Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.10.07


W.G. Arnott (ed. and trans.), Menander, Vol. 2. Pp. x + 501. Loeb Classical Library 459. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-574-99506-6.


Reviewed by William S. Anderson, University of California, Berkeley, wsa@socrates.berkeley.edu.

Word Count: 2,568.

In 1921, the Loeb Classical Library published a single volume of Menander, ably edited by F. G. Allison. It consisted essentially of the four plays that had miraculously been discovered in the Cairo codex and published first in 1907, though it also used a few other small pieces of papyrus from Oxyrhynchus and Berlin. The need for a new edition of Menander arose in the decades after World War II, when for a while the papyrus additions to our store of the Greek poet were extraordinary. The Bodmer papyrus was only the most generous of the new finds. Valuable new material came from the steady work on the Oxyrhynchus fragments, with the result that perhaps the most popular of Menander's comedies, Misoumenos, began to assume clearer and clearer form for our age after more than fifteen hundred years of silence. It was then most fortunate that the Loeb Library found in W. G. Arnott a new editor of patient diligence for this large and demanding new store of fragile and all too often nearly illegible papyri.

Arnott determined to divide the present corpus of Menander over three volumes, which indicates how much we have recovered in the past half-century -- and still are getting. He published Volume I in 1979, assigning to it the first third of the remains which survive in the plays of some substance, whose titles began with the letters alpha through epsilon. That amounted to six plays: the two rescued in the new Bodmer papyrus (Aspis and Dyskolos); the fortunate part of Dis Exapaton from Oxyrhynchus that uniquely paralleled some of the text of Plautus' Bacchides; the ingenious Epitrepontes that was well known from the Cairo codex; and two other very fragmentary plays that depend mainly on finds at Oxyrhynchus: Georgos and Encheiridion. In a valuable Introduction, which will serve for all three volumes, Arnott gave a bibliography of the papyri and a useful appreciation of Menander. The Greek texts were meticulously presented, and he chose to translate the original's mainly iambic trimeters into English iambic pentameters, familiar to us from Shakespeare and many subsequent dramas and not a few versions of ancient hexameters.

Volume II, which appears now seventeen years after the first, may seem to have been inordinately delayed, and Arnott in his brief Preface takes note of the potential charge. However, he also points out that he was thereby enabled to take into consideration finds that were published as late as 1994; and that is a definite plus. This book has the attractive look of a polished opus, much more appealing to the eye and to practical use than the second edition of the Oxford Classical Text of Menander, where portions of the Misoumenos are separated by 170 pages (and some more recent text has appeared after 1989). This volume includes all the substantially surviving plays entitled from eta through pi, ten comedies this time, all in relative states of incompleteness now. From the Cairo codex, we get the Heros and Perikeiromene; from Oxyrhynchus primarily, we get the Misoumenos (work of 1970-94), Karchedonios (from 1968), Kolax (known since 1903), Leucadia (work of 1994, therefore not in the OCT), and the Perinthia (known since 1908); from Berlin papyri come fragments of Kitharistes and Koneiazomenai; and from Florentine papyri the Theophoroumene. And Arnott has also been able to incorporate the pictorial information offered by the mosaic illustrations from the House of Menander excavated at Mytilene and published in 1970. This volume made far greater demands on the editor than Volume I because of the fragmentary nature of all the papyri.

The Cairo codex preserves about fifty consecutive lines from the opening of the Heros and another 50-60 very scrappy remains from late in the comedy. However, it also supplies us two invaluable aids, namely, a metrical hypothesis of twelve lines and a cast of characters arranged, it seems, according to their appearance on stage. The Bodmer papyrus provided similar help at the start of the Dyskolos (as well as didascalic notes that permit us to date that play). If we had been lucky enough to find the beginnings of the other plays in the Cairo codex or the Bodmer papyrus, they would presumably have given the same help. Unfortunately, those two are the only Menandrian comedies so illuminated.

Although the first scene has barely started when Act 1 breaks off in the Heros, and little exposition has been achieved, the hypothesis supplies us much of the background, and the cast of characters indicates that the next person to appear on stage after the opening dialogue between the two rural slaves, Getas and Daos, from neighboring households, was the titular divinity of the play, the Heros. He, it can confidently be deduced, performed the role of delayed prologue and gave the audience the authentic details which lay behind the various problems that the two slaves ignorantly broached. This was a plot with some of the typical elements of a New Comedy: twins born many years ago as the result of a rape; victim and rapist, both ignorant of each other's identity, marry, after the mother has handed over the children to a foster parent and so can pose as unencumbered to her husband; the foster parent falls on bad days and so engages his foster children, a girl and a boy in their teens, to pay off his debt to no less than their real father; a brash young neighbor, thinking the girl no better than a slave, has raped her and she is, of course, in an advanced state of pregnancy. As Act I starts off, Daos, the fellow-slave of the girl is telling Getas that he has fallen in love with her and wants to marry her, but is aware of some problems and the difficulty of securing the permission of his master. Heros, however, will need to tell the audience of many more problems which forbid this marriage between the raped maiden, actual daughter of the master, and the friendly slave; and he will also have to sketch a little of his plan for bringing off a denouement in Act 5 that will involve a typical Recognition of parents and children and a legitimate marriage between the pregnant heiress and the affluent neighbor-rapist, who will quite amiably accept his responsibilities when he realizes the advantages of the match. As it is, then, the Cairo material gives us the plot-summary but virtually none of the effective Menandrian dialogue and patterned action for which he was famous.

We come close to recovering the hypothesis and cast-list for the Misoumenos, for after all two different papyri preserve the first eighteen lines of Act 1, and another fragment has the play's title. This play's opening was far more affective than that of the Heros, for the first speaker launches into a pathetic soliloquy that is also an apostrophe to Night, the patron of lovers. This speaker is miserable; indeed, he is the "hated man" of the title, and he knows that he does not deserve the hatred of the woman he loves. He is a soldier, and after fifteen lines he is joined by his sympathetic slave Getas, with whom he discusses his predicament and his inability to make sense of it. Since we now have a large portion of the opening 100 lines of Act 1, we are able to see how these two characters involved the audience with the soldier's inexplicable love-misery, carefully stirring our sympathy. Here, the papyrus fails us, but Arnott and others confidently posit in the gap of Act I some deity providing the function of a delayed prologue. We have much to learn that will give us the standard ironic advantage over the impassioned characters that Menander regularly plans. Arnott prudently refrains from speculating who gave this prologue information. It would not surprise me if Menander had sent Night herself with a delayed answer to the soldier's sad appeal.

Arnott devotes more pages to the Misoumenos than to any other of the ten plays he gives in this volume. That is partly because the many different papyrus pieces preserve tatters of about 590 lines, which would be at least half of a pretty long Menandrian comedy, and because it is much harder to make convincing sense of shreds than it is to deal with well preserved sequences such as those of the Perikeiromene, for which we have 450 largely good lines (half of a somewhat shorter play). And the Misoumenos is a very recently retrieved drama, whose reconstruction is still quite controversial. We know that Menander complicated the situation considerably in Acts 2 and 3, though not exactly how, and then brought about a Recognition in Act 4 that both clarified the freeborn status of the girl loved by the soldier and also liberated him from the hateful suspicions she entertained that he had killed her brother. Thus, in Act 5, the girl's long-lost father engages her to the overjoyed soldier, and we are to assume that they lived happily ever after.

It is surprising to me that the Perikeiromene was not even more popular than the Misoumenos: it had a more striking opening, I suspect, though very much like those of the two plays we have discussed. However, the Cairo codex lost probably four leaves that included the hypothesis, cast of characters, and the opening speeches that delineated not just a pathetic amatory situation but something close to murderous passion and its results. A soldier, jealous of his mistress, who he believes has betrayed him, has stormed into his house, attacked the defenseless (and innocent) girl and hacked off her lovely long tresses. The audience has seen this weeping victim, the rueful soldier, and his loyal slave in the lost opening lines. Involved and puzzled, as Menander liked to start it off, it was typically relieved then by the appearance of a delayed prologue spoken by no less than the goddess of Ignorance. She clarifies the background: abandoned twins, a now-rich father waiting to identify them, and a near-tragedy of love that can be turned by opportune Recognition and Reconciliation into a legitimate and successful marriage. Each Act has extensive losses, but the lines that have survived are in gratifyingly good shape, so that we can still gain a fair sense of the characters and of Menander's art.

These three plays allow the reader to glimpse the typical dramatic mastery of Menander, and Arnott's new edition of the Misoumenos, thanks to the work of very recent decades, adds considerably to what we knew first from the Cairo codex, then from the Bodmer papyri. About the remaining seven fragmentary plays, we must be far more cautious, and it is less easy to discern the larger typical elements. Two damaged pieces of papyri give us a bit of Act 2 of the Theophoroumene, to go with some unhelpful ancient citations; and there is a mosaic scene of the same act from Mitylene and perhaps a pertinent mosaic by Dioscurides. The demoniac woman of the title was pretending, and we assume that she ended up as the heroine, someone's long-lost daughter, and the fit wife for her young lover. But all that is guesswork. The Karchedonios dealt with a Carthaginian in the Greek world, probably Athens, but its scanty remains bear no resemblance to the crazy plot of Plautus' Poenulus, and Arnott rightly rejects Plautus' source as Menander.

Two of the plays have some connection with Terence, who informs his audiences in prologues that he added the lively pair, the soldier and his parasite, from Menander's Kolax to the plot of the Menandrian Eunuchus he had adapted; that he had combined the similar plots of Menander's Andria and Perinthia as he worked on his version of the Andria. Unfortunately, the papyrus remains and the testimonia for these plays add little if anything to what Terence states. (And he leaves much unstated about how he performed these combinations, which, in the case of the Andria, was branded "contamination" and, in the Eunuchus, was labeled out and out thievery.) The surviving lines of the Kolax almost entirely ignore the roles of the soldier Bias and his parasite Strouthias, with the exception of one tirade against parasites in general. Perhaps, they interfered with a typical love situation, as now in Terence's comedy. Papyrus has restored to us the outlines of an exciting scene from the Perinthia in which an angry master prepares to burn a too "clever" Daos on a pyre: no such scene occurs in the Andria, which Terence blithely claimed to have a similar plot.

I pass over two other fragmentary plays to end with the Leucadia. The single sure papyrus fragment of this tantalizing work was first published by Parsons in 1994, so Arnott's inclusion of it in this volume really brings us up to date. The House of Menander also has an illustration of a scene from this play, unfortunately without specifying the Act. The Leucadian girl is not one of those typical foreign hetairai operating in Athens and destined to find her father and true love. It appears that the comedy was laid far from Attica on the Ionian island of Leucas. But the girl had nothing to do with the tragic fiction of Sappho's supposed suicide for love of a young man from the cliffs of Leucas. If, as seems likely, the few lines come from the start of the play, we find a girl who is a stranger inquiring from the temple-servant of Apollo about the place where she has recently arrived, an obvious stranger (shipwreck? fugitive? as in Plautus' Rudens). The exotic locale has interesting possibilities, as in Plautus' Cyrene, but we need lots more. Menander regularly started his plays off with a flair, from which he artfully returned to the desired and predictable Recognition.

Arnott has made a major contribution to the availability of Menander for the wider public. As an editor, he has done a superb job of assimilating the many publications of papyri. With his long background in New Comedy and his admiration for Menander, he has significantly promoted the cause of Attic drama. I have found two or three minor misprints and occasional but understandable errors in the many numbers. Here and there, for lack of material, he somewhat repeats himself on the left and right pages. And finally it must be said that the translations, poetic though they affect to be in their iambic pentameters, are rather lame, with none of the easy grace and colloquiality that Arnott correctly and admiringly attributes to the original Greek. But one can't have everything. This is one of the most valuable Loebs to appear in recent years.

We can look forward eagerly to Volume III of Menander, which will include, with shorter fragments, the substantial remains of the Sikyonios and the nearly complete Samia.