Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.02.38

Andrea Rodighiero, Una serata a Colono: fortuna del secondo Edipo. Kátoptron / Università degli studi di Verona, 1.   Verona:  Fiorini, 2007.  Pp. xiii, 127.  ISBN 9788887082661.  €18.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Cressida Ryan, University of Nottingham (
Word count: 2212 words

[Table of Contents are listed at the end of the review.]

In this book Andrea Rodighiero has attempted an enormous task in surveying the reception history of the Oedipus at Colonus (henceforth OC) since its ancient Greek inception right through to the modern day. In so doing, he has made some useful observations about the play itself and about the processes by which a work of reception is fashioned. In such a short book with such a wide brief, his analysis is necessarily restricted, but is nevertheless often incisive and pertinent. He may not deal with any work in great depth (and points where this is particularly relevant are noted below), but he treats the OC sensitively, and opens our eyes to a rich vein of material which has hitherto been largely ignored.

In the introductory chapter I, Rodighiero sets out his main interest in studying the OC, framing it as a set of final questions, wondering what it was that made the play decrease in esteem, and the central issue of how authors deal with the mysterious death of Oedipus, in terms of staging, dramaturgy and allegorical potential. Rodighiero discusses works in a variety of languages: Latin, German, French, Italian and English, but his focus is on the French and Italian material and transalpine connections and differences in the form and treatment of the myth across the centuries. This enables him to discuss a set of far less well-known works, alongside some of the better known contributions to the reception history of the OC, most notably the relatively long (six page) discussion of Lee Breuer's The Gospel at Colonus.

Chapter II charts the brief history of the play from antiquity until the end of the medieval period. The ancient context of the OC is given, noting the different Oedipal death narratives that run through epic and tragedy (and assigning them some generic significance), and their conflation by Pausanias. Some reference is made to the contribution of Seven against Thebes and Phoenician Women in the fifth century, and then to Seneca and Statius' Latin versions. There is then a gap until the AD 1150 anonymous novel Roman de Thèbes.

Chapter III covers the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, dealing with works by: Pier Jacopo Martello, Jean François Ducis, Nicolas François Guillard, Antonio Simone Sografi, Ugo Foscolo, Giovann Battista Niccolini, Gioacchino Rossini and Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. The development of interpretations of ancient drama and aesthetics is demonstrated by examining the different ways in which Oedipus dies, particularly regarding whether he can die on stage or not. For Martello, an onstage death was impossible; for Guillard, in pre-Revolutionary France where the play takes on a more political tenor regarding the nature of kingship, Oedipus does not die, but is reconciled with Polynices.

Chapter IV is considerably longer than the other chapters, at thirty-six pages, and covers material from the twentieth century, by: Roger Régis-Lamotte, Olivier Bournac and Auguste-Jean Boyer D'Agen, Rudolf Pannwitz, Edmond Fleg, E. M. Forster and T. S. Eliot, Elsa Morante and Pier Paolo Pasolini, Giovanni Testori, Lee Breuer, Henry Bauchau, and Ruggero Cappuccio. The works discussed in this chapter all depart more obviously from their Greek model, including reducing the number of characters (e.g. Régis-Lamotte), or setting the action in contemporary times and places (e.g. Morante, Forster). The book takes its title from Morante's play, La serata a Colono (1968), which receives the longest treatment of any work covered by this book (57-66). In his discussion of the Morante work, Rodighiero demonstrates how some of the more unusual features of the piece make it more obviously a text not meant for performance. The difference made by genre to the presentation of the text continues to be discernible throughout his discussion; Rodighiero explains the lack of films based on the OC partly to the static nature of the play (and the genre) and the conflict between its unity of place and the more diverse settings of films. A similar sense pervades his discussion of Bauchau's novel; the idea of a novel as a journey makes it ideal for charting the (supposedly circa) twenty years between Oedipus' expulsion from Thebes and arrival in Athens. The death of Oedipus on or off stage, and the appearance of the Furies on stage or imagined in Oedipus' head are the two main examples of content, discussed at various points throughout the text.

The final chapter, V, takes a more generic (albeit also temporally specific, that is, twentieth century) approach, focussing on film and poetry. In just nine pages Rodighiero mentions eight different works, in a less systematic manner than in the other chapters, but again covering well-known individuals such as Jean Cocteau and Derek Walcott alongside less familiar names such as Alessandro Fo. Given the constraints of space, very little is said about each example, but it is exciting to have such a varied set of material presented to us. The OC may not have inspired many film adaptations, but there was yet more material for Rodighiero to use than he acknowledges. The BBC's 1984 dramatisation of the Theban plays is just one example of the wider dissemination of the tragedy through the popular media. A good further example of the way in which film and the media have manipulated Greek tragedy (here to provide a basic and unsubtle cultural reference point) is the 167-word publicity material for the 2005 film Romance and Cigarettes, which includes the statement: 'Like Oedipus at Colonus, he [the protagonist] is sent into exile and searches to find his way back through the damage he has done'; the OC is invoked as nothing more than the story of an old man, providing a paradigmatic representation of a life lived too long. I would hope that further research could include an even broader scope in order to include such works.

As befits the theme of the book, the final section is an appendix on the OC and its Christianised history. This is perhaps the most analytical part of the book, and is a very welcome addition, drawing together a large range of accounts of how the OC can be read as a Christian tale of reconciliation, good death and a blessed afterlife, from Hegel to the present day, and where such readings may be misguided. He focusses in particular on the exchange of views between Di Benedetto and Vernant / Vidal-Naquet. His presentation of the readings is grounded in the ambiguity over interpreting lines 1583-1584 and Zachary Mudge's conjectural emendation. The introduction of some philological discussion at this point is helpful in exemplifying the integrated nature of reception and scholarship, a theme which could have been emphasised more throughout the book. No final conclusion is reached, but the reader is left to re-read the play in a more nuanced way with a range of informed positions in mind. This short (nine page) but illuminating appendix feels as though it provides the theoretical framework underpinning the ideas behind the rest of the book, and consequently might have been better placed as a part of a more methodological introduction.

The focus of the book may be on the representation of Oedipus' death, but it highlights a far greater range of interesting aspects to the play. The political resonances of Greek tragedy are emphasised, with particular reference to the French Revolution (ch. III on Ducis and Guillard), but other texts are also discussed, particularly Cappuccio (82). The political aspect of Greek tragedy is increasingly topical in modern scholarship, and it is refreshing to see this applied to material earlier than the usual post-Colonial targets. The curse uttered against Polynices, and consequently the nature of father-son relationships provides a further way in to reading the works discussed, and it becomes clear that this theme can be manipulated in a great variety of ways. The importance of place, in particular the influence of the Colonus ode, is also felt throughout the book; the grove is specifically referred to as a locus amoenus (27 on Martello) or even Eden (70 on Breuer). The relationship between the sacrality of both Oedipus's death and the place is made relevant to most of the works discussed.

In terms of allegory, Rodighiero has gathered an interesting range of potential analogues for Oedipus, beyond references to Christ, including: Moses, Lear, Prospero, Don Giovanni and Faust, demonstrating the flexibility of the myth in modern hands. Oedipus is likened to Orestes, pursued in derangement by avenging Furies (e. g. 30 on Ducis, 52 on Fleg). Rodighiero continues to draw parallels between Oedipus and other figures from Greek tragedy. The play by Ducis sets the story of the OC within the wider framework of the Alcestis story, linking Oedipus with Admetus, while several works discussed bring Hercules on stage with Oedipus. In collecting and collating such extraordinary examples, Rodighiero enables a modern reader to appreciate some ideological overlaps between works of reception which enrich our reading of the OC as well as making the works novel and worthy of study in their own rights.

Generically, Rodighiero has gathered an interesting range of texts, covering novels, plays, film, poetry, and libretti. This collection would have benefited from demonstrating some awareness of the other kinds of material there is based on the OC. The painting on the front cover, of Oedipus and Antigone, by Harriet Fulchran-Jean (a student of David's) is part of a set of French paintings of scenes from the OC, none of which are discussed in the book. There are a large number of works of art, including paintings, lithographs and sculptures, created from 1776 onwards. Rodighiero does not shrink from mentioning the iconographical tradition, but comments are largely relegated to footnotes, and the complex relationship between the (sparse) ancient material and the more copious modern items and their respective artistic contexts therefore goes unexamined. The frequent references to opera (particularly in chapter III) are welcome, but some discussion of the role of the music would have enhanced the discussion. This is particularly evident in the final section of chapter III, which deals with both Rossini and Mendelssohn in under a page, under the title of their names, where for Guillard, for example, it is the librettist and not the composer (Antonio Sacchini) whose name heads the section; the composer-librettist dynamic deserves more attention.

The book would also have benefited from more analytical framing comments. Each work is introduced and discussed, at varying length, but neither individual works nor chapters are set in a greater argumentative context. This abruptness is felt most obviously at the end of chapter V, where a quotation drawing directly on the OC closes the book; while this supplies a fitting tribute to the play, it leaves the reader hanging in expectation of a conclusion over the page. The OC is, however, set in its aesthetic and theoretical context, with references made to Longinus and sublimity throughout (e. g. 24 on Martello, 58 on Morante). Aristotle and the supposedly Aristotelian unities are also brought in at various relevant points (not noted in the index). In the appendix Rodighiero introduces Freud and Kristeva; after making infrequent references to psychoanalysis throughout the book, he uses Kristeva's analysis of Freud to demonstrate how the OC does not fit with standard Freudian analysis.

The book is clearly presented and well-structured. Two typographical errors were more obvious. The footnote referrers on p. 66 have come out as full-size text. On p. 79 an extra period appears between 'con sua morte'. I might also question the translation policy. Rodighiero mainly offers both original language and Italian versions of any quotation offered, which works well, as no quotation is so long as to make it a cumbersome strategy. Occasionally he provides only the Italian translation, however, particularly in footnotes quoting secondary sources, where the original would seem more natural (for example E. M. Forster, p. 55). He also translates titles into Italian, when again, maintaining the original title might have been more obvious. The end matter includes a useful index locorum. A chronological appendix of works discussed would have been helpful, however, especially if it also included some of the further works based on the OC which Rodighiero does not discuss. The index of modern names might also be more useful as a more general index so that one could, for example, look up individuals such as Orestes and Polynices, or themes such as the curse.

It is rare to see a whole book dedicated to the OC, and Rodighiero's enduring interest with the play is much appreciated by those of us who also find it a fascinating and stimulating text on which to work. This book collates a range of fascinating material, some well-known, some barely known, and provides a starting point for scholars who want to conduct further research in diachronic reception studies, or into individual case studies.

Table of Contents

Presentazione, p. VII

Nota al testo, p. VIII

Introduzione di Guido Avezzù, p. IX

I. Premessa. Il modello 'Edipo', p. 1

II. Dall' antichità al Medioevo, p. 7

III. Tra Sette a Novecento, p. 23

IV. Il Novecento, p. 47

V. Il cinema, la poesia, p. 83

Appendice. L'Edipo cristiano e la filologia, p. 93

Abbreviazioni, p. 103

Bibliografia, p. 105

Indice dei passi degli autori antichi, p. 119

Indice dei nomi moderni, p. 123

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