Labored in Papyrus Leaves: Perspectives on an Epigram Collection Attributed to Posidippus (P.Mil.Vogl. VIII 309)

  Acosta-Hughes, Benjamin, Elizabeth Kosmetatou, and Manuel Baumbach, eds. 2004. Labored in Papyrus Leaves: Perspectives on an Epigram Collection Attributed to Posidippus (P.Mil.Vogl. VIII 309). Hellenic Studies Series 2. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

20. ‘Tropoi’ (Posidippus AB 102–103)

Dirk Obbink, University of Oxford

The section comprising the eight poems following col. xv 23 in P.Mil.Vogl. VIII 309 (Posidippus AB 102–109) is headed by the sub-title Τρόποι. It comes late in the collection as preserved, but it was not its final one: the blank space left after AB 109 originally contained the heading of another section, now lost, but which may have been Erotika. [1] If so, this would be a category of poetry that might have been expected in any self-respecting Hellenistic collection of epigrams, but which is otherwise absent in this collection represented by the Milan roll, as far as it has been preserved.

(i) AB 102:

τί πρὸϲ ἔμ᾿ ὧδ᾿ ἔϲτηϲτε; τί μ᾿ οὐκ ἠάϲατ᾿ ἰαύειν,
     εἰρόμενοι τίϲ ἐγὼ καὶ πόθεν ἢ ποδαπόϲ·
ϲτείχετέ μου παρὰ ϲῆμα· Μενοίτιόϲ εἰμι Φιλάρχω
     Κρήϲ, ὀλιγορρήμων ὡϲ ἂν ἐπὶ ξενίηϲ.

Why have you stopped here, next to me? Why haven’t you let me sleep,
     asking who I am, where I come from or to what country I belong?
Go past my tomb. I am Menoetius, the son of Phylarchus,
     from Crete, a man of few words as you’d expect in a foreign land.

(ii) AB 103

οὐδ᾿ ἐπερωτήϲαϲ με νόμου χάριν οὔτε πόθεν γῆϲ
     εἰμὶ παραϲτείχειϲ οὔτε [τίϲ ο]ὔτε τίνων·
ἀλλὰ ϲύ μ᾿ ἡϲυχί[ωϲ ἴδε κείμεν]ον, εἰμὶ δ᾿ ἐγὼ παῖϲ
     Ἀλκαίου Ϲωϲῆϲ Κῶ[ιοϲ, ὁμόϲ, φίλ]ε, ϲοῦ.

In breach of custom, you didn’t even ask me from where I come,
     and you walk by: not even who I am, or from what family.
Come on then, take a good look at me lying here in peace: I am the son
     of Alcaeus, Soses of Cos, the same sort, friend, as you.

The epigrams purport to record the speech of two dead men, each speaking from the tomb on the same theme, each suggesting a different attitude of the passerby toward them and their burial. The first is unfriendly and unwelcoming; Menoetius of Crete is portrayed through his speech as a misanthrope or δύσκολος. The second is similarly critical of the passerby for ignoring him, and instead demands attention and sympathy. The second directly inverts some of the same topics used in the first (‘why are you asking who I am, from where I come or what country I belong’ in AB 102 becomes ‘why didn’t you ask me from where I come … not even who I am, or from what family’ in AB 103, both in the second line of their respective poems)—so that the second is a more or less symmetrically balanced, perfect reversal of the first, an inverted variation on exactly the same theme.

But why should these epigrams have been classified under the sub-title Tropoi? A glance at the way in which the Milan papyrus is structured by the sub-titles of each section is necessary:

[LITHI]KA (20)                            126 lines [cf. Orphic L.]
OIÔNOSKOPIKA (15)                 80 lines
ANATHEMATIKA (6)                   38 lines [= AP VI title]
[EPITUMBIA] (20)                       116 lines [= AP VII title]
ANDRIANTOPOIIKA (9)              50 lines [= EPIDEIKTIKA in AP]
HIPP[IKA] (18)                            98 lines
NAUAGIKA (6)                           26 lines
IAMATIKA (7)                             32 lines (but e.g. includes dedications)
TROPOI (8)                                32 lines
[     ]                                           (?) lines (e.g. amatory/sympotic)

Theophrastus’ characterization of περιεργία bears comparison not only with AB 102–103, currently under discussion, but also more widely with other poems in the Milan roll. Posidippus AB 78.3–8, for example, praises Arsinoe for having as grandfather Ptolemy, as father’s mother Berenike, as father king son of a king with his father’s name. A similar succession occurs in AB 88.1–5, apostrophising ‘my parents and I Berenike, and my mother’. The model for all these seems to have been the epigram attributed to Simonides FGE 26a on Archedike daughter of Hippias. This kind of hyperbolic self-encomiastic boast seems to well fit Theophrastus’ description περιεργία.

Thus we might conclude that the sub-title Tropoi in the Milan roll designates the characters of the speakers of the epigrams of this section, together perhaps with language of emphatically characterizing or personally speaking funeral inscription: i.e. the character, τρόποι of the individuals represented as speaking in the epigrams insofar as they react to νόμοι, i.e. social conventions about how one treats a tomb, attitudes toward burial, monuments, praise of the dead, etc. It is in exactly this sense that Soses in AB 103.1 complains that the passerby (= reader) does not act in accordance with received custom, νόμου χάριν. It is worth considering whether we should attempt here to read (or emend to) νόϲου χάριν, i.e. “You didn’t even ask me (did I die) on account of disease, nor (did you ask me) from where I come.” Spacing and the trace preserved on the papyrus, [6] however, lend slightly more support to νόμου. Reading διὰ νόϲου would mean abandoning the more or less exact parallel with the second line of the preceding epigram (AB 102) and with it the inversion of topics that makes these two epigrams so fittingly paired in succession. At any rate, they would be less balanced, inverted versions of each other. In addition, νόμου χάριν is an expression that is paralleled, for example, in an epigram by Lucilius in AP XI 141.7–9 where a speaker, annoyed by his prosecutors, says:

πλὴν κἀμοῦ μνήσητι νόμου χάριν, ἢ μέγα κράξω·
     “ἄλλα λέγει Μενεκλῆς, ἄλλα τὸ χορίδιον.”

I beg you just to mention me for custom’s sake, or I’ll cry out:
     “One thing says Menecles, and another says the piggie!”

Another epigram by Lucilius contains the same expression, from the section ‘On Gluttons’ (AP XI 206):

οὕτω σοι πέψαι, Διονύσιε, ταῦτα γένοιτο
     πάντα· νόμου δὲ χάριν δός τι καὶ ὧδε φαγεῖν·
κἀγὼ κέκλημαι, κἀμοὶ παρέθηκέ τι τούτων
     γεύσασθαι Πόπλιος, κἀμὸν ἔπεστι μέρος·
εἰ μὴ λεπτὸν ἰδών με δοκεῖς κατακεῖσθαι ἄρρωστον,
     εἶθ᾿ οὕτως τηρεῖς, μή σε λαθών τι φάγω.

So may you be able to digest what you’re eating, Dionysus,
     the whole lot, but for custom’s sake give us something to eat here too.
I was invited too; Publius served some of these things
     for me too to taste as well; my share is on the table too.
Unless, of course, seeing that I am thin, you think I was ill when I sat down,
     and so watch me in case I eat something unnoticed.

Peripatetic interest in classifying of all sorts, including ethical character types is well known. Peripatetic influence in scientific matters, especially regarding logical division and classification in cataloguing, at the time of Posidippus and Callimachus is in any case to be expected, as evidenced by Callimachus’ debate with the Peripatetic Praxiphanes. There may also be Theophrastean and Peripatetic influence seen elsewhere in the epigrams of the Milan roll. This is particularly apparent in the classifying function of the thematic sub-headings of the Milan roll, and in the stichometic counts that accompany these sections. [9] It is has also been argued [10] that the prognostications from birds in the section sub-titled οἰωνοσκοπικά derive from a lost prose-work by Theophrastus. If these parallels have any validity, the sub-title Tropoi would then designate evaluative sketches of the characteristic emotional responses of different social groups (young, old, dead, or from this or that place, etc.), a collection of ‘style-markers’ of defective or unusual ethical types, thus emphasizing the idea found in the philosophers (e.g. Aristotle, NE 9.4) that only the virtuous have real stability and cohesion of character, and that the non-virtuous are dominated by unreasonable and fluctuating desires or passions. This is an idea worked out for example in Philodemus, Horaces’ Satires and Epistles, and in Virgil and Plutarch’s biographies. [11] It is also well illustrated in Philodemus’ Περὶ τοῦ κουφίζειν ὑπερηφανίας, On Relieving Arrogance, an important source which draws closely on early analyses of ethical character by Aristo (whether the Peripatetic or the Stoic is not clear). [12]

The exact meaning of the vague term tropos here is difficult to pin down. A. Barker, for example, rejects the meanings harmonia (Aristoxenus, El. Harm. VI 19ff), tonos i.e. ‘pitch’, ‘key’ (El. Harm. XXXVII 8ff), and settles ultimately for ‘technically specifiable melodic genre’. If this is correct, in the context of classification of musical styles at any rate, the term would designate ability of a given form to be characterized in generic terms. Applied to the epigrams of the section sub-titled Tropoi in the Milan roll, the term would then be seen to designate something like ‘modes of discourse’, i.e. genres, where genre not by context of performance, composition, or dedication (for in this sense these poems would belong among the Ἐπιτύμβια), but by a stereotyped or characterizable way of speaking. Tropoi in this sense would not be divorced from the Theophrastean sense of ethical character, but closely related to it (as it is in the context of musical styles for Aristoxenus), being deepened and enriched by the concept of speech genres, Tropoi, we may conclude, are generic ‘turns’ or stereotyped ‘adaptations’ of characterizable ways of speaking. Callimachus, famously, in Ep. 27.1 uses the term τρόποϲ to refer to Hesiod’s and Aratus’ ‘mode’ or ‘genre’ of composition.

As editors have noted, this is an allusion to the urn at Il. XXIII 91 to be shared by Achilles and Patroclus ὣς δὲ καὶ ὀστέα νῶϊν ὁμὴ σορὸς ἀμφικαλύπτοι. If ὁμός is correctly restored in AB 103.4, it could have Homeric resonances. What of the similarly restored φίλ]ε? Here another Homeric resonance may be discovered in Achilles’ calling Lycaeon φίλος in the very act of killing him (Il. XXI 106–107):

ἀλλὰ φίλος θάνε καὶ σύ· τί ἦ ὀλοφύρεαι οὕτως;
κάτθανε καὶ Πάτροκλος, ὅ περ σέο πολλὸν ἀμείνων.

So, you die too, my friend. Why lament so?
Even Patroclus died, and he was a much greater man than you.


[ back ] 1. AB 110, the first poem in the final section of the papyrus as preserved, begins with references to ‘Spring’ (εἰαροϲ), Ζεφυρ[, and [ὀ]κ̣νεῖν, ‘to be pressed’—thus recalling Sappho fr. 95,1–4 in Ezra Pound’s famous adaptation, ‘Papyrus’: see Seelbach 1970:83–84.

[ back ] 2. Cf. above ‘Posidippus on Papyri Then and Now’ (in this volume) where I argue that AB 115–116 also appeared contemporaneously in a professionally produced edition of Posidippus’ epigrams; but that edition was not that of the Milan roll.

[ back ] 3. The title that stood before this section is lost, though there was clearly space for it in the papyrus, and its restoration here seems reasonably assured by its appearance as the sub-title to a thematically similar section in AP VII.

[ back ] 4. See above Stephens-Obbink, ‘The Manuscript’ (in this volume). As argued there, the imbalance between sections evident in the Milan roll suggests that an aimed-for balance cannot be the primary explanation for the stichometric totals in the papyrus.

[ back ] 5. This parallel was drawn to my attention by M. Fantuzzi.

[ back ] 6. The high, rounded hook in this position is conceivably the cap of ϲ, but in light of the wide space before it, the trace conforms rather better to the scribe’s characteristic similarly shaped rounded hook expected over the right leg of μ.

[ back ] 7. Cf. Athenaeus IV section 20. 6, 31. 13 Kaibel.

[ back ] 8. For the most recent survey and discussion, see Dignas 2002:236–8 with references to further literature.

[ back ] 9. On the function of the stichometry and its associations with classifying and cataloguing in the Alexandrian library, see Stephens-Obbink, ‘The Manuscript’ (this volume).

[ back ] 10. By Sider at the Posidippus conference in Cincinnati. Contrast Baumbach-Trampedach (this volume).

[ back ] 11. Cf. Gill 1994; Pelling 1990.

[ back ] 12. Not currently available in a proper edition, this treatise was sufficiently important to induce J. Rusten to print select extracts from it as an appendix to his Loeb edition of Theophrastus’ Characters. Several new editions are underway; for a sample, see Ranocchia 2001:231–263.

[ back ] 13. Barker 1984:239n213. For the Aristoxenean background see Gibson 2003:209–211, 225–244.

[ back ] 14. But this would hardly be the only example of displacement in the collection: cf. AB 62 and 65, both on the sculptor Lysippus, but which the compiler has failed to pair successively, given their identical subject-matter.

[ back ] 15. As suggested by the original editors in their commentary (BG:229), comparing AP VII 313–20. But the Theophrastean and Menandrean characters ought also to have been compared.

[ back ] 16. Denniston 1954:13.

[ back ] 17. In the commentary the original editors also suggest [ὁμόϲ ποτ]ε ϲου ‘per es.’, making it clear that both restorations are entirely hypothetical. I argue below that parallels support the restoration of both [ὁμοϲ] and [φίλ]ε.

[ back ] 18. Other idiosyncrasies in this poem, as reconstructed by the editors, include ἡϲυχίωϲ in line 3 (unparalleled: perhaps metri gratia for the standard ἡσυχῶς; presumably with the same valence as AB 100.1 ἥϲυχον ὕπνον). R. Hunter points out to me that the expression [ἴδε κείμεν]ον restored in 3 is difficult and unparalleled.

[ back ] 19. Pointed out to me, along with the Homeric parallels below, by D. Fearn.

[ back ] 20. Compare Griffin 1983:55: ‘Achilles kills in a passionate revenge, but not in blind ferocity. He sees his action in the perspective of human life and death as a whole, the perspective which puts slayer and slain on a level, so that it is more than a mere colloquialism that he calls Lycaon “friend” as he kills him.’

[ back ] 21. This is reinforced by the use of νόμου χάριν above, suggesting how one should properly respect the dead.

[ back ] 22. In AB 97 he lacks the patronymic Ἀλκαίου that he bears in AB 103, though in both he is called Κῶιος. I take the latter to mean that the putative context of both epigrams is not on Cos (where one would hardly need to be identified as a Coan), but probably in Alexandria. In any case, Ptolemaic connections with Cos and Coans were legion. Cf. Theocr. Idyll 7.

[ back ] 23. With this φιάλη compare Posidippus AB Test. 4, a φιάλη in the Delian tribute lists dedicated on behalf of the citizens of Alexandria by an ἀρχιθέωρος named Posidippus.

[ back ] 24. As suggested by A. Henrichs at the CHS Posidippus conference in Washington, D.C.