Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.03.24

James Diggle, Euripidea. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994. Pp. x + 559. ISBN 0-19-814094-0. $85.00.

Reviewed by Robert L. Fowler, University of Waterloo (

In this volume Diggle publishes 41 articles and reviews on the text of Euripides, including five not previously published. The first paper dates to 1967. Following on the same author's Euripides: Phaethon (1970), Studies on the Text of Euripides (1981), The Textual Tradition of Euripides' Orestes (1991), and, of course, the now complete 3-volume Oxford edition of the plays, Euripidea concludes a body of work on the text of the poet that may be said, without danger of contradiction, to be the most important of the century, and to stand ready comparison, both for its quantity and the amount of progress measured, with the contribution of any predecessor one cares to name.

The work is characterized by consummate mastery of every branch of the philological art, enviable accuracy, and practically limitless industry and patience. The last of the papers, for instance, corrects (at a rough guess) a couple hundred mistaken attributions of conjectures (many originating with F.H. Bothe, whose early work on Euripides was re-discovered by David Sansone); so, for instance, we learn that the conjecture of Monk on IT 1145-46 was already made by Lachmann in De choricis systematis (1819) 191 (in itself a sufficient illustration of the length of Diggle's bibliographical reach). Wecklein's comprehensive repertory of conjectures on Euripides is repeatedly supplemented. Typical is the way Diggle patiently works his way through 64 theoretical combinations of prosody, anadiplosis, and exclamation at Or. 1465 in order to eliminate the impossible (and whatever is left, however improbable...). The minutest phenomena of metre, language and style are subjected to precise analysis. The discussions are often unavoidably dry; few readers, like the reviewer, will work through the whole volume from beginning to end; fortunately there are excellent indexes. An arch sense of humor occasionally enlivens the discussion, not unsuited to the Public Orator whose Cambridge Orations 1982-1993: A Selection (Cambridge 1994) afford many other examples, including the delicious "sed 'deridentem dicere verum quid vetat?'" in the speech on Jacques Derrida (cf. Hor. Sat. 1.1.24 f.). The reviews in the book also provide welcome relief amid long stretches of animadversiones. Diggle is severe in style and method; his trust in reason and logic, and, where those give no clear answer, the rightness of his stylistic judgment, is unwavering; he is less tolerant than other editors of anomalous style and metre, and his edition contains what is for some scholars a disturbing number of excisions and other interventions. Diggle's review of Mastronarde's Teubner edition of the Phoenissae is instructive in this respect ("[Mastronarde] directs some tart words against interpolation hunters..., and is deaf to Fraenkel [Zu den Phoenissen (1963)], who in my judgement scored a bull's eye with virtually every shot" [358]). Some literary critics will intone their condescending dismissal of Diggle's procedures, but they cannot safely ignore his arguments (on the subject generally cf. his comments on p. 49).

The new papers are: "Further Notes on Helen," with notes on 357-9, 515-19, 772-4, 873, 1451-61, 1591-3, 1612; " Bacchae," with notes on 1, 13-26 (a superb and highly entertaining defence of authenticity), 35-6, 59, 257, 537-41, 604-7, 615, 712-13, 859-61, 865-8 ~ 885-7, 953-4, 1031, 1103-4, 1131-3, 1145-7, 1356, plus an appendix on the relationship of L and P in this play (not the only place in the volume where new light is thrown on this old problem, though one might hardly expect it after so much effort by other outstanding scholars including W.S. Barrett); "Iphigenia at Aulis," with notes on 41-8, 446-50, 625-6, 656-7, 716-31, 751-72, 1368-9; "Rhesus," with further discussion of L and P, and notes on 219-20, 284-7, and 464-6; and "Apologies to Bothe (and Others)," already mentioned above. (From this paper the following global correction may be repeated: "In my second volume [of the OCT Euripides], all conjectures which are attributed to Musurus should be attributed to Aldina: see vol. 1, p. 5 n. 1.") The previously published papers are occasionally updated, and full cross-references are provided to other papers in the volume and to Diggle's other books. Consistency of format has been imposed throughout.

Most amusing factoid in the book: R.V. Nicholls and J.M. Plumley have discovered that a papyrus (Pack2 1571) supposedly containing remains of four lines of the Hecuba, two of IA and two of Soph. Ant. is actually written in Coptic (229 n. 1). Spare a thought for Heichelheim who identified the Greek. Most welcome adjustment of preconceived notions: Gilbert Murray's contribution to the text of Euripides, as measured by the number of positive references in Euripidea, has more abiding value than his image as a gifted amateur would suggest (amateur, that is, by comparison with his German contemporaries); it is not the image that must change so much as the status of gifted amateurs. A good many professionals, then and now, much less gifted, have not done nearly so well. Murray's neglect of the technical aspects of the subject, particularly the collation and assessment of manuscripts, was culpable, but he was conscientious when it came to making conjectures and did not allow his gift for Greek to run away with him too often. Consequently he hit the mark a very respectable number of times. Most impressive example of sense of style: p. 481 on Bacchae 1356 where the manuscript presents E)S E(LLA/D' A)GAGEI=N BA/RBARON STRATO/N, Diggle comments "I should expect BARBA/RWN. Nowhere else does Euripides attach two epithets to STRATO/S." The list of examples persuades one that he is right. The continuation is typical of Diggle's bibliographical wizardry: "No editor reports that BARBA/RWN has been conjectured. I find it silently printed by the anonymous author (demonstrably G. Burges) of 'Fragment of the Bacchae of Euripides lately discovered,' in The Gentleman's Magazine 102.2 (1832) 195-9, 522-4 (see also ibid. 103.1 (1833) 418-21) ..."

In his inaugural lecture of 1936, E.R. Dodds exhorted classicists to spend less time on specialised research and more on the general interpretation of antiquity. In literary studies scholars on the whole have followed Dodds' sound advice, concentrating on interpretation rather than textual criticism, with permanent results for the understanding of the ancient world. But Dodds did not say, as Bowra maliciously accused him of saying, that we could do without basic research. The amount of philological work left to be done even in a central author like Euripides has been amply demonstrated by Diggle. In Sophocles and Aeschylus too major editions have marked clear progress in recent years. Outside the mainstream an indication of what remains to be done is the number of nineteenth-century editions that must supply the text for TLG. All the more reason, then, to lament the alarming decline of traditional philological skills in Europe, to say nothing of North America; these skills and learning, nurtured over half a millennium of humanism, may be gone from the world within two generations if the trend continues. At such a juncture it is fitting to congratulate Dr. Diggle on his epochal achievement; Euripides has not looked so much like himself since the day he died.