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  • Pindar and the Emergence of Literature by Boris Maslov
  • Anna Novokhatko
Boris Maslov. Pindar and the Emergence of Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. xii, 371. $120.00. ISBN 978-1-107-11663-4.

Boris Maslov’s monograph would be more appropriately titled Pindar and the Emergence of Literary Discourse in Greece. Deliberate discourse on literature [End Page 583] “as a historically constituted phenomenon” (9) is what is meant by “literature” in this case. From this viewpoint, this book constitutes a significant contribution to the origin and development of critical literary thought in Greece. The author regards Pindaric epinikion (“a synthetic form combining the characteristics of melic and choral poetry,” 78) as “a transitional genre that looks both backward and forward in time, reflecting the profound transformation that Greek literary culture was undergoing at the threshold of the classical period” (105). Epinikion is also an innovative self-referential form that arose in the late Archaic period, within the framework of the historic development of literary poetics.1

The book contains four chapters representing four aspects of literary praxis: individual authorship (chapter 1); original imagery (chapter 2); social discourses and speech acts (chapter 3); and genre hybridity (chapter 4), more widely known to the reader as it was formulated by Wilhelm Kroll in 1924 as Kreuzung der Gattungen. The study as a whole elaborates a transhistorical framework for the study of poetic texts.

The chief, and innovative, aim of the author is the study of literary structures (such as the formation, evolution, and reception of devices, genres, styles, plot elements, and conceptual categories) not separately, but rather historically and holistically as constitutive elements of literature. This approach to literary history, called Historical Poetics, was proposed by Alexander Veselovsky and elaborated by Russian literary theorists, including Viktor Shklovsky, Mikhail Bakhtin, Olga Freidenberg, and Mikhail Gasparov. It also corresponds up to a point with Erich Auerbach’s approach to style and Fredric Jameson’s concept of genre.2

Pindar is regarded either as a deliberate creator of a new genre or as a reformer of inherited forms within three narratives of the emergence of the literary: (1) the story of the creation of Archaic Greek culture, in which authors and forms proliferated in tandem; (2) the evolution of the ways in which meaning was conveyed through metaphors and concepts; and (3) the societal transformations that marked verbal art, religion, and law (246).

Though Pindar’s deliberate self-referentiality is convincingly argued for, there are reasons to be skeptical about his role as protos heuretes. “Possibly for the first time in the history of Greek literature, Pindar displays a systematic awareness of the synthetic nature of his poetic medium . . . ,” argues Maslov (246). The amount of surviving text dictates the judgment, but we cannot really argue that Pindar or, to cite another example, Aristophanes are innovators, as we cannot know what exactly their contemporaries and predecessors were doing in the same genre. The fragmentary status of the corpus is not sufficient for a discussion of “systematic awareness,” and thus no comparison of Pindar with other lyric poets is possible. [End Page 584]

The author’s hypothetical reconstruction of older strata of Greek poetic culture, locating literary authority in the interplay between individual author, genre, and tradition, is, however, convincing. Here Maslov argues that the evidence of meter and poetic dialect permits the reconstruction of two supra-genres before extant texts: that of choral lyric (Northern Greek kitharodic culture?), and recited narrative poetry using dactylic hexameter (84–90).

Maslov’s analysis of the evolution of the genealogical metaphor as a trope, and as the chief cognitive device of conceptual thought, builds on Freidenberg’s neglected work on genealogical structures in Greek literature (140–46). Its main idea is that metaphor prepared the way for a concept-oriented system, a transition from mythos to logos, poetry being a mediator between the mythological image and the philosophical concept (120).

Whilst the theoretical chapters (including Freidenberg’s philosophy of metaphor and Veselovsky’s “psychological parallelism” in the formation of linguistic metaphors) are both innovative and an important contribution towards an understanding of Pindaric poetics, Pindar’s poetological metaphors have been studied repeatedly over the last decades...


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