Erinna (late 4th Century BCE)

     Erinna's work is bound up in the possiby legendary story of her early poetic skill and death at 19, shortly after composition of her most famous work (#1).  See Raynor's notes on 185-6.  Keep in mind that later generations of poets often use the lives of previous poets as creative material, selectively altering and transformig it.  We might even assume that the whole story is false and that she lived a long and productive life.  Why might the content of her surviving poems and the story of her early death as a "child prodigy" form a satisfying artistic product for later generations of Greek poets?

1)  Once we get past the striking difference between the subject matter of #1 and that of similar poems about the deaths of the famous mythic figures by previous poets (e.g., Praxilla's Adonis), the technical mastery of Erinna's lament for her young friend, Baukis, becomes easier to see.  The poem moves back and forth between memories of the happy details of young women's life (childhood games and fears, the challenges of marriage and mastery of women's skills of weaving etc.) and Erinna's keening grief for her friend's sudden death.  She makes much of the irony that her death came so soon after her marriage.  How does marriage affect the friendships between young women, and how does that connect to the loss of a friend to death?

2) #2 looks from life into the world of death (Hades), where silence and darkness rule.  How does the act of poetic creation compare with this realm, and how might it affect Erinna's sense of her poetic craft?

3)  #3 (see Raynor's note, 187) may contain a further reference to Baukis, this time using the metaphor of death as a voyage, a sailing to a distant land.   The "escort fish," which ride the pressure waves at the bow of a moving craft or follow in the low-pressure zone at its stern, are related by name (Pempon) to the role of Hermes as "Psychopomp," soul-escort to the underworld ("psyche" = "soul" [and also "butterfly"]).

4) #4, 5 and 6 are inscriptions meant for "stele" or tomb monuments, a common feature of Greek cemeteries from the Classical era to the modern. The burial customs of Classical Greece (6th through 3rd century BCE) differ enormously from those of the Bronze Age (10th through 7th century BCE). Bronze Age tombs, like those at Mykene (legendary home of Agamemnon), tend to be vertical shafts dug into the ground within concentric walled guard pathways, or chambers sheltered by enormous, two or three story high stone "beehive" structures which could be entered through a hall cut into their base. Either was ideally suited to long-term worship of clan elders’ spirits with frequent ceremonies in which "libations" of ritual wine, honey, barley, etc. were poured over the grave to feed the dead. Classical-era graves tend to be small, dedicated to individual family members in clusters, and marked by inscribed stones often bearing portraits of the deceased with symbolic artifacts, animals, etc. The individualized inscriptions often "speak" to the reader in the name of the deceased, calling upon the reader to understand and remember them and the grief of particular family members. Consider what this implies—though the pictorial elements of the stele may still communicate to the illiterate, the passerby now may be literate, and for such a literate person the landscape has become populated with poetry which speaks in the name of the dead and their relatives. How does this change the function of lyric poetry, formerly intended to be sung to the tune of a lyre? What new techniques does it make possible for the poet? (Also see Anyte’s work for even more instances in which inanimate stone may "speak for" the poet from various places in the country or city.)

Note that in #4, another memorial to Erinna’s friend, Baukis, the "I" persona of the poem is Baukis, herself, and her father, her family, and even the poet ("my friend / Erinna") appear in third person (they/she). How does the effect of this soul speaking of the living differ from the more typical stele inscription in which the living speak of the dead? (See #6 for an example.)

#5 speaks in the persona of the tomb, itself, and contains an inscribed line of dialogue for the reader to speak to Hades, the land of the dead. Think of this as a kind of drama to draw the reader into a relationship with the dead bride and her father. Where does the poet stand in all this?

#6 specifically draws attention to the fact that the silent portrait and inscription lacks only Agatharchis’ voice to recover the lost girl, herself. What does that imply the reader should do as a result?