The Paiderastic Elegies of Book 2 and the Question of the Theognidea’s Authorship

Andrew Lear (DePauw University)

In 1985, a group of scholars including Gregory Nagy proposed a new view of the Theognidean collection: they claimed that it represents the record of a tradition of oral, sympotic poetry from the city of Megara. In their view (Nagy 1985), Theognis was not only — as West (1974.40-61) had proposed a decade earlier — not the author of the whole collection; instead, ‘Theognis’ was merely a name, possibly a sprechender Name, attached to the poetic voice of this tradition. Recently, the pendulum of scholarly opinion has seemed to swing back toward West’s view: Bowie (1997.61-65) and Hubbard (2006) both argue, as did West, that a certain core of poems (henceforth ‘the Theognis block(s)’) can be plausibly attributed to the poet Theognis, and that the rest of the collection consists of excerpts from a multi-author collection or collections of Archaic elegy. In this paper, I argue that the truth must lie somewhere in between the two views. The West school accounts for certain factual questions better than the Nagy school: Bowie, for instance, provides a plausible account of the creation of the extant collection, while the Nagy school never explains how the Megarian tradition that they envision could have resulted in such a collection. Although, however, certain scholars (Fox 2000, van Wees 2000) who accept the West school’s view have considered the social ideology of the Theognis blocks, none has considered the relation between the other elegies in the collection and this ideology.

I argue that the Theognidea are generally ideologically consistent and must therefore on the whole represent not just Archaic elegy in general, but some tradition within Archaic elegy, whether this is a local tradition, as the Nagy school argues, or a panhellenic sub-genre. I make this argument by examining the paiderastic elegies of the so-called Book 2. No scholar attributes these to Theognis. Nonetheless, they share many characteristics with the poems attributed to him. Vetta (1980.xi) points out that "performance conditions, compositional structures, paideutic motifs, addressees, etc." in Book 2 "are in perfect conformity with those of the first book." I show that we may add to Vetta's list two other categories: focal vocabulary (see Donlan 1985) and aspects of social ideology.

In both the Theognis block(s) and Book 2, the relation between the adult male poet or speaker and the adolescent male addressee is central. Although this relationship is explicitly erotic in Book 2 and generally not or not explicitly erotic in the Theognis block(s), it is otherwise presented in a similar manner. In both groups of elegies, the relationship is a political one between members of a faction. Indeed, as Edmunds (1988) points out, erotic disloyalty is often synonymous with factional disloyalty: when the addressee/eromenos at 1311-1318 leaves his poet/erastes, he does so not for one man but for toutois (1312), ‘these men,’ i.e. a group of men or faction. In both groups, the relationship is also portrayed as paideutic. This is explicit at 27-28, in the main Theognis block, where the poet/speaker claims that he will teach the boy such things as he himself learned, as a boy, from the noble (agathôn); it is also the case in many of the Book 2 elegies, such as 1271-1274, where the result of the addressee’s disloyalty (both erotic and political) is the loss of his ‘noble way of thinking’ (noonesthlon).

Certain other Archaic sources may present a similar view of erotic relations between adult men and adolescent boys. This view is, however, not universal among Archaic sources, or even among Archaic elegists. Solon 23 and 24, for instance, present boys as an objectified source of erotic pleasure, analogous to women (24) and horses and hunting-dogs (23). Thus, these elegies (although, paradoxically, embedded with only slight variations in the Theognidea) provide by contrast evidence for the Theognidea’s general ideological consistency.

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