Terence’s Hecyra is a nuanced comedy with a problematic history dating back to its initial reception in Rome (as its two surviving prologues attest). The play in many ways breaks from, or offers novel turns on, the conventions of New Comedy. In no other of the six extant plays is Terence’s preference for a non-expository prologue so sorely missed, as Hecyra presents its audiences, both ancient and modern, with a jumble of misconceptions and confusions, and features the very real potential for an un-comic divorce. Critics have long noted the play’s challenging plot and its extensive use of suspense that keeps its audience in the dark for virtually the entire play (the surprising revelation that Philumena’s rapist is her husband Pamphilus is delayed until the last scene).
Sander Goldberg’s new commentary on Hecyra thus provides a most welcome resource for greater appreciation of one of New Comedy’s richest plays. This edition by one of the most astute living interpreters of Republican Latin literature does not disappoint, although Goldberg makes no pretense of solving all the difficulties posed by Hecyra. In addition to supplying appropriately pitched and detailed commentary on morphology, syntax, semantics, and translation, Goldberg displays keen sensitivity to the particulars of performance throughout the edition: “a play in performance establishes meaning not just through its scripted words, but through the actors’ delivery, the actions that accompany their words, and through the audience’s response to the totality of words and action” (p. 18). His notes are models of concision, clarity, and incisiveness, typically balancing traditional philology with imaginative analysis of Hecyra in performance.
Goldberg’s Introduction (pp. 1-47) is divided into seven sections: (1) Comedy at Rome (Conditions of performance, The audience, Greek models); (2) The Career of Terence; (3) The Hecyra (Stage history, Lines of approach); (4) Language and Style (Orthography, Diction, Arrangement, Aesthetic effects); (5) Metre (Syllables, Prosody, Verse Patterns, Interpretive challenges); (6) Donatus; and (7) Text. He appends to the Commentary (pp. 84-201) brief but illuminating discussions of Philumena’s pregnancy (pp. 203-4) and Greek analogues, mostly from Menander’s Epitrepontes (pp. 205-8).
Goldberg emphasizes the unique conditions of theatrical performance in Rome (pp. 4-6), and how in the case of Hecyra the actors’ close contact with the audience enhances (esp.) the female characters’ powerful monologues. He rightly focuses on what is original in Terence rather than on reconstructing Apollodorus of Carystos’ lost source play and supports the recent critical trend toward approaching Roman comedy in terms of intertexts (pp. 8-10; Goldberg draws productive new connections between Hecyra and Terence’s own contemporary Adelphoe (pp. 23-25 and e.g. 742n.). The commentary offers a wealth of insights that meticulously distinguish between Greek and Roman, especially in regard to the pertinent issues of paternity and adoption (e.g. 139, 387, 453, 492, 671nn.). Goldberg argues that Terence’s emphasis on keeping Hecyra’s audience ignorant is neither characteristically Greek nor Roman (p. 19; cf. 574, 824-9nn.) and stresses how the play continually upsets its audience’s expectations as to how its stereotypical characters—especially Bacchis, Sostrata and Myrrina—should speak and behave (pp. 20-23). He stops short of formulating overarching interpretations of the play’s meaning and characters, although his views frequently surface in notes that combine commentary on fine points of language or stage activity with shrewd observations on individual characters: e.g., “the intransitive verb has only an impersonal passive, which suits Laches’ desire to imagine responsibility without quite imaging fault” (253n. on siquid … nobis); and “Pamphilus responds to a difficult situation by running away from it. His ultimate flight from responsibility will be a variant of this pattern of behavior” (703n. on abibo hinc); Goldberg prudently refuses to pass final judgment on the much-discussed metatheatrical exchange between Bacchis and Pamphilus at the play’s end (“I’d prefer not to have one of those typical comic endings—You know, everyone learns everything,” 867-8), which readers variously have found to be sinister or realistically practical. Goldberg chooses to leave its interpretation “an open question” (868n.).
Readers of all stripes will find Goldberg’s accounts of Terence’s language, style, and metre helpful and instructive. He is acutely attuned to musical transitions (e.g., 612n., p. 180) and gives a pellucid account of the technicalities of Terence’s iambo-trochaic verse and the effects the playwright is striving for therein (pp. 37-40). Goldberg acknowledges his own indebtedness to Donatus (while also noting his faults), especially the ancient commentator’s ability to draw fine distinctions in diction, e.g., the difference between dare and stare with reference to a Roman play’s (successful) presentation (88n.). Goldberg adopts a refreshingly pragmatic view to recovering Terence’s ipsissima verba. Some textual critics may cringe at Goldberg’s textual agnosticism, but he reasonably concludes, “Getting as close as we can to what subsequent Roman readers eventually knew as ‘Terence’ is about the best we can do, but that, as will emerge, turns out to be an entirely adequate approximation” (p. 46). He prints a serviceable text with a few minor divergences from the OCT of Kauer and Lindsay (1926).
Goldberg’s deployment of secondary literature is comprehensive and current, although the edition apparently went to press before it could benefit from the publication of the Blackwell Companion to Terence (edds. Augoustakis and Traill, 2013). If any fault can be found with Goldberg’s new “Green and Yellow” commentary, some readers may be frustrated by its relatively minimal interest in Terentian reception and influence, and the lack of modern or contemporary comic parallels (how extensive treatment such matters merit in a commentary of this type is of course debatable). Goldberg unquestionably succeeds in showing that Hecyra is a thoroughly Roman and highly innovative Terentian production that is deeply rooted in its audience’s cultural preoccupations, values, and social anxieties, while his edition highlights Hecyra’s remarkably sensitive portrayal of its female characters and the unfair stereotyping to which they are subjected by the play’s blustery and misjudging men. This is a superb addition to Cambridge’s growing body of exemplary commentaries on Roman comedies.