Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.09.12

A. H. Sommerstein, Indexes. The Comedies of Aristophanes 12.   Warminster:  Aris and Phillips, 2002.  Pp. 203.  ISBN 0-85668-751-0.  $29.95 (pb).  

Reviewed by S. Douglas Olson University of Minnesota University of Minnesota University of Minnesota University of Minnesota University of Minnesota University of Minnesota, University of Minnesota (

This is the twelfth and final volume in Alan Sommerstein's complete edition of the surviving plays of Aristophanes, which began with the publication of Acharnians in 1980. No one has done more in recent years to make the comedies accessible to a broad academic audience; Sommerstein's commentaries have become standard research tools, and his editions of the individual plays are in some cases (notably Knights and Wealth) the best in print. The indexes are up to Sommerstein's usual high standards of accuracy and presentation,1 and will make the other volumes in the series even more useful than they already are.2 At the same time, the manner in which they have been constructed raises important questions of audience and points to some of the complexities of the process of indexing itself.

Three indexes are offered: an index locorum; an index personarum (historical, literary, and mythological); and an index rerum. The third index offers some sense of the range of Sommerstein's interests, while inevitably emphasizing the trivial over the significant and proper names over rich but lexicographically ill-defined topics. P. 154, for example, contains entries for cottabus; country vs. town; courtesans; cowardice; craftsmen; Cranaa; cress; Crete; crime; Crimea; Crisa; Cronia; cross-dressing; Croton; crowns; crustaceans and molluscs (with 8 subcategories!); cult-titles; Cumae; Cumaxa; cunnilingus; curses; cutpurses; Cyclades; cyclic choruses; and Cyclops, although Sommerstein's work is in fact far more historical than geographic in focus, and sex and gender are not quite as prominent in it as this list of entries might suggest. The absence of an index verborum Graecorum, on the other hand, is striking and significant. One virtue of Aris and Phillips editions generally is the ease with which they can be used by readers with little or no Greek. But Sommerstein's most recent volumes in particular have had a great deal to say about individual lexical items and the like; and the lack of an index aimed at readers comfortable with and concerned about the original language suggests an important disjuncture between the theoretical aims of the series and the actual nature of his work.3

A second striking characteristic of this volume is that Sommerstein has indexed not just his own notes (although he takes account of them) but the plays of Aristophanes themselves, and has given priority in his indexes to the latter. Thus the entry "Zeus" in the index personarum offers not merely a list of points in the commentary where Sommerstein discusses the god, his cults, his iconography, et sim., but a catalogue of every mention of Zeus in the comedies, including a separate sublist documenting the use of the god's name in oaths. And although "n" is appended to line-number references when a subject is referred to in the commentary but not in the text, no corresponding siglum warns the user about points where no note is offered in the commentary, leaving her simply to work her way through the entire list. That process is made more difficult by the fact that, when a topic is under discussion or a character onstage for a number of lines, Sommerstein offers only a single comprehensive line-number reference intended to include all notes that fall within that range. This has the advantage of reducing the number of individual entries in the index. But because Dionysus, for example, is onstage continually at Ra. 1-673, the index personarum under his name contains no separate reference to the notes on the god, his cult, and his image in Attic drama at e.g. 16, 46, 197ff, 215-6, 216-7, and 357.4

All indexing decisions have unintended consequences: in this case, offering as much help as possible to the non-specialist has meant providing less to the specialist; a text-centered approach has tended to slight the commentary; and brevity has in some cases been the enemy of precision. Sommerstein's Indexes are nonetheless a considerable success and a fitting conclusion to a very important literary and historical project.


1.   I checked the first reference on every even-numbered page and found only three errors out of 100 (on p. 62, strike the reference to Pi. P. 8.20 at Th. 102, and for '11.10: T 103' below read '11.10: T 102'; on p. 190, for 'L 673n' read 'L 675n'; on p. 200, strike the reference to 'F 32n'). This is a relatively low rate and suggests a careful, systematic process of double-checking. Proofreading (a disproportionately important matter in indexes) has generally been good; but the footnote on p. 190 lacks a number.
2.   References have generally been updated in the indexes, e.g. from Kock numbers to Kassel-Austin numbers for comic fragments, and from IG I2 to IG I3 for Attic inscriptions. But PA numbers are still used to identify historical individuals even where numbers from the far more useful and up-to-date PAA are available.
3.   Sommerstein's index rerum does include a large number of transliterated Greek words. But these are cited as technical terms and are therefore generally glossed in English, and the emphasis is not on the original Greek itself.
4.   And some references still fall between the cracks. The Eleusinian deity Iacchus, for example, is referred to at Ra. 323-36 and again at 340-53, and both passages are included in the index personarum s.v.; but Sommerstein's most substantial note on the god is at "323-53", which ought to be indexed separately but is not.

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