Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.06.08

Katherina Glau, Rezitation griechischer Chorlyrik (Die Parodos aus Aischylos' Agamemnon und Euripides' Bakchen als Tonbeispiel auf CD mit Text- und Begleitheft).   Heidelberg:  C. Winter, 1998.  Pp. 40.  ISBN 3-8253-0753-0.  

Reviewed by Remco F. Regtuit, University of Groningen (
Word count: 1161 words

This booklet contains the text of Aeschylus' Agamemnon (40-257) and Euripides' Bacchae (64-169), accompanied by a new German translation and metrical analysis. Beside the text we also have a few short chapters on Greek rhythm as well as the principles lying behind the recitation. Both the text and the introductory chapters are meant to help to better and more fully enjoy the spoken/recited text. The CD with the recited version of the two texts is the centerpiece of this edition. The editor, Katherina Glau (henceforth G.), tells us that the occasion for both recitations was a festive one: birthday presents for Professor Herwig Görgemanns of Heidelberg.

The text of the Agamemnon is West's Teubner edition of 1990, the text of the Bacchae Kopff's Teubner edition of 1982. This is not the place to discuss the text itself yet I do have some reservations about the colometry chosen. New lines that still form part of a longer metrical period should be indented, new periods should not. The translation is on the whole accurate.

Setting aside a few exceptions, Greek lyric and choral poetry has come to us as text only. From the text we have to reconstruct the metrical structure of the piece. From the metrical structure modern performers will have to reconstruct their performance: rhythm, speed, accompaniment. G. is well aware of this.

In the Aeschylean parodos she starts with a recited text and drum accompaniment. She then continues without the drum, varying the volume of recitation, and the speed of delivery. The last section is accompanied by finger snapping, while speed is moving to a climax in the last lines.

The first strophe starts slowly, moving to a faster climax at the end of it. The second strophe and epode, containing the words spoken by the priest Kalchas, are mostly recited by a single actor, interrupted a few times by lines spoken by the whole group (these are lines in which a god or goddess is mentioned). The last line of strophe, antistrophe and epode is a sort of refrain αἴλινον αἴλινον εἰπέ, τὸ δ' εὖ νικάτω; these lines are recited as a climax.

The second strophe and antistrophe, the beginning of the Zeus hymn, are again recited slowly, by the female performers only. In the third antistrophe (the second antistrophe being recited by the whole group) the male performers take over, this time in canon. Though this may be a good way to avoid a monotonous recitation, this choice makes it hard to follow the text, and I doubt whether there are any classical parallels (or comments on recitation in canon).

The fourth strophe is recited by the whole group, again in canon. Speed of delivery increases towards the end of the strophe. The antistrophe, which contains the words of Agamemnon, is spoken (more than recited) by a single male voice.

In the fifth strophe, the group as a whole is speaking, accompanying their text with the clapping of hands. In the antistrophe the lines are spoken alternately by the women and the men.

The sixth strophe is a curious mix of male voices, a single female voice (that speaks a few individual words only) and the group as a whole. Finally, the antistrophe is recited by the whole group, but partly in unison, partly in canon.

The parodos of the Bacchae, with its complex rhythmical structure, is a characteristic example of 'New Greek Music'. The modern aspect of the ode is, however, hardly heard in the performance.

The text falls into three sections. First we have a short prelude in which the chorus announces its cultic hymn. G. calls these lines 'quiet' and 'announcing a hymnic atmosphere'. These opening lines are recited by the group as a whole, in a rather slow, almost solemn tone.

Two strophes/antistrophes describe the orgiastic Dionysiac cult, the birth of the god and the origins of the maenads. Metrically the two pairs are very close to the opening lines (both in ionic meter, the meter traditionally associated with Dionysos). The ionic meter can easily be used in increasing speed. Throughout the whole of the parodos increasing and decreasing of speed alternate, often combined with a higher volume of speaking.

The first strophe is recited by the men only, at various different speeds. I can understand why they have chosen to end the strophe at a higher speed (creating a climax at the end), yet I fail to see the meaning of the variance in the course of the strophe. The antistrophe is recited by the women, who also vary their speed of delivery (again ending the antistrophe at a higher speed and higher volume). The middle part of the antistrophe (describing the moment where Zeus hides Dionysos in his thigh) is accompanied by the snapping of fingers.

The second strophic pair shows the same pattern, the men reciting the strophe, the women the antistrophe, at various speeds, with increasing speed at the end.

The epode, celebrating the blissful life of a worshipper, is recited by the whole group. Significant words or phrases in the text (εὐοἷ; ἴτε βάκχαι) are underlined by speaking them loudly, or faster. The epode ends with three lines (comparing the maenad with a foal) that are (once again) accompanied by hand clapping and a much faster recitation.

Five short chapters discuss the principles of ancient Greek rhythm. They are meant to give the listener a better and fuller appreciation of the performance. In my case, they did not. I was not helped by the explanation of the difference between ancient and modern rhythm, nor by the discussion of the duration of rhythmical elements (a discussion that ultimately rests on the works of later Greek theoreticians whose knowledge of earlier Greek meter was limited). I have difficulty in seeing the relevance of the discussion about rational and irrational duration or of the difference between stressed and unstressed notes (the few lines on ictus came as a surprise after the discussion on 'basis' and 'thesis'). And I abhor the long list of Greek names for the various possible forms of rhythm.

Yet, had it not been for the efforts of G., these modern performances would have suffered the same fate as so many ancient Greek performances. The first performance would probably also have been the last. We have to thank her for her attempts to demonstrate how two interesting texts can be performed. She has given/recorded a performance of two Greek songs, which gives her interpretation of what a performance may have been (as far as some details may be reconstructed). She has made choices, some of which would not have been mine. Yet I regret that sometimes these choices interfere with the understanding of the text. No matter the choices (or the fun the group may have had), the text remains the most important part and should not be sacrificed. This does not, however, mean I have not enjoyed listening. Greek texts are meant to be heard, not read.

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