Lesches and the Contest between Homer and Hesiod

Paola Bassino
In this paper I offer a new analysis of Plutarch’s Dinner of the Seven Sages 153f–154a, one of the most interesting testimonia about Lesches, one of the alleged poets of the Epic Cycle. In this passage Lesches is mentioned in an account of the poetic contest between Homer and Hesiod, and two hexameters follow the mention of his name. I aim to examine two specific issues: the role of Lesches in this passage and the attribution of the hexameters to the Little Iliad. Based on a reading in some of the manuscripts, some scholars have suggested that Lesches features here as the narrator of the story of the contest between Homer and Hesiod, and that he may even have created it and included it in one of his poems, possibly the Little Iliad. I argue that the story is unlikely to have been attributed to Lesches, or any archaic poet, and that, as the rest of the manuscript tradition shows, Plutarch actually included Lesches in the poetic competition as a contestant. In the second part of my paper, I focus on the two hexameters and explore the issue of their ascription to the Little Iliad (fr. 1 Bernabé = fr. 2 dub. Davies). I argue that Plutarch’s passage does not constitute sufficient evidence for connecting them to the Little Iliad and that other more plausible can be postulated for them. By focusing on the context in which Lesches’ name and the verses ascribed to him occur, and on Plutarch’s attitude towards the material with which he is dealing, I aim to show that Plutarch is reconfiguring a biographical tradition to suit his rhetorical and philosophical purposes in the Dinner, and that we should be wary of drawing conclusions about the Epic Cycle and the poets associated with it on the basis of Plutarch’s testimony. My conclusions are not only negative, however. Although I argue that Plutarch’s passage has given rise to misguided assumptions about Lesches and the Little Iliad, I then go on to show how biographical traditions about the archaic poets (Lesches included) were consciously created and re-created in antiquity – by Plutarch and many other authors who recognized their fundamental fictionality and flexibility.
I begin by briefly contextualizing the passage at the heart of this investigation. In the Dinner of the Seven Sages, Plutarch tells the story of a dinner, hosted by Periander and attended by the Sages and others. At the point of the text where the mention of the contest occurs, the king of the Egyptians, Amasis, enlists the help of Bias, one of the Sages, to solve a riddle proposed by the king of the Ethiopians: how to drink up the ocean. Bias offers a suitable solution for the challenge (block the rivers flowing into the ocean), and Chilon suggests that Amasis should learn from Bias how to improve his government instead of how to play these silly games. After the Sages have engaged in political discussions and exchanged some riddles in turn, Cleodorus says that this game, too, is a waste of time. At this point, Periander refers to the story of the famous poetic contest in which Hesiod gained victory and a tripod.
Below is the text in the Teubner edition: [1]

Ἀκούομεν γὰρ ὅτι καὶ πρὸς τὰς Ἀμφιδάμαντος ταφὰς εἰς Χαλκίδα τῶν τότε σοφῶν οἱ δοκιμώτατοι [ποιηταὶ] συνῆλθον· ἦν δʹ ὁ Ἀμφιδάμας ἀνὴρ πολεμικός, καὶ πολλὰ πράγματα παρασχὼν Ἐρετριεῦσιν ἐν ταῖς περὶ Ληλάντου μάχαις ἔπεσεν. ἐπεὶ δὲ τὰ παρεσκευασμένα τοῖς ποιηταῖς ἔπη χαλεπὴν καὶ δύσκολον ἐποίει τὴν κρίσιν διὰ τὸ ἐφάμιλλον, ἥ τε δόξα τῶν ἀγωνιστῶν [Ὁμήρου καὶ Ἡσιόδου] πολλὴν ἀπορίαν μετ’ αἰδοῦς τοῖς κρίνουσι παρεῖχεν, ἐτράποντο πρὸς τοιαύτας ἐρωτήσεις, καὶ προύβαλε μέν, ὥς φασι, Λέσχης,
Μοῦσά μοι ἔννεπε κεῖνα, τὰ μήτʹ ἐγένοντο πάροιθε
μήτʹ ἔσται μετόπισθεν,
ἀπεκρίνατο δʹ Ἡσίοδος ἐκ τοῦ παρατυχόντος
ἀλλʹ ὅταν ἀμφὶ Διὸς τύμβῳ καναχήποδες ἵπποι
ἅρματα συντρίψωσιν ἐπειγόμενοι περὶ νίκης.
καὶ διὰ τοῦτο λέγεται μάλιστα θαυμασθεὶς τοῦ τρίποδος τυχεῖν.
For we are told that the most renowned poets among the wise men of that time came together in Chalcis for the funeral of Amphidamas. Now Amphidamas was a warrior who had given much trouble to the Eretrians, and had fallen in the battles for the possession of the Lelantine plain. Since the poems that the poets had prepared made the decision difficult and irksome because they were of matching quality, and the renown of the contestants Homer and Hesiod made the judges feel helpless and embarrassed, they turned to riddles of the following sort, and Lesches, as they say, proposed the following:
“Muse, tell me what has never happened before
Nor will ever come about in the future.”
And Hesiod answered on the spot,
“When around the tomb of Zeus the loud–footed horses
Make the chariots graze one another, hastening for the victory”
And for this, it is said that he gained the greatest admiration and won the tripod. (Transl. Most, adapted)
Here Lesches is presented as one of the contestants: he proposes a riddle that Hesiod solves, thus winning the contest. But the presence of Lesches, indeed that of any poet other than Homer and Hesiod, is not attested elsewhere in the tradition of the contest, and scholars have therefore proceeded to expel Lesches from it. Following one of the variants attested in the manuscript tradition, [2] Allen [3] published a text in which Lesches is not a competitor, but the narrator of the story. According to Allen, Lesches might have written about the contest story either in the Little Iliad, or in a poem that Lesches wrote about Homer’s life. Allen’s text, recently defended by O’ Sullivan, Kivilo and Koning, [4] runs: καὶ προέβαλʹ ὁ μέν, ὥς φησι Λέσχης (“and Homer, as Lesches asserts, proposed the following”). This reading does not seem plausible. To begin with, it is improbable that a poet closely associated with Homer, such as Lesches, would have told a story in which Hesiod won against Homer. Moreover, the poems attributed to Lesches, such as the Little Iliad, are set in the heroic age, in which the story of the contest does not belong. [5] More fundamentally, the very attempt to discover the original author of such a story seems misguided, since most of the biographical episodes related to the life of the archaic poets circulated anonymously at an early stage.
It has been argued that we have no evidence for a contest of singers with three or more contestants competing at the same time, [6] but the last part of Periander’s introductory sentence does, indeed, seem to imply a contest among more than two participants. Furthermore, the Certamen and even Hesiod’s Works and Days 650–659 seem to set no limit on the number of competitors. [7] Even if such a version of the contest did not exist before Plutarch, he may, in any case, have invented further competitors to suit his own rhetorical purposes. Mention of the competition between poets occurs in the context of advising kings. In the Dinner Plutarch suggests a connection between riddle–solving and the ability to rule well, two talents which have σοφία in common. The Sages, who can solve riddles, are also engaged in enlightened political discussions, and a female character in the work, Cleobulina, who improved the government of her father, is also famous for her riddles. Amasis, by contrast, does not excel in either ability. It stands to reason that, when telling of one of the most famous competitions in riddle solving, Plutarch wants to draw as close a parallel as possible between the σοϕοί who took part in that competition and the σοϕοί at his banquet, and that is why he stresses the fact that at the contest more than two wise poets competed. Lesches fits well as an extra competitor for several reasons: he was an epic poet and even shared with Homer the attribution of the Little Iliad. [8] But that work could not compete with the real Iliad in terms of perceived poetic quality; and Lesches was nowhere near as famous as Homer. [9] Unlike the Certamen, where Hesiod wins against Homer only on the basis of Panedes’ verdict, here the poetic skills of Hesiod do not leave room for disagreement over his victory: Plutarch can thus safely use this episode to make his point about the importance of riddle solving. Lesches was also known to have participated in another poetic contest, against Arctinus, and that may have been at the back of Plutarch’s mind when he included him in this story. [10]
A related textual problem in this passage is posed by the words τῶν ἀγωνιστῶν Ὁμήρου καὶ Ἡσιόδου. These have almost unanimously been considered to contradict the presence of Lesches at the contest: some scholars use them as evidence for the fact that Plutarch refers to a contest between Homer and Hesiod only; [11] others, instead, solve this apparent problem by athetizing Ὁμήρου καὶ Ἡσιόδου, and suggesting that it was a marginal gloss that made it into the text at an early stage of transmission. [12] This latter suggestion seems plausible, but the alleged gloss is attested in all our manuscripts, so we should be careful about suggesting an athetesis. [13] In fact, it is possible to make sense of the text as it stands: it says that the quality of Homer’s and Hesiod’s performance made it difficult for the judges to issue a verdict; hence they asked for the competition to go on and Hesiod, able to solve Lesches’ riddle, was eventually awarded the victory. The fact that Hesiod replies ἐκ τοῦ παρατυχόντος may also mean that Hesiod was the first to reply to a riddle proposed to all the contestants. Lesches poses a riddle, and Hesiod solves it first – thus winning the competition.
Two other passages by Plutarch confirm that he allowed himself to deal with the story freely and creatively. In Table Talk (674f–675b) Plutarch says that poetry competitions were ancient, but although many expect him to give as an example the contest between Homer and Hesiod, he “scorns this hackneyed lore of the schoolroom”. [14] In a scholium to Hesiod’s Works and Days, Plutarch is said to have athetized the passage in which Hesiod proclaims his victory as a later interpolation, because it contains “nothing of value”. [15] The different explanations proposed for Plutarch’s athetesis agree on one fundamental point: in Plutarch’s opinion the contest between Homer and Hesiod does not have a historical basis. [16] Plutarch, the scrupulous critic of literature, rejects the authenticity of the contest story; and, precisely because he regards it as essentially fictional, he feels free to adapt it to his own creative purposes, in suitable contexts such as his Dinner of the Seven Sages. [17]
I need now to consider another explanation for the presence of Lesches in Plutarch’s passage. West argues that the name Λέσχης replaced Ὅμηρος in the text: Homer would be the contestant who actually proposes the challenge, but a reader may have been reminded of Lesches by the verses of the question, and his name written in the margin of a copy of Plutarch’s text would then have penetrated the text. [18] But other witnesses of the contest give different verses for the question that matches the answer on the tomb of Zeus:

Μοῦσ’ ἄγε μοι τά τ’ ἐόντα τά τ’ ἐσσόμενα πρό τ’ ἐόντα
τῶν μὲν μηδὲν ἄειδε, σὺ δ’ ἄλλης μνῆσαι ἀοιδῆς.

“Come now, Muses, of things that are and will be and were aforetime–
sing nothing of those, but take heed for other singing.”

(Transl. West 2003a) [19]
If the presupposition of West’s statement is right, i.e. these verses were in antiquity (sometimes) attributed to Lesches, Plutarch, too, must have been aware of this connection: there is no need to postulate that he gave Homer verses traditionally attributed to another poet, when we consider that the tradition offered an alternative version for the question, which Plutarch may well have known. [20] It seems to me more probable that Lesches was present in Plutarch’s account from the very beginning. And, in any case, there is no proof that the lines were ever associated with poems attributed to Lesches.
The fact that the name of Lesches is followed immediately by this couplet has led some scholars to think that the verses may come from the Little Iliad, [21] while others have taken more skeptical positions. Among those who accept the couplet’s provenance from the Little Iliad, there is disagreement as to whether the fragment represents the beginning of the poem, or rather comes from another part of it. While the invocation to the Muses suggests that the poem may have started with these verses, the tradition transmits another couplet as its incipit:

Ἴλιον ἀείδω καὶ Δαρδανίην ἐύπωλον,
ἧς πέρι πόλλ’ ἔπαθον Δαναοί, θεράποντες Ἄρηος

Of Ilios I sing, and Dardania land of fine colts,
over which the Danaans suffered much, servants of the War god.

(Transl. West) [22]
Bernabé suggests that Lesches’ Little Iliad started with the couplet transmitted by Plutarch (fr. 1 Bernabé) and argues that the verses from the Vita Herodotea are the beginning of another poem that circulated under the name of Little Iliad (fr. 28 Bernabé). [23] Davies, by contrast, accepts the couplet from the Vita Herodotea as the incipit of the poem (fr. 1 Davies), and puts the verses from Plutarch among the doubtful fragments (fr. 2 dub. Davies). Most radically, West does not include the couplet from Plutarch at all. [24] There are many reasons for thinking that fr. 1 Davies was the incipit of the Little Iliad, and that, consequently, other origins for the couplet from Plutarch should be postulated. Fr. 1 Davies is composed in traditional epic style, with the subject matter of the poem placed as the first word, then extended by a relative clause and a stress on suffering as the theme of the poem. [25] The statement of the subject matter is certainly a standard feature of the very first lines of the poems [26] and if we accept that the Little Iliad started with fr. 1 Bernabé then it follows that the subject was stated only in the third line of the poem. Then, if the poem narrated the whole of the Trojan war, or at least more than what is summarized by Proclus, as has been suggested on independent grounds, [27] fr. 1 Davies with its broad indication of subject would be an appropriate proem for it. Fr. 1 Davies was circulating by the fifth century BC as shown by an inscription found in the Northern Black Sea dating to that period, [28] while there is no evidence for the circulation of fr. 1 Bernabé before Plutarch’s time. This is not to argue that the verses pronounced by Lesches in Moralia 154a are a creation of Plutarch’s: this is rather to suggest that they may well derive from another source, for example a now unknown corpus of hexameters used in poetic contests similar to the collection of verses in the Certamen or indeed fluid oral epic performances and stock phrases used in a witty and provocative way. The fact that the Muses are asked not to sing a particular topic reverses the traditional epic invocation to the Muses, and in itself suggests a riddling or agonistic context for their creation, which is precisely the kind of context in which Plutarch mentions them.
There is one further peculiarity to the lines: the couplet is left incomplete. Lesches is asking his opponent to talk about something that never was and never shall be; the second verse is then abruptly interrupted. Readers may note that the present is not mentioned. Anyone familiar with the formulae of epic will notice this: the couplet recalls the famous epic formula τά τ’ ἐόντα τά τ’ ἐσσόμενα πρό τ’ ἐόντα, [29] which is also used in the corresponding question in the Certamen and in P.Petr. I 25. [30] Most remarkably, because of the absence of the present, the question in Plutarch does not contain an obvious difficulty: if asked not to sing past or future, Hesiod could refer, in his answer, to anything happening in the present. [31] Again it is instructive to see how this fits the context in which the verses appear, in particular by looking at the treatment of time as a philosophical issue in the Dinner. In the passage described at the beginning, Bias solves the riddle posed to Amasis by referring to the present time: Amasis should ask the king of the Ethiopians “to stop the rivers which are now emptying into the ocean depths, while he is engaged in drinking up the ocean that now is; for this is the ocean with which the demand is concerned, and not the one which is to be”; [32] in another passage, time is defined as partaking of past, present and future; [33] in another work, Plutarch criticizes the Stoic doctrine according to which time partakes only of past and future. [34] In Lesches’ question the importance of the present is demonstrated by its very absence: a verse is left incomplete and the couplet contains no difficulty to solve – unless the present is necessarily defined as a mixture of future and past, or an ungraspable line between the two. This further suggests that, whatever Plutarch’s source, he felt quite free to adapt it for his own philosophical purposes. The curtailed couplet suits Plutarch’s philosophical discourse on time better than any corresponding verse transmitted in the rest of the tradition.
In the first part of my paper I argued against the idea that Lesches was ever considered the author of the story of the contest between Homer and Hesiod in antiquity. [35] I then discussed the verses quoted after Lesches’ name and argued that they might have originated independently from the Little Iliad. Plutarch in this passage used material that was flexible and fluid, such as ancient biographies and agonistic hexameters, and adapted it to his own purposes: it is only by keeping this in mind that we may reach a better understanding of this passage and the issues related to it. [36]


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[ back ] 1. Paton, Wegehaupt and Pohlenz 1974². This text is essentially the same as that in Wilamowitz 19292, in the Belles Lettres edition of Plutarch by Defradas, Hani and Klaerr 1985 and in Most 2006.
[ back ] 2. I copy here for the sake of clarity the apparatus as it appears in the Teubner edition: 15 secl. Larsen 19 secl. Wil. 21 προύβαλε (–βαλλε P) PQB προυβάλομεν v προυβάλλομεν Ο φασι QhJ nwB φησί Ο. Some of the scholars who have dealt with the manuscript tradition of this passage have misunderstood it because of the presence of an ambiguous siglum in the apparatus. Kirk 1950:150n1 claims that Ο is alone in transmitting the reading φησί, and he is followed by West 1967:439 and Kivilo 2000:4 and 2010a:23. In fact, the siglum present in this section of the apparatus, Ο (Greek letter omicron), stands for codices omnes praeter citatos, while it is O (Latin alphabet) that represents a manuscript, the Ambr. 528 s. (cf. conspectus siglorum at p. XLVI in the Teubner edition), that is not mentioned here. It follows that the manuscripts QhJ nwB give the reading φασι; all the others (except for those mentioned and including O) give φησί.
[ back ] 3. Allen 1912:136, 218 and 1924:25. The text is accepted in the Loeb edition of Plutarch by Babbitt 1928.
[ back ] 4. O’ Sullivan 1992:80–81, Kivilo 2000 and 2010a:23–24 (cf. also Kivilo 2010b:90) and Koning 2010:260n83.
[ back ] 5. In this respect it is useful to remark, with West 1967:439, that “we know of a considerable number of early hexameter poems that were current in antiquity, and not one of them was about post–Dark Age personalities. ‘Biographical’ poetry did not exist, to the best of our knowledge”. Kivilo’s attempts to “trace an archaic biographical poem here” (Kivilo 2010a:24n72) do not seem convincing to me. To argue for an early date for the origins of the story of the contest between Homer and Hesiod, we do not necessarily need a connection with Lesches or any other specific name. Another, more convincing attempt to trace the earliest developments of the legend in archaic times is in Debiasi 2012, according to whom the story originated in connection to the Lelantine war.
[ back ] 6. Kivilo 2010a:23.
[ back ] 7. Works and Days 654–657:
ἔνθα δʹ ἐγὼν ἐπ’ ἄεθλα δαΐφρονος Ἀμφιδάμαντος
Χαλκίδα τ’ εἲς ἐπέρησα· τὰ δὲ προπεφραδμένα πολλὰ
ἆθλ’ ἔθεσαν παῖδες μεγαλήτορος· ἔνθά μέ φημι
ὕμνῳ νικήσαντα φέρειν τρίποδ’ ὠτώεντα.
There I myself crossed over into Chalcis for the games of valorous Amphidamas – that great–hearted man’s sons had announced and established many prizes – and there, I declare, I gained victory with a hymn, and carried off a tripod with handles. (Ed. and trans. Most)
Certamen 62–66:
κατὰ δὲ τὸν αὐτὸν χρόνον Γανύκτωρ ἐπιτάφιον τοῦ πατρὸς Ἀμφιδάμαντος βασιλέως Εὐβοίας ἐπιτελῶν πάντας τοὺς ἐπισήμους ἄνδρας οὐ μόνον ῥώμῃ καὶ τάχει, ἀλλὰ καὶ σοφίᾳ ἐπὶ τὸν ἀγῶνα μεγάλαις δωρεαῖς τιμῶν συνεκάλεσεν.
Around the same time Ganyctor was organizing the funeral of his father Amphidamas, a king in Euboea, and he invited to the contest all the men who were noted not only for strength and speed at running, but also for intellectual accomplishments, honouring them with sizeable gifts. (Transl. West 2003a)
[ back ] 8. Collection of testimonia in Davies 1988:49–52.
[ back ] 9. As Graziosi 2002:172 suggests, he is “the perfect substitute in that he is traditionally very close to Homer, but less authoritative”. That does not necessarily contradict the claim that at the contest τῶν τότε σοφῶν οἱ δοκιμώτατοι ποιηταὶ συνῆλθον (pace Koning 2010:260n85). Important, here, is the fact that the Dinner of the Seven Sages mentions several obscure names of sages and other guests: clearly Plutarch is displaying his erudition by revealing surprising and generally unknown elements both of the Seven Sages traditions and of the poetic contest tradition. Comparing his version with other accounts of the Seven Sages (Plato Protagoras 343a; Diogenes Laertius I 40; Stobaeus III 1.172) we find, then, differences in the names of the Sages and in the place of their meeting. As in the account of the poetic contest between Homer and Hesiod, the variations often have a clear rationale.
[ back ] 10. Phaenias fr. 33 Wehrli:
ναὶ μὴν καὶ Τέρπανδρον ἀρχαίζουσί τινες· Ἑλλάνικος γοῦν (FGH 4 F 85b) τοῦτον ἱστορεῖ κατὰ Μίδαν γεγονέναι, Φανίας δὲ πρὸ Τερπάνδρου τιθεὶς Λέσχην τὸν Λέσβιον Ἀρχιλόχου νεώτερον φέρει τὸν Τέρπανδρον, διημιλλῆσθαι δὲ τὸν Λέσχην Ἀρκτίνῳ καὶ νενικηκέναι.
And indeed some people also date Terpander early. Hellanicus says that he lived at the time of Midas, and Phaenias, placing Lesches of Lesbos before Terpander, says that Terpander is younger than Archilochus, and that Lesches contended against Arctinus and won. (My transl.)
[ back ] 11. Koning 2010:260n84 and Kivilo 2000:4 and 2010a:23.
[ back ] 12. The athetesis was first proposed by Wilamowitz 1879:161 (see also Wilamowitz 1916:405 and 19292:55) and later accepted in the Teubner and Belles Lettres editions (see above n. 1) and by West 1967:439.
[ back ] 13. However, from my remark it does not follow that the presence of these words in all the manuscript guarantees their genuineness. The fact that the readings φασι and φησί, that allow Lesches two completely different roles in the passage, are both well represented in the manuscript tradition shows that this passage was not perceived as easy by those who copied it, and it would not be surprising that an attempt made by someone to specify the names of the most canonical contestants successfully entered the text and was then transmitted unanimously.
[ back ] 14. Plutarchus Table Talk 674f–675a:
ἐνίοις μὲν οὖν ἐπίδοξος ἤμην ἕωλα παραθήσειν πράγματα, τὰς Οἰολύκου τοῦ Θετταλοῦ ταφὰς καὶ τὰς Ἀμφιδάμαντος τοῦ Χαλκιδέως ἐν αἷς Ὅμηρον καὶ Ἡσίοδον ἱστοροῦσιν ἔπεσι διαγωνίσασθαι. Καταβαλὼν δὲ ταῦτα τῷ διατεθρυλῆσθαι πάνθ’ ὑπὸ τῶν γραμματικῶν.
Some of my friends expected me to cite well–worn examples like the funeral ceremonies of Oeolycus of Thessaly and those of Amphidamas of Chalcis, at which it is said that Homer and Hesiod contented in epic verse. But I scorned all this hackneyed lore of the schoolroom.” (Ed. and transl. Clement–Hoffleit).
[ back ] 15. Plutarchus Commentary on Hesiod’s Works and Days fr. 84 Sandbach:
ταῦτα πάντα περὶ τῆς Χαλκίδος καὶ τοῦ Ἀμφιδάμαντος καὶ τοῦ ἄθλου καὶ τοῦ τρίποδος ἐμβεβλῆσθαί φησιν ὁ Πλούταρχος οὐδὲν ἔχοντα χρηστόν. […] πάντα οὖν ταῦτα ληρώδη λέγων ἐκεῖνος, ἀπ’ αὐτῶν ἄρχεται τῶν εἰς τὸν καιρὸν τοῦ πλοῦ συντεινόντων· ἤματα πεντήκοντα.
Plutarch says that all this about Chalcis, Amphidamas, the games, and the tripod has been interpolated, and contains nothing of value. […] Plutarch says that all this is silly stuff, and begins with the lines concerned with the right season for navigation, “Fifty days, etc.”(Ed. and transl. Sandbach).
[ back ] 16. See e.g. Lamberton 1988.
[ back ] 17. Cf. also Kirk 1950:150n1: “Plutarch had in any case doubted the authenticity of the Amphidamas–passage at Erga 654 ff., and would not be particularly concerned over the accuracy of Periander’s story”. I think that this attitude is also characteristic of the transmission and reception of the Lives of the poets more generally. The Lives always tended toward multiformity, because their ultimate aim was to enable reflection on other, more authoritative and more stable texts.
[ back ] 18. West 1967:439–440.
[ back ] 19. Certamen 97–98. See also P.Petr. I 25.38–41:
Μοῦσ’ ἄγε μοι τ[ὰ τ’ἐόντα
τά τ’ἐσσόμενα πρό τ’ἐ[όντα
τῶν μὲν μηθὲν ἄειδ[ε, σὺ δ’ἄλλης
μνῆσαι ἀοιδῆς.
[ back ] 20. On a general level, it should be noted that Plutarch in general was certainly well aware of the tradition of the contest, as he mentions it in three passages. He also commented on the relevant passage from Works and Days, which surely implied some research on the topic on his behalf. Moreover, he mentions details that are not found anywhere else, e.g. the fact that Amphidamas died in a naval battle during the Lelantine war. More specifically on this exchange of question and answer: in the relevant section of the manuscript of the Certamen (Laur. Plut. 56.1 f. 16v), the words καναχήποδες ἵπποι are missing. Plutarch’s text was used to complete the hexameter by the earliest editors of the Certamen (e.g. Nietzsche 1871) and P.Petr. I 25, published in 1891 (Mahaffy 1891) confirmed that Plutarch’s reading was current already in the III century BC (45–47: Διὸς τύμβον κἀν[αχήποδες ἵπ–/ ποι ἅρμα[τα συντρίψουσιν ἐρί–/ ζοντες [περὶ νίχης. Note however the different readings ἐρίζοντες in the papyrus and ἐπειγόμενοι in Plutarch). In both the Certamen and the papyrus the question is different from the one in Plutarch, and as he was well informed about the tradition of the answer, he might also have been aware of the alternative question with which it circulated.
[ back ] 21. For the attribution of the Little Iliad to Lesches see above n. 8.
[ back ] 22. The Vita Homeri Herodotea 16 attributes the verses to Homer:
διατρίβων δὲ παρὰ τῷ Θεστορίδῃ ποιεῖ Ἰλιάδα τὴν ἐλάσσω, ἧς ἡ ἀρχή
Ἴλιον ἀείδω …
While staying with Thestorides he composed the Lesser Iliad, which begins
Of Ilios I sing … (Transl. West 2003a)
[ back ] 23. Bernabé 1984. Among other arguments, he suggests the existence of two or more Little Iliads on the basis of the two alleged proems and of the fact that Pausanias in two passages seems to deal separately with a poem called Little Iliad and a poem by Lesches, thus allowing for the existence of a Little Iliad not attributed to Lesches on the one hand and a poem attributed to him different than the Little Iliad on the other. His theory has been criticized on different grounds (e.g. the review of Bernabé’s edition of epic fragments by Davies 1989a:6).
[ back ] 24. West 2003b. Among the previous editors, both Allen and Evelyn–White reckoned that the Little Iliad started with fr. 1 Davies. Allen put fr. 1 Bernabé at the end of his collection (fr. 23); Evelyn–White put it as fr. 10 and claimed that “it is possible that they may have introduced some unusually striking incident, such as the actual fall of Troy”; Scafoglio 2006 recently suggested that both fr. 1 Davies and fr. 1 Bernabé could have been present in the proem of the Little Iliad.
[ back ] 25. Davies 1989b:61. As he admits, the only significant formal difference with the Homeric poems is the use of the first–person verb “I sing” rather than the Homeric “sing to me Muse”. The use of the first–person verb has been taken as a sign of lateness (still in Scafoglio 2006), but Davies stresses that “since Homer means to ask the Muses to sing through him, and the picture of the poet as the Muses’ spokesman is widespread in early Greek literature, there is less difference between the two modes of opening that there might at first seem”.
[ back ] 26. See e.g. Burgess 2001:156: “for epic poetry the proem is sufficient to indicate the subject of a poem”.
[ back ] 27. See e.g. Davies 1989b:60 and Burgess 2001:24. Burgess claims that the wide subject–matter of fr. 1 Davies, with other clues, suggests that the Little Iliad contained the narration of the whole Trojan war; conversely, it can be also claimed that if such conclusion derives from the other clues, then certainly fr. 1 Davies proves to be a most appropriate proem for such poem.
[ back ] 28. Vinogradov 1969:142–143; Vinogradov and Zolotarev 1990:109, 119 fig. C = SEG 1990:612.
[ back ] 29. Iliad I 71; Theogony 38; in Theogony 32 in the shortened form τά τ’ ἐσσόμενα πρό τ’ ἐόντα (again leaving out the present).
[ back ] 30. See n. 19.
[ back ] 31. The reference to the tomb of Zeus, something that can never exist because of the immortality of the god, well responds to the question formulated in the Certamen. Strictly speaking, it is not that appropriate in this context.
[ back ] 32. Plutarch Dinner of the Seven Sages 151d (the above translation is by Babbitt 1928):
“Φραζέτω τοίνυν,” ἔφη, “τῷ Αἰθίοπι τοὺς ἐμβάλλοντας εἰς τὰ πελάγη ποταμοὺς ἐπισχεῖν, ἕως αὐτὸς ἐκπίνει τὴν νῦν οὖσαν θάλατταν· περὶ ταύτης γὰρ τὸ ἐπίταγμα γέγονεν, οὐ τῆς ὕστερον ἐσομένης.”
[ back ] 33. Moralia 153b.
[ back ] 34. Moralia 1081c–1082d.
[ back ] 35. Other tentative explanations have been offered: Milne 1924:57 suggests that Lesches’ name was substitute for Homer’s in the Hellenistic period or later because of the chronological problem of making Homer and Hesiod contemporaries; Richardson 1981:2 argues that Plutarch’s account may reflect an earlier version of the story; Erbse 1996:313–314 suggests emending the name of Lesches to Panedes. Among the attempts to account for the role of Lesches as the narrator of the story in the Plutarchean passage, Fowler’s remarks (apud Kivilo 2010a:23n71) seem the most reasonable: he claims that “Plutarch may not necessarily have quoted first hand and there could be false inference behind his reference”. That is, even if Plutarch was indeed presenting Lesches as a narrator, he could have been wrong and this passage alone cannot prove Allen’s and Kivilo’s theory of Lesches as the creator of the contest story.
[ back ] 36. The Kyklos teleconference was a great environment to present the first version of this paper. I would like to thank all involved in it, especially the organizers, my respondent Jim Marks and my Ph.D. supervisor Barbara Graziosi.