[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]
In their introduction to Eschyle à l’aube du théâtre occidental, Jacques Jouanna and Franco Montanari make much of the fact that Aeschylus had to wait 50 years longer than Euripides for an entry in the Fondation Hardt’s series of Entretiens sur l’Antiquité classique, and 26 years longer than Sophocles. A comparison is thus in order, and in many ways, the present volume fares well by it. To begin with, its 510 pages make it nearly as long as the two earlier volumes combined. While the stature and experience of the contributors are typical of the series, as is the fact that they write in four languages, hail from six countries, and represent diverse scholarly styles and approaches, it is evident that a different kind of attention has been paid to broad coverage of the chosen author. The Euripides volume (1960), for instance, has no chapter on stagecraft, lost plays, or ancient scholarship, nothing on modern reception, and barely anything on politics. While the Sophocles volume (1983), reflecting changing times, makes good some of these omissions, the new volume on Aeschylus goes still further and covers them all. And “cover” is the right word: many of the contributors helpfully survey their assigned territory before presenting an argument or turning to illustrative examples. The volume has some competition in the form of other essay collections (e.g. the Oxford Readings in Aeschylus edited by Michael Lloyd in 2007) and companions, but because the essays are new rather than reprinted, because the contributors were given sufficient space to go beyond survey and develop original ideas, and because discussions among the participants follow all the chapters except Seidensticker’s (who was unable to attend the Entretiens in person), graduate students and scholars prepared to read (English and) French, Italian, and German will all find something of value here.
The first essay, Mark Griffith’s “The Poetry of Aeschylus (in its traditional contexts)”, is a wide-ranging assessment of Aeschylus’ linguistic versatility, originality, and distinctiveness. The longer first part considers “Aeschylus as adapter of pre-existent poetic (and other) traditions”, namely “‘Homeric’ epic-narrative”, “Didactic/gnomic/paraenetic (including elegiac and iambic) poetry and ‘wisdom’ traditions”, “Choral celebratory lyric”, “Non-literary ritual speech-acts (prayer, incantation, curse, magic, etc.)”, “Science, medicine, ethnography—and other ‘presocratic’ discourses”, and “Law, politics, and the rhetoric of civic life”. Well-chosen examples support concise and convincing conclusions and pave the way for a second section on “The indeterminacy factor in Aeschylean poetics”. Here Griffith explores the multiplicity of “voices” in Aeschylean drama and the kinds of authority and intention they convey. He uses several examples from Agamemnon (the chorus’ description of the omen of the eagles and the pregnant hare and Calchas’ interpretation of it in the parodos, Clytemnestra’s exchange with the chorus concerning the fall of Troy in the first episode, the Cassandra scene, and excerpts from the second stasimon) to argue that “indeterminacy of voice and authority, and hence of reference and meaning, are often essential components of Aeschylean poetry” (46) and that this sets him apart not only from Homer and other predecessors, but from his two great tragic successors as well.
In “Du mythe à la scène: la création théâtrale chez Eschyle”, Jacques Jouanna surveys Aeschylus’ use of scenic resources in three sections: (1) a fairly complete, sequential study of visual aspects of Eumenides; (2) a consideration of the specificity and importance of the setting of Aeschylean plays, with special attention to Persians; and (3) a discussion of the numbers of actors and chorus-members, again with a focus on Persians and Eumenides. Jouanna’s strength is close attention to the text; he takes generally well-supported positions on many controversial points of detail. While he has no theoretical axe to grind, he has a tendency to foreground, sometimes in unhelpfully arch or polemical tones, his disagreements with Oliver Taplin’s Stagecraft of Aeschylus. The presentation is learned and clear, and in a few cases provocative, as a list of just a few of Jouanna’s interpretations of Eumenides will illustrate: (1) the Pythia enters not on all fours, but staggering and waving her arms to keep her balance (in the Discussion, p. 115, Griffith is tempted but ultimately unconvinced); (2) Clytemnestra’s ghost is visible, and enters on the mechane (in the Discussion, p. 112-13, Griffith is again unconvinced; Montanari, p. 116-17, adds support from the scholia to Iliad 2.144, 156; 23.76); (3) Athena also arrives on the mechane (accepted as possible by Sommerstein, rejected by Taplin and Mastronarde); (4) the torchbearers in the closing procession are not the same as either the jurors (so Taplin) or the servants who watch over the statue of Athena (Sommerstein) (here Jouanna probably misinterprets the verb in 1026 (
Robert Parker begins his fine essay, “Aeschylus’ Gods: Drama, Cult, Theology”, with two elementary observations that “may seem destined to end with a much thinner account of the role of religion in Aeschylus than has usually been accepted” (138), namely that religious utterance in any play always has a dramatic context and always comes from the mouth of a character or chorus. Its claim to be authoritative may be slight or null; the only kind of utterance that is routinely reliable is prophecy. Still, Parker goes on to argue that “in no other author (not even notably pious authors such as Herodotus and Sophocles) are human actions marinated, as it were, in the divine in quite the same way” as in Aeschylus (138). But the purpose is not (as is often claimed) to justify god’s ways to man. In Aeschylus, religious notions like divine justice are not “a simple solution to the confusion and horror of human life, but also a part of it” (141). Divine and human chains of causality intermesh; characters who suffer for their ancestors’ transgressions are themselves transgressive. The whole vision is rather terrifying. Yet the contrast in mood within the Oresteia between Eumenides and the two preceding plays, while it may not be typical, offers a glimpse of an altogether different possibility, a quasi-Heraclitean reconciliation of opposites, at the level of the polis if not the individual. Parker concludes with detailed comments on the extraordinary dramatic weight given to the cult of the Semnai Theai and some reflections on the boldness of Aeschylus’ myth-making in general. Of particular interest in the Discussion following Parker’s essay are the exchanges with Podlecki and Judet de La Combe (p. 158-9, 160-2) on the question whether the pronouncements of Calchas reported in the parodos are authoritative and therefore mitigate Agamemnon’s guilt.
In “Scena e politica in Eschilo”, Guido Avezzù explores the way in which settings can provide a symbolic map of political relations in which correspondence to topographical reality is more or less unimportant. The political relations that interest Aeschylus are often represented as coming into being within the plays themselves; the tragic community can thus be called “pre-political” or, as Macintosh helpfully suggests in the Discussion, “proto-political”. A particular tendency Avezzù notes is tragedy’s reluctance to set Attic myth in the city of Athens; he speculates that the reason for this is a desire to avoid “contaminating” the city with stories of discord and violence and thus to leave it free to be “re-semanticized” in various ways (183). Avezzù tries to find in each play a geometry, so to speak, describing the essence of its politics. Seven Against Thebes involves concentric circles radiating out from Thebes, but Suppliants, which is neither set before a palace or a temple nor at the heart of anything, is organized around a contrast between near and far. The identical phrase
Bernd Seidensticker begins “Charakter und Charakterisierung bei Aischylos” with the observation that, while Sophocles has been recognized since antiquity as a master of dramatic characterization, the same has rarely if ever been said of Aeschylus, who tends to take the fate of a family, group, or whole people rather than of an individual as his theme. Before studying the interesting characters who nevertheless do exist in Aeschylus, Seidensticker provides a general defense of attending to characterization in Greek tragedy, where some hold it to be of little importance. (This section summarizes the argument of his contribution to the recent Festschrift for Oliver Taplin, Performance, Iconography, Reception (Oxford, 2008).) Turning to specific examples, Seidensticker first concedes that characterization has a negligible role in Persians and Suppliants and then offers sensitive readings of Eteocles in Seven Against Thebes and Electra and Orestes in the recognition scene of Choephoroe. He continues with comments on Agamemnon, Cassandra, and especially Clytemnestra. After a brief section on characters’ interactions with external forces (curses, daimones, etc.), Seidensticker concludes that Aeschylus concentrates on individual characters just enough to clarify their moral, intellectual, and emotional motives, not only in the familiar canon of decision scenes, but before (Orestes in Choephoroe) and after (Clytemnestra in Agamemnon), as needed. He is sparing in the use of foils and contrasts, intertextuality, and character development or change. When the past influences characters, it is more often as inheritance than, as often in Sophocles, personal history. In sum, characterization in Aeschylus comes in many forms but never simply for its own sake, and it works in concert with other dramatic techniques.
In “Les tragédies d’Eschyle sont-elles tragiques?”, Pierre Judet de La Combe explores theories of tragedy and the tragic influenced by the German idealist philosophical tradition of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the course of an intricate argument, he touches on interpretations (themselves highly abstract and subtle) by Hegel, Hölderlin, Schiller, and Schelling, among others. He maintains that contemporary criticism can still benefit from this tradition, and he illustrates the point with particular attention to the Oresteia.
In “Aiskhylos the Forerunner”, Anthony Podlecki first surveys Aeschylus’ dramatic output as a whole, including a rather full account of the lost plays, and then discusses instances in which Aeschylus dramatized mythical subjects found later in Sophocles and/or Euripides. The latter task occasions detailed comment on Philoctetes, where the material is relatively abundant, and Choephoroe, where it is complete. About others Podlecki is appropriately cautious, and his essay is fairly shy of generalizations, but it is a useful introduction to material that is still somewhat difficult of access (though less so since the appearance of Sommerstein’s Loeb edition, with fragments and summaries in vol. 3).
If the fragments of Aeschylus are less informative than one could wish, the same is true of the remains of ancient scholarship on his works, the subject of Franco Montanari’s “L’esegesi antica di Eschilo da Aristotele a Didimo”. Surveying the evidence in the context of what we know about early scholarship on Greek drama in general, Montanari provides a handy, up-to-date discussion of such matters as the hypotheses attributed to Dicaearchus; other Peripatetic literary researches; the mysterious Glaucus named in the hypothesis to Persians; and surviving papyrus scraps of hypotheses to Women of Aetna, Laius, Seven Against Thebes, and Suppliants. Aeschylus is poorly represented in the lexica. The Aeschylean scholia do not refer to major Hellenistic scholars, but a few other scholia that mention him (e.g. on Theocr. 10.18 and Ar. Ra. 1124) do. Montanari would like to believe that Didymus wrote commentaries on Aeschylus’ plays but admits that there is not enough evidence to prove it.
In “The ‘Rediscovery’ of Aeschylus for the Modern Stage”, Fiona Macintosh concentrates on the fates of eighteenth-century French translations by La Porte du Theil and Le Franc de Pompignan. While the latter, according to Macintosh, is much more playable, direct, and dramatic, the former achieved wider circulation and notice. The reason is that Le Franc crossed swords with Voltaire; in the wake of this he, like other counter-Enlightenment figures, was unfairly neglected. Macintosh compares the reception of Aeschylus in Le Franc to contemporary views in England. In both, there is a degree of interest in the chorus unusual for the time. Readers like John Hill also emphasize the moral dimension of Aeschylean poetry and its “wild beauties”. These qualities were being “held up as a model for eighteenth-century tragedy which had become fossilized in a straitjacket of rules and neo-Aristotelian prescriptions” (449). Macintosh closes with a study of Le Franc’s Prométhée, a never-performed piece that includes “biting critique of les philosophes and of Voltaire in particular” (458), and that shows that Le Franc had “learned much from Aeschylean practice” and was “many years in advance of his fellow countrymen” (459).
In their conclusion, Jouanna and Montanari write that their goal in asking contributors to approach a set of diverse yet overlapping topics was not to produce a survey or compilation, but to develop personal syntheses in various styles, grounded in the texts and informed by but going beyond current scholarship. On these terms, the volume is largely successful. None of the essays limits itself to a survey or reference function; all contain original ideas and stimulating arguments. Of course not every subject is covered: there is little on ritual, for example, and even less on gender. Griffith, Parker, and Seidensticker address different aspects of Aeschylean tragedy as literature, but some might wish for more on dramatic technique, plots, and themes. It can be questioned whether the exiguous material expertly presented by Montanari deserved inclusion. The tradition discussed by Judet de La Combe undoubtedly exercised enormous influence on Aeschylean reception, but not all will be convinced that the payoff for contemporary interpretation is as big as the author claims. Avezzù’s abstract approach is interesting but leaves out of consideration much that usually goes under the name “tragic politics”. Finally, as was true also of the Entretiens on Sophocles, there is no essay devoted entirely or even mainly to a single play or trilogy, a notable difference from most essay collections and monographs, not to mention handbooks and companions. Given the proliferation of the latter and creeping monoglossy, this volume may have trouble finding a large audience (in English-speaking countries).
The volume is reasonably priced. It is handsomely produced but harbors many more typographical errors than it should; few of them, however, are seriously distracting. It is nice to have the indices, even if one is labeled Auctores Vetustores and another Index Auctores Recentiores.
Préface par Pierre Ducrey, VII
Introduction par Jacques Jouanna et Franco Montanari, IX
I. Mark Griffith, The Poetry of Aeschylus (in its traditional contexts), 1
II. Jacques Jouanna, Du mythe à la scène: la création théâtrale chez Eschyle, 57
III. Robert Parker, Aeschylus’ Gods: Drama, Cult, Theology, 127
IV. Guido Avezzù, Scena e politica in Eschilo, 165
V. Bernd Seidensticker, Charakter und Charakterisierung bei Aischylos, 205
VI. Pierre Judet de La Combe, Les tragédies d’Eschyle sont-elles tragiques?, 257
VII. Anthony J. Podlecki, Aiskhylos the Forerunner, 319
VIII. Franco Montanari, L’esegesi antica di Eschilo da Aristotele a Didimo, 379
IX. Fiona Macintosh, The ‘Rediscovery’ of Aeschylus for the Modern Stage, 435
Conclusion par Jacques Jouanna et Franco Montanari, 469