Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.10.08


Shirley A. Barlow (ed. and trans.), Euripides, Heracles. Warminster: Aris and Philips, 1996. Pp. xxvii + 195. $49.95. ISBN 0-85668-232-2 (hb). $24.95. ISBN 0-85668-233-3 (pb).


Reviewed by Christina S. Kraus, Oriel College, Oxford.

Word Count: 1,671.

This new edition of the Heracles continues Aris & Philips' series of the plays of Euripides in its accustomed format: General Introduction, followed by an introduction to the particular play, with text, translation, commentary, and extensive bibliography. The General Introduction, which is also by B., is notable, I think, for the economy with which it introduces both the formal aspects of tragic poetry (monody, stichomythia, rhesis, etc.) and its more general themes. The explanation of technical terms and devices enables B. to use such terminology in her commentary without further ado, though I suspect that students would be grateful in addition for the reinforcement and ease of reference that a brief glossary would provide. This is particularly desirable since the Index to the volume does not refer to the General Introduction, in which many of these technical terms are defined (so, for instance, on p. 139, the meters of the first stasimon, a reference to p. xvii is sorely needed); moreover, in the Commentary B. uses some specialized terms (e.g., lacuna, hapax legomenon, haplography) which she apparently does not define. In discussing the thematic preoccupations of tragedy, B. stresses the tension between the heroic and the civic focusses of the drama. Though she oversimplifies on the three tragedians' religious approaches (xvi) and becomes oversentimental -- to my taste -- in describing Euripides as having 'a deep care for the world and a wish to protest at its wrongs' (p. xxv, cf. p. xxiii on Euripides' expression of human experience), this is on the whole a good presentation for undergraduates of complex and current aspects of dramatic criticism. B. rightly emphasizes that critical tastes have differed, and that the things we now see in tragedy may not be what other generations have seen or will see: important to bear in mind as the series progresses and this General Introduction, already ten years old, becomes increasingly dated.

In her Introduction to Heracles itself B. minimizes earlier dismissals of the play (though why then do they feature on the back cover of this edition?), instead presenting the play as a coherent, albeit disturbing (and disturbed), whole. She addresses such areas as the relevance of Theseus (p. 3: a reference to Zeitlin's discussion of Thebes and non-tragic Athens would be helpful here), and the nature of the first 500 lines, countering the claim that this opening section is 'static and uninteresting' by showing how it contributes to the portrait of Heracles and to the dramatic structure. B. describes this as tetradic, an arrangement she usefully charts on page 17 and follows in her divisions of the commentary; while I would agree that it certainly is there, I also think that the play's triadic design deserves a mention (most obsessively elaborated by David Porter, whose Only connect is not used by B., but also argued by B. herself in her 1982 G&R piece). On Heracles' once-controversial dismissal of the 'miserable tales of poets' B. emphasizes the gap between the gods H. would like to have and the gods he is stuck with (pp. 8-9): the gap cannot be avoided, and underscores all the action of the play, just as the relationship between his heroic labors and his kin murders is one of both continuity and difference (rightly stressed by B. on lines 575 and 922-1015). I cannot follow B. all the way into Devereux territory in her discussion of Euripides' portrayals of madness (pp. 11-13, 15-16); and I am puzzled as to why she does not adduce as a parallel the messenger's description of Orestes' madness from the IT. It has several elements in common with the Heracles, not least the imaginary opponent(s) and the spectators, and is to my mind closer to this mad scene than either the Orestes or the Bacchae.

Compared with William Arrowsmith's translation (in the Grene & Lattimore edition) B.'s is more literal -- she is not aiming, as he was, for poetic cadences in English. But its literalness does not make it less readable, and in the translations of the elaborate odes, in particular, I found her rendering of epithets and metaphor, and often her word order, more effective than Arrowsmith's. Some queries: line 100 'as you beguile them with stories, pitifully misleading though they may be' loses both the etymological figure and the metaphor of KLE/PTOUSA MU/QOIS A)QLIOUS KLOPA\S O(/MWS. 281: by translating A(MO/XQHSA 'those I suffered the agony of birth for' she masks the echo in Megara's labor of Heracles' (see B.'s note on 1369 and cf. 294, Megara wants to be Heracles' MI/MHMA; a similar echo is lost at 89, where Amphitryon's PO/NOU comes out as 'exertion'). 556: for 'Creon' read 'Lycus.' 712: both Arrowsmith and B. translate TE/KN) A)LKMH/NHS GO/NOU as 'Heracles' children,' but at this point in the play -- i.e., just before the catastrophic interference of the jealous Hera -- Alcmene's name should not be suppressed. 865: B. seems alone in translating Lyssa's A)POKTEI/NASA as causal ('first I shall have made him kill his children'); but as Bond (and others) point out, the point is that both Lyssa and Heracles (immediately after described as O( KANW/N) are responsible. 866: OU(/S E)/TIKTEN is not translated. 917-18: PW=S A)MFAI/NEIS is not 'what ... are you going to describe' but 'how ... are you going to display' (i.e., narrate clearly); Bond and Halleran, following Wilamowitz, take this as a 'compressed' question (so Halleran translates, 'how did the madness which you reveal, come upon the children?'), but since the Messenger has just said that his suffering exceeds all words (916), it seems that the tension between seeing and telling is operative here (see in general I. de Jong, Narrative drama, 172-9). 1186: B. renders PTANOI/ as 'as if we were all up in the air' without further explanation, when she could easily have referred to her own notes on 69 and 510 for other winged imagery; moreover, 'up in the air' might have the wrong connotation here (Bond suggests 'gone up in smoke'). 1261 in the Greek text has been accidentally transposed to follow 1254. 1258 'my father' (so also Arrowsmith) is a very muted translation of E)K TOU=D' E)GENO/MHN, especially when Heracles is discussing the all important matter of who begot him: better Halleran's 'I came from this man.' 1280: both B. and Arrowsmith translate QRIGKW=SAI metaphorically as 'crowned' (though B. has a note on the literal meaning): but in a play in which crowns (both athletic and ritual) and collapsing buildings figure significantly, we need the literal sense; again, Halleran's and Wilamowitz's versions are preferable.

The Commentary is relatively sophisticated; more advanced students will want to take advantage of the other commentaries to which B. makes frequent reference, especially Fraenkel, Barrett, and Bond. She is particularly good (as one might expect) on imagery, and provides a rich supply of illustrative parallels; these are usually integrated and explained, though one does find the occasional 'this is also found at' or 'this is a striking image' with no further guidance (e.g., 662, 780, and 1298, where Ixion's history but not his relevance are explained). A pervasive difficulty, for me, was the incomplete internal cross-referencing: in a play as dense as the Heracles, as many internal echoes as possible should be noted. So, for instance, the Cyclopean walls of 15 recur significantly at 998; the two motivations for Heracles' actions, fate and Hera, at 20-1 and 1393, which itself pulls together 1253 and 1357; the chorus' substantive use of EU\ at 694, on which B. refers to Agam. 121, must recall their AI)/LINON at 348-on which she also refers to Agam. 121; the note on 736, an image of a chariot race, should refer us back to 662n. and ahead to 780 ('the chariot that holds his happiness'). I agree, however, with B.'s basic 'take' on the play, and found her notes generally illuminating. There are inconsistencies in her treatment of the first stasimon, on which she quotes a long passage from her 1982 G&R article, but then seems to have modified her reading (e.g., on 366-7 she now finds a 'strong verb of action'). Again, a few queries (restricted to the first half of the Commentary): 119-23: it may be illogical to compare a young colt to an old man, but there is a lot of Agamemnon in this play, and the Aeschylean chorus makes precisely the same equivalence between childish and aged strength (Agam. 75). 226: B. seems first to reject Triclinius' solution and then to accept it. 340: Amphitryon does not reject Zeus' paternity, he accuses him of not living up to the responsibility thereby incurred. 476: if A)KROQINIA/ZOMAI occurs only here, it is confusing to discuss its 'original' meaning ('literal' would be clearer). 484: KH=DOS here puns on the double sense, bond of marriage and of death, recalling Agam. 699-700. 596 does not necessarily contradict 593, if Amphitryon is making an assumption, which Heracles corrects. 617: B.'s discussion (together with her text and apparatus ad loc.) is incomplete, omitting Wilamowitz's EI)DE/NAI for L's EI)DEI/HN (needed to understand her reference to an infinitive of purpose). 642: the oxymoron in SKOTEINO\N FA/OS does not come through in the translation, and B.'s note is as a consequence confusing. 729 'sword-bearing snares of nets' again sounds like the Agamemnon, as Bond sees. 822: Dionysus does appear in the middle of the Bacchae, but not as a god, so there is no 'shock of his appearance.' Note that lines 1161-1168 of both text and translation have been omitted, owing to a printer's error.

This edition will not replace Bond's, but it presents a coherent and intensely felt interpretation of this important play, from which students will profit.