Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.07.34 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.07.34

Christian Orth, Alkaios–Apollophanes: Einleitung, Übersetzung, Kommentar. Fragmenta Comica, Bd 9.1.   Heidelberg:  Verlag Antike, 2013.  Pp. 450.  ISBN 9783938032633.  €85.90.  

Reviewed by Elena Chepel, University of Reading (

Table of Contents

Although in the last several decades the study of the fragments of Greek comedy has made significant progress,1 we still lack comprehensive studies of fragmentary plays. The volume under review is part of a bigger project Kommentierung der Fragmenten der griechischen Komödie (KomFrag) directed by Prof. Bernhard Zimmermann at the University of Freiburg under the auspices of the Heidelberg Akademie der Wissenschaften. The project aims to fill this gap and provide a basic philological resource for further investigation of the lost comedies of the Greek theatre. The commentaries are published in the series Fragmenta Comica supervised by an international group of scholars (Glenn Most, Heinz-Günther Nesselrath, Douglas Olson, Antonios Rengakos, Alan Sommerstein, and Bernhard Zimmermann). Since the start of the project in 2011, a number of volumes have been prepared. Three of them (vols. 4, 15, and the volume 9.1 under review) came out in 2013 and three more, including the second part of Orth's commentary, vol. 9.2, are expected to appear in 2014. According to the plan of publications, volumes 9–15 are dedicated to the 5th/4th century authors and volume 9 addresses specifically authors with fewer fragments preserved.2

Orth offers a commentary on three comic playwrights, Alkaios, Ameipsias and Apollophanes, who appear to be among the least studied authors of Old Comedy.3 They date from a critical twenty-year period around 400 BC which marks the transition from Old Comedy to Middle Comedy.4 Study of their work, therefore, may help us understand the evolution of Middle comedy and its nature.5 In the preface, Orth asserts the importance of the three authors for the development of the comic genre and characterizes them as exemplifying three successive stages of this development (p. 9), Ameipsias (who is attested to be Aristophanes' rival) being the first, followed by Alkaios, and finally Apollophanes. 6

One of the strongest points of Orth's commentary is its well thought out structure. The authors are presented in alphabetical order, each equipped with a short but dense introduction discussing the name and identity of the poet, the chronology of his career, transmission and reception of the plays, themes and motifs summarised from titles and fragments, language (word-coinages, puns, wordplay, style, imitation of other genres, dialect variations, short forms) and metrics, kōmōidoumenoi, and interactions with other poets (parallels, common titles, polemics, critique, parody, imitation). Each introduction also includes a bibliography.

Similarly, in the main body of the commentary a clear structure can be observed. Each testimonium and fragment entry consists of the text, German translation, critical apparatus, bibliography, commentary on the citation-source, and interpretation. In addition to this, fragment entries have sections on the metrical scheme, the state of the text, and the extended context from the citation-source with its German translation. There is an introduction to each comedy, which discusses the meaning of the title, the plot, the dramatis personae, and the date, where possible. The commentary on Alkaios' dubious fragments contains a useful discussion of fragments that may belong either to the comic poet Alkaios or to his namesake, the lyric poet, which could be of some interest for students of Greek lyric.

The text and enumeration of fragments are taken from the Volume II of PCG with some exceptions: the numeration of the testimonia is occasionally different (pp. 24, 175–6) and for Apollophanes a new testimonium is included which is absent from PCG (test. 4). Orth states that the punctuation of the texts of fragments is changed when necessary (p. 403). I have found only one such alteration, in Ameipsias' fr. 4 (p. 200), which has a comma and daggers absent in other editions. The critical apparatus is based on PCG, but is in general shorter and simplified. Some references are excluded from the apparatus, especially when they are discussed in the interpretive section. Although this may be obvious for advanced scholars of comedy, a clarification of the apparatus would perhaps be desirable for students with less experience in the subject.7

In his commentary, Orth provides useful discussions of all the issues that are relevant to the understanding and reconstruction of the lost plays. Some specific examples: (1) In the interpretation of Apollophanes fr. 6, Orth explores possible meanings of the expression ξενικοὶ θεοί with references to the ancient evidence (pp. 386–91). It is especially interesting that the cited ancient sources show (although Orth does not seem to make this his final conclusion) that the term rather referred to minor popular gods who were worshipped in Athens by specific groups and communities, and not to 'foreign, exotic gods' or 'newly-introduced gods'. (2) In the commentary on Ameipsias' Revellers (Κωμασταί), the rival comedy of Aristophanes' Birds in 414, Orth considers komos to be a central idea for the development and nature of Greek comedy. His exploration of the two main points, the comedy's relation to the mutilation of the herms in 415 BC and possible identification with Phrynichus' Revellers, are generally more comprehensive than in Totaro's commentary. (3) I see a minor quibble in the author's silence on Aristophanes' Banqueters, fr. 231, both in the introduction to Ameipsias' Kottabos players (pp. 183–7), and in the interpretation of Ameipsias fr. 2 (Athen. 15, 667e-8a). It would be desirable to consider the Banqueters at least in passing, especially because Orth addresses the problem of the two different types of kottabos game (p. 195).

A valuable contribution of the present commentary is its special focus on the transmission of the fragments.8 The extended context of the citation (in comparison with PCG entries), supplied with German translation, is printed right after the text of each fragment. This, along with the spacious layout of the text on the page, helps one to grasp the context in which the fragment appears in the transmitting text.9 Sections on transmission and reception describe the wider context within which the fragment is cited and occasionally offer an explanation of reasons for the fragment being cited by a specific author (for example, Alkaios is often quoted in the Antiatticist lexicon, which suggests that his plays contained rare words and forms, p.13). A discussion of the context of a citation, going beyond the immediate context and addressing the basic features of the transmitting work, is often indispensable for contextualizing the tiny fragments. Whenever possible, Orth attempts to trace the paths by which a fragment was transmitted from the 5th/4th century to late antique and Byzantine times.

The volume has a useful bibliography and four indexes (sources of citations, Greek words and expressions in the fragments, passages of ancient texts discussed in the interpretation sections, and subjects and proper names including titles of dramatic plays). Together with the main text of the commentary, these features make it an indispensable tool for any student of Greek comedy. Despite Dover's pessimistic statement in his foreword to The Rivals of Aristophanes that 'so far as citations are concerned, it is hard to imagine that there can ever be any significant improvement on the scholarship and judgement of Kassel and Austin in Poetae Comici Graeci', Orth's commentary proves that there is still ample opportunity for interpretative work, which will hopefully lead to progress in the scholarship on the subject.


1.   The principal edition of the fragments, Kassel and Austin's Poetae Comici Graeci was published in 1983–2001; the Loeb Classical Library editions with English translations: I. Storey (ed.), Fragments of Old Comedy, 2011, and J. Henderson (ed.), Aristophanes: Fragments, 2008; S. Douglas Olson's edition of selected fragments Broken Laughter, Oxford, 2007; studies of major comic authors: I. Storey,Eupolis. Poet of Old Comedy, Oxford, 2003, and E. Bakola, Cratinus and the Art of Comedy, Oxford, 2010. For most playwrights only isolated articles exist. The key volume of collected papers on comic fragments is still D. Harvey, J. Wilkins, The Rivals of Aristophanes. Studies in Athenian Old Comedy, London, 2000. The two most recent volumes are C. W. Marshall, G. Kovacs (eds.), No Laughing Matter. Studies in Athenian Comedy, London, 2012, and A. Melero, M. Labiano, M. Pellegrino (eds.), Textos fragmentarios del teatro griego antiguo: problemas, estudios y nuevas perspectivas, Lecce, 2012.
2.   Other volumes will represent authors of the 5th century (vols. 1–8), 4th century (vols. 16–21), 4th/3rd centuries (vols. 22–26), 3rd and 3rd/2nd centuries (vol. 27), 2nd century BC to 1st century AD (vol. 28), uncertain date (vol. 29), and adespota (vol. 30).
3.   The commentaries on Alkaios and Apollophanes are the first of their kind. There is a previous commentary on Ameipsias: P. Totaro, 'Amipsia', in A. M. Belardinelli et al. (ed.), Tessere. Frammenti della commedia greca: studi e commenti, Bari 1998, 133–94.
4.   The development of the genre remains one of the central problems in the scholarship of Greek comedy. See G. Dobrov (ed.), Beyond Aristophanes: Tradition and Diversity in Greek Comedy, Atlanta 1995, and especially Nesselrath's article 'Myth, Parody, and Comic Poets', which discusses the use of myth in comic plots over time and among other things the role of the kottabos game in relation to mythological plots (p. 22 n. 56); D. F. Sutton, 'Aristophanes and the transition to Middle Comedy', LCM 15 (1990), 81–95; F. Perusino, 'L'ultimo Aristofane e il passagio dalla commedia antica alla commedia di mezzo', in Dalla commedia antica alla commedia di mezzo, Urbino 1986; E. Handley, 'Comedy', in The Cambridge History of Classical Literature, 399–414 on Aristophanes' late plays Assembly Women and Wealth. These publications are missing from the bibliography of the volume under review.
5.   On these difficulties see J. Rusten in BMCR 02.02.12: 'While we all understand the difference between Old and New Comedy, "Middle Comedy" makes us uncomfortable, and we usually race past it as quickly as possible, or dismiss the controversy over its very existence as a pointless quibble'.
6.   Throughout the commentary, there are valuable comments on the place and role of their comedies in this development. See e.g. pp. 14–15 with n. 15, and pp. 33, 44, 50, 67, 79, 162, 270, 362. However, the reader never gets an explanation of what the three stages are in particular.
7.   The principles of changes to the PCG text and apparatus are formulated in Orth's previous publication, Strattis. Die Fragmente. Ein Kommentar , Berlin 2009, p. 12. One would expect a similar note in the present volume.
8.   The importance and practical impact of taking the sources of fragments into account is acknowledged and discussed in W. G. Arnott. 'On editing fragments from literary and lexicographic sources', in The Rivals of Aristophanes (note 1 above).
9.   How badly the context may be needed in the editions of comic fragments is illustrated by Papachrysostomou in BMCR 2012.02.26, with Alkaios fr. 6 and Ameipsias fr. 39 taken as examples.

Read comments on this review or add a comment on the BMCR blog

Read Latest
About BMCR
Review for BMCR
Support BMCR

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010