Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.05.07

Jasper Griffin (ed.), Sophocles Revisited. Essays presented to Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1999.  Pp. ix, 343.  ISBN 0-19-813006-6.  £45.  

Reviewed by David Bain, University of Manchester (
Word count: 2056 words


Colin Austin, P. E. Easterling, Robert L. Fowler, Jasper Griffin, Edith Hall, Malcolm Heath, Leofranc Holford-Strevens, Gregory Hutchinson, Bernard Knox, Robert Parker, Richard Stoneman, Martin West, Stephanie West, Netta Zagagi

Writing this review is in the nature of writing a "bread-and-butter" letter. I have to declare an interest. This volume is the outcome of a most pleasant (and, at times, somewhat politically incorrect) occasion which took place in Oxford in September 1997 by way of celebration of Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones's seventy-fifth birthday. A gathering of friends, former colleagues and pupils, quorum pars fui, met and discussed Sophocles. The hospitality afforded by Christ Church was memorably lavish. The organizers were Jasper Griffin, the editor of this book, and Peter Parsons.

All the contributions are up to scratch, and some are outstanding, so that this volume is a worthy companion to the volumes honouring Sir Hugh's predecessors as Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford, Greek Poetry and Life (essays presented to Gilbert Murray in 1936) and the volume of the Journal of Hellenic Studies 93 (1973) honouring E. R. Dodds.

Sir Hugh's interests and range of acquaintances within the Classical World (and outside it) are vast, and it would not have been difficult to put together a grand three-volume Festschrift in the Italian manner, but he wouldn't have liked that, nor would the University Press, so that it was a good idea to present him with a volume concentrating on a author very close to him. Naturally many of those unable to contribute because they work in other fields in which he is interested feel a pang of regret that they cannot offer something by way of thanks to an inspiring teacher.

A recent reading of a reminiscence by an ex-Times Cricket correspondent to the effect that he had once encountered a Regius Professor of Greek who envied him his job has to a certain extent coloured the imagery of this review. I trust this will be to the honorand's taste. It is inevitable that the reviewer of a book of this nature will be unfair to individuals, concentrating on points that lie within the purview of his own interests and more critical in this area than he is with the rest.

Colin Austin opens the batting with three elegant Aeolic stanzas celebrating the honorand.

In the introduction Bernard Knox pays affectionate tribute to Sir Hugh as a person, scholar, popularizer and spokesman for the subject. A particularly amusing anecdote about an incident on a Rheinfahrt is exquisitely related (it would make an excellent prose). A pedantic colleague suggests that it took place in 1969, and was it Marie Lloyd or Nellie Wallace who sat "among the cabbages and peas"?

Next Robert Parker, in a truly outstanding essay, discusses Sophocles' engagement with the gods ("Through a glass darkly: Sophocles and the Divine"). I particularly recommend to the reader the list and discussion of epiphanies in Sophocles (pp. 11f.), the discussion of the lack of explanation of divine will and -- a related topic -- Sophoclean silences about the motives for some of the gods' most drastic acts: note Parker's assertion, "unaided by divination, one concludes, humans in Sophocles neither know nor claim to know anything about the divine world except in general terms. On the παρ' ἱστορίαν (Soph. Phil. 445) mention of Thersites having survived Achilles see Fraenkel, Due seminari romani di Eduard Fraenkel (Rome, 1977), 57. The significance of this essay extends far beyond Sophocles. This is an ideal introduction to a vast subject, "the gods in Greek tragedy."

If one is allowed, switching genres, to count Bernard Knox's piece as a "postponed prologue" rather than an innings, then Martin West ("Ancestral Curses") comes striding to the crease at number three, appropriately enough as the Bradman of his generation of Classicists (for American readers the equivalent of Tyrus Cobb: a personality completely different from such blameless individuals as Sir Donald and M. L. W. I hasten to say). West launches into an attack on a way of interpreting Greek tragedy, which is most dear to the heart of the honorand, the importance of the ancestral curse in tragedy. For him the Erinyes are in the house of Atreus before Thyestes' curse (the πρώταρχος ἄτη being as Cassandra says Thyestes' own crime). "The idea of the ancestral curse exercises a dangerous fascination. It found its way by stages into myths where it did not originally belong; and interpreters of tragedy have persistently introduced it where it is not present. It has become, so to speak, one of the inherited curses of scholarship." This man is a sledger of the highest order! Has he Ozzie blood in him? Joking apart, there is much of value in this essay, particularly the clear exposition of the nature and form of curses in Homer and early poetry. My own position on the topic, which will no doubt lose me friends, is that the ancestral curse is irrelevant to OT (I am surprised that West does not refer to Stinton, Collected Papers on Greek Tragedy, 461ff. in this connection), putatively possible in the Aeschylean Theban trilogy, and not at all unlikely to be functional in the Oresteia. Perhaps a discussion of ἄτη in connection with the theme of the curse would have been in place.

Gregory Hutchinson follows with an essai de balon ("Sophocles and time"). He teases out the idea that verbal aspect plays an important part in the plays of Sophocles and highlights contrasts between the imperfective and the perfective. This is subtle stuff. Prosaic minds may occasionally ask of certain passages, "How could this otherwise have been expressed given the nature of what is being described?"; e.g. OT 1184, where the choice of the tense / aspect of the participles is determined by the distinction between repeated activity and a single act. Nevertheless this thoughtful piece will repay rereading.

Jasper Griffin brings us back to (mild, but I suspect there is some seething under the surface) polemic in an elegant and important piece ("Sophocles and the Democratic City"), swimming against the tide (after delivering this talk he subsequently published an equally unfashionable companion piece, "The Social Function of Attic Tragedy", CQ n.s. 48 (1998), 37-61) Since I am completely in agreement with him, I feel it difficult to review his essay. He has provided a formidable challenge to those who choose to take the current line on politics in Greek Tragedy.

Patricia Easterling then discourses on what she calls "plain words" ("Plain Words in Sophocles") selecting two passages from OC (1-14, 607-28). This is an interesting essay, but some of it displays an excessively straining towards subtlety. It seems to me that, as sure as God made little green apples, Oedipus means at OC 623 "as sure as Zeus is still Zeus and as sure as Apollo is truthful". This is affirmation, not hesitation.

Stephanie West's "Sophocles' Antigone and Herodotus book three" is a formidably learned and judicious discussion of a well-worn topic. It brings to bear new insights, and is to my mind entirely convincing. She stresses the mention of India (the first in Greek literature) at Ant. 1037ff. and draws attention to the clear connection betweeen Herodotus' treatment of Cambyses and Sophocles' treatment of Creon. Creon behaves like an oriental despot. The author apologetically adds to the pile further discussion of the notorious 901-29. I agree with her that these lines, although perhaps they are not to our taste, are genuine (cf. my Masters, Servants and Orders in Greek Tragedy (Manchester, 1982), 24ff.).

In "Sophocles' Philoctetes: A Problem Play?" Malcolm Heath takes on recent interpretators of this fascinating play, particularly Simon Goldhill (on "subversion" and Mary Whitlock Blundell ("a moralizing interpretation"), defending his own earlier work and theoretical position. This is a characteristically thoughtful and clear discussion which raises important questions about the methodology of the literary critic. There are also points at which there is overlap with Jasper Griffin's essay.

Robert Fowler deals with three passages in Trachiniae: 153ff., 1141, 1193ff. From the first instance he aptly elicits resemblances and contrasts between the Trachiniae and the νόστος of the Odyssey. With regard to the second passage he notes that the mention of the name of Nessus reactivates and inspires Heracles in the same way as the mention of Apollo's oracle in OC reinvigorates Oedipus and introduces forces that are above the level of the audience and the other participants in the play. The third discussion deals with Heracles' immolation. Apt comparisons are made with the end of Plato's Phaedo. Fowler insists, correctly, that we are not dealing with a funeral. The question of the date of the earliest knowledge of Heracles' apotheosis in an Athenian audience has now been established sans doute by C. Hahnemann, ZPE 126 (1999), 67ff., who brilliantly demonstrates that this was an element of the myth alluded to in Aeschylus' lost Heraclidae.

Netta Zagagi in an essay entitled "Comic Patterns in Sophocles' Ichneutae", in which she displays an exemplary acquaintance with the themes of comedy, advocates the position that it is more illuminating to compare the play with comedy than attempt to reconcile what we find fragmentarily preserved in this satyr-play with what is known of Sophocles' tragic art. She eschews discussion of the more obvious examples of communality with comedy, the individualised chorus (which of course she mentions), going for a more deep level than, for example, metrical laxity and heads towards major themes. Not all of her connections between the two genres seem to me to hold water. The topic of the mocking of old men (Ichn. 45-50) is also to be found in tragedy in Euripides' Electra and Ion. Zagagi is free with her parallels from New Comedy, but is it not the case that ancient critics saw Euripidean tragedy as the motivator of much of what we find in the comedy of Menander and his like? Note the locus classicus on the relationship of tragedy towards New Comedy in Satyrus' life of Euripides. over-subtle The parallel reversals she finds (p. 193) do not seem to me to be at all similar. 186: I cannot really see a link between Silenus and the boastful military language of the comedic slave in Ichn. 179-92: What is boastful about 179-92? It's a prayer. Zagagi fairly admits that the running commentary technique, exceptional in tragedy is also to be found in the prologue of IA (pseudo-Euripides influencing comedy or vice versa?).

The last three chapters deal with the increasingly popular theme of reception. I apologise to the authors of these essays for giving them relatively short shrift. I regard their works as basically outside my competence.

The first is a mightily learned and wide-ranging piece by Leofranc Holford-Strevens (his and Edith Hall's essay are the longest chapters in the book) on Sophocles' reception at Rome: omnia legit et in propromptu habet. Holford-Strevens is good on the way the Romans stoicized Sophocles. Greekists should not shun this contribution (it should be compulsory reading for Latinists), since beneath the learned exterior there lurks a serious literary critic, who is an excellent interpreter of Sophocles.

On any reckoning, Edith Hall is a formidable number eleven (this is Mr Griffin's XII, not XI). She presents us with a learned, fascinating and lavishly illlustrated stage history of Electra in the United Kingdom, a foretaste of work which will issue from the recently established Archive for the Production of Greek and Roman Drama. The play turns out to have had considerable ideological resonance: "[Electra] has been a passionate Royalist, an ardent Whig, a witty romantic lead, a monster who degrades her sex, and a proto-feminist". Having recently seen Mike Leigh's magnificent Topsy-Turvy I cannot resist pointing out a Victorian parallel to the shock-effect of a bare-legged (fleshed tights) Orestes. The tenor playing Nanki-poo, as a respectable married Scotchman, objects vehemently to his leg-revealing peasant costume, before being suppressed by Gilbert.

Last, but not least, Richard Stoneman's learned and instructive "A Crazy Enterprise: German Translators of Sophocles from Opitz to Boeckh", which includes an account of Mendelssohn's quasi-operatic Antigone. Again apropos of Topsy-Turvy, I cannot resist pointing out that the Punch cartoon illustrating the London production might have provided inspiration for a W. S. Gilbert born slightly earlier.

The high quality of the essays in this volume is eloquent testimony to the fact that the honorand, as well as doing his duty to the subject, has more than done his duty to his pupils. The quality of the writing is uniformly fine. Sir Hugh's own style rubs off on one.

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