Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.03.13

Carlo Prato (ed.), Aristofane: Le Donne alle Tesmoforie.   Milano:  Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, 2001.  Pp. lxxxv + 372.  ISBN 88-04-46808-4.  24.79 Euro.  

Reviewed by S. Douglas Olson, University of Minnesota (
Word count: 1378 words

Thesmophoriazusae, with its cross-dressing hero, its intricate plot structure and its fascination with Euripides and the relationship between high art and the culture that sponsors and consumes it, is arguably one of the two or three funniest (and most intriguing) surviving Aristophanic comedies. It is also the one most in need of a new critical edition and commentary. Rogers (1911) and Sommerstein (1994) aimed primarily at general readers with little concern for the Greek, and the last full-scale scholarly treatment of the text was by van Leeuwen (1904) almost a century ago. Like all the volumes in the Fondazione Lorenzo Valla series, Prato's Thesmophoriazusae (with a facing Italian translation of the Greek by Dario del Corno) is both beautifully produced and inexpensive, and the critical apparatus in particular will be of interest to serious students of the play. This is accordingly a welcome contribution, although it must be regarded as in most respects only a stop-gap until Colin Austin's long-awaited Oxford University Press edition of the play appears.

Thesmophoriazusae is a difficult play in many ways, and the brevity (28 pages, including a 2-page catalogue of divergences from Coulon's Budé) and limited ambition of Prato's Introduction are striking. No attempt is made to interpret the text as a whole or to offer a detailed treatment of the turbulent events in Athens in the year it was produced. Instead, Section I takes up the problem of the date of the original performance, now generally thought to be the City Dionysia of 411, with Lysistrata assigned to the Lenaia festival earlier that year. Prato argues (weakly) for the opposite arrangement, but rather than working through the complex evidence, merely refers the reader to the discussion in Sommerstein's edition. Section II offers a generally optimistic overview of what can be known of the Thesmophoria, a secret women's festival for which Athenian sources from the classical period are--not surprisingly--very limited. Section III discusses the textual tradition of the play, with special attention to the work of the early modern editors, on whose contributions considerable light has been shed in recent years by Austin.1 Over 40 pages of bibliography, unhelpfully divided into a dozen separate sections, follow.

Prato's text is quite conservative and its primary interest lies (as noted above) in the critical apparatus, which contains the most complete report ever published of the readings in Ravennas 429 (R, the only manuscript of the play; 10th-century), the most significant innovations in Monacensis gr. 492 (G or Mu2; a 15th-century copy of R), and the conjectures of modern editors. The value of this apparatus would be even greater, were it more concise and more neatly set out; as it is, even specialist readers will find it difficult to work through. The citation apparatus at the bottom of the facing page is even more cumbersome. Hesychios, for example, is cited by name (or lemma) only, rather than by Latte or Schmidt numbers, making it more difficult to verify references than it should have been, while the manuscripts in which the Aristophanic scholia are preserved are not specified, depriving the reader of vital information for assessing their value. Textual variants in the testimonia are also routinely noted here rather than in the critical apparatus, which is where they belong, if they are worth recording.

Prato's commentary contains much useful information but is equally notable for what it does not do. The discussion is frequently spotty; between 620 and 646 (a section of text chosen at random), for example, there are no notes on 621-3, 62-78, 632, 634-6 or 640-2. This is a very high level of exclusion of primary material, as comparison with even the sketchiest of the recent Oxford commentaries on the other plays makes clear. Stage-action receives little sustained attention, and the same is true of social-historical questions, for which the remains of Old and Middle Comedy are often a fundamental source. Instead, Prato focuses on traditional philological issues, but even here the information provided is sometimes less complete or helpful than it might have been. At 162, for example, Aristophanes of Byzantion and the 6th-century dithyrambic poet Lasus are cited, but without fragment numbers; at 168 the contemporary Athenian tragic poet Philokles is discussed, but without TrGF or PA numbers or any mention of Ar. fr. 591.43-4 and Telecl. fr. 15; and at 169 another contemporary tragic poet, Xenokles, is discussed, once again without TrGF or PA numbers, and also without references to 440-2 (where he comes up again), Nu. 1259-66 (an allusion to his Likymnios) or Pl. Com. fr. 143, and without a testimonium number for Aelian's claim (VH 2.8) that he defeated Euripides at the City Dionysia in 415. Prato cites a large amount of secondary literature in Italian of which most scholars working in the Anglo-American tradition will be unaware.At the same time, he frequently omits references to what those scholars may reasonably regard as standard bibliography. At 138 (on the krokotos), for example, there is no mention of Stone, Costume in Aristophanic Comedy or of Braswell on Pi. P. 4.232; at 143 (on τιτθίον) the discussion in Henderson, Maculate Muse is not cited; and at 176 (on ἕνεκα vs. οὕνεκα) Threatte, Grammar of Attic Inscriptions is passed over in silence. More troubling, when Prato does engage on nitty-gritty questions of usage, style and the like, he often omits crucial information or offers unlikely interpretations of the evidence. Thus in one brief section of commentary (again chosen at random): At 184, Prato identifies ἐγκαθέζομαι as an Aristophanic coinage; but the word is also attested in Thucydides (e.g. iii.1.2) and is probably colloquial, although ill-attested in our sources. At 188, Prato (citing V. 840) argues that παρών was a technical term for "being present [in court]". But even in the orators this form of the verb means "being present" in many other places as well (e.g. D. 40.18; 49.44), and if Prato is right, one must ask what the non-technical term for being present in court might have been; more likely, the poet is alluding to the common use of παρών in the same metrical position in tragedy (e.g. A. Ch. 1014; S. Ai. 1131, 1156; E. Supp. 391 with Collard ad loc.). At 191, Prato identifies ξυρέω ("shave") as Ionian and tragic vocabulary which is here used "in place of the common κείρω". But the verb is attested in tragedy only at S. Ai. 786, where the scholiast claims that the expression is proverbial, and does not mean the same thing as κείρω ("cut short, shear"); once again, this is just as likely ill-attested colloquial vocabulary. At 194, Prato omits Ach. 893-4 ( E. Alc. 367-8) from his catalogue of Aristophanic allusions to Alcestis and fails to give a cross-reference to Th. 179 (cf. E. Alc. 856); but he does cite Lys. 865-9, which merely recalls a standard Euripidean theme (cf. Henderson ad loc.). At 198, Prato identifies τέχνασμα as an Aristophanic coinage; but the presence of the word also at E. Or. 1053 (otherwise unattested before X. HG vi.4.7; probably interpolated at E. Or. 1560) suggests that it has instead been borrowed from a lost tragedy (thus Willink ad loc.), hence the designation (unnoted) of 198-9 as Agatho TrGF 39 F 34?. At 204, Prato (citing H. Il. 6.289) calls γυναικῶν ἔργα an "old Homeric formula"; but Homer has ἔργα γυναικῶν and the appearance of the words in the same sedes at Lys. 708 (paratragic) suggests that both verses allude to a lost tragic exemplar. At 205, Prato (comparing S. El. 114 and E. El. 364 συνεκκλέπτει γάμους) identifies Agathon's use of κλέπτειν as a "tragic metaphor". But the verb is used widely in both prose and poetry to refer to deceit of all sorts and at E. El. 364 does not refer to adultery vel sim., as Prato's interpretation requires; cf. Denniston ad loc. These are all minor points, but examples could be multiplied and the cumulative effect is unsettling.

These detailed criticisms should not be allowed to obscure the fact that Prato's Thesmophoriazusae makes an important contribution to our understanding of a major Aristophanic comedy. All research libraries will want to own a copy of his edition, and many individual scholars working seriously on Aristophanes will want to consider adding it to their private libraries as well.


1.   Colin Austin, "Textual Problems in Ar. Thesm.", Dodone Philologia 16.2 (1987) 61-92.

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