Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.02.27

Alan H. Sommerstein (trans.), Aristophanes Wealth.   Warminster:  Aris and Phillips, 2001.  Pp. 321.  ISBN 0-085668739-1.  

Reviewed by Carl A. Anderson, Michigan State University (
Word count: 1311 words

Alan Sommerstein's (S) edition of Wealth is the first full-length commentary of the play to be published since Rogers' edition of 1907. This edition, the eleventh volume of the series The Comedies of Aristophanes, includes an introduction, a note on the text, a select bibliography, translation and commentary, and extensive addenda, corrigenda and bibliographical updates to the ten previous volumes published in the series. Like the preceding volumes, this one will be of interest to many classicists, anthropologists, and historians as well as to general readers who wish to appreciate the play on its own terms. A separate volume of indices to all eleven comedies is in preparation.

The introduction, which in itself is a work of wide-ranging and impressive scholarship, is organized under eight headings. The first deals with the occasion and background of the play's production in 388 BC. The second and third headings survey the treatment of the gods Wealth and Asclepius in literature and cult. The god Wealth is never blind in cult, where he is an agent of Demeter and Kore's bounty, but in the poetic tradition he is blind and a source of human complaint; this suggests to S that Aristophanes' innovation may have been to combine the blind Wealth of the poetic tradition with the beneficent Wealth of cult (p. 8). The suggestion seems correct and accounts for Wealth's visit to the healing god for restoration of his sight. The discussion of the worship of Asclepius at Epidaurus, and his reception and popularity at Athens in the 420's is engaging and, like the introduction as a whole, extensively documented.

The remaining headings establish the play in its particular social and literary context. S gives an analysis of the plan of Chremylus and the problematic nature of its fulfillment, a brief and fairly detailed account of similarities and contrasts between Wealth and Ecclesiazusae, and a discussion of the play's structure and story pattern (which, as S reminds us, conforms in its essentials with all other Aristophanic comedies). These headings are followed by sections on staging, including a discussion of the use of side-entrances, and the relationship between the two versions of Wealth.

Non-specialists will welcome S's analysis of Chremylus' plan and the logical consequences of its fulfillment. Here we also find a discussion of the impact of the debate between Chremylus and Poverty on the audience's response to the scenes that follow it and the reminder that the play suggests no remedy for the amelioration of poverty in the real world (13-20). Readers who are interested in the relationship between the first Wealth, produced in 408, and the second Wealth will want to consult the concluding section of the introduction. S offers a review of the scholia, including discussion (following the arguments of Rogers) of how one of the ancient commentators likely came to think he was commenting on the Wealth of 408, and a concise summary of MacDowell's argument that the Wealth of 388 was a revised version of the play of 408 (D. M. MacDowell, Aristophanes and Athens [Oxford 1995] 324-27); S concludes that the version of Wealth we have in hand "must be regarded as a play composed 'de novo' for the production of 388" (33). Whether one accepts S's conclusion or not (and I am inclined to accept it), the notes and bibliography will encourage fresh examination of the issue.

S provides a reliable, accurate translation (keyed to numbers in the Greek text) in idiomatic British English. I can imagine some American readers will pause at sentences such as "who the deuce ("houtosi," 24) is this man?", "this man's a real born saddo!" ("athlios," 118), "Pamphilus...will cop it?" ("klausetai," 174), and "You're such a born cheeky imp." ("mothon...kai phusei kobalos," 279), and perhaps smile at words like "potty" (366), "purblindness" (581), "pong" (693), and "barmy" (903). But S usually gives a literal translation for such renderings, often with full discussion in the commentary, and all in all he succeeds in capturing the tone of the play.

This commentary contains information on virtually every aspect of the play, and for that reason alone many readers will want to own a copy of the book. There is excellent discussion of general topics such as choral interludes (321-22, 626-27, 770-71), assignment of speaking parts (824, 926-34), textual corruption (566) interpolation (805a), prosopography (cf. 176-80, 602, 800), costume (942-43) and staging (1194-1209). Particular scenes also receive insightful and stimulating commentary. At line 385, for example, the long disputed authorship of the mural, The Children of Heracles, opens the possibility that the reference to Pamphilus' painting The Children of Heracles is not to the famous fourth-century painter, but to the contemporary general Pamphilus. The surprise substitution of the general's name for that of the mural's painter, who according to one ancient commentator was Apollodorus and not Pamphilus, lends the passage much greater comic and satiric point (pp. 165-66). The same can be said for the Old Woman in the final procession (119-99); as S reminds us, she is not simply an old woman bearing a pot on her head, but a "a grotesque comic counterpart of the kanephorus, the young virgin who carried the ritual basket in many a sacrificial and festival procession" (p. 217).

Many of the commentary items could stand nearly on their own as scholarly notes. Several passages immediately come to mind. At line 168, S offers over a page of commentary on the meaning of the verb "paratilletai." The note reviews various punishments for adultery at Athens and various interpretations and textual emendations in our passage, and concludes with the suggestion that "paratilletai" here means "to pluck out hair one at a time" (pp. 144-46). At line 550, S provides several pages of commentary on the reference to Dionysius I of Syracuse and the Athenian politician Thrasybulus of Steiria, He summarizes Thrasybulus' political and military career, reminds us why Thrasybulus' reputation was tarnished for many Athenians in 388, and reviews and refutes the suggestion that the play's reference to Thrasybulus and Dionysius is to two other men of the same name who were generals in 387/6 (pp. 174-76).

Many readers will welcome the extensive addenda and corrigenda to the ten previous volumes of the series. These addenda, which are based on the original printings, contain updated bibliography, including work that has appeared in the last year; select bibliographies are provided for Acharnians, Knights, Clouds, and Wasps, since none appeared in the original volumes. Corrections mainly involve expansion or emendation of the commentary. In some cases corrections are based on new evidence (e.g., the meaning of "eye" in connection with ships, Acharnians 91-97) and in others on reconsideration of a passage (e.g., the assignment of speaking parts, Lysistrata 107-10). There are also many entirely new notes. The quality, range, and usefulness of the addenda are self evident. Serious students of Aristophanes will regularly consult them.

In summary, S's edition marks the successful conclusion of a major project. The first volume of this series appeared in 1980. In that volume he expressed his desire to do what he could "to help others to enjoy" Aristophanes (Acharnians, p. vi). With publication of Wealth S has effectively reached that goal. He has introduced a generation of readers to the world and humor of a great Athenian. He has along the way made an enduring contribution to Aristophanic studies.

I noticed the following typographical errors and infelicities: for line 17 of the text, read ἀποκρινόμενος; for line 947 of the text, read ποιήσω. In the addenda, there are typographical errors and/or unaccented words: on p. 267 line 655, read παππίδιον, on p. 268 line 1102, read πολλαχῆ, on p. 277 line 916, read τί δῆτ', on p. 286 line 202, read ἐμβάς), on p. 290 line 1672, read καταστήσας, and on p. 313 line 645, read 'πάταξας and 'πάταξά σ'.

(For another review see BMCR 2002.08.43.)

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