BMCR 2002.12.30

Oxford Readings in Menander, Plautus, and Terence

, Oxford readings in Menander, Plautus, and Terence. [Oxford readings in classical studies]. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. xxvii, 280 pages ; 23 cm.. ISBN 0198721935. £19.99 (pb).

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The ‘Oxford Readings’ are a series of books on various issues and authors that by collecting a variety of articles aim at making secondary literature more accessible to students and scholars and at the same time providing useful supplements to the standard reading. There are volumes on authors and topics like Homer, Virgil, Greek Tragedy, Aristophanes, and many more. Within these volumes one finds important and influential articles and, on the other hand, somewhat more remote, but nevertheless important papers. I should like to state this at the beginning, because the title ‘Oxford Readings’ might raise expectations that cannot be fulfilled by these volumes.

Segal’s Oxford Readings are a comprehensive study of the three best known authors of the Greek Nea and its Latin counterpart, the Palliata: Menander, Plautus, and Terence. The collection of essays is preceded by an introduction written by Erich Segal. Since all other contributions have been published earlier, I restrict myself to the introduction, the re-edition of the articles, and, of course, the choice made by the editor with its positive and negative implications.1

In the introduction, the only new contribution to this volume, the editor seeks to set “the papers, which are by leading experts in their field, in context, and to explore connections between them thus examining the legacy for modern comedies”, as stated in the blurb. The whole introduction is written in a very light tone, and there are many things in it which one might find disturbing in a work written for people with scholarly interests of any kind. I should like to illustrate this with a couple of examples. At the beginning (p. X) Segal deals with the so-called Middle Comedy recently thoroughly investigated by H.-G. Nesselrath. Segal concludes: “But what remains is merely the confetti of small quotations, and it is impossible to evaluate in detail except for a few generalities. It seems to be characterized by mythological travesties, the increasing role of the courtesan, and the marginalization of the chorus, all of which set ‘Middle Comedy’ apart from the antipodes of the two more familiar genres.” Given that this does not really do justice to Nesselrath’s fine book, — should there not be some information that Plautus’ Amphitruo is a play with huge similarities to a play of the ‘Middle Comedy’? — Plautus and Terence are compared like this (p. XXIII): “Is it better to be Salieri or Mozart? Such was the relation of Plautus to Terence — at least during the younger playwright’s lifetime. […] His (sc. Plautus’) name was magic. The mere mention of it could turn a drunken, rowdy mob to total silence: you could hear a pun drop. At the end of a Plautine comedy the audience would often stand up and cheer for more. By contrast, at the beginning of a Terentian performance they might stand up — and turn their backs. At least, this is what occurred twice with his Mother-in-Law.” This is intriguing. There are no parallels between Salieri / Mozart and Plautus / Terence (or, obviously, Terence / Plautus). Or does Segal really want to say that Plautus and Terence were on different levels of their ars and ingenium ? This does not do justice to either of them. In addition, one should say that the more common view seems to be that Terence’s Hecyra was not disturbed by people turning their backs but by crowds coming into the arena to see rope-walkers etc. Terence deserves fair treatment, and this is what Segal does not provide in his introduction. About Terence one can learn further (p. XXIII): “Of course Terence’s victory — if one may call it that — was not entirely owing to his comic merits. Julius Caesar, leader, Latin stylist par excellence, and influential opinion-maker — the Churchill of his day — belittled Terence’s dramaturgy, drawing attention to his lack of vis comica or comica virtus (‘comic verve’ or ‘comic power’) and calling him a ‘mini-Menander’ ( dimidiate Menander).” Instead it was his elegant language that he was broadly admired for. If the comparison of Salieri and Mozart on the one hand and Plautus and Terence on the other was absurd, I wonder if the comparison of Julius Caesar and Winston Churchill is really a good one. Anyway, one should ask: What did Julius Caesar want to say? Is the dimidiate Menander not merely a pun on the contaminatio Terence was blamed for? How would Caesar evaluate the vis comica or rather comica virtus of Terence if he followed his model more closely? Did Caesar’s sense of humour suit the measures of Terence? Did Caesar — engaged in linguistic debates of his time — really understand and interpret the language of Terence’s time adequately? Or did he just appreciate the way Terence wrote as measured against the style of writing in the first century B.C.? And, of course, was it really the excellent language of Terence or rather the fact that Terence (unlike Plautus) was read in school that lead to “Terence’s victory”? These examples should be enough, although there are a lot more of them. The point I want to make is this: Segal gives an inadequate account and introduction to the authors of the Nea and the Palliata, and, instead of referring to fresher, more objective views on the comedy, he repeats old and unjustified prejudice against them, especially against Terence. There is no bibliography in the introduction.

The question now is, whether the shortcomings of the introduction should distract us from other merits of this book. The selection of the essays, in general, is very reasonable, as one can see from the contributors’ list above. All of the articles are worth reading, indeed, and they are written by well-known specialists. I, however, should like to say that I am puzzled by the fact, that in a selection of essays on Plautus and Terence there is a complete absence of contributions by Eckard Lefèvre and Otto Zwierlein. There are many points in which one might disagree with both of them, but not even mentioning them seems to me not to do justice to their efforts at all.2 This is especially a pity, since Segal does not even mention the controversy in his introduction either.

If the selection of the essays is acceptable, their edition is not. The most awkward thing about this book is, that the entire scholarly apparatus and bibliographical documentation was removed from the articles, viz. the articles were printed without any footnotes (with some minor exceptions). Instead in the acknowledgments at the end of the book the reader is advised that almost every article is “reprinted with revisions and footnotes omitted by permission of the author and publisher. Those referring to this essay for scholarly purposes are requested to consult the original version.” (But this practice is to be found in earlier volumes of this series, too; see e.g. BMCR 97.03.06 on Segal on Aristophanes.)

There are no indexes.

Sapienti sat. I wonder if anybody will really be happy with this book or even find it helpful. Unfortunately, because of the (modestly) revised articles in it, one can not help but refer to it. But, in any case, I should like to state at the end once more that all this criticism should not affect the attitude towards the essays themselves published in this book since all of them are most worth reading.


E. Segal, Introduction, p. IX sq.

B. Knox, Euripidean Comedy, p. 3 sq.

E. W. Handley, The Conventions of the Comic Stage and Their Exploitation By Menander, p. 27 sq.

D. Wiles, Marriage and Prostitution in Classical New Comedy, p. 42 sq.

P. G. McC. Brown, Love and Marriage in Greek New Comedy, p. 53 sq.

N. J. Lowe, Tragic Space and Comic Timing in Menander’s Dyskolos, p. 65 sq.

E. Gruen, Plautus and the Public Stage, p. 83 sq.

G. Vogt-Spira, Traditions of Theatrical Improvisation in Plautus: Some Considerations, p. 95 sq.

W. S. Anderson, Plautus’ Mastery of Comic Language, p. 107 sq.

E. Segal, The Menaechmi: Roman Comedy of Errors, p. 115 sq.

H. Parker, Crucially Funny, or Tranio on the Couch: The Servus Callidus and Jokes About Torture, p. 127 sq.

D. Konstan, Aulularia: City-State and Individual, p. 138 sq.

A. R. Sharrock, The Art of Deceit: Pseudolus and the Nature of Reading, p. 149 sq.

T. J. Moore, The Theater of Plautus: Playing to the Audience, p. 161 sq.

F. Dupont, The Theatrical Significance of Duplication in Plautus’ Amphitruo, p. 176 sq.

N. W. Slater, Amphitruo, Bacchae, and Metatheatre, p. 189 sq.

W. Ludwig, The Originality of Terence and His Greek Models, p. 205 sq.

S. M. Goldberg, The Dramatic Balance of Terence’s Andria, p. 216 sq.

D. Gilula, Terence’s Hecyra: A Delicate Balance of Suspense and Dramatic Irony, p. 224 sq.

J. A. Barsby, Problems of Adaptation in the Eunuchus of Terence, p. 230 sq.

J. C. B. Lowe, The Intrigue of Terence’s Self-Tormentor, p. 250 sq.

W. G. Arnott, Phormio parasitus: A Study in Dramatic Methods of Characterization, p. 257 sq.


1. One thing that should be mentioned only in the notes is that the selection does not do entirely justice to the international research on Greco-Roman comedy. There is not even one article by an Italian scholar; only one French and two German articles are provided (all translated).

2. Also other important (though sometimes controversial) scholars are not represented in this volume, I just should like to mention e. g. Adrian Gratwick.