BMCR 2004.11.23

Poeti minori del dramma satiresco, testo critico, traduzione e commento. Supplementi di Lexis, XXIII

, Poeti minori del dramma satiresco : testo critico, traduzione e commento. Supplementi di Lexis ; 23. Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 2003. x, 445 pages ; 25 cm.. ISBN 9025611796 €102.00.

This revised doctoral thesis, defended at the University of Catania in 2001, adds an important handbook to serve the growing interest in satyr play. Das griechische Satyrspiel, Darmstadt 1999, ed. R. Krumeich, N. Pechstein and B. Seidensticker [henceforth GS] has, as Cipolla (henceforth CP) says, provided the “status quaestionis” on the subject, and CP’s own work, well underway when GS appeared, makes frequent and good use of it and the other standard reference works on satyr play and collections of dramatic fragments. Even though the ca. 77 fragments of the so-called lesser writers of satyr play amount to only a little over 300 lines (in contrast to some 450 lines of Sophocles’ Ichneutai alone), this critical edition with commentary is no mean accomplishment. It is especially reliable and useful for the following reasons: 1) its judgments are informed by thorough review of the scholarship on the manuscript tradition of Athenaeus (source of most of the fragments) and autopsy of the main manuscripts; 2) it gives a timely new text of the fragments and, unlike GS, of their contexts, with a translation of both; 3) there is an apparatus criticus of every fragment and the context of its source, and the commentary evaluates variant readings and emendations suggested by many scholars, including those since the appearance of TrGF 1 (whose texts are printed in GS); 4) the analysis and application of the meter of the texts is excellent. There are no illustrations, and for the evidence of vase-painting CP relies on GS (and Krumeich’s archaeological introduction, pp. 41-73).

While CP does not deal systematically with the satyr plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, his treatment of the eight 5th-century authors reveals more of the literary context in which the big three worked. Much leafing back and forth is required to follow the systematic organization: each chapter is subdivided into numbered sections, beginning with an overview of the author(s), then the texts (renumbered but with the numbering of Snell-Kannicht in parenthesis, or, in the case of Timocles, that of Kassel-Austin2) with apparatus of the fragments in their contexts, then the commentary on each fragment and context. The line-by-line commentary is thorough and thoughtful. Several notes in the commentary sections are article-length (a few of which are in fact revisions of articles).

The Preface gives a sketch of the 16 poets treated. The first eight all produced at least partly in the 5th century: Pratinas of Phlius, Aristias of Phlius, Ion of Chios, Achaeus of Eretria, Critias of Athens and Iophon of Athens, Philocles the Elder of Athens, Agathon of Athens. Those exclusively of the 4th are Dionysius I of Syracuse, Astydamas the Younger, Chaeremon, Theodectes of Phaselis, Timocles of Athens, Python of Catania; while the last two belong to the third century: Lycophron of Chalcis and Sositheus of Alexandria Troas. Not included are the fragments of unknown authors, an interesting selection of which is found in GS.

The Introduction finds in the Ars Poetica 233 a general characterization of satyr play, namely its close association with tragedy, which Horace refers to as the matrona of the genre, “rather embarrassed to be dancing among satyrs,” going on to say that as a writer of satyr plays himself he would be loath to confuse its diction and style with that of comedy. There is no reference to T. P. Wiseman’s proposal that Horace was in fact an author of satyr drama,3 but Horace’s distinction between comedy and satyr play emerges in effect wherever CP attempts to determine whether a particular title is to be assigned to satyr play or comedy. CP properly aligns satyr play more closely with tragedy than with comedy but tends like most scholars to be troubled by references to current events or persons and by the use of coarse language, especially in 4th-century and Hellenistic plays considered possibly to be satyric. CP notes not only that satyr play distanced itself somewhat in the 4th century by sometimes being produced apart from tragedy but also that, with its references to contemporary events and persons, it came to resemble comedy. But since terms like “tragic” and “comic” can be vague, what kind of comedy is meant? Would it not be more precise to say that satyr play assumed some of the aspects of Attic Old Comedy, the comoedia prisca of Sat. 1. 4, with its liberal attacks on various sorts of contemporary rascals, rather than to New Comedy (rarely naming contemporary persons) referred to by Horace in Ars or to Middle Comedy (with its reduced role for the chorus)?

The Introduction also treats the formal aspects of satyr drama, such as the number of choreuts (using the Pronomos Vase), and summarizes the recurrent themes that have been deduced from the remains already by Seaford,4 Sutton,5 and GS. In the commentary, however, while CP notes in any given title the possible presence of these themes, e.g. gluttony, invention, trickery, he is very cautious in his review of scholarly attempts (including his own) at plot reconstruction. In reconstructing the development of the genre itself, CP’s interesting study of Dioscorides’ (late 3rd century) epigram on Sophocles’ refinements reaffirms Pratinas as “founder” of the genre.

Some highlights of CP’s comments on each author and fragments (the latter according to his own numeration).

Pratinas: Revising an article from 1999 CP argues that Pratinas Fr. 3 [= Fr. 3 in Snell-Kannicht] is to be classified as an hyporcheme (in the technical sense of a song accompanied by an imitative dance) by Pratinas himself, neither part of a satyr play nor part of a dithyramb by another Pratinas of the later 5th century (for the recent scholarship see GS, pp. 86-97).

Aristias. This son of Pratinas produced his father’s work vs. Aeschylus in 467. Pausanias refers to the monument in Phlius (in the Peloponnese) in memory of their famous poet and ranks his and his father’s satyr plays second only to those of Aeschylus. Eight fragments remain, one each for five titles, and three from unidentified plays. CP considers only the Keres and Cyclops certainly satyr plays; he gives careful attention to the possible plots of the Antaeus and the Atalanta, considering them not improbably satyric, but remains in doubt about the classification of the Orpheus.

Ion. CP reviews the evidence for the dating of Ion, reputedly the author of between 30 and 40 plays, of which probably a quarter would have been satyric. 19 fragments remain, all from the satyr play Omphale, one of many plays featuring Heracles. In a lengthy comment on Fr. 1, CP takes μάγαδις αὐλός as an aulos that accompanied a stringed instrument at the octave above.

Achaeus of Eretria. That there are 32 fragments of 10 titled plays, probably all satyric according to CP, would tend, I think, to defend Menedemus of Eretria from the charge of mere local pride in placing Achaeus second after Aeschylus in the field of satyr play.

Critias. An exhaustive excursus of some 21 pages discusses whether to attribute Fr.1, a speech of 40 or 42 lines spoken by Sisyphus, to a play of the tyrant (as in Sextus Empiricus) or to one of Euripides (as in Aetius) and leaves the question open. Recent scholarship on the old question is carefully analyzed and weighed.

In a single chapter CP treats the seven poets who spanned the 5th and 4th centuries:

Iophon is known to have produced in 435 and 428. Fr. 1 is a line and a half from the Auloidoi, in which the satyrs are a group of aulos players, “sophists” in the earlier sense of “artists,” but perhaps ironically in the later philosophic and rhetorical sense.

Philocles the Elder, for whom tradition claimed 100 plays, competed successfully against Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus. Nephew of Aeschylus and father of Morsimus, he numbered among his descendants also both the Elder and Younger Astydamas and Philocles the Younger. CP includes Philocles the Elder simply because of one not quite complete iambic line from an unnamed play, which he considers possibly satyric because of its reference to a taboo on eating pig brains. Most attribute it to a comedy.

In Agathon’s one fragment from a Telephos a rustic describes in eight lines the writing of the name Theseus. CP thinks it is probably satyric because of the unusual number of resolutions in comparison with Agathon’s other fragments and because the decipherment of the letters might represent the satyric topos of puzzle solving. He properly compares Euripides Fr. 382 N26 from the Theseus (noting Sutton’s view that it was itself satyric), whose 12 lines on the same motif lack any resolution.

Dionysus I won first prize in Athens in 367 with Ransom of Hector. In Fr. 1, the lone fragment of his Limos (Hunger), Silenus tries to cure Heracles (probably ill from overeating) with an enema. In passing I note that the Homeric scholiast says that this and similar scenes are “comic,” applying the term without apology to a satyr play.

Astydamas the Younger’s first of five victories was in 372. Of this prolific poet Fr. 1 consists of four iambic trimeters from a probably satyric Hermes; Fr. 2 has four eupolideans from a Herakles Satyrikos; and Fr. 3 has one iambic trimeter from an unidentified drama, thought by Snell to be satyric. For CP the “meta-theatrical” element of Fr. 2 is not to be used to argue for a similar interruption of stage reality in Achaeus Fr. 1, as proposed by several scholars. This is consistent with his argument (see above) that Fr. 3 of Pratinas is not from a satyr play.

Chaeremon’s Fr. 4, from a papyrus not identifying the play, is an acrostic completing the first six letters of the author’s name. CP thinks the passage contains sentiments that might have been recited by Chiron in the Centaur, to which Frs. 1-3 belong.

Of Theodectes, one of the most important tragedians of the 4th century, only one fragment might be from a satyr play. In imitation of both Euripides and Agathon (see above) it contains eight highly resolved iambic lines describing the writing of the name Theseus. But here there is an important piece of evidence for its being a topos in satyr play: Athenaeus says that Sophocles did something similar in the satyric Amphiaraus.

Timocles of Athens, not included in GS, receives a separate chapter from CP, one of the most interesting. At issue is first whether there were two comic poets by this name, as in Suidas (who lists Ikarioi among several titles of the second) or only one; secondly, whether Athenaeus in discussing a comic poet of this name means to say that he was also a tragedian, or whether he means that there is another poet of this name who was a tragedian. (Indeed there was a tragic poet Timocles who won a victory in 340 with a satyr play Lycurgus.) Further, Athenaeus refers to the Ikariois satyrois (Fr. 4 = 86 F 2 Sn.-K., 18 K.-A) and Alexis (77 K.-A.), the Middle Comic poet, may refer to it or another play of Timocles as a satyr play. The prevalent view (apart from Sutton) is that Athenaeus is either incorrect or misguided and that the many references to living persons in five fragments of the play (including Pithonike, the hetaira of Harpalus) relegate it to comedy. While CP, p. 314, grants that the majority view is the more likely, he does a fine job of showing the contrary in an excursus, pp. 326-31, on the classification of the drama. His usual caution urges that the question be left open and surely justifies including Timocles in his list of possible writers of satyr play. Here comes to a head the critical principle with which CP begins, the relative orientation of satyr play to tragedy and comedy in the course of the 4th century and later.

According to Athenaeus, Python (of Catania?, CP prints the question mark, just in case it might be Python of Byzantium) or perhaps Alexander the Great himself was the author of a “little” satyr play Agen (GS, p. 599: “Fuehrer,” referring to Alexander) presented on the banks of the Hydaspes. The play pillories Harpalus, who had absconded with Alexander’s treasure. CP devotes some 14 pages to a revision of his recent article supporting (with Snell, but on other grounds) the dating of the play to 326 instead of to 324.

The last two chapters treat two poets who worked under Ptolemy Philadelphus, Lycophron and Sositheos. Of the former there are fragments of a satyric drama on Menedemus (c. 339-c. 265), founder of a school of philosophy at Eretria. CP puts Fr. 1 in the mouth of Silenus, who, having expected a sumptuous meal, found meager fare as a guest of Menedemus. CP notes the philological interests of Lycophron (his study of comedy; his skill at making anagrams of names), but does not treat the authorship of the Alexandria with its problematic reference to an historical context in the early 2nd century B.C.

The final chapter is a kind of sicut erat in principio, for Sositheos, another member of the Pleiad of tragic poets at Alexandria, is also hailed in an epigram by Dioscorides as the restorer of satyr play to its true early form (see above on Pratinas). But just to keep the confusion of genres aboil, his Daphnis or Lityerses, both has ties to a hero of pastoral poetry and has been classified by some as a romantic drama like Euripides’ Alcestis. GS and CP (in much greater detail) leave me believing that Sositheus’ play had a Silenus and chorus of satyrs.

I wrote to the publisher a couple of times to add to the existing errata sheet quite a number of mostly trivial printing errors and to inquire about two missing pages, 197 and 204 (perhaps my copy is irregular). He kindly sent me copies of those pages from the original manuscript and referred to plans to reprint this now currently out of print book This is a fine piece of work. Its handiness would be increased many times over with the addition of indices of authors, titles, topics, and even Greek words.


1. Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta I: Didascaliae tragicae, catalogi tragicorum et tragoediarum, testimonia et fragmenta tragicorum minorum, ed. B. Snell, editio correctior et addendis aucta, cur. R. Kannicht (Göttingen 1986); II: Adespota, edd. B. Snell et R. Kannicht (Göttingen 1981); III: Aeschylus, ed. S. Radt (Göttingen 1985); IV: Sophocles, ed. S Radt (Göttingen 1977).

2. Poetae comici Graeci, edd. R. Kassel et C. Austin, VII (Berlin and New York 1983)

3. T. P. Wiseman, “Satyrs in Rome: The Background to Horace’s Ars Poetica, JRS (1988), 1-13.

4. R. Seaford, Euripides, Cyclops, ed. with Introduction and Commentary (Oxford 1984)

5. The Greek Satyr Play (Meisenheim am Glan 1980).

6. Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, ed. A. Nauck (Leipzig 1889, second edition); Supplementum adiecit B. Snell (Hildesheim 1964).