BMCR 2001.07.27

Aristophanes III: Birds, Lysistrata, Women at the Thesmophoria. Loeb Classical Library 179

, , Aristophanes. Loeb classical library ; 178-180, 488, 502. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998-2007. 5 volumes ; 17 cm.. ISBN 0674995678. $19.95.

As the Loeb Classical Library continues its program of overhauling and updating older editions, the revised Aristophanes now reaches its third volume. While the older set by Benjamin Bickley Rogers had much of value, his Victorian style of translation did little to make Aristophanes accessible and comprehensible for the broad audience targeted by the Loeb series. Fortunately, Jeffrey Henderson (H.), easily the most accomplished scholar of Aristophanes in North America, has taken on the task of reworking these volumes, making them everything they should be. The third volume (the revision entails an expansion from three volumes in the old series to four) covers Birds, Lysistrata, and Women at the Thesmophoria ( Thesmophoriazusae). The two previous volumes have already received positive reviews in BMCR (1999.05.17 and 1999.07.11), so I will concentrate only on the contents of this volume. It continues the high standard set by the previous volumes.

Each play receives a brief introduction to its history, interpretation, and textual tradition. H. finds Birds largely apolitical and reflecting the general optimism which accompanied the jubilation prior to the failure of the Sicilian expedition. He calmly but firmly downplays two readings of the play which have been much aired in scholarly discourse: that of the grandiose utopia and that of the sinister warning against hubristic arrogance. Those who prefer these readings or who fundamentally disagree with H.’s model of how comic poets participated in the political life of classical Athens (see the first volume in the series and H.’s other works), may take exception with even his general description of the play. He is, I believe, correct to take the play much more at face value than these other readings allow. By contrast, H. finds Lysistrata more politically engaged, although he sensibly emphasizes the multiple cultural contexts (gender roles, cult, etc.) which Aristophanes brings to bear on the play. For Thesmophoriazusae, H. offers a more literary reading, where Aristophanes punishes Euripides for transgressing against the genre of comedy in tandem with the women of the play punishing him for transgressing against their sex. In each case, H. provides the necessary background for readers in a clear and accessible manner.

The printed text continues to meet the goals of the series. H. offers a smooth Greek text. With a play as vexed as Birds, it is impossible for any two specialists to be happy with every choice, but H. does a good job providing a sensible and workable Greek script. For Lysistrata, of course, H. has done much to establish the modern text of the play. Here he differs from his own Oxford edition in a handful of places. At 316, he adopts προσείσει in place of his former choice προσοίσεις; at 398 ακολαστάσματα for ακολαστήσματα; at 448 ἐκκοκκιῶ for ἐγὼ ; at 487, ἀπεκλῄσατε for ἀπεκλείσατε; at 488, κατέχοιμεν for παρέχοιμεν; AT 653, γενόμενον for λεγόμενον at 723, τὴν δ’ αὐτομολοῦσαν for κἀπαυτομολοῦσαν; at 742, Ἰλείθυ’ for Ειλείθυ’; at 795, τ’ for δ’; at 843 and 1088, ξυν – for συν -; at 885, γὰρ for μὲν; at 901 and 902, ἢν for ἂν; at 933, ἀλλὰ for ἆρα; at 1061, KA)/STI μὲν for κἄστιν; at 1064, γίγνεσθ’ for γεύσεσθ’; at 1174 πρὼ rather than obelizing πρῶτα, plus minor punctuation and formatting changes. In two places, H. has changed the attributions of lines. He gives lines 107-110 to Kalonike (rather than to Lysistrata) and Myrrhine finishes off line 884 rather than Kinesias cutting in with τί γὰρ πάθω;. H. has also adopted different colometry in most of the odes (256ff, 336ff, 477ff, 659ff, 781ff, 1043ff). Also, H. now divides the odes between chorus leaders and the choruses.

The translation especially shines. H. has translated Aristophanes before, for Focus Press, but he provides a totally different, and much sharper translation here. Compare, for example, from Lysistrata, the command for attention given by the leader of the women’s semichorus (648-57):

(Focus translation)
With good advice we want to pay you back.
Don’t worry that it comes from Jill not Jack.
Consider it on its merits. Anyway,
we bear the children and deserve our say.
What contribution do these old men make?
They never seem to give, but only take.
We pay for all their laws, their wars, their theft.
And they’ll keep taking till there’s nothing left.
Old men, I warn you: better hold your peace.
You make a sound, we’ll kick you in the teeth!

(Loeb translation)
Thus I owe it to the polis to offer some good advice. And even if I was born a woman, don’t hold it against me if I manage to suggest something better than what we’ve got now. I have a stake in our community: my contribution is men. You miserable geezers have no stake, since you’ve squandered your paternal inheritance, won in the Persian Wars, and now pay no taxes in return. On the contrary, we’re all headed for bankruptcy on account of you! Have you anything to grunt in rebuttal? Any more trouble from you and I’ll clobber you with this rawhide boot right in the jaw! (raises her foot at the Men’s Leader)

H. seems more comfortable rendering vigorous and clear prose than in generating abbreviated light verse. All three plays benefit from H. playing to his strength. The translation is clear, accurate, and punchy throughout.

As previous reviewers have noted, these are good days for scholars of Greek comedy. The Kassel-Austin collection of fragments is nearing completion (with the collection of remains of early comedy, the last volume of fragments, due any day). Alan Sommerstein’s series of commentaries stands just one volume ( Plutus) from completion. New Oxford commentaries on Knights (by H. himself) and Acharnians (by Olson, who recently revamped Peace) are in progress. The embarrassment of riches continues as H.’s new Loeb Aristophanes comes one volume nearer completion.