Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.02.25

William Allan, Euripides. The Children of Heracles. Aris & Phillips Classical Texts.   Warminster:  Aris & Phillips, 2001.  Pp. 240.  ISBN 0-85668-741-3.  $28.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Robert Brophy, Drama Department, University College of Syracuse University (
Word count: 1537 words

This excellent study, and the play, are very timely in a post-9/11 world. Its themes, the arrogant abuse of innocents, self-sacrifice to save the community (as on Flight 593), and vengeance, justified or excessive and inhuman, make this so-called "problem play" most timely for today's civilized community and theater, not just scholars. It is also a well-structured play, and in contrast to those scholars who call it a "lifeless failure,"1 Allan (hereafter A.) pp. 21-22 rightly finds it a vital piece of theatre. "The Children of Heracles is still not performed as often as it deserves. It is hoped that this edition will contribute in some way to the play's continuing rehabilitation." I myself translated Heraclidae for children's community theatre production. Allan has recently said (NY Times Arts Section 1/14/03 p. 1) that he only knows of seven productions since ancient times, including Peter Sellars' now on Broadway.

First, the translation. A. p. 58 admits that his is not a version for actors; "the translation does not aim at elegance or performability, but attempts above all to make clear my interpretation of the Greek," which it does very well. It still has nice poetic touches (which aid an actor's memory), such as alliteration, pp. 66/7 for v. 72: "defiled, a disgrace to your city and a dishonour to the gods," though A. is right that Iolaus' full speech is hard for an actor: "You who dwell in Athens from olden times, protect us! We, suppliants of Zeus Agoraios, are being handled with violence and our suppliant branches defiled, a disgrace ... and a dishonour" (p. 67, lines 69-72).

On the other hand, A. misses an easy chance to match Euripides' alliteration (with similar labial consonants): pp. 70/1 "their father's loyal comrade Iolaus," for v. 124 πατρός τε πιστὸς Ἰόλεως παραστάτης, not "their father's faithful friend." A. also sometimes fails to translate what his notes point out: e.g., p. 171 n. to v. 484: "Iol.'s μάλιστα ... τέκνων nicely answers the Maiden's μάλιστ' ἀδελφῶν ... πέρι (481)," but his translation pp. 90/1 "I am deeply worried about my brothers ... justly praise you most among the children of Heracles," could easily keep the parallels of the original Greek: "most worried about my brothers ... most among the children," or "especially worried ... especially among the children."

Similarly, the identical phrase ἐν τῶιδε, opens vv. 498 and 499, but A. pp.92/3 changes the sense: "Are we actually bound by this condition ...?" "Yes, otherwise ...," Iolaus answers, but A. p.172 n. to v. 498, "lit. 'are we really held back by this statement so as not to be saved?'" makes clear the trans. could read: "By this alone we are kept from being saved?" Ans. "By this alone; otherwise, etc." A. admittedly aims chiefly at "clear ... interpretation of the Greek"; but I feel identical word order, parallels, repetitions, etc., should be kept, if the sense remains clear, in English.2

A. often makes an excellent choice among alternative senses; e.g., p.207 n. to v. 932: "baleful: Parson understood πολύπονος here to mean 'consisting of many rank and file,' while Wilkins suggests 'experienced in war,' but the required sense is 'bringing much woe' (cf. 933-4, Or. 1012, Hel. 199)." I build on A.'s suggestion, p.171 n. to v. 479 πρεσβεύειν: "not appointed to represent the family: lit. 'to act as ambassador for the family.' The language stresses that her role is unofficial and that she has come forward of her own free will. More subtly, the point may be that she is not taking the role of πρεσβύς ('old man,' ie. Iol. himself), who is here, and failing." So at the play's earlier, first use of the verb πρεσβεύειν, v. 45, the first mention of Hyllus and the older boys, off to find, if possible, other non-Athenian supporters, they are not just the older ones but ὁ̂ισι πρεσβεύει γένος, those whose kind can "be ambassadors of good will."

A. also provides a fine brief discussion, with current sources, of every topic raised, from suppliant tragedy (pp. 39-43) to self-sacrifice, esp. young women who sacrifice themselves (pp. 32-34; also Barlow, "General Introduction," p. 17); from "The Heraclidae in Art" (pp. 52-54) to textual transmission (pp. 35-37) and performance practice: the three-actor rule and role-distribution (p. 52 and n. 150, citing C.W. Marshall, Text & Presentation 15 (1994) 53-61). Choral metrics with music and dance is the only topic A. does not give separate treatment, but leaves to notes on the parodos, etc. (pp. 38-41 on vv. 73-117). This is essential, if a modern version aims to re-create or re-embody the lost dance-beats, music and choreography of the original staging, as my versions of Phaethon and Heraclidae do.

It is also time to update Barlow's General Introduction to the Series (1985, reprinted here), on one point, at least, the stage-action, which was much more intense than she and the most popular studies of the early 1980's believed. Barlow p.14 ignores dance and performance--physical movement, reaction, gesture--by chorus and actors: "Scenery was sparse, subtle gestures and expressions were precluded by masks, heavy costumes and the sheer size of the theatre. But these things ... explain why the burden must be on the language (speech and song) and why the words were so important."3

On textual-metric matters, A. is thorough and sound; see e.g. his notes on vv. 513 and 529.4 His suggestion, p. 178 note to vv. 610-12, explains and corrects an error: "nobody can hope to escape misfortune forever; ... traditional gnome ... here applied to a house, with 'μβεβάναι suggesting its foundations (rather than 'does not always tread the path of prosperity' (Loeb)). However, perhaps 'nobody' (v. 608) should be understood as the subject ἐμβεβάναι (v. 610) and the object of διώκει (v. 612)?" On vv. 613-14 "settles from high to low estate: the subject, fate, is understood from the previous sentence. 'ᾤκισε ... completes the metaphor of the low cabin contrasted with the lofty estate' (Pearson);" and lends force to "a wanderer, [whose] sense is good but ἀλήταν does not scan; the rhythm short-short-long is ... strophic responsion with 625."

One might question some of A.'s deletions and transpositions of lines. A. pp. 86/7 accepts Diggle's and Murray's transposing of v. 402 between vv. 409 and 410; A. pp. 94/5 places vv. 560-61 between vv. 563 and 564; A. pp. 102/3 follows Zuntz to put vv. 688-90, then v. 687, between vv. 683 and 684, citing "similar beginnings" (174); and A. pp. 118/9 puts vv. 950-52 between vv. 947 and 948, citing "similar endings of 947 and 948" (208) to explain manuscript transposition from "the scribe's confusion." Each time the logical flow of the stichomythy is improved from our viewpoint, but I personally feel we should, if the text makes sense, keep the verses as in the ms., unless forced to alter it. Only the last has strong added grammatical and logical grounds: A. p. 208 n. to vv. 950-2: "the transposition ... avoids the discontinuity of ἔπεμπες (951) following κατήγαγες (949) without any connecting particle;" and on 949: " Heracles' descent to Hades makes for an effective climax (if 950-2 are transposed) since it was thought peculiarly horrible to be sent there alive: cf. Eur. Eurystheus (a satyr play, c.415-406) fr. 371N2 (Heracles to Eurystheus ..., Tro. 442 ... . Moreover, the fetching of Cerberus is usually listed as the last of the twelve labours: cf. Her. 359ff., esp. 425-9." One can still keep the ms. verses in order and make sense of them, however, even here.

Likewise, my translation includes that pair and then the four lines definitely cited as from Heraclidae listed in Fragmenta Heraclidis Falso Adscripta, A. pp. 128/9: "1 [fr. 852 N]: Lines 1-2 only are quoted by Stobaeus (4.25.2) and attribued [sic] to Hcld. Orion (flor. Eur. 7) quotes the whole passage (without title), but ... does not separate individual ... possibl[y] ... two fragments here." A. p.129 translates "Whoever honours his parents when they are alive/ is dear to the gods both in life and in death." So also, A. p. 226: "2 [fr. 853 N]: Stobaeus (3.1.80) quotes these lines as coming from Hcld. ... advice from an older person to a younger," most probably Iolaus (possibly Alcmene). The language closely parallels that of the play, as Diggle admits. But as A. p. 225 warns: "while ... a valuable and independent alternative to the main manuscript tradition, anthology quotations must always be treated with caution and each ... considered on its own merits." Specifically, "Stobaeus and Orion['s] ... fifth century AD ... anthologies were themselves based on earlier collections of excerpts ... without ... context and ... not primarily concerned with the accurate preservation of the text or its attribution."

There is an excellent, thorough, up-to-date bibliography. Misprints are extremely few: p. 41 n. 93: "The flip-side to manipulation of suppiliants [sic for "suppliants"] is manipulation by them"; p. 233 "P.T. Stevens, 'Euripides and the Athenians,' JHS 76 (1976 [sic for 1956] 76-84 [sic for 87-94]; and misplaced italics: p. 149 on 207-13: Aesch.Suppl. and Eur. Suppl. [sic]; p. 221 on 1050-1: "Rosivach, On Creon, Antigone and Not Burying the Dead,' Rh.M. 126 ... discusses Ant. and Eur. El. [sic" for "Eur. El.]."


1.   A. pp. 21-22 cites: "AP Burnett, 'Tribe and City, Custom and Decree in Children of Heracles,' CP 71 (1976) 4, and JW Fitton, 'The Suppliant Women and the Heraclidae of Euripides,' Hermes 89 (1961) 460."
2.   I wonder if there is added force to repeated οἴχομαι "I am gone," almost slang 'a goner,' p.98/9 v. 602 "I am ruined"; p.14/5 v. 13 with πόλις "our city is ruined."
3.   Barlow p. 14 n. 32 cites "for the role of the non-verbal in theatrical performance" Oliver Taplin Greek Tragedy in Action (London 1978). A volume Barlow could have mentioned even in the 1985 start of the series, J. Michael Walton, Greek Theatre Practice, Contributions in Drama and Theatre Studies, No. 3 (London & Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1980) takes stage action and performance practice much further than Taplin, justifiably. Another A. might have cited is: David Wiles, Tragedy in Action (Cambridge 1997). To Barlow p. 17 and n.43 on "Euripides' celebration of the ordinary," esp. "ordinary actions [of] the chorus," I can add the Chorus of women who enter in the parodos of Phaethon to sweep out the palace of Merops, king of Ethiopia.
4.   The text used is J. Diggle's OCT (with his 1994 OCT III Addenda & Corrigenda) except where noted by Allan: cf. p. 58.

Read Latest
Index for 2003
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:28:27, Friday, 03 April 2009