Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.09.55

Evan Hayes, Stephen Nimis (ed.), Lucian's The Ass: an Intermediate Greek Reader. Greek text with running vocabulary and commentary.   Oxford, OH:  Faenum Publishing, 2012.  Pp. xii, 230.  ISBN 9780983222828.  $14.95 (pb).  

Reviewed by Joel C. Relihan, Wheaton College, Norton, MA (

Why have intermediate Greek students read The Ass? (Onos for the rest of this review.) It is, perhaps, only Lucianic at a remove, a not-very-competent abridger’s text; the Dialogues are everywhere more elegant, and have the great advantage of brevity; for extended narrative, True History is easily available in a traditional text-and-commentary format. But, truth be told, True History is overrated, quickly turning tedious, and there is great advantage to be had in a continuous text that deals, as the back jacket says, in different punctuation, with the “low-life characters who are rarely present in ancient literature at all: thieves, religious charlatans, witches, millers, servants, soldiers, and bakers”—all much better than Sunites and Moonites. And, of course, there is Apuleius’ Golden Ass, and an intermediate Greek course that calls on its students to compare the Greek and the Latin (that is, the language, the grammar, the literature in the original and in translation) is a rich course indeed. More about the presence of Apuleius in this edition at the end of this review.

This is, therefore, a useful book that corresponds to a real need. I read through Onos in this edition and found that it does facilitate a rapid reading, which is just what you want. An interesting virtue is that it is also done on the cheap: it is self-published, print on demand, and the editors invite the users of the volume to submit corrections and suggestions for revisions (their e-mail addresses are given on p. xi); the pdf file can be easily changed before the next printing. A version of the text is also made available (via e-mail to the editors) on Creative Commons; this allows users, under certain conditions, to “copy, alter, and distribute this work” (to quote from the publication information page). Errors in a work of this sort are inevitable, they admit, and perfection is unnecessary, so what we have is the promise of an on-going collaboration between editors and users. This is a worthy experiment: a very useful and very affordable edition of an important text, and a good read to boot; most important, student users can be brought into the editorial process. It is always difficult, after all, to compress the necessary exegetical information into the small spaces that such a format affords. A class can be encouraged, even trained, to cast a critical eye not only on the Greek text but also on the translation apparatuses and aids, from catching missing periods to suggesting better definitions to improving coordination of notes with vocabulary and with context, all in the expectation that their efforts will see the light of day, suitably acknowledged.

Its methods are modest. After an average of about eight lines of Greek, each page has a two-column register of briefly defined vocabulary items (in alphabetical order, except on p. 144), followed by a one-column register of translation aids, keyed to phrases in the order of their appearance in the text. After an appendix of ten parallel passages from Apuleius’ Golden Ass, there is a list of Greek verbs, followed by a general Greek glossary and a few hopeful blank pages for notes. The text is that of Jacobitz’ 1907 Teubner (freely available online), with no textual apparatus or discussion. There is very little by way of rhetorical, literary, or textual discussion in these notes, and the editors freely admit to using what they call “translationese” in the notes for the sake of clarity, though they still could have operated with a more up-to-date English: e.g., ὑπερτρυφάω, “to be excessively haughty” (56, p. 145).

This disinterest in criticism occasionally carries a cost: in section 38, the note on the telling phrase ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἐκ τῶν ἀστραγάλων μάστιγι says “although no whip has been mentioned yet” and refers to the parallel in Apuleius Met. 8.30, but does not mention that this is certainly one of the signs of the abridgement of an original. On the other hand, a very useful exegetical addition is made in conjunction with sections 8-10, the sex scene with Lucius and Palaestra, where she gives commands for holds and moves that have not only wrestling but military connotations. This inset box, “Love and War” (p. 24), offers materials for an understanding of the puns that are a real advance on, say, J. P. Sullivan’s translation in Collected Ancient Greek Novels. But I still doubt that even the most graphic undergraduate imagination will understand all of this still fairly opaque passage, and to say on the back cover that this is a “hilarious love-making episode with lots of double-entendre” is to overvalue both its humor and its eroticism.

Some instructors will find the book’s limitations as acceptable and congenial; others, less so. There is no attempt to remove common words from the vocabulary register in any systematic way as the text progresses: ὄνος is glossed as “an ass” just a few pages from the end. There is no keying of grammatical points to a standard Greek grammar; rather, the text very usefully gives as it goes along brief, boxed explanations, with examples drawn only from Onos, of particular grammatical categories (future conditions, potential ἄν, etc.). But these are not flawless: in the inset box on defective verbs (p. 9), ἠρξάμην is listed as a less-preferred aorist form of the verb ἐρχομαι; but this is derivable only from ἄρχω, and it is odd to see this error in what should be a routine exposition; the form is also given in a separate inset box on p. 7, “The Conjugation of ἔρχομαι.” The editors decided not to include particles in the running vocabularies, and so should have discussed them more in the commentary. The page vocabularies do not contain much useful information on combinations of particles; while καὶ μὴν καὶ is explained a number of times (pages 69, 126, 127, but not 134) as “indicating a climax,” I found no explanation for ἅμα μὲν . . . ἅμα δὲ, and ἅμα does not appear in the glossary, though it appears also both as a preposition and with participles (ἅμα ἐπιγελάσας; 10, p. 25). While the text’s over-used vivid historical present is sometimes noted, not enough attention is given to a perpetual student need, the difference between imperfect and aorist tenses. And of course there are some slips in the notes: ἐπὶ τοῖς αὐτοῖς explained as “for the same things” when it means “on the same terms” (52, p. 136); ἐπεθορύβησαν labeled as an aorist participle (54, p.141); πάραψαι is not the active aorist infinitive of purpose from παράπτομαι but the middle aorist imperative (10, p. 28).

But the larger problem, I think, is that there is often a mechanical feel to the vocabularies, in that sometimes the definition is so brief as to be misleading; e.g., σπάω glossed as “to draw” when it means to “pull out” (9, p. 23); ὀκνέω glossed as “to shrink” when it means “to refuse to do” (54, p. 140). Sometimes, the word in the vocabulary isn’t close enough to what the note translates: e.g., ἀτρέμα appears in the text, but the running vocabulary gives the adjective ἀτρεμής, -ές, from which this adverbial form cannot be derived (51, p.135); similarly, the adverbial δημοσίᾳ is not profitably explained by “δημόσιος, -α, -ον: of the people, public” (55, p.143); τὸ νεκρῷ ὄνῳ συνοικεῖν is correctly translated as “living in an ass corpse” (25, p. 71) while the vocabulary offers νεκρός, -ά, -όν as a non-existent adjective meaning “dead”. Lucius and the condemned woman are placed ἐπί τινος μηχανήματος (53, p. 138); glossing μηχάνημα as “machine” without explaining it as stage machinery is unhelpful. One last item: since ψεύδομαι is typically used in the middle, it is misleading to give ψεύδω as a vocabulary entry (55, p. 143); this giving of an active first principal part for deponent verbs or for verbs used primarily in the middle happens rather often.

Again, infelicities of this sort can be readily remedied via the print-on-demand process, and do not substantially detract from the value of the book, a value greatly increased by the presence of Apuleius, for the Greek text is followed by a sort of appendix: ten “Selected Passages” from The Golden Ass that closely parallel portions of Onos. I’ll list them here (the section numbers are not necessarily represented in their entirety): Met. 1.22 = Onos 1-2; Met. 3.25 = Onos 12-14; Met. 6.30 = Onos 24; Met. 6.31-32 = Onos 25-26; Met. 7.14 = Onos 27; Met. 7.17-24 = Onos 29-33; Met. 9.32 = Onos 43; Met. 9.40 = Onos 44; Met. 9.42 = Onos 45; Met. 10. 19-23 = Onos 50-52. This is a great pedagogical boon, even though it does not attempt the complexities of van Thiel’s bilingual edition of 1972.1 The Latin texts are provided with the same aids as the Greek text, though without a comprehensive vocabulary in the back, and this consistency in presentation greatly facilitates the comparison of the Greek and the Latin. As students very rarely get to confront parallel Greek and Latin (Benjamin Farrington’s Primum Graius Homo is from 1927), this alone would justify the volume as a valuable teaching tool. Of course, there are some problems; again, primarily with the vocabulary that is provided. For example, the first passage begins et cum dicto modico secus progressus. The note explains cum dicto as a common Apuleian expression, “with this word,” but offers no assistance with the peculiar expression modico secus, “somewhat, a bit” (OLD secus2 A.4.), unhelpfully giving “secus: beside” in the vocabulary. Later in the passage, on the next page, modico appears by itself and is correctly translated in the notes as “in a short time” (abl. of time when from the noun modicum) while the vocabulary gives “modicus, -a, -um: moderate, small.” There are also small typos of a sort not found in the Greek text: e.g., p. 157, cepressus for cupressus and procreus for procerus, both in the vocabulary register; and on p. 160, viscera (Met. 6.32) is said in the vocabulary to be from viscer, visceris; viscer does not exist, though Apuleius sometimes has viscum for the expected viscus.

If I have seemed to devote too much time to nitpicking, it is only in the service of an excellent enterprise sponsored by two editors who have promised to incorporate rapidly the suggestions of readers into the next printings of their collaborative experiment.


1.   Helmut van Thiel, Der Eselroman. 2 vols. Zetemata Monographien zur klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, Heft 54/I, 54/II. Munich: Beck, 1971-2.

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