Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.10.03
Evan Hayes, Stephen Nimis (ed.), Plutarch’s Dialogue on Love: An Intermediate Greek Reader. Oxford, OH: Faenum Publishing, 2011. Pp. xv, 237. ISBN 9780983222811. $14.95.
Reviewed by Thomas R. Keith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Plutarch’s Moralia have received much attention from specialists in recent years, but this interest has not generally trickled down to undergraduate students, whose exposure to Plutarch, even in translation, is often limited to the Parallel Lives. Evan Hayes and Stephen Nimis seek to remedy this situation with their new edition of the Amatorius, designed for students making the transition from introductory Greek to the reading of literary texts. (Lucian’s Vera Historia has received similar treatment from Hayes and Nimis.) The choice of the Amatorius was a wise one – of all Plutarch’s “Platonic” dialogues, it is the most entertaining and accessible – and Hayes and Nimis are to be commended for attempting to introduce it to a wider audience. But their edition must ultimately stand or fall on its usefulness in the classroom; and in this regard it is problematic.
At the heart of the edition is the unabridged, slightly edited (p. xiii) Bernardakis Teubner text of the Amatorius, with chapter divisions. On each page, Hayes and Nimis have provided notes that combine vocabulary definitions with brief glosses of some of the more difficult morphological and syntactical features; literary and historical references within the dialogue that are central to comprehension of the text are also given short explanations. In a pleasing touch, Hayes and Nimis have also interspersed illustrations throughout the text that illuminate topics currently under discussion by Plutarch and his interlocutors. Sidebars early in the text address both grammatical concepts with which intermediate students may still be having difficulty (e.g., conditional sentences) and characteristic features of Plutarch’s Greek (e.g., doublets). The appendices consist of a list of irregular verbs with their principal parts and a comprehensive glossary.
It is inevitably difficult in an intermediate-level commentary such as this to strike a balance between providing students with sufficient vocabulary and grammar assistance, on the one hand, and clogging the page with unnecessary glosses, on the other. Hayes and Nimis have decided to err on the side of caution, at least so far as vocabulary is concerned, sometimes repeating the definitions of key terms multiple times on successive pages. This is certainly a helpful approach if one’s goal is to facilitate swift reading, but it runs the risk of becoming a crutch that will lead students to neglect vocabulary acquisition.
Grammatical notes (with the exception of the initial sidebars) are more sparing. Here Hayes and Nimis generally do a good job of achieving concision without obscurity, particularly in elucidating difficult verb forms, though one might have wished for greater fullness in their explanations of Plutarch’s sometimes complex sentence structure.
The most distinctive feature of the book is also, unfortunately, its greatest weakness. It is a “print-on-demand” text, which, as Hayes and Nimis forthrightly note (p. xiv), has never gone through the hands of a copy editor; this allows for the remarkably low price of the volume, but also inevitably leads to a high number of textual errors. The Bernardakis text itself often lacks punctuation marks that can be crucial to comprehension for students at an intermediate level; there are also relatively frequent mistakes in the notes, some of which are minor, while others are likely to frustrate and mislead students. In the former category, we can place, for example, ὁρμέω for ὁρμάω in a morphological gloss on p. 8 (though the correct root is given in the vocabulary list); enclitic που being given an accent in the vocabulary list on p. 97; and ἄκων in the text vs. ἀέκων in the vocabulary list on p. 131, as well as the multiple typographical mistakes in the bibliography. As for the latter: on page 81, ἅμα is given in the vocabulary list as a preposition governing the genitive case, where in fact the genitive here is possessive with κάλλος and ἅμα is adverbial. Also, the explanation on p. 154 of the construction introduced with οὐ γάρ… is unhelpful: the sentence is not best translated “for isn’t it the case that…”, but rather “surely it is not the case that…”, and ἀλλά is a conjunction, not an adverb.
There is much to like here, and much promise. Once the authors have released a revised edition with a cleaner text and corrected notes, teachers of intermediate Greek will have at their disposal a helpful and valuable edition of an engaging and little-explored text that also falls within the average student budget. However, until such a revision appears, it is difficult to recommend the use of Hayes and Nimis in a classroom setting, its low price notwithstanding.