BMCR 1996.04.06

1996.4.6, Ireland, ed./trans., Menander Dyskolos

, , The bad-tempered man = Dyskolos. Classical texts. Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1995. iv, 185 pages ; 22 cm.. ISBN 9780856686108

“In preparing this edition, the author aims to make accessible to readers some of the consummate sophistication in dramatic technique and use of language that once produced the question, ‘Menander and Life, which of you imitated the other?'” Compared with what actually is in the book, this announcement on the back cover may be regarded as accurate to a considerable degree. Sixteen years after the last major edition of Dyskolos, 1 St. Ireland (hereafter Ir.) provides us—apart from text and translation (see below)—with a new commentary of the play (still the only one of Menander that is virtually complete) which not only conveniently sums up the results of scholarship of the last few decades, but also succeeds in pointing out Menander’s subtle art in a way that should be enlightening for undergraduates and more advanced classicists alike. My following comments—which in some cases try to set some things right and in others give suggestions where an alternative view might be considered with regard to some of Ir.’s interpretations—are not meant to obscure the very positive general impression which I got from reading the book.

The Introduction (p. 1-27) gives a very readable and up-to-date sketch of the comic theatre in Menander’s time, his life and career, his plays (and their rediscovery) and—in the final and most extensive sections (p. 12-25) of Dyskolos in particular. Just two quibbles: The statement (p. 12) that, with Dis exapaton, “for the first time we possessed part of a play later adapted for the Roman stage” is not altogether true, for even before all papyrus finds there was Gellius’ (II 23) valuable presentation of passages of Menander’s Plokion alongside their equivalents from the Roman adaptation written by Caecilius. I would question, too, the assertion (made on p. 20, n. 46) that “the tan that Sostratos develops as a result of his work” is merely a “chance event”, after he has willingly committed himself to working in the field (the blazing Attic sun then burning his skin is certainly no chance factor!).

The text itself, though by Ir.’s own words (Preface, p. iv) not his major preoccupation, still goes rather often its own ways (compared with its predecessors) and usually presents at least something which is plausible. My disagreements are few and far between. V. 48: In the light of V.71, the supplement συγκ[υνηγέτη]ν cannot possibly be right (Chaireas nowhere gives a hint that he accompanied Sostratos during yesterday’s hunt) nor is it supported by V. 42f. (the decisive word there is totally dependent on restoration). Ir. should have followed his own doubts (expressed on p. 116) and kept the question open.—In V. 138 one should read κακὸν δὲ σὲ (as Sandbach does) instead of κακὸν δέ σε (“But as for you, …”, as Ir. himself translates).—In V. 902-908, the problems of speaker distribution are notorious. Clearly the cook is the more frightened (a nice contrast to his boasting elsewhere) of the two mischief-makers here, but in Ir.’s arrangement it is suddenly Getas who whines in 907f. “Wait a bit, please! Don’t desert me and vanish!” (Arnott’s translation), while earlier editors give these entreaties to Sikon. As there seems to be no indication of change of speaker either in 906 or in 907, one might very well consider giving the fearful (but also loquacious) cook everything from πῶς γὰρ οὔ; until καὶ μὴ ψόφει, πρὸς τῶν θεῶν; the cook would thus provide a kind of running commentary on Getas’ action as well as exhibit his own cowardice (“That’s very right; only take care not to attract attention when you’re bringing him out here in front.—Go on, then.—Oh wait a bit, please! Don’t desert me and vanish! And don’t make a noise, for Heaven’s sake!”2).

According to Ir. himself, one of his major aims was to provide a “readable” translation, “while remaining close enough to the original to make comparison of the two [viz. translation and Greek text] at times [my italics] a feasible proposition” (p. iv). Indeed, in a number of places, keeping closer to the wording of the original might have resulted in a livelier translation. V. 8 “οχ” LE/GW;—”Company isn’t the word” (“Did I say ‘company’?”)—V. 17 ταύτηι ZUGOMAXW=N—”Then he started quarreling with her” (“He squabbled with her”, Arnott)—V. 58 οὕτως E)/XW—”that’s exactly how I am”; but οὕτως E)/XW “looks forward” (Sandbach, who aptly compares V. 379), so one would have to translate “I am like that: …”—V. 61 δεῖ TUXEI=N—”you’ve got to act”; perhaps “you must get her“?—V. 138 τὴν ἐπιβολ]ὴν τὴν τοῦ GA/MOU—”my idea about marriage”; “my attempt to achieve this marriage”?—V. 189: Ir.’s rendering of the paratragic ὄμοι τάλαινα τῶν ἐμῶν ἐγὼ κακῶν sounds too colloquial and therefore too flat (“Oh goodness, what a fix I’m in”).—V. 412 ἐδόκει τὸν PA=NA—”it seemed that Pan …”; more correct is Arnott’s “She saw Pan …”—V. 548 A(/MA—”one job after the other” does not really catch Getas’ comic exaggeration (“all at the same time”).—V. 781 εἴ τι BOU/LEI—”if that’s what you want” (“if you like”, Arnott)—V. 819 E(KW/N;—”You’re quite sure?” (“Gladly?” Arnott)—V. 875: Translating τάλας σὺ τοῦ τρόπου with “You sorry creature” makes old Simiche appear more brutal than she is probably meant to be (“I’m sorry you’re like that”, Arnott).—V. 883 A)POSTE/LLOUSA—”before she goes”; perhaps “before I bid her good bye”?—V. 891: Arnott’s solution to get across the (almost untranslatable) obscene double-entendre (τιμωρίαν [βούλ]ει λαβεῖν ὧν ἀρτίως ἔπασχες;) to an English readership (“Would you like to get revenge for recent gay disasters?”) is more convincing and more funny than Ir.’s (“Do you want to get your own back for when he got stuck into you just now?”).

The Commentary (p. 107-173) may well be called the best part of the book; I found my own judgment of this play (usually not taken to be one of Menander’s best) repeatedly changed towards a more positive appreciation by Ir.’s sensitive (and in most cases eminently sensible) comments. Again, though, I don’t want to suppress a few additions and quibbles. p. 116, n. 50-80: Chaireas’ ‘parasitic’ character is most apparent from his self-praise in V. 57-68, a typical feature exhibited already by a number of parasites in Middle Comedy; see H.-G. Nesselrath, Lukians Parasitendialog, Berlin-New York 1985, p. 28 n. 40 and p. 110; also Nesselrath, Die Mittlere Komödie, Berlin-New York 1990, p. 312.—p. 118, n. 59: In calling Aspasia only “mistress to Pericles”, Ir. seems to a victim of Old Comedy’s many jibes against the second wife of Pericles.—p. 127, n. 190-1: Do “interventions of chance” really “have more impact on the action than Pan ever does”? Without Pan, the action wouldn’t even have got started in the first place.—p. 142 n. 402-4: Ir.’s description of Getas here is bit too negative; even the wily Xanthias in Frogs has to carry a heavy load when first brought on stage, and Getas, after all, is the one who devises Knemon’s ‘punishment’ at the end (V. 885ff.). 3—p. 171, n. 932-3: Is it true that “at this point the emphasis shifts to inducing the old man to give up his isolation, a process of positive advance”? The verbal dressing-down of Knemon in these verses is more probably simply a part of the revenge the slave and the cook are revelling in.—p. 172, n. 947: Sikon’s waxing poetical here can be seen as a kind of relic from earlier comedy, where colourful dithyrambic descriptions of dinner- and after-dinner-scenes were given by cooks and other characters; see Nesselrath, Mittlere Komödie p. 257-363 and 265f.—p. 172 n. 959 (end): Is Knemon here really “on the way to recovery”? The admonition “On your feet!” in 954-5 is probably simply a prolongation of the cruel game that Getas and Sikon are playing with the incapacitated old man.

All these are only minor criticisms; I must, however, draw attention to three more serious flaws which detract noticeably from the otherwise considerable usefulness of this book. 1) Whereas Ir. in almost all other respects of bibliography is up-to-date, he—and this is quite incomprehensible to me—still cites Comic Fragments by the numbering of Kock’s obsolete CAG, which in everything except Adespota 4 has at least since 1991 been superseded by Kassel’s and Austin’s PCG; I, for one, would let no undergraduate get away with this antediluvian habit. 2) Having the apparatus criticus in a separate section after the text and not under it is another major nuisance (see, for contrast, Bain’s edition of Samia and Sommerstein’s Aristophanes volumes in the same series). 3) Why , in the citation of scholarly literature from journals in the Bibliography (p. 176-182), have all the volume numbers been left out and only the year indications been kept? This means serious problems at least in the case of ZPE, where four to five volumes have been appearing each year for almost the last thirty years!

To end with a few more positive points: The volume concludes with a useful index of names and important terms discussed in the commentary (p. 183-185), and misprints are throughout very rare. 5 Apart from the caveats expressed in the last paragraph, then, this is a commendable book and should be of considerable help in university courses.

  • [1] In: W. G. Arnott, Menander I (Loeb Classical Library), Harvard-London 1979. [2] The translation is an amalgam of Ir.’s and Arnott’s. [3] On p. 147 (n. 477-9) Ir.’s assessment again seems too negative: Getas retreats—after having seriously tried—because he doesn’t want a beating (Pyrrhias in V. 81ff. wasn’t that clever!). [4] Even that has been remedied by now: PCG VIII came out in late 1995. [5] P. 21, 2nd paragraph, l. 10: add a comma after “though”; p. 82, V. 781: read λάλει, not λαλεῖ (Imperative, as in the translation); p. 86, V. 838: read πάρεικ]ε instead of πάρειχ]ε; p. 98, l. 7: read “Didascalia” (not Didasac-); p. 128, last line: add a comma after “establish”; p. 145, l. 13: put a question mark after “sacrifices”; p. 179, l. 11 from below: read “Seeck” instead of “Seek”.