The λεπάς in Alcaeus: A Study on fr. 359 Voigt

TitleThe λεπάς in Alcaeus: A Study on fr. 359 Voigt
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsBuè, F
Ancient AuthorsAlcaeus Lyr. (TLG 0383), Athenaeus Soph. (TLG 0008)
JournalGreek and Roman Musical Studies

In the Alcaeus fragment 359 Voigt, the philological problems are linked not only with an unclear textual tra dition, but also with the interesting and unexpected association between the λεπάς (a type of shellfish) and the tortoise (χέλυς): this ambiguous linkage is created by the poet to arouse an emphatic effect in his audience. The historical and philological elements provided by Athenaeus in his quotation of the poem lead most scholars to accept the textual conclusions of Wilamowitz (χέλυς instead of λεπάς). Nevertheless, the exegetical reading proposed by the German philologist (i.e. a riddle) can be put in doubt and replaced by a new interpretation based on the analysis of the context in which the poem is cited (a gastronomic passage of the Deipnosophists) and on that of the original performance (the banquet of Alcaeus and his ἑταιρεία). In light of this analysis, the little more than two Alcaic verses can be interpreted as a metaphorical apostrophe. In fact, Alcaeus seems to address the shellfish λεπάς and nickname it χέλυς, arousing a highly ironic effect among the συµπόται. This figure of speech is based on the capacity of both the λεπάς and χέλυς to be used to make sounds, even though the differences between these two elements of the symposium make the association paradoxical. A series of several fish-plates provided at the end of the article draws attention to the presence of shellfish—which seems to be less evident than the presence of the χέλυς—at the ancient Greek symposia. []


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