Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 1999.08.06

Nikolaus Pechstein, Euripides Satyrographos: Ein Kommentar zu den Euripideischen Satyrspielfragmenten. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 115.   Stuttgartund Leipzig:  Teubner, 1998.  Pp. 400.  ISBN 3-519-07664-0.  DM 128.00.  



Reviewed by Christoph Kugelmeier, Universität Potsdam (kugelm@rz.uni-potsdam.de)
Word count: 2429 words

First, it must be said that P.'s book, a doctoral thesis submitted to the Freie Universität Berlin in 1997, is a great achievement, thanks to the quantity of the material offered (both ancient tradition and modern scholarship), which P. discusses with zeal and intellectual skill. He makes the best possible use of the deplorably scanty remainders an ungracious textual tradition has left us of the 17 satyr plays we know Euripides to have written. Not the least merit of P.'s book is that it conveys a lively impression how painful we must feel this loss to be (still more in the case of Sophocles and, still more, of Aeschylus). Moreover, he makes clear, how high the level of Euripides' satyr plays was, for which we know he was not held in very high esteem by the ancients. The quality of the fragments will not manifest itself in brilliant comic art as much as in philosophical and theological reflection. P.'s book matches his claim (p. 5) to provide a commentary to the fragments, because he goes beyond the borders of mere philology and makes full use of the whole range of the studies in antiquity (Altertumswissenschaft). And rightly so, for everyone who has ever dealt with fragments, often consisting of no more than one-word lexicon glosses, knows that vase pictures and inscriptions grant us an indispensable abundance of information which alone make sensible interpretation possible. In this area P. proceeds meticulously and with welcome consistency. As this fact is not in the least self-evident, it deserves appreciation. If there must be criticisms of some of his proposals and results in detail, this does not mean a criticism of his basic concept, which is carried out with good success.

The structure of the book results from its character as a commentary. The introduction ("Einleitung", pp. 9-18) considers Euripides as a poet of satyr plays, discusses the attention paid to him in the crucial period of Alexandrian philology (p. 16) and inquires into the much debated question, why of all satyr plays Euripides' Cyclops alone has been preserved (pp. 12 sq.). On pp. 13 sq. P. distinguishes the genre of the satyr play from the "special forms of tragedy" which from the Alcestis onwards sometimes replaced the satyr plays; here one misses a reference to an important recent study: Peter Riemer, Die Alkestis des Euripides (Frankfurt a.M. 1989). An intensive discussion of the actual number of Euripides' satyr plays follows pp. 19-29, as much as can be gained from the vita of the poet and other testimonies. It is amazing (and might well lead to confusion) that in vita 3 (p. 4 Schwartz) the term δράματα appears to be used in a double sense: first as an expression covering the "dramatic plays" as a whole, and only one line later in the narrower sense of "tragedies". A possible reason for this might be that outside philology the word came to mean more and more "drama," even "event, action" in a narrower tragic sense, whereas the comic elements faded from the non-technical language. At least, the evidence from the later development of Greek listed by Lampe s.v. in his Patristic Greek Lexicon point in this direction. But this of course does not explain the inconsistency within the space of only two lines, for which P. p. 21, n. 36 cites as a parallel the dates of the Suda for the plays of Ion of Chios. After an excursus about the important Marmor Albanum (pp. 29-34) P. deals with attempts in antiquity and in modern times to find more satyr plays than are testified for Euripides. He proceeds meticulously and considers especially the pertinent inscriptions and papyri. On p. 38 he finds convincing reasons for rejecting Sutton's assumption of a satyr play Theseus.

From p. 39 onwards, the preserved fragments are presented in alphabetical order. Sources and testimonies come always first, as well as the indications which lead to classify, the texts in question as fragments of satyr plays. Then the text is printed (according to Nauck resp. Snell's supplement, v. p. 6, n. 5), provided with a detailed critical apparatus; after that follows the commentary. By describing the respective myths P. not only integrates the dramatic themes into the mythographic tradition, but lets us see what creativity Euripides bestowed on interpreting them in his own modern spirit and on making use of the dramatic possibilities which they contain. A good example is the representation of the figure of Autolycus as a "sophist", cf. pp. 48 sq. Every part of the commentary ends with a reconstruction of the play in question. Here P. shows most independence and often achieves convincing results, which really mean a progress in understanding. When necessary, the discussion of details is deepened in excurses. Let me only remark that P. sometimes tends to exaggerate his attempts at reconstructing the sense of even the smallest fragments, a method, which by heaping a lot of details may sometimes lead to more confusion than to real help in understanding. An example is his attempt to interpret F 680 (pp. 236 sq.): it is impossible to get any far-reaching conclusions from a mere lexicon gloss whose context, as often, remains absolutely obscure; such a method is bound to produce only speculative results.

The commentary to Autolycus is definitely enriched by illustrating and discussing in full the vase pictures referring to the subject (pp. 93-99); the same holds for Busiris (pp. 34-37). The more the lack of such an autopsis is felt in the case of Syleus (pp. 272-274), where P. contents himself with quoting the pertinent literature. Convincingly, P. does not infer from the testimony of Tzetzes, Prol. de com. XI a I 152-156 Koster that to the Byzantine scholar still more satyr plays were available than the Cyclops; he points out that Tzetzes wants "to put emphasis on his gain of knowledge with regard to a clear distinction between comedy on the one hand and tragedy and satyr play on the other" (p. 55) by saying Εὐριπίδου πολλὰ δράματα εὗρον καὶ ἔγνων τὰ σατυρικὰ δράματα. On p. 51-55 he gives some evidence, especially from Tzetzes' vocabulary, which make it unlikely indeed that Tzetzes had the original text before his eyes when he summarized the contents of Autolycus at H. 8,435-453 Leone (printed p. 46). This is made clear already by the undecided σειληνὸν σατυρόν in v. 449 (see p. 50). The Autolycus has some importance for cultural history because of F 282, a grim invective against the κάκιστον γένος of the athletes. This relatively long criticism of sports is treated at some length by P. (pp. 56-70) and compared in an excursus (pp. 70-85) to an important predecessor, Xenophanes fr. 2 West. Thanks to his critical subtlety P. avoids wrong conclusions, which sometimes even now mislead interpreters to assign naïvely the opinions uttered by a dramatis persona to the author himself (warning examples are provided by a comparison with two passages from Aristophanes, pp. 82-84). On the contrary, he stresses that the invective against the athletes stands isolated in Euripides' work and must therefore be regarded in the context of the dramaturgy of this special drama (p. 82). Concerning the contents, however, the difference between the passage from Euripides and that from Xenophanes must not be overrated, for Athenaeus, the source of both fragments, sums up the opinion of the pre-Socratic author in the adjectives ἄχρηστον and ἀλυσιτελές (Ath. 10,413 f., quoted on p. 71, n. 63), thus, like the speaker of F 282, stressing the complementarity of "not being useful" for the individual on the one hand and for the state on the other. Turning to the vase pictures, P. points out as many references to the Autolycus drama as may be discerned. Details such as the function of the two doors seen in the images printed on pp. 109 sq. elucidate the stage technique.

The question concerning the Sisyphus is whether it in fact can be a satyr play (cf. p. 206, n. 48). None of the testimonies really backs this classification, and in view of this the fact that the attribute σατυρικός is missing in Pap.Oxy. 2456, l. 6 gains some importance (cf. p. 195). Aelian, the only one who testifies to the piece as a satyr play, seems to be far from certain about the details of the dramatic agon in question (cf. p. 185, the text of Aelian is printed on p. 194; for the whole of Sisyphus cf. pp. 185-217). The reconstruction of the plot presents special difficulties. To give one criticism of P.'s attempts, I cannot see why Homer Od. 11, 593-626 is an "absurd scene ... not easily surpassed in buffoonery" (p. 216) and therefore particularly apt as a source for the satyr play.

In l. 101 of the hypothesis of Sciron (printed on p. 223) it would be possible to restore ἀπολ]υτούς and, in combination with l. 96, to assume that a hero (who in this case would be certainly Theseus) appears to the satyrs (ἐπι]φανεὶς δὲ τοῖς σατύροις), who are threatened by the ogre with a terrible death, to help them to flee; in consequence, both the hero and the satyrs might proceed against Sciron (P. himself cites the parallel of the satyrs as captives of Polyphemus in the Cyclops on p. 229). Another group of captives of the robber to be rescued by a combined action of Theseus and the satyrs is hard to imagine, because then there would be too many people on the stage.

In Syleus the ῥαθυμία of Heracles resembles strongly the hero's behaviour in the Alkestis, except that the satyr play presents the social conditions as being the opposite: here Heracles is the servant, behaving in an utterly subversive manner towards his master. And, while the tragic hero comes to better insight at last through the compassion aroused in him by the servant of Admetus, his behaviour towards Syleus seems to lack any moderation (as P. rightly points out on pp. 245 sq.). The apparent cannibalism of F 687 is shocking in this context, but P. surely offers the right solution (pp. 257 sq.): the words are best understood as metaphorical exaggeration and therefore as a boasting of the hero that not even by the utmost violence imaginable would he let himself be forced into behaving like a slave. In this way he would be reacting against a preceding threat uttered by Syleus that he wants to do the same to Heracles as the hero has done before to his bull. Given this simple and plausible solution, thinking of a ritual σπαραγμός, as P. does p. 260, n. 31, seems misleading. P. discusses this thought at length all the same so as not to withhold any possibility, not even the unlikely ones. P. on pp. 263 sqq. tries to assign F 688 and 689 to different speakers, although Philo, quod omn. prob. 101 (vol. 6 p. 29 Cohn) quotes them in continuation, without even indicating a break, as by εἶτ' ἐπιλέγει a few lines later. Certainly there is a difference between the praising words in the first fragment and those of the second, where the appearance of that same person is blamed as not being fit for a slave. But this fact can be easily explained if we assume that Philo left some text out between, which he did not need for his exemplum (he does this elsewhere de ebr. 150 [vol. 2 p. 199 Wendland], where in quoting Hesiod, Op. 287 and 289-292 he omits v. 288, which forms the actual contrast to the "toiling with sweat" described in vv. 289 sqq.). Hermes would then admonish Heracles in F 689 to make the deal with Syleus possible. The dramatic effect would be stronger if Syleus did not utter objections against his new acquisition beforehand but came to know only later whom he has ignorantly bought. In this case Syleus must of course be thought still absent from the stage, but there is no difficulty in imagining that Hermes in F 688, v. 1 answers not him, but Heracles, who would naturally complain about the φαυλότης of his situation regarding his new appearance. It would otherwise be necessary to convince Syleus of just the opposite of the qualities named in this fragment; he has every reason to wish for one who is τὸ σχῆμα οὐ σεμνός and ταπεινός. In this context it seems also improbable that Philo "leaves his readers in the dark about whose question Hermes answers in F 688" (P. 266). Philo presumes that the drama is known in using it for his exemplum; thus the disagreement between the two pieces is no difficulty for him.

One of the best parts of the book is the discussion of the fragment 43 F 19 TrGF 1 (pp. 289-343). For two reasons this relatively long piece of text is of great: first, it is still a matter of debate whether it belongs to Euripides or to Critias. Snell in his edition ascribes it to the latter (also Diels-Kranz, Vorsokratiker 88 B 25), while P. now gives good arguments for assuming Euripides is its author (following Albrecht Dihle, cf. pp. 299 sq.). In any case it is informative how close a connection was seen by the later tradition between the tragedian and the political philosopher; they were obviously regarded as sharing one spirit, that of "enlightenment" in the negative sense. Secondly, Sisyphus, the speaker, unfolds a rationalizing theory of religion which the ancient sources and also modern interpreters have understood as atheism - wrongly, as P. makes plausible with much critical acumen. The fragment rather deals with religion which is made to serve the purposes of human state order and jurisdiction, a theory which has no exact parallel elsewhere, though one feels the reminiscence of, e.g., Prodicus 84 B 5 DK, where the gods are formed by men of elements useful to mankind, or such ideas of law as Thrasymachus expresses in the first book of Plato's Politeia (Pol. I 338e-339a).

Rich and well structured indices conclude the book. Perhaps some space ought to have been given to a final passage, which would have summed up the general impressions of Euripides as a satyrographos and the relation of his satyr plays to the whole of his work. But this is also a rather slight criticism, given the almost overwhelming quantity of information and very reasonable observations on detail, which are throughout presented in such a clear and plausible manner as to make the readers' own occupation with Euripides and his satyr plays much easier and more fascinating.

Read Latest
Index for 1999
Change Greek Display
Archives
Books Available for Review
BMCR Home

HTML generated at 13:26:26, Friday, 03 April 2009