The Classical Quarterly (New Series)

Research Article

Alcman's Partheneion: Legend and Choral Ceremony*

E. Robbinsa1

a1 University of Toronto

The papyrus text of the Partheneion, discovered in 1855 and now in the Louvre, consists of 101 lines in three columns. Of these the first 34 lines (column i) are badly mutilated owing to the disappearance of the left-hand side of the column, whereas lines 35–101 (columns ii and iii) can be restored with almost complete confidence. Of a fourth column nothing is legible, though a coronis opposite the fifth line of column iii shows that the poem ended only four lines after our text runs out. The lengths of the existing columns are 34 lines (i), 34 lines (ii), 33 lines (iii). If a full column of 35 lines has been lost before our column i—a pre-eminently reasonable hypothesis—the entire poem will have consisted of 140 lines. Since each strophe consists of fourteen lines, we may thus imagine the whole to have consisted of ten strophes. By a curious coincidence the part of the poem which is almost intact and which deals with the occasion consists of five strophes or seventy lines: it seems to be the case, thus, that the lost or damaged part also consisted of five strophes or seventy lines of choral lyric and dealt with myth: what we can make out, certainly, appears to be exclusively myth and attendant moralising.


* I have several debts: to Yun Lee Too, who first interested me in the problem I am addressing here; to Brian Blair, who has often analysed it with me; to a seminar audience at the University of Toronto for lively discussion; to Glenn Most and the journal's referee for helpful comments.