BMCR 2003.09.31

Euripidea Tertia

, Euripidea tertia. Mnemosyne, bibliotheca classica Batava. Supplementum, 240. Leiden: Brill, 2003. x, 191 pages. ISBN 9004129774 EUR 70.00.

The publication of Euripidea Tertia concludes David Kovacs’s massive study of the Euripidean text. Since the review of Euripidea (Brill, 1994) is no longer available online1 [it is now: 1994.04.19 (2021)] and Euripidea Altera (Brill, 1996) escaped notice of BMCR, perhaps some context for this achievement is warranted. The three Brill volumes consist of textual notes and interpretations on passages in all the Euripidean plays and are meant to accompany the text and translation Kovacs provides in his six Loeb volumes (Harvard University Press, 1994-2002).2 Kovacs’s decade of work began with the completion of James Diggle’s OCT (and his associated three volumes of studies3), and it is against Diggle that Kovacs’s text will be measured. Between five and thirty passages are discussed for each play, with the notes ranging from two sentences to twelve pages. In total, 300 passages are discussed in the three volumes. Of these, forty three are found in the addenda to the second and third volumes, as Kovacs adds notes to plays he has previously discussed, or revisits his view based in some cases on academic reviews. Kovacs also intercalates seventy-three references to his previous (and in one case forthcoming) textual discussions in books and articles. His is a bold, innovative text that challenges readers to approach the author with fresh thoughts. These discussions are preceded (in Euripidea 1-141) with a very full text and translation of the “Sources for the Life of Euripides.” Rough figures do a disservice to Kovacs’s accomplishment, though, for his strength lies in the acuity of his individual observations.

For the plays under discussion in Euripidea Tertia, Kovacs has benefited from Diggle and several recent commentaries, so that his text can serve as a reassessment of many of Diggle’s own forcefully argued decisions. As with any collection of textual discussions, there will always be various amounts of agreement and disagreement, as each lemma receives approval or dissent. For the reviewer, particularly, this is a difficulty, since he or she consults the work for an overarching view rather than with a view to understand a particular passage better, and there is little profit in a review that merely creates a scorecard. Nevertheless, that is in some ways what one must provide. Further, presuppositions as to what constitutes Euripidean style will always play a part. Kovacs’s Euripides is never ambiguous (lacunae are regularly posited where sense could be improved) and always concise (with lines that can be seen as padding being deleted as interpolations). This may be right, but it need not be, and measuring Kovacs’s text against the principles espoused by Mastronarde,4 for example, does show that other views of the poet’s style can be cogent. To his credit, even when Kovacs believes a passage is not by Euripides (in Phoenissae and IA) he does his best to emend to restore sense, along the same principles. In singling out some discussions and not others in what follows, I hope to provide a sense of the nature and tendencies of Kovacs’s criticism, as well as indicate some of those places where the discussion was unable to bring me to a point of understanding agreement.

The first play discussed is IT (ten lemmata, including one to another discussion). Kovacs ascribes a one-line lacuna following 113 εἴσω τριγλύφων (“beyond the [exterior] triglyphs”) that provides good sense but is not self-evidently correct. “It seems to have gone unnoticed that 738 is identical with Med. 748″ (9) is not true — as a raw observation, it is found in Page’s Medea and Platnauer’s IT — though Kovacs’s solution (deleting 738) is plausible. Deleting 785 also is attractive, leading to a more concise expression, but this again depends on one’s impression of Euripides as a stylist: he was surely capable of this sort of (padded) description.

In Ion (fifteen lemmata, including seven to previous discussions), a one-line lacuna is suggested following 2 ἐκτρίβων. At 288 οὐδὲν is translated “no [good] reason”, but the parallels cited (and indeed Kovacs’s Loeb translations of them) suggest that the use of this word as a one-word answer is better thought of as meaning “it is nothing” — minimizing the significance of the matter being asked about rather than presenting a negative answer. Two transpositions in 1261-81 (1269-74 post 1265 and, with Musgrave, 1275-78 post 1281) do indeed yield “faultless dramatic sense” (21), but “How the dislocations happened is, unfortunately, unclear” (22): conservative readers may think this victory comes at too high a price.

Helen (thirty lemmata) receives the most attention, and many of the suggestions seem to be small but real improvements. Kovacs deletes 20-21 as an awkward expansion of a straightforward original. Too many remedies are suggested at 397-401 for one to come away with any certain feeling, and I remain resistant to Badham’s deletion of 497-99. At 785 Kovacs suggests replacing ἐμέ, κἂν with τὰ σ’, ἣν; again, sense is improved but without an obvious path for the corruption to have occurred. More certain is Kovacs’s adoption of the reading of the second hand of manuscript P at 798, ταλαίνας. Two lacunae are suggested at 1227-31. At 1254, λάβ’ is suggested for λέγ’, another tidy improvement.

Some discussions of isolated passages inevitably have ramifications for interpreting Euripides more generally. For example, discussing Helen on 43-45, Kovacs (following Taplin) argues against any meta-reference in tragedy to other tragedy. These larger ramifications are particularly evident in the discussion of Phoenissae (fourteen lemmata). Among these I would call attention to Kovacs’s observations on one-line interpolations (on lines 21-31), the Greek vocabulary for crossroads (on 33-38), and classical attitudes toward tyranny (on 549-67).

Among the passages discussed in Orestes (sixteen lemmata, including one to a previous discussion), the incomplete solution to lines 67-68 leads to a helpful discussion of the play’s use of eisodoi. Kovacs also argues for a clear use of the eisodoi on Bacchae 346-54 and in the addenda on Hecuba. In both of these cases, this means that the main settlement (Thebes or the Greek camp) extends in both directions. He now accepts Reeve’s deletion of 561, deletes 564-71, and transposes 587-89 to follow 599, among other changes to that speech. Similarly extensive interpolation is found at 696-716, leading to the deletion of 704-05 as well as 702-03, but the retention of 706-07. Paley’s conjecture is read (with West) at 782. Taking 1370-72 as referring to obstacles within the palace, Kovacs retains the introduction of the Phrygian at 1366-68.5 Triglyphs are an exterior architectural feature at Bacchae 1214 and (as Kovacs argues) IT 113: it may be slightly problematic to have them as an interior feature at Orestes 1372. In his discussion of 1524-36 (and indeed the whole tetrameter scene, 1503-36), which Kovacs retains with some modification, I missed any direct engagement with Porter’s discussion.6

At Bacchae (twenty-seven lemmata, including four to previous discussions), Kovacs makes a strong case for changing Cadmus’s questions at 191, 193, and 195 to statements, eliminating the notion “that Cadmus is somehow a reluctant or skeptical convert to the new religion” (117). Related to this is his significant argument concerning the nature of Pentheus’ interests in the Bacchants’ activities. In his notes on 810-19 and 953-60, Kovacs denies that there is any prurient sexual interest in Pentheus, demonstrating (and providing a text that supports the notion) that this is incidental to his portrayal as a θεομάξηος. A parallel argument on the use of τὸ σόφον at 395-401 and 877-81=897-901 (“cleverness”) completes a significant re-vision of the play that will no doubt spark much discussion.

Much of the discussion of IA (five lemmata) is truncated because of a forthcoming paper, which I have not seen, “Toward a Reconstruction of Iphigeneia Aulidensis,” JHS 123 (2003), in which Kovacs aims not to reconstruct the Euripidean text (i.e. what the author left incomplete at his death, presumably the goal of Diggle’s text with its marginal bullets), but for the (complete, actable) text performed in Athens probably in 405. Later interpolations are then divided between a fourth-century Reviser and later, usual causes. At line 6-7, attributed to the Reviser, Kovacs believes ἀστὴρ … σείριος refer not to the Dog Star but to Aldebaran. I am not sure this is an improvement on Willink’s interpretation.7

In Rhesus (five lemmata), Kovacs’s emendations at 452 ἥξω, 636 οἷπερ ἥξεις, and 911 πλέουσ’ ἐπλάθη are all improvements.

The addenda (151-88) allow Kovacs to revisit some of his earlier decisions. In the three lemmata on the end of Heraclidae, he supports his previous views against the transmitted text. The presence of twenty-four lemmata on Troades (compared to only seven in Euripidea Altera, of which five were to previous discussions) suggest that there had been some haste in preparing the earlier volume. Many of these new discussions are helpful.

Kovacs is confident in his presentation of Euripides, perhaps overly so. Given his editorial habits, I will not be the only reader to smile at the book’s final sentence, “Or perhaps there is a lacuna after 1240” (on Troades 1240-41). But this is presented with an alternate explanation, and the choices Kovacs offers do resolve the textual difficulty. Here, as throughout, it is seldom a conservative solution, but it is one that can help us make sense of Euripides and understand him better. As I prepare to teach Euripides’ Helen this semester, I know that I will regularly be referring students to the relevant discussions of this play that Kovacs provides.


1. It is found in the print edition of BMCR, however: Donald J. Mastronarde, BMCR 5.4 (1994) 326-30.

2. Volume two was reviewed in BMCR by John Gibert ( 96.12.2), volume three by Marianthe Colakis ( 1999.02.15), and volume five by L. Battezzato and E. Medda ( BMCR 2003.03.15).

3. James Diggle, Studies on the Text of Euripides (OUP, 1981), The Textual tradition of Euripides’ Orestes (OUP, 1991), and Euripidea (OUP, 1994).

4. Donald J. Mastronarde, Euripides: Phoenissae (Cambridge, 1994), 39-49.

5. See also John R. Porter, Studies in Euripides’ Orestes (Brill, 1994), 192-99.

6. John R. Porter, Studies in Euripides’ Orestes (Brill, 1994), 215-50.

7. C. W. Willink, “The Prologue of Iphigenia at Aulis,” CQ 21 (1971), 343-64, at 350-52.