BMCR 2005.11.15

Von Gnathon zu Saturio. Die Parasitenfigur und das Verhältnis der römischen Komödie zur griechischen. Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte, 74

, Von Gnathon zu Saturio : die Parasitenfigur und das Verhältnis der römischen Komödie zur griechischen. Untersuchungen zur antiken Literatur und Geschichte ; Bd. 74. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2004. 262 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 3110181673 €88.00.

The present monograph, a 2003 Bern dissertation, attempts to assess the relationship of the extant Roman palliata to their nominal Greek models. The topic is a familiar one, but for those interested in this fundamentally speculative pursuit, as indeed many still seem to be, this largely conservative book does a fine job of summarizing the status quaestionis and reaffirming the traditional view. Specialists in Roman comedy will already be familiar with much of the material presented here, but everyone can learn something from it.

The ‘ und‘ of the book’s title is strictly accurate, but it may cause some confusion, since, as the first page announces, the book uses the parasite figure largely as a vehicle for selecting plays in which to explore the relationship of Greek and Roman New comedy. Beyond a brief introduction, then, on the etymology of the word parasitus and the character’s appearance in fragmentary Greek Comedy, relatively little is said about the general psychological or behavioral characteristics, real or imaginative, of the parasite figure in the Graeco-Roman world. There is, therefore, only limited engagement with the contrary theses presented by C. Damon ( The Mask of the Parasite: a Pathology of Roman Patronage, Ann Arbor, 1997) or E. Tylawsky ( Saturio’s Inheritance: The Greek Ancestry of the Roman Comic Parasite, New York, 2002), and those who expect an extended discussion of the comic parasite’s origins, dramatic function, and relation to Greek or Roman daily life will still need to consult those books.

The focus of the current monograph, it turns out, is primarily on the relationship of the Greek and Roman plays as a whole. What we get is a series of ten short discussions, arranged alphabetically by title, of those Roman plays in which a parasite appears. In each case the author critiques recent scholarly assessments of the degree of independence exercised by the Roman playwrights in translating or recreating their Greek models. Each discussion (of Asinaria, Bacchides, Captivi, Curculio, Menaechmi, Miles Gloriosus, Persa, Stichus, Eunuchus, and Phormio) is given its own chapter. These chapters presuppose a fresh reading of the play in question, since the plays themselves are quoted only rarely, and characters’ actions and interactions are everywhere treated as though familiar. Two final sections, one on the dramatic function of the parasite, and the other on means of distinguishing Plautine from Terentian parasites, conclude the text, while a bibliography and indices nominum et rerum and locorum round out the whole book.

Each chapter follows a similar format, beginning with the known data of the Greek play. Next comes one or more modern opinions about the quality of the Latin play, which usually serve as a springboard for issues peculiar to each play. I find it difficult to generalize about the content of the chapters, but most are concerned with questions of dramatic plot, structure, characterization, and motivation, and how these may throw light on the Greek model. At twenty-eight pages, the chapter on the Bacchides and its relation to the Dis Exapaton papyrus is naturally the longest; other chapters average between ten and twenty pages. The author has read widely and covered the topic well, and everywhere evinces a firm grasp of individual points of diction, larger issues of theme and characterization, and especially modern scholarship.

It is this last point, in fact, that most of our attention is directed, since the book is largely a reply to modern opinion about Roman comedy. That discussion tends to focus on German scholarship was only to be expected, because most of the problems herein discussed, if indeed they are problems at all, are largely of recent German manufacture. According to two of the hypotheses now fashionable in that country, for instance, Plautus was either (1) a highly original artist who only claimed to rely on Greek models, while actually writing in the tradition of native Italian farce, or (2) a slavishly faithful translator of the Greek, whose texts, however, were heavily interpolated by a mysterious Bearbeiter in the following generations, but which, luckily, can now be restored with a high degree of probability to their pristine state through judicious examination of the text.

Neither hypothesis can, of course, be proven, nor is either even inherently likely. Antonsen-Resch concludes, quite sanely, therefore, that the Latin plays probably did have Greek models, to which certainly Plautus and Terence made additions, and that the versions of these plays that we have are probably, though usually not demonstrably, interpolated. This is, of course, the view handed down to us from antiquity and once universally accepted by scholars.

Antonsen-Resch’s usual manner of discussion is to quote extensively the views of modern scholars (quite often those of H.-G. Nesselrath, who supervised the dissertation). The citation of some authorities appears to be eclectic rather than systematic, which is not necessarily a demerit, but the author’s fondness for such long quotation, to my taste excessive, often gives the book the appearance of a ‘variorum’ commentary rather than a focused thesis.

In light of the avowed topic, I missed a discussion of Plautus’ Boeotia fr. 1 Monda (a play thought genuine by Varro and Gellius), which consists of a nine-line jeremiad, spoken by a parasite, against the inventor of the sundial. A. S. Gratwick ( CQ 1979, 308-323) has made as convincing a case as possible that the Latin monologue replicates fairly faithfully a parasite-monologue from Menander’s lost Boeotia, and, if right, would obviously have some bearing on assessing Plautus’ debt to Menander.

Since in the current state of our evidence the relation of Latin comedy to its Greek models does not admit of proof, we really cannot reach firm conclusions about any of the questions raised here. But while many of the points made here have been made before by others, the book does a competent and useful job of drawing them together, while adding a few additional insights to the discussion, and anyone planning to reconsider the ‘model question’ will obviously want to consult it. Individual chapters will probably prove equally useful to those who want to read a concise and current essay on the relation of a particular Latin play to its Greek model.

Aside from some improper formatting of Greek trimeters, the book, printed from camera-ready copy, has been well edited.