Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.07.11

Jeffrey Henderson (trans.), Aristophanes II, Clouds, Wasps, Peace. Loeb Classical Library 488.   Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1998.  Pp. 606.  ISBN 0-674-99537-6.  

Reviewed by Ian C. Storey, Trent University (
Word count: 1205 words

It had always been a problem with the Loeb Classical Library that many of its major authors had to be marked "caveat lector", and nowhere was this more true than for the Greek dramatists. Smyth's Aeschylus was perhaps the best of the lot, but Way's Euripides, Starr's Sophocles, and Rogers' Aristophanes all could not be recommended for general use. An out-dated and an unscientific Greek text, coupled with archaic translations that made the ancient playwrights speak with the voice of Victorian English, made these volumes impossible to use for both student and senior scholar. Happily the balance has shifted dramatically in the 1990s, with Lloyd-Jones' Sophocles (including the very useful volume of fragments), Kovacs' Euripides (more than halfway through with three out of five volumes now out), and now the much awaited and much needed Aristophanes.

In the late 1970s an initial attempt to modernize the Loebs of Aristophanes was made by Alan Sommerstein, whose efforts eventually became the very useful Aris & Phillips series which has now reached its penultimate volume. Jeffrey Henderson, who may fairly be considered the leading Aristophanic scholar in North America, has now filled the gap admirably, and has provided us with both a useful text and idiomatic, if prosaic, translation. It is certainly a work that scholars may use with confidence and may recommend to their students for consultation and, yes, for help with translation. I used the first volume to supplement a 3rd-year Greek course this past year (reading Acharnians), and found it more accurate for translation purposes than Henderson's Focus translation or Sommerstein's Penguin.

The second volume is devoted to Clouds, Wasps, and Peace, in that order, although the Clouds that we have is the incomplete revision of c.418. In his first volume (reviewed in BMCR by Revermann) Henderson set a high standard of text, translation, and commentary in the form of introductions and some notes, and this second volume certainly lives up to that standard, with one qualification. The introductions are too brief and do not direct the reader adequately. That to Clouds is only three pages, and while it does deal with the problem of the two versions and does introduce the reader to the "Socrates-problem", Henderson does not discuss the poet's motivation for the distorted picture of Socrates (hostile attack, essentially complimentary, indifference, comic exploitation), and there is no treatment of the volte-face at the end of the comedy. The introduction to Wasps needs more on the legal system so that the details of the satire may be understood, and two questions remain unposed: is the play comedy or satire, and what does the last third of the comedy have to do with the earlier movements? The introduction to Peace is the best of the three and firmly places the comedy within its historical setting. For the rest of this review I shall concentrate on his presentation of Peace, as I had opportunity to read Henderson along with Olson's fine new Oxford commentary on that play.

Henderson announced in his first volume that he has re-edited the text for the Loeb, and he has given us a sensible and mainly conservative text, avoiding daggers wherever he can. Of the major textual cruces in Peace, he retains ἀναιδέως in v. 48 as against ἐν Ἀίδεω (van Leeuwen, followed by Olson); rightly keeps v. 270 in the text; reads in 273 εἰ πρίν γε τὸν μυττωτὸν ἡμῖν ἐγχέαι (obelised by Olson, deleted by Dindorf -- Henderson's translation, however, fails to catch the force of πρίν); prefers Diodoros' λιπερνῆτες in 603 as against the MSS σοφώτατοι (kept by Olson); in 605 rightly rejects ἦρξε to read ἥψατ' αὐτῆς; with Bergk transposes 742 and 743 and deletes 744 (but see Olson's persuasive defence); prefers Theo-genes at 928 against the MSS Thea-genes (so Olson); at 1078 accepts Agar's κὠδίνων but not Borthwick's capitalisation of Akalanthis; keeps in 1144 the R's ἄφαυε ("parch") as against ἄφευε ("singe"); and finally in 1154 deals with the unusual lengthening in ἐξ Αἰσχινάδου by reading van Leeuwen's ἓξ <παρ'> Αἰσχίνου.

Translating comedy is no easy matter, for both audience and country must be kept in mind. The spectrum of intended readers runs from those who want a literal text to assist with translation or to render an ancient text accurately (Sommerstein), through those who prefer a verse translation (Halliwell), those who want the text of the original but with a modern flavour (Penguin or Arrowsmith-Parker), to those requiring a text for theatrical production (Meineck). The Loeb, as one would expect, is heavy on accuracy and a prosaic rendering. Iambic trimeters are rendered as prose, but choral songs in the parabases and the anapests such as those at Peace 974ff. are in blank verse. Half-lines are used for the pnigos at Peace 765-74, but not at Peace 572-82 or 651-7.

This is very much a North American translation, as against Meinecke which has been criticised by some for its Anglicisms, and for the most part it gives the reader quite an accurate rendering of the Greek original. There are some places where I wondered about his translations: "devil" for κατάρατος (33, "damned" would be better); "symptom" (65), παράδειγμα is closer to "proof" or "evidence"; "whoa, whoa, easy does it, dobbin" (82) doesn't really catch the sense and tone of the original; "chops" (237) is rather too colloquial for γνάθους "we want none of your bogy blazon, sir" (474) is too much in the archaic idiom of older Loebs; Ὀπώρα is "Cornucopia" at 523 and "harvest time" at 530 -- the latter is preferable; at 616 "related" gives the pun on προσήκειν away too soon; at 780 "these are your original themes" sounded at first like an Aristophanic claim for his comic originality; at 928 "piggish" would be better handled as "boorish" or "disgusting"; "oh so savvy" (994) is a clumsy rendering of περικόμψους and "zooming horsecock" (1177) misses the colour sense of ξουθὸς ("tawny"). But these are minor quibbles with a generally first-class rendering.

Loebs cannot be commentaries, of course, but with an author like Aristophanes the reader must be guided with notes of explanation and identification. I found Henderson's notes uniformly admirable, alerting us with all sorts of necessary information. I would have liked a note explaining "Zeus Kataibatos" at 42 and Beetle Bay at 145. Peisandros should be described also as a corrupt politician (p. 479), and at 605 the reader needs to be warned that the account of Perikles, Pheidias, and the War is total fiction, despite the 4th-c. historians. But I found excellent notes on both the historical and dramatic background to the play, especially n. 4 on the dung-beetles of Etna, n. 25 on Kleon as dog, and n. 56 on Kratinos. A brief index is still very useful for checking references within these plays; too many Loebs have only a final index in the ultimate volume.

As the previous reviewer noted, "These are good times for students of Old Comedy at all levels". Henderson has done a very great service in bringing both the the text and the antique translations of Rogers up to date. This second volume in the Loeb lives up to the high standard of its predecessor, and we look forward to those to come.

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