Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.07.20

John Davidson, Arthur Pomeroy, Theatres of Action: Papers for Chris Dearden. Prudentia Supplement.   Auckland:  Polygraphia, 2003.  Pp. 237.  ISBN 1-877332-10-0.  

Reviewed by Dana F. Sutton, The University of California, Irvine (
Word count: 1941 words

This collection of articles is a well-deserved Festschrift honoring Chris Dearden, formerly Professor of Classics at Victoria University, Wellington. Dearden is best known for his 1976 The Stage of Aristophanes, a fine study of Aristophanic stagecraft written before this kind of work gained its recent popularity. It is therefore fitting that a number of the articles gathered here have to do with issues of dramatic production.

As is usually the case with such collections, the quality of the contributions may be a trifle uneven, but their general high level does Dearden considerable honor. The volume begins with a photograph and an affectionate and illuminating Introduction by the editors, describing how he intervened to revive a moribund department at Victoria. One element regrettably missing from this tribute, traditionally found in Festschriften, is a bibliography of works by the honoree. And, it was no doubt necessary to limit the size and cost of the book, but one regrets that the two articles on art-history subjects (by Green and Burton) are not accompanied by illustrative plates, which would have enhanced their value, particularly for non-specialist readers.

Turning to the articles themselves, "Where does the Proem of the Odyssey End?" by Peter Gainsford (Victoria) argues for the authenticity of the Odyssey's proem (against the view espoused most memorably by Sir Denys Page) by claiming that the paragraph break after line 10 ruins the integrity of the passage: "Typography is insidious. When confronted by a paragraph break it is difficult not to see a break in sense" (p. 2). By comparing the proem of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women (P. Oxy. 2354) and the so-called "second prologue" of the Odyssey (V.105-15), he shows that, once the paragraph break is removed, the passage makes better sense. The case seems plausible and needs to be considered carefully by future editors and translators.

"Aeschylus' Last Eagle" by W. Geoffrey Arnott (Leeds) revisits the old fable of Aeschylus' death. He briefly points out that three kinds of bird are known to drop tortoises on rocks to crack their shells, the Lammergeier, Imperial Eagle, and Golden Eagle. Although this is good ornithology, it still seems more plausible to think that this tale, like a good deal of other supposed biographical information about the tragedians is an invention of the comic poets.

In "Herodotus in Two Minds," Vivienne Gray (Auckland) considers Herodotus' frequent presentation of alternative motivations and outcomes. Taking issue with the chapter on the subject in Donald Lateiner's 1989 The Historical Method of Herodotus, she follows Stewart Flory in arguing " ... though Herodotus is opening up some options, he is sometimes closing down others of greater significance, since some alternatives merely offer different perspective on the same central point and thus confirm and strengthen it. This is a rhetorical function as well as a narrative one" (p. 45). To demonstrate this, she looks at Cambyses' murder of his sister-wife and how Darius' groom secured for him the throne of Persia.

"Major Violence and Pain on the Greek Tragic Stage" by Stuart Laurence (Massey), considers onstage representations of physical suffering. The idea of discussing this issue seems original, and some readers may find the treatment of individual plays useful, but the lack of any final general conclusions weakens the article's overall impact. Oddly, Laurence fails to consider (if only to reject it) a possibility that is routinely raised in connection with Seneca and the Elizabethans, that atrocitas, both physically represented and verbally described, is an element included to pander to the portion of the audience that liked sensationalism ("something for the groundlings"). And he fails to address the old conundrum why suicide (Sophocles' Ajax, Evadne in Euripides' Supplices) could be represented on the Greek stage, but homicide could not.

"The Scoundrel's Drama" by David Rosenbloom (Victoria) is particularly striking. The author looks at Demosthenes XXV and XXVI, and his thesis is: "The anthropologist Victor Turner has termed 'social drama' sequences of conflict and resolution that begin with the breach of a norm and unfold first as a crisis, which divides the community into factions, then as redress and reconciliation, and finally as reintegration of the group or acknowledgment of permanent division. This paper reads the speeches against Aristogeiton as a democratic social drama: the labeling of a leader (ponêros) and his symbolic transformation into a ritual scapegoat (pharmakos) in an effort to unite all classes around his punishment, to purify and to heal the society he has corrupted, to restore chrêstoi to honour, and to reaffirm the aretê of the ancestors. The speeches against Aristogeiton perform this social drama" (p. 91). Rosenbloom's article is especially worth reading for its method. Some in our profession who push for theory-driven or culturally-oriented approaches to the Classics naively proclaim the obsolescence of the philological method, as if we have to choose between the two (and revise our curricula accordingly). Rosenbloom knows better, and employs a highly detailed linguistic scrutiny of these speeches to support a modern reading of the speeches. The article contains 163 footnotes, the overwhelming majority of which are specific textual references. By using this combination of traditional and non-traditional approaches, he produces a reading that is far more rich and convincing than either could yield by itself.

"Smart and Stupid: the Evolution of Masks and Characters in Fourth-Century Comedy," by J. R. Green (Sydney), traces the evolution of T. B. L. Webster's comic masks P (cook), G (stupidus, repeatedly used for Zeus in Middle Comedy), and L (kindly old man) over the course of the fourth century B. C. There has been a fair amount of work done in the past few years (by Heinz-Günther Nesselrath, Gregory Dobrov and others) about comedy's evolution during this period, but such research is usually limited to textual evidence, perhaps because contemporary students of comedy are so dazzled by Kassel-Austin. The present article serves as a welcome reminder that archaeological evidence also needs to be taken into account.

In "Heracles and Megara Reunited," Diana Burton (Wellington) looks at three Apulian vases depicting Heracles meeting Megara in the Underworld (Karlsruhe, Bad. Landesmus. B4, Naples, Mus. Naz. 81666 (H3222), and Munich, Antikenslg. 3297). The three vases follow much the same format, and the suggestion has previously been made that they take their inspiration from a wall painting (so Boardman, Trendall). Burton points out that the inspiration could have been literary, such as a tragedy showing or at least describing a katabasis of Heracles. Although she does not say so, the presence of Theseus and Peirithous on the first of these three vases brings to mind the tragedy Peirithous, in all probability by Euripides and not Critias. Certainty, however, is obviously impossible.

"Theocritus on Epicharmus" by Eric Handley (Cambridge) is a series of observations on Theocritus Epigram 18. The article may be short, but anything Handley publishes is a significant contribution.

"Another Look at Plautus' Cistellaria" by John Barsby (Otago) gives this fragmentary play a more detailed reading than it usually gets. The main thrust of his interpretation is that Alcesimarchus the adulescens amans and Melaenis the bona meretrix were probably presented as thoroughly sympathetic characters in the Menander original Plautus adapted. Plautus "created his larger-than-life Alcesimarchus out of a much more realistic character in Menander: the monody, the slave scene, the exaggerated threats, the melodramatic suicide threat all bear the stamp of the Roman playwright" (p. 164), but the handling of the character remains essentially sympathetic. This is in strong contrast to the view of William S. Anderson, Barbarian Play: Plautus' Roman Comedy (Toronto, 1993) 69-72, who argued that Plautus was "deconstructing" his Greek original and turning Menander's more realistic situation into farce. Whether or not one finds Barsby's reading convincing (I do), this is an important contribution to the study of Cistellaria that no student of Plautus can afford to ignore.

"Camilla and the Volscians: Historical Images in Aeneid 11" by Matthew Trundle (Victoria) appears to be the work of a young scholar who has not yet acquired the knack of concision. It is perhaps the one article in this collection that could well have been shortened by the elimination of an unnecessary introduction to the Aeneid as a whole and some extraneous factual information, in order to focus more tightly on the main business at hand.

"The Achievement of Pylades and Bathyllus" by E. J. Jory (Western Australia) examines the role of these two dancers in the creation of pantomime. This is another welcome contribution by a leading specialist in the minor dramatic forms of the late Republic and early Empire. Jory's articles on these forms are scattered here there in journals; and one hopes that some day he will collect them in a single volume, which would constitute a valuable contribution to Roman theater history.

In "Honour thy Father -- and thy Mother? An Act of Pietas," Tim Parkin (Canterbury) considers one aspect of pietas, the upward-directed loyalty that bound together the Roman family: the situation of younger family members caring for their elders in their old age. Drawing on literary anecdotes, Roman law, and hypothetical situations posed for declamatory exercises and also on sophisticated demographic calculations, he compiles a detailed picture of how pietas played itself out in this respect. For a number of years W. K. Lacey, a pioneer in ancient family studies, occupied the Chair of Classics at Auckland, and it is pleasing to see that he has found a highly competent New Zealand successor.

"The Emperor Nero as Spectator" by John Whitehorn (Queensland, Australia) shows how evidence for Nero's misbehavior and excesses as a member of a theatrical audience recorded by Suetonius foreshadowed his subsequent career as a performer. This study is valuable, but Whitehorn may go too far when he writes (p. 211) "Nero's theatrical leanings meant that he was attracted to something which the Roman élite had regarded ever since the time of the early Republic as alien, demeaning, dangerous, and subversive," While Nero's spectacular lack of decorum as a performer, and his obsession with the stage, were obviously held against him, it is perhaps not quite self-evident that performing in public was considered blameworthy per se. Nobody appears to have criticized Thrasea Paetus, a senator, for doing the same (Tacitus, Annales 16.21).

"Phallic Wordplay in Lucian's Verae Historiae" by Stephen Epstein (Victoria) is a look at the bawdy double-entendres in this work. While the "Aristophanic" strain in Lucian's humor is well known, it is useful to have it studied in detail.

Finally, "Some New Zealand Poetic Faces of Dionysus" by John Davidson (Victoria) discusses the presentation of Dionysus in some New Zealand poets (James K. Baxter, Bernadette Hall, Vincent O'Sullivan, Alistair Campbell, and others) as an "especially useful example of the process by which aspects of classical mythology have been adapted and absorbed into New Zealand literature written in English" (p. 224).

Although the purpose of this volume is to honor Chris Dearden, it also serves as a snapshot of the state of contemporary Classics in New Zealand, and it conveys an overall impression of a lively and active intellectual scene. In that country our discipline has always been strong (New Zealand gave the world Sir Ronald Syme, and more recently D. C. Feeney). But when I was at Auckland as a Visiting Research Fellow in 1974-75, Classics departments were overwhelmingly staffed by British expatriates. The times have obviously changed, for three of these articles are written by native-born scholars who received at least their undergraduate education in their own country: two Professors (Vivienne Grey at Auckland, Tim Parkin at Canterbury), and one Associate Professor (Arthur Pomeroy at Victoria, a Dearden student). This is a welcome sign of the maturation of the New Zealand Classical community.

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