Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.07.32

Belfiore on Marshall on Belfiore.   Response to BMCR 2000.07.01



Response by Elizabeth Belfiore, University of Minnesota

C. W. Marshall finds "something of interest about ethics" in each of the plays I discuss, and "much of use" in the appendices. However, M.'s review misrepresents some important aspects of my book and also contains a number of factual errors.

The goal of Murder Among Friends is to provide "a comprehensive survey and analysis of instances of violations of philia relationships in the tragedies." (p. xviii). M. admits that I succeed in this goal: "Belfiore does successfully track the establishment and the change of reciprocal relationships in these plays," but complains that I do not pay enough attention to other important topics: "Drama, however, provides nuance beyond a schematic diagram tracing relationships." M. states that I do not discuss, for example, the "literary antecedents" of IT, or "deliberate deception or the role of Odysseus" in Sophocles' Ajax, or "other plays involving spear-won brides and illegitimate children" in connection with the Andr., or philia relationships in satyr plays. These are all important and interesting topics, but they are not my topics. To have provided extensive discussions of these other issues would have greatly lengthened the book and seriously distorted its focus. Moreover, my book does not merely present "a schematic diagram" but contains much detailed analysis of important literary, anthropological and religious aspects of the plays. I am also uncertain what is meant by "nuance" here, and the single example provided by M. is somewhat incoherent: "In Iphigeneia among the Taurians, is it really important to know that Pylades is kin to Orestes as well as being philos (p. 27)? Yes, the play says so in stichomythia (lines 917-918), but this is not information the whole audience needs to have previously possessed." This statement assumes an unexplained difference between philos and kin. It also appears to doubt the obvious fact that information contained in the text is important for an interpretation of the play, whether or not the audience has this information at some (unspecified) previous time.

M. also misunderstands the goals of the book in writing that I do not define philia with enough precision, or pay enough attention to the secondary literature on this topic: "[Belfiore] claims each of the reciprocal relationships she traces is in fact a subset of the philia relationship: that every violation of xenia or hiketeia constitutes a violation of philia, which consequently is defined in the broadest possible terms. Therefore, 'harm to philoi is a generic characteristic of ancient Greek tragedy' (p. 117). Her introductory chapter on 'Philia Relationships and Greek Literature' (p. 3-20) seeks to justify this usage. Aristotle prefers tragic actions to take place within philia relationships (p. 3, 1453b19-22) and so philia is defined to enable universal application of this preference." Murder Among Friends, however, does not defend any particular philosophical or philological theory of the Greek concept of philia, nor does it attempt to make the facts fit Aristotle's preference: "Aristotle's views merely serve as a useful starting point. It is fruitful for a study of Greek tragedy to adopt broader concepts of philia ... than the text of the Poetics explicitly warrants" (p. 6). For the purposes of this study, I took philia relationships to include blood kinship and the "formal reciprocal relationships" of marriage, xenia and suppliancy (pp. 5-6). As M. admits ("There are, of course, times when the word philos or a cognate is used in each of these other relationships"), each of these relationships can be called "philia" in ordinary Greek. I justify including reciprocal relationships in a study of philia in tragedy because these reciprocal relationships were thought to be similar to blood kinship in many respects, as John Gould and others have shown (pp. 6-8), and because "similarities between biological kinship and relationships based on reciprocity are strongly emphasized in tragedy" (p. 8).

The review also contains some factual errors. (1) M. writes that "the Iliadic examples provided do not acknowledge the poem's insistent violation of supplication, as with Tros and Lycaon." I do discuss the Lycaon example in some detail on p.12, apparently not noticed by M. However, in the brief section on epic (pp. 9-13), I could not discuss all of the complexities of supplication in this genre, including the special category of supplication in battle. I also omit the Tros example because he does not, according to some scholars (e.g. A. Thornton, Homer's Iliad, 1984, 138) engage in full ritual supplication. (2) M. states that I offer only three Pythagorean literary sources for the idea that the bride is a suppliant and then writes that "This is not 'ample literary...evidence' (p. 55)," ignoring the many other literary examples I discuss on pp. 51-54 and omitting "and visual" from the quotation. (3) I am puzzled by the statement "After insisting that suicide is in no way honourable or noble in Ajax (p. 105)..." because there is no mention of Ajax on this page. What I do say in this chapter is that male suicide was not usually considered to be honorable by the Greeks (pp. 103, 108). (4) The criticism that I adopt a "single-example-for-each-reciprocal-relationship approach" does not seem to me to be justified, given that M. admits that my appendices "provide statistical support for the overall thesis." (5) The "sarcasm" referred to must be my comment at the top of p. 88 that "Andromakhe says she wishes she had Hektor, the son of Priam, as an ally ... apparently forgetting that her late husband would not be eager to give aid to the grandson of his own murderer." Although this sentence calls attention to the ironic aspects of Andromakhe's behavior, it does not seem to me to qualify as "sarcastic."

The final paragraph, listing "indications of some haste" seem to me instead to be evidence of haste in writing the review. M. may prefer a word other than "surely", but this is hardly a stylistic defect. M. does not give specific examples of phrasing to back up the statement that "Occasionally, the language used seems more appropriate for a grant application (e.g. pp. xviii, 120)" or explain why the same language should not be used both in books and in grant applications. I am careful to explain my system of transliteration on p. xi, and would contend that it is no more "inconsistent" than other systems currently in use. (For example, many now use the transliterated "Akhilleus," while retaining the Latinized "Priam": e.g. G. Zanker, "Beyond Reciprocity: The Akhilleus-Priam scene in Iliad 24," in Reciprocity in Ancient Greece, eds. Gill, Postlethwaite, Seaford, Oxford 1998.) M.'s phrasing, "typographical errors", suggests that the book contains many; yet M. cites only a single example. M. also cites only one example of "erroneous plot summaries", which is misleadingly characterized. M. states: "e.g. Polymestor is not killed by Hecuba, as is claimed on p. 14, but corrected on p. 148, though on p. 149 [Belfiore] still speaks of the time 'before he dies'." Indeed, my statement on p. 14 is misleading, because Polymestor is not killed by Hecuba's own hand. It is, however, clear that he is about to die at the end of the play (1281-86), as a direct result of Hecuba's manipulation of Odysseus. Finally, my statement on p. 183, citing Cropp ("Aiskhylos probably adapted Thucydides 1.136, in which Themistokles...supplicates King Admetos") leaves out "the story reported in" between "adapted" and "Thucydides." I admit the typographical error, but it is uncharitable to call this a "misrepresentation of other scholarship."

Read Latest
Index for 2000
Change Greek Display
Archives
Books Available for Review
BMCR Home

HTML generated at 13:26:56, Friday, 03 April 2009