Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.05.53

C.W. Willink, Collected Papers on Greek Tragedy (edited by W. Benjamin Henry).   Leiden:  Brill, 2010.  Pp. xviii, 861.  ISBN 9789004182813.  $309.00.  

Reviewed by David Butterfield, Queens’ College, Cambridge (

The significance of volumes of collected papers in the Classics covers a broad range: some are indifferent, some are indefensible, some are indispensable. This splendid gathering between two boards of the dense Kleine Schriften of Sir Charles Willink (1929-2009) is very firmly of the last category. The importance of Willink’s researches for scholars of Greek tragedy and/or metre has been immense over recent decades; it is destined to be yet more so in the future once the dust has settled in several quarters, a process only catalysed by this judicious compilation of serious scholarship.

The circumstances surrounding Willink’s Classical output in print are atypical, particularly for a scholar whose activity stretched into the present century. Although his educational path through Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, was and remains a well-trodden course for the Classic, his return thereafter to the schoolroom, first at Marlborough and then for over three decades back at Eton, necessarily eroded, if not obliterated, the time available for pursuing his own Classical research. Aside from a flurry of four articles in the late ’60s and early ’70s, his work did not start to inundate get into academic journals until the mid-’80s, when he was already in his mid-fifties. An early retirement, however, combined with preternatural levels of energy and ambition, allowed prodigious productivity from 1986 until his death, a most fecund period inaugurated by his substantial commentary on Euripides’ Orestes (1986, rev. ed. 1989).

In surveying the contents of Willink’s Collected Papers, it will be useful to give an idea of numbers. The volume brings together 58 items, of which 8 are (brief) reviews; 53 pieces were produced in the last quarter-century of Willink’s life.1 All but the last three items have been published previously in the seven journals that won the author’s approval: Philologus, Mnemosyne, Journal of Hellenic Studies, Classical Review, Classical Quarterly, Quaderni Urbinati di Cultura Classica and Illinois Classical Studies. All but two articles (‘Prodicus, ‘Meteorosophists’ and the ‘Tantalus’ Paradigm’ [1983] and ‘The Metre of Stesichorus PMG 15/192’ [2002]) and three reviews (of West’s Greek Metre [1982], Chadwick’s Lexicographica Graeca [1986] and Concilio et al.’s La Tradizione Metrica della Tragedia Greca [2002]) concern the text, metre and exegesis of the three major Attic tragedians. Of this trio, Euripides easily dominates the content with 35.5 articles and 4 reviews, set against Sophocles’ 7 articles and 1 review, and Aeschylus’ 4.5 articles. However, despite the clear Euripidean focus of Willink’s energies, his critical modus operandi is such that one can scarcely read any of these articles without being brought into a close and constant engagement with the Greek tragic corpus as a whole.

At the heart of Willink’s interests, and one of his most significant contributions to scholarship, is lyric metre. Although his project of a book-length analysis of the text and metre of all lyric verse in Attic tragedy (Cantica Tragica) was abandoned some decades ago, the rich fruits of his work in this field are evident in abundance on almost every page of this collection. Indeed, all Sophoclean cantica and towards a third of Euripides’ are explicitly and methodically scrutinised here; hundreds of other lyric passages enjoy similarly close discussion in other contexts. Although Willink inevitably engages throughout these papers with the contributions to metrics of Dale, West, Stinton, Parker and Itsumi, he very often elicits an improved understanding of a passage, whether by bolstering what scholarly consensus exists or independently challenging that orthodoxy through his own natural flair and remarkably sensitive ear. His treatment of such points of metre and colometry proceeds at the utmost technical level; thus, even if an emendation proposed on the basis of his precise analysis is not in itself entirely convincing, such contributions retain obvious value, rewarding readers through their lucid and illuminating detail. From the outset of these collected articles, Willink in both his terminology and his notation exhibits cutting-edge technicality: although little can be done about the former, a conspectus siglorum in the case of the latter could have been beneficial to the potential reader who has not yet been fully initiated into the arcana of Greek lyric metre.

Three Euripidean papers (items 56-8) appear here for the first time: two had been edited by Willink but the last remains in an incomplete state. ‘Further on the Helen Reunion Duo’ (56) provides a close analysis of the text of the difficult lyric exchange between the reunited Helen and Menelaus at verses 625-97, a task abetted (esp. ad 630-51) by the evidence of POxy 2336 (saec. i B.C.). Alongside further defence of numerous earlier contentions, Willink offers several new conjectures and fresh assignations of (parts of) lines to speakers: most attractive to the present reviewer is the slight tweak of the paradosis at 678 to ἔμολ’ ἐς κρίσιν. ‘Further Notes on Euripides’ Medea’ (57) likewise sees Willink reconsider his prior contributions to the text of this play, particularly in light of Mastronarde’s commentary (2002). One of the most ingenious suggestions found here is his simple transposition of the difficult φυγῇ and αὐτή transmitted at the beginning of verses 12-13, an interchange that – though less common – posits a single, rather than double, corruption. The last paper of the collection, ‘Critical Notes on the Cantica of Euripides’ Alcestis’ (58), despite lacking its author’s ultima manus, provides an important contribution in the wake of Parker’s commentary (2007): new conjectures are few in number but clear-headed analysis of some of the most difficult metrical anomalies in the Alcestis are treated with magisterial skill. It is a great and lasting regret that Willink did not live to complete similar treatments for other Euripidean plays, thereby providing invaluable fuel for future scholarly debate. Seven pages (803-8) of ‘Addenda and corrigenda’ offer in brief some second (or third) thoughts on the foregoing chapters. Amidst these there nestle nine new conjectures, of which the personified Ἠώς (retaining the non-lyric form) at Eur. IA. 158 is perhaps the most compelling.

The publication of this collection was not a simple matter. The harvesting and editing was undertaken by Willink himself, although his death left the project short of its final stages; in advance of this, Sir Edward Willink, Sir Charles’ son, developed the OCR software to bring his father’s writings to print. In 2009 Benjamin Henry duly took up the reins and completed the editorial task with diligent criticism and a keen eye. He deserves credit and gratitude not only for his meticulous correction of proofs but also for his painstaking revision of references, clarification of other scholars’ views where appropriate, and his own occasional asides (of which 516 n. 15a provides a good example). These comments are wisely placed in double square brackets to set them aside from Willink’s own minor retrospective alterations and cross-references (themselves in square brackets) without diverting the eye excessively. One further benefit, often disregarded in similar collections, is the inclusion of a signal (the double dagger) to mark the change of page in the original publication; what may seem needless pedantry of course makes possible, via the inclusion of initial page numbers in the running headline, the easy citation of the work from its first appearance without laborious consultation.2

Willink added his own detailed index locorum, whose thoroughness is demonstrated by its covering over fifty pages of small, two-column type; Henry took upon himself the Herculean task of updating this index once the pagination of the collection inevitably changed. A comprehensive additional index rerum and possibly also uerborum, criticorum and metricus would have been a significant additional boon, but the labour required would have been almost Sisyphean and, in Willink’s absence, extremely difficult. By contrast, the rejection of a consolidated bibliography, with all references (except the most regular, which are covered by abbreviations) being given at the foot of each page, is a genuine blessing. The volume is attractive on the page (and a particularly graceful majuscule epsilon awaits the reader), of a thickness that makes its presence known on the shelf, and bound as a book should be: Willink’s lament that through use “one’s Diggle is likely to have disintegrated” (p. 263) can hardly redound in the foreseeable future upon his own monumentum.3

The book with which this formidable volume has most in common is John Jackson’s Marginalia Scaenica (1955), a collection – for those who can get their hands on it – that amply bears witness to what a clear head, hard thought and curiosa felicitas (as much as felix curiositas) in emendation can bring the scholar. Jackson returned north to tend his family farm in Cumbria following his undergraduate degree at Oxford, and worked on the Classics by lamplight until his death. Willink himself found a second home for himself in Cumbria, interspersing his Classical research with a similarly pastoral pursuit, the careful cataloguing of that county’s flora and fauna. One thus wonders whether a ramble among such less well-trodden lands could be salutary to Classical scholarship more broadly.


1.   Willink chose to provide only a summary of two of his three earliest articles (‘Some Problems of Text and Interpretation in the Bacchae’ of 1966 and ‘A Problem in Aeschylus’ Septem’ of 1968). These single-page summaries can be taken as good evidence of the author’s sensitivity to how much philological scholarship, his own included, can advance in a matter of decades.
2.   Since Willink’s tweaks of his earlier publications are few and far between, citation of the original publication first remains the preferable course, although consultation of the re-edited version for corrigenda and addenda is a necessary step.
3.   The names of Diggle, particularly via his Oxford Text (1981-94) and Euripidea (1994), and Kovacs, particularly via his Loebs (1994-2002) and several Euripidea (1994-2003), are invoked much the most frequently by Willink (inter uiuos); that he was a regular correspondent of both of these Euripideans means that further new insights that arose per litt. enjoy their first outing in this revised collection.

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