Who will win the race between the chorus and the Pleiades?

The race of the Pleiades in Alcm. PMGF 1


In my previous post (The Rise of the Pleiades in Alcm. PMGF 1), I have suggested that ll. 60 ff. of Alcm. PMFG 1 hints at an astronomical phenomenon, i.e. the heliacal rising of Sirius. However, these lines involve several other problems, one of which is the meaning of μάχονται of l. 63.


ταὶ Πεληάδες γὰρ ἇμιν
Ὀρθρίᾳ φᾶρος φεροίσαις
νύκτα δι᾽ ἀμβροσίαν ἅτε Σήριον
_ ἄστρον ἀϝηρομέναι μάχονται.
                                 (Alcm. PMGF 60-63)


The meaning of μάχονται is linked with that of ἇμιν. According to Page (1951), it is impossible that ἇμιν is a dativus commodi, because with μάχεσθαι the dative means ‘against someone’ (cf. LSJ9 1085). What kind of fight involves the chorus and the Pleiades? In the past, Πεληάδες has been interpreted as the name of a rival chorus (cf. e.g. Ahrens, Diels and Bowra). This hypothesis was based on the myth, where the Pleiades were the daughters of Atlas, who, to escape from Orion, underwent a metamorphosis into doves, then into stars. In antiquity, the group of the Pleiades was often compared to a chorus, an interpretation supported by the scholia in the testimonium. However, in the text of the Parthenion, as it has been handed down to us, there is not adequate evidence of another chorus, especially if ll. 60-63 refer to an astronomical phenomenon. In fact, in the astronomical interpretation, πεληάδες cannot be the name of the other chorus. If this is the case, what does μάχονται mean? I propose that the core element of the interpretation is γάρ at l. 60, which links this line with the previous ones.


45           … δοκεῖ γὰρ ἤμεν αὔτα for she herself seems
ἐκπρεπὴς τὼς ὥπερ αἴτις pre-eminent, just as if one
ἐν βοτοῖς στάσειεν ἵππον were to put a horse among grazing herds,
παγὸν ἀεθλοφόρον καναχάποδα a sturdy, thunderous-hoofed prize winner
_ τῶν ὑποπετριδίων ὀνείρων· one of those seen in rock-sheltered dreams.
50 ἦ οὐχ ὁρῇς; ὁ μὲν κέλης Why, don’t you see? The race-horse
Ἐνετικός· ἁ δὲ χαίτα is Venetic; but the hair
τᾶς ἐμᾶς ἀνεψιᾶς of my cousin
Ἁγησιχόρας ἐπανθεῖ Hagesichora has the bloom
χρυσὸς [ὡ]ς ἀκήρατος· of undefiled gold,
55 τό τ᾽ ἀργύριον πρόσωπον, and her silver face
διαφάδαν τί τοι λέγω; – why do I tell you openly?
Ἁγησιχόρα μὲν αὕτα· This is Hagesichora here;
ἁ δὲ δευτέρα πεδ᾽ Ἀγιδὼ τὸ ϝεῖδος Agido, the second in beauty, will run after
ἵππος Ἰβηνῷ Κολαξαῖος δραμήται· like a Colaxaean horse against an Ibenian
                       (Alcm. PMGF 1,45-59)                       (transl. Campbell, reworked)


These verses affect a double comparison: Hagesichora is compared to a racehorse (ll. 45 f.; 50; 58 f.), and her beauty is linked to brightness (ll. 46; 51-56). The last action, δραμήται, finds its justification (l. 60 γάρ) in the μάχη between the chorus and the constellation of the Pleiades; ll. 58 f. present two difficulties: first, the meaning of πεδ’(ά); second, that of δραμήται. Probably, πεδά is in tmesis with the verb τρέχω (‘run after’), of which the subject is Agido. However, Ἀγιδώ can be also an accusative and, in this case, πεδά becomes a preposition and Hagesichora would be less beautiful than Agido («the second in beauty after Agido / will run like a Colaxaean horse against an Ibenian» transl. Campbell). This interpretation is unlikely: the previous lines and ll. 77 and 90 ff. show that Hagesichora is not only the focus of the attention of the chorus, probably in an erotic way, but also the goal of movement of the chorus. Hagesichora seems to be the most beautiful member of the chorus, a scenario that explains her role as chorus’ leader.

The tense of δραμήται is easily explained as a performative future, which indicates the action in progress. Are Hagesichora and Agido running? A race is indeed likely: the δρόμος was a typical ritual practice of παρθένοι in Sparta (cf. Calame 1977, I 406-409). In any case, Agido and Hagesichora are not close to the chorus (ll. 77 ff. οὐ γὰρ ἁ κ[α]λλίσφυρος / Ἁγησιχ[ό]ρ[α] πάρ’ αὐτεῖ, / Ἀγιδοῖ [δὲ παρ]αρμένει) and are probably performing separate while it is embarking on a πομπή. Where is the chorus going? ll. 87-89 show that Ἀῶτις is the end of the πόνοι for members of the chorus: Ἀῶτις is etymologically linked to ἠώς, ‘dawn’, which is possibly linked to Ὀρθρίᾳ, ‘Morning’.[1] In any case, if Ἀῶτις is the ἰάτωρ of the πόνοι of the chorus, Hagesichora bestows upon it «lovely peace» (ll. 90 f.). To sum up, I propose that Hagesichora is close to the shrine of a goddess of the Morning (Ἀῶτις, Ὀρθρία) and, with Agido, is performing a ritual that involves a race. The chorus is performing a procession to the shrine where Agido and Hagesichora already are present. What kind of relationship is to be imagined between the δρόμος of Hagesichora and the rise of the Pleiades and Sirius? And why are the Pleiades fighting with the chorus?

In this scenario, it is important to explain the astronomical phenomenon of the heliacal rise of Sirius, as it can be seen in the video embedded in my previous post on Alcman. An hour before the sunrise, the Pleiades are up in the sky and, to a spectator, they seem to rise quickly. Just before the sunrise – at the same time of Sirius’ rise – the Pleiades disappear: from a mythological point of view, they have successfully escaped from Orion and his dog Sirius just before the latter appears on the sky. In my opinion, the μάχη between the Pleiades and the members of the chorus concerns speed: the chorus has to reach the shrine of the Goddess of the morning before the sunrise and Sirius’s rise, i.e. before the Pleiades disappear from the sky to ‘flee’ Sirius. In any case, the first marks of the dawn (ll. 40-43) during the night (l. 62) signal to Hagesichora and Agido that it is the moment to perform a ritual race, which perhaps imitates the race of the stars in the sky. According to interpretations proposed in the present post and in the previous one, I suggest the following translation of the ll. 60-63.


ταὶ Πεληάδες γὰρ ἇμιν for the Pleiads fight against us,
Ὀρθρίᾳ φᾶρος φεροίσαις as we carry a pharos[2] to Orthia
νύκτα δι᾽ ἀμβροσίαν ἅτε Σήριον though the ambrosial night, because they raise
_ ἄστρον ἀϝηρομέναι μάχονται. the star Sirius.

(Alcm. PMGF 60-63)


Selected Bibliography

F. Boll, Fixsterne, RE VI/2 (1909) 2407-2431.
C.M. Bowra, Greek Lyric Poetry: from Alcman to Simonides, Oxford 19612.
Burnett A. P. 1964. The Race with Pleiades. «CPh» LIX 30-34.
Caciagli S. 2009. Un contesto per Alcm. PMGF 1. «Eikasmós» XX 19-46.
Calame C. 1977. Les chœurs de jeunes filles en Grèce archaïque. I-II. Roma.
H. Diels, Alkmans Partheneion, «Hermes» XXXI (1896) 339-374.
Gianotti G. F. 1978. Le Pleiadi di Alcmane. «RFIC» CVI 257-271.
Page D. L. 1951. Alcman. The Partheneion. Oxford.

[1] It is possible to read also ὄρθριαι, ‘of the morning’: however, in this case, the procession lacks its goal and the adjective is redundant.

[2] The reading of the papyrus is φᾶρος, i.e. ‘cloak’. The scholia in the testimonium suggest also for φάρος the meaning ἄροτρον, i.e. ‘plough’.