BMCR 1998.04.12

98.4.12, The Songs of Aristophanes

, The songs of Aristophanes. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. xx, 584 pages ; 23 cm. ISBN 9780198149446 75.00 Pound.

This book testifies to extraordinary scholarly zeal offering an abundance of detailed analyses, observations and readings of all lyric passages in Aristophanes’ complete works. Notwithstanding the omission of those fragmentary lyrics both of Aristophanes and other poets of the Old Attic Comedy—now available in the PCG—the book provides a good insight into the metrical techniques employed in the comedies of this period. In terms of comprehensiveness and interpretive wealth, Parker’s book is only surpassed by Bernhard Zimmermann’s 3 vols. edition Untersuchungen zur Form und dramatischen Technik der Aristophanischen Komödien (vol. 1 and 2: Königstein/Ts. 1985; vol. 3: Frankfurt a.M 1987). Thus, there is a temptation to ask why after Zimmermann’s work and Carlo Prato’s I Canti di Aristofane (Rome 1962) another comprehensive study of Aristophanes’ lyrics was needed in the first place. Yet, the studies are different regarding both structure and aims: apart from dealing with metrical analyses, Zimmermann is mainly concerned with the functional interpretation of the lyric passages in the structure of drama, while Parker, restricting her readings of the metres to the internal contexts of the respective parts, goes further than Zimmermann in offering a detailed account of the history of metrical analyses and the use and nature of metres.

Parker herself admits at the very beginning of her study (p. vii) that metrics is a path fraught with difficulties. In fact, for non-experts this book will not be easy to digest; a multiplicity of individual phenomena, difficulties presented by colometry which to some non-specialists might give the wrong impression of being quite arbitrary, plus numerous problems arising from the transmission of the text—the seemingly inscrutable subject matter intimidates. By giving the book a clear structure and by offering a comprehensive study of Aristophanes’ poetry and to some extent of the entire Attic Poetry of the time, Parker has successfully provided us with another commendable basis for research. Nonetheless, Parker’s wish that her book be useful to “younger students of Greek poetry” (p. vii) will only be fulfilled to a limited extent for the very reason that it contains such a great amount of scholarship. Experts, on the other hand, whose scholarly interest concentrates on Aristophanes’ metrics, will find Parker’s book (along with Zimmermann’s) of invaluable importance for their studies.

The book starts with an overview of metrical symbols (p. xiii/xiv), metres, clearly laid out according to metrical families (p. xv-xvii), and a list of the manuscripts cited (p. xviii-xx). These lists constitute an invaluable aid for the reader wanting to profit from Parker’s critical text analyses. General questions are looked into in part I of the “Introduction” (to p. 119). Pages 3-17 present an introductory chapter on the “Art of Aristophanes’ Lyric”. It is followed by a chapter on “The Metres of Aristophanes” (p. 18-93), where Parker uses selected examples to discuss basic metrical questions (“Colon and verse”, “Strophic structure”) and applies the main metres in order of appearance and contextual use. The clear structuring renders the discussion easy to follow. A table (p. 68) of the various types of dochmiacs in Aristophanes and their frequency is particularly helpful. Chapter 3 on “Metre and the Transmission of the Text” (p. 94-119) gives a detailed account of all periods in the history of the study of metre: antiquity (Hephaestion, the scholia [p. 97f.], a critical approach to the Alexandrians [p. 95]), Byzantine scholarship (Triclinius whose tendency to harmonize metrical structures is illustrated by an instructive example Ach. 1197-1202 [p. 158f.]), modern times and the present (Dale; see above all p. 116-119; on p. 402 Parker uses Agathon’s hymn Thesm. 101ff. to demonstrate the problematic attempts made by modern metricians and editors to “normalize”). Just a minor formal point: when Parker cites Hephaestion, references such as “Cons. 78.4-6” (p. 35) referring to the Teubneriana by Consbruch could lead to confusion. “Hephaestion, Ench. 78.4-6 Consbruch” or the naming of page and line might be a more appropriate solution.

The second part of the book treats all lyric passages as they appear in the order of the plays (contrary to Zimmermann, whose structuring of the lyric is based on their dramatic functions). At first Parker gives a synopsis of the lyric passages (indicating the positions they have in the respective plays) and a brief account of their metrical structures. She then comments briefly on the specific use of these metres in the play concerned. Prior to the discussion of the text she provides a version of the Greek text, with strophe and antistrophe (if necessary) printed on opposite pages. Metrical symbols are placed above each verse in the strophe; verses in the antistrophe are preceded by the corresponding abbreviated metrical terms. The text is followed by an interpretation of the passage according to metrical aspects and a critical discussion of textual problems. The opposition of strophe and antistrophe on two different pages certainly helps very much to view the responsions. At times, however, the reader is confused as some degree of concentration is needed to recognise where the main text continues. While one is reading a page from top to bottom, it may occur that a new metrical passage starts in the middle of the page; whereas the beginning of the next page marks the continuation of the commentary on the previous passage. It might have been helpful to separate entries by printed lines.

The explanatory text is highly readable because of its refreshingly low amount of footnotes. Important quotations and bibliographical references are integrated into the text, giving the impression of a lively discussion. The reader is not overwhelmed by an awe-inspiring abundance of secondary literature cited, evidence of which is given only in the bibliographical register. Instead, Parker incorporates her scholarly knowledge into the discussion and evaluates opposing views only where absolutely vital. She offers sensitive observations and readings without ever exceeding the self-imposed limits. First and foremost comes metrical analysis; interpretive speculations are dispensed with. A meticulous analysis of the text is the overall basis of the interpretation.

Parker always makes evident the close link between metrical analysis and the problems of textual transmission. Many conjectures made by philologists would not stand up to this thorough examination. For instance, Parker is quite right in her treatment on p. 238 of Vesp. 636 ὡς δὲ πάντ’ ἐπελήλυθεν (codd.). It is, in fact, surprising that Porson’s slight emendation ὡς δ’ ἐπὶ πάντ’ ἐλήλυθεν, which, as Parker points out, accounts for both responsion and internal strophic relation, has remained unconsidered in Coulon’s apparatus. MacDowell’s doubts concerning Porson’s emendation are irrelevant because, of the three examples he gives, neither Sophocles, Oed. Rex 265f. ὑπερμαχοῦμαι κἀπὶ πάντ’ ἀφίξομαι ζητῶν τὸν αὐτόχειρα τοῦ φόνου λαβεῖν nor Xenophon, Anab. III 1,18 ἆρ’ οὐκ ἂν ἐπὶ πᾶν ἔλθοι ὡς ἡμᾶς τὰ ἔσχατα αἰκισάμενος has the meaning “‘leave nothing untried’, implying that most attempts fail”, but simply “to try everything”, without regard to success or failure, which nicely corresponds with the meaning expected at Wasps 636.

The claim that parodies of high lyric (if choral lyric is meant) are rarer in the earlier than in the later plays (p. 5) can hardly be substantiated. After all, in the Acharnians there is in a prominent place (vv. 636ff.) a remarkable play with Pindar fr. 76, and the Knights are “peppered” throughout with allusions to Pindar (see above all the artistically composed verses 1264ff. = Pindar fr. 89a, in a parabasis-ode!), who plays a more important role in Aristophanes’ allusions to lyric sources in the earlier plays (i.e. up to Clouds) than in the later ones. Regarding Parker’s examples, I assume that her remark means to refer to dramatic lyric in the narrow sense. This impression may, in turn, be linked much more to the subjects of the preserved plays (personal appearance of Agathon and Euripides in the Thesmophoriazusae, the competition of the tragedians in the Frogs) than to a hypothetical artistic development of Aristophanes.

Another point of criticism relates to the passage where Parker deals with the difficult problem of Aristophanes’ independent lyrics (p. 12-17), partly agreeing with and partly differing on views expressed in Michael Silk’s “Aristophanes as a lyric poet” ( YCS 26, 1980, p. 99-151). One should never lose sight of the fact that lyric in comedy, as opposed to choral lyric and monodic lyric, is never composed for its own sake. Neither does it serve the purpose of creating a chorus-like comment on the action, as in tragedy. Instead, it is linked to a number of quite different functions. In an ode in a parabasis or a parodos the comic chorus does not fulfill the same purpose as in the agon. Therefore the poet must have at his command a colourful spectrum of lyric modes of expression. It seems unfair, thus, to compare him to a poet of choral lyric who is able to demonstrate his virtuosity on one and the same level of expression. One should generally beware of aesthetic judgments based on indistinct criteria necessarily involving a great deal of subjectivism. On what grounds, for example, would it be justified to assert that the Cloud-chorus is permeated by “triteness, inflation, and pervasive lack of point” (Parker, p. 14, quoting Silk, p. 107; cp. Parker, p. 188)? It would only seem appropriate to judge a poet according to whether or not he has reached a goal he has set to himself by using certain poetic means (cp. Zimmermann’s important remarks in vol. 1, p. 69). If only in view of the antistrophe, it seems rather far-fetched to think of a parody or even a dithyrambic parody (p. 188 following Silk, p. 108f.).

Concerning the allusion to Stesichorus in Pax 775ff., Parker (p. 278) quite correctly remarks: “Here, the quotations are from Stesichorus (PMG 210, 211, 212), but the passages should not be described as ‘parody’ of Stesichorus. The quotations have been diluted, and their stylistic level modified by Aristophanic insertions. By a process of semi-identification, Aristophanes is enlisting the grand old poet as an ally against contemporaries he is about to ridicule”. (Nowadays, Stesichorus should not be cited according to the PMG, but from the first volume of the Poetarum Melicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, ed. Malcolm Davies, published in 1991, which also include the recently discovered fragments Parker herself mentions elsewhere [p. 312f.]). Parker’s detailed metrical analysis gives very strong evidence for this subtle approach to the Stesichorus allusion and to the Aristophanic allusion to “older poetry” in general: interspersed with bacchees, sealing the Attic character of this poetry, it indicates iridescence with view to the high stylistic level of old poetry which is determined by dactylo-epitrites in perfect analogy to the treatment of the linguistic material. Allusion to high poetry in Aristophanes, which should in fact not be juxtaposed with parody, is best described by Eduard Fraenkel, Beobachtungen zu Aristophanes (Rome 1962) with reference to Equ. 1264ff. A different case is the performance of the begging poet who delivers to the audience a kind of “cento” ( Av. 904ff.), a patchwork of choral lyric and some Pindaric verses made up especially for this scene. Combinations of metres typical for the genre are meant to evoke a general impression of choral lyric. All this is discussed in great detail by Parker (p. 328-333) who meticulously filters out the genuine Aristophanic parts. This instance does not appear as a parody of Pindar but of a genre which could not live up to its models anymore.

It is always tempting for those who interpret poetry to assign certain metres to a certain affective content (e.g. the unalterable “elevated” dactylic hexameter). It comes as a relief that Parker refrains from doing so (see esp. her preliminary notes on p. 5). Her remarks on the trochaic epitaph Anacreon PMG 419 (p. 35) are quite appropriate. This also holds for her commentary on the confrontation of the men’s with the women’s chorus Lys. 319 ff. and 476ff. (p. 368 and p. 370), on the employment of certain metres to express a certain emotional value in Thesmophoriazusae (p. 397) and to the trochees and cretics of the angry charcoal burners of Acharnia ( Ach. 204ff., see Parker p. 122-125 and, for more detail, Zimmermann, vol. 1, p. 34-39). The same applies, in my opinion, to the quarrel between Dionysus and the pestering frogs ( Ran. 209ff.). In this case, however, emphasis is put on the direct effect of the metres on the action rather than on the expression of emotions: trochees, iambi and lecythia turn Dionysus’ rowing movements into a desperate fight for self assertion. By the way, Parker is quite right in emphasising the iridescent double nature of the lecythion, which has its place between trochaic and iambic meter (p. 35). But a scene as unambiguous as the competition between Dionysus and the frogs could lead to a more confident conclusion than the one reached by Parker, namely that the Greeks were indeed conscious of the intermediate position of the lecythion. It is surprising that she understates the important role of metrical patterning particularly in a play like the Frogs (cp. p. 455).

Parker’s discussion of the dactylo-epitrites (p. 85-90) suitably elucidates this difficult metre. Page 89, in particular, shows how Aristophanes’ use of this metre is linked to high poetry. The examples she gives are mostly direct quotations from high lyric.

As for the difficulty of accommodating “bulky” names which influence the metrical analysis of e.g. Cratinus fr. 11 πξγ Ἐρασμονίδη Βάθιππε τῶν ἀωρολείων (Parker, p. 260f.), Rudolf Kassel’s “Quod versu dicere non est” ( Kleine Schriften, H.-G. Nesselrath, ed., [Berlin/New York 1991], p. 131-137) should be recommended.

In her discussion of the wedding songs (p. 290-295) Parker makes no mention of two important studies: Erwin Alphons Mangelsdorff, Das lyrische Hochzeitsgedicht bei den Griechen und Römern (Hamburg 1913) and Eleni Contiades-Tsitsoni, Hymenaios und Epithalamion. Das Hochzeitslied in der frühgriechischen Lyrik (Stuttgart 1990).

There are no definite parallels to support Parker’s metrical analysis (p. 336-340) of Av. 1313ff. (similarly on p. 326 the treatment of the quotation from Pindar at Av. 926f.) as a combination of iambic and acephalic dactylic metres (instead of anapaests, according to the communis opinio, see Zimmermann vol 1, p. 205-207; Dale, Lyric Metres, p. 192). Euripides Phoen. 1546-1549, mentioned by Dunbar in her commentary, comes closest to being a parallel, while there is no “clearly dactylic context” for Euripides Cycl. 360. The instances discussed by Wilamowitz, Griechische Verskunst, p. 270, note 1, and p. 388, note 1, rather point to anapaests due to their frequent combination with the iambic metre. Lines 1325 and 1332 moreover demonstrate a case of “diaeresis between metra”.

Parker does not interpret as ionic metre the μελύδριόν τι τῶν Ἰωνικῶν which the old woman Eccl. 883 announces to sing (p. 536); and quite rightly so, because the Ἰωνικά in this case do not refer to metrics, but to the ionic key which was considered weak and lascivious according to many sources, compare e.g. Thesm. 162 and Plato Com fr. 71,14 PCG. A fundamental explanation of the ethic of the ionic key in philosophical criticism of art is given in Plato, Rep. III, p. 398 e 9f. Some remarks on the bibliography: Jan van Leeuwen’s edition is only mentioned in part under “Individual Plays” (though not with view to Knights and Wasps—an intentional omission?) and entirely left out in “Complete Works” where, as a complete text and commentary, it would have had its proper place. The list of works on Plutos should have mentioned Karl Holzinger’s commentary (Vienna/Leipzig 1940) which offers detailed metrical analyses; the same holds for B.B. Rogers’ commentary on Thesmophoriazusae (London 1904).