Macedonius

Review by Graham Anderson

Darwin College
University of Kent

Macedonius Consul: The Epigrams. Edited with Introduction. Translation and Commentary by John Madden, Olms, Hildesheim, 1995 (Spudasmata 60) xviii+321pp, ISSN 0584-9705; ISBN 3-487-10059-2.

In contrast to the reviews in the last issue of three introductory works, Classics Ireland set this reviewer the task of discussing a work of distinctly specialist character in a manner accessible to the general reader. This has been a rare delight: in format Madden's work is a traditional introduction text and commentary on a 6th century Byzantine writer of forty-one epigrams late and little-known enough to have had no previous general study in English. In theory the author of such a book is probably the only one qualified to review it. But in fact anyone minded to explore this facade of scholarship can do so easily and with profit on a wide range of topics.

Madden has obligingly devoted an unusually generous introduction to his author, not just on the matter of date and identification, but on the topic of Macedonius' personality, views, and the literary character of the forty-one epigrams themselves. As one might expect for an author whose only surviving output is in the form of short, often occasional, poems, there is little that can safely be said, and a good deal of room for informed conjecture. By the end of all this one feels that one has the measure of an administrator who wrote elegant versified belles-lettres: he is now a great deal more than the mere attribution of a handful of anthology epigrams, though still hiding in the twilight between possible experience and literary convention.

The chief value of Madden's work for general interest is the exploration of varied literary themes through a variety of often late ancient amatory literature: not just epigrammatists and the Roman Elegists, but the writer of erotic epistles in prose, the late Greek novelists, and many others; and in the matters of miscellaneous interest that commentators too often take too little time to explore. He recapitulates the article co-authored with Arthur Keaveney in JHS 1978 on the meaning of 'I swore by three rocks' (trisi;n w{mosa pevtrai", 12, AP 5.245(244)3); the depth of documentation reminds one of the style of commentary of Kirby Flower Smith on superstition in Tibullus. Sometimes the conscientiousness of the commentator naturally cannot establish a definitive answer: Madden is fascinating on the Epigram in which Macedonius sneezes in the hope of getting rid of his wife (39/AP 11.375): a two-pronged attack documenting sneezing superstitions and social relationships in Byzantium naturally cannot tell us whether Macedonius felt this way about his wife, or whether the speaker is for these purposes an everyman.

Madden is particularly informative in relation to the epigram on the author's house and his connections with Cibyra (28/AP 9.649); on the other hand there is a traditionally 'pre-Dover' reticence over the no less traditional erotic detail. When Macedonius tells us about a wet dream 11/AP 5.243(242) it is very difficult for the uninformed reader to work out that that is what it is. Madden gives a Horatian parallel from a traditionally expurgated passage in Horace, Satires 1.5: but he seems to bend over backwards not to tell his reader that the expression (1.6) refers to seminal emission, or what might most obviously be included in at 17/AP 6.56.4 when a drunken satyr is totally relaxed.

Sometimes there is room for disagreement, but most often where it is clear to Madden himself that no easy answer is in sight. Is the Daphnis of Epigram 20/AP 6.73 the Daphnis of Theocritus, or just a Daphnis (as Longus' Daphnis is often assumed to be)? It is less easy to make distinctions than Madden assumes, since there are considerable variations in the legend of the mythological Daphnis (cf. this reviewer in Proceedings of the Virgil Society 1993). A parallel problem concerns Eumolpus in the following epigram 21/6.83, and it is right to see the two problems as connected.

Two possible avenues of comparison struck the author immediately. One is between our author and the literary habits of the Younger Pliny: in both cases we have a figure of consular rank who turned his hand to writing occasional verses, in both cases with some risk of obscenity (cf. Pliny Ep. 4.14). The two cases five centuries apart emphasise the premium on a literary education in positions of power and the privileged status of leisured belles-lettres. The second is how nearly some of the material comes to the thought-world of a prose epistolographer such as Alciphron. In both cases the peculiar puzzles that await the commentator are very similar. Here is a literary amateur who is quite capable of unusual invention, but whose inventiveness is as often eccentric rather than 'right'. Macedonius is a curiosus (as Madden's appendix on metre makes clear), but he does not always have Horatian felicitas.

All in all: there is a sense of scholarly culmination about this work, which began life as a PhD when classicists seldom wished to know about the Byzantine world. Nearly thirty years on it has kept pace with scholarship on Byzantine Epigram, but offers new interest to any who wish to explore the light literature of the Roman Empire and its Byzantine survivor. When Macedonius was writing, Ireland was already a conspicuous carrier of classical learning in the West; through this edition it is no less so.

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