Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.06.23

Luigi Battezzato (ed.), Tradizione testuale e ricezione letteraria antica della tragedia greca. Atti del convegno Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa, 14-15 giugno 2002.   Amsterdam:  Hakkert, 2003.  Pp. 207.  ISBN 90-256-1175-3.  €46.00.  

Contributors: V. di Benedetto (formal preface only), L. Battezzato, M. Fassino, L. Prauscello, L. Savignago, C. Pernigotti, F. Bardi, A. Taddei, M. Ciappi, O. Thévenaz, F. Boschetti

Reviewed by Ruth Scodel, University of Michigan (
Word count: 2338 words

The volume has a straightforward organization. The first set of papers, through Pernigotti's, all deal with the transmission of the tragic text from a generally similar point of view. All these essays demonstrate the variety of contexts and uses for tragedy and extracts from tragedy, and so the complexity of textual history. This section is often technical and not initially engaging for those for whom, like myself, the study of textual history is typically an obligation rather than a pleasure, but there is much to be learned here, and these technical problems raise fascinating questions. The remaining papers, except the last, address aspects of the literary reception of tragedy in antiquity. The last describes a project in-progress to create a rich database for the study of tragic style.

Battezzato himself argues vigorously that there is no indication that tragic texts were archived before Lycurgus, that the role of the grammateus in reading the text to the actors was closely analagous to other situations in which the grammateus read texts aloud, and that this reading indicates that the Lycurgan text did not have musical notation. He continues with a discussion of the famous anecdote in Galen (17a.606.7-13) about Ptolemy III's theft of the Athenian text, comparing the story in Athenaeus (1.3a-b) that Philadelphus bought a number of famous libraries. There are contradictory ancient anecdotes about the library of Aristotle. B. argues that we must be properly skeptical of such stories. In any case, he notes, the best texts are created by the comparison of multiple exemplars, not the reliance on a single authority. As an example of the value of multiple sources, he argues that the P. Oxy. 2180 does not present a variant of OR 121 but omits the line. K, the second oldest of the manuscripts, also omits it. Nonetheless, he argues that technical grounds do not prove that the line is spurious and that literary grounds support its authenticity.

Fassino offers a discussion of P. Stras. W. G. 304-7. This is an anthology, dated to the mid-3rd century, of Euripidean lyric (including originally recitative anapests). The preserved fragments come from Med., Phoen., and one other tragedy. Fassino convincingly argues that some of the unique textual errors of this papyrus represent deliberate changes, probably by the copyist himself. The re-writer changes lyric meter (though not anapests) without regard for responsion, and inserts doricisms not found in tragedy and ionicisms used in Sophocles, but not Euripides. B. Gentili1 already placed this papyrus in the context of Hellenistic solo performance; Fassino confirms this origin in the milieu of a solo virtuoso on textual grounds. He ends, however, with the consoling comparison of other papyri that are much closer to the manuscript tradition, reassuring us that our texts do not appear to depend on manuscripts, like this one, adapted for special uses.

Prauscello's paper on papyri with musical notation will be hard going for readers not already fully engaged in recent controversies about tragic colometry, but it is well worth the effort. The question goes back to Wilamowitz' claim that the colometry of the manuscript tradition has no authority. The disputes revolve around a few central issues. Was there a continual performance tradition of tragic songs from the fifth century into the Hellenistic period? Did the Lycurgan text include metrical notation? Did the Alexandrian editors consult texts with musical notation? P. wants to define a position between the extremes of Fleming-Kopff,2 who see a systematic consultation of musical texts by the Alexandrians, and Pöhlmann,3 who sees independent traditions of theatrical texts with musical notations and reading texts. The paper examines the P. Vind. G 2315 and P. Leiden. Prauscello argues that when P. Vind. sets the text off at Or. 343 we are not safe in assuming that this represents a real tradition of alternative colometry, but a small performance variation. She then looks at P. Leiden's text of passages from IA and argues that the line breaks mark the end of extracts and may be influenced by syntactic/verse boundaries but are not colometric. The layout of the papyrus is thus not evidence for a different colometry from that of the manuscript tradition. Finally, she goes back to P. Vind. and its transposition of Or. 338-339. Here she suggests that the peculiar syntactic difficulties of this order suggest that it could be another variant created by a virtuoso, who sought a particular pathetic effect by making 339 a strangely located parenthesis. The details of this paper are generally plausible, but I do not entirely follow the more general argument: the point seems to be that at least some of this variation is local and transient rather than representative of a wholly independent tradition but that it also indicates that musical practice was not under any strict control.

Savignago treats eisthesis, the indentation of sections of tragic text, usually to indicate metrical change. The paper shows that manipulation of margins is frequent in papyri of different kinds and periods. No one system governs its use. 31 papyri (3 Ptolemaic) use the margin to mark the trimeter/other meter division, but 3 for changes with lyric, 5 for changes of speaker (singer) within lyric, 2 for apparently aesthetic reasons. The paper also offers a survey of how eisthesis and other marginal marks, such as paragraphoi, are combined. Pernigotti's paper begins too generally and takes too long to reach the actual evidence about its topic, Euripidean gnomai. But it convincingly argues that practices of selection cannot be reduced to a mechanical scheme, as many have tried to do: the same passages appear in different abridgments in different contexts.

The second half of the volume is not as coherent as the first. Bardi examines the aetion of Artemis Tauropolos at Halai, Euripides IT 1446-47 and Callimachus Hymn 3 173-75, as an example of Euripides' aetiological method in relation to the use of aetiological material in Callimachus B. agrees with those who see considerable invention and adaptation to the needs of particular dramatic contexts in Euripidean aetia. Indeed, she thinks both the symbolic shedding of blood at Halae and the dedication of the clothing of women dead in childbirth are probably invented (there is no other evidence outside Euripides for either), while Euripides ignores attested features of the cults that were familiar to his audiences. She stresses Euripides' care in distinguishing the two places and cults. Euripides, she says, selects from religious practices. Callimachus likewise selects in accordance with his poetic purposes. The Hymn to Artemis at 172-74 gives an abridged version of Euripides' aetion for the cult at Halae. Since the Spartans also claimed to have the statue of Taurian Artemis brought by Orestes, Callimachus here, as so often, implicitly engages in antiquarian controversy. In 18-25 Artemis asks to care for women in childbirth because Leto did not suffer labor pains at her birth, while Aetia fr. 79 P/Dieg. I 28-36 offers three alternatives, of which this is one. Callimachus, like Euripides, selects his aetia and makes particular features salient for his poetic purposes. This is surely not surprising. I wish the paper had examined more fully what poetic concerns govern the selection or invention of particular aetia -- why should Euripides have made Iphigenia the dedicatee of the clothing of women dead in childbirth?

Taddei discusses the hero's hands in Sophocles Ajax in relation to Athenian law. The paper argues that the (undeniable) stress the play gives Ajax' hands, especially as they are stained with blood, reflects the importance of the term αὐτόχειρ in defining the most serious category of murder, that judged by the Areopagus. Ajax has actually murdered the herdsmen, and the murders he intended but did not accomplish would have been especially dangerous for the entire community. These circumstances help explain both the passages that evoke the possibility that the chorus, or Teucer, could be stoned by the army -- stoning is the "pre-judicial" communal response to a severe threat to its stability -- and the quasi-judicial flavor of the agon. There are some small errors in this paper (Homer does not refer to Ajax' madness at Od. 11.543-48; the author of The Areopagus Council is Robert, not A. Wallace). There is also something more substantive that seems slightly amiss. Although T. recognizes that the emphasis on Ajax' hands is at least in part a literary device that contrasts the present with the past heroic deeds of Ajax' hands, this recognition receives no development. The play carefully informs the audience that Ajax has killed herdsmen, but since nobody in the drama seems concerned to avenge these actual murders, in contrast to those that were only planned, the legal situation seems ambiguous. The paper seems to take Ajax' guilt as given, but does not discuss how Athenian law understood unfulfilled intentions. Ajax and Teucer receive tragic sympathy, while Agamemnon and Menelaus do not.

Ciappi studies Ovid's use of Sophocles' Niobe in Metam. 6.146-312. He concludes that while Ovid's use of Sophocles cannot be proved, it appears that Ovid structures his narrative on the basis of Sophocles' play, following the sequence killing of sons -- death of Amphion -- killing of daughters. Niobe's pathetic attempt to save her last daughter also seems to be Sophoclean, though it is not clear whether she was spared or not in Sophocles. The essay is reasonable and convincing as far as it goes. Ciappi does not discuss Ovid's extraordinary development of Niobe's hybris -- she goes beyond boasting to abuse Leto and tries to stop her worship and claims superiority even after the males have been killed. This looks quintessentially Ovidian.

Thévenaz (in French) discusses the Oedipus of Seneca, suggesting that the OR is oddly without reflections not only in Latin tragedy outside Seneca (this is also true of Euripides' Hippolytus), but in Latin literature generally. Cicero (Fat. 30, 33) considers him in the context of Stoic debates about fate. In Lucan (8.406-7), Lentulus refers to Oedipus as a universal cause of blame for Thebes in criticizing Pompey's idea of an alliance with the (incest-practicing) Parthians. Elsewhere, the exiled Oedipus raises both political and ethical issues. In Nepos' Life of Epaminondas (15.16), in a debate in Arcadia, Epaminondas claims that the Thebans cannot be blamed for Oedipus' birth, but the Athenians took him in. Ovid in Trist.1.1.111-116 compares the Ars Amatoria to Oedipus and Telegonus. According to Suetonius, Augustus forbade the inclusion in libraries of juvenalia of Julius Caesar, including an Oedipus-tragedy. All this is very interesting, but I do not fully understand what the political taboo surrounding the story is, exactly, or why this myth is so freighted with taboo in contrast to others, or whether it is my fault or Th.'s that I am perplexed. The second part of the essay is a reading of those ways in which Seneca's treatment most radically diverges from the Sophoclean model, especially the handling of Tiresias and the placement of Jocasta's suicide. Also, Th. points out that while Sophocles' play begins in a strongly civic context and becomes more concerned with Oedipus alone, at the end he returns into the private space of the house. Seneca's hero is full of personal foreboding from the start and concludes by going into exile, summoning the plague among his guides. Th. argues that Oedipus represents something that human rationality and the Stoic concept of fate cannot manage. So ordinary divination is inadequate and Tiresias exceeds the limits of nature by practicing necronmancy. Oedipus claims that Apollo's prophecy was inadequate and thereby false, because Jocasta's suicide makes him the killer of both parents, not just his father.

The last paper, by Boschetti, describes a project for computer-assisted stylistic study of tragedy. The project's base is a text of Aeschylus' Persians, in Murray's edition, lemmatized and with morphological coding provided by LASLA at Liege. Variants were then added from other editions and the repertories of conjectures. The goal is to be neutral about editorial differences, and to represent variants with complete clarity, whether they involve, relative to the "base" text, substitution, addition, subtraction, or transposition. Each word-position is numbered, and a further numbering system allows the system to identify alternatives for the same position as well as more complex variants, such as transpositions. Sources and authors are also noted. Information will be included for punctuation, colometry, phonological, metrical, and morphological information. Syntax will be marked according to three different systems, and there will also be semantic coding (animate/inanimate, for example). The goal is to make all these levels available for statistical study. The proof will have to be in the pudding. A student at Michigan, Timothy Allison, did a splendid 2003 dissertation involving the statistical study of Aeschylean style in relation to characterization. While all references to individual people, cities, and rivers are marked with the standard name for whatever is meant, it is not clear whether speakers form a category this system can easily access. In general, we will see if results repay the investment. More generally, this report has very little to do with the rest of the book, unless we consider being lemmatized and coded yet another of the peculiar destinies of tragic texts.

One has, then, the rather odd situation in which the technical papers, even when their claims are not in themselves radically new, add up to something quite exciting: a comprehensive argument that we need to consider all the contexts in which tragedy was read, performed, excerpted, and adapted. The history of the tragic texts should not be read backwards, as a single line from author to us. In this section, it would have been good to have had a paper on Alexandrian editorial and critical practice. The papers on literary reception do not present such an argument, and for the most part do not take account of the first part's attempt to give a more varied view of the textual landscape. Those who take an interest in the particular texts discussed will read the literary essays, but the first half is a fun and valuable ride for anyone who cares about tragedy and its varied ancient consumers.


1.   B. Gentili, Lo spettacolo nel mondo ellenistico, Roma-Bari 1977, 8-22 (translated as Theatrical Performaces in the Ancient World, Amsterdam 1979, 15-31. Cf. A. Pertusi, "Selezione teatrale e scelta erudita nella tradizione del testo di Euripide," Dionisio 20 (1957), 26 and G. Zuntz, An Inquiry into the Transmission of the Plays of Euripides, Cambridge 1965, 250.
2.   T. J. Fleming and E. C. Kopff, "Colometry of Greek Lyric Verses in Tragic Texts," SIFC Supp. 310 (1992) 758-70.
3.   E. Pöhlmann, "Die Notenschrift in der Überlieferung der griechischen Bühnenmusik," WJA 2 (1976), 53-73.

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