Bryn Mawr Classical Review 02.06.01


Davies, Malcolm, Sophocles, Trachiniae. Introduction and Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991. Pp. xl, 289. ISBN 0-814899-2.


Reviewed by Michael R. Halleran, University of Washington.

To begin, this book is very readable. I'm not talking about Davies' prose, which is clear and often crisp, but the physical production. Instead of its more usual smallish, somewhat cramped commentary, Oxford has produced this one on a grander scale, with a bigger page, larger type, and fewer words per page; the result is very attractive, one might say "user friendly". (The recently published Sophoclea was produced in a similar format.) The commentary grew out of an Oxford seminar, run originally by Davies and the late T.C.W. Stinton. The text printed is the newly published OCT of H. Lloyd-Jones and N. Wilson, but consultation between Lloyd-Jones and Davies has minimized the differences between the printed OCT text and Davies' own views. Because of the very recent collation of manuscripts and discussion of textual history in Lloyd-Jones and Wilson, Davies has collated no manuscript and says not a word about the latter.

The commentary is devoted mainly to textual and philological issues. The many textual cruces of this play are discussed fully. Davies deals with the problems afresh, explaining the (alleged) difficulties with the paradosis, drawbacks of the proposed remedies he rejects, and the advantages of the solutions he accepts. He is willing to venture beyond widely received opinion or to disagree with the editors of the new OCT, but he is just as happy to champion a ms reading which is commonly emended as he is prepared to accept a remedy. Nor does he feel obliged always to draw conclusions: in several instances, he states the problems and possible solutions noncommittally. Even when one disagrees with Davies, one must acknowledge his evenhandedness.

Davies' considerable learning marks every page of the commentary. He draws on a most impressive reservoir of knowledge of the Greek language, meter, and Sophoclean style, and cites parallel passages from drama, epic and other texts. On Sophoclean and tragic idiom in particular, Davies offers a great deal, amplifying his observations with parallels and references to other treatments. He refers constantly to both the standard "reference" commentaries on drama of Fraenkel, Barrett, Kannicht, Friis Johansen-Whittle et al. and also to the work of Gow-Page, Hedlam and others on Hellenistic and non-dramatic poetry. His ubiquitous citation of reference works, monographs and articles displays an extraordinary command of the literature. In fact, although most of these citations are apropos and helpful, one at times gets the impression of being bombarded by rapid-fire references. I cite in full Davies' note on 50-1, which is not atypical:

odurmata ... exodon gowmenhn: for this type of double accusative (internal and external) see Johansen and Whittle on Aesch. Supp. 230-1. On the use of the adj. Hhrakleios instead of the gen. see Wackernagel, Melanges ... F. de Saussure, p. 133 = Kl. Schr. ii. 1358. For other similar -eios adjs. in tragedy see 170, 260, 1219 below, and Buehler, Zenobii Athoi Proverbia iv.94. S uses goaomai again at 937 below and at OT 1249; for other tragic occurrences see Sideras, Aeschylus Homericus, p. 81.

This note certainly leads one to several other references (primary and secondary), but one might well wonder how helpful they are, without further comment, for the explication of the text at hand? What, for example, is the tone of the -eios adjective here? What, one might ask, is goaomai? All commentaries contain a certain amount of such unannotated and "see further" type of information; in fact, one of the chief purposes of a commentary is to give the reader information from which to form an independent judgment. But when these references are so often instead of, rather than in addition to comment, the work at times seems more like a bibliography than a commentary. This style is also evident in some of his discussions of sections of the play. On the parodos and the first stasimon, e. g., Davies makes some opening comments of a general nature, but on the second stasimon, he merely refers the reader to Stinton's 1985 article.

Davies is concerned with more than textual and philological matters. He takes a strong interest in stagecraft and makes good use of recent work in this area, esp. that of D. J. Mastronarde. He even provides (in the Introduction) what few editors do, a list of all the entrances and exits as he imagines them. He is attentive to the ambiguities in the language (puns and the like), the significance of repetitions, and the importance of rhetorical structures (esp. good on the priamel form in the first stasimon); and he often reveals a good sense of dramatic technique, favoring dramatic economy over "real life" plausibility. He also relies on his command of the relevant artistic material in aid of understanding the text and in determining Sophoclean innovation.

In addition to the commentary proper (about 210 pages), Davies offers a twenty-three page Introduction, two short Appendices (one on the flexibility of the oracle, the other on interlinear hiatus), Addenda, and a set of Indices, of which the General Index is very full. In the Introduction, as befits the recent (1988) editor of Epicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, Davies deals carefully and fully with the many questions relating to earlier treatments, particularly the Oechalias Halosis. He is appropriately cautious in drawing conclusions about influence; often, as he acknowledges, the evidence does not allow for determinations of influence and he frequently points to the holes in others' more confident arguments along these lines. On the much debated question of the play's ending alluding to Heracles' apotheosis, he argues against those (such as Stinton) who would set limits for allusion in Greek literature and suggests merely that the question is left open. He also rightly (in my view) claims that Lichas' lie about Heracles' motive for attacking Oechalia is Sophocles' invention. Unfortunately the Introduction is devoted almost exclusively to issues of source criticism. The play itself, including the matter of its ending, is given a scant four pages.

Two omissions are worth noting. As Davies explains, he decided not to refer to P. E. Easterling's 1982 Cambridge commentary because the necessary polemic would unduly inflate the size of the commentary. (His review of Easterling states his views on her commentary more fully, CR 33 [1983] 7-9.) Unexplained is the lack of any reference to O. Longo's 1968 commentary.

Let me make clear in conclusion that there is much to be learned from this commentary. Anyone with a serious interest in the play, of course, but also anyone with a strong interest in Greek tragedy will want to own it. For undergraduates reading the play, other commentaries will be more helpful. But for graduate students and their professors this commentary will be an important guide to the play's many problems and a source for further study. It will not replace Jebb (or Easterling), but it will serve as a very rich supplement to earlier work on this challenging and fascinating play.