BMCR 2008.03.36

Euripides. Danae and Dictys. Introduction, Text and Commentary. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde, 228

, Euripides, Danae and Dictys : introduction, text and commentary. Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.. München/Leipzig: Saur, 2006. 1 online resource (xxi, 290 pages, 3 unnumbered pages of plates) : illustrations.. ISBN 9783110938739 €88.00.

In recent years there has been an unprecedented revival of interest in the fragments of Greek tragedy.1 This is hardly to be wondered at: the detailed examination of fragmentary tragic plays can present fresh insights into some of the most crucial issues of Greek tragedy, not to mention the significant aid it provides to a fuller appreciation of the surviving complete plays. In many cases, however, fragments give little indication of the contents of a play; as a result, any theories about the nature of these plays must necessarily be highly speculative. Karamanou has met these challenges magnificently. This book, which grew out of a doctoral thesis submitted to the University of London, makes a valuable contribution not only to the study of Euripides’ Danae and Dictys, but also to our understanding of the poet, his work, and its themes. In a volume that comprises 238 large, closely packed pages of analysis, the author brings together, for the first time, all the preserved material in a single authoritative edition.

In the introduction (pp. xiii-xxi), Karamanou is quick to note that Danae and Dictys, though now lost, are not entirely beyond the grasp of modern scholars, and this is due to the rich gnomological tradition from which numerous fragments come. Stobaeus, the 5th-century CE compiler, has saved most of the relevant fragments from oblivion. Philodemus, Plutarch and the ancient scholiasts provide the occasional fragment, but, as she points out, the complete lack of significant papyrus fragments makes it extremely hard for the editor to get some hold upon the plot as a whole: the distinctly sententious character of more than half of the fragments and the absence of reliable hypothesis material hardly allow easy conclusions about the substance of these two Euripidean plays. To complicate matters further, possible artistic representations — most pointedly in the case of a tentative connection between an Apulian red-figure volute-crater and Dictys — may induce unsuspecting minds to run riot in the reconstitution of the play’s form and content.2 Happily, Karamanou refrains from delighting in such useless flights of interpretative fancy because she pays sufficient respect to the sobering results of top-level modern scholarship on the tenuous links between image and text, and only little to late, suspect information about ancient dramatic productions at Athens and elsewhere. It is clear enough to this reviewer that in its cautious editing, its astutely selective commentary, and its sensitivity to literary form and expression, this edition of Euripides’ Danae and Dictys measures up to the high standard well-known scholars have set in their recent work on tragic fragments.3

After the general introduction, Karamanou presents all we have of Danae and Dictys. Each play receives its own thorough treatment, including a wide-ranging introduction discussing such intricate topics as the mythical matter that was available to Euripides in constructing his plays, the varied reception of the story in later poetry, the date of composition, the attribution of the fragments to the dramatic characters, the setting of the action and the provisional reconstitution of the plot. Then the textual evidence (testimonia and fragments) is presented, together with a useful critical apparatus of sources and readings. It is, fortunately, a conservative text, reflecting the prevailing tendency of modern scholarship. Karamanou points out (p. xiv) that it differs from Richard Kannicht’s monumental edition in a few places; perhaps a list of the differences would have been helpful, for the author is talented in textual criticism, regularly giving a satisfactory explanation for her choice of readings. The text is followed by a detailed commentary that deals authoritatively with editorial, metrical and syntactic matters, but is also enhanced by well-balanced reflections on the work’s theatrical complexities and interpretative difficulties. In her introduction to Euripides’ Danae, Karamanou is all too right to place strong emphasis on a recurrent story pattern in Euripides comprising a mother’s cunning plan to save her child from the wrath of her father, who eventually learns about the intrigue and inflicts harsh punishment on the mother and her baby (pp. 25-29). It is therefore extremely helpful to have other works in mind when reading the play. A careful comparison of Danae with Euripides’ thematically relevant tragedies Melanippe the Wise, Alope, Auge and Aeolus provides a wider perspective on the reconstruction of the play’s content. Karamanou’s arguments are very persuasive here. According to her reconstitution of the plot, frr. 1-2 indicate Danae’s ploy to hide her baby from Acrisius. Frr. 6-10 hint at the discovery of her trickery: oblivious to the divine identity of his daughter’s lover, Acrisius leaps to the conclusion that Danae was seduced by a rich suitor on the evidence of the pieces of gold found in her underground chamber. Frr. 13-15 allude to the terrible fate that is in store for Danae and Perseus: both mother and child are to be locked inside a chest and cast adrift; presumably this happens after a heated dialogue between Acrisius and his daughter, in which Danae would have managed to commute the execution of her child to exposure in the sea for both of them.

The commentary is meticulous and lucid throughout. Karamanou has sown with the hand and not the whole sack: readers who feel uneasy about excessive references and superfluous parallels will be well served by these thoughtfully selective comments. Especially useful features are the judicious treatment of well-known Euripidean thematic preoccupations and the ingenious suggestions on problems of staging. The discussion of frr. 14 and 15 of Euripides’ Danae is a case in point. Although we should have been better able to judge the extent to which the legend of Danae and Perseus has been molded by the art of Euripides, if more extensive fragments have been preserved, it would be hardly fanciful to surmise that the sad story of Danae is proof enough that Euripides never tires of his archetypes—in this case the self-immolating princess. Karamanou is surely right in putting interpretative stress on the motif of female selflessness and courage that is hinted at in fr. 14. Regrettably, the ragged textual evidence yields only an intermittent idea of the scene’s content. Karamanou follows Webster, Jouan and van Looy, and Kannicht in attributing this minor fragment to the chorus of Argive maidens. The continuation of the scene is unknown, but it would not be overbold to suggest that Euripides would have made much use here of the thematic core of female voluntary sacrifice and the social issues involved therein as he did inventively in other plays. Karamanou is nonetheless ready to disagree with modern assurances about the attribution of fragments, thereby offering good reasons for going back over what appears to be well-trodden ground so far. After a scrupulous weighing of the evidence she concludes that fr. 15 should not be treated as Acrisius’ gloomy judgement of human frailty in the light of the grim predictions voiced by the deus ex machina. It is indeed likely, as she argues (pp. 109-110), that a messenger’s narrative would have been rounded off by these pessimistic thoughts about the mutability of human fortune on account of the imprisonment of Danae and Perseus in a chest.

The problem of the ascription of these lines to one of the characters is of course insoluble for many reasons, one of them being the inescapable fact that the imagery of the present fragment is abstract enough to fit many a context without difficulty. In particular, fr. 15 offers a complex fabric of ideas stemming from the physical theories of Diogenes of Apollonia, the Greek natural philosopher; these theories were grounded in the notion that air is the one source of all being. One cannot help thinking—and Karamanou is fully conscious of the wider ramifications of the potential connection—that the condensation and rarefaction of air as the primal natural force reflect the uncontrollable physical environment to which Danae and her son are soon to be exposed. Without wishing to stretch a point, I wonder about another possibility. Again Karamanou seems to be aware of this intriguing layer of meaning. Given that Diogenes of Apollonia believed that air is endowed with intelligence, it would not be entirely far-fetched to suggest that exposure to what is taken to be a rational and sensitive element would not have exclusively amounted to certain doom. That reflection might well warn against readily interpreting the fragment at face value; it is also, in the innovative analysis proposed in the book, an implicit projection of the play’s happy ending. Moreover, although there is often little hope of restoring the right text here, Karamanou advances our understanding of some readings. For instance, as regards the crux in line 2 of fr. 15, Karamanou’s substantial improvement on Bothe’s explication of the reasonable emendation οὗ as a predicative genitive of possession seems to me to be the most acceptable solution.

The edition of Euripides’ Dictys occupies the latter half of the book. Again Karamanou should be praised for possessing the discrimination to see what is relevant and what is not. This is true especially in the matter of illuminating the tone of the play, where — as my notes below will indicate — she displays a keen and sharp critical intelligence. In the introduction (pp. 119-141), Karamanou sheds revealing light on the mythical background to the play, discussing at length the overlapping accounts of Pherecydes and Ps.-Apollodorus. She places little reliance on these two versions of the tale. Moreover, though the reconstruction of the play is seriously hampered by the dearth of major fragments, she appropriately chooses to draw on relevant treatments of the myth in Attic drama for further information, especially focusing on the clear points of contact between the Euripidean play and other thematically related dramas. Given that both Danae and Dictys are to a certain extent interconnected in their describing a tormented family on its way from hurt to healing, she is right in laying special emphasis on crucial issues arising from the presentation of a supplication crisis compounded by the delayed return of one of the protagonists, for Euripides’ Dictys has rightly been treated as both a suppliant drama and a nostos play. All this, taken together, seems to justify the claim that Dictys is a further proof of the centrality of suppliant motifs in Greek tragedy; in fact, it is widely accepted that Euripides exploited this master pattern of tragedy in several of his plays, creatively mixing the various ritual ingredients. It must be conceded that the problems facing an editor are numerous and formidable, especially when a fragment is not explicitly ascribed to the play.

It would thus be unfair to conclude this review without mention of the sound and thought-provoking analysis of fr. 2 in the face of unreliable sources. Here Karamanou presents a cogent case for the genuineness of the fragment in her effort to strengthen her supplication argument (pp. 172-175). Any possibility that this citation could have derived from any other dramatist except for Euripides is convincingly dismissed on the grounds that the language, style, and themes are distinctly Euripidean. I see no reason to doubt that with this perfectly rational speech Dictys attempts to comfort Danae who is distraught with fear that her son is dead.

The commentary is followed by an exhaustive appendix on the spurious Danae fragment (TrGF 5.2 Dubia et Spuria F 1132, pp. 1030-1034), and the work concludes with a detailed index of passages discussed, which constitutes a useful guide to the wealth of material contained in this finely produced volume.

To sum up: No one will fail to learn from this book, to acquire a fresh and sharpened sense of the thematic concerns of Euripidean drama and of the ways the plays sort out varied and transformed components of Greek mythology into fascinating stage action. A confident restoration of a fragmentary play is, of course, a contentious matter on which no two editors see quite eye to eye. Karamanou has nonetheless handled her complicated subject competently and resourcefully, regularly displaying critical sophistication and common sense. This edition of Euripides’ Danae and Dictys deserves the careful attention of everyone seriously interested in Greek tragic fragments.


1. See A. H. Sommerstein (ed.), Shards from Kolonos: Studies in Sophoclean Fragments (Bari: Levante Editori, 2003); F. McHardy, J. Robson and D. Harvey (eds.), Lost Dramas of Classical Athens: Greek Tragic Fragments (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2005); M. Cropp, “Lost Tragedies: A Survey”, in J. Gregory (ed.), A Companion to Greek Tragedy (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), pp. 271-292.

2. On artistic evidence, see also I. Karamanou, “An Apulian Volute-Crater Inspired by Euripides’ Dictys”. BICS 46 (2002-2003) 167-175.

3. See,e.g., C. Collard, M. J. Cropp and K. H. Lee, Euripides: Selected Fragmentary Plays, Volume I (Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1995); C. Collard, M. J. Cropp and J. Gibert, Euripides: Selected Fragmentary Plays, Volume II (Oxford: Aris & Phillips and Oxbow Books, 2004); A. H. Sommerstein, D. Fitzpatrick and T. Talboy, Sophocles: Selected Fragmentary Plays, Volume I (Oxford: Aris & Phillips and Oxbow Books, 2006).