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Stanzaic Structure and Responsion in the Elegiac Poetry of Tyrtaeus

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image of Mnemosyne

This study seeks to revive, defend and further illustrate the suggestion of Weil (1862) (adopted by Rossi (1953/4)) that the longer fragments of Tyrtaeus (nos. 10-12 in West 1992) were composed in five-couplet units (Weil called them 'strophes' but I prefer 'stanzas') that either alternate between exhortation and meditation (e.g. 10.1-30 or 11.1-20) or contrast, for example, the defensive and offensive modes of hoplite warfare (11.21-38), men skilled and unskilled in warfare (12.1-20) or the differing honors that await those war-heroes who die on the battlefield and those who return home alive (12.21-30 and 35-44). These units, moreover, often display a kind of responsion (similar to that found in ancient Greek choral poetry), which allows the poet to draw attention to the stanzaic architecture of the poem and emphasize parallels and contrasts between the individual stanzas. Weil's theory, moreover, provides us with evidence of later re-performances of these poems, especially Tyrtaeus 12, where the transmitted text shows clear signs of a subsequent performance (perhaps in classical Athens as the Platonic paraphrases in the Laws suggest) by a poet who was ignorant or careless of the earlier archaic practice.


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