Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2004.08.15

H. D. Cameron, Thucydides Book I: A Students' Grammatical Commentary.   Ann Arbor:  The University of Michigan Press, 2003.  Pp. 145.  ISBN 0-472-09847-0.  $50.00 (hb).  ISBN 0-472-06847-4.  $22.95 (pb).  

Reviewed by Paula Debnar, Mount Holyoke College (
Word count: 2260 words

Classicists do not suffer from an overabundance of commentaries on Book 1 of Thucydides, so Cameron's is a welcome addition to our pedagogical arsenal. The audience of this commentary comprises first-time readers of Thucydides, by which Cameron means "seniors and graduate students" (Preface). To benefit such an audience a grammatical commentary should untangle complicated syntax, point out idiomatic expressions, and offer some help with perplexing forms. It should also connect syntax with sense, for the sense of a Thucydidean sentence may be clear, while the route by which the reader (and Thucydides) arrived at it is not.

The strengths of this work are several. It offers refresher-lessons on basic but likely-to-be-forgotten points of grammar as well as copious references to LSJ and Smyth. Cameron's remarks on parallelism (or its lack) and the structure of sentences and paragraphs are also useful. Cameron is especially alert to ellipses and attraction. Although he recapitulates some especially difficult passages (in intentionally "clumsy, but syntactically transparent, English" [31]), his glosses do not usually appear straight off -- a point in the commentary's favor. As I learned from using Mastronarde's Medea, glosses immediately following the lemmata are likely to send students the false signal "you can stop here," and too frequent glossing can discourage students from looking afresh at the Greek. In this regard, Cameron is at times overly generous (e.g., on the speeches). Then again, most commentators on Thucydides are.

Cameron begins with a few remarks concerning editions, the aim of his translations, and the meaning of those curious numbers in the margins of the OCT. He then provides a twelve-page introduction on the historical background of the work and its major themes. Fourteen brief sections outline Greek history from colonization to the Megarian decree and explain the disputes leading directly to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. Cameron then summarizes the principal themes of Book 1, such as money and ships, causation, and national character. Speeches are not exactly a theme, but since they are important vehicles for themes, they find a suitable home in this section. The Introduction is clearly intended to be but a bare sketch; all the same, a few suggested readings here on specific topics would have been welcome.

In "Observations on Grammar and Style" (13-15) Cameron alerts students to unfamiliar Greek spellings (e.g., ξύν instead of σύν) and some of the stylistic features they are likely to encounter. Some (if not all) of these observations are repeated in his comments, where they better serve the student. Following "Observations" is an outline of Book 1 (more of a table of contents than outline).

In discussing the commentary proper, I have considered how well Cameron anticipates students' questions (in number and kind) and how well he answers them. Since Thucydides' prose can vary, I have tried to compare passages of various degrees of difficulty, such as the proem and Archaeology, the Epidamnus narrative, the Corcyraeans' speech to the Athenians, and Archidamus' speech to the Spartans. These are also some of the passages on which I test drove the commentary with my own students this past spring. Since Cameron says that his students found older school commentaries to be "distressingly stingy with grammatical help" (Preface), he also invites comparison. Marchant remains available in print (at least in theory), while Morris is now on Perseus (more below on the e-format). Although it would be fun to poll the ever reticent Thucydides-List about secret stashes of old school commentaries, my guess is that these two comparanda will suffice.

Help on the proem is generous, as is to be expected, since students are likely to begin their encounter with Thucydides here. The first two chapters receive over four pages of comments (the average for the commentary is a little less than a page per chapter). Cameron does a very good job of distributing his comments across a range of syntactical points: subordinate clause, genitive absolute, the future infinitive with elpisas, the demonstrative use of to men ... to de, attraction, an impersonal verb, and variation. Marchant passes over some of these same points (e.g., the demonstrative and impersonal expression), but explains others equally important ( e.g., the connection between the plural ἀυτῶν and its singular referent (κίνησις).

The commentary on the opening chapters of the Archaeology contains a wealth of useful observations. Cameron highlights the genitive of the articular infinitive used to express purpose (4.1), points out examples of ὡς with a participle to express grounds of belief (e.g., 2.6), and remarks on instances where antecedents are incorporated in a pronoun. At 1.9.2 he patiently leads the student through a long and syntactically complex sentence in indirect discourse, offering some useful "who's who" information along the way. Although I suspect students would like more help with forms, Cameron is right to be stingy with this kind of advice, and his selections are reasonable (e.g., Μίνω at 2.6; later the dative singular of -s stem nouns, compounds of ἵημι, and a third person root aorist imperative).

Cameron's explanations, however, are sometimes misleading; for example, he glosses ὡς δὲ εἰπεῖν (1.2) "so to speak", when here the idiom is used to qualify Thucydides' sweeping statement about "most of mankind," as Marchant and Morris correctly point out. Students should be directed to Section 2012b, where Smyth discusses the limiting use of the idiom with πᾶς, etc. Also, suggesting that the impersonal μοι ξυμβαίνει (1.3) is equivalent to "I happen to ..." wrongly implies that chance played an important role in Thucydides' research.

The comment on ἡγούμενοι (2.2) in indirect discourse is misleading in a different way: "[W]hen the accusative subject of the infinitive is the same as that of the leading verb, the accusative is omitted." This explanation may work in the classroom, where the instructor has a chance to expand, but it is of doubtful use to a student left to puzzle out a passage on her own. Smyth Section 1972 (to which Cameron refers) is more precise: "the subject" (i.e., not the "accusative") is omitted (or at Section 937 "not expressed). A predicate for this "omitted subject" will be in the nominative (Smyth Section 1973) (cf. Cameron at 36.1).

At 2.2 Cameron lists five participles that he says φαίνεται "takes", which seems to suggest that their syntax is the same (cf. Morris); however, καλουμένη is part of the phrase νῦν Ἑλλάς καλουμένη: "the-[land/place]-now-called-Hellas". Thucydides does not mean, "It is evident that the [land] is now called Hellas" as "φαίνεται takes" would seem to imply. Students would also have benefited from some hint that Smyth Section 2143 discusses φαίνεται (in O.O.) with the participle and infinitive. Morris' gloss "It is plain" (at 2.1) at least steers students away from "It seems" (also see Morris at 32.4: "actual manifestation").

Here and elsewhere (e.g., 1.1 and 7.1) students are sometimes implicitly asked to read Greek "through" Latin, which made more sense when virtually all students began Latin long before Greek. In recent years, this has not been the case, at least at my undergraduate institution. More important, while comparisons between the two languages can be useful, they can also make Greek more complicated than it needs to be. On a more general level, Cameron's explanations are sometimes longer or more complicated than necessary (compare his comment on 35.4 to Marchant's).

Turning to the narrative about Epidamnus, students will find far fewer comments -- a difference reflecting the relative ease of Thucydides' prose here. Although at 1.24 I was surprised to find nothing on ἐσπλέοντι, which predictably brings my students to a halt (as it must have Marchant's), Cameron's readers will appreciate his help in distinguishing between the democrats and oligarchs in this passage.

Unfortunately for first-time readers of Thucydides moving through the History in order, the debate between the Corcyraeans and Corinthians (1.32-43) contains two of the most challenging speeches in Book 1. It is not entirely surprising to find Cameron helping with translations more often here. His analyses of "the backbones of sentences" (especially those in chart form) are likely to be greeted as welcome life jackets in these particularly stormy passages of Thucydidean prose. Where Cameron falls short is in the sparseness of comments about effects of the Greek. In contrast, rather than offer a purely grammatical explanation of τὴν ναυμαχίαν (32.5), Morris remarks on the possible effect of its position at the head of the sentence (see also his comment on τ̀ον δ̀ε πόλεμον, 33.3). Without delving too deeply into the rhetoric of these speeches, commentators can at least suggest that there may be reasons for difficult word order -- other than to frustrate students. Conversely, although by 1.80 students' command of Thucydidean prose most likely will have improved, they would benefit from more on the (relatively) straightforward prose in Archidamus' speech, which both characterizes the speaker and reflects the cogency of his arguments. It is not a coincidence that 1.84, the king's praise of Sparta, is more complex or that it elicits one of Cameron's useful "backbone charts."

Given limited space, I should add some general observations concerning Cameron's references to lexica and grammars. At the beginning of the commentary he provides direct quotations from Smyth in addition to paragraph numbers (sometimes with a note on what a particular paragraph discusses; e.g., at 1.25.4, "Sm. Section 2515 [ἔστιν ὅτε]"). Since he soon abandons this practice, I assume that the goal of the early quotations is to encourage students to use the grammar, an indispensable tool. Yet I wonder whether students who need quotations from Smyth are truly ready to read Thucydides. If they are, then providing quotations -- or even paraphrases -- would seem to risk discouraging use of the grammar itself. Moreover, finding grammatical points that do not quite fit (but will be useful in the future) while perusing a grammar is an important part of learning Greek.

At first I assumed that Cameron's strategy for citations from LSJ was similar, and that detailed references to definitions were intended to train students to dig beyond the first or even second meaning in their lexica -- sometimes even consult the "big" LSJ. Cameron, however, continues to provide detailed citations throughout the volume (e.g., at 120.3 "LSJ s.v. παρέχω A.III.2"). Students ready for Thucydides should at least be able to sift through the meanings in the intermediate LSJ without too much effort. Even its entry for logos is only one column long.

From time to time Cameron cites more advanced reference works (especially where Smyth comes up short): Greek Particles (about a dozen times), Kühner-Gerth (ten or so times), and Greek Moods and Tenses (less often). Comments concerning particles are uneven (cf. γοῦν at 2.5 and 76.1). A dozen or so references to Classen-Steup are scattered throughout the commentary, and perhaps a few more from Gomme. Discussions of other commentaries seem longer later in Book 1, perhaps reflecting the difficulty of some of the direct speeches. As Cameron recognizes, it is important for students to know where there is disagreement. So, too, Cameron invites students into the discussion of textual matters without overwhelming them (e.g., 120.5), and his morphological analyses should pique the interest of the linguistically inclined. Cameron also explains where he found some of his tidbits of information (e.g., from Gregory of Corinth!). In all of these respects, the commentary provides an excellent "bridge" for beginning (or prospective) graduate students.

A few words on the potential competition. Marchant includes a text, whereas Cameron's readers will still need to purchase the first volume of the OCT. Despite the added cost, the investment is sound. Cameron does provide more help than Marchant, whose commentary is difficult to use with the OCT, since it is keyed to his own page numbers. Nonetheless, if you order Cameron's commentary, you should at least place Marchant on reserve. His concision is impressive and in general his notes complement Cameron's. Morris, as I have suggested above, offers some excellent advice. But it is easy for students to lose the trees in his forest of cross references and citations from other Greek authors (useful as a modest number of these are). Despite the virtues of Morris, trying to use this commentary on Perseus is an exercise in frustration. Rumor has it that Cambridge will soon publish a "Green and Yellow" Thucydides 1. Its commentary will be directed at a more advanced audience. Its text, however, is not likely to deviate radically from that of Stuart Jones, so Cameron's commentary should still provide a useful supplement.

Thucydides Book I: A Students' Grammatical Commentary is an attractive book, with fonts easy on the eye; the binding seems durable and flexible, which is essential for a commentary (Oxford and Cambridge, take heed). I found a some typographical errors (a breathing mark instead of an accent at 33.1; a missing space between and ληψόμενοι at 33.2; some unnecessary capitalization, e.g., 69.5, 143.1). Part of a comment seems to have been moved from 21.2 back to 21.1 without deleting the misplaced version; the typesetters clearly struggled with pages 114 and 115, where the text runs almost to the bottom of the page. But these are relatively minor flaws.

In sum, Cameron fills a distinct need for students reading a difficult author for the first time. Instructors should be on the lookout for the kinds of problems I mention above and caution students about them in advance. Nonetheless, the more closely I examined the commentary, the more of value I found. I intend to use it again. The quicker it sells out, the more quickly the author can bring us an even better revised edition.

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