Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.03.15

F. J. Campos Daroca, F. J. García González, J. L. López Cruces, L. P. Romero Mariscal (ed.), Las personas de Eurípides. Classical and Byzantine Monographs, 65.   Amsterdam:  Adolf M. Hakkert Editore, 2007.  Pp. xxii, 347.  ISBN 90-256-0638-5.  €84.00 (pb).  



Reviewed by Esther Paglialunga, Universidad de Los Andes, Venezuela (estherpag@cantv.net)
Word count: 1735 words

This book is the result of the project "Argumenta Dramatica: The Theater as Rhetorical and Philosophical Argument", developed at the University of Almeria between 2002 and 2005, with contributions from the Universities of Coimbra (Portugal), Mérida (Venezuela) and Naples, Federico II (Italy). All the articles were originally written in Spanish or translated into Spanish from the original Portuguese or Italian. The volume comprises an Introduction and eight essays grouped in two sections. The first section, entitled "Personae", includes six essays which develop the central issue of the research. The second, entitled Lives contains two chapters: Life and Lives of Euripides and the translation of the Lives of Euripides. In addition we have a Bibliography, three Indices (passages, names, modern authors), abstracts of the six essays of the First Part and a General Index.

In the Introduction, entitled 'Voice, Auctor and Persona', F. J. Campos Daroca explains the theoretical principles that guided the research. First, he elucidates the meaning of the word persona, as an approximate Latin rendering of the Greek πρόσωπον, in its two meanings of "mask" and "face". He affirms that the purpose of the mask is not to hide the real face, but to further dramatic enunciation and to make visible to the public a voice that speaks from a given place and from within a given story. Campos Daroca explains that the author's character is here investigated from the theoretical perspective of Nehamas,1 who maintains that the "author" is an abstraction prompted by the interpretation of the text when it is read as a play, i.e. the author is the result of a productive act. The editor then summarizes the contents of all six essays, emphasizing the ways in which the contributors explore the ups and downs of Euripides' authorship. They elaborate on the different personae which critics ancient and modern have identified with Euripides: he has been seen as a philosopher, a misogynistic, or an atheist, and, more recently, as a social critic or even as a war reporter.

The section of the introduction entitled "The Idiosyncrasy of Euripides" deals with two perceptions of Euripides in antiquity, namely the picture of the poet as a wise old man, which bears witness to the fact that Euripides was regarded as a sententious author, and the image resulting from the so-called Vitae, where, within the generic conventions of ancient biography, the poet's character is singled out as being "different" from his predecessors. The final section of the Introduction ("Euripides and Tragic Enunciation") focuses on the poet's dismissal of actor performance, which explains "the author's characteristic loneness among his own fictions, which have a difficult and controversial relation with the public" (p. XVII). Euripides' singularity in the persona of the author is complemented by the closing article of Section I (pp. 223-252), in which Campos Daroca studies in a detailed and novel way the Vita Euripidis of Satyros, thus contributing to a revalorization of his biographical writing.

The six articles forming the core of the book are all structured as close readings of specific texts, with presentation and analysis of excerpts from Euripides' tragedies, including the fragmentary ones. In doing so, the book offers the reader, above all the specialist, a new resource and fresh insights into the playwright's work. All discussions are supported by a large and up-to-date bibliography.

In "Euripides the Musician: Antiope and the Rewriting of Musical Myths" (pp. 3-37), Juan López-Cruces offers a reconstruction of the tragedy in question. The author aims to prove that this play is a rewriting of Greek musical myths that had already been performed on the stage in the form of tragedies, comedies, or satyr plays. Euripides would accordingly have attempted to outdo Aeschylus and Sophocles, who had both authored a play on Niobe, wife of Amphion, and on mythical musicians such as Thamyras and Orpheus. The purposeful reference to the Sophoclean drama by Euripides -- as shown by Webster (The Tragedies of Euripides, London, 1967, p. 16)--leads L.-C. to revise the documentation on the lost tragedy Thamyras, and thus to highlight parallels between the two works. Amphion is presented in the Antiope as free from the faults attributed to him by Aeschylus and Sophocles, and deserving of position higher that Orpheus' and Thamyras', who were both enemies of the gods.

In "Euripides as a social critic" (pp. 39-83) Romero Mariscal focuses on the perception of Euripides as attacking the idea of nobility, εὐγένεια. M. concentrates on the categories determining the social status of characters, their inclusion or exclusion, and their dramatic correspondence with the fate of tragic personae. M.'s discussion of the conflicting scholarly views of Euripides's interest in social commentary2 leans towards the position of Castoriadis.3 The question of nobility involves richness and poverty, ancestry and upbringing; this is why M. offers a concise analysis of related ideas as they occur throughout Euripides' works. She invokes the typically agonistic nature of Euripidean drama to account for the fact that the statements issued by the different characters are more often than not contradictory. The textual evidence is given in twelve appendices at the end of the article, where the author comments on select passages. Special attention is given to the theatrical value of the word χαρακτήρ, which becomes a recognition technique, a kind of 'anagnorisis'. In the section entitled "The Middle-Class Theory", M. deals with Euripides' idea of a peaceful co-existence among classes in a mixed society, as exemplified in the Erechtheus, and illustrated in the character of Theseus in The Suppliants, and in the figure of αὐτουργός in Electra. Regarding the invention of a hero dressed in rags, M. argues that it was a resource employed by Euripides for the recognition of the hero in his unluckiest moments as much as an appeal to the viewer's compassion.

In "ΚΡΑΤΩΝ ΝΟΜΟΣ" (pp. 85-104) M. Nava Contreras shows the impact on Euripidean drama of historical changes brought about in Athens in the second half of the 5th century B.C., especially the impact of contemporary reflection about νόμος. N. C. reminds us that a key issue in the controversy between φύσις and νόμος was the relativity of the laws according to particular uses and customs, and he explains how this is reflected in the plays of Euripides. According to N. C, Euripides was not inclined towards Sophistic relativism, but rather his notion of νόμος was a fundamental principle organizing not only social and political ideas but also religious, metaphysical and cosmogonic concepts in a coherent unity. The five sections of the article -- Law, Justice, and Destiny; Equality; Law and Human Progress; Slavery; Pathologies of the Νόμος-- relate the concepts contained in Euripides' texts to previous or later philosophical attitudes, such as the Stoicism of Chrysippus. N. C. concludes that Euripides represents a significant stage in the evolution of Greek thought towards naturalism and cosmopolitism, and that, in establishing a unique principle from which all beings depend physically, ethically and politically, he anticipates the coherence sought by the philosophical systems of the Stoa and the Garden.

In "Euripides: Reporter of War" (pp. 105-131) Carmen Leal Soares analyzes the theme of war, comparing Euripides' accounts of army intervention with the function of present-day war reporters and TV cameras. The representation of reality in contemporary mass-media is characterized by exaggeration and by the exclusion of feelings; these features, the author argues, can also be observed in the poets-playwrights of Classical Greece. The aim of this analysis is to single out the discoursive resources used by Euripides to give different perspectives on a subject absent from the stage: the army. L. S. identifies the following discourse elements in relation to the multiple voices taken up by Euripides in this role: a) the author of the enunciation; b) time; c) focalization; d) stylistic resources. The off-stage army scenes are eight passages found in four plays: Phoenician Women, Heracleidae, Iphigeneia at Aulis and The Suppliants. The author shows how these moments/places correspond to specific and recurrent patterns of narrative, i. e. 1) the repose of the warriors; 2) the encampment and war preparations; 3) the march to battle; 4) the clash of the troops. These elements are then analyzed in detail for each play, emphasizing the Euripidean innovations regarding the messenger's speech, and his ability to offer the spectator a vivid and emotive narrative of events.

"Euripides the Misogynist" (pp. 133-190) by Maria de Fatima Sousa Silva is not only the longest essay in the volume, but also the only one lacking internal subdivisions to organize the contents and guide the reader. The author is undoubtedly familiar with gender studies on Euripides, but her method is neither the most appealing nor the most original. This article is a narration of the numerous passages in which Euripides deals with female figures, with some commentary on the plays quoted. The passages are fully cited and analyzed in order to reveal the duties imposed by society on married women (e.g. the devoted wife in Alcestis); the complaints of men (and women themselves) on female fickleness, as in Hippolytus and Medea; or, vice versa, the heroism of women such as Polyxena and Iphigeneia, who sacrifice themselves for the common good.

Lorenzo Miletti's "Euripides φυσιολόγος" (pp. 191-218) discusses the biographical evidence for the ancient perception of Euripides as a disciple of Anaxagoras. This evidence is identified in Euripides' arguments περὶ φύσεως. Miletti studies the interpretation given by Satyros and other biographers to the fragments that deal with physical, cosmological, geographical and biological phenomena. A line from the Phaethon is adduced as evidence for the theory on meteors; some interpretations of Μελανίππη σοφή are offered as an application of the rhetoric device of λόγος ἐσχηματισμένος; and the quaestio regarding Nile tides is discussed. Miletti quotes both Aristophanes and Aristoteles on Euripides' interest in historia naturalis, but he finds no evidence of any influence from Anaxagoras. The conclusion suggests that these sources show one of the ways in which Euripides' sophia was depicted, and usually criticized.

The structure of the volume is remarkably good, although one regrets that there is no consistency in the layout of the essays.

This book offers the reader, above all the specialist, fresh suggestions for further research on Euripides. It is sustained by a very original perspective and it contains a wealth of information very useful both for experts who wish to have an up-to-date account of the latest trends in Euripidean drama criticism, and for graduates looking out for new research topics.


Notes:


1.   A. Nehamas "Writer, text, work, author" in A. J. Cascardi, Literature and the question of philosophy, Baltimore, 1987.
2.   O. Longo ;"The Theater of the Polis" in J. Winkler, F. Zeitlin, eds., Nothing to do with Dionysus, Princeton 1990, pp. 12-19; J. Griffin, "The social function of Attic tragedy", CQ 48.1 (1998) 39-61.
3.   C. Castoriadis, Los dominios del hombre. Las encrucijadas del laberinto, Barcelona 1998.

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