Brill (2020, two volumes) h/b 1200pp £233.38 (ISBN 9789004269705)
It is not surprising that these volumes (writes the editor) ‘have been in gestation for a long time’: in two volumes, with eight separate parts, 49 densely presented essays (and as many contributors, two of whom, including James Morwood, who wrote on Supplices, have died), and eleven Figures, it is indeed a monumental enterprise. To review separately each of the contributions would fatigue both reviewer and reader: hence it has seemed sensible to consider here only those chapters which may be thought to be of especial relevance and interest: of course, this is in no way to imply that the other chapters lack interest or importance, and it is clear that an immense amount of hard work has gone into completing this substantial contribution to Euripidean scholarship.
The eight parts are as follows: 1: The Poet and His Work; 2: Euripidean Intertextuality: Epic Poetry and Attic Tragedy; 3: Euripides the Innovator: Language, Rhetoric, Realism and Emotion; 4: Image, Chorus, and Performance; 5: Religion, History, and Politics; 6: Euripidean Anthropology: Status, Function, and Gender; 7: Euripides: Ancient Culture, Philosophy, and Comedy; 8: Euripides Made New: Modern Reception, Translation and Performance. Each of the essays is followed by a reasonably concise bibliography; pp. xviii-xxx comprise notes on the contributors, only nine of whom work(ed) in the UK or, in one case, the Republic of Ireland.
1: ‘The Poet and His Work’. This opens with an account by W.B. Tyrrell of the poet’s life, of which little can be regarded as more or less certain—his dates, (484/80-406 BCE ) and the number of his plays (92), of which four were regarded as not being genuine: of the extant plays, only two—Hippolytus and Bacchae—won the first prize. Tyrrell manfully attempts to piece together a biography from the existing sources, valueless though most of them may well be—and note 2 gives admirable and concise details of the source-evidence and later work, including of course that of Lefkowitz (1981).
This chapter is followed by P.J. Finglass on the ‘Textual Tradition of Euripides’ Dramas’, which takes us from the day the works left the poet’s hand, via the effort of Lycurgus in the 330s BC to establish an official state copy of the plays, then from Alexandria to Late Antiquity, and on to the Mediaeval Transmission, and finally to the Progress of Scholarship. This chapter is outstanding: of absorbing interest, compulsory, and compulsive, reading for any student starting work on Euripides, it forcibly reminds us that, to quote one editor, ‘our texts do not come straight from heaven’ (after all, what changes may the actors or directors have made from the text as presented to them?).
There follow up-to-date accounts of all the extant tragedies, including Rhesus, by Marco Fantuzzi, himself the editor of a very recent and substantial commentary on the play for the Cambridge ‘Orange’ series. Since the edition by Vayos Liapis (2012), there has been widespread acceptance that the play was not the work of Euripides—indeed, the commentary by Fries (2014) includes ‘Pseudo-Euripides’ in the title, and Fantuzzi does not dissent. More remarkable than the play itself is that three scholars, presumably working independently, thought it worthwhile to devote time and effort to this indifferent play, probably dating from the fourth century BC. A worthwhile point made by F. is the focus in Rhesus on Northern Greece, possibly implying that the play’s audience(s) were interested in the ‘cultural, military or religious reality of Northern Greece’—but not that the original audience was Macedonian. (One may feel that the substantial efforts expended by three scholars on Rhesus might more profitably have gone towards a new edition of, say, Bacchae, where Dodds’s distinguished commentary is now more than 60 years old.)
The account of Helen, by Emma Griffiths, seems, to this reviewer, to have omitted two of the aspects which have added to the play’s strangeness: the remarkable similarity in plot and plot structure to Iphigenia in Tauris, which was probably presented a year or two before Helen, and the seeming utter irrelevance of the long second stasimon. The play’s strangeness—Aristophanes called it the ‘new-fangled’ Helen—of course owed much to its derivation from the ‘palinode’ of Stesichorus, according to which Helen did not go to Troy, being replaced by an eidolon, while the lady, in Euripides, was transported to Egypt. G.’s section on ‘Helen as a Witness to War’ is especially interesting: Helen is absolved of any blame for causing the Trojan War—contrast the Helen of Troades—but does show herself as ‘intelligent, eloquent, and able to deceive men’ : but when G. writes that the theatrical creation (sc. of the ‘real’ Helen and the eidolon) can be read as an ‘intense manifestation of the occlusion of female agency in Athenian culture … paradoxically a challenge to the accepted norms of female behaviour while simultaneously restoring the status quo’, one wonders whether the audience would have taken in quite so much. G. warns us against any analysis of the play which, by sidelining modern popular culture, ‘may simply create an ivory tower of phantoms’.
If Helen has a ‘happy ending’, the women of The Trojan Women (Troades) emphatically do not. Joe P. Poe’s chapter on the play shows a Helen ‘who brought shame to Greece and sad sufferings to the Trojans’. In the key debate between Hecuba and Helen, Hecuba wins the argument—yet, it is hinted, Helen will escape her threatened death to return to married life with Menelaus, while Hecuba is faced, at the end, with the death of the young Astyanax and, with Andromache and Cassandra, a future in slavery. Poe also looks at the fragmentary Alexander (i.e. Paris) in relation to Trojan Women: did not the (deliberate) failure of Priam and Hecuba to kill Alexander have terrible consequences? ‘It is impossible to deny that the Trojan royal couple had a share in the responsibility for the catastrophe’. Poe does not accept the theory that the play ‘represents a protest against specific political acts or proposals’, though it may reflect the playwright’s ‘general concern about Athens’ aggressive foreign policy’.
In Part 2, John Davidson examines the use made by Euripides of epic sources and models—obviously and especially Homer. But Euripides ranges far beyond the Iliad and Odyssey: D. finds that out of 75 plays which have either survived, or whose titles are known, the Epic Cycle accounts for 24 which have been used by Euripides ‘in some sense’ as a source (but inclusion of Rhesus is more than questionable). D. now looks in detail at this aspect of ten of the 24, including Helen (‘no other tragedy includes such a broad spectrum of Homeric reminiscences’, opined K. Lange—he might have added that no other play so subverts the Homeric narrative). In Iphigenia in Tauris, D. emphasises that Euripides is never just imitating Homer (he gives several examples: Iphigenia is a ‘complex amalgam of barbarian enemy, potentially dangerous female religious figure like Theonoe in Helen, and lamenting Penelope-like figure, while displaying aspects of Odysseus himself in her deep feeling about exile’—which seems rather a lot to load on to her).
We remain with Helen—the play. D.’s case is that in the ‘genre-elusive drama Helen is perhaps even more challenging (sc. than Orestes) when it comes to defining the precise relationship between Euripides and Homer’; he admits that the eidolon concept ‘perhaps only goes as far back as Stesichorus’, but, with the help of Lange, D. does list a compelling range of specific Odyssean references, and concludes that Euripides has handled an ‘extremely subtle and complex revisioning of the epic tradition’. Actually (as already noted) it may be reasonably thought that Euripides has, via illusion and reality, turned the Iliad on its head. As for Troades, D. plausibly suggests that it is ‘the jewel in the crown, and a moving footnote to the Iliad itself’, via situational allusion, rather than by direct linguistic allusion or even general linguistic similarity. But is there really ‘poignancy’ in the use of a cart to convey Hector’s widow Andromache and Astyanax, his now fatherless son? What else could have been used? That said, D.’s chapter adds up to a distinctly useful vade mecum on his topic, with much material for ‘intertextualists’, and the rather generous bibliography is justified—it even includes the late Anne Pippin Burnett’s Catastrophe Survived (1971).
Part 3 offers four chapters on (Euripidean) ‘Language, Rhetoric, Realism and Emotion’. Luigi Battezato’s chapter on language opens with a section on Aristophanes and the language of Euripides—of course Frogs is the locus classicus. B. quotes liberally from the defence of ‘Euripides’ against ‘Aeschylus’, but that is not the main content of the chapter, as he goes on to observe that the language of Euripides, and of tragic poetry in general, is characterised by some clearly marked phonetic, morphological, syntactical and lexical traits that are unacceptable or rare in Attic: here he goes into detail, phonetically (e.g. σσ for ττ, articles used as relative pronouns (but only where the latter would be metrically impossible, argues Diggle: this involves some conjectural eliminations); greater use of ὅτι for ὡς in causal clauses; greater use of ἵνα than in other tragedians; frequent use of anastrophe; omission of definite articles (with Euripides more distant from prose than e.g. Sophocles or Aristophanes); low rate of compound adjectives, especially compared to Aeschylus. Examples of where Euripides differs from prose or other tragedians are numerous, and B. is liberal with examples. The final section of B.’s long chapter considers aspects of Language and Gender (especially in Medea).
In Part 4 (‘Image, Chorus and Performance’), Sarah Miles examines Euripidean stagecraft. Of course, as she says, ‘(there are) huge gaps in our evidence for discussing the phonic, visual, action-based, spatial and musical elements of tragedy’. Equally lacking is direct evidence for costumes, props etc. Of course, Taplin’s work (1977) on the stagecraft of Aeschylus has been key in developing the subject, based as it was on reliance of the text as the primary indicator of stage-action: ‘The plays themselves are the paramount evidence for their own staging’. Yet a comprehensive study of Euripidean stagecraft is still lacking, despite work by Mastronarde (2010) and Halleran (1985, 2002). Aristophanes is of great help when it comes to Euripides’ props, costumes as a means of disguise, monodies and use of the mêchanê. Later, Menander’s use of divine prologue speeches and patterns of rescue, recognition and reunion display the continuing success of some Euripidean stage conventions; and Euripides, as M. observes, is regarded by Aristotle as ‘most tragic of poets’ because of the effect in performance of his plays. M. gives as examples the head of Pentheus in Bacchae, a letter hanging from Phaedra’s dead hand (Hippolytus), Ion’s broom, the bow of Heracles (Heracles) and the water-jar of Electra (which is mentioned in the text, as well as by both Sophocles and by Menander in Dyscolos); M. then goes on to note the many costume-change parallels between Thesmophoriazusae (411 BC) and Bacchae (405 BC) in which Euripides reclaims as tragic a scene of changing costume and cross-dressing more usually associated with comedy. In a persuasive final section (‘The Power of Stagecraft’) in Heracles, M. illustrates the intricate interplay of text and action, and the connection between the actions of characters entering or leaving the stage and the progression of the plot.
Part 5 concerns religion, history, and politics. Sophie Mills considers Euripides and Athenian imperialism, without coming to any startling conclusions: Euripides was, after all, competing to win the first prize, and any overt criticism of Athens, or what the spectators would instinctively regard as the virtues of Athens, would presumably have been injurious to his chances of success: remember, too, the (poorly attested) story that Cleon prosecuted Euripides on the grounds of impiety. Thus, Theseus in Supplices—although a king—represents democratic Athens, and even defends the virtues of democracy. The plays at which M. looks most closely are Heraclidae and Supplices (which James Morwood wrote about in Part 1, finding that Theseus ‘has won through to a Panhellenic generosity of spirit’), but in so doing, she is careful neither to dismiss those two plays as Athenian propaganda nor to ignore certain ‘internal complications which potentially undermine the encomia of Athens which they appear to offer’. In addition Troades has been taken as a ‘coded condemnation’ of Athens’ brutal treatment of Melos, which had taken place in the year before the play’s production: if so, coded it would assuredly have had to be; the chorus in the play, speculating about where they will be sent as prizes for the Greeks, dreads the thought of Sparta; indeed, Sparta comes under heavy fire in Andromache (425 BC), possibly trading on hostile Athenian images (doubtless exaggerated): it is hard to regard this as unconnected to the Peloponnesian war.
In Part 6 (‘Euripidean Anthropology’): Dana LaCourse Manteanu takes as her subject the suitably modish ‘Women’s Voices in Euripides’. ‘Fifth century Greek tragedy, a product of male playwrights, represented or misrepresented women obsessively, prompting the question whether its heroines were “really women”’. M. observes, as is obvious enough, that the prominence of women on the stage stands in marked contrast to their position in Athenian society—but that Phaedra in Hippolytus and Creusa in Ion are long silent, with gendered connotations—how do women deal with the burden of a secret? By contrast, the doorkeeper in Helen stands up to the bedraggled Menelaus (possibly a parodic allusion to the meeting of Odysseus and Nausicaa, opines one editor): that’s an exception for, M. asserts, female voices in Euripides ‘raise the complaints about the women’s fate to incredible heights’, with (later) ‘a kind of realism that seems unparalleled in extant Greek tragedy’. Individual women considered here are Hecuba and Poluxena (Hecuba), Iphigenia, Macaria (a name given later) in Heraclidae, Evadne in Supplices, and Praxithea in the fragmentary Erechtheus: understandably, M. concludes that the enormous variety of dramatic representations of women makes it difficult to find a ‘unifying conclusion’; there is a sharp contrast between those female voices which ‘demonstrate the ideas of patriarchal society’ on the one hand, and other voices which are ‘anti-war, aimed at healing pain and sorrows’. Just so: Euripides was, after all, a playwright of exceptional distinction—why should we expect a bland conformity in his characters, whether male or female? The Helen of Troades is very different from the Helen of the play that bears her name.
In Part 7 (‘Ancient Culture. Philosophy and Comedy’) Niall W. Slater considers Aristophanes’ reception of Euripides (note that ‘reception ‘does not mean parody’, though parody is certainly involved: Aristophanes, claimed Cratinus, was as much an imitator of Euripides as he was critic.). There is a passage in Knights (15-20)—Slater gives the Greek, and translates it—where one slave quotes Euripides and the second slave labels his own style ‘eleganto-euripideanly’: there is something similar at Wasps 1051-60, where a now lost play is briefly cited in the parabasis. More importantly, in the case of the lost Telephus, Aristophanes’ reception of Euripides ‘constitutes a large part of the source material for reconstructing the play’; we are warned, however, of the risk of circularity. The plays involved are Acharnians and Thesmophoriazusae (but there are lost Aristophanic plays which may have been full scale parodies of Euripides); and then of course, there is the famous scene in Frogs with the ‘debate’ between Aeschylus and Euripides finally won by Dionysus giving his vote to Aeschylus (Sophocles was not in the contest, being eukolos—a word easier to understand than translate—both when alive and in the underworld). Of course there is parody and quotation, including that most famous line from Hippolytus, ‘my tongue has sworn’—only half the line is given, because there was no need to give more. Aristophanes engages closely with Euripides throughout the latter’s life, surely implying admiration, even when mockingly expressed; and it must have been the case that Aristophanes could be confident that his allusions and parodies would be appreciated by the audiences. Slater covers this broad field well, noting—ruefully? —that he has to be very selective in Thesmophoriazusae in what he focuses on; and, as he then points out, there are indications that Euripides himself responded to old comedy and its reception of his work. Finally, Slater observes that ‘it does seem that Aristophanes was far more interested in Euripides and the impact of Euripidean tragedy than any other comic poet’. Frogs, exceptionally, was given a re-performance.
In Part 8 (‘Euripides Made New’), Paul Woodruff writes on Euripides in translation, from Gilbert Murray onwards. Murray’s sub-Swinburnian versions enjoyed huge popularity a hundred or so years ago (and were parodied: e.g. ἒἔ ἆ ἆ ‘translated’ as ‘Death, and a cold white thing within the house’, attributed to Maurice Bowra). Woodruff refers to more modern poets (e.g. Ted Hughes, Anne Carson). Woodruff reminds us of the difficulties in translating Euripides, before going on to give extracts from the poets mentioned above and others perhaps less well known (e.g. Carl Mueller, Reginald Gibbons) as well as the late William Arrowsmith, whose relatively recent series of translations involving a combination of scholar and poet did not, perhaps, live up to the promise of the concept, especially if the ‘poet’ had little or no knowledge of Greek. Woodruff shows us different approaches via no fewer than five translations of a choral passage in Medea; he also looks at how translators have dealt with imagery, concision and ambiguity, grief, and stichomythia—and finally begs readers to be indulgent to translators: understandably so, since, as he admits, he had himself translated Bacchae.
A ‘Companion’ necessarily consists of a range of up-to-date snapshots of aspects of the work of the author concerned, and this review can offer no more than snapshots of some of the snapshots. How long will be the ‘shelf-life’ of this, as of any ‘Companion’, remains to be seen (generally, the more factual the offering, the better the chance of its continuing usefulness). Brill’s presentation of the ‘Companion’ is immaculate (few indeed were the typos which I spotted) but its high cost must surely limit its sale except to institutions, perhaps especially in the USA. The editor deserves our thanks and congratulations in bringing out a compilation both generous in size and assuredly of real usefulness to scholars working on Euripides.