Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2009.01.32 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.01.32

Jeffrey Henderson (trans.), Aristophanes: Frogs. Translation with Introduction and Notes. Focus Classical Library.   Newburyport, MA:  Focus Publishing, 2008.  Pp. 107.  ISBN 9781585103089.  $9.95 (pb).  

Reviewed by Erin K. Moodie, The Ohio State University (

Henderson has produced a charming translation of one of Aristophanes' most beloved plays. Although for the most part identical to the translation in his 2002 Loeb edition, the Focus Classical Library version will be useful for Greekless readers (undergraduates or general audiences) who will not require the Greek text or appreciate the higher cost of the Loeb edition.1 Henderson's detailed introduction in particular will be quite valuable for undergraduate or general readers as well.

Henderson's introduction includes brief and clear discussions of many topics that provide the reader with general knowledge about the poet, the play, and the context in which it was performed. Discussion topics include Aristophanes' (limited) biography, the festival context of Aristophanic performance at the Greater Dionysia and Lenaia, as well as common subjects and themes of Old Comedy. Henderson also describes how the plays were produced and paid for, and discusses the derivation of κωμωιδία from κῶμος--although all Greek has been transliterated in the text. He continues by covering the role and purpose of Old Comedy, presenting the figure of the comic hero, and describing comic poets' freedom of speech and its limits. A section on the specifics of comedic performance discusses the lack of stage directions or designation of speakers in the Greek text, the masking and costuming traditions of the male actors, the number of actors and chorus members involved in a performance, as well as the stage area itself. Henderson includes a diagram of the fourth century B.C.E. Theater of Dionysus, which gives the reader an idea of the performance location although one not strictly appropriate for Aristophanes' plays. After discussing the structure of most Old Comedies and that of the Frogs in particular, Henderson turns to the political and literary performance context of the Frogs. He provides a plot summary of the comedy, gives a brief history of Dionysus' appearances on stage, and discusses the Frogs as an early example of literary criticism. Finally, Henderson ends by discussing his own translation style--to go line-by-line and to translate Aristophanes' obscenities properly (i.e., obscenely). Henderson has used the Greek text from his 2002 Loeb edition, but has incorporated some of the emendations made by Wilson in his 2007 Oxford Classical Text.2 The introduction is followed by a good, up-to-date (2007 and 2008) beginning bibliography, which is divided into sections on the Frogs, Aristophanic comedy, and Attic Comedy in general. The introduction in large part reproduces the general introduction to Henderson's Focus Classical Library translation of Aristophanes' Birds from 1999 and the introduction to the Frogs in Henderson's 2002 Loeb edition. The translation of the Frogs itself seems to be a slightly revised (i.e., more colloquial) version of Henderson's Loeb translation.

In addition to the comprehensive introduction, Henderson has also provided the reader with many explanatory footnotes. These notes offer pertinent information on the many people mentioned in the play, on general aspects of Greek culture, or on the original source for Aristophanes' many quotations and parodies. (And, I would argue, offering such remarks in footnotes is particularly helpful, since students may not go to the trouble of looking up the information in endnotes.) The footnotes are so comprehensive that one even remarks that lines 1206-8 (deriving from Euripides' Archelaus) preserve the original text of the tragedy before it had been altered by Euripides or even by the actors in a re-performance--it seems that these lines did not appear in the version of the play studied by ancient scholars of tragedy. Overall, I enjoyed Henderson's translation--he employs lofty, tragic language when appropriate, but has also produced appealing translations of some quintessentially Aristophanic comic moments. These lines in particular occasioned a chuckle as I read: e.g., "bubbly ploppifications" (for πομφολυγοπαφλάσμασιν, line 249), "My butt runneth over; let us pray" (for ἐγκέχοδα. κάλει θεόν, line 479), "massy Parnassus" (for Παρνασσῶν μεγέθη, line 1057), and "you fool for folderol" (for κατεστωμυλμένε ἄνθρωπε, lines 1160-1).

I have only a few minor quibbles with some of Henderson's translation choices. The first is the translation of φέρειν (line 12 and 15) as "to hump." While the term does combine the sense of "lugging around on one's back" with Aristophanes' own propensity for obscenity, I worry that today's undergraduate will not understand the word in its non-obscene sense. Next, Henderson's "Nonsense, my good woman, and ignorant of the facts" (lines 555-6) seems either ungrammatical or excessively loose for the Greek ληρεῖς, γύναι, κοὐκ οἶσθ̓ τι λέγεις. In addition, I found Henderson's explanation of lines 1437-53 to be less clear than his explanation of the same in his Loeb edition. Similarly, only in his Loeb does Henderson make clear that he is following Sommerstein's re-ordering of lines 1437-53 into two possible answers by Euripides. Furthermore, the lack of horizontal lines separating the possible answers in the Focus Classical Library translation (they appear in his Loeb edition) makes the translation quite confusing at this point.

Finally, typographical errors are relatively frequent in such a small book. I found examples of missing words or punctuation ("They were credited with pioneering poetic styles invective, obscenity and colloquialism," p. 6); lack of capitalization at the start of a sentence ("brekekekex," p. 37); and lack of bold face type to indicate a change of speaker (Euripides p. 73, Aeschylus p. 76). There are also several places where a word or two seems to have dropped out during the type-setting process: "its members impersonated a mixed (male and female, and perhaps young and old) initiates of the Eleusinian Mysteries" (p. 6) and "Now each of pray before you say your piece" (p. 72). Some errors, such as the first error from p. 6, reproduce the errors in earlier versions of introductions to Henderson's translations of Aristophanic comedy.

Overall, however, I find this translation of the Frogs to be entertaining and very readable. Furthermore, Henderson's comprehensive introduction makes this translation quite useful for general readers or students at any level.


1.   Jeffrey Henderson (ed.), Aristophanes : Frogs, Assemblywomen, Wealth. Loeb Classical Library 180. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.
2.   N.G. Wilson (ed.), Aristophanis : Fabulae I. Oxford Classical Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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