BMCR 2007.12.12

Papyrologica Scaenica

, Papyrologica scaenica : i copioni teatrali nella tradizione papiracea. Hellenica ; 20. Alessandria: Edizioni dell'Orso, 2006. vi, 294 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.. ISBN 8876949194. €27.00.

Table of Contents

The performative aspect of Greek literature is increasingly gaining the attention of classical scholars and rightly so, since most of Greek literature, at least until the fourth century BC, was produced primarily to be performed. This is even truer for Greek drama, which was linked closely with performance until much later. The volume by Gammacurta (henceforth G.) is intended to fill an important gap: studying papyri of dramatic texts which show traces of performative use. G. analyzes 23 papyri that span from the third century BC to the third century AD and that thus offer valuable documentation for the Hellenistic and especially Roman periods. The volume is divided into two parts. In the first part G. presents the papyrological evidence available, and in the second part she summarizes the data and draws her conclusions.

The first part is divided into three categories: 1) papyri containing actors’ sigla; 2) papyri containing stage directions; 3) musical papyri. Each papyrus is presented first through an outline with the following headings: name, catalogs (Pack 2, LDAB date and provenance, material and format, dimensions, disposition of the text, paleographical features, typology of the text, literary genre, content, bibliography (divided into editions, tables, and studies); then the analysis of the manuscripts follows. The papyri are ordered chronologically within each section, with the exception of no. 1 and no. 13, which open their respective sections (actors’ sigla and musical papyri) because of their particular importance (2-3).

The first group comprises 10 papyri with actors’ sigla (P.Oxy. 3.413, P.Hibeh 2.180, P.Rain. 3.22, PSI 10.1176, P.Ryl. 3.484, P.Berol. 13876, P.Berol. 21119, P.Varsov. 2, P.Lit.Lond. 97, P.Oxy. 27.2458). For tragedy and comedy, the letters Α, Β and Γ have numeric value and indicate the actors according to the hierarchy within the company (protagonist, deuteragonist and tritagonist). Mime papyri show more letters and abbreviations indicating additional actors or groups of actors ( Δ, and Ζ in P.Oxy. 3.413, or Ζ and Η in P.Berol. 13876).

The second group comprises 2 papyri with stage directions: P.Hamb. 2.120 and P.Oxy. 36.2746. In P.Hamb. 2.120 (New Comedy) the sequence ΧΝΧ has been read as meaning Χ ( ωρεῖ) Ν ( ῦν) and a name of a character beginning with Χ. P.Oxy. 36.2746 (a dialogue between Cassandra, Priam, Deiphobus and the chorus) has paragraphoi to divide up scenes or characters’ interventions (127). There are other signs which are difficult to interpret (128-129) together with the word ΩΔΗ (repeated 7 times), which might indicate a particular type of melody characterizing Cassandra’s interventions.

The third group comprises 11 musical papyri, all containing tragic pieces (P.Vindob. G 2315, P.Leid. inv. 510, P.Vind. G 29825, P.Oxy. 89 β 31,33, P.Oslo inv. 1413, P.Oxy. 25.2436, P.Mich. inv. 2958, P.Yale inv. 4510, P.Berol. 6870, P.Oxy. 44.3161, P.Oxy. 44.3162). The group opens (131-142) with the famous P.Vindob. G 2315, containing Euripides’ Orestes 339. 338. 340-343, which was probably a self-standing extract in an anthology of musical pieces from Euripides. The popularity of tragic musical anthologies is confirmed by other papyri containing extracts, either unrelated or selected according to the content as in P.Oslo inv. 1413 (tragic passages on Pyrrhus and Neoptolemus) and in P.Oxy. 44.3161(lamentations of mythical mothers). Musical notation is represented by the letters corresponding to the various musical modes. When two notes belong to the same vowel (as often happens in mythical proper names: cf. 183; 214, n. 15; 228), either the vowel is repeated twice, or a hyphen links the two notes (P.Oslo inv. 1413 shows both practices). Musical papyri do not have a division according to cola, but tend to have very long lines with wide interlinear space in order to contain the musical notation.

In the shorter second part (239-281) G. sums up her analysis. Her main point is that the stage papyri are closer to documentary than to literary texts: the hands are not canonical, and there are many corrections and additions. The analysis of the actors’ sigla (1.1, 240-247) raises the problem of the number of actors: the rule of the three actors is constant in tragedy, and perhaps comedy had a fourth actor in the first-second century AD. Mime companies were more numerous and also employed non-professional actors (‘the mimic chorus’) for particular performances. Actors’ sigla, unlike the word ΧΟΡΟΥ for a choral ode, are absent from medieval manuscripts. Hence they were not considered part of the text, and their presence in a papyrus points towards a performative use of the papyrus. The typology and meaning of stage directions (1.2, 248-251) vary extremely. Normally they are inserted within the main text, sometimes with a vacuum; they can be full words, abbreviations, or symbols. In opposition to Taplin’s conclusions that the only secure stage directions are the acoustic ones, for G. there are also other notations indicating movements of actors on stage (e.g. ΔΙΩΚΕΙ in P.Berol. 13876.ii.33), and paragraphoi too are stage directions because they would signal a pause in the dramatic action of the performance. The musical notation (1.3, 252-257), which is developed from the Ionic alphabet, shows a very standardized shape that does not change over time. Papyri attest melodic as well as rhythmic annotation, which is absent from medieval manuscripts. Thus musical annotation proves that the papyrus was used by a player. Lastly (1.4, 257-259), these papyri are characterized by an extensive use of the writing material on both sides; sometimes additions to the text on the front are added on the back.

Chapter 2 (261-263) is dedicated to the relationship between theater scripts and textual traditions. According to Pöhlmann’s reconstruction, already in the fifth century the textual traditions of dramatic text had separated into two different branches: reading copies, with the text only, and theatrical scripts, with musical notations. In post-classical plays the choral parts were omitted from the reading copies (substituted by the indication ΧΟΡΟΥ). This procedure was occasionally applied also to classical plays (see P.Sorb. 2252, a copy of the Hippolytus of Euripides). Theatrical scripts on the other hand often contained only the musical parts without the dialogues. There are, however, cases of papyri that seem to be reading copies derived from theatrical scripts, such as PSI 1176 and P.Lit.Lond. 97.

In chapter 3 (265-273), on the types of performances in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, G. agrees with Gentili’s thesis that theatrical anthologies were the most common form of entertainment of that time. Mimes were also quite popular, and papyri suggest that their text was considered more open to rewriting and additions. Comedy too was common. P.Oxy. 27.2458, with Euripides’ Cresphontes, shows that in the third century AD an entire classical tragedy could still be staged; yet most of the ‘copie sceniche’ (‘stage copies’) of tragic papyri seem to be anthologies. In some of the musical papyri, dialogic parts originally in iambic or trochaic meter have been rewritten with musical notation.

A brief conclusion summarizing G.’s work and an appendix analyzing two other debated musical papyri (P.Oxy. 53.3705 and P.CairoZen. 59533) conclude the volume (277-281).

The work of G. is certainly a welcome addition to performance studies. Unfortunately, the impression after reading it is one of disappointment. This is not to be ascribed to G., but rather to the very scanty evidence of performative notations in papyri. A total of 23 papyri is not much, and the quality of their annotations is rather poor. Musical papyri aside, there are only actors’ sigla and very scarce stage directions, but, for example, no information about the objects present on stage or about scene setting can be found. Given the evidence available, G. has done an excellent job of saying all that could be said: how actors’ companies were organized, how musical notation was laid out in texts, and how anthologies of theatrical pieces, often with musical accompaniment, became more and more frequent in the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

The major problem in a study like this is that most of these papyri cannot be compared with a parallel manuscript tradition. Only two musical papyri contain extracts of known tragedies: P.Vindob. G 2315, the Orestes papyrus, and P.Leid. inv. 510, with extracts from Eur. Iph. Aul.. The disposition of the lines confirms that both papyri were conceived as anthologies gathering excerpts from Euripides. But apart from these (scanty) examples, none of the remaining evidence allows any comparison between the ‘reading’ and the ‘performative’ tradition of the same text.

Most conclusions are by necessity based on one or very few examples. The caveat (265), that the scarce evidence should alert us when making inferences about performances in the Hellenistic and Roman periods, must be extended to all the conclusions of this study. In the second part, some tables summarizing the results for the papyri with actors’ sigla (247) and with stage directions (251) are extremely useful to assess the evidence available. Unfortunately, G. has not provided similar tables for musical papyri and their type of annotation. These two tables show that our information about performances in these papyri is rather poor. For example, most data for stage directions come from only one papyrus: P.Oxy. 3.413; then P.Berol. 13876 and P.Oxy. 2746 have some notations; finally, there is one notation in P.Lit.Lond 97 and one in P.Hamb. 2.120. The impression is that all these performance and stage directions are features of particular papyri and cannot necessarily be considered typical. The situation of actors’ sigla is better, since there are more examples available. There too, however, P.Oxy. 3.413 and P.Berol. 13876 are among the most important sources.

The volume, though interesting, has some problems in the organization of the material and clarification of methodology. First, the classification of the material: the table with stage directions (251) lists a total of 5 papyri; however, in section 2, dedicated to stage directions, only two are listed: P.Hamb. 2.120 and P.Oxy. 36.2746. On the other hand, the richest papyri with stage directions, P.Oxy. 3.413 and P.Berol. 1387, are placed in section 1, among the papyri containing actors’ sigla. True, they do show actors’ sigla, but they have stage directions too. Given the paucity of material, it would have been better to have these papyri listed in the second group as well or, at least, a note by G. indicating this. Having the material presented in this way is extremely confusing, because the reader cannot have a real sense of the content of these papyri. The difficulty of finding the material collected here is the most questionable aspect of the volume, which claims to be a complete collection of all available material (cf. G. at 2 and Antonietta Porro at VI). The problem is made worse by the lack of an index of names and key-words, which is most useful in repertories like this to facilitate the search for where a particular sign is used. This is not possible here, unless one reads the entire volume.

Also, I wonder whether the exposition of the material would have been more effective if the description of each papyrus were shorter and more to the point. The attempt at completeness is surely commendable, but discussions of the content of the text that are not strictly related to its performative aspects (e.g. 66-68), or about the different phases of the writing material (e.g. 56-57), risk being confusing and distract from the main focus: the signs and marks related to performance. The general analysis of all the performative marks and the comparisons between papyri, which are to be found in the various descriptions, would have been better placed in a longer second part, where all the data could have been put into a larger context. Furthermore, the descriptions should have been more complete in terms of performative marks: for example, at p. 21 G. refers to some actors’ sigla ( Δ, Ζ, ΒΑΣ), but since she does not present the text of the papyrus where these sigla appear, it is difficult to follow her discussion.

The outline at the beginning of each papyrus is very useful, especially for the bibliography gathered there. However, there is one terminological problem. The most important heading in the light of the present study is the ‘typology of text’, since it defines which type of text the papyrus at issue is. In her repertory G. uses the following Italian terminology: ‘copia di lettura’, ‘copione teatrale’, ‘copia professionale’, ‘copia di scena’. An explanation of this terminology is necessary. What are the differences between a ‘copia di scena’ (stage copy), a ‘copione teatrale’ (theater script) and ‘copia professionale’ (professional copy)? In general, the basic distinction seems to be between ‘reading copy’ and ‘theater script’. If instead G. envisioned more subtle differences among these texts, she should have stated it somewhere. In the introduction (2-4) she seems to use these terms as synonyms, but then one wonders why all the musical papyri are defined as ‘copie di scena’, whereas all the papyri containing actors’ sigla can be only ‘copioni teatrali’ or ‘copie professionali’. Does this difference in terminology mean anything on a deeper level? If it does not, then G. should have made the terminology homogeneous to avoid misunderstanding. Another difficulty is, in my view, the definition of a papyrus as a reading copy on the basis of mistakes such as the omission of an actor’s abbreviation, as in PSI 10.1167 (56), or the presence of the simple indication ΧΟΡΟΥ, as in P.Hibeh 2.180 (39-40). Couldn’t the latter be a copy for an actor who was not interested in the choral part? Also, G. distinguishes between ‘reading copy’ and ‘theater script’ according to the degree of literacy of the hands (61), but I am not sure that this criterion is a valid one.

In the section on musical papyri, some questions arise: for instance, why do all the musical papyri contain tragedy? Comedy too was accompanied by music and was a very popular entertainment in the Roman period. Is it just chance that there are no musical papyri with comedy? These questions are never addressed. Another methodological problem arises when comparing this section with Pöhlmann-West, Documents of Ancient Greek Music (δαγμ Oxford 2001: what are the criteria G. adopted in selecting her material? If the aim was to collect papyri with dramatic content and performative aspect, then why, for example, are no. 44 (DAGM: ‘mythological…with narrative tenses…but also some possible indications of direct speech’), no. 45 (DAGM: ‘dramatic plea of some sort’), no. 47 (DAGM: ‘suggesting a dramatic scene’), or no. 49 (a monologue by a woman) omitted by G. (who even mentions no. 44 at 230-31)? G. never explains the criteria of her selection, and this makes the completeness of her repertory difficult to assess.

Some final general remarks. One would have wished that all the texts presented here were given a translation, since they are highly fragmentary and not generally known. G. instead translates rarely, and only the longer pieces when she does (see 53, n. 13; 56, n. 18; 86, n. 6). Also, some real pictures of the papyri and not simply drawings would have been welcome, not least because G. often insists on the ‘documentary’ aspect of all these papyri, and an example of it would have made things clearer.

As for language, I will mention only one point that is rather relevant to the topic treated here. One of the most-used musical marks is the so-called ‘hyphen’, in Greek ὑφέν, written below two notes that belong to the same syllable. G. writes it consistently as ὑφήν with eta, instead of epsilon. Its clear etymology, together with its frequent use among papyrologists, should have alerted G. to the orthography of this Greek word.