Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.07.41

Douglas Cairns, Vayos Liapis, Dionysalexandros: Essays on Aeschylus and His Fellow Tragedians in Honour of Alexander F. Garvie.   Swansea:  The Classical Press of Wales, 2006.  Pp. 312.  ISBN 978-1-905125-13-5.  $69.50.  

Reviewed by Janette Auer, Brock University (
Word count: 4307 words

Table of Contents

This book, whose title suggests both the honorand and Cratinus' play, is in homage to the great Aeschylean scholar A.F. Garvie in celebration of his 70th birthday in 2004, with contributions from 17 friends, colleagues, and former students, all outstanding scholars of the ancient theatre themselves. The editors contribute an introduction outlining Garvie's achievements during his career at Glasgow University and beyond his retirement in 1999.

A complete list of Garvie's publications from 1965 to 2006 appears on pp. xv-xx. These include many articles and book reviews, as well as the magisterial commentaries, particularly on Supplices (including the 2006 2d ed.), Choephori and Ajax, as well as Homer, Odyssey VI-VIII. The Publications list does not include the new commentary on Persai, though it is mentioned in the Introduction as forthcoming. Garvie's meticulous attention to lexical detail and close textual interpretation in these commentaries constitute a large part of his legacy to this field.

The book begins with 8 chapters on Aeschylus, followed by 2 on Sophocles, 4 on Euripides, and 3 on general topics in Athenian tragedy. Each chapter is followed directly by notes and a bibliography. There is an Index Rerum, pp. 301-303, and an Index Locorum, pp. 305-312. The essays that constitute this book are all very clearly written. There is much here to offer the specialist in ancient tragedy and the graduate student, with numerous essays accessible to the ambitious undergraduate.

Oliver Taplin's contribution to the celebration of the honorand constitutes chapter one: "Aeschylus' Persai; the entry of tragedy into the celebration culture of the 470s?", pp. 1-10. Taplin suggests that this earliest of the extant plays fits into his own styling of the decade following the final great victory over the Persians as a "celebration culture" (Taplin's quotation marks), in which many resources were channeled into memorializing the Greek achievement. Some of the memorials celebrated individual men or cities, but Taplin wishes to underline the offerings that celebrated the group effort that drove the Persians away. He sees Persai as Aeschylus' offering to this Panhellenic spirit, equaling and reflecting the lack of local self-glorification in Homeric epic, and signaling the achievement of Athenian tragedy's well established generic identity throughout Greece. The Athenians do not play as central a role as we might expect in a drama that celebrates the victory at Salamis. It is true that the play often refers to Hellas/Hellenes, Dorians and Ionians, but Taplin tends to steer clear of such lines as, for example, beginning at l. 231, when the Queen asks for information about Athens and the chorus' replies constitute a hymn of praise to the city; when the messenger "groans remembering Athens" at l. 285 and the chorus reply that she has destroyed all the Persian husbands; when the messenger proclaims the overwhelming significance of the naval victory at Salamis, brought about by Athenian trickery and naval superiority, between ll. 302 and 423; when the Queen tells Darius' ghost that the entire Persian army was destroyed at Athens at l. 716; and when Darius' ghost warns the chorus to "remember Athens and Greece" at l. 824,1 Taplin suggests that the intended audience was not necessarily only patriotic Athenians, but a larger group in a wider cultural context, the play produced perhaps in rivalry with the major elegiac poems of his competitor Simonides, of which we have now several substantial fragments from the Plataea poem. Taplin's argumentation is compelling, and he puts forth the interesting suggestion that the early (5th century) date of the founding of the Eleutheria around the time of the founding of the shrine of Zeus Eleutherios at Plataea, following Plutarch, might explain the "venue" for the performance of Simonides' poems and the inspiration for Persai, though among historians this assertion will remain controversial.

A. J. Podlecki, in "Αἰσχύλος μεγαλοφωνότατος", pp. 11-32 (chapter 2), offers a statistical study of compound words surviving in the "grandiloquent" Aeschylus as compared with Sophocles and Euripides, based on and bringing together the results of various writers on the subject, and adding more information to the earlier charts. It is an article which points to areas of research that might profitably be undertaken in the future (numerous suggestions given by the author himself). The information brought together in this article with its long list of compound words used by Aeschylus and its Appendices on "Grandiloquence in some ancient sources" (ancient sources that comment on grandiloquence), "Rate-per-1000-lines of compound adjectives in the surviving tragedies", "Clustered compound adjectives in PV", and as an analytic control, "A comparison with Empedocles", would be a very useful starting point for an extension of this research.

In Martin West's "King and demos in Aeschylus", pp. 31-40 (chapter 3), we read of the presence of democracy in the six extant plays of Aeschylus, in chronological order (PV is left out of the study). West begins with the earliest documents that suggest that the demos might be a force to be reckoned with: Plutarch's quotation of the 7th century Spartan Rhetra, and Tyrtaeus' citation of the parallel oracle, as well as Solon's consideration of the appropriate amount of power for the demos in his reforms. West is interested in the manner in which Aeschylus reconciled his own political ideals with the demands of a drama that dealt with events of the heroic age, when kings ruled and democracy was unknown. In Persai (the one play without a heroic setting) Aeschylus uses the autocratic Persian empire as a foil to contrast the Athenian with the Persian form of government. It is slavery to be ruled by one man, and the Chorus, while unable to represent a critical demos under the circumstances, offer a "muted reproach" to Xerxes whom they believe to be personally responsible for the disaster. In Septem, the political conditions are dictated by the myth itself: a kingdom is in wartime danger and its leader, Eteocles, is in sole command, consulting no one. The Chorus cannot express the reactions of the demos because it is composed of women. If anyone should speak against the leader, he would be stoned by the people, not as a result of their communal decision, but of the dictatorial power of Eteocles. The end of the tragedy, generally considered spurious, shows that a harsh democracy has arisen with the death of the king, and Antigone is threatened by a herald who reports that the demos has decided that it will take out its anger on her should she complete burial rites for Polynices. By contrast, in Supplices, Pelasgos shows himself unwilling to undertake any action that might endanger the people without their express consent, in spite of the Danaids' telling him that he is the sole ruler, subject to no outside judgement. Aeschylus' Pelasgos is a king by mythic tradition, but he uses the language of formal decrees and majority voting by show of hands in a democratic assembly. The institutions of Egypt are portrayed as an antithesis to those of Greece, where motions are put forward, debated, and voted upon. In the Oresteia, though there has been grumbling among the demos about the number of victims sent home in urns from the Trojan War, the good king Agamemnon announces that he intends to hold a meeting of the people and take counsel from them. The demos is allowed a voice. After Agamemnon's murder, the kingdom lapses into a tyranny without popular support that continues into Choephori. Democratic ideals re-surface in Eumenides, where Athena assumes the rule of monarch, referring the serious matter of the suppliant Orestes to a voting body of "the best elements among the citizens", the prototype of the court of the Areopagus. And the citizen body is summoned to hear the final decision. In the 5th century, the day of the mythical kings, whom Athena had protected, had passed. But she remained closely connected to Athens and was easily associated with the democratic institutions of the polis.

Chapter 4 is Hugh Lloyd-Jones' "Nineteen notes on Aeschylus, Agamemnon," pp. 41-48. The author employs his considerable skill and long experience with the text in discussing emendations and translations of passages in the play that have been particularly problematic in the major commentaries. He often sees the greatest merit in an early reading, e.g. Headlam 1910 (ll. 167-70), Heath 1762 (ll. 303-4), Murray 1937 (362-6), Blomfield 1818 (l. 1343), or adoption of what actually appears in the manuscripts without emendation (l. 1512).

Chapter 5 is Christopher Collard's "Tragic persons in pieces, in fragments at first, and lastly in Choephori 211," pp. 49-61. The article is inspired by the line at Choephori which the author translates as "This is agony for me, my wits are quite destroyed" (l. 211), where Electra expresses her emotional anguish at finding that an offering has been made at the tomb and is torn apart mentally by the possibility of Orestes' presence. Collard searches the fragments and the complete tragedies, as well as some other ancient works, for metaphorical vocabulary describing persons suffering mental fracture. He begins with a catalogue of instances in the tragedies where persons are literally torn apart physically. He is most interested in verbs in metaphor (n. 10) and he asserts that "there appear to be no true ancient Greek metaphors of mental fragmentation which resemble the English ones." He lists in descending order the images that express metaphorically the strong ideas of "gone to, shot to, all to pieces, shattered, torn apart, broken" towards a more bare or plain expression. He suggests that two of the strongest metaphorical images of the turmoil-broken mind that produce a high dramatic moment are found at line 211 of Choephori, and at OT 726-7, translated "Now I have heard you, lady, what wandering of heart and what turmoil of mind have just taken hold of me", the "wandering" and "turmoil" expressed by verbal nouns. This chapter complements and builds on the work of Ruth Padel in its close focus on dramatic moments of sudden discomposure or mental collapse.

In Vittorio Citti's "Some remarks on methods of critics and editors of Aeschylus from the 17th to the 19th century," pp. 63-78 (chapter 7), the author discusses the importance of evaluating the context, historical and biographical, of a scholar when he makes textual and exegetical suggestions. His first example is Stanley's (1663) translation of and comment on Choephori 958-60, which includes a "corroborating" quotation from Grotius' (1626) comment on these lines, showing a clear affinity to the anti-Calvinist thinking of the latter, and involving a particular interpretation of the freedom of God which was not a topic in Aeschylus' time. Citti's second example is Hermann's Kantian rationalism which led him to "freely reconstruct a text that would be logically coherent instead of producing documentation that would confirm it in any way" (p. 68, and providing the example of Hermann's attempted reconstruction of Choephori 953-9). His final example overturns the common conception that Wilamowitz occupied an intermediate position between Hermann and Boeckh; that because of the breadth of his interests, and his smaller interest in textual criticism (his lasting achievements in this area have been less than one might have expected), he was much closer to Boeckh.

Jean Bollack, in "Prometheus Bound: drama and enactment", pp. 79-89 (chapter 7), states that he is not unwilling to accept PV as an Aeschylean play. He argues that the play does not lack real dramatic action, as has been imputed, but that the phases of discussion (Oceanids, Io, Hermes) that interrupt the narrative constitute important movements in the drama in which the main character attempts to understand his situation and to escape it. He "sets himself free by attempting to grasp intellectually the logic of what is happening to him" (p. 80). It is important to explore each of Prometheus' speeches and to determine how each implies and links with the others. The drama rests on Prometheus' unyielding support for mortals (as an arbiter between mortals and gods) rather than on the concealment of a divine mystery which he holds as a weapon against Zeus (Thetis is never named and Prometheus cannot know she will be the mother and Achilles the son he warns of because this has not yet been decided). Prometheus in this play is someone who explores rather than someone who has knowledge. The discussions can be seen as "miniature seminars" or a series of lessons which give the Titan the opportunity to challenge Zeus, to lead him towards a reconciliation.

Martin Hose's "Vaticinium post eventum and the position of the Supplices in the Danaid trilogy", pp. 91-98 (chapter 8) challenges several earlier suggestions that Supplices was the second play of the trilogy based on an assumed oracle (that Danaus was destined to die at the hands of a son-in-law) that must have appeared either in the first or the final play. There are plenty of examples of oracles before the fact in Greek literature; here, Hose presents and discusses examples of the introduction of oracles after the event (in the Odyssey, Ajax, Trachiniae and, for Aeschylus, Persians) and more briefly lists oracles before the event. He concludes that, since we find oracles revealed both before and after the event throughout Greek literature, including Aeschylus, we cannot not assume any particular position for Supplices in the trilogy based upon this kind of argumentation.

Douglas Cairns, in "Virtue and vicissitude: the paradoxes of the Ajax, pp. 99-131 (chapter 9), one of the longest chapters in the book, contends that Sophocles wrote not a political play, but a problem play replete with paradox that makes explicit the qualities of Ajax the man rather than Ajax the Athenian cult hero. Sophocles used elements of the epinician in the parodos (myth revision, truth versus slander, bird imagery) in his vindication of Ajax, but went beyond Pindar in including the problematic aspects of Ajax in the mythical traditions. Odysseus is the "necessary vector" between the hero and the man, the one who is seen to possess the sophrosyne that Ajax rejects. For the Athenians of the first half of the 400s BC, the political collective who may be represented by the Atreidae in the play, Ajax is largely a protector, a powerful ally, one who could not be their political leader given his aggression and his rejection of the community, who is to be feared and contained even as his character is rehabilitated and incorporated into the community. This is a chapter rich in analysis and eminently sensible in its conclusions, with much useful reference to previous research on the topic.

P.E. Easterling, in "The death of Oedipus and what happened next", pp. 133-150 (chapter 10) focuses on the final phases of the hero's journey from life to death at Colonus. Her analysis gives primacy to the strong dramatic logic of the text rather than to a theological interpretation. Oedipus, through special inner guidance, arrives at the right spot in the sacred grove of the Semnai Theai; Zeus Chthonios' rumblings are heard, followed by an uncanny divine voice; Theseus pledges to care for Oedipus' daughters; the group moves away and watches Theseus from a distance. The messenger narrates the reactions of Theseus, but the event itself remains secret knowledge, which Theseus will reveal only to a chosen heir on his deathbed. There is a stress on the painless or peaceful death of Oedipus the iconic sufferer, adding to the awesome and remarkable features of the event. There is a close association between Oedipus and the goddesses of the grove, showing a special affinity with divine powers protecting Athens. Various locational markers are important in alluding to the cult of Demeter (reflecting close links between Oedipus and the goddess in myth tradition), which lay stress on the secrets guarded by her cult, and on the secret of the tomb of the new protector of Athens and Attica.

David B. Robinson, in "Stars and heroines in Euripides' Helen (Helen 375-85)", pp. 151-172 (chapter 11), discusses catasterisms in Greek myth, most particularly their implications for various characters in this play. The metamorphosed characters referred to but not named in ll. 375-85 are Callisto and Taygeta, Arcadian nymphs and Laconian objects of cult who had attracted the attention of an amorous Zeus and produced sons that were founders of great nations. Robinson believes that in these lines, Helen says that these nymphs were happier than her own mother, because of the benefit/relief of the transformation (the intent of the transformations neither comic nor grotesque, but pathos-inducing). According to both early and late sources of myth, both of them became stars after their transformation and death (though this is not specifically mentioned here by Helen), but Leda had committed suicide after Helen's disgrace and was offered no relief of any kind, no catasterism or deification. Helen has ruined the prospects of another great Peloponnesian lady, and it is partly in this that her tragedy lies. Helen's own deification is mentioned explicitly at l. 1667, and Robinson suggests that a strong legend concerning her catasterism might have been in the audience's mind (it is mentioned at Orestes 1636-7).

Pierre Judet de La Combe, in "An instance of Euripidean 'modernism': Orestes 1-3", pp. 173-184 (chapter 12), discusses Euripides' borrowing from Sophistic and scientific language, particularly with reference to the concept of human nature. The phrase ἀνθρώπου φύσις appears at the beginning of Orestes. Electra's words expand on Antigone's words at the beginning of Sophocles' play, where she refers to the repeated misfortunes thrown upon her family by Zeus. Electra's pronouncement is more generalized, universalized, and gives an account of Euripides' view of what "human nature" is. Human nature is not identifiable per se but only through its opposition to the gods, just as the expression συμφορὰ θεήλατος "god-driven circumstance" is opposed to "human nature" in these lines, and denotes the all-powerful evil over which humans have no control. Various uses of the expression "human nature" in Euripides and Sophocles define humans e contrario, defining forms of behaviour that are legitimate because they conform to this nature, making humanity an identifiable object separate from all other objects. Euripides is not interested in human ability to react, but simply to "bear the burden". In the face of constant opposition by the gods, humans have only themselves to turn to, and we see characters as a result, acting with or without the presence of the gods, with a fury equal to that of the divinities.

Scott Scullion, in "The opening of Euripides' Archelaus", pp. 185-200 (chapter 13), offers a well-argued challenge to the communis opinio as to the opening lines of Archelaus and the rejection of the possibility that this play followed Temenus and Temenidae in a Macedonian trilogy. He argues that the lines quoted at Frogs 1206-8 are most likely to be the original prologue, which makes Aegyptus rather than Danaus the remote ancestor of the Macedonian king Archelaus; and that the argument against the possibility of the trilogy based, among other things, on the narrative time-shift is invalid, given the parallel in Ion concerning the chronological relationship between Creusa's marriage and Ion's childhood.

Vayos Liapis, in "Ghosts, wand'ring here and there: Orestes the revenant in Athens", pp. 201-231 (chapter 14), offers a study preliminary to one which he says will appear in the near future. He brings together the literary evidence for a popular Athenian myth/superstition in which Orestes after his death was an embodied hero/ghost who wandered at night attacking those he encountered and taking their clothes from them (the negative aspect of Orestes for the Athenians is presented in Euripides' IT, as well as in several passages of Aristophanes, though these latter may be references to a different, perhaps contemporary historical, character). The name Orestes appears as well in other ancient sources, each time seemingly as a generic name for a violent hoodlum. Liapis argues that Aeschylus associates Orestes with the infernal powers of the underworld in Choephori in accordance with Athenian folklore, but departs from the myth by dissociating him from these powers in Eumenides, through the claim that Orestes has already undergone purification in his wanderings to Athens.

Alan H. Sommerstein, in "Rape and consent in Athenian tragedy", pp. 233-251 (chapter 15), uses the evidence of Athenian tragedy to challenge the view that Athenians made no distinction between consensual and non-consensual sex in the rape of a woman. He groups them into the story patterns of "Potiphar's wife" and "the girl's tragedy", and looks as well at the cases of the Danaids and of Procne and Philomela (in Sophocles' Tereus), involving either the victims' revenge or a pre-emptive strike. And he demonstrates how all of these support his conclusion. The difference between the first two types lies in the fact that a woman of the "Potiphar's wife" type is a married woman who has in fact not been raped, and therefore is not pregnant. Her accusation would never have been made if she thought that she would be blamed, and so her kyrios believes the (always false) accusation. The loss of an unmarried woman's virginity only becomes known if she becomes pregnant, and, if she blames a god or a relative who raped her, her problem resides in the community's belief that she has an obvious and powerful motive to lie. A woman counted as a rape victim only if her kyrios believed her to be one.

Malcolm Heath, in "The 'social function' of tragedy: clarifications and questions", pp. 253-281 (chapter 16), offers a fascinating update on his work in progress, which is a reconstruction of his 1987 Poetics of Greek Tragedy. This long (and very fine) essay seeks to define the appropriate questions to ask when assessing the social function of tragedy in ancient Athens. Some of the content is in response to writings of Jasper Griffin and Simon Goldhill (and a few others) on the same topic. I shall summarize in detail the first two of the chapter's ten sections . Recent trends in thinking have greatly broadened the sense of the word "political". There is now a multitude of questions that must be asked if we are not to run the risk of equivocating when we talk about the "political function" of tragedy. Heath explores the question of whether the word "function" means simply "use, intention, and effect", thereby perhaps eliminating the need for the word "function". The original design of an artefact can fulfill several "functions", each quite separate from the other. A frying pan is designed both to provide profit for the manufacturer and a means to cook food for the buyer, and it can also come in handy as a weapon against a nocturnal intruder; use of the artefact confers a function on it. The function of the heart (as a non-artefact) is to circulate blood, and that is why it exists; it contributes to the existence of the organism, upon whose existence depends the existence of the heart; this analogy demonstrates the complex interdependence of component and system in which not all functions can be related to purpose. As an artefact, tragedy's "function" is discussed in terms of the purposes of the tragedian, the audience, the actors, and the competing choregoi; more widely, the purposes of symposiasts performing extracts, or teachers assigning passages to be memorized; and finally, as a component of complex social artefacts, the purposes of religious festivals and the polis as a whole. These broadly represent the levels of design, use, and system. On the analogy of the biological organism, tragedy offers to the functionality of the organism (the social/political body) continuous transmission of acquired characteristics to a later stage of its tradition. The cycle need not be understood by the social/political body but its completion is mediated by the perceptions and intentions of the body. Heath goes on to discuss, among other things, "Function and process", "Frame and content", "The historicity of pleasure", "Transmission, transformation, transgression" and the paideutic uses of tragedy. Heath's discussion is fascinating and beautifully argued and I look forward to the completion of his long-term project.

The final essay of the book is Elizabeth Craik's "Tragedy as treatment: medical analogies in Aristotle's Poetics", pp. 283-299 (chapter 17). Craik draws parallels between the medical terminology and thinking of the Hippocratic Corpus and of the Poetics and other Aristotelian works to demonstrate the conditioning of Aristotle's theories of literature and art by contemporary medical thinking. Aristotle's father was court physician to a king of Macedon and his mother came from a medical family, so there was likely some familial influence (though it is believed that Aristotle's parents died when he was very young) 2. Aristotle defines the art of poetics in ways which suggest the practice of medicine (highly systematized with subdivision and categorization; terminology of parts and whole; similarity of Aristotelian debate on creative τέχναι to Hippocratic debate on the τέχνη of medicine). Poetics can be seen as an analogy. Some examples: poet~doctor, tragedy~treatment, audience~community, and most fundamentally, plot development~course of disease. Craik gives numerous word parallels (verbs and nouns) as illustration. For example: dramatic ἀναγνώρισις ~medical πρόγνωσις. Tragic περιπέτεια is associated with ἀναγνώρισις; a change in medical condition for the better or worse (the word used in Hippocratic writings is krisis) is associated with πρόγνωσις. Both ἀναγνώρισις and πρόγνωσις function by σημεῖα, "signs". The word κάθαρσις ("purging") is a commonly used term in the medical writings, which Aristotle uses in the sense of a release of πάθη, in both Poetics and Politics. Again, Craik gives many word parallels in this long section. The chapter ends with a brief section on ἁμαρτία in tragic characters and in patients and doctors.

The volume is a fine physical artefact, very well designed and edited.

This book stands as an outstanding tribute to one of our great classicists. The affection and esteem in which Alexander Garvie is held among the contributors is evident throughout, and we are fortunate to have this publication.


1.   Line references are from E. Hall's commentary (Warminster, 1996).
2.   "Aristotle", OCD p. 165.

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