BMCR 2005.10.24

Epicarmo de Siracusa. Testimonios y Fragmentos. Edición crítica bilingüe

, Epicarmo de Siracusa : testimonios y fragmentos. Oviedo: Universidad de Oviedo, Servicio de Publicaciones, 1996. lxiv, 247 pages ; 21 cm. ISBN 847468935X. €9.32.

Epicharmus’ great fame in antiquity has proven to be a blessing and a curse. On one hand, several hundred fragments and testimonia have been preserved that shed some light on the shadowy beginnings of comic theater in Sicily; on the other, so many texts were spuriously attributed to his name, that, even in antiquity, they were called the Pseudepicharmeia. Disentangling the real from the pseudo-Epicharmus is made even more difficult by the extremely fragmentary state of the texts, which are sometimes no more than a single word long and almost never recovered with any useful context from the play as a whole. Epicharmus’ important position in the very early stages of the development of comedy, however, requires students of Greek theater to take his work into account. Several editions of his fragments have been produced, beginning with Kruseman in 1834 and, most notably, Kaibel in 1899, and Olivieri in 1930. More fragments were discovered and identified in the last half century, and the latest edition of Kassel and Austin 2001 is considerably enlarged. These editions, gold mines though they are for a specialist on Greek comic fragments, require a fair amount of work on the part of the reader to navigate properly. Epicharmus’ dialect is Syracusan Doric, the obscure citations of grammarians and Athenaeus do not add up to much on first reading, and the endlessly debated question of the Pseudepicharmeia is puzzling even to specialists. What is needed, therefore, is a complete, up-to-date, organized collection of his fragments, with notes and commentary, and an accompanying translation. Lucia Rodríguez-Noriega Guillen (henceforth R.-N.) has provided exactly this.

In a thirty-five page introduction, R.-N. summarizes the scholarly debates about Epicharmus’ life, and the style, subject matter and language of the fragments, paying particular attention to the problems of the Pseudepicharmeia. These are concise reviews of the current state of important questions and problems relating to Epicharmus, with useful references to recent scholarship. Organized under sub-headings, they allow for quick perusal. A new and valuable contribution is an alphabetical listing of Doric variants classified under (i) phonetical variants which seem to have arisen through the manuscript tradition; (ii) a list of morphological differences of Doric forms; (iii) syntactical variants; (iv) special Syracusan or Doric vocabulary, for which she provides translations; (v) vocabulary which shows the influence of Italian dialects; and (vi) non-Doric formations, including homeric and lyric forms (XIX-XXIV). These are a welcome supplement to the lists of ancient grammarians’ glosses of dialectical variants (Syracusan, Tarentine, Metapontine, etc.) given in the editions of both Kassel and Austin, and Kaibel. The introduction is followed by an extensive bibliography, which complements those of Kerkhof,1 and Kassel and Austen. Following the introduction and bibliography, R.-N. presents the testimonia, fragments and notes in a clear and accessible form. She divides the testimonia about Epicharmus by subject (“On his origin, the period and his life,” “Fictional anecdotes,” “On the invention of comedy,” “On his fame,” “On his comedies,” “On the Pseudepicharmeia and the Pythagorian school”). This allows the reader to see at a glance all the ancient discussions of an aspect of his life and work, for example, that Aristotle, Themistius, the Suda, Theocritus, Lucian, Diomedes Grammaticus, and the anonymous writer on comedy all suggest that Epicharmus may have invented comedy (pages IV-VI). This method of division, however, forces her to break up passages that are presented whole in other editions so that she can put relevant sentences under the appropriate heading. For example, Aristotle Poetics 1448 a 30 is divided between two sections. One line appears as testimonium 2, in the section called “Origin, the period and his life,” for the information that he was “much earlier than Chionides or Magnes”; another line of the same passage appears as testimonium 19, under “The Invention of Comedy,” for the information that the Dorians laid claim to the invention of comedy partly because of Epicharmus’ work in Sicily. All citations of this kind are necessarily just a small part of a larger text, which can be looked up elsewhere, but, since her excerpts are so short, it would be useful if she had cross-referenced testimonia drawn from the same passage.

An extremely valuable cross-referencing system is included at the end of the volume, where, like Kassel and Austin, she compares the fragments in her edition with the fragments of earlier editions. This allows the reader to see at a glance where she has added new fragments and where she has omitted those included in earlier editions. In one instance, these lists are misleading. R.-N. includes, as a numbered fragment (212), a quotation from Aristotle in which he describes a theory of Epicharmus (Aristotle Gen. An. I 18 p. 724 a 28). Since Aristotle does not actually quote Epicharmus, earlier editors included this passage, not as a fragment on its own, but as reference material for another fragment, which is a direct quotation from Epicharmus and seems to express the same theory (Olivieri, frag. 175 and Kaibel, frag. 148). R.-N.’s list, however, makes it seem as if the earlier editors simply left the passage of Aristotle out of their editions altogether.

Leaving passages out of a collection of Epicharmus, even if the editor judges them to be spurious, creates work for readers who wish to have all the evidence at their disposal. Since so many fragments of the plays are debated, and Epicharmus’ ancient reputation is reflected in, and perhaps even inextricable from, the Pseudepicharmeia, it seems a more useful practice to include all possible fragments, with caveats about their authenticity where necessary. In her own edition, R.-N. omits the passages of Ennius said to have been drawn from his “Epicharmus.” As she notes in the introduction, readers may consult Vahlen for these passages (R.-N., XL). Although Vahlen, reprinted in 1976,2 is fairly accessible, it is too bad that this series of quotations, spurious though they may be, is omitted from this otherwise complete edition.

These omissions, however, are minor, because, with a little effort on the reader’s part, the information can be found. Much more important is R.-N.’s inclusion of two passages which are difficult to find elsewhere (237 and 305).3 237 is a line from Athenaeus (X 429 a) that cites Epicharmus as the first to put a drunkard on stage. R.-N. did not discover this line,4 but seems to be the first to include it in an edition of Epicharmus. Fragment 305, which Lorenz had included in his edition of 1864, had been left out by Kaibel and Olivieri on the strength of Wachsmuth-Hense’ argument that there was a lacuna between the name of Epicharmus and the fragment. In an article of 1991, however, van Deun gives other sources which suggest that the fragment is by Epicharmus, and R.-N. includes it in her edition on the strength of this article.5 These two additions make R.N.’s work a valuable complement to other collections of the fragments of Epicharmus.

For all these fragments, R.-N. provides a translation, which is the first in a modern language since the French version of Richard Walker in 1930,6 and, indeed, the very first translation of the full corpus, because many new fragments have been found since 1930. We look forward eagerly to the first English translation of Epicharmus, being prepared by Jeffrey Rusten, but, in the meantime, R.-N.’s work is a very useful resource, even for English speakers. In addition to the translation, R.-N. provides a metrical analysis of each fragment and information about its context. In a gentle, readable style, reminiscent of Olivieri’s edition of 1930, she introduces each play, sketching out the plot, where it can be imagined, and, listing, like Olivieri, other ancient play titles for comparison. These introductions are often also rigorous summaries of recent scholarship. A particularly thorough example is the introduction to the Odysseus Automolos, in which she notes the new papyrological discovery of the 1950s (P. Oxy. 2429), and discusses the views of eight different scholars on the subject of the play.

Despite the new fragments and the immensely useful translation and commentary in this edition, R.-N. is rarely cited in works on Epicharmus.7 In the last decade, however, she has been a prolific contributor to the rather small world of Epicharmian study. Between 1992 and 1995, she published seven articles on Epicharmus, taking up grammatical problems, parody, and study of some individual plays, before turning in 1998 to a translation and commentary on Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistai, one of the most important source texts for fragments of Epicharmus. Although some of these articles are in rather inaccessible journals, they are, with two exceptions,8 listed in the L’année philologique.

Epicharmus has lived on through citations and commentary, long after his texts were lost. R.-N. has made a valuable contribution to this preservation and recuperation of his comedies, through her well-ordered edition, translation, clear exposition of the context of the fragments, additions to the body of the fragments and scholarly analysis of the subject. Writing in the town of Oviedo in north-west Spain, where her edition was also published, it is perhaps understandable that her scholarship is so little known in the rest of the scholarly world, just as Epicharmus, writing in the far West island of Sicily had so few of his plays preserved by his own and later generations. Yet her Spanish, like Epicharmus’ Doric Greek, is not inaccessible to students of romance languages, and her edition, commentary and translation is well worth the effort. Her work, unlike that of Epicharmus, is not yet lost and can be read itself: Ναὶ μὰ τὰν κράμβαν (R.-N. 26) Sí, por la berza!


1. Rainer Kerkhof Dorische Posse, Epicharm und Attische Komödie, Leipzig 2001. This book accompanies the new edition of Kassel and Austin (2001), see further the BMCR review ( 2001.12.23) by Jeffrey Rusten.

2. I. Vahlen, Enniana Poesis Reliquiae, Leipzig 1928 (Amsterdam, 1976).

3. She first published 237 and 343 in an article of 1995: L. Rodríguez-Noriega, “Dos nuevos fragmentos epicarmeos de tradición indirecta,” Minerva 9 1995. Fragment 343 (Sergius expl. in Don., Keil IV p. 532 Varro, GRF 282,76) appears in Kassel and Austin’s edition as testimonium 29, but not in the editions of Epicharmus which preceded R.-N., including Kaibel and Olivieri.

4. A.W. Pickard-Cambridge, Dithyramb, Tragedy and Comedy, Oxford, 1962, p. 282. I am grateful to Professor Colin Austin for pointing out that this fragment is now also cited in PCG IV, p. 85, and in Kerkhof (see note 1) p. 175.

5. P. Van Deun “Some Fragments of Epicharmus disclosed in the Florilegium called Loci Communes ?” Antiquité Classique 1991, 60: 201-205. Kassel and Austin include this fragment as adesp. 903, in PCG VIII, p. 265.

6. R.J. Walker Les Fragments d’Épicharme Nice 1930.

7. Her edition is cited in the extensive bibliography of Luigi Todisco’s new collection and discussion of material and textual evidence for theater in the Greek West, Teatro e Spettacolo in Magna Graecia e in Sicilia, Milan, 2002.

8. L. Rodríguez-Noriega, “La edición de Epicarmo de H.L. Ahrens: algunos aciertos desatendidos,” Museum Philologum Londiniense X 1992-1993. L. Rodríguez-Noriega, “Plutarco y Epicarmo,” in M. García Valdés (ed.) Estudios sobre Plutarco: ideas religiosas, Actas del III Simposio internacional sobre Plutarco (Oviedo 30 de abril- 2 mayo 1992), Madrid 1994, 659-669.