[B-Greek] Psalms and Greek poetry

Albert Pietersma albert.pietersma at sympatico.ca
Fri Feb 11 14:11:08 EST 2005

Dear Trevor,
The issue you raise has a bit of a history and continues to be 
controversial, though it is safe to say that most Septuagint scholars 
do not believe that your question can be answered in the affirmative.
Of older literature there are e.g. E. Bouvy Poetes et melodes. Etudes 
sur les origines du rythme tonique dans l'hymnopgraphie de l'Eglise 
Grecque (1886) and J. Irigoin "La composition rythmique des cantiques 
de Luc, " RB 98 (1991 5-50.
In the first place, one needs to ask what is meant by "Greek Poetry".  
In broad strokes, does one mean the poetry of classical Greece, i.e. 
regular alternation of long and short syllables, which sets the metre, 
rhythm being determined by  the rise and fall of a pitch accent etc.?  
or does one mean the so-called rhythmic poetry of the Byzantine period 
onwards, in which, as in English poetry, the rhythm is determined by 
the sequence of stressed syllables? Let's just label them C(lassical) 
in distinction from B(yzantine).
Though a few metric fragments have been identified in  3 Maccabees and 
therefore are thought to hale from a work of Greek poetry, a case for C 
in the Septuagint has not been made. A case for B has recently been 
re-made by a young Russian scholar Andre Desnitsky in his PhD 
dissertation. To date it remains unpublished though he has published 
some articles in Russian and is working on an expanded English version 
of his dissertation, which I have seen in draft.
 From my perspective the central issue continues to be whether 
Septuagint translators can be said DELIBERATELY TO HAVE CREATED the 
antecedents of Greek rhythmic poetry  or whether,  in its reception 
history, the LXX (notably the Psalms) EXERTED AN INFLUENCE ON the 
evolvement of Greek rhythmic poetry.  For the former I see no credible 
evidence within the LXX. In fact, I would argue that the 
textual-linguistic make-up of most of the LXX makes such highly 
improbable even a priori. The latter scenario is certainly possible 
though by no means a necessary explanation for the development from 
Classical to Byzantine poetry.
Hope that helps a bit.

On Feb 11, 2005, at 6:57 AM, Trevor Peterson wrote:

> I'm interested in whether the Greek translations of psalms
> exhibit poetic features. I realize they may incidentally
> record Hebrew poetic features, but was there any attempt on
> the part of the translators to render the psalms as good,
> Greek poetry? If someone could point to some features and
> examples, or perhaps better, reference any good studies that
> have been done on the topic, I'd appreciate it. I'd never
> really thought about looking for  this sort of thing, but it
> occurred to me while translating a psalm from Greek that
> it's probably a relevant issue.
> thanks,
> Trevor Peterson
> CUA/Semitics
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Albert Pietersma
Professor of Septuagint and Hellenistic Greek
Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations
University of Toronto
Home: 21 Cross Street,
Weston ON Canada M9N 2B8
Email: albert.pietersma at sympatico.ca
Homepage: http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~pietersm

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