BMCR 2006.03.33

Response: Olson on Storey on Austin-Olson, Aristophanes. Thesmophoriazusae

Response to 2006.01.05

Response by

I would like to thank Ian Storey for his generally positive review of the Austin-Olson edition of Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae in BMCR 2006.01.05. A few points require comment or clarification, particularly since some of Storey’s concerns appear to reflect a misunderstanding of what we have argued or written, while others touch on larger issues involving the practices and duties of editors. For the reader’s convenience, I take Storey’s points in the order in which they appear in his review. I trust it will be clear that my own comments are intended in the same friendly, open spirit as those to which I am responding.

1. Storey complains that the scholion on Lucian quoted and translated on our pp. xlvii-l is “not identified specifically” as being on D.Meretr. 2.1. But the text is cited in the standard and most useful form, by Rabe page- and line-numbers. Specifying what text the scholion glosses would not add significantly to the reader’s understanding of it, and in accord with a commentator’s basic obligation to be as concise as possible, we have omitted the information.

2. Storey asserts that we fail to offer “an interpretation of the comedy through the lens of gender o[r] feminist studies.” This is a serious charge, which suggests that we have neglected what most modern readers recognize is an extremely important aspect of the play. But in fact we offer an extended, detailed reading of Thesmophoriazusae along precisely the lines Storey describes in Section IV of our Introduction (esp. pp. li-lv, lxiv-lxviii).

3. Storey criticizes our characterization of Euripides in Thesmophoriazusae as “a fast-talking intellectual quack, whose bland self-assurance does little to disguise the fact that most of what he says is nonsense”; he then cites a number of modern studies of the relationship between the two poets, arguing that Euripides is better understood as the object of an “admiring obsession” on Aristophanes’ part. But in the section in question we leave no doubt that we are referring to the character named Euripides who appears onstage in Thesmophoriazusae — and who is exactly as we describe him — rather than to the historical tragic playwright. That the historical Aristophanes had a complex relationship to the historical Euripides and his plays is obvious, as well as largely irrelevant to the point at hand.1

4. Storey complains that our note on Euripides’ mother “could have gone further into the possible explanation of the comic caricature” (sc. as a vegetable-vendor — which she certainly was not, since Philochorus tells us she was from “one of the very best families”), citing an article by Ruck, as well as one by Roselli that appeared after our commentary was published. Our note on the line in question (387) represents what we consider an adequate and plausible explanation of the matter: because Aristophanes routinely refers to other socially prominent individuals as “sellers” of this and that (esp. Eq. 129-36), when they in fact owned large businesses involving these commodities, “the most likely conclusion is that the father of Euripides’ mother grew or traded vegetables on a wholesale level”. We omit mention of Ruck’s article not because we are unaware of its existence, but because we find its thesis so far-fetched as not to deserve mention. A commentator is obliged to direct the reader to further scholarly work on a topic, if the reader will benefit thereby. But this does not imply an associated obligation to cite whatever has been written on a topic. The indiscriminate compilation of bibliography is neither scholarship nor a service to a text or its readers.

5. We stage Thesmophoriazusae with four actors, one of whom speaks only nine lines or partial lines. Four- and five-actor stagings are sufficiently common in modern critical editions of the plays (e.g. Henderson’s Lysistrata, Dover’s Frogs, and my own Acharnians) to represent something approaching a standard view of the requirements of the Aristophanic stage. Storey questions our analysis by noting that it has been argued in print that the play could be staged with three actors if one allows for a “lightning change by the Euripides-actor into the role of the prytanis”. Although we are aware of the article in question, on p. lxviii we explicitly reject such stagings as inherently implausible. Following the principle articulated in 4, above, therefore, we have chosen not to cite it.2

6. Storey also criticizes our reference to the “seemingly inferior status” of the tritagonist, who, he suggests, was not so inferior at all, noting that tritagonists take important roles in several 5th-century tragedies. Had Storey quoted our remarks more fully, it would have been apparent that this is precisely what we say: “One remarkable feature of this division [sc. of parts among the actors] is that both of the — presumably quite demanding — lyric parts at the beginning of the play (39-62, 101-29), were taken by the tritagonist, who must have been a quite accomplished performer, despite his seemingly inferior status” (p. lxix). Our reference to the tritagonist’s “seemingly inferior status” merely reflects the reality that he was not the first or the second, but the third actor, as well as the widely accepted thesis that tritagonists generally play smaller and less significant parts in Athenian dramas. This does not mean that there were no excellent performers among them, or that playwrights were disinclined to take advantage of their abilities, once they were recognized — as we note explicitly.3

7. Storey criticizes other aspects of our staging by asking, “But suppose there was no stage?” (as we — like modern commentators on the plays generally — assume). As we note (p. lxxi), there is little or no archaeological evidence that bears on this point, and most of what we know about the Theater of Dionysus in the final decades of the 5th century comes from the plays themselves. The only possible answer to Storey’s question is thus “In that case, the staging of this play and many others would be very different from what we assume; but this seems unlikely.”

8. On pp. lxxviii-lxxxiv we offer a text and translation of all the fragments of the lost Thesmophoriazusae II, including (in this case only without the original text) fr. 346, an excerpt from a 9th-century Arabic version of a lost work of Galen that apparently describes the parabasis of the play. Storey complains that “one has to read through to the end to see why this is assigned to the lost Thesmophoriazusae”. But we have simply translated Galen, and the context in our commentary is clear; and although Galen has not been as clear, straightforward or succinct as he might have been, the fault must be charged to him rather than us.

9. Storey calls it “unfortunate” that our edition “went to press without reference to a recent exchange between Austin-Olson and Butrica in Leeds International Classical Studies”. Thesmophoriazusae was submitted to OUP in mid-2003 (see p. x; substantial research on the project concluded about six months earlier), and the articles in LICS to which Storey refers appeared only a number of months later. It would thus have been impossible for us to refer to Butrica’s response (about which we knew nothing until it appeared), while our own article merely reproduce the arguments about the date of Thesmophoriazusae II offered in our edition, meaning that the reader has lost nothing by not having been referred to it.

10. Storey faults our characterization of the tale of the Acharnian woman at Th. 561-2 as “oddly circumstantial,” citing this as evidence of an alleged tendency “to take the comic situation and flow too seriously.” But the explicit point of our note is that this anecdote is strikingly unlike the others that surround it, and that a number of the details are odd (“why an Acharnian woman? and why did she bury the body under a bathtub, of all things? and why was the victim her father rather than her husband, as in 560-1?”). Those facts, plus the use of pot’ (“once upon a time”) in 562, plus the way Mika angrily interrupts Inlaw before he can offer what might otherwise seem to be the crucial details of the story, suggest to us — as they suggested to Dobree long ago — that while most of Inlaw’s slanderous tales of women’s misdeeds are generic, this one may allude to some well-known local scandal.

11. As a further instance of our supposed tendency to take the text too seriously, Storey asserts that we use the tale of the Second Woman at Th. 443-58 as a basis for concluding that being widowed and never remarrying was the norm for Athenian women. This is precisely the opposite of what we do; in fact, we cite Gallant’s Risk and Survival in Ancient Greece for the demographic detail in question, and then use that detail to shed light on the imaginary situation referred to in the text. That the further implication that we base our arguments and analyses throughout on the clumsy assumption that comedy operated “under the strict rules of realistic logic” is untrue, is apparent from every page of our introduction and commentary.

12. Storey complains that “on quite a number of occasions the reader is inconveniently referred to fuller discussion and bibliography in other commentaries.” Since he offers no specific examples, it is difficult to respond, except to state that it has been our consistent principle to offer the reader a substantial treatment of the point at hand, accompanied by appropriate references to other primary texts and modern secondary works. Like all modern commentators, we frequently direct the interested reader to good sources of further information, including other commentaries. But this ought to be understood not as an attempt to evade our duties, but as a service to the reader who wants more references than we can reasonably provide.

13. Storey criticizes our characterization of various words and phrases as late 5th-century vocabulary or the like, on the ground that little early 5th-century Athenian literature is preserved. But like everyone working on ancient texts, we must make do with the evidence we have; if more early Athenian literature surfaces, we will happily take it into account in a revised edition and make all necessary corrections.

Fortunately, there is at least one point upon which we and Storey agree: Thesmophoriazusae is a wonderful play, and we would like to see more readers become acquainted with it, with or without the assistance of our edition.


1. Storey cites as a corrective Michael Silk’s Aristophanes and the Definition of Comedy. He might usefully have noted that, far from overlooking the book, we include it in our list of works cited repeatedly (p. xxvi) and refer to it numerous times in our commentary. Storey also cites Cratinus fr. 342.2 (“a Euripidaristophanizer”) as evidence for “the ancient association of the two dramatists”. But the rest of the line (“a bit of a quibbler, a pursuer of little sayings”) makes it clear that what binds the two poets together in the speaker’s mind is simply that both are fast talkers — which is to say that there is no evidence here for the historical relationship between the two men.

2. Contrast Acharnians p. lxiv, where I explicitly cite (and again reject the argument put forward in) the article in question.

3. Storey argues further that the eventual genuinely “inferior status” of the tritagonist was a result of Demosthenes’ attacks on Aeschines’ dramatic career. This seems unlikely; Demosthenes is playing off a stereotype, not creating one.