BMCR 2004.04.39

Oikonomia. Struttura e tecnica drammatica negli scoli antichi ai testi drammatici

, Oikonomia. Struttura e tecnica drammatica negli scoli antichi ai testi drammatici. Napoli: Pubblicazioni del Dipartimento di Filologia Classica dell'Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, 2001. 125.

This volume collects four essays already published in specialized journals between 1990 and 1995, but the unity of the author’s research interests is evident. Three essays focus on the tragedians, the last on Aristophanes’ Birds. Two of the former, devoted to Sophocles and Euripides, mainly focus on the uses of the idea of οἰκονομία. In the scholia to Aeschylus and to the Birds this term is attested only once; therefore Grisolia more broadly investigates the other kinds of remarks on the ‘correctness’ (or lack thereof) of the author in presenting each part of the myth and/or their dramatic dynamics. These last are also considered occasionally in the scholia of Sophocles and of Euripides, as are the statements of the ancient commentators about various details of the scenic realization of Aeschylus’ plays for the sake of readers who were not going to attend their theatrical performance.

G.’s task is to show that for ancient scholarship, from which our scholia to the tragedians stemmed, theatrical plays were structures whose perfection depended on a solid coherence and balance between the parts. From a single phrase in the ‘Premessa’ (p. 11), we realize that according to G. this same purpose, to produce “well arranged organisms” (which sounds very Aristotelian), was not only an object of investigation of the ancient commentators but also “era già presente alla intenzionalità compositiva dell’autore”. Few scholars today would be ready to believe that the term or the idea of literary οἰκονομία dates back to the age of the tragedians themselves, and it is not certain that G. himself holds this view, since his statement “Giorgio Pletone … attribuisce a Teodette … l’individuazione dell’ οἰκονομία tra i compiti propri del retore”1 (again p. 11) does not necessarily imply taking a stand on the much debated authenticity of this testimony on Theodectes.2 After all, apart from the date of the term, many modern scholars try to refrain from centripetal readings of (all) Greek dramatic plays and have highlighted less pacific and classicistic ideas of “unity” and “coherence” at work in at least some Greek tragedies.3 It is not by chance that Aristotle adopted Sophocles much more often than Aeschylus as a paradigm, and that the ancient scholia to Aeschylus use the word οἰκονομία only once, and find only a very limited number of passages in his plays where they may comment on this tragedian’s ability to provide structural and “organic” strategies of arrangement: hence they also provide G. with few possibilities of centripetal interpretations (see above).

That said, G.’s opinion that all the tragedians pursue a kind of ‘organic’ unity — one that will, in the eyes of other scholars, too much resemble the Aristotelian and modern one — of course influences some of his observations (see below), but does not mar the value of the book.

This book can, and should, be usefully read as a guided tour through the analyses by which the ancient commentators tried to see their own post-tragic and post-Aristotelian idea of ‘structural’ unity and coherence — and also, more broadly, the connected ideas of strategic (foreshadowing etc.) or artful (credibility etc.) mastery of the plot — as reflected and fulfilled in the text of the three major tragedians. It will therefore be first of all a data-base of practical remarks on specific texts, destined to complement the review of the ancient ideas of unity and coherence which Meijering has already well but briefly outlined.4 The book will also be used as a rich collection of honest and reliable interpretations of these remarks.

G.’s objective credibility in interpretation is occasionally a bit forced for the sake of his thesis. Some readers may raise their eyebrows at G.’s occasional claim (see pp. 29 bis, 93) that scholiastic appreciation of the structural pertinence and effectiveness of cues by the chorus or a character, which the scholia ascribe to the chorus or the relevant character, are in fact due to the structural concern of the author. Of course authorial intentions usually are reflected in words and actions of the chorus or of the characters, the details of which hardly ever derived from the traditional myth — something of which G. shows himself well aware in the rest of the book. Most readers will also find troubling G.’s rare attempts to reduce some cues, which are probably determined by other factors, to concern about structural arrangement: see esp. sch. Eur. Or. 640, where, pace G. (pp. 88f.), the justification for lengthy and detailed argumentation by Orestes is more probably just intended to fit the interlocutor Menelaos — given that, as a Spartan, he might be expected to tend to laconic συντομία — and is therefore not also a metatheatrical preoccupation of the author for the sake of his audience.

One last minor flaw in G.’s learned and intelligent book is the large number of the typos, which, however, almost never impede the reader’s correct understanding of G.’s arguments. Since G.’s bibliography is especially rich and useful, for the benefit of future readers I only point out that the excellent edition of Ajax‘s scholia by G.A. Christodoulou not only was a PhD thesis at Cambridge in 1973 (not in 1937, as in G.’s p. 109), but also was published as a book in Athens in 1977.


1. The reference for the Synt.rhet. of Plethon is Rhet.Gr. VI.585, 4-6 Walz, and not Rhet.Gr. VI.586 etc. (as in G.’s p. 11 n. 6).

2. Cf. F. Blass, Die attische Beredsamkeit, II, 2nd ed. Leipzig 1892, 446 n. 2. Indeed a different list of the ἔργα τοῦ ῥήτορος envisaged by Theodectes, which is recorded by two testimonies and is therefore more reliable (cf. F. Solmsen, Hermes 67 (1932) 145f.) does not mention οἰκονομία.

3. See first of all M. Heath, The Poetics of Greek Tragedy, London 1987, chaps. 3.11, 3.2, and Unity in Greek Poetics, Oxford 1989.

4. R. Meijering, Literary and Rhetorical Theories in Greek Scholia, Groningen 1987.