BMCR 2004.02.27

Theophrastus: Characters; Herodas: Mimes; Sophron and Other Mime Fragments. Loeb Classical Library

, , , , Characters. The Loeb classical library ; 225. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002. 421 pages ; 17 cm.. ISBN 0674996038. $21.50.

This volume is a revamped version of the 1993 Loeb, itself an updated version of the original 1929 edition. The most dramatic change between the second and third editions has been the decision to replace A. D. Knox’s collection of Cercidas and the Choliambic Poets (the remnants of which are now to be found in Gerber’s Loeb edition, Greek Iambic Poetry) with I.C. Cunningham’s (hereafter C) texts and translations of Sophron as well as the mime fragments contained in C’s 1987 Teubner edition of Herodas.1 These accompany C’s Herodas and Jeffrey Rusten’s (hereafter R) text and translation of the Characters along with the fragments of Ariston of Keos. These retained elements of the second edition exhibit a few minor, though not wholly unimportant, revisions and updated bibliographies. I shall begin with R.

It is difficult to imagine a text less amenable to the constraints of the Loeb library than Theophrastus’ Characters. The enormous textual problems and the vividly particular exemplifications of each trait that presume the social, economic, and political structures of 4th century Athens as universally known and therefore universally illustrative beg for an enormous textual apparatus and lengthy explanatory notes. It is a monumental achievement that R has produced a succinct and informative introduction, text, and explanatory notes that consistently maintain the Loeb’s vision of accessibility while directing the more curious (and/or advanced) to primary and secondary materials relevant to the study of the Characters itself and the host of literary, philosophical and historical issues the work touches upon.

The introduction reproduces the second edition’s overview of Theophrastus’ life and career, the style, structure, and probable date of composition while assaying the Characters’ relationship to ethics, comedy and satire, and rhetoric. These are followed by a very economical, but informative, account of the manuscript tradition, and the introduction concludes with a brief account of the Characters’ influence upon European literature. The only significant revisions of the previous edition are to be found in the dating of the Characters, where intervening scholarship has led R to become more circumspect about the precise date of composition.2

In regard to the text, R explains in the preface to the edition how corrupt the manuscript tradition is, leading him to adopt more conjectures than would generally be tolerable. Like all Loebs, the textual apparatus is very limited, and here the strictures of the Library’s editorial policy is most keenly felt as R is able to offer only a very cursory account of corrections, conjectures, and variant readings. The introductory notes and bibliography very competently direct the textually inquisitive to the more comprehensive critical editions. The text he prints is very readable, as is the translation, which well captures both the colorful detail and the enumerative repetition of Theophrastus’ exampla for each trait. R’s translation of the “Pennypincher” (10.9-13) illustrates the tone he consistently maintains throughout:

(9) He inspects his property markers daily to see if they remain the same. (10) He is apt to charge a late fee and compound interest. (11) When he gives a dinner for his precinct, he serves the meat cut into tiny portions. (12) When he goes shopping, he returns home without buying anything. (13) He forbids his wife to lend out salt, or a lampwick, or cumin, or oregano, or barley groats, or garlands, or sacrificial cakes, maintaining that these small items add up to a lot over the course of the year.

R signals in the explanatory notes and/or “Additional Notes” when he strays farther from the Greek in search for an apt English phrase. The titles of each trait, many of which are not easily brought into English, are thoughtful, though “Rejuvenation” and its explanation as a rendering of ὀψιμαθίας would seem to blur philological acumen and useful translation. Apart from this minor complaint I found only a mild inconsistency in the translation of ὑπερηφανία rendered as “arrogance” everywhere but in Ariston, Column 16, line 29ff where it becomes “pride” in the phrase “conceit, pride and scorn” ( ἐξ οἰήσεως καὶ ὑπερηφανίας καὶ ὑπεροξίας) despite the nearly identical phrase being translated subsequently as “conceit, arrogance, and scorn” (Column 19). I discovered no typographical errors and a spot check of references found them to be wholly accurate. If the Loeb editors choose to seek a fourth edition of this volume it will not be out of need to dispense with R’s efforts: his introduction, text, and translation of the Characters are an outstanding contribution to the LCL and should remain enormously useful to students and scholars for the foreseeable future.

The LCL could not have hoped to obtain a better textual editor for Herodas and the mime fragments than C. His 1971 Oxford edition and commentary of Herodas is the fullest and most useful for English speakers; his 1987 Teubner of Herodas and mime fragments the standard text. This updated content takes full advantage of C’s devotion to the materials, as he provides a serviceable introduction, text, and translation of Herodas, Sophron and other practitioners of the literary (and subliterary) mime.

C offers separate introductions to Herodas, Sophron, and the fragments. These introductions offer a good overview of the authors, the texts, and their milieu insofar as any can be reconstructed. English synopses of the more substantial individual texts are also provided. However, since the editorial decision has been made to create a more encyclopedic compendium of a literary genre, a single more general introduction to the mime encompassing all of the material presented would have been more helpful. Non-specialists thus would be able to situate the authors and fragments into a context more meaningful than C’s brief account of the Hellenistic literary environment given in his introduction to Herodas, which is dated and not relevant for Sophron and many of the mime fragments. However, readers are well served by the particular details provided for the authors and texts, especially concerning textual matters.

This text of Herodas is a much more liberally supplemented version of C’s Teubner, and the translation much more so than the second Loeb edition. A good example of the third edition’s more expansive translation (though the printed Greek texts are identical) is found at Mime 7.9-13. The 1993 translation reads:

Come then, [- – – -], move your knees quickly: [- – – – – -] to rub on objects that make more noise than these warn[ings – – – -, are you polishing] and [wiping] it now? I’ll wipe your [- – – ].

The 2002 version:

Come then [ape], move your knees quickly: [did you want] to rub on objects that make more noise than these warn[ings?] Now, [smooth ( or white) arse,] are you [polishing] and [wiping] it? I’ll wipe your [posterior].

C prints in the Greek text a number of supplements, such as Milne’s and Knox’s conjectures for Mime 2.6 relegated (due to their uncertainty) to his Teubner apparatus. No doubt the Loeb’s demand for an austere textual appartus helped motivate such inclusions. The supplements do make for a more readable text and translation, but scholars are strongly advised not to cite this Greek text before checking it against C’s Teubner. It will depend upon the user’s needs to determine how much she benefits from the choice to augment the latest text and translation. C has also introduced minor corrections such as translating 7.4-5 as a question rather than an imperative in addition to providing several more explanatory and textual notes.

The translation brings a clinical precision to Herodas, Sophron, and the mime fragments. C hardly shies away from slang but tends to avoid English colloquialisms that might give Herodas’ mimes at least more the feel of dramatic dialogue (e.g. Mime 5.40-3: “Are you standing there staring, instead of taking him where I tell you? Bash this knave’s snout, Cydilla. And you, Drechon, follow now where he leads you.”). Perhaps the tone reflects C’s view that the mimes were recited by a single person rather than performed as skits by a troupe. Translations of Sophron’s sparse remains convey the sense of the Greek well while the texts of the mime fragments are closer to, if not identical with, their Teubner versions. The fragments, like the Mimes, also contain supplements to the translation (e.g. Fragment 3.12: “[But what am I doing] wrong?”).

More generally, the introductions and notes give an adequate overview of relevant secondary literature, particularly concerning textual matters, but a general bibliography would have been useful. References are accurate. I detetected only one typographical error (“Bücchler” for “Büchler” p. 262, note, 42). And to register a minor annoyance with the publisher: the note corresponding to reference 61 in Mime 4 is printed on p. 231, the Greek text to which it refers on the following page, causing unnecessary confusion. These criticisms aside, C, like R, has brought authors and texts into the LCL that required enormous labor to collect, edit, and translate and are not easily tailored to suit the Loeb’s purposes. His efforts will be to the benefit of all who seek an entrée into the lively world of the Greek mime.


1. C also furnishes one fragment (3a) in addition to those found in his Teubner edition.

2. As sources of his revised thinking R cites in particular R. Lane Fox, “Theophrastus’ Characters and the Historian” PCPS 42 (1995) 127-70.