As the title of this paper indicates, I am primarily concerned with certain aspects of the how my book Ananios of Kleitor came to be written rather than with an exercise in self-interpretation of its contents, which introduce an ancient Greek poet's extant poems and fragments as well as the record of their reception and preservation in the form of a Menippean Satire, a medley of prose and verse and diverse genres, including the epistolary novel, scholarly annotations, and an Index Nominum of the characters invented to perform their indispensable roles on the edge of the real world and the margins of a thoroughly historicized context. On its most accessible level it is satirical, parodic, and extravagant; on its deepest level it is tragic, ironic, and appalling as well as "an affectionate and humane tribute to the power of poetry to lend new meanings to new readers' lives across the ages." On both levels, it is very personal.
According to one of my sources, the Greek poet Ananios was born in 399 BCE in the Arcadian town of Kleitor; according to another, he was born during the summer of 1997 in the study of my Wellfleet home on Cape Cod. I freely confess I struggled but briefly with any ambivalence caused by this contradiction, finding it not only liberating but also inspiring simply to refuse to make such an impossible choice. This choice not taken led to the eventual making of a series of subsequent choices to come up with several generations of individuals who were involved in the reception and preservation of his writing, from a time past when it enjoyed artistic wholeness to its present largely fragmentary state, all of them, including my own persona as editor and translator, made of whole cloth relentlessly woven into the fabric of history. By following this irresistible motive to blur as many distinctions between history and fiction as I tried to authenticate so many stories in so many settings, I found myself in an exhilarated state of pursuing "a multiplicity of elements to express more than one direction at one time," to borrow the words of American jazz great Ornette Coleman describing his guiding principle "harmolodic."
But the first stage of a nameless project merely involved the modest ambition to write some poetry that looked like the fragments of ancient Greek verse so familiar to us. The main requirement I set before myself was that my poetic fragments had to be written directly as such, as fragments, no matter how large or small, though I finally allowed the realization of a couple of complete poems. Because their archetypes were fragments, incomplete, ultimately unknowable poetic utterances, my versions had to honor that inflexible condition through a comparably exacting mode of composition. In other words, writing a complete poem and then breaking it down was not permitted, such an act being deemed as an unseemly human arrogation of the purviews of time and nature. After composing the first handful of fragments—I'll read the first and third for you now (pp. 15-16)—I began to feel a need to identify their authorial source and decided on the name of Ananios, for reasons too complicated to explain now, though they all show up in the course of the book. Having already identified him quite casually with a real place called Kleitor (mentioned by the way in Pausanias and Frommer's) in the first poem, and without anticipating the implications of that choice, giving him a name seemed like the decent thing to do. But then that decision began to unsettle my sense of my own role in all this a little by suggesting that I was not only the poet behind these fragments but their translator as well, an early and faint foreshadowing by comparison of my totally submersible self within the multi-faced world of Ananios to come, a world of literary and scholarly reception in which he, whether as my surrogate or I his, also runs the risk of almost disappearing himself.
In this process of one thing leading to another, the two moves that irrevocably threw me headlong into a decade of writing an ongoing history unfolding over many centuries, the two small steps that seemingly promised just a little more fun in playing around with these poems in imitation of ancient Greek fragments, were the ideas of supplying just a few of the words and phrases in English Ananios from their original ancient Greek and of representing scholarly reconstructions of a few of the fragments. Their powers of seduction extended far beyond the moments of their execution. To address the latter, when moved to represent scholarly reconstructions of fragments, I had to draw them out and complete them with words and phrases as if through a process of discovery similar if not identical to that followed earlier in composing the prior fragments. Thus Fragments 1 and 3, which I just read to you, when reconstituted, thanks to the putative discovery of other papyrological sources, read as follows: (pp. 37-38). But the pleasant surprise that came from having done this suddenly gave way to a bigger and unexpected surprise—the emergence of a third party to those of poet and translator demanding recognition, textual scholar and editor. I first identified him as one Anastas Krebs, an eminent classicist at the University of Munich, but, as the history of the poems and fragments of Ananios Kleitor ran away with me in tow, that position came to be shared between Krebs and his Cambridge contemporary and friend, the famous Sir Michael Sewtor-Lowden, who most inappropriately appropriated the singular foundational textual work on die fragmente der Ananius by the German scholar.
In another way, the first step towards providing the Greek for a bit of English word-play in what we would have to acknowledge in this specific instance as a reversal of the usual relation between the original and target languages, instigated an irreversible momentum to the eventual and unavoidable suspending of disbelief in the impossible proposition that there exists a source text in Greek for every word and line by Ananios that we read. This small linguistic pretense contributes an essential assist to the general willing suspension of disbelief demanded by the fully realized historically embedded fiction. So Ananios wrote some poems about women, often about the hard times they gave him, in this case one named Pyrrha. She is first mentioned in poem 15, one of the few complete ones that have survived, and also, as one of my learned reviewers pointed out, the earliest textual witness to Thucydides on record. (p. 19) She appears again in the first line of the next fragment, which is followed by a missing line and the two lines in which the aforementioned word-play occurs. (p. 20) In the note to these two items—and yes, there are plenty of those in the book, too —where, limited to speaking in the voice of a scholar-translator, and often a rather ill-tempered one at that, I point out with some satisfaction that the almost but not quite perfectly paired play on the word "old" in both languages turns out in favor of the English host. (p. 87)
On this note I'd like to steal the rest of my time to read some selections from my true history as a fiction, Ananios of Kleitor, starting with a few more passages that reiterate the hypothesis that there is Greek beneath its English just as there has been, despite differences in degree and condition, in my own lifetime of linguistic experience.
1. Kosmas Logothetes (Index Nominum, 1st 5 sentences, p. 131; sample, pp. 31-32)
2. I cannot pinpoint the occasion that first brought to my attention that extraordinary and rare verb Korinthiazomai, defined in Liddell & Scott's Lexicon, "practise fornication, because Corinth was famous for its courtesans." The word appealed so strongly to Ananios, to those many others who were involved in the study of his lost poems, and to me so well it began to thread its way ineluctably throughout the work. Its first appearance comes as Fragment 29a, "where I intend to make out like a Corinthian," a rendition my editor-translator persona traces and credits to Anastas Krebs and Sir Michael Sewtor-Lowden during the happiest time of their lives, when tipsy with good retsina in Greece before World War II they agreed it was the best translation of their favorite deponent. [3 voices: active, middle, passive. Deponent verbs have an active meaning but only middle forms, in which the subject acts on of for himself.] The Korinthiazomai of 29a appears or is referred to at least six times throughout the book, uniting multiple stories of impossibly scattered persons, times, and places through the stark urgency of its message.
3. Read first sentence in note on reconstruction of #12 (p. 19) on page 39 and then poem on page 38.
4. Finally, my candidate for the quintessential Ananian fragment is 23, the next to shortest of them all, after the ink-blot suggestively poignant "enough time" of 14. Fragment 23, "the thrill is" might have stood in the middle of a line or poem about anything. If we want to make an educated guess based on the rest of Ananios, it may well have had something to do with the body erotic, in which case it might be read with a painful echo of B. B. King's bleak word "gone," just like all the rest of the poem. But if we choose to read it as a whole having to do with the body poetic, "the thrill is"—and always will be.
No portion of the text may be quoted, referred to, or used in any way without permission from the author.
During the decades when Cavafy was facing the endgame of Greeks in Africa and the Near East, huddled masses from the recently founded Greek kingdom rode a wave of emigration westward across the Atlantic to the United States. There they married and reproduced and brought forth αγάπες και συγκινήσεις alien to America and Greece. George Economou, born in Great Falls Montana in 1934 to immigrants who arrived from the Peloponnese in 1907 and 1922, educated at Colgate and Columbia, Professor of English and chairman of the English department at the University of Oklahoma, translator of ancient and modern Greek and medieval English, and poet, reflects on the "harmonies and fits" of the old world and the new—where Britons, Frenchmen, guns, slave ships, Hereford steers, white-faced lambs, and his father and mother descended. If Cavafy's poetry explores the after shocks of the eastern Mediterranean's Hellenization in a post-classical world, Economou's work bears witness to the processes by which Greeks became American while they also re-imagined Greece.
Some of this work happens in thresholds. Economou tells of a growing awareness of himself as "double" through encounters with gatekeepers of identity. First was the rural policeman in Dafni, his mother's birthplace near Kalavryta, to whom Economou appealed for renewal of his American visitor's visa in 1958. On that occasion an argument broke out when Economou, after answering that he was a citizen of the U.S.A, wanted to answer "American" also to the question of εθνότητα (ethnicity/nationality). To this the χωροφύλακας countered: "One's nationality comes from where his parents were born, Greece and Greek." "One's nation is where one's born, and that's America and American," Economou argued. "American, Greek, American, GreekAmerican, greekamerican, it went on, as our one word apiece stichomythia concealed from me my true identity, struggling to emerge out of a merger of the two seemingly antagonistic words" ("Janus Witness 10-11). In this argument, Economou discovered that he held none of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship in Greece and all the obligations of Greek ethnicity. How had this happened? By what alchemy had the Atlantic crossing given his father and mother a chance to become American but himself, born in the US.A, the "ineluctable modality" of being Greek?
The obverse of that Greek scene played itself out two decades later in Kingfisher, Oklahoma at an Elks Club-University of Oklahoma fundraiser he attended as Chairman of the English Department. As narrated in "An Evening in Kingfisher," Economou worked hard to prove he is American against a current of suppositions drawn from the look of his last name.
"ENTERING KINGFISHER, Oklahoma"
the road sign reads
"THE BUCKLE ON THE GRAIN BELT."
…[W]e move for the doors or bartenders
and I am almost out into the night air
when [a] sixty-six year old guard pulls
out of the line at the bar & squints
at my crimson-bordered OU name tag
offering his hand to mine which he begins to squeeze
and asks me where I'm from.
—"Well, I kin see that. I mean with a name
like that where are huh from?
Looking back at his tag
which reads "'Huck' Rice"
and understanding what he's getting at,
—"Just moved here from New York,
but I was born in Montana."
He squeezes harder,
—"But that's not an American name."
—"Sure it is, from Greece. (And making a good guess)
When did your people come over here from Germany, Huck?"
Easing up on the squeeze,
—"Oh hell, we bin here forever."
—"You mean you're native American?"
—"No, no Indian. What d'yuh do at OU?"
—"I teach English."
—"With a name like that, yuh teach English?"
—"I run the whole show in English, Huck.
I'm chairman of the department, brought in from New York."
The handshake ends in a tie
and I'm grateful for the summers
spent opening oysters in Wellfleet.
—"Well, George, how d'yuh like workin'
here among all these Americans?"
—"I told you, Huck, I was born here."
—"I like yuh, George, I'd like to talk
to yuh 'bout your beliefs."
Remembering Roy Rogers' characterization
of Reagan when he was nominated in 1980,
—"Why, I'm 'a fine Christian gentleman,'
just like you. Only my kind is the oldest,
Huck. Greek, you know, right back to the
language of the New Testament (making another
good guess) while you Lutherans are pretty recent."
Shaking his head,
—"Greek, and yuh teach English
and don't even have an accent."
—"No, no accent, Huck, perfect English,
You've got the accent. But give me a
chance and I'll be back here next year
sounding just like you."
—"I'd like that. I like yuh, George."
—So long, Huck, see you next year."
Leaving Kingfisher, I try not to hear
the obvious literary echoes
and focus rather on the odd sincerity
of my dialogue with Huck
and definitely name him
to my first team offensive line.
The poem is about the foreigner in America. For the former football player, the Greek name, rare, to be sure, in "Aggie" territory, is alien— ξενίζει, as Cavafy might have said. And even more alien is the person with a Greek name who speaks perfect English. By playing the native card, Huck Rice places limits on America's capacity to absorb immigrants. But the narrator with the Greek name, who is, after all, chairman of the English Department and a speaker of perfect English, plays the native card better than Huck Rice. He uses the occasion to make the point that the U.S. is a country of foreigners. "We're Americans too," he implies, and when he points out the German origins of Huck's name, it is as if he is adding, "What else are you?"
Economou's effort to make something of his uncomfortable, dual belonging between Greek last name and perfect English, birthright and birthplace takes two directions. As Economou puts it, being both Greek and "as American as they come" requires lots of looking, often simultaneously in two ways.
One direction leads him to a genealogical tracing of the crossing into America by "fathers and mothers through whom [I] fell into this world" (Ameriki Book Two III 49). In two books of poetry published in 1987, Ameriki Book One and Ameriki Book Two, Economou follows the line of intersecting diasporas into America. His father's entrance into the U.S. at Ellis Island in 1907, for example, was decided by an Irish immigration officer, who was probably just one generation removed from immigration himself. He stamped the
…naked 16 year old male
on the shoulder, "Omicron
Kappa, he's put on your back,"
confides an older naked male.
Government Inspected, he is destined for St. Louis and points
West, where work
becomes the new
for this is a story
an economic comedy—
(Ameriki Book One, II, Harmonies and Fits 30)
Thus Economou's father became "OK," the approved labor immigrant on the path to economic success, who nickname also happened to anticipate his son's later, uneasy position in Oklahoma. But in his father's mind and in the mind of the other Greek immigrant who was watching his back, the "OK" brand and his name "Economou" was a Greek receptacle for secret English meanings that would allow him to enter fully into America's "economic comedy."
Economou's mother, traveling from Piraeus to New York in 1922 at age 14 aboard the SS Byron and then across the U.S. to Montana by rail, made her own good Greek sense of the American crossing:
she crossed herself
and crossed herself
and crossed herself again
as her life's line crossed
with America's rivers:
and at the place of its cataracts
the river whose name in Greek
sounds like "smudge."
At the great falls
of the Missouri
it would begin.
(Ameriki Book Two, IV, Harmonies and Fits 52)
Suspended Step of the Stork 1991 and Emir Kusturica's Underground of 1995):
as the Sun feeds
the Missouri by
the marriage where
it does, gathered
near the Ladon
where jealous Apollo
fed Loukippos to
the knives and spears
of Daphne & her girls
(in her village
&and the bride's),
for sizing up
& toasting their union
on the western continent.
(Ameriki Book Two, Part III, Harmonies and Fits 50)
Thus while they encounter "complexions and tongues not seen or heard before that momentous day of disembarkation" ("Day of Disembarkation"), right from the start his parents begin to connect separate universes. According to Economou, "The ingenium of an old world fills the new and shapes their lives and their world anew." Their bridge building consists of finding shared letters, homonymous words, similarly mountainous topographies in Arcadia and Montana, Greek folk songs that resonate in the new continent:
to remember the walk down
into Pine Coulee
is to remember
walking on air not rocks—
what joy in the mountains
man, what joy is there
an Achaian daimon
(in Cascade County now)
what joy there is in the mountains
hear the birdies tell it every day
and how they bear witness
their gut song in the trees
and gut sings out of your hand
(Ameriki Book One, Part V, Recreation 2)
Through such acts of association, they not only link their Greek past and American promise; they reinvent an imaginary homeland finding "harmonies and fits" in uncorresponding parts.
Economou is attentive to their strategies of interlocking two different cultures from makeshift, imperfectly matched materials, which he compares to the spolia out of which new buildings are built. Yet he also recognizes that the child of immigrants inherits a different sense of place; she or he must take an entirely different course to harmonize the inharmonious junction of new and old worlds.
The second path Economou follows in his effort to bridge his Greek birthright and American birthplace leads him to Greece. Economou speaks of the first journey he made to Greece in 1958 as a return home in an interview he granted me on 23 November 2009. As we listen to his recollection on 23 November 2009 of his first flight into Greece, perhaps we can compare Economou's homecoming and the view of the protagonist of Cavafy's "Homecoming from Greece," for whom home directed him away from Greece. (It was interesting for me to observe in a class I recently taught that my Greek-American students systematically misread the English translation of Cavafy's poem as "Homecoming to Greece"!).
[DVD Economou #2]
Another clip from the same interview, where Economou talks about learning Greek well in Montana in the 1940s and then speaking it in Greece in 1958, where people made their own sense of his accent, shows us that for people living in Greece the αγάπες and συγκινήσεις of Greek Americans were even more foreign than those of the Greek from the Levant. What Economou says puts a lovely twist on Cavafy's notion of what it is that ξενίζει τον Ελληνισμό—"is alien to the Greek center":
[DVD Economou #1]
Economou has spoken of the relationship he developed with Greece over time as a "reversal" of the process his parents set in motion as they adapted to the United States:
7. Just as my father and other Greeks had reinvented their homeland by adopting the mountainous topos of eponymous Montana, I began to reverse the process in which the topos of Greece gradually insinuated itself into my senses and my sense of place in the world…. No matter how pale or faint my efforts appear when compared with the mapping of the homeland phenomenon conducted by mainland Greeks, they nevertheless constitute an example of the cultural force and fruit of diaspora. (Janus Witness 17).
The reversal Economou speaks of is no simple backtracking. Migrations have a direction as well as a trajectory—we would call it a "nap" if the earth's surface were made of velvet. Perhaps we can think of the difference between the immigrant's movement away from Greece and the descendant's journey back in this way. The immigrant's entry into life in the United States is an impossibly painful, creative act full of potentiality, expectations, and disappointments. Given the legal, economic, political, and social mechanisms that have developed in this country of immigrants, it may lead to full assimilation. Wherever it leads, the immigrant—the male immigrant in particular—bears the weight of his American fate. He sees himself as his universe's maker. The immigrant's descendant's return, in contrast, is a retracing of the ancestor's footsteps back to a world never of his or her making, which has not stand still. The ancestor's record of the forsaken world—the names, toponyms, stories, myths, songs, photographs, letters, and emotions—cannot fit the world returned to after so many years. As much as the relationship of descent presupposes an original, the descendent finds that the original is not there to be repossessed.
I can think of several creative Greek American artists who have grappled with the frustration of being sandwiched between an American universe of their immigrant forefathers' making and a required Greek ethnicity. They have found creative ways out of that stale, middle ground by recombining and recontextualizing inherited, found, and invented pieces of both worlds. Diamanda Gallas does this when she sings rebetika songs in the style of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' blues or, in her album of 1981, Tragouthia apo to aima exoun fones" elaborates on the tradition of spontaneous, ecstatic Maniatika moirologia with fearless New York avant garde dissonance. And Jeffrey Eugenides does this in Middlesex when he pieces together a family history from fragments he invents based on the knowledge of something that might have been.
For four decades after his first visit to Greece, Economou cultivated his own backward and forward movement by translating Greek poetry into English. He began translating works by Takis Sinopoulos introduced to him by Odysseus Elytis and Nikos Gatsos, then continued with other recent and ancient Greek writing, including 3 books of poems by Cavafy, two plays by Euripides, a number of erotic epigrams by the 1st-century BC Epicurean Philodemos, and Acts of Love, a collection of ancient Greek love poems. With each of these translations, he honed the tools of poet and scholar to recover a context for understanding the poems in their own language and creating an English idiom capable of conveying tone, meaning, and context. But it is with his most recent book, Ananios of Kleitor, published in 2009, that Economou exemplifies both how an American of Greek descent may reclaim Greece and simultaneously how impossibly elusive is the goal of recovery.
Ananios of Kleitor is an unprecedented, unique work. Part poem, part scholarship, part manuscript history, part correspondence, it translates and reconstructs fragments and the scholarly history of an author and poetic oeuvre that never existed. The book opens with a photo-image of a brown papyrus from the University of Michigan Papyrology Collection, then a brief introduction praising the recovery work of scholars and summarizing the legacy of Ananios's lost texts. English translations of 41 fragments of Greek erotic verse follow. Ancient commentaries on Ananios poetry give contexts for its readings, and modern correspondence tells a gripping story of classicism intermixed with love, adultery, betrayal, and the atrocities of World War II. The book closes with an index nomenum with biographies of all the players. All of this comes together as a commanding piece of fiction centered in the vicinity of Kalavryta, the patrida of both Ananios and Economou, opening scene of the Greek revolution of 1821, and scene of the execution of 78 German soldiers followed by the machine gunning of 1436 Greek males on December 13, 1943. It turns out that the book's contents, but not its context, are a stunning deception. Ananios (b. 399 BC), his Greek poems, the papyrus wrappings of a mummy from Aphoditopolis, Egypt that preserved them, the critics who quoted him—the Anonymous Alexandrian, Theonaeus, Kosmas Logothetis, and Theophanes, the "Mad Monk of Morea"— the modern scholars who projected their fantasies onto what was left of him—Sir Michael Sewtor-Lowden, Anastas Krebs, Hugh Sydle, Jonathan Barker—none of these ever existed. And yet, so convincing is Ananios of Kleitor in its conception and execution that one reviewer recently confessed to having googled Ananios of Kleitor and come up with just on hit: George Economou.
As the story of the ancient poems' rediscovery emerges, a plenitude of tongues besieges the white spaces of poet's missing words. Readers of Ananios bear witness to the mixture of historical learning, conjecture, and fantasy that can transform scraps of paper into dramatic acts of reconstruction, with mortal consequences. Anyone familiar with Economou's life and work may also recognize scraps of his own words and phrases recycled in the Ananios story; and readers familiar with Greek culture since World War II will laugh at the book's tragic climax, where the words of "Υιούπι για για," a popular Resistance song, unlock an important mystery.
Ananios of Kleitor is obviously a brilliant commentary on Classical philology, as several reviewers of the book have observed. But the book also invites us to think about the perspective on Greece developed by the child of Greek emigrants. It represents Economou's most profound reckoning with the process of reclaiming Greece from the outside. Economou's encounter with Ananios, like his encounter with Greece, begins with a translation of fragments of a whole that does not exist, and which, even in its fragmentary form, is invented based on evidence passionately preserved by others. The fragments are so shattered that they make little sense in and of themselves and certainly don't fit a contemporary context. Yet powerful emotions get attached to them. Like the Greece experienced by one's parents, the original poems become an ever-receding target. While there is no potential for their recovery, the very act of translating fragments that do not exist and recovering their context becomes a way of connecting not just with an emigrant's origin in an imagined homeland but with Hellenism and the very conditions of its survival.
It's a cold thing that happened to Anastas Krebs. If it weren't for him, we wouldn't have the forty-one fragments of poetry by the forgotten Ananios of Kleitor (born 399 BC), found in the papyrus wrappings of a mummy from Aphroditopolis, Egypt, and now translated by George Economou. Lost to the ages for over 2,000 years, Fragment 20 ominously foreshadows Krebs's fate: "Quick, savor what the gods give you. / There's something behind you, baring its teeth." That "something" was Sir Michael Sewtor-Lowden, who seized the credit for Krebs's discover in an act of "scholarly cannibalism."
If this sounds like more than a work of archaeological "recovery and emendation," as Marjorie Perloff calls it, it's because Ananios of Kleitor is everything other than what it appears to be. The translated poems take up less than nine pages and contain ancient "amatory verse" as brief as a few words, yet they ring with internal mystery and beauty: "lips that cry for wine"; "in the dark, her castanets"; "while making love we passed an olive." The more "complete" fragments are full of blank spaces of missing words, either from rotted papyrus or bits that stuck to the mummy from human juices. These lacunae tease the imagination and only enhance what the poet might have originally written. For example,
[ ] like [Eu]ryale's
echoing wail [
] favorite flute-girl
for melodies Apollo heard the satyr make.
Only the scantest biography of Ananios can be extracted from the obscure writers Economou cites, such as Kosmas Logothetes, Chamaemelon, and Theophanes ("The Mad Monk of Morea"). About all we know of Ananios is that he liked to drink wine and listen to fish sing in the river Ladon, eat cabbage for hangovers, and make frequent visits to the largest brothel in Corinth.
It's easy to lose oneself in Economou's arcane world of antiquity, with its dead languages and "historicized context," full of curious details like the pubic shaving customs of temple prostitutes, all within the "rigorous discipline of academic inquiry." Your ancient Greek vocabulary will expand with such items as gynaikomanis (girl-crazy guy) and the rhetorical device of homoiosis (likeness of), used by Rufinos in a pornographic description given in translation on page thirty-three.
The translation and commentary to this point could easily stand alone as a tour de force for the intellectually curious. But there's a connecting tale of treachery, captured in the letters between Krebs, Sewtor-Lowden, and a bizarre cast of their fellow professional classicists, that propels the whole book deep into another dimension. The altercation between two scholars in a university corridor relates to heckling at a comparative literature speech, which in turn points to the drawing of a dagger in the office of a professor, who utters "strong writing can kill"—an allusion to Archilochos the warrior poet. All this is summed up in a statement by Jonathan Barker, a proteégé of Krebs: "scholarship is a battlefield to be won or lost."
As anyone in the academic world can tell you, losers in departmental disputes can end up in a drafty, windowless office twice as far from the parking lot as anyone else. Competing anthropologists at congresses have been known to square off in hotel bars. In the 1950s, there were so many battles between clinicians and experimentalists in the psychology department at UC Berkeley that an outside chairperson had to be appointed by the administration. In this context, Sir Michael Sewter-Lowden's death after his hubristic "Fleecing of Anastas Krebs" is one of the greatest howlers in the history of academic rivalry.
Incredible as these histories read, it's only after one finishes the book that the biggest surprise of all begins to loom. I did a Google search for "Ananios of Kleitor" and was surprised to get only one hit—Economou's book. I tried WorldCat, the massive database of all the libraries in the world, and again came up with only one hit—Economou's book. I tried to find Krebs's Der korinthische Krieg: Versuch einer Neubewertung (1920), but no searches turned up. Finally, I sent an email to Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, where, according to Economou, Krebs, was on the faculty from 1919 to 1951. I received a reply from Dr. Wolfgang J. Smolka, Director of Employment, which read, "There are no records or any other notices concerning Anastas Krebs in our archives."
It all sounded so real and legitimage, but like Krebs, I'd been played like a flute. If Krebs did not exist, then neither would his nemesis, Sewtor-Lowden, the allegedly prominent scholar who purloined his work. Sure enough, Sewtor-Lowden came up "no matches found." By a domino effect, down came Jonathan Barker as well as William Grossman, supposed publisher of Sewter-Lowden's partial translations of Ananios in 1960. Did Wilhelm Geisling, Krebs's colleague at the university in Munich, really exist? Apparently yes. But his "best known work," Goethe und die Antike (1934), does not. Was the great Cynic philosopher, Diogenes, really known for his "habitual public masturbation"? Apparently yes. Was there really an "Anonymous Alexandrian," source of several Ananios allusions, who was forced to flee his adjunct position at the Library of Alexandria by Ptolemy VIII in 145 BC? Probably not.
One is left with the realization that "truth," if there is such a thing, is most likely to be in the form of a surprise. As a Professor Emeritus of English Literature, Economou is well qualified to morph a stunning deception out of real and imagined scholarship. I don't think it's spoiling anything to blow the gaff on Economou's ingenious ruse. Like a trompe-l'oeil painting, or a palindrome, everything is gained by knowing what it is. The artifice of Ananios of Kleitor, with the camouflaged seeds of its own wicked subversion, resounds with "volumes of ironies," and is thus a masterpiece of revealed "truth."
George Economou's Ananios of Kleitor seems to be an academic monograph, collecting the fragments of a fourth-century Greek poet and documenting their reception. In fact, it is a polyphonic, adventurous, genre-breaking work where fictions proliferate. Rather than spin a continuous tale, Economou inhabits a series of voices, first in Ananios's poems, then in the comments and correspondences of scholars, from the distant to the recent past, who study him. Far from the dry work it first appears to be, Ananios of Kleitor is a restless, searching book, less a novel than a poetic meditation on desire, knowledge and history.
The poet Ananios ties the book together, but we learn early on how spectral his presence is: virtually nothing is known of his life—only that he was born in the Arcadian city of Kleitor around 399 BC—and of his work a mere "forty-one poetic items" remain, most of them fragments. To be sure, Economou is hardly being fanciful when he constructs Ananios as a set of tantalizing clues. Very little is known about the lives of most ancient authors, and usually only a small portion of their original work survives. In fact, what's missing from Ananios is precisely the point. For the scholars interested in him—who are learned, obsessed, and deluded in equal measure—he is less a stable foundation than an obscure object of desire.
Not coincidentally, many of Ananios's poems deal with eros. A poet and translator in his own right, Economou adeptly manages the tension—so characteristic of ancient Greek love poetry—between technique and emotion. Poets are fools for love but they also take craft seriously. In the following poem, for instance, the narrator's desolation in the final three lines plays beautifully against the compressed storytelling of its first five:
[Th]ucydides measures the Attic war's
first eight-and-a-half years by the tenure
as priestess at Argos' temple of He[ra
of Ch]rysis, who fell asleep and let it
catch fire, then awoke and fled in the night.
She was old, and you, much less than half her age,
what's your excuse, Pyrrha, for the havoc
you have made of my life in just three months?
What initially seems to be a history lesson (The anecdote comes from Thucydides's Peloponnesian War.) becomes poignant and personal at the poem's conclusion. On rereading the poem, one sees that the historical recollection serves as a metaphorical narrative, a substitute for the missing love story, and gives content to the poet's dejection: the priestess who flees the temple after setting it ablaze stands in for Pyrrha (whose name, after all, is related to the Greek word for fire) and the ruined temple provides an image for the narrator's dejection.
Here and in the few other complete poems, Economou fashions a compelling, complex voice for Ananios, one that is both steeped in literary history and bruised by eros's rough ways. But most of Ananios' poems are fragments, consisting of a few verses or even a few words. In some of these Economou reflects on the formal aspects of the fragment itself. Thinking along similar lines as Anne Carson in her discussion of desire in Eros the Bittersweet, Economou see the fragment as inflaming a longing in the reader, a desire, moreover, that the poem may also represent in its subject matter:
As the shepherd tilts his ear into the wind
to catch the lost lamb's bleating, so [
The textual break here, which strands the reader mid-simile, transforms the shepherd's desire ("to catch the lost lamb's bleating") into a version of the reader's own. Like the shepherd, the reader also wants to hear something (in this case, the rest of the poem).
Elsewhere Economou does not so much thematize this aspect of fragments as exploit it, fashioning verselets that resonate sweetly precisely because they lack context. Some of these seem to evoke erotic situations (". . . lips that cry for wine . . ."), while others are more ambiguous on that score (" . . . the most beautiful time . . . ") and a third type can only be called musical word-paintings (" . . . black broth they drink in Sparta . . ."). Like all poetry, Ananios's asks that the reader take her time, but it repays careful reading and, improbably—because one must remember that this is original poetry meant to sound like ancient translated verse—succeeds on its own terms.
In fact, the poems themselves make up only a small part of the book. Economou's subject is not, finally, Ananios himself or even his work, but what others see in him. Ananios's first commentator, another ghostly voice from the past identified only as the Anonymous Alexandrian, supplies lines or phrases from Ananios's missing poems in the course of a treatise on poetic language. Reflecting on the Alexandrian's selective quoting, the narrator writes:
[W]e must be aware of the distinct possibility that these items tell us as much, if not more, about the Alexandrian's reading than they do about Ananios' writing, especially since we are once again left in the position of gazing upon phrases, lines, and short passages that have been isolated—I am tempted to say and do so, amputated—from their poetic bodies. Thus, in giving us one kind of context, the Alexandrian has deprived us of another.
The narrator's own desire—to see Ananios's works in their original form, rather than "amputated"—lies, of course, just beneath the surface here, along with a hint of pathos. He neatly articulates the double bind of the scholar who is at once driven to recreate the "real" Ananios and continually hampered by the limited material that history provides. Another of the poet's ancient readers, an eleventh-century monk named Theophanes, underscores the narrator's point when he relates how a demon in the form of Ananios tempted him with "pleasures immeasurable" if he would "open [himself] to the enchantments of [Ananios'] poems." Like many early Christians, Theophanes is stuck between "pagan" culture and Pauline morality. (As Theophanes writes, "Paul admonishes us to part company with fornicators, idolators, adulterers, sodomites and the effeminate.") He is therefore more of a historical symptom than a trustworthy witness to an ancient poet.
Ananios of Kleitor picks up narrative momentum significantly when it reaches the poet's twentieth-century readers, a group of classicists whose complex relationships (with one another and Ananios) Economou unveils piecemeal in a series of correspondences. In a certain sense, the less said the better about the twists and turns of the most novelistic portion of the book. The reader's pleasure in this section comes, at least in part, from seeing how the story unfolds, with its layers upon layers of intrigue and deception. Beginning as a tale of academic theft—in which a Cambridge student accuses his former teacher of pilfering a German colleague's work (The work in question is more or less the current text of Ananios's poems.)—Economou's narrative builds gradually and widens in scope until—though the reader hardly notices this occurring—it is treating its characteristic themes on a much larger stage, namely Europe before and after World War II. Here Economou is particularly deft at connecting what appear to be his character's moral foibles—their psychological blind spots, minor cruelties and sins of omission—with large crimes and horrible, unforeseen consequences, all of which play out against the backdrop of the Nazis' rise and fall. If Economou's poetry reveals him as an heir to Sappho and Archilochus in the book's beginning, by the end his skillful plotting and broad moral vision show him to be a latter-day Sophocles.
Another pleasure of the book's twentieth-century narrative has to do with what one might call Ananios's return. While this may not be apparent on the first reading, Ananios's poems are not simply random verses chosen for their musical qualities or even their capacity to function as standalone poems, despite their intrinsic interest. Rather, they are the seeds out of which the rest of the book grows, appearing variously as leitmotifs, whose meanings shift and deepen as the story progresses, and as fundamental to its basic structure. The aesthetic effect of all this, finally, is sublime, as if Ananios were the real author here and the characters were living a story he had already told. Even if, as I imagine, Economou could not endorse this as a final reading (As a narrator, he indulges only a few times in such metaphysical speculation.) it goes against the grain of the book's pessimistic currents just enough to produce some ambiguity and wonder. If the real subject here is self-fashioning through literature—that is, how we create ourselves through interaction with texts—who's to say where agency truly lies?
Finally, Ananios of Kleitor is a labor of love. It is unthinkable that Economou ever imagined this book would find a large audience (based on its title alone) and it asks a lot of its readers, who must occasionally wade through pedantic discussions of Greek meter and esoteric arguments about authorship on the way to the juicier bits. But Economou is uncompromising out of sheer artistic abundance. A book this accomplished comes along rarely.
Geoff Maturen holds a PhD in classical studies and is a freelance reviewer based in Ann Arbor.
 The square brackets in this poem indicate where the "original" text is incomplete. Anything within the brackets is a conjecture, though in this particular case the supplied text would seem to be uncontroversial—if, that is, the whole thing were not an elaborate fiction. (Economou is nothing if not loyal to his premise.)
Thanks to a solid education in postmodernist theory, most readers will enjoy George Economou's Ananios of Kleitor on a number of levels, all of which resonate as the self-consciousness between text and reader deepens with every page, and glosses, letters, and textual analyses become a bona fide tour de force. It plays the margins between creating and counter-creating; between "feiting" and counterfeiting, and in doing so, it cracks open a very heavy and almost unopenable door to the future, and the way we will approach texts in the future.
But, before squeezing themselves through that doorway, most readers stand quietly and smile. Everyone loves to be in on the joke. We like to participate in our own hoaxing(s), and role-play the "mark" (the object of the "long con"). Granted, some readers may pretend to have been taken in completely by Economou's elaborate production, and they believed that Ananios of Kleitor existed as a living, breathing poet born in 399 BC, the year of Socrates' death. Those who do so are the ones who take special pleasure in the notion that a bevy of Ananios scholars squawked noisily and pecked each other's eyes out in the intellectual barnyard as they sifted through grains of text scattered over the world, or worried the chunks until the fragments started to disintegrate under the pressure(s) of need.
Economou's epistolary novel / detective story is very satisfying. The postmodern reader will feel a frisson of recognition as she looks at Borges-like intricacies of "found" text and invented scholarly documentation. She will recognize delightful satire of scholars and their rivalry.
Yet, perhaps the sheer love of language, and watching it flower and create cognitive bridges between seemingly unrelated signifiers and chunks of text rich with interpretive possibilities. The letters exchanged by the crew of Cambridge classicists are fresh spring bouquets—riotous color and geometry—of words, form, and allusion—and the accompanying mental images of a couple of professors enthralled by the sound of their own warbling, burbling words makes one smile. What results is a moment of sheer joy as the reader's own invention processes are triggered. Meaning is participatory, consensual, and a matter of ongoing negotiation. Reality does not exist as a tangible, unmoving absolute. Instead, it's a kaleidoscope in appearance and in action.
With a wink-wink, nod-nod complicity with the reader, Economou's text subverts both modernist and postmodernist tactics, and assumptions about reality.
After all, Economou writes in a post-Baudrillardian world, and, while clearly referencing Baudrillard's writings on simulacra by creating a Greek poet (Ananios) who is not only more archetypically Classical Greek than actual ancient Greeks but also simultaneously undermines Baudrillard's notions that preferences for the simulacra are a consequence of consumer culture.
The scholarly debates and the rivalry of the Ananios scholars which Economou provides in great detail, make one think of debates on canonical ancient Greek poets. One can't help but think of how Sappho's work has been subjected to the same kinds of appropriation as the scholars' own desire (and projections of their fear of the Other) and how they are layered in, interspersed, and intercalated with the fragmentary calligraphies on old papyrus. The chunks are assumed to be all that is left of an oeuvre massif—a grand work of deep cultural significance. As in the case of the Shroud of Turin, scholarship follows desire—and knowledge is led around by the nose by ideology or a kind of prurient voyeurism that legitimizes one's own lustiness by deflecting it into the unknown spaces of a far distant culture.
Like early anthropologists in Bolivia and Peru who automatically assumed that the structures on the top of the Andes were temples dedicated to ritual virgin sacrifice, Economou's 1950s-era Ananios scholars are quick to create a kind of 'Julia Child Meets Hugh Hefner" as they create their own glosses for the supposed Ananios texts to complement ancient ones like Recipes for Rhetoric and Games for Dinnertime. These elaborate cultural and textual constructs clearly reflect more the times in which these scholars lived than anything relating to the subject.
Economou takes the analysis and the deconstruction one step further. Instead of assuming that the interpretation is a mirror of the scholar or reader's own mind, he suggests that the mirror reflects back to the artifice itself. The artifice is what reveals itself as real. By extension, artifice is in fact the real. The artifice is what we believe in, and it is what makes our lives move forward.
To put it another way, the invented text of Ananios and the invented Ananios scholarly research do not exist in the world of phenomena. They are pure artifice. There is not a doubt of that. However, the process of discovery of text, and the process of creating artifice do exist. The process of scholarly research exists. The debates between the scholars (albeit faux scholars) is precisely the mechanism used to attach value, meaning, and even wisdom / religiosity to things-in-themselves.
In this, Economou anticipates the conversations that we will most likely be observing in 2011 or 2012, as scholars debate what happened in late 2008 when the world stopped believing in the artifice of credit and other financial instruments and in the constructed texts that allowed the leveraging of time.
Granted, this analogy requires a bit of hammering square pegs into round holes. There are a few problems with the parallels. However, Economou shows how an elaborate set of companion artifices—the Ananios primary texts and the Ananios secondary texts (the scholarly apparatus and discussions)—resonate in an eerie way with the companion artifices of money-texts (credit, legal tender) and their attendant elucidating apparatus (the new processes of implementing credit).
While some readers might hold out that it is somehow "wrong" to create a book that is, in some ways, an elaborate hoax, others will see that the creating of the hoax is immeasurably valuable in our times, and that it shows us just where we are and will be as we extend the cognitive / rhetorical processes from poetry to other texts. They do not have to be literary texts. They can be financial, scientific, or religious texts—all of which require the process of artifice-creation that ignites (and also undermines) faith, belief, and trust. Faith, belief, and trust in what? One might ask—it's in the firmness and predictability of the process (a "rule of law" if you will)—and also in the linearity of time.
To take the analysis further, it is also clear that at the very least, science (and the so-called scientific method) as we know it, is assailed yet again. A positivist, empirically-deterministic world is not only a house of cards, it is an uninteresting house of cards. It is far better to look at and even embrace the hoax-ish elements of Ananios of Kleitor as a field guide to artifice, simulacra, and indeterminacy.
For all those who long for the old paradigms, not all is lost. From artifice comes reality.
From artifice comes invention. From invention comes life.
"With this latest volume of poetry, poet and scholar of Medieval English George Economou exemplifies both how an American of Greek descent may reclaim Greece and simultaneously how impossibly elusive is the goal of recovery. Ananios of Kleitor is an unprecedented, unique work. Part poem, part scholarship, part manuscript history, part correspondence, it translates and reconstructs fragments and the scholarly history of an author and poetic oeuvre that never existed. The book opens with a photo-image of a brown papyrus from the University of Michigan Papyrology Collection, then a brief introduction praising the recovery work of scholars and summarizing the legacy of Ananios's lost texts. English translations of 41 fragments of Greek erotic verse follow. Ancient commentaries on Ananios poetry give contexts for its readings, and modern correspondence on the poems' recovery tells a gripping story of classicism intermixed with love, adultery, betrayal, and the atrocities of World War II. The book closes with an index nomenum with biographies of all the players. All of this comes together as a commanding piece of fiction centered in the vicinity of Kalavryta, the patrida of both Ananios and Economou, opening scene of the Greek revolution of 1821, and scene of the execution of 78 German soldiers followed by the machine gunning of 1436 Greek males on December 13, 1943. It turns out that the book's contents, but not its context, are a stunning deception. The book also invites us to think about the perspective on Greece developed by the child of Greek emigrants. The book represents Economou's most profound reckoning with the process of reclaiming Greece from the outside. Economou's encounter with Ananios, like his encounter with Greece, begins with a translation of fragments of a whole that does not exist, and which, even in its fragmentary form, is invented based on evidence passionately preserved by others. The fragments are so shattered, old, and foreign that they make little sense in and of themselves. Yet powerful emotions get attached to them. Like the Greece recounted abroad by one's emigrating parents, the original poems become an ever-receding target. While there is no possibility of their recovery, the very act of translating fragments that do not exist and recovering their context becomes a way of connecting not just with an emigrant's origin in an imagined homeland but with Hellenism and the very conditions of its survival."
Leontis, Artemis. Abstract of review of Ananios of Kleitor, Poems & Fragments and their Reception from Antiquity to the Present. Athens: Athens Review of Books 1:9, 2010. By permission of the author.
What a millennium of repressed, cock-happy scholars can do to an obscure Arcadian poet
Ancient literary texts have a habit of turning up at historical junctures. When Alexander the Great captured the Lebanese city of Tyre in 332 BC, one of his soldiers found a tomb outside the city. Alongside the coffins was a cypress chest, which turned out to contain a marvellous novelistic account of adventure, magic and love, much of it set beyond the mysterious north-Atlantic island of Thule (Iceland?). In AD 67 a mighty earthquake shook the island of Crete, exposing an underground cavern near Knossos; in that cavern was a precious text, written in "Phoenician letters". The manuscript eventually ended up in the hands of the emperor Nero, who summoned his experts to decode it. Amazingly, it turned out to be the journal of one Dictys, a participant in the Trojan War. What are the odds on that?
In fact, the chances are pretty high, at least in a certain tradition of fictional writing. The first example comes courtesy of Antonius Diogenes, author of the extravagant fantasy The Wonders Beyond Thule, the second from an equally fictitious text of the Roman imperial era, the anonymous Journal of Dictys of Crete. Classicists, particularly after Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, are practised readers of such "pseudo-documentarism". So when a book of poems by a previously unknown writer turns up on your desk, the antennae immediately begin to twitch—especially when the story of their rediscovery is as thrilling and captivating as any fiction.
According to this ingenious pastiche of a scholarly edition, Ananios was born in 399 BC (the year of Socrates' execution), in the obscure Arcadian town of Kleitor. He composed his vibrant, life-loving poems of sex, drink, local topography and cabbage in an era of huge social upheaval, not to mention literary sophistication (he turns out to be our earliest witness to the impact of Thucydides). Of the poems themselves, we have forty papyrus fragments: apart from poems 15 and 17, most of them are mere scraps. Poem 41, for example, reads simply:
]awe[ ]none[ ]oh yes[
What lends this book its power and panache, however, is not so much the morsels it claims to preserve from antiquity's table, but the extraordinary story of Ananios' razor's edge "survival" and "rediscovery". The important question is not what you and I make of these meagre fragments, but what—according to George Economou—more than a millennium of inventive, zealous, insane, repressed, evangelical, cock-happy, racist, murderous scholars can do to them, given an inch or more. The narrative that he weaves in Ananios of Kleitor is dominated by alpha males exalted and humbled (and worse) by the effects wrought by their egos and intellects. This is the story of how words lose their meanings and gain new ones through the ages.
Read and savour this book from beginning to end. Certainly, it mimics the rebarbative conventions of scholarship: "Introduction", "Note on Spelling", "Notes on the Introduction", translations of the fragments, "Reception", "Endnotes", "Index nominum". Economou maintains, poker-faced, the fiction that we will "consult" the notes to support our readings in the text, or even "honor the well-worn practice of skipping them altogether". But the real pleasure emerges from a page-by-page reading, which gradually discloses the identity of the ancient, medieval and twentieth-century actors who have engaged with this text, the web of imagery that binds them together and the interconnectedness of their stories.
From the ancient world, the cast list includes Ananios himself (barely visible through the veils of time); the "anonymous Alexandrian", a Hellenistic commentator who survives on papyrus only; and Theonaeus, the third-century ad polymathic author of the Deipnopaideiai, or Games for Dinnertime (a slight mistranslation). All of these are figures who might conceivably exist, in a classical parallel universe (Theonaeus, for example, is a near-anagram of Athenaeus, the real author of the Deipnosophists). Next, chronologically speaking, comes my own favourite character in the book, the sixth-century Christian cook and rhetorician Kosmas Logothetes, whose grapplings with Ananios' eroticism convey brilliantly, and hilariously, early Christians' schizophrenic battle between morality and logoerotic pleasure:
If you seek an example of homoiosis, you may find it, at peril of your immortal soul, in the first of two lines, which Ananios meant to insert into the middle of a poem, worse even than his, by Rufinos, famous for his supposed judging in beauty contests over the private parts of loose women:
Melite's can be played like Hermes' lyre
What Ananios says may be done with what lies between Melite's thighs in the next verse, it is my sacred obligation to keep to myself.
Theophanes, the eleventh-century "mad monk of the Morea", is also hilarious, inveighing against the Byzantine dynasty of his day, using Ananios as a cipher for sexual and culinary immorality (he is particularly upset by the misuse of fish).
A grimmer story, however, clusters around Ananios' twentieth-century rediscoverers: Anastas Krebs, a crazed but insightful German historian of ancient warfare, whose Romantic Hellenism inspires his quest for Ananios; Sir Michael Sewtor-Lowden, a friend and sometime fellow traveller of Krebs in Greece, who holds a distinguished chair in Cambridge; Jonathan Barker, a graduate student of Sewtor-Lowden, who visited Krebs in 1951 and was entrusted with the latter's studies on Ananios; and Hugh Sydle, another of Sewtor-Lowden's graduate students.
The plot unfurls amid hints and misdirection, most of all in the twentieth-century correspondence, which is lovingly "reproduced" here. The arrangement of these letters is riotously non-linear. They start as they were acquired (he claims) from Barker's widow in reverse chronological order; but even the reversed order is after a while discombobulated and reverts without warning to forward chronology. This plays to the book's central theme, the interconnectedness of fragments of existence, particularly across time. Jumbled letters, papyrus fragments, excerpts from larger books, the academic edition designed for "consultation"—these should in principle butcher the narrative, but Ananios' text turns out to be possessed of a strange ability to transcend time. History repeats itself, comically, tragically, unpredictably. At the end of one inconspicuously dull biographical endnote, the narrator spasmodically switches into philosophical mode and comes up with what looks like a vade mecum for the whole book:
We have been spilled into an enormous chamber wherein life continuously echoes art and art life, resounding through volumes of ironies bound in a plenitude of tongues. Some hear nothing. Others strive to link their strains to fulfilling termini in the cosmic din, transforming and modulating them into a manner of music, or the illusion thereof.
Is this the key to reading Ananios of Kleitor? Yet it looks so much like another brilliant parody of academic pretension.
The setting for Ananios' rediscovery is not the siege of a Lebanese city or a Cretan earthquake, but the occupation of Greece during the Second World War. The narrative centres on Krebs's complicity in Nazi war crimes in Greece, on Sewtor-Lowden's appropriation of Krebs's work from Barker, and on Barker's gradual sidelining. Economou's narrator, playing the unworldly, rationalist classicist to perfection, sides with Krebs against the shameless plagiarist Sewtor-Lowden. But Sewtor-Lowden's last letter to Krebs reveals a different figure, denouncing his friend for his "powerful desire to rewrite history", which encompasses both his account of Nazi executions in Greece and his famous work on a battle outside Corinth in 393 BC. This final letter also contains a shocking and unforeseeable plot twist which, like Kosmas Logothetes, I shall treat it as my sacred duty to conceal.
Sewtor-Lowden and Krebs are divided by history and ethics, but they share more than they initially knew. As young men, both travelled to Greece in search of the world of lyric poetry, a land of beauty, exquisite poetry and sex without consequence. Both in due course betray themselves in the most loathsome ways, and find themselves enmeshed in a "tragic chain of events". Sewtor-Lowden's last sentence is "Through all of this, have we not . . . been terribly Greek?". The adverb "terribly" is, of course, vigorously ironic.
The fragmentary Ananios of Kleitor is an almost blank screen on to which others project their own fantasies, with the same rapacity that their compatriot soldiers and tourists approach the people of modern Greece. Krebs (as plagiarized by Sewtor-Lowden) reconstructs the fragmentary poems, so that they become more his poems than Ananios', and reflect particularly his own repressed sexual urges for "a pro from Corinth". Ananios of Kleitor thus practically is Anastas Krebs. This kind of play with names and naming is a running theme throughout. First, there is the constantly invoked risk of confusion with the other Ananios, one who actually exists (four of his fragments are preserved by Athenaeus). It gets worse. The mad monk Theophanes is so excitedly shocked by Ananios that he insists on distinguishing him from the pious, biblical Ananias, and proposes instead to transform "alpha into omicron". There is nothing to help the reader here, but we have to conclude that this makes him "Onanias"—or "wanker". "Ananios" of course also suggests "anon" (as in the "Anonymous Alexandrian", his earliest extant commentator). Both his name and his toponym also invite all sorts of obscene cerebrations (never Google "Clitor", the Latinized form of the town's name).
So, Ananios turns out to be an imaginary object of desire, endlessly recreated by his later readers. But Ananios of Kleitor is not just a spoof. The scholarly ventriloquism and the command of details are impressive, certainly, but the fictitiousness (for example "Kythe College, Cambridge") is too visible for any reader to be fooled into mistaking this world for ours. What it actually is, however, is harder to define: perhaps equal parts academic parody, postmodern romance and prose poem, a kind of ancient-world equivalent of Nabokov's Pale Fire. Some sequences are uproariously funny, but others are provocative, moving or horrifying. It draws to the surface the absurdity, myopia and arrogance of academic prose and the awful conjunctures of history and scholarship; but it is also an affectionate and humane tribute to the power of poetry to lend new meanings to new readers' lives across the ages. A wonderful book.