Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.03.15 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.03.15

Vayos Liapis, A Commentary on the Rhesus Attributed to Euripides.   Oxford; New York:  Oxford University Press, 2012.  Pp. lxxviii, 364.  ISBN 9780199591688.  $185.00.  

Reviewed by David Sansone, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Rhesus is an embarrassment, both for its defenders and for its detractors.” These are the opening words of the Preface to Vayos Liapis’ first-rate commentary on this embarrassingly second-rate text. Liapis is not a defender. Indeed, anyone who is tempted to make a case for this play’s artistic merits (or Euripidean authorship) will have to contend with Liapis’ relentless exposure of the numerous inconsistencies and other dramatic flaws that pervade this curious fourth-century work. To be sure, Liapis fairly acknowledges (p. v) that “flashes of inspiration and clever strokes of phraseology or dramaturgy are to be glimpsed here and there,” but given the derivative nature of so much of the play’s phraseology and dramaturgy, which Liapis documents in exhaustive detail, how can we know that those occasional strokes and flashes are not reproduced from one of the innumerable tragedies, some of which are by the likes of Euripides, to which we no longer have access?

Liapis does an admirably thorough job of pointing out the many Euripidean elements, particularly items of vocabulary, that are to be found throughout the text, so that one understands why the play has been transmitted along with the genuine works of Euripides. One resource, however, of which Liapis might have made more extensive use is the text of Aristophanes, whose frequent parodying of Euripidean style, including appearances of Euripides as a character in three of his surviving plays, provides valuable supporting evidence. After all, Aristophanes had available to him many more Euripidean dramas than we have, and he was uncommonly sensitive to matters of style. So Liapis’ references to voces Euripideae can be usefully supplemented. For ὄρφναν 42 cf. Ran. 1331; for ἐπάρας 189 cf. Ran. 777; for κομψά 625 cf. Thes. 93; for φονίου 750 cf. Ran. 1337; for εὐπρεπέστερον 841 cf. Thes. 192 and 233; for συγγόνων 891 cf. Thes. 1039. Liapis does refer to Ach. 435 in connection with διόπτας 234 and to Ach. 488 in connection with ἄγαμαι 244, but does not note that both lines are spoken by Dicaeopolis being “Euripidean.” Also, there is no comment on any of the four occurrences in the play of the word φροῦδος, a Euripidean Lieblingswort, to judge from its three dozen occurrences in Euripides and at Ach. 470 and Ran. 1343.

The commentary is preceded by a lengthy introduction and a text of the play, reproduced on an almost 20% larger scale from Diggle’s Oxford text, leaving the misprint in line 857 uncorrected. Only rarely does the commentary express disagreement with Diggle’s editorial decisions, as at 728b, where Liapis supports Kirchhoff’s emendation in preference to Diggle’s retention of the manuscripts’ reading, and at 940, where he refers to his article, “Notes on Rhesus,” ExClass 15 (2011) 105–6, for a successful defense of the transmitted text. This is only one of many places where he directs his readers to this sixty-page article for fuller discussion. The introduction contains excellent discussions of the date of the play and the question of authenticity, concluding with some confidence that the “culprit” (sic, lxxiv) responsible for its creation was not Euripides and, with somewhat less confidence, that it is a product of the fourth century (lxx). According to Liapis, the author “may have been not a dramatist but rather a professional actor” (lxxii), perhaps (lxxiii) “the actor Neoptolemus.” There is, however, no incompatibility between the two designations; Aeschylus acted in his own plays (although not “professionally”), while Shakespeare and Molière are among the many professional actors who were also successful playwrights. A highlight of the introduction is a fine treatment of the mythical background to the play (xvii–xxxiv), including an illuminating section on “The Night-Raid Motif,” with references to parallels in Book 10 [!] of the Mahābhārata (first noted, I believe, by George Duckworth, TAPA 92 [1961] 112). This is indicative of Liapis’ impressive range; the introduction and commentary are enriched by frequent parallels drawn from such sources as early Irish narrative, Renaissance drama and Anglo-Saxon verse.

In addition to providing the reader with a wealth of intelligent, well-balanced discussion, the commentary includes translations of most of the play’s lines, indicating exactly how Liapis construes the sometimes awkward writing of this curious poet. I noted only a couple of inaccuracies in the translations. At line 97 ἐκκέαντες πυρσά is translated “watch-fires burnt out,” but with this object the verb can only mean “having lit”; cf. Hdt. 4.134.3 and 135.3. At 597 Liapis rightly takes the εἰ-clause as dependent on the expression of emotion (“stricken with grief”) in the previous line, but translates “unless God grants.” Rather, “that God does not grant.” These are minor points. I raise them only to illustrate the trivial nature of the few flaws that I have found. Students of fourth-century drama should be profoundly grateful to Liapis for providing, for the first time, a truly scholarly tool with which to begin making sense of the direction tragedy took after the death of Euripides. I conclude with some observations on isolated points raised by Liapis’ excellent commentary.

118: For the rarity of ἢν μή = “except,” see G. Wakker, Conditions and Conditionals (Amsterdam 1994) 283 n. 25, who cites only two passages from Aristophanes in addition to this line.

251–52: Liapis accepts with reservations Hoffmann’s πόθι [mss ποτί] Μυσῶν ὃς ἐμὰν συμμαχίαν ἀτίζει; translating, “where is (now) the Mysian who scorns my alliance,” and commenting that the emendation “inevitably implies that the Mysians had somehow scorned the Phrygians’ . . . alliance in the past.” If we read ἀτίζοι that implication is no longer a necessary one. For the absence of ἄν with a potential optative in this type of relative clause, see Kühner–Gerth II 429, A. C. Moorhouse, The Syntax of Sophocles (1982) 229–30.

298–99: “This use of direct speech in the context of a report is unique” gives the impression that reports by messengers in Attic tragedy do not contain quotations, which is of course not the case. V. Bers, Speech in Speech (1997) 72, to which Liapis refers, notes that this is the only occurrence of direct quotation in Rhesus and that, uniquely, it purports to transmit “speech in a language other than Greek.”

368–69: The note on φίλος refers to two sources that merely enumerate the occurrences of this expression; it would have been more helpful to refer to, e.g., Wackernagel’s Lectures on Syntax (2009) 385–86 (referred to on 380–81), where the phenomenon of nominative for vocative is put into a historical context.

370: For the imperatives ἐλθὲ φάνηθι, compare HF 494 ἐλθέ· καὶ σκιὰ φάνηθί μοι, addressed to the absent Heracles shortly before he appears, as is the case here with Rhesus.

394–95: For Hector’s claim at the beginning of his rhesis that he is naturally straightforward and not duplicitous, compare above all Iliad 9.312–14, at the beginning of Achilles’ speech in which he rejects Agamemnon’s offer of gifts, berates him for his ingratitude and notes (349–52) that not even the wall and the ditch will hold back the might of Hector and (315–37) that Agamemnon takes it easy while benefiting from all the hard work that Achilles has done. In his speech, Hector berates Rhesus for his ingratitude (406–12) and complains that Rhesus takes it easy (418–19) while Hector and his other allies (413–18) do all the hard work. This is of particular interest in connection with the frequent parallels drawn in this play between Achilles and Rhesus (for which see xxi–xxii).

411–12: Liapis refers to “asyndeton,” but the sentence begins with a relative pronoun.

469: Morstadt’s ἐπεὶ δ᾽ ἄν for the unmetrical ἐπειδάν (ἐπειδ᾽ ἂν δ᾽ V) “is unavoidable.” Another possibility is transposition: ἐχθρῶν δ᾽ ἐπειδάν; cf. Aesch. Eum. 647, Eupolis frag. 172.7 K–A. The corruption will have been due to the tendency to produce simplex ordo, for which see W. Headlam, “Transposition of Words in mss.,” CR 16 (1902) 243–56.

498–509: For the theft of the Palladion and Odysseus’ πτωχεία, see the fascinating third-century AD P.Köln VI 245, with the masterly edition and full commentary by M. G. Parca, Ptocheia, or, Odysseus in Disguise at Troy (Atlanta 1991).

498: For the etymology of αἱμύλος, see M. Weiss, “Erotica: On the Prehistory of Greek Desire,” HSPh 98 (1998) 55–56.

560: Liapis comments that the expression κρυπτὸν λόχον is “a redundancy: an ambush is nothing if not ‘hidden’.” But, as H. W. Parke notes (Hermathena 52 [1938] 69), commenting on the same expression in the oracle apud Paus. 4.12.4, “λόχος means both ‘band’ and ‘ambush’.” For the former meaning in this play, see 26, 577, 844.

604: There is no note on the striking phrase πλατεῖαν ἐσδρομήν, which Liapis reasonably translates “a wide-ranging onslaught,” other than to comment on the fact that the noun is found only in prose. Might the adjective also have overtones here of “unpleasant, harsh”? Elsewhere it can mean “brackish,” in contrast to “sweet” water; see D. Arnould, “Le rire selon Aristophane: vocabulaire et images,” in P. Thiercy and M. Menu (eds.), Aristophane: la langue, la scène, la cité (1997) 103–5, discussing Ar. Ach. 1126.

765–66: Regarding the transmitted text, οὐδ’ ἐν τάξεσιν / ἔκειτο τεύχη, Liapis asks, “where were the Thracian arms if not with their owners?” That is, he assumes that ἐν τάξεσιν = “in their ranks,” and proposes an emendation that is, pace Liapis, anything but “simple.” Kovacs in his Loeb text translates, “nor was our armor laid out in order,” and Jouan’s Budé translation similarly renders the words, “les armes n’étaient pas rangées en ordre.” Liapis does not explain why this is not satisfactory.

793: Liapis is right to note that in the expression αὐγάζοντα καὶ θηρώμενον the former does not mean “looking around for,” as some have translated it, but rather “seeing.” That does not, however, require that we follow Liapis in taking the latter to = “catching,” a meaning that would be odd with “spear” as its object. Rather the expression is a hysteron proteron (“beholding and searching for my spear”), comparable to Andr. 589, Suppl. 919, El. 969, Ion 154, Or. 814–15.

829–30: Liapis translates εἰ δὲ χρόνῳ παρὰ καιρὸν / ἔργον λόγον πύθῃ “if in course of time you learn that something I did or said was inopportune,” taking the prepositional phrase attributively. This is difficult to accept, for which reason Vater proposed παράκαιρον, which is not attested in tragedy, and Headlam (CR 15 [1901] 103) proposed πάρωρον (keeping the ms. reading in the strophe), a word not found in verse before the time of Strato of Sardis. Tragedy is not unacquainted with ἄκαιρος (cf. especially PV 1036–37 ἄκαιρα φαίνεται / λέγειν), so perhaps we should read χρόνῳ ποτ᾽ ἄκαιρον. For χρόνῳ ποτέ, see Soph. Aj. 1082, Ant. 303, El. 1013, Phil. 1041, Ar. Nub. 865, Ran. 705.

949: Liapis explains the middle form of the “problematic ἐπάξομαι” as “probably due to the fairly common confusion between active and middle verbal forms.” Elsewhere (ExClass 15 [2011] 108), he dismisses Paley’s ἐπάξομεν on the grounds that “the pluralis maiestatis is never used elsewhere by the Muse.” Paley does indeed intend the plural as referring only to the speaker, but why can it not be a genuine plural, referring to the Muses? It is the Muses (plural: 941–42, 947) who have honored Athens in the past, and it would be appropriate for their nameless spokesperson to threaten that the Muses (plural) will punish Athens in return for what Athena has done to one of their number. The punishment will be effective only if all the Muses boycott Athena’s favored city, not merely one of the nine.

954: For γῆς ἔφεδρον, compare the use of the verb ἐφεδρεύειν at line 768 (also Thuc. 4.71.1, 8.92.8).

Table of Contents

Metrical Conspectus
1. The Mythical Background
2. Dramaturgy and Stagecraft
3. Character-Portrayal
4. Language and Style; Metre
5. The Authenticity Question
6. The Text
Rhesus Attributed to Euripides
Index Nominum et Rerum Potiorum
Index Locorum
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