• The Coma Stratonices: Royal Hair Encomia and Ptolemaic-Seleucid Rivalry?

    Thomas J. Nelson (see profile)
    Ancient Greece & Rome
    Greek literature, Hellenistic, Greek poetry, Hellenistic, Classics, Seleucids, Hair, Laudatory poetry
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    Book chapter
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    In this paper, I investigate how Ptolemaic poets' presentation of their queens compares with and relates to the practice of their major rivals, the Seleucids. No poetic celebration of a Seleucid queen survives extant, but an anecdote preserved by Lucian sheds intriguing light on Seleucid poetic practice (Pro Imaginibus 5): queen Stratonice, bald through a long illness, organised a competition in which poets elaborately praised her non-existent locks. I subject this testimonium to a close analysis. First, I consider the details and reliability of Lucian's account, arguing that it reflects key aspects of the queen's character and story as told elsewhere, and is likely drawn from a pre-existing source, perhaps even from the ambit of the Seleucid court itself; then I compare this episode with Alexandrian poets' encomia of Ptolemaic queens, highlighting parallel encomiastic techniques and possible direct connections with the poetry of Callimachus, especially his own poem on queenly hair: the Coma Berenices. Given the nature of the evidence, my arguments must be considered tentative and exploratory, but I suggest that the anecdote offers hints of an inter-dynastic poetic rivalry: royal women and their hair stood at the centre of a literary battleground, in which poets not only celebrated the status of their own queens, but also negotiated the poetry and authority of their rivals.
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    1 year ago
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