Hellenistic Women Poets
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Hellenistic Women Poets Author(s): Sylvia Barnard Reviewed work(s): Source: The Classical Journal, Vol. 73, No. 3 (Feb. - Mar., 1978), pp. 204-213 Published by: The Classical Association of the Middle West and South Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3296687 . Accessed: 15/05/2012 03:54Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]
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HELLENISTICWOMEN POETS canonof ninelyric poets includesonly one Althoughthe famousAlexandrian woman, Sappho, and, in some late versions, Corinna,thereis a separatelisting of nine outstandingGreek women poets, drawnup by a male poet in imitation of the canons of the scholars, but in the form of an epigram. (Anthologia PalatinaIX, 26). It is not known what moved this poet, Antipaterof Thessalonica, who lived in the Romanperiod, to drawup a list of this kind. Possibly to his sophisticatedRomanfriendsthat Greece it was an effort to demonstrate had had women of learning,even if they had lacked the social freedomof their laterRoman sisters. Of the nine women whom Antipaternames, at least four aregenerallyagreedto fall withinthe HellenisticAge, even if we do not include Corinnain this category. These four women all appearin the GreekAnthology and reflect the widening of the Greek world in their geographicaldistribution.Moero was an epic poet, whose son was also a poet. The son went to Alexandriaandbecame part of a quasi-canonicalgroupingof thirdcenturypoets too modernto have been included in the proper canons drawn up by their scholarly contemporaries.1 However, Moero herself spent her life and wrote all her poetryin Byzantium, so far as we know. Anyte wrote several types of poetry and carriedon from of women poets in the Peloponnese. She was Telesilla andPraxillathe tradition a native of Tegea in Arcadia, one of the most ruraland conservativeareas in Greece, but, becausesome of herpoems referto the sea, people assumethatshe travelledout of Arcadiaat least as far as the Peloponnesiancoast.2 Nossis was a poet from Locri in southernItaly and representsthe importanceof the western Greeks in the periodjust before Rome and Carthagefought over their countryside. Erinna,the most fascinatingbut in many ways the most mysteriousof these poets, seems to have come from the island of Telos near Rhodes, since that is the one of her several traditionalbirthplacesof which the local dialect best fits the language of her poetry. It is all very well to have the names of a numberof women poets handed down to us but what of their actualworks? One can summarizeratherbriefly some of the main sources for fragments and short preserved poems. One place to look is Athenaeus, the source of a numberof fragmentsof important value lies and othereminentpoets of bothsexes, althoughhis particular Sappho in being the only source for some of the obscurerwomen, such as Hedyle and the ratherquestionablePhilaenis. A ratherlarge numberof complete but short collection epigramsby women have been preservedin the largeandamorphous of Greekpoetryknownas the GreekAnthology. This anthologygives us a very respectablenumberof poems for Anyte andNossis anda few examplesof other this"Pleiad,"see AlbinLesky,A History Literature, London,1966, of Greek 1Forp. 743 ff. 2Gow, A.S.F. and Page, D.L., The Greek Anthology: Hellenistic Epigrams, Cambridge, 1965, Vol. II, p. 89.
women's poetry. The third source has been the fragmentsof literarypapyri, which have been discovered and edited in the twentiethcentury, for the most part. Papyriarenot normallyfound in good enoughconditionto yield complete poems with certain texts, but we owe to the papyri many long fragmentsof Sappho, the long fragmentof Corinnawhich has given us some idea of her style, and a fragmentof the mysteriousErinna,often thoughtto come from her long poem, "The Distaff."3 fame and Leaving Sapphoout of considerationbecause of her extraordinary her very earlydate, the classical women poets do not, from whatlittle we know of them, have anything especially feminine in their subject matter. In the Hellenistic period, women seem again to have written about matterswhich concerned them as women. In examining this phenomenon,one might begin with one long fragmentof Erinna's hexametres Withuncontrolled feet you leaptintothe sea, "I haveyou." I called, "My friend." Andplayingtortoise you ranalong the yardof the greathall. thesethings,poorBaucis, Remembering I grievefor you, theseimagesof you still warmin my heart,girl. Thethingsthatwe once tookpleasure in arenow hot coals of memory.
As little girls we slept with dolls in our rooms like women without their worries, but in the morning your mother, who had to assign the wool-working to her maids, came calling you about the salted meat. What fear the monster Mormo gave us then as children! With big ears on its head, it walked on four feet and constantly made faces. you forgot all that you learned from your mother as a baby, dear Baucis; Aphroditeput forgetfulness into your heart, so, weeping over you, I must still omit your funeral. My feet are not so impure as to leave the house, it is not right for my eyes to see a corpse, nor for me to lament with loosened hair
But whenyou wentto the couchof a man,
butthe shameof my blushing tearsme in two. (My own translationof the decipherablepart of the text, published in D.L.Page, Greek Literary Papyri, 1942, p. 486-9.)
The subject matterof this fragmentis explained in partby two of Erinna's poems in the GreekAnthology and by a poem in thatcollection, writtenabout
Latini,IX, 1929, no. 1090, editedby Vitelli-Norsa.
, passim;PapyrusHaun; Corinna,BerlinPapyrus, edited 3Sappho,Papyri Oxyrynchi by Wilamowitz,Berliner Klassiker-Texte,V, 2, 1907, no. 284; Erinna,Papiri Greci e
her by Asclepiades of Samos. The two poems by Erinnaherself (Anthologia Palatina, 7, 710, 712) are both funeral epigrams for Baucis, described as a friend of Erinna's, and tell us that Baucis came from the island of Tenos or Telos-Telos is preferablein view of Erinna'sdialect-and that she died so soon after marriagethat the marriagetorches were used to light her funeral pyre, an interestingreversalof Hamlet'slines abouthis father'sfuneralmeats.4 The poem about Erinna (A.P. 7, 11) by Asclepiades tells us that she died unmarried at the age of nineteen;this poem is followed by two others (A.P. 7, 12 and 13) which are less informativebut add to one's feeling of this young poet's importance. In other parts of the Palatine Anthology there are other poems about or references to Erinna. One might particularlycite Christodorusof Coptus's early sixth century hexametre listing of the statues in the gymnasium of which tells us thatErinna'sstatuewas includedin Zeuxippusin Constantinople this group. (A.P. 2, 11, and 108-110). In any case, the long fragment which we have of Erinna's poetry is of enormous importanceto us for its description of the lives of little girls in antiquity. We find that they went swimming in the sea and that, as we suspected, the courtyardsenclosed by upper-class Greek houses were the scenes of vigorousphysical activity. These lines parallelthe potteryoil flasks which are decoratedwith pictures of girls and young women swinging and spinning tops, presumably in their courtyards. The reference to the sea, however, suggests that at this date and place girls were not restrictedto play within the house walls, but the lines at the end of the fragmentwhere Erinna regretsher inabilityto attendherfriend'sfuneralsuggest the familiarnotionsof women being confined at home. Certainly even under the most restricted to attendfunerary conditionswomen were ordinarily rites, as we know permitted from the admonitionto the women present at the end of Pericles's funeral speech for the first casualtiesof the PeloponnesianWar. (ThucydidesII, 45). it is clear thatthe referenceto "lamentationwith loosened hair" Furthermore, the ordinary sort of feminine mourning from which Erinna finds signifies herself barred. The suggestion has thereforebeen made that the adult Erinna was a certainkind of priestess who would incur impurityfrom the sight of a corpse and perhapseven from any form of travel.5Such religious taboos have many parallelsand are not imposed solely on women, since, for example, the chief priest of Jupiterat Rome was subjectto these kinds of restrictions. The fragment,brief as it is, also gives us glimpses of the activitiesof the house, the doll play, the earlyrising, the mother-daughter closeness, the assigningof wool of to the maids againwith overtonesof the Romanmatron,and the preparation sun. meat which must, of course, be heavily salted againstthe Mediterranean The game "tortoise" is a girl's name otherwise known to us through the Hellenistic lexicographer Pollux.6 Thus in a few words a greatmany images of the daily feminine round are drawn. ClassicalReview,March "An Epigram of Erinna", 4See Giuseppe Giangrande, 1969,p. 1-3. New SeriesVol. XIX, Old SeriesVol. LXXXIII. 6Ibid.,p. 328.
5See discussion by C.M. Bowra in Greek Poetry and Life; Essays Presented to Gilbert Murray on his SeventiethBirthday, Oxford 1936, p. 334-335.
WOMEN POETS HELLENISTIC 207 Many questions about Erinnaare still left unanswered. Her ancient biographicalnoti