organization of this section, however, there is no assessment of the correlation between κύκλιοι χοροί or κύκλια μέλη and κύκλια ἔπη from the perspective of narrative and poetics.

Part 3 addresses two intrinsic matters: dithyramb’s shifting and/or alternating musical self-definition, and choral representations on cross-media grounds. Franklin’s argument about a seminal turn from kitharodic polychordia to auletic polyphonia is strengthened by the symbiosis of kitharodic and auletic elements in Philoxenus that Power postulates. The self-assertiveness of the dithyrambic chorus manifests itself in its synchronic relation to satyr drama’s chorus (Griffith) and in its marked representation on choregic dedications (Heinemann). This chapter suggests that musical versatility may well have forged the sense of dithyramb chorality.

Part 4 brings poetics into focus by adopting both intra- and extra-narrative methods. The issues raised here include compound epithets and Dionysiac cult (Ford); generic inclusiveness of Pindaric and Bacchylidean idiosyncrasies (Calame); chorality as a token of mimesis (Peponi); and the significance and function of kykliodidaskalos (Ieranò). One would have welcomed a far tighter interlacing of the chapters and a better choice of title in the cases of Ford (epithetology as cultic metalanguage is a very specific subject for, though part and parcel of, “poetics”) and Calame (Pindar’s and Bacchylides’ narratives are as a rule non-Dionysiac), since the ones given hardly correspond to the matters treated.

What is missing from the volume is a chapter providing either an author-driven (Pindar, Bacchylides) or a genre-driven assessment of the entire spectrum of literary tropes (speech order, ring-composition, repetition, etc.) and discursive modes (intra- and/or extra-generic demarcation, narrative technique, [End Page 436] structure) by which the poetics of dithyramb underpin its immanent trait: dualism. Surprisingly, this very aspect is insufficiently treated in edited volumes on Bacchylides and in existing scholarship on Pindar. It would...


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