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The label 'lyric' applies in modern times to a heterogeneous group of Greek texts, which includes the songs originally performed by an ensemble of singers and dancers, those sung by soloists and the recitative poems, which were accompanied by the music of the aulos at banquets and on other occasions. These various categories of poems do share, however, important formal features. Greek 'lyric' and 'epic' poetry were both meant for oral performance in various contexts but, in contrast to the heroic tales narrated in the epic hexametric poems, lyric poems entail the possibility of an explicit textual interaction with an audience, which is often mentioned and sometimes addressed: they seem to work as part of a communication process, the context of which later readers usually have to extract from the texts themselves. It would be tempting to read these poems as the transcript of an actual face-to face interaction. From many points of view, however, they are set off from a normal, unmarked context of oral communication: to start with, they were arranged in accordance with a metrical pattern and were performed with a musical accompaniment, two features which distinguished them from normal face-to face conversation. Several other linguistic (lexical, morphological and syntactical) traits also distinguish lyric from other kinds of unmarked speech situations, as we shall see very briefly in the second part of this chapter. A further, important difference, which is the subject of the first part of the chapter, is that the interaction with extra-textual entities inscribed in these texts, such as the address to an audience, the reference to spatial and temporal coordinates and, more broadly speaking, their 'pragmatics', work in ways that diverge from those of ordinary face-to-face communication.
The formative period of the Greek poleis overlaps with the earliest phase of the development of archaic lyric poetry. The two phenomena are not unrelated, as both the sympotic songs of solo lyric and public choral songs were among the most effective media used for negotiating the position of individuals and groups within the community, and for staging shared identities. Poetic discourse in the context of public festivals and other social gatherings was a privileged occasion for parading, reinforcing and redefining collective local identities and, strange as it may seem at first sight, in this process a very important rôle was played by itinerant and/or foreign poets: the construction of a local identity was in fact often voiced through the articulation of a foreign poet. I hope that the following exploration of some case studies of public poetic discourse as a means for defining and promoting civic identities in the archaic and classical periods, and of the different strategies by which such a poetic communal self-definition was constructed, may help us to shed some light also on this aspect of the issue.
A SONG WITHOUT A CITY: EUMELUS' DELIAN PROSODION FOR THE MESSENIANS
One of the most impressive examples of a song being crucial for defining civic identity is provided by what purports to be the most ancient preserved quotation of Greek choral lyric, or, indeed, of Greek poetry tout court.
If Leo seems to have demonstrated to everyone's satisfaction that the Hesiodic Γυναικῶν Κατάλογος was the same poem as the Ehoiai, the relation between the Catalogue and the Megalai Ehoiai (hereafter ME) remains much more debated. The fragments attributed to the ME by ancient sources are separately printed in the edition of Merkelbach and West, and West 1985a treats them as belonging to a poem different from the Catalogue. The view that the two titles refer to two, more or less different, editions of the same poem is, however, fairly widespread. Schwartz 1960 and Cohen 1986, for example, thought that the two were essentially the same poem known by two different titles, while others, like Casanova 1979b, have argued that the ME was an expanded version of the Catalogue. Schwartz and Cohen have further argued that sources referring to either work by different titles did so because they had no firsthand acquaintance with the texts. My opinion is that substantial differences in content, focus, and, to a limited extent, narrative technique between the remains of the two poems can hardly be denied. While this may be seen as not incompatible with the hypothesis that the ME was a substantially expanded and modified version of the Catalogue, I see no unambiguous evidence that it was not a completely separate poem belonging to the same poetic tradition.
Greek lyric poets of the early fifth century largely addressed local audiences while promising panhellenic renown. The context of their songs is inscribed in the texts themselves. The interplay between local concerns (the poet's, the patron's and the audience's) and the more than local reach of the song was a complex construct. By contrast, genealogical epic poetry, as we are able to reconstruct it, does not seem explicitly to have addressed any specified local audience. Its main subject was indeed local traditions, but they had to be adjusted to a panhellenic frame. It is not unlikely that local bias may have directed the poet's choices, but, when this happened, it did not leave any overt mark on the text. Modern critics are not unanimous about the existence of a political ‘hidden agenda’ behind the remains of the Hesiodic Catalogue, and it is not unlikely that our uncertainty would not have changed very much had the poem been entirely preserved.
Inserting somebody as one of many items in a catalogue may not appear as a very flattering rhetorical strategy. The catalogue of Zeus' lovers in his speech to Hera (Iliad 14.312–28) culminates with his wife as the best item in the series, the climax which surpasses those who have gone before. It is not surprising, however, that most readers have found his move rather tactless.
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