BMCR 2004.05.08

Die Rezeption der lyrischen Partien der attischen Tragödie in der griechischen Literatur. Palingenesia 78

, Die Rezeption der lyrischen Partien der attischen Tragödie in der griechischen Literatur : von der ausgehenden klassischen Periode bis zur Spätantike. Palingenesia ; Bd. 78. Stuttgart: Steiner, 2002. 354 pages ; 25 cm.. ISBN 3515082271. €60.00.

1 Responses

This is a curious book that — perhaps deliberately — raises more questions than it answers. Karanasiou catalogs every quotation from the lyrics of tragedy in later Greek prose, from Plato down to the Suda and scholia. Lyric here includes anapestic passages. Although many authors cite tragedy, in general they cite the iambic trimeters far more often than the songs; some 88% of citations are from the spoken parts, only 12% from the lyrics (from table 10, p. 29). K. argues that there are several reasons for this: editions of tragedies sometimes left out the lyrics; many quotations are sententiae, which are more apt to appear in trimeters than in lyrics; and, particularly after the fourth century, quotations often came from anthologies rather than directly from texts of the plays, with the result that popular lines were quoted frequently, other lines much less (p. 8-10).

It is also true that tragedies contain more spoken lines than lyric lines, but the proportion is smaller: 74% spoken for Sophocles, 72.4% for Euripides, 55.6% for Aeschylus, according to tables 1-3, p. 16-19. K. gives these and other statistics, but does not analyze them; that is, she does not tell us whether the greater proportion of quotations from the spoken lines is so large that it is unlikely to be due to random chance. Tables show how many iambic trimeters and other lines are quoted, counted first by play, then by quoting author. The ratio of quoted lyric to trimeter lines is similar for Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, tragici minores, and fragmenta adespota, though far more lines are quoted from Euripides and Sophocles than from any of the others.

After an introductory chapter and a chapter of tables (13 of them), the bulk of the book consists of the quoted lyric lines. K. gives the text as quoted, the standard reference for the play or fragment, the standard reference for the quoting author, and some discussion of what this bit of verse is doing in its new context. In the case of lexicographers and scholia, there is little to be said, but for the philosophers, geographers, and other writers, K. explains how the verse relates to the point the author is making, where the author probably found it, and whether he seems to have known the entire play. These analyses are the most interesting part of the book: they amount to a survey of Greek prose from the 4th century BC to the 5th AD. K.’s mastery of this breadth of material is commendable, and particularly impressive given that this book started out as her doctoral dissertation.

The analyses of quoted passages stand alone. K. does not choose to analyze trends, leaving the reader to ponder questions like: why do certain passages get quoted over and over, while others which we find more familiar (to take an example at random, the “Ode to Man” from Antigone) are almost never cited? Is there any difference between citations of actors’ lyrics and those of the chorus? Is it really true that anapests are cited more often than actual lyrics, and, if so, why? Why are lyrics from some extant plays cited less often than those from some plays that are now lost to us?

Some things do become obvious as one reads through the book, however. For example, the continuing popularity of Euripides is graphically demonstrated by the number of pages of citations from his plays. Yet Phrynichus, Pratinas, and Ion of Chios were still finding at least some readers as late as Athenaeus, some 700 years after their plays were produced.

The book is arranged chronologically, and the index locorum at the end is arranged only by citing author. That is, a reader cannot directly look up Sophocles or Ajax, say, but must look at each later author in turn to see whether he cites the play. An index by playwright would have made the book much easier to consult. There are a few typos, including Greek printed without its diacriticals, displaced lines, and footnotes that appear a page too early or too late, but nothing that seriously hinders comprehension.

In short, this is a treasury of raw material that can be turned into any number of studies of tragedy and its later fortunes. Scholars working on the classical tradition, on post-classical Greek, or on tragedy will find the book a spur to further work.

[For a response to this review by Argyri G. Karanasiou, please see BMCR 2006.04.28.]