Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.09.13
Susanna Phillippo, Silent Witness: Racine's Non-Verbal Annotations of Euripides. Research Monographs in French Studies 14. Oxford: European Humanities Research Centre, 2003. Pp. xv, 214. ISBN 1-900755-61-0. $29.50.
Reviewed by Eleanor Dickey, Columbia University (email@example.com)
Word count: 355 words
This little book, though of tangential relevance to Classicists, is more interesting than one would expect. It is concerned with the underlines, brackets, and other marks made by the great seventeenth-century French tragedian Racine in his two copies of Euripides' plays. Since Racine based several of his own tragedies directly on plays by Euripides and borrowed from the ancient playwright to a greater or lesser extent in other tragedies as well, the annotations on his copies of the Greek text have long been acknowledged to be important for our understanding of his creative process. Hitherto, however, attention has been focused primarily on the verbal annotations; that is, the sections where Racine wrote words in the margins. Philippo has now argued convincingly that we can also learn a fair amount from observing which passages Racine chose to bracket or underline.
The study is thorough, well organized, clear, and well written. The detailed introduction provides ample background for the non-specialist, including an explanation of how we can know that a given mark is actually by Racine himself (the marks are usually made in the same medium (e.g. ink, red pencil) as verbal marginalia recognizably in the playwright's own handwriting) and information on Racine, his milieu, and his training in Greek. Next follow careful examinations of the types of notes made in different media (unfortunately it is usually impossible to date a particular annotation either absolutely or relatively), of Racine's patterns of interest as a reader, and of the markings in the plays that Racine chose to use in his own work. The resulting conclusions tend to be specific rather than general, but there are some interesting revelations about the types of passage that particularly interested Racine and the type of interest he displayed in each.
The details that emerge inevitably shed more light on Racine than they do on Euripides, and it cannot be said that Philippo has made any earth-shattering discoveries. Nevertheless her results are interesting, not only because they do shed light on Racine and his work, but also because they reveal a considerable amount about how classical literature was read in the seventeenth century.