Hermesianax, Testimonia

LCL 508: 148-149




Hermesianax came from Colophon, a city with a rich poetic tradition. His dates are nebulous. We learn that he was a friend of Philitas (cf. Test. 1), who was born c. 340. Pausanias thought that he was no longer alive when Colophon was sacked (Test. 2), but the argument from silence is not strong (cf. n. 2 ad loc.). Nothing connects him with Alexandria.

He is always referred to as an elegist, and the one work for which we have uncontrovertible testimony is the Leontion in three books, named after his lover. That suggests a place somewhere in the tradition that reaches back to Mimnermus’ Nanno and Antimachus’ Lyde, and forwards to Parthenius’ Arete. What we can see of its content was erotic. The love-lorn Cyclops made famous by Philoxenus’ fourth-century dithyramb figured in book 1, and perhaps also the bucolic folk-hero Daphnis, though in a version different from Theocritus’. The second book contained a love-story whose aetiological point, as Antoninus Liberalis tells it, is submerged in its historical, Hellenistic setting. Two more stories are shared with Parthenius, one from the colonisation period, the other a novelistic variant of the fall of Sardis. But the one extended excerpt is not in the epyllion style that some of the testimonia might have suggested. It is a list of exempla, addressed to Leontion, in order



to prove that even the poets and philosophers of old were all susceptible to love. To demonstrate this it marshalls a list of twelve poets from the mythological period to the poet’s friend and contemporary Philitas, and three philosophers, also in chronological order, all equipped with little anecdotes about their affaires de coeur.

It is frustrating that the fragment is corrupt, sometimes to the point of incomprehensibility, but its literary-historical interest is considerable. It seems to be an early example of the influence of Hesiodic catalogue poetry. As a stylistic signature of the genre, Hermesianax borrows the initial hoiē (“such a woman as . . .”); the erotic subject-matter, the formal signature (or its clever reapplication), and the elegiac metre, all find ready parallels in third-century poetry.1 But it stands out for its engagement with the literary-critical methods of Peripatetic scholars—not necessarily solemnly, but certainly with erudition. It ranks its poets in chronological order, in pairs, observing chronological order (or what was believed to be so) within each pair. Thus, Hesiod precedes Homer, and Sophocles Euripides. The poets are chosen because they represent certain genres, presented in an order that can be paralleled fairly closely in other literary-historical reviews such as Quintilian’s Institutio Oratorica and Proclus’ Chrestomathy: epic comes first, followed by elegy, lyric, then tragedy; this only goes awry in the pairing of the most recent poets, Philoxenus (dithyramb) and Philitas (elegy). Finally, biography is derived by inference from a poet’s oeuvre. These are tall stories,

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.hermesianax_colophon-testimonia.2010