BMCR 1995.08.02

1995.08.02, Lloyd (ed.), Euripides: Andromache

, , Andromache. Plays of Euripides. Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1994. xxviii, 178 pages ; 22 cm.. ISBN 9780856686245

This book is part of the Aris and Phillips series of editions of Euripides’ plays. The aims of the series are set out in the Foreword by the General Editor, Christopher Collard: the commentary is concerned primarily with “analysing structure and development, … annotating and appreciating poetic style, … explaining ideas”, rather than with linguistic comment.

The 20-page “General Introduction to the Series” by Shirley A. Barlow gives a concise overview of Greek drama, with special reference to Euripides. Barlow considers briefly the various component parts of Greek tragedy, and the relation of tragedy both to “past myth” and the contemporary world of the poet. This treatment is, of necessity, rather superficial, but it does manage to bring in an impressive range of issues for its length. The constraints of length, however, do result in statements which are rather simplistic with regard to the complicated issues which are raised by tragedy; for example, Barlow assumes throughout her discussion of messenger speeches that these are straightforwardly objective (on p.xx I assume “imperial witness” is a misprint for “impartial”), and does not explicitly consider de Jong’s arguments (mentioned in a footnote) for the focalisation of their narrative. 1 The good general bibliography (revised for this volume) provides a solid basis for both scholars and students for further work both on Greek tragedy generally, and, in particular, on Euripides.

After the general introduction comes Lloyd’s introduction to the Andromache. Here he brings out the themes which will be considered of particular importance in the commentary as a whole (though one is glad to see that he does not labour to find all the lurid features mentioned in the hyperbolic “blurb” on the back cover). L. accurately identifies the Andromache as a “nostos play”, with the striking and ironic twist of the hero’s return as a corpse. L. himself says that Neoptolemus is not the “hero” of the play, in the sense of the protagonist, but his return does provide its focus. In L.’s view, the unity of the play arises from the way in which the action is determined by the fears and expectations of the other characters concerning the prospect of Neoptolemus’ return. Thus Andromache starts as a suppliant, whose rescue could be affected by the return of Neoptolemus; after the failure of her plot, Hermione’s despair is caused by the thought of his response to her actions; the last part of the play shows Peleus’ reaction to Neoptolemus’ eventual arrival home. This three part structure, which has been regarded as a symptom of disunity, is seen by L. as providing “a fruitful source of parallels and contrasts”. Given that the affinities of this play with other plays containing suppliant scenes is perhaps more widely acknowledged than its status as a nostos play, it is somewhat surprising that, although suppliancy is discussed extensively in the commentary, the position of the Andromache as a “suppliant play” is not discussed in the introduction. L.’s classification of this play as a nostos play, however, is an important point which is too rarely acknowledged.

One theme on which L. picks up in both the introduction and the commentary is the way the Andromache shows famous mythological characters acting characteristically, but in a new context—for example Orestes (p.144 ll. 802-1008) “re-enacts his definitive myth … : surreptitious arrival, reunion with a female relative, murder with the aid of Apollo” (cf. p.6 in the introduction). There are, however, places in the commentary where more could be made of such parallels, for example p.161 ll. 1205-7 where L. does not exploit the parallel between Peleus’s position as shown here, bereft of his grandson, and the picture painted by Achilles in Iliad 24 of Peleus bereft of his son, a picture evoked for Achilles by Priam, who is in front of him—Priam, father of Andromache’s first husband. Given the stated aim of this series to examine themes and structures, it is perhaps disappointing that such points are not brought out in the commentary, to give a fuller illustration of points made in the introduction.

The text is that of Diggle’s 1984 Oxford Classical Text with abridged apparatus criticus; for a fuller discussion of textual and linguistic points, the reader is referred to the commentary of P.T. Stevens. 2 Although L.’s commentary is keyed to the translation, and is not designed to be linguistic, L. does make good reference to the Greek, particularly to bring out points obscured by the translation, such as the use of the same word in two places with differing meanings (or at least differing translations), or explaining the literal meaning where the translation has opted for a more idiomatic phrase or has translated the idea rather than the exact words (e.g. p.150, l.931, p.130 ll.459-6 noting the sigmatism). There are places, however, where discussion of the Greek would have illuminated points of poetic style; for example at p.162 l.1236, where the difference between the Homeric epithet and the Euripidean term is not noted (ταχύς not ὠκύς used for “swift”). Similarly, the note on l.1115 needs a cross reference to l.447, where the parallel between the term used of Orestes, “stitcher of crafty plans”, and the cognate verb used at Aesch. Cho. 221 is given, as is a cross reference to l.1115. The reference to Orestes as the son of Clytaemnestra seems rather marked at l.1115 where he is about to be involved in another murder; this could have usefully been noted.

The translation aims to be “both accurate and idiomatic”; certainly it does keep closely to the Greek, and is reasonably idiomatic. Here L. has the advantage of being able to explain departures from literal translation in the commentary. For example, L. translates the start of the second choral ode (ll.274-8):

The son of Zeus and Maia did indeed, it seems, begin great woes when he came to Ida’s glen, bringing the beautiful trio of goddesses…

The commentary translates “beautiful trio of goddesses” as literally “the beautifully-yoked three-horse team of deities”. For comparison, Vellacott’s Penguin translation produces this:

That day was the beginning of great sorrows,
When Hermes, son of Zeus and Maia,
Came to the shady slope of Mount Ida,
And like a charioteer leading his team Led the three lovely goddesses…

Nims, in the Grene/Lattimore Chicago series gives:

That was the breeding of bitter affliction, when Hermes,
Son of Zeus, Maia’s son,
Came to Ida, to the glade
Conducting heaven’s lovely team
Of three divine fillies ….

L.’s prose translation does seem here to be flattening the poetic style. Paradoxically, L.’s concern for literal translation sometimes creates in his prose a poetic feel which is slightly out of place. For example, at the start of the messenger’s speech (ll.1085-8):

When we came to the famous sanctuary of Phoebus, we occupied three bright circuits of the sun with gazing at the sights. This evidently aroused suspicion.

Although this is both accurate and clear, there is, to my mind, a slight jarring between the rather poetic periphrasis for “three days” and the very prosaic “this evidently aroused suspicion”. Nims translates this passage:

When we arrived in Apollo’s famous territory
We spent three entire days, from dawn to dark,
Filling our eyes with all there was to see.
This aroused suspicion, apparently.

This reads more easily, but is less literal; however, L. could have resorted to the placing of a more literal translation in the commentary, as in the example above. A more prosaic translation of the first sentence is probably closer in tone to the original; for a discussion of the vocabulary used here see Stevens ad loc.

In conclusion, L.’s edition of the Andromache is a book which would well suit use among advanced secondary school students and some undergraduates, particularly those whose grasp of the language is weaker, as the translation is close enough to the Greek to be a useful aid to comprehension. Overall I did find this book slightly disappointing on detail: even though it does not attempt to replace Stevens for discussion of the textual and linguistic issues, there is more that could be said on the topics with which it does deal. Nevertheless, L. has some useful and interesting insights into this play, and a good index on themes and characters helps pull together information from the introduction and commentary.

  • [1] I.J.F. de Jong, Narrative in Drama. The Art of the Euripidean Messenger Speech (Leiden 1991).
  • [2] P.T. Stevens Euripides. Andromache (Oxford 1971)