Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.10.17 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.10.17

Andreas Bagordo, Aristophanes fr. 675–820. Übersetzung und Kommentar. Fragmenta Comica 10.10.   Heidelberg:  Verlag Antike, 2017.  Pp. 316.  ISBN 9783946317074.  €80,00.  

Reviewed by Richard P. Martin, Stanford University (


Every scrap and spill from the table of Aristophanes is welcome nourishment for starved readers lacking nearly three-quarters of the feast that began with his Banqueters of 427 BCE. In this second of three volumes covering the incertarum fabularum fragmenta, Bagordo serves up mostly lower-calorie crumbs — of the 146 fragments, 68 contain just one word, and 29 are phrases of two or three words; none exceeds three lines of verse. The presentation is lucid and accessible, the commentary meticulous, cautious, and erudite. It will remain, without doubt, the essential resource for years to come. The extended excursuses on a number of relevant philological and dramatic problems raised by the fragments make this, as well, an eminently useful book for anyone dealing with Greek and Latin poetry and poetics, comedic or other.

This is the fifth volume completed by Bagordo for the project Kommentierung der Fragmente der Griechischen Komödie, directed by Bernhard Zimmermann.1 Having reached its twentieth publication, the ambitious series enables each commentator to take advantage of an increasingly thick web of cross-references; of course, the reader must ideally have access to the entire bookshelf to benefit from the collective labor. Adhering to the uniform format for the series, each text is followed by a translation; its wider Zitatkontext, also in original and translation; metrical analysis; remarks on the meaning, tone, and dramatic themes (where visible) of the fragment overall; and observations on individual words. When appropriate, a separate section on Textgestalt follows the fragment proper. The text and apparatus are generally as in Kassel and Austin’s monumental Poetae Comici Graeci (KA), with Bagordo taking full account of emendations postdating the relevant PCG volume (III.2) published in 1984. The generous treatment afforded by the lay-out means that, for example, KA’s six lines of type on fr. 675 (“You, the gods’ hearth-sharer? Since when?”) can blossom into three pages in Bagordo’s edition.

In six places, Bagordo chooses to print a text or apparatus differing from that of KA. The most interesting change re-shapes fr. 742, where Κωπαῖοι σφῆκες “wasps of Lake Copais” is replaced by κῶπες· οἱ σφῆκες, incorporating an emendation made by Christos Theodoridis in his 1998 edition of the fragment’s source, the Lexicon of Photius.2 The preceding lemma in Photius 1323, about eels from the famous Boeotian lake) likely infected the text in question. Theognostus, a 9th-century Byzantine grammarian, also attests to this lexical equation (without attributing it to Aristophanes). Thus, while it may seem odd for the comic poet to have applied to stinging insects a word that others in antiquity claimed was an alternative form of the word for “screech-owl” (skôps: cf. Aelian Nat. anim. 15.28, Athenaeus 9.391c), one lexicographical strand (probably depending from Diogenianus) makes it a real possibility. In what context the word was uttered is anyone’s guess, and Bagordo does not speculate, nor is our text of the Wasps any help. Or does the lexicographical tradition possibly preserve a garbled version of the chorus’ self-description as insect larvae (σκώληκες, Wasps 1111)?

In fr. 678 Bagordo tentatively opts for the transitive future καθιῶ to replace καθεδῶ in KA (the required meaning is clearly “I will seat the jurors”); he removes KA’s cruces from around ἀρκύσας (“having netted”) in fr. 780, with convincing arguments (based in part on the word’s proper fit within the alphabetical ordering in the Zavordensis manuscript of Photius); rejects Kassels’s emendation of fr. 812 ἐλλιπαίνειν (“anoint”) in favor of a phonetic adjustment of the Zavordensis (printing ἐλλιγαίνειν “rush upon” instead of unassimilated ἐνλιγαίνειν); and in fr. 692 suggests that the comic butt Exekestides might have strummed a famous lyre (εὔδοξον, accusative) rather than one that was the “work of [the otherwise unknown] Eudoxus” — but does not insist on replacing the proper name. In fr. 816 he detects in ἐνθεσίψωμος a vox nihili resulting, so it seems, from the coalescence in the text of Photius of two originally separate lemmata.

Overall, Bagordo’s textual judgments are well-grounded and reasonable, even if the resulting gains are modest. As the 2007 Loeb text of the fragments sticks to that of KA, Bagordo’s half-dozen adjustments entail differences from Henderson’s translation.3 He is further able to correct Henderson’s interpretation in several spots where the text remains unchanged: in fr. 677 he recognizes μοι as ethical dative (vs. locative “you’ll sit by me” in the Loeb); in fr. 729 rightly interprets καινῶς πάνυ as “ziemlich originell” (where Henderson’s “very common” must have been intended to translate κοινῶς πάνυ despite his own Greek text); and in fr. 767 casts doubt on the Loeb translator’s choice of “judge of a competition” for ἁμιλλοφόρος as having no semantic or compositional parallel.

When it comes to their usefulness for understanding ancient drama, tiny fragments resemble fading stills from movies now lost: in Aristophanes’ case, bits about beating, eating, seating and greeting (amongst much else) vaguely conjure up a number of scenarios, but by the same token could go anywhere. Bagordo eschews attribution to individual plays. (I would, less cautiously, venture that at least fr. 695 with its mention of a χορὸς…φιλοτήσιος fits what we know of Banqueters). Instead, he regularly produces appealing suggestions that tease out poetic nuances. For fr. 684 (“I found you more talky”) he adduces parallels from proverb-usage; in fr. 723 he discovers some ominous name-play regarding the targeted physicians “Klumenos” and “Morsimos.” His excellent sense of stylistic register leads to his proposing a paratragic context for fr. 765 (ἀκύμων “without swell”) and comparing the diction and resolved anapests of fr. 718 (“who among mortals rushes ’mongst the deep-tressed mountains”) with the famously jittery lines of Pratinas PMG 708. Akin to this gift is Bagordo’s ear for metapoetic discourse: fr. 727 (“to draw forth a teeny little idea”) he connects with depictions of sophists, Euripides and Aristophanes himself, while fr. 719 (on elegant phrases and jokes freshly manufactured) he believes could be either parabatic self-referentiality or a wisecrack at the expense of effete competitors.

The commentary employs the best recent scholarship on topics from musical genres (Timothy Power for fr. 692) to sacrifice (Fred Naiden, fr. 693) to the political lexicon (Biles-Olson 2015 on fr. 699). 4 There is recent epigraphic evidence, as well, like the sexual graffito of the 3rd century BCE from Monte Iato in western Sicily (SEG 53.1005.17) with its intriguing parallel for the Doric adverbials in fr. 810 (duakis, triakis): Ζώπυρος κίναιδός ἐστι καὶ πεπ̣ύ̣γ̣ι̣σ̣ται̣͜ τ̣ριά[κις ?]. 5 If this scrawled phrase on a building in the northwest corner of a remote agora does not in fact derive indirectly from half-remembered verses of Aristophanes, we can at least imagine the poet having staged a similar abusive declaration in some production or other.

Within this tranche, the single most interesting fragment, to my mind, is 706:

διάλεκτον ἔχοντα μέσην πόλεως
, οὔτ’ ἀστείαν ὑποθηλυτέραν
οὔτ’ ἀνελεύθερον ὑπαγροικοτέραν

Possessing the city’s middling speech
Not the feminized urbane
Not the countrified illiberal

Bagordo appropriately lavishes eight rich and thoughtful pages on these lines, noting their extraordinary value as our first attestation of sociolinguistic variation within Attic. Politics, status, gender, even habitation are in play. If the second line denigrates 5th century metrosexuals for traits that an audience might associate with Agathon, Socrates, Euripides — or even the Euripidizing comic playwright himself — the second captures an urban elite’s view of the rubes. But what character or demographic sector is imagined as striking the sort of Aristotelian mean articulated here? It is impossible to specify; Bagordo focuses more on the premonitions in the fragment of a triadic stylistic structure that will later become influential. Inevitably, precious information slips through even the finest-woven net of indices verborum, rerum, nominum, and locorum (occupying a total of 28 pages in this book). A collaborative international effort might in the future hugely benefit Classical scholarship by organizing a massive database of all the disparate but useful lore now tucked away in hundreds of non-linked commentaries. As a start, let me list the particularly rewarding evidence that Bagordo has culled regarding cultural institutions, literary tropes, and linguistic phenomena (fragment numbers in parentheses): on second sacrifices when the first goes awry (817); on the vocabulary and scenes of locks, doors, and openings (685); on the New Music (753); on “baptism” in manumissions (731); on satirizing people for their fathers’ occupations (722) or for being too skinny (748); on the trope of saving the polis with advice (690); on the adverb αὐτοῦ in comedy (786); on compounds with στρεψ- (682), insults with -δουλος (816), comic epithets with -κόμας (755) or adjectives in -ώδης (751), compounds featuring words for “neck” (745), Attic naming conventions, and the diminutive suffix -άριον — along with the more general topic of books in comedy (795).

As for the dulce to go with all this utile: one of the pleasures of reading straight through a collection of fragments comes from acquisition of random curious information and delightfully strange new words. For the first category, to be recommended are the texts and Bagordo’s treatments of fragments 680 on dung carriers’ baskets; 696 on Aeschylus as choreographer; 707 on Amalthea’s horn and the city as cash-cow; 698 on the comic trope of spontaneous food production; and 686, amusing evidence that the modern Greek insult kátharma used as a vocative has a fine ancient pedigree. Culinary and abuse codes collide in the single hexameter of fr. 714: “I don't eat cadaver flesh — when you sacrifice something, call me” — a must for inclusion in the poetic dossier of Greek and Latin perverted dinner invites. For the second category — nuggets that, though denuded of context, can surely add sparkle to one’s next Greek prose composition — take note of fr. 744 ἀφορμή, a good equivalent for “startup funding”; fr. 818 ἐπιπταίσματα, the correct term for stubbings of the toe; fr. 790 βαλανεύειν, to shout as loud as a bathman; fr. 766 ἀλειφόβιος, “gym rat”; and fr. 732 γαλῆν καταπέπωκεν, the Athenian idiom for “cat’s got his tongue.”

Despite the weight of erudition in the volume, Bagordo rarely piles it on so thick that a joke gets smothered. The note on Laurus nobilis (fr. 805) explicating its full associations both ritual and lexical, does lose sight of the fun surrounding Apollo’s depiction as a money-changer (δαφνοπώλης, literally “laurel-monger”) in his own temple, not to mention the obvious pun on the god’s name. More often, a wry and appreciative humor matches the poet’s own, as when, trying to sort out differences between Hesychius and Photius on the meaning of βάμβαλον (“Babylonian cloak”?), Bagordo concludes that two diverging lemmata must have become blended “da sich die Bedeutungen Mantel und Genitalien nur schwer vereinbaren lassen.”

The author rightly thanks the innovative annual workshopping sponsored by the KomFrag community for improving his latest volume. One should extend humble gratitude as well to Diogenianus, Aelius Dionysius, Photius, Hesychius, Pollux, Athenaeus, Eustathius and nameless others, Atticists or antiquarians, lexicographers or learned clerics, who once gathered these comic fragments to shore against ruin. Salvagers and transmitters of the Classical past in a darkening age might take heart.


1.   His previous contributions, published between 2013 and 2016, are FrC 1.1 (Alkimenes–Kantharos); FrC 1.2 (Leukon–Xenophilos); FrC 4 (Telekleides); and FrC 10.9 (Aristophanes fr. 590–674).
2.   C. Theodoridis (ed.), Photii Patriarchae Lexicon. Vol 2: E–M (Berlin, 1998).
3.   J. Henderson (ed. and trans.), Aristophanes: Fragments (Cambridge MA, 2007).
4.   T. C. Power, The Culture of Kitharôidia (Washington DC, 2010); F. S. Naiden, Smoke Signals for the Gods: Ancient Greek Sacrifice from the Archaic through Roman Periods (New York, 2013); Z. P. Biles and S. D. Olson, Aristophanes:Wasps (Oxford, 2015).
5.   editio prior: H. Taeuber, “Graffiti vom Monte Iato,” Tyche18 (2003)189–200.

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