Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2016.10.29 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2016.10.29

Almut Fries, Pseudo-Euripides, Rhesus: Edited with Introduction and Commentary. Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte, Bd 114.   Berlin, Boston:  De Gruyter, 2014.  Pp. xvii, 517.  ISBN 9783110342079.  €149.95.  

Reviewed by David Kovacs, University of Virginia (

[The reviewer apologizes to the author and to the readers of BMCR for the lateness of this review. I should also disclose that I am personally acquainted with the author, with whom I have occasional correspondence.]

This commentary — a revision and expansion of the author’s Oxford D. Phil. dissertation — discusses with learning and acuity all the problems in and surrounding a play which the author calls ‘spurious Euripides based on spurious Homer’. This phrase could mislead: as noted below, Fries is not at all dismissive of the play she has chosen. The commentary will be a splendid resource for anyone interested in our only specimen of fourth-century tragedy.

After a seven-page list of abbreviations, Fries’s introduction consists of five chapters, all but the first and last subdivided. In the first (‘The Play’) Fries gives an overview of the problems that Rhesus has seemed to present to critics, conceding that such things as episodic structure and wooden characters can hardly be denied but suggesting that appreciation of the play may be increased if we consider the author’s dramatic intentions. The second chapter (‘Plot and Myth’) discusses the play’s agreements with and deviations from Iliad 10, its borrowing from other Greek epic and lyric passages and the play’s attestation in vase painting, and the evidence for Rhesus as receiving hero cult in Thrace. It also discusses the theory of Liapis that the play was written in Macedonia, for which she finds the evidence to be weak. The third (‘Authenticity and Date’), after showing how someone else’s Rhesus could have been mistaken by the Alexandrians for that of Euripides, summarizes the considerable evidence against Euripidean authorship. She dates the play plausibly to the first quarter or third of the fourth century on the basis of vase paintings of its subject. The fourth (‘Textual tradition’) gives a thorough and detailed discussion of all the sources, direct and indirect, for the text of the play. A short fifth chapter (‘The Edition’) gives information about Fries’s citation practices. Before the text there is a list of all the sigla used in the apparatus and in the metrical analyses.

Fries’s apparatus relies for the most part on the collations of other scholars, which is sensible when Diggle is one of them. (For my own commentary on Troades I started out by collating Q but decided it was a waste of time to collate the rest since Diggle was so accurate.) Fries’s text is quite close to Diggle’s, but she takes an independent line in several places. Fries prints her own Greek text, which makes her commentary much easier to use than some of the Oxford tragic commentaries.

The commentary on the play is preceded by a detailed commentary (both sensible and up-to-date) on the hypotheses (four of them are transmitted in our mss.). After this comes the thorough, detailed, and learned commentary on the play itself. If you decide you would like to know more about Rhesus, reading Fries puts you in good hands. She combines an admirable command of the resources of exact verbal scholarship (such things as meter, tragic or poetic syntax, evaluation of the play’s lexical resources, allusion to earlier poetry) with a sensitive and sympathetic attempt to understand the artistic aims of the Rhesus poet. Rhesus is no one’s favorite play, and Fries shows herself clearly aware of the features of it that annoy. She nevertheless tries to appreciate what the Rhesus poet is attempting to do and succeeds in showing that in spite of his shortcomings he is worth thinking about as a dramatist.

All commentaries on plays (like commentaries generally) have to contend with the need not only to discuss individual words and lines thoroughly and convincingly but also to set these smaller points in the context of larger units (speech, scene, and episode for spoken portions, choral ode, stanzaic pair, and stanza for lyric). Fries succeeds very well at this, and her analyses of scenes (e.g. 85–148n, 804–81n), speeches (e.g. 105–30n), and choral odes serve to locate the detail not only in the play’s larger context but also in the context of epic precedent and Greek literature in general.

In textual matters Fries treads a sane course. She is not afraid to challenge the paradosis, as we see in her treatment of 217. Sensible comments of a textually conservative nature are made, e.g. at 105 (where she makes me doubt the lacuna Diggle and I both accepted) and at 106–7a (where she vindicates the partitive genitive with αὐτός). She justly criticizes a conjecture accepted by me at 59. Her discussion of 682–9 discusses all the difficulties and (perhaps wisely) refrains from proposing solutions that, in view of some deep corruptions, are bound to be textually speculative. (I was less cautious at Eikasmos 26 (2015) 133–7.) Likewise she takes an independent line where colometry is concerned. Her metrical analyses are informed by the best metrical scholarship and are convincing.

Questions of staging, use of eisodoi, skene, etc., are expertly handled: I draw attention to the concise treatment of the exit of the Chorus and the entrance of Odysseus and Diomedes after 564. (Her citation of Alc. 860 not only gives a parallel for an exit separated by a pause from an entrance by the same eisodos but also shows its function in accentuating a dramatic turning point.) I would have appreciated a consistent marking of the entrances and exits by separate notes marked Staging.

Where earlier scholarship is concerned one could not ask for a better informed volume: Fries’s knowledge of secondary literature is enviable, and she often refers to works I had no knowledge of. She commands not only literature on the usual topics associated with Greek tragedy but also is highly informative on historical linguistics. The only work to which I miss a reference is F. Zucker’s treatment of αὐθέντης, SBLeipzig, Philol.-hist. Kl. 107 (1962), Heft 4, relevant to 873.

There is a full bibliography of editions and other secondary literature. The volume has a subject index, an index of passages, and an index of Greek words. (The reference to Odes 3.5.26–7 at 102–4n should be added to the index locorum.) Misprints are few: I note that in the commentary to Hypothesis (a) the line numbers are wrong four of five times.

There is little to find fault with and much indeed to praise in this fine edition and commentary.

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