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Pseudo-Oppian

A poet from Apamea in Syria (see Cyn. 2.127), author of the Cynegetica, a Greek didactic poem on hunting in four books (2,144 hexameter verses). The author’s name is lost, and nothing is known of him beyond the information provided in the poem, which was frequently transmitted in manuscripts together with Oppian’s Halieutica and was attributed to the same poet until the 18th century, along with a now-lost Ixeutica (a poem on bird-catching, possibly in two books). The Suda and the Byzantine Vitae attached to the manuscripts conflate the poets. The Cynegetica models itself on the Halieutica in many respects, but was clearly composed by a different author: the two poems refer to different homelands (the author of the Halieutica is from Cilicia), were written at different times (the Halieutica between 177 and 180 ce), and are stylistically distinct. The Cynegetica is addressed to the Roman emperor Caracalla, and is likely to have been composed between 212 and 217 ce, after the deaths of Septimius Severus and Geta in 211. Apamea had strong ties to the Severans, and Caracalla and Julia Domna visited the city in 215 ce. The work survives in four books, although a fifth book may be missing: the poem ends abruptly and promises to treat material that it does not discuss (see e.g. 3.406). A five-book poem would have mirrored Oppian’s Halieutica. In the proem (1.31) the poet claims that he has already composed a work on the Parthian defeat at the battle of Ctesiphon (198 ce), and at 2.156–158 he promises to pen further praise of his homeland.

Like the Halieutica, the Cynegetica treats both animals and techniques for their capture. It opens with a laudatory address to Caracalla, echoing the Halieutica’s invocation of Marcus Aurelius (both poems address the emperor as “Antoninus” at the end of their third lines). The opening verses praise the emperor and his parents, reflecting aspects of imperial cult and perhaps also the Syrian provenance of the poet (1.1–15, 41–46). The poet then enters into dialogue with Artemis, goddess of hunting, who inspires and guides the poem (Calliope is also briefly mentioned at 1.17; Artemis is again invoked at 2.1–4, 3.5–6, 4.21–24). The goddess bids him follow a previously “untrodden” path in his poem, singing not of Dionysus, the Argo, heroes and their battles, or love, but rather of hunting (1.16–40). After a syncrisis of hunting, fishing, and fowling (1.47–76), the remainder of the first book addresses the appropriate physique, equipment, and conditions for hunting in different seasons (1.81–157), before turning to animals that aid the hunt (horses, 1.158–367; dogs, 1.368–538).

Book 2 opens with an account of the origins of hunting, said to have been invented by centaurs, rediscovered in the mortal sphere, and refined by a series of mythological hunters before spreading more widely amongst men (2.1–42). Books 2 and 3 are devoted primarily to the zoological description of the breeds, habits, and anatomical peculiarities of different prey, divided broadly between horned animals (book 2) and carnivorous beasts equipped with teeth or tusks (book 3; see 2.489; 3.1–6). The second book includes accounts of the bison, antelope, gazelle, goat, sheep, oryx, elephant, and rhinoceros; the poet declares to the Muse that he will sing only of large animals, leaving aside smaller species such as cats, dormice, squirrels, hedgehogs, and mole-rats (2.570–628). The third book turns to big game, covering different species of lion, leopard, and lynx, and the jealous habits of the wild ass, as well as the wolf, tiger, mongoose, and others, and ending with the giraffe, ostrich, and hare. Book 4 treats of hunting itself, detailing hunting methods and depicting three techniques for capturing lions (4.77–211), as well as those for jackals, leopards, and bears, amongst others. The poem ends suddenly with a depiction of fox-hunting. No information is provided about catching the other animals described in books 2 and 3.

Hunting was a favored elite pastime of the period, and in the proem of the final book Caracalla is so envisaged (4.20–21; for his love of hunting, see e.g. Herodian 4.11.9; HA Carac. 5.9). At 3.46–47 the emperor is said to preside over a procession of animals, including a rare Ethiopian lion; the larger animals are shown in book 4 to be captured rather than killed, and were presumably intended for use in the arena or imperial processions. Apamea was a city famous for stabling cavalry horses and war elephants (see e.g. Strabo 16.2.10), which may also have influenced the choice of topic. The poem’s zoological and cynegetic material is drawn from a range of sources, probably including Hellenistic and imperial natural-historical compendia based in part on Aristotle’s zoological works (there is, for instance, considerable overlap with material found in Aelian’s De natura animalium), as well as hunting treatises of the type composed by Xenophon and Arrian (at 1.444, for instance, the poet advises that puppies be given short names, for which cf. Xen. Cyn. 7.5 and Columella Rust. 7.12.13). The precise identity of these sources is difficult to determine.

The Cynegetica is varied in tone and content, encompassing technical zoological material, but also myths, historical and paradoxographical lore, hymns, digressions, and fantastical metamorphoses; it is oriented towards literary delight rather than practical utility. It is rhetorically infused and includes set-piece speeches imagined as if spoken by distraught animals (2.358–373, goats; 3.218–235, wild ass; cf. Hal. 2.303–307, moray eel; 5.559–566, dolphin). The poet is particularly interested in sound effects and neologisms; his diction is inventive and idiosyncratic, and his metrical practice departs from Hellenistic and at times also from Homeric norms. His main literary model is Oppian’s Halieutica: the syncrisis of hunting, fishing, and fowling in the proem, for instance, responds to the proems of the first and last books of the Halieutica (1.47–76; Hal. 1.12–55, 5.11–40), while the comparison of bears licking their paws with octopuses eating their own tentacles inverts an analogy made in the earlier poem (3.170–182; Hal. 2.241–252). Like the Halieutica, the Cynegetica is notable for the frequency and liveliness of its extended similes: at 1.494–538 a hunting dog scenting a hare is compared to a girl in labor for the first time, to calves gamboling around their mothers, to a thief about to steal young kids from a shepherd, to an arrow or hissing snake, and to a laden wagon bringing back wheat to a farm.

As in the Halieutica, animals are represented in a heavily anthropomorphised manner, and their heroic, erotic, military, Dionysiac and Argonautic exploits rival those themes that the poet had renounced at the start of the poem (see esp. 1.35–40); leopards, for instance, are said to be Bacchants metamorphosed into beasts (3.78–83, 4.230–319), and a claim is recorded that mole-rats are descended from the mythical king Phineus (2.612–628). The Cynegetica is far more indebted to Hellenistic poetics than is the Halieutica, as is evident, for instance, in the poem’s vocabulary and dense intertextuality, as well as the Callimachean overtones of the poet’s dialogue with Artemis. It also features two lengthy aetiological tales in the style of self-contained Hellenistic epyllia (Heracles and the Orontes, 2.108–158, a myth perhaps itself adapted from Euphorion1; transformation of Bacchants into leopards, 4.233–319).

Primary Texts

Mair, A. W. Oppian, Colluthus, Tryphiodorus. London and Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1928. Full text available online via LacusCurtius; Greek text available online via Perseus.Find this resource:

    Papathomopoulos, Manolis. Oppianus Apameensis, Cynegetica; Eutecnius Sophistes, Paraphrasis Metro Soluta. Munich and Leipzig: Saur, 2003.Find this resource:

      Sestili, Antonio. Oppiano, Il Cinegetico: Trattata sulla caccia. Rome: Aracne, 2010.Find this resource:

        Bibliography

        Agosta, Giuseppe. Ricerche sui Cynegetica di Oppiano. Amsterdam: Hakkert, 2009.Find this resource:

          Bartley, Adam. Stories from the Mountains, Stories from the Sea: The Digressions and Similes of Oppian’s Halieutica and the Cynegetica. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003.Find this resource:

            Costanza, Salvatore. “Motivi callimachei nel proemio dei Cynegetica di Oppiano d’Apamea.” In Studi di filologia classica in onore di Giusto Monaco. Vol. 1: 479–489. Palermo: Università di Palermo, Facoltà di lettere e filosofia, 1991.Find this resource:

              Effe, Bernd. Dichtung und Lehre: Untersuchungen zur Typologie des antiken Lehrgedichts. Munich: Beck, 1977.Find this resource:

                Hollis, A. S. “[Oppian], Cyn. 2.100-158 and the Mythical Past of Apamea-on-the-Orontes.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigrafik 102 (1994): 153–166.Find this resource:

                  Opelt, Ilona. “Zum Kaiserkult in der griechischen Dichtung.” Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 103 (1960): 43–56.Find this resource:

                    Schmitt, Wolfgang. ‘Kommentar zum ersten Buch von Pseudo-Oppians Kynegetika’. PhD diss., Westfälischen Wilhelms-Universität zu Münster, 1969.Find this resource:

                      Silva Sánchez, Tomás. Sobre el texto de los Cynegetica de Opiano de Apamea. Cádiz: Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Cádiz, 2002.Find this resource:

                        Whitby, Mary. “The Cynegetica Attributed to Oppian.” In Severan Culture. Edited by S. Swain, S. Harrison, and J. Elsner, 125–134. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

                          Notes:

                          (1.) See A. S. Hollis, “[Oppian], Cyn. 2.100–158 and the Mythical Past of Apamea-on-the-Orontes,” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigrafik 102 (1994): 153–166.

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