Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.01.08 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.01.08

Kathryn Bosher (ed.), Theater Outside Athens: Drama in Greek Sicily and South Italy.   Cambridge; New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2012.  Pp. xvii, 473.  ISBN 9780521761789.  $110.00.  

Reviewed by P. J. Finglass, University of Nottingham (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This remarkable work explores the phenomenon of theatre in the Greek west. Tellingly, it defines its topic, at least in the first part of its title, in negative terms; this is presumably because Greek theatre remains for many people largely or exclusively an Athenian phenomenon. How many books on ancient Greek drama, I wonder, concentrate on the theatrical history of a single polis? The present volume will do much to dispel such naïve Athenocentrism by reminding us of the flourishing theatrical tradition in a Greek land far from Attica. The book's many qualities should ensure that it is widely read and cited by students and scholars alike.

Two particular virtues deserve to be highlighted. First, and perhaps most obviously, the volume unites scholars from a range of different disciplines: literature, performance, linguistics, history, political science, visual culture, and field archaeology are all represented here. As a result, the subject of the volume is analysed from a wide range of viewpoints; and readers who come to the volume from a particular specialism can easily access the latest work from labourers in very different parts of the field. The variety of disciplinary areas is matched by the geographical range of the contributors, who come from seven different countries (England, Italy, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States) on three continents. Such breadth ensures that this is no mere parochial volume, but rather one in touch with the latest scholarly developments from across the world.

Second, the chronological range of the book is impressive. The focus, naturally enough, is on Greek theatre in the west during the classical period. But the volume begins with the earliest Greek settlement in the region, and ends by considering the significance of theatrical performance for Herodas and Theocritus, thereby helpfully contextualising its subject in both literary and historical terms. Particularly impressive is the attention given, in several chapters, to lyric poetry as a predecessor and competitor with respect to drama in the west: the scholarly divide between those who study lyric and those who study tragedy would have puzzled the ancients, and anything that bridges it should be welcomed. There are some errors of fact in the discussions of Greek lyric, as will be seen in my detailed comments below: a specialist could have corrected them easily enough, if one had been asked to offer feedback before publication. And one or two of the hypotheses put forward in this area might seem a little speculative; I found Smith's paper particularly challenging in this regard. But in general these chapters provide many valuable insights into how an understanding of Stesichorus, Ibycus, Pindar, and others is essential to scholars whose main interests lie in drama.

An Introduction and seventeen chapters are followed by a bibliography, index of places, index of names, subject index, and index locorum. In general the quality of the papers is high, and almost all of them thoroughly merit their place in the book. Particular high points include Marconi's paper on stone theatres in late classical and Hellenistic Sicily, which combines acute historical analysis of the phenomenon with an extremely helpful gazetteer of the relevant sites; this chapter is helpfully succeeded by Vassallo's on the excavation of a particular theatre at Montagna dei Cavalli-Hippana. Oliver Taplin's chapter on Greek tragedy in the west and J. R. Green's on comic vases in Magna Graecia make effective use of visual evidence to explore broader cultural phenomena. Jonathan Hall's piece on early Greek settlement in the west deserves to be read by anyone with an interest in Greek overseas settlement in any part of the Mediterranean. And Benjamin Acosta-Hughes concludes the book with a characteristically subtle analysis of Hellenistic poetry.

Some points of detail. (p. 8) The debate concerning the relationship between tragedy and democracy has moved on since 1998, yet Griffin's article from that year is the most recent one cited on the subject. (pp. 42, 44) Stesichorus is credited with a Seven Against Thebes; this might well have been the name of the Lille poem, but it is only a guess, and should be marked as such. (p. 43 n. 33) 'Note however that Stesichorus' Oresteia had a western precedent. Xanthus of Locri . . .': Xanthus' homeland is unknown. (p. 45) 'the Fall of Troy that brought Aeneas to Italy': all the Tabula Iliaca tells us is that Aeneas came to 'Hesperia', which need not have been Italy. (Ibid.) 'Stesichorus' presentation of Heracles' travels in Sicily': it is merely an enticing hypothesis that Stesichorus described Heracles' adventures there, since no such adventures appear in the surviving fragments of the Geryoneis. This hypothesis is certainly worth raising, but its evidential basis should be indicated so that readers are not led astray. (p. 46) Ibycus, 'like Stesichorus, . . . wrote a Geryoneid (sic) and a Fall of Troy': news to me. (pp. 80-1) 'Busiris['] . . . first known mention in Greek literature is in Epicharmus': true, but it would be worth noting that the earliest evidence for him is in Greek art, from the mid-sixth century (for references see E. Stafford, Herakles (London and New York 2012), 56-9). (p. 81 n. 23) 'In this work [sc. the Funeral Games for Pelias] Stesichorus linked Jason and Medea with the foundation of Corinth': the fragments of this poem tell us nothing about Jason, Medea, foundations, or Corinth. (p. 82) 'Stesichorus also mentioned Oedipus in his Eriphyle': perhaps he did, but there is no indication of this in the fragments usually attributed to that poem. Is the contributor referring to the Lille fragment, in which Oedipus is mentioned, and which March argued came from the Eriphyle?1 If so, we should be told, not least because March's attribution has generally not found favour; it gives Stesichorus' Eriphyle an implausibly lengthy lead-in to the audience's first encounter with the alleged title character. (p. 89) 'Solos': Soli (or Soloi). (p. 102) Archilochus would need radical down-dating if he visited Syracuse during the century before the Dinomenids; the contributor should also tell us why we might think that he (and Sappho, among others) came to that city. (p. 123) 'In spite of a vast enlargement in 1967 of the corpus of papyrus fragments from the Geryoneis (P Oxy. 2617)'; this misleadingly implies that we had some papyrus fragments of this poem before the publication of P.Oxy. 2617. (p. 144) 'Lucian calls Dionysius' style in general "exceedingly poor and ridiculous" . . .': a reference would be nice. (pp. 260-1) Todisco tells us to 'see Todisco (2003b)' in twenty-five successive footnotes. Countersuggestible as always, I didn't.

The organisation and editing of this volume must have been a massive task, so Kathryn Bosher deserves thanks for having handled the job with aplomb. Inconsistencies and infelicities are few,2 as are typographical errors;3 the overall impression is of a book carefully redacted by its editor, and expertly fashioned by its publisher. Some contributors should have been reminded of the existence of fundamental editions of fragments such as TrGF, PCG, PMGF, and EGM;4 some should have been warned off the occasional clichés which blemish the usually clear English of the volume.5 More maps, more prominently placed, would have been welcome; we have to wait until p. 114 for the first map of Sicily, for example. The bibliography is full and helpful, but one curious omission is James M. Redfield's The Locrian Maidens: Love and Death in Greek Italy (Princeton and Oxford 2003). It seems odd to neglect one of the very few monographs devoted to a single city in Magna Graecia, not least because one chapter in the volume under review deals with, among other things, the Locrian pinakes. From time to time greater coordination between the chapters would have helped. So one contributor suggests that Stesichorus' Oresteia might have been performed in Taras because of that city's 'heavily Spartan atmosphere' (p. 44); but another remarks that 'for the first two centuries of its history, Taras displays few material connections with its supposed metropolis' (p. 30). One scholar reports the same anecdote about Philoxenus in two different places within five pages of each other (pp. 139, 144). There are many more examples, however, of effective reference from one chapter to another: see e.g. p. 72 n. 51 for interesting dialogue between two contributors on the appropriateness of the term 'colonisation' in an archaic Greek context.

But some defects are inevitable in a work of this size and complexity. Overall the volume is a considerable success, forming a major contribution to, and no doubt stimulating further work in, an area of research which shows no sign of exhaustion.

Table of Contents

Introduction (Kathryn Bosher): 1-16
Part I. Tyrants, texts, and theater in early Sicily
1. Early Greek settlement in the West: the limits of colonialism (Jonathan M. Hall): 19-34
2. A prolegomenon to performance in the West (Kathryn A. Morgan): 35-55
3. Challenging authority: Epicharmus between epic and rhetoric (Andreas Willi): 56-75
4. On Epicharmus' literary and philosophical background (Lucía Rodríguez-Noriega Guillén): 76-96
5. Hieron's Aeschylus (Kathryn Bosher): 97-111
6. Sicily and the identities of Xuthus: Stesichorus, Aeschylus' Aetnaeae, and Euripides' Ion (David G. Smith): 112-36
7. A Theseus outside Athens: Dionysius I of Syracuse and tragic self-presentation (Anne Duncan): 137-55
8. Dionysius I and Sicilian theatrical traditions in Plato's Republic: representing continuities between democracy and tyranny (S. Sara Monoson): 156-72
Part II. Stone theaters, wooden stages, and western performance traditions
9. Between performance and identity: the social and cultural context of stone theaters in late Classical and Hellenistic Sicily (Clemente Marconi): 175-207
10. The theater of Montagna dei Cavalli-Hippana (Stefano Vassallo): 208-25
11. How was Athenian tragedy played in the Greek West? (Oliver Taplin): 226-50
12. Myth and tragedy: red-figure pottery and verbal communication in central and northern Apulia in the later fourth century BC (Luigi Todisco): 251-71
13. Whose line is it anyway? West Greek comedy in its context (Chris Dearden): 272-88
14. Comic vases in south Italy: continuity and innovation in the development of a figurative language (J. R. Green): 289-342
15. The grave's a fine and funny place: chthonic rituals and comic theater in the Greek West (Bonnie MacLachlan): 343-64
Part III. Hellenistic reflections
16. In pursuit of Sophron: Doric mime and Attic Comedy in Herodas' Mimiambi (David Kutzko): 367- 90
17. 'Nor when a man goes to Dionysus' holy contests' (Theocritus 17.112): outlines of theatrical performance in Theocritus (Benjamin Acosta-Hughes): 391-408


1.   Thus J. March, The Creative Poet. Studies on the Treatment of Myths in Greek Poetry (BICS Suppl. 49; London), 131-3.
2.   (pp. 35, 90) Aristotle's fragments are cited first from Rose, then from Gigon. (p. 398 n. 20) 'Acosta-Hughes (forthcoming)' should be 'Acosta-Hughes (2012)' (as it correctly appears in the Bibliography).
3.   (p. 13) In the Suda reference, e should be ε. (p. 20) Ὀδυσσεύς has its initial letter in English font and is missing its breathing (it is presented correctly on p. 63). (p. 124) νεκ᾿ρῶι has a curiously placed breathing, presumably the result of misunderstanding of νεκ'ρῶι in PMGF, where the raised line indicates a closed first syllable. (p. 104 n. 39) 'q.v.' should be 's.v.' (but it is unhelpful to give Suda references like this: the correct format is found on p. 13).
4.   See pp. 105 n. 44, 107 n. 53, 123, 148 n. 40. At p. 159 n. 7 we are told 'citations of the Greek texts [sc. of Plato's Republic] are from Burnet (1903) on Perseus Digital Library'; this edition was replaced in 2003 by Slings's Oxford Classical Text.
5.   E.g. (p. 4) 'contrasts starkly', (p. 22) 'hard on its heels', (p. 25) 'departed for pastures new', (p. 28) 'a golden opportunity', (p. 39) 'the tip of the iceberg'. (p. 25) Using 'begs the question' to mean 'invites the question' is a solecism.

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