BMCR 2007.04.67

L’Astyanax di Accio: Saggio sul background mitografico, testo critico e commento dei frammenti. Collection Latomus, 295

, L'Astyanax di Accio : saggio sul background mitografico, testo critico e commento dei frammenti. Collection Latomus ; v. 295. Bruxelles: Éditions Latomus, 2006. 156 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 2870312369. €30.00 (pb).

The recent growth in the study of Roman Republican tragedy needs the nourishment of good and detailed commentaries if it is to continue in a healthy manner. H.D. Jocelyn’s edition of the fragments of Ennius’ tragedies has long been, like its subject, an authoritative, if slightly austere and forbidding, presence, and Petra Schierl’s excellent new Pacuvius has now superseded even the fine work of Giovanna D’Anna. Accius has ironically suffered from writing too many tragedies and hence having too many surviving fragments to fit comfortably into one volume with sufficient commentary, and so has had to make do with the admirable but necessarily spare notes in the editions of Vincenzo D’Anto and, more recently, Jacqueline Dangel. Scafoglio (S.) has proposed a solution to this problem by devoting an entire volume to an edition, with commentary, of the fragments of one play, the Astyanax, supplemented by a long and sensitive discussion of the myths of Polyxena’s sacrifice and Astyanax’ murder. Both commentary and mythographical essay are outstanding, and the only question which might be asked is whether their quality is sufficient to justify a whole book devoted to so few fragments.

After a brief encomium of Accius,1 the introduction is primarily methodological. S. justifies his decision to concentrate on the fragments of a single tragedy, tactfully but firmly designating Dangel’s Budé edition of all the fragments2 as a significant milestone in work on Accius but not the end of the road. The Astyanax was chosen not only for its intrinsic interest but for the resonance of its themes of war, empire and the treatment of the conquered, both for second century BC Rome and for contemporary civilization. S. engagingly explains how his methodology is affected by the almost complete loss of the play, citing Weber to support his assertion that probability rather than certainty is the best those working with fragments can achieve. The rationale of the mythographic survey is outlined, but it is perhaps to be regretted that work on the Nachleben of the Astyanax myth is to be S.’s next project (11 n.8), rather than part of this volume which, focused and detailed though it is, remains rather slim.

The ‘essay on the mythographical background’, which constitutes the first part of the book, is both more and less than its title suggests. An essay it certainly is, rather than either an exercise in Quellenforschung or a comprehensive survey of the various versions of the myth, such as one might as easily find in Roscher, Pauly, or Gantz. S. focuses on four stages of the development or, to use less teleological terms, four phases of the history of the myths of Astyanax’ murder and Polyxena’s sacrifice: the archaic period ‘from Homer to Simonides’, Greek tragedy (including a brief foray into the fourth century), Roman (Republican) tragedy, and finally Accius’ Astyanax itself. Each section is a model of cautious, but never timid, reconstruction. The question of whether the epic cycle inspired or was inspired by Andromakhe’s proleptic allusion to Astyanax’ death in Iliad 24 is deftly dismissed as irrelevant in the context of oral tradition and rhapsodic recomposition. What can reasonably be reconstructed of the episodes’ treatment in Leskhes’ Ilias Mikra and Arktinos’ Iliou Persis from Proclus and various scholia, is judiciously weighed, and the divergent strands blaming Neoptolemos or Odysseus, motivated by personal vengeance, religious scruple or political expediency, are carefully disentangled. Stesikhoros’ characteristic innovation is detected in his treatment, as carefully supplemented using the evidence of the Tabula Capitolina, while Simonides is proposed as the first to introduce the ghost of Achilles into the story.

The section on Greek tragedy focuses on the lost Polyxene of Sophocles, and Euripides’ Andromakhe, Hekabe, and Troades, with a pendant on Antiphon’s Andromakhe and the fragment preserved on P.Oxy. VI.852. It is here that S. comes into his own. The skilful reconstruction continues where necessary, and his reconciling of Stobaios’ claim that Achilles’ ghost spoke with pseudo-Longinus’ that it appeared on his tomb (presumably in a messenger speech) is masterly: the ghost prologue narrates his own appearance to living characters, which is imagined as happening simultaneously, as with Polydoros’ ghost in Hekabe, which almost certainly alludes not only to this tragedy but to this technique within it.3 However, it is the sensitive analysis of character, style, and broader literary issues (rarely self-indulgent, and almost always serving to fill in the background to how the myth might, and indeed had, been treated before Accius) which sets this section apart from modern or ancient mythographers, and from the section on ‘the myth before χ’, which is such a staple of commentary introductions. To give just a couple of highlights: the way in which, in Euripides’ Andromakhe, the situation of her son by Neoptolemos threatens to double and replay that of Astyanax, especially if the tradition of the former’s being concealed predates the play, though it has been anticipated in part by Storey and Sorum,4 is sensitively and imaginatively developed. Equally sensitive is the suggestion that the marginalizing of Polyxena’s sacrifice in the Troades (compared to the Hekabe), in favour of Astyanax’ murder, is meant to lessen the emphasis on Hekabe’s personal grief as opposed to the general suffering of the Trojans and the loss of their future as embodied in the child.

Two minor quibbles on this section: in assessing the different settings of the tragedies, especially asserting that the move from the Greek camp to that of the Trojan captives was an innovative and significant one in the Hekabe (38), S. ought at least to register, if not discuss, the striking and problematic innovation in that play of moving the setting to the Thracian Chersonese. Secondly, he could just occasionally be a little more generous, or perhaps more thorough, in assigning credit for some of his points: Webster is cited at 45 n.73 as giving ‘an overall picture’ of post-classical tragedy, but not mentioned in association with the subsequent linking of two Aristotelian passages to suggest that Antiphon’s Andromakhe may have fostered Astyanax with another woman for safety; Webster also makes the connection with Accius and the note of Servius which may preserve its plot.5

S.’s discussion of Roman tragedy (pre-Accius, of course) passes over Livius Andronicus and Naevius on the grounds that they ‘did not, as far as we know, dwell on the events after the fall of Troy’; this is broadly true, but it would perhaps have been worth glancing at least at the former’s Hermiona (whose one fragment, fr. 23 Ribbeck, appears to be from a speech of Andromache to her son by Neoptolemus), the latter’s Andromacha (fr 1 R, also addressed to, this time unnamed, son)6 and the Equos Troianus and which each (or possibly only one) of them wrote. The discussions of Ennius’ Andromacha aechmalotis and Hecuba once more combine careful reconstruction with sensitive discussion of stylistic and thematic issues (especially on Andromacha’s speech from the former play, fr. 78-94 Jocelyn). S. assumes, perhaps rightly, that the Andromacha treated the same subject matter as Euripides’ Troades (and hence Accius’ Astyanax), but might at least note, even if only to dismiss, Auhagen’s tentative resuscitation of Welcker’s thesis that the play was set in Epirus, after the death of Neoptolemus.7 The only other (debatable) absence is a discussion of Pacuvius’ Iliona, which, though it deals with the ‘wrong’ half of the Hekabe‘s plot (Polydoros and Polymestor, rather than Polyxene), is still closely related to the events after the sack and, as S. notes briefly in the next section, Hyginus juxtaposes his narratives of the two plots. In particular, the unEuripidean motivation for Polymestor’s (failed) murder of Polydoros, to extirpate the house of Priam, suggests a close engagement with the traditions about Astyanax.

In discussing the Astyanax itself, S. surveys Accius’ tragedies relating to the Trojan cycle (twelve out of a total of forty known plays) and, after considering Hyginus, proposes Servius auctus’ note ad Verg. A. 3.489 as preserving the plot of the play. He proceeds to test this against the elements preserved in the mythographical tradition and what can be extrapolated from the surviving fragments of the play. Finally he assesses the evidence as to whether the two fragments attributed by Servius auctus, Nonius, and Priscian to Accius’ Troades belong to the same play. Of the three possibilities — one play, two plays of which the second is a return to the same subject-matter, or two plays treating adjacent but separate parts of the same story (e.g. one on Polyxena, one on Polydorus) — S. expresses a preference for the first, but, in the current state of the evidence, refrains from dogmatic insistence.

The edition of the fragments is exemplary. S. gives a full apparatus, using editions of both the quoting source and the fragments, and quoting the full entry (usually in Nonius) for the word or lemma under which the fragment is quoted, including any other illustrative quotations. I detected only one omission: in his fr. XI (183-4 Ribbeck) S. prints Bothe’s prorepens for the MSS’ clearly diplographic properantem, with an honourable mention for Usener’s procedens, but does not consider, or even report in the apparatus criticus, Dangel’s attractive and palaeographically economical prope euntem. The commentary is a splendid mixture of detailed and sophisticated textual and linguistic analysis,8 sensitive literary criticism, and cautious but plausible suggestions as to the speaker, situation, and relevance to the plot and wider thematic issues. Once more to choose a few brief highlights: the suggestion that fr. III (171-2 R) is part of a stage-managed show of reluctance on Calchas’ part which enables Ulysses to ‘force’ him to speak, and that Sinon’s narrative of a similar scenario in Aen. 2 alludes to this scene; the analysis of Ulysses’ overexcited lyric demand for details about Astyanax’ capture in fr IX (179-82 R); and the deduction that Hecuba’s prayer for Cassandra to be left to her as one surviving daughter (fr. II = 167-8 R) means that Polyxena is already dead.9

Occasionally I would differ from S. The line claiming that never will any abundance of blood sate the Greeks’ cruelty (fr. VIII = 176 R) need not (though it might) mean that Polyxena is already dead; even if the deaths of so many Trojans (including almost all Hecuba’s sons) in the war do not count, the murder of Priam and the other atrocities of the sack would be sufficient previous cruelty for whatever is referred to here to be added to. S.’s most adventurous suggestion is that the fragmenta adespota quoted at Cic. Tusc. 1.36-7 ( inc. inc. 73-7 ρ belong to a prologue speech by the ghost of Achilles, modelled on that in Sophokles’ Polyxene.10 S. makes a persuasive case and Tarrant’s objection (not cited) that it must be spoken by a human, since a ghost would not have such difficulties coming to earth, is not a convincing one, though more telling is his suggestion that the metre is unsuited to a prologue.11 My only reservation is that both Cicero’s reference to nekyiai and the fragment’s own allusion to the place from which spirits are summoned up by salty blood would better suit (though this may be an over-literal interpretation) a ghost summoned up in a necromancy, as in Aeschylus’ Persians, though no appropriate Roman tragic context immediately suggests itself.12

S. also includes an excursus on tragic attacks on seers, such as that in fr. V; he traces the theme through Attic and Republican tragedy and sees Accius’ use of the motif as part of a historically situated rationalizing approach to religion. The ‘conclusions’ are actually a helpful summary of the book’s arguments, with a brief coda which tries to account for the play’s attitude to the defeated in the context of the second century BC, as well as for all ages, including our own.

I noted very few errors and typos. One curious misprint is the dating of the book on the spine (but nowhere else) to 2005 rather than 2006 — librarians beware! 16 n.3: for φάενοι, read φάμενοι; in the same quotation, S. reproduces what must surely be a misprint in van der Valk’s edition at Eustathius ad Il. 24.732-5, στοζαχομένη (unparalleled and lacking a conceivable root) for the more plausible (and relatively common in Eustathius) στοχαζομένη; 103 (fr XII): for ‘149-150 Klotz’, read ‘Warmington’; 108 n.56: for ‘O. Ribbeck 1975’, read ‘1875’. The entry in the bibliography for T. Tosi 1957 should be to the whole of N. Terzaghi (ed.) Scritti di filologia e di archeologia, rather than just its first article on the Iliou Persis (3-37), since 23 n.18 refers to ‘Il sacrifizio di Polissena’, (154-67). The same author’s Tracce d’ignota tragedia in uno scolio virgiliano is given a separate entry, but this ten-page pamphlet from 1912 can more conveniently be found also reprinted in Terzaghi’s collection at 149-53.

S. has produced a very fine edition of the fragments of Accius’ Astyanax, and an essay which combines rigour in tracing mythographical developments with extreme sensitivity to style, theme, and stagecraft. In terms of what it sets out to achieve, it is unquestionably a complete success. The only issue is whether a whole edition should be devoted to a total of twenty-four, perhaps twenty-nine, lines, not all of them complete. The (comparatively) large quantity of Accian fragments would make a complete commentary on the scale of Jocelyn’s Ennius, or D’Anna or Schierl’s Pacuvius impossibly large, but there is definitely a need for a more detailed commentary than the scope of Dangel’s Budé or D’Anto’s edition can offer. S.’s approach is one solution, but perhaps an edition of three, four, or even more, related (or unrelated) tragedies, as Aris and Phillips have so successfully done with Euripides’ and now Sophokles’ fragments, would make the whole exercise more satisfying (and economical) for both the author and the reader.


1. Perhaps slightly exaggerated: to take Am. 1.15.19 ( Ennius arte carens animosique Accius oris) as Ovid’s preferring him to Ennius is a tendentious and reductive reading of the latter’s alleged lack of Callimachean τέχνη.

2. Dangel, Jacqueline ed. (1995) Accius, Oeuvres: fragments (Paris: Les Belles Lettres).

3. On Polyxene, see now Sommerstein’s edition with introduction and commentary in Sommerstein, Alan H., Fitzpatrick, David & Talboy, Thomas edd. (2006) Sophocles: selected fragmentary plays vol. 1 (Warminster: Aris & Phillips) 41-83; he concludes that the ghost appeared twice. The publication dates would of course make it impossible for either author to take account of the other.

4. Storey, Ian C. (1989) ‘Domestic Disharmony in Euripides’ Andromache‘, G & R 36: 16-27; Sorum, Christina Elliot (1995) ‘Euripides’ Judgment: Literary Creation in Andromache‘, AJPh 116: 371-88.

5. Webster, T.B.L. (1954 – not 1952 as cited) ‘Fourth Century Tragedy and the Poetics‘, Hermes 82: 294-308, at 299.

6. S. may tacitly agree with those who assign these lines to a comedy, whether by Naevius or, as the MSS read, Novius.

7. Auhagen, Ulrike (2000) ‘Ennius’ Andromacha im politischen Kontext der Zeit’, in Manuwald, Gesine ed. Identität und Alterität in der frührömischen Tragödie (Würzburg: Ergon) 199-210.

8. One omission, 83 n.6 ad fr. II: among his examples of Arquitenens as an epithet of Diana, rather than, as here, Apollo, S. omits Accius’ own such usage at Erigona fr. 52 R = 324 Dangel: quod utinam me suis arquitenes telis mactasset dea! (Ribbeck defends the MSS’ arquitenes as ‘ antiqua scriptura‘, but it remains the same word.) It would strongly support his assertion that the title is not merely formulaic but emphasizes the god’s austere and threatening aspect.

9. This last is partly anticipated by Elaine Fantham in her edition of Seneca’s Troades (Princeton, 1982) 65.

10. Ribbeck tentatively assigns it to Accius’ Troades.

11. Tarrant, R.J. ed. (1976) Seneca’s Agamemnon (Cambridge) 159 n.5.

12. The emphasis on the difficulty of the journey is in fact closely paralleled by Dareios’ ghost at 688-90: ἔστι δ’ οὐκ εὐέξοδον | ἄλλως τε πάντως χοἰ χθονὸς θεοὶ | λαβεῖν ἀμείνους εἰσὶν ἢ μεθιέναι.