BMCR 2005.02.04

Plautus. Amphitryo. Focus Classical Commentary

, , Amphitryo. Focus classical commentaries. Newburyport, MA: Focus Pub./R. Pullins Co, 2004. v, 163 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.. ISBN 1585100919. $18.95.

Anne Mahoney (M.), Tufts University, who maintains the Perseus Digital Library website, has produced a text and commentary of Plautus Amphitryo for students of Latin intermediate courses. The readers are intended to have finished their textbooks in elementary courses and to have started reading Latin literature. For them M. offers a very helpful tool. M. following the aim of supporting inexperienced readers obviously does not try to engage too deeply in scholarly debate. Maybe for this reason, her prose is very clear and appropriate for young students.

The book consists of five major parts: a concise introduction (pp. 1-9), the text with facing notes in Latin (11-83), followed by longer notes in English (85-124), and concluding vocabulary lists (125-163).

The introduction provides fundamental information on Plautus’ life, his place in the history of Roman literature, grammar, and meter. With the intended audience in mind one should find nothing to be criticized in these sections. The section on meter is quite detailed. M. distinguishes herself in her second favourite topic. Her references to grammatical explanations are based only on Allen and Greenough’s New Latin Grammar (ed. 1903). M. revised a modern edition of this copy, throughout the commentary. Nevertheless, it seems to be a thin base to work on. The list of further reading is very scant. This is also true measured by M.’s intended audience. The helpful instructions in “Using the book” (pp. 7-8) make it clear that the text and the commentary should best be read in connection with her website. But even there you cannot find listed relevant books like David Christenson’s commentary on Plautus Amphitryo (Cambridge 2000; cf. BMCR 2002.09.17). Even in a commentary intended for intermediate students one expects to see the edition on which M.’s text is based. On the website alone can you find this source: Leo’s text (Berlin 1895).

“Later history of the play” (pp. 2-3) is more or less an enumeration of some titles of later plays connected with Plautus’ Amphitryo. Here, one could expect some more information on the plays’ content, the plays’ meaning, and their literary context. This could also be of particular interest to readers with little knowledge of Latin. In “The supplement” (pp. 1-2) M. provides an explanation for printing a Renaissance supplement to fill the lacuna between lines 1034 and 1035. However, to add the comment “Plautus’s meter is somewhat freer than Catullus’s or Virgil’s, and no one in the Renaissance really understood how it works” (p. 2) is too easy an explanation. To her, it seems better to give an anonymous text, which “does not quite sound like Plautus” and “is not metrically correct” (p. 2), since she prefers to prevent the readers from skipping from one scene to another and guessing what could have happened in between. This is a good choice. M. mentions correctly that anyone wanting to perform the play has to fill in the gap anyway. But, unfortunately, about staging and performing Amphitryo M. is quite silent throughout the introduction and commentary. Some more visualizing of the plot and the figures would be helpful to the readers’ understanding of the difficult verses of the play.

The facing notes are written in Latin. At first sight, one would ask, a commentary written in Latin for intermediate students, could this be fruitful? Now, I would say ‘yes’. M. manages to write these concise notes in a very clear and correct Latin. Together with the concluding list of keyterms this passage should be easily comprehensible for young students. However, the advantage of writing notes in Latin and not in English differs from the reason given. No student would ever have difficulties in “mentally switch[ing] languages … reading through the text” (p. 7), at least, if English is one’s mother tongue. The advantage has something to do with self-confidence of students. It is the motivating force of understanding Latin notes and taking Latin, the difficult language recently learned, as a tool to understand the Amphitryo. As quite a profitable consequence the readers cannot expect English translations in the short notes. They can find H.T. Riley’s translation (London 1912) on M.’s website. You can expect young readers to be proud of understanding Latin paraphrases of a Latin text. For M. paraphrasing in Latin see, e.g., line 1: “mercimoniis: mercimonium est id quod aliquis emit aut vendit. ‘In vostris mercimoniis emundis vendundisque’ significat ergo ‘in vestris negotiis’.” The readers profit particularly from the very clear layout with text and facing notes.

The longer notes following are written in English. They are meant to be used for more detailed literary and linguistic study. It is a difficult task to have, on the one hand, an intended audience of inexperienced readers and, on the other hand, the aim of writing a commentary for more detailed study. However, M. succeeds in finding the right expression and level in most notes. She cannot be as detailed as Christenson in his commentary, but she must be more detailed than in her own Latin notes. Between these two poles she has to move. M.’s understanding of linguistic study can be seen from the difference between short and longer notes e.g. at verse 27: “vostrum quivis = ‘aliquis ex vobis’; ‘vostrum’ est casus genitivi.” Cf. her remark in the longer note: “vostrum: Partitive genitive, A[llen]G[reenough] 346; for the form, see AG 143b.”

For “Literary study” M. gives introductions to sections of the play and references to comparable ancient authors. M. rarely comments on the quality of tradition and text except her comment on line 884. Some more critical remarks would be worthwhile on passages like line 237. Additionally, M. proves the didactic quality of the commentary by putting forward questions that make the readers think about the meaning of the text. Concerning the lacuna between line 1034 and 1035 it must be added that M. also cites the remaining fragments (p. 122) without further comment. Here, the readers are left a little bit alone. You must wonder, however, whether M. trusts her idea of providing Latin notes, when she offers English translations of her own Latin notes, e.g. on line 295.

The concluding lists of vocabulary provide some good support. Whether it is useful to mark the words according to how often they occur or whether it is a characteristic of someone inclined to computing and stochastics must be left open.

The introduction, text and Latin notes, and vocabulary lists taken together are comparable to a very good German Schulausgabe. Even the quite ambitious notes in Latin should be taken as a model for everyone who is about to write such a Schulausgabe. This could be most important: now teachers and scholars of different nations can compare their own textbooks and commentaries for intermediate students. Finding the right level of the longer notes is most difficult. Although, there are a few points that can be criticized, M. has managed to write a comprehensible and thought-provoking commentary for inexperienced readers. Concerning formalities, the layout is excellent; I could find no typing mistakes.