Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.03.32

Ursula Gärtner, Ekkehard Stärk, Theodor Ladewig, Schriften zum römischen Drama republikanischer Zeit. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 61.   Munich/Leipzig:  K. G. Saur, 2001.  Pp. viii, 281.  ISBN 3-598-77610-1.  EUR 80.00.  

Reviewed by Boris Dunsch, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität, Greifswald (

Theodor Ladewig (1812-1878), who spent most of his life as a grammar school teacher in the provincial town of Neustrelitz, is usually not reckoned among the eminent classical scholars of the nineteenth century. Nonetheless, the high overall quality of his essays on Roman republican drama will become obvious almost immediately to those using this helpful collection of his selected works on Plautus, Terence, and Roman tragedy.

The first of Ladewig's essays deals with the Epidicus (1-24), the second with the canon of Roman comic playwrights compiled by Volcatius Sedigitus (25-67), perhaps Ladewig's most important and influential work.1 The following three studies are devoted to disussions of the Casina (69-95), the Cistellaria (97-112), and the Menaechmi (113-135). His Plautinische Studien (137-193) is a collection of shorter notes on passages from a number of other plays (Trinummus, Miles gloriosus, Bacchides, Stichus, Pseudolus, Menaechmi, Mostellaria, Persa, and Mercator). It is followed by a short essay on the prologues of some Plautine comedies (187-193), a short note on Pacuvius as poeta doctus (195-98), and finally Ladewig's Latin essay Analecta scenica (199-248), in which he discusses questions concerning republican Roman tragedy and its relation to Greek drama. At the end of the book, the reader is supplied with a comprehensive list of works quoted by Ladewig (249-259), a bibliography of his scholarly output (261-63), a convenient index of select passages from classical works discussed in the essays contained in this volume (265-67),2 and a concise outline of his life and career written by the late Ekkehard Stärk, discussing Ladewig's importance for the advancement of scholarship in the field of Roman drama and putting him into the context of nineteenth-century classical philology (269-281).

A question that could be asked whenever a book like this is published is whether the results of scholarly work of a past generation can be of more than a mere antiquarian interest to the modern reader. The editors do not broach this question in their short preface. However, in his essay towards the end of the book, Stärk points to what he thinks are the particular strengths of Ladewig's approach to a better understanding of Roman drama (273-74). He contrasts his "analytical" method with those used by contemporary scholars, mainly Friedrich Ritschl (1806-1876), like Ladewig a student of Gottfried Hermann at the University of Leipzig,3 and his pupils. Their work, he claims, remained on the whole focused on issues of textual criticism and linguistic matters.4 In Stärk's opinion, Ladewig's greatest achievement was that he found a set of criteria which made it possible to analyse Roman plays with a view to the localisation and separation of the Greek and the Roman elements of which they are composed (278-79). He sums up these criteria quite succintly (278): "On the Greek side: seriousness, probability and character; on the Roman side: isolated comic effects, jokes, and tasteless entertainment."5 Stärk adds that in recent years a number of eminent scholars have come to regard Ladewig as the "inventor of the analytical approach to Roman comedy" (278).6 Then he concludes that "even after 150 years Ladewig's analytical studies of Roman comedy have lost nothing of their stimulating vigour" (279) and mentions in particular their positive reception by Eckard Lefèvre and his pupils, among them Stärk himself. This is true, and thus the publication of this volume answers a real need.

On the whole, Ladewig's ideas invite both applause and criticism, which in itself may count as a hallmark of their quality. For the purposes of this review, I would like to single out just one aspect. Compiling a catalogue of watertight criteria of originality in Plautine comedy is an arduous task, comparable in difficulty to the many vain efforts to establish a convincing chronology of Plautus' plays. At the bottom of any such attempt there appears to lie the optimistic belief in the existence of a way of analysing texts more geometrico.7

One way in which Ladewig develops his criteria is by using Terence as a foil for Plautus. In his view, Terence is much closer to the plays he translated from the Greek of Menander and others, while Plautus took greater liberties in the treatment of his models. Further, Ladewig is quite confident of his concept of what a Menandrian play should look like -- "fairly straightforward plot, strict orientation towards the goal of the action, clearly drawn characters, calm advancement of dramatic dialogue" (274, in Stärk's quote from an article written by Ladewig in 1842). Yet, virtually nothing was known about Menandrian comedy before the early years of the twentieth century. Even today, in post-Dyskolos times, the picture is not yet a clear one. At any rate, the evidence of the Menandrian fragments available in Ladewig's days was insufficient to support the development of such wide-ranging premisses, be they right or wrong. The claim that Greek New Comedy as a whole differs consistently from Roman comedy has to rest on two basic assumptions. One is that we know enough about Menander to reach general conclusions about his way of writing a play. The other is that Menander and the numerous other writers of New Comedy were so much alike that once one knows Menander, one knows them all.8 Even if only tacitly, Ladewig's criteria rest on these or similar assumptions. The validity of such an approach is still very much under debate today, and Quellenkritik is, by its very nature, always in danger of getting trapped in circular argument. As can be seen from this, Ladewig's ideas still have the potential to stimulate current discussions.

It is inevitable that among Ladewig's thoughts readers will also find a lot of nineteenth-century style philology, including bold attempts at conjectural criticism, mainly concerned with the re-arrangement, re-attribution, or excision of lines in order to restore a more satisfying text. These efforts are not infrequently based on rather subjective aesthetic assumptions, e.g. the expectation of a "logical" sequence of thoughts or of a carefully balanced chain of arguments in a dramatic text. Behind this lies the aim of restoring the "ideal" text, a concept fraught with many difficulties. Still, even in such passages there is much of interest to modern readers. Let me adduce two examples instead of many. First, working toward a sound understanding of the text by close reading, Ladewig's erudite thoroughness and careful attention to detail can be seen in the discussion of a word-play on credere (Plautus, Persa 482-85) in a well-phrased footnote (180). Second, taking a bird's eye view of the textual tradition, his insightful discussion of the occasional discrepancies between the text of the manuscripts of Plautus and the text preserved in the quotations taken from the playwright by the grammarians of Late Antiquity shows a highly developed consciousness of the intricate problems posed by the nature of the transmission of Plautine comedy in antiquity (99-103). Ladewig's ability to take both perspectives recommends him as a classical philologist. There is only one aspect of Roman drama that is somewhat neglected by him. Unlike Ritschl and others, he appears to be rather uninterested in questions of metre and prosody, although he does not shun communicating metrical considerations when he deems them necessary (cf. e.g. 128). Had he set himself the task of editing a Plautine or Terentian comedy, which he regrettably did not, he might have developed a livelier interest in this field.

There are errors in Ladewig's work which are owed to the state of Plautine studies in his lifetime. Every reader will easily spot them. A striking example is the name given to the old man in the Casina. It is actually not found anywhere in the text of the play. Ladewig, following the printed editions of his day, calls him Stalino (76), a name which crept into the vulgate through textual corruptions in lines 347 and 960. However, on the evidence of the scene-headings in the Ambrosian palimpsest, which became available in print only shortly before Ladewig's death, modern editions give his name as Lysidamus. Yet, even to be confronted with such "errors" can be an instructive and fruitful experience, as the reader gets an impression of how and why things we believe to know for sure about a text can (and probably will) change over a period of 150 years.

Apart from providing scholars with a collection of thought-provoking essays, the editors have also served a practical purpose, since at least some of Ladewig's works are somewhat difficult to access and consult. Two of them were originally published as Schulprogramme,9 another in the Neue Jahrbücher für Philologie und Pädagogik, while the others first appeared in the early volumes of Philologus and Rheinisches Museum. Thus, by widening the circle of potential modern readers of Ladewig, the editors have done the scholarly public a valuable service.

The carefully reset and proofread texts were made into a consecutively paginated book, at the same time preserving the original pagination. Obvious misprints and several slips of the pen were eliminated, while nineteenth-century orthography and the spelling conventions of the Latin and Greek quotations were left intact. Moreover, the line-numbers of ancient plays are provided in two forms, first as given by Ladewig, then, for the convenience of the modern user, the ones used in today's standard texts.10 In sum, as far as its formal presentation is concerned, the book leaves its user with a very positive impression.

Considering the fact that the editors aimed at providing a representative collection of Ladewig's writings on early Roman drama as a whole, as is suggested in the title of book, it is surprising that his splendid Beiträge zur Kritik des Terentius, Neustrelitz 1858 (Pp. 26), was not included, although, owing to its form of publication as a Schulprogramm, it is just as difficult to get hold of as the other essays. It contains valuable thoughts illustrating Ladewig's opinions on the questions of contamination and act-division in Terentian comedy, not only matters of exegesis and textual criticism as Stärk suggests (278). In the interest of balance (almost 190 pages of the book are dedicated to essays dealing with Plautus), the Beiträge should have been included. This would also have helped to round off the positive picture the reader gets of the industrious and well-read schoolteacher. Stärk's essay on Ladewig, though short, definitely fills a gap. It is to be regretted (but understandable) that the editors did not choose to give even more room to a general discussion of Ladewig's ideas and personality. A more detailed study of his life and work remains to be written. It would, among other things, have to look at his achievements as editor and commentator of Vergil and at his political activities in the crucial period of 1848/1849.11

To conclude, everyone working on Roman drama will want this convenient collection of texts. It will also be of great value for the historian of classical scholarship, especially because it assembles texts difficult to consult otherwise and offers bibliographical data which help to elucidate the scope and depth of Ladewig's erudition as much as they demonstrate the quality of the prolific academic environment enjoyed by him and his more renowned colleagues.


1.   There are two ways of spelling the name; Ladewig uses Volcatius, more recent scholarship prefers Volcacius.
2.   The list of works quoted by Ladewig has been compiled very accurately with only very few omissions, e.g. of Philipp K. Buttmann, whose edition of Demosthenes' Against Meidias is quoted by Ladewig in a footnote (102 n.2), where the speech is mistakenly referred to as "Midiania" instead of "Midiana".
3.   Stärk mentions that Ladewig studied at the universities of Rostock (1830-1832) and Leipzig (1832-1834). Friedrich A. Eckstein, Nomenclator Philologorum, Leipzig 1871, p. 312, and K. Rieck, Geschichte des Gymnasium Carolinum im ersten Jahrhundert seines Bestehens (Schulprogramm Neustrelitz 1906), p. 60, state -- perhaps mistakenly -- that Ladewig also studied in Heidelberg.
4.   In support of his positive judgement of Ladewig's achievements, Stärk quotes a passage from Eduard Fraenkel's short doxography at the beginning of his groundbreaking book Plautinisches im Plautus (Berlin 1922), pp. 2-3. Fraenkel states that Ladewig wrote among other things "unassuming short essays on questions of composition", which does not sound like a wholehearted recommendation. He says that sometimes Ladewig's philological acumen led him to overshoot the mark. Still, Fraenkel believes him to have had very clear ideas of the various factors that influenced Plautus' work and of the extent to which Plautine comedy is independent of its Greek models.
5.   All translations from the German text are the reviewer's.
6.   A similar statement is already made by Gregor Maurach, Plauti Poenulus (Heidelberg 1975), p. 45. Maurach argues that, strictly speaking, Ladewig was not the first to develop such ideas but probably the first to follow them up systematically.
7.   For a fundamental criticism of such "secondary revisions" by "staking the texts down for the reader's untroubled inspection" see Terry E. Eagleton, Literary Theory: an Introduction (2nd ed. Oxford 1996), p. 157. A convincing critique is also provided by Gregor Maurach, Der Poenulus des Plautus (Heidelberg 1988), p. 21-29.
8.   See e.g. the cautioning remarks made by Adrian S. Gratwick (ed.), Plautus: Menaechmi (Cambridge 1993), p. 23 n.27.
9.   The Schulprogramm (a commemorative paper published by a grammar school) is a very common means of publication of school news along with academic work done by schoolteachers in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. The quality of the essays published in this way varies, but quite a number of them contain valuable material. On the importance and circulation of Schulprogramme see further Manfred Fuhrmann, Latein und Europa: Geschichte des gelehrten Unterrichts in Deutschland von Karl dem Großen bis Wilhelm II., Cologne: DuMont, 2001, pp. 201-203. Due to the occasional character and the limited numbers circulated by the schools, it can be rather difficult to consult them.
10.   For the line-numbers of the text of Plautus, Stärk uses Friedrich Leo's edition (Berlin 1895/1896), which is still the best one available.
11.   For Ladewig's political work see Rieck (n.3), p. 35. Although his political ambitions appear to have come to an end in 1849, they may well serve to explain, for example, why he advocated the "free development of each individual" in a Schulprogramm of 1853 quoted by Stärk (273).

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