BMCR 2011.08.28

Euripides’ Electra: A Commentary. Oklahoma Series in Classical Culture, 38

, , Euripides’ Electra: A Commentary. Oklahoma Series in Classical Culture, 38. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2011. xvii, 366. ISBN 9780806141190. $32.95 (pb).

This edition is designed for ‘undergraduate and graduate students, whether early in their studies or more advanced’, who have limited experience in reading Greek tragedies but would benefit from being introduced to textual criticism and metre as well as literary interpretation and the realities of the Greek theatre (p. xi). The scope is thus broader than in the same editors’ Alcestis (see BMCR 2004.03.27) which is specifically a second-year undergraduate text. The book comprises a thirty-page introduction (on Greek tragedy and theatre as well as myth, text, the iambic trimeter, and the play’s date), the Greek text, a commentary, and five appendices including metrical analyses, discussions of the play, an index of verbs, a review of grammatical and rhetorical constructions, and a vocabulary list. The vocabulary is thorough and helpful, the grammatical review increasingly eclectic (less than two pages on the second half of the play, and nothing on the last hundred lines; the commentary too becomes rather sparse towards the end). Appendix 2 does a nice job of introducing some key interpretative topics and adds brief comparative discussions of Giraudoux’s play and Cacoyannis’s film. Basic points of dramatic action and characterization are addressed throughout the commentary.

So far so good, but as a guide for students reading the text the book is regrettably erratic and unreliable. The text is surprisingly based on Murray’s (1913), ‘supplemented by James Diggle’s 1981 edition’ (p. 35), but Diggle is used only intermittently. The commentaries of Paley (1874), Denniston (1939) and myself (1988) are used ‘extensively’ (p. 24) but not always to the best advantage (and not always with appropriate acknowledgment). The editions of Donzelli (Teubner, 1994, 2002) and Kovacs (Loeb, 1994) are not noticed at all, nor are many of their related publications (nor a number of recent and not-so-recent discussions of various aspects of the play that would benefit students).1 Students are thus faced with a series of readings inherited from Murray that are improbable at best (many of them already rejected by Denniston),2 while better alternatives are either ignored or aired indecisively in the commentary. No textual apparatus is printed, and the commentary treats problems of text and meaning inconsistently – nearly a page on v. 1 ἄργος, and more than a page on vv. 57-9, but little or nothing on the difficulties of text and meaning in (for example) vv. 445-8, 456-7, 651-2, 671-84, 727-30, 1174, 1180, 1301. Some discussions are muddled (see my notes below) as well as outdated. At 115-6, 143-4, 192 and 1151 the text discussed differs from the text printed. At 413 the text printed is unmetrical and the commentary simply lists conjectures without mentioning ms. L’s reading or explaining the problem. At 1292–3 and 1298–9 the speaker is given as ‘Chorus/[Orestes]’ without explanation.

Guidance on metre is similarly deficient. The introduction to iambic trimeters (pp. 24-8) fails to mention caesura and confuses line-end brevis in longo with syllaba anceps. The connection made between resolutions and emotional intensity (p. 26) needs to be qualified (you cannot take the emotional temperature of a passage simply by counting resolutions, as is done throughout the commentary, e.g. on vv. 596-604: ‘Orestes’ nine-line speech to Electra has four resolutions . . . This . . . must indicate his emotionally wrought-up state’). Considering the importance attached to resolutions, the numbers given are remarkably inaccurate, The rate for Electra is one per 4.65 lines, not one per 5.1 lines (p. 26); a sixteen-line speech with two resolutions (vv. 508-23) is said to have one resolution per five lines (p. 27); the rate in Castor’s speech is ‘high’ on p. 26 but ‘low’ on p. 225. The relevant notes overlook resolutions in vv. 15, 18, 247, 347, 487, 1073 and 1090, misdescribe those in vv. 4, 257, 310 and 1023, and identify non-existent ones in vv. 234, 764 and 919. The discussion of the play’s date (pp. 28-32) questions the use of resolution-frequency as a guide to Euripidean chronology while ignoring the qualitative features whose importance was explored by Zielinski in the 1920s and explained by A. M. Dale in her introduction to Helen nearly sixty years ago.3 In Appendix 1 on lyric metres the scansions confusingly show variants in responsion on a single line, while resolved syllables are identified inconsistently (thus the two dochmiacs 1148 ~ 1156 are shown as ⏑ ‒/⏑⏑ ‒ ⏑ ‒ ⏑ ⏑ ⏑ ‒ ‒/⏑ ‒). 705 χρυσέαν, 719 χρυσέας and 730 ἀοῦς are incorrectly scanned. The metrical analyses mostly repeat Denniston, with some (but not enough) attention to Dale; some cola are identified in Denniston’s outdated terms, while other identifications are simply mistaken.4 Donzelli’s analysis is far more accurate and useful.

Corrections are needed throughout the introduction and commentary. Stesichorus’s poems are placed in the seventh century on p. 9, more plausibly in the sixth on p. 230. The Cypria and Nostoi are oddly dated ‘ca. 776’ and ‘ca. 750’ (p. 9), though on p. 10 a sixth-century date for the Nostoi is implied. The sketches of the theatre building on pp. 20-22 give ‘Parados’ for ‘Parodos’ (properly ‘Eisodos’) and show an unattested portico blocking the audience’s view of the central skênê-door. The assertion that ‘Everybody went [to the theatre]: men, women, children; free and slave; citizen and foreigner’ (p. 23) needs more qualification than it gets here. In the commentary, v. 2: αἴρω is not used ‘of raising troops’. vv. 72-3: Denniston and Cropp are reported inaccurately and confusingly. 95-7: δυοῖν δ’ ἅμιλλαν ξυντιθείς does not suggest that Orestes’ two objectives are in conflict. 192: L has χάρισαι, not χαρίσαι, Denniston does not say (wrongly) that the insertion or omission of the -ν in χάρισιν is metrically immaterial, and note that L has ἔμολε in 169. 216–7: ‘there is no need to assume that she turns to the statue and invokes the god’: contrast 221, ‘Electra may be turning to the statue guarding her home . . . [she] is praying to Apollo as she tries to escape Orestes’. 222: Orestes’ answer does not suggest that he takes Electra’s plea to be addressed to him; he is simply trying to restrain her. 236-7: ἔχει is not used absolutely; understand βίον from the previous line. 307-9: Electra surely is (not ‘may have been’) complaining about doing menial work. 312-3: there is no ‘allusion’ to A. Supp. 855-6 or ‘ jibe at Aeschylus’; the editors seem confused by Denniston’s (admittedly complicated) discussion. 399-400: Tiresias does not ‘attack prophecy as the profession of fools’ in Phoen. 954-9; he complains that seers can’t win either by telling the truth or by concealing it. 439: κοῦφον ἅλμα ποδῶν does not mean ‘swift of foot in respect to his leap’. 442-51: it is not ‘unclear’ whether Euripides invented Hephaestus’s making of arms for Achilles before the opening of the Trojan War; it is common in Attic black-figure vase-painting. 487: the note reports the opposite of what Denniston says about the usages of πότνια and δέσποινα. 504: a confused textual discussion fails to mention that ἀνέμνησεν is an emendation of L’s ἀνέμνησαν. 545-6: the note should mention that a line may well have been lost after 546. 653, 655, 659: the Old Man does not ‘seem to believe that Electra has actually borne a child’, he is simply asking what he should tell Clytemnestra; nor are his questions designed to make him look stupid (Electra’s complex plan needs to be spelled out step by step). 704: Pan is steward of the countryside, not ‘steward of the lamb’. 713: the sense of θυμέλαι ἐπίτναντο requires discussion. 747: an actual distant cry heard in the theatre is highly unlikely. 751: Alc. 291 καλῶς . . . κατθανεῖν ἧκον βίου is no parallel for πῶς ἀγῶνος ἧκομεν, nor does ἧκον mean ‘they have reached’ (the verse is corrupt in any case: see D. Kovacs, Euripidea [Leiden, 1994], 160-2 and L. Parker’s commentary [Oxford, 2007]). 962-84: ‘The designation of speakers in these lines follows the manuscripts’: in fact it follows Camper and Murray in reversing ms. L’s assignments throughout 959-65, and ms. P (correcting L) in making 979-81 continue the stichomythia (the continuation through 982-4 does follow the mss. but is clearly wrong). 1064: the note should mention that the ‘false Helen’ story appears in this play (cf. 1281-2 with note). 1158: the note neither states L’s reading nor explains why it is problematic. 1185: Diggle’s conjectures are mentioned but the reason for them (absence of responsion with 1201) is not. 1226: it should be noted that L assigns the antistrophic v. 1232 to Electra. 1227-30: the children do no ‘try to fit their mother’s wounded body back together’.

Typographical and other minor errors are infrequent but some may confuse students: page 98, line 34 τἀφίημι (read τ’ ἀφίημι), 129.8 ‘214’ (241), 140.21 ἀνεπξιῶν (ἀνεψιῶν), 170.1 ἄρα μή (ἆρα μή), 175.5 ἀνεσκευάζω (ἀνασκευάζω), 187.7 ‘adversarial’ (adversative), 205.10 ‘three’ (twenty-three), 213.6 ‘it is accustomed’ (she is accustomed), 220.1 six brevia should be eight, 270.19 μείνω (μένω), 285.19 ἐπὶ κοινοῦ (ἀπὸ κοινοῦ). On page 136, line 17 the parenthesis should follow the previous lemma. On page 145, line 7 the Greek should follow ‘and 765’.

I conclude that only a radical revision would enable this book to meet its purpose.


1. E.g. Burkert on the date, MH 47 (1990), 65–9; Goff on ‘realism’, ICS 24-25 (1999-2000), 93-105; Raeburn on stage-properties, G&R 47 (2000), 149-68; Mossman on women’s speech, CQ 51 (2001), 374-84; Hall on singing actors in Easterling and Hall, Greek and Roman Actors (Cambridge, 2002), 3-38; Slater on vv. 294-6, Dioniso n.s. 2 (2003), 16-31; Goldhill on Orestes’ moralising speech, GRBS 27 (1986), 157-71; Davidson on circular choruses, G&R 33 (1986), 73-81; Csapo on the ‘dithyrambic’ stasima in Csapo and Miller, Poetry, Theory, Praxis (Ann Arbor, 2003), 69-98; Willink on the second stasimon, ICS 30 (2005), 11-21; M. Lloyd, The Agon in Euripides (Oxford, 1992), 55-70. Further studies of the first stasimon by Csapo in Revermann and Wilson, Performance, Iconography, Reception (Oxford, 2008), 277-80, and by both Csapo and Willink in Cousland and Hume, The Play of Texts and Fragments [Leiden, 2009], 95-109 and 205-13 are too recent to have been taken into account.

2. Notably 96 ποδί, 123 σᾶς ἀλόχου σφαγαῖς, 138 ἐχθίστων, 277 οἷ’ ἐτολμήθη πατήρ, 414 ξένων, 445–6 ἐρυμνᾶς Ὄσσας ἱερᾶς νάπας (so accented), 456-7 δείματα Φρύγια, 461 φύαν Γόργονος, 484 σε . . . πέμψουσιν θανάτοις· ἦ σὰν . . . , 657-8 τί δ’ αὐτῇ, 672 οἴκτιρε θ’, 748 νερτέρα βροντή, 755 στεναγμός· ἦ . . ., 837 ἀπορρήξω, 843 ἠλάλαζε, 876 ἁμέτεροι, 955 πέλας, 963 ὁρῶ, 1010 ὀρφαναὶ λελειμμέναι, 1034 κατείχομεν, 1046 ἥνπερ, 1048 πατρὸς σοῦ φόνον, 1059 οὐκ ἔστι, 1076 μόνη, 1107–8 untransposed, 1110 πόσιν, 1126 δεκάτῃ σελήνῃ, 1209 τὰν κόμαν, 1224 δ’ ἐπεγκέλευσα, 1245 Φοῖβός τε, 1263 ἔκ τε τοῦ, 1265 ἐκσῴζουσι, 1285 ἐσπορευέτω, 1287 πλούτου βάρος, 1319-20 θάρσει· Παλλάδος ὁσίαν . . . .

3. The point is too often ignored in recent chronological discussions. On this criterion Electra looks distinctly earlier than Helen and other late plays: see M. Cropp, G. Fick, Resolutions and Chronology in Euripides (London, 1985), 27-68, esp. 60-5.

4. 114 ~ 129 ‘dochmiac’ (either anapaests or extra metrum), 121 ~ 136 ‘dochmiac’ (dodrans), 144 ~ 161 ‘glyconic’ (telesillean), 150 ‘anapest’ (dodrans), 437 ~ 447 ‘choriambic dimeter’ (dodrans), 700 ~ 714 ‘pherecratean’ (reizianum), 708 ~ 722 ‘glyconic’ (telesillean), 711 ~ 725 ‘choriambic dimeter’ (dactylic hemiepes), 730 ~ 740 ‘anapests’ (hagesichorean), 733-5 ~ 743-5 ‘hipponactean’, ‘anapests’, ‘choriambic dimeter’ (two enoplians, choriambic heptasyllable; but the colometry is doubtful), 1177 ~ 1190 ‘iambic trimeter’ (dochmiac + iambus), 1180 ‘pherecratean’ (reizianum, but the lack of responsion with 1193 should be noted and the text obelized). Against 712 ~ 726 delete the second ‘choriambic dimeter’, and against 863 ~ 877 delete ‘+ dactylo-epitrite’.