BMCR 2013.03.32

Menander: the Shield (Aspis) and the Arbitration (Epitrepontes). Aris and Phillips classical texts

, Menander: the Shield (Aspis) and the Arbitration (Epitrepontes). Aris and Phillips classical texts. Oxford: Aris and Phillips, 2010. v, 272. ISBN 9780856688331 $36.00 (pb).

[The editors apologize for the lateness of this review.]

In the introduction to Aspis Stanley Ireland launches straight into a summary of the plot before dealing with some preliminary issues: the stage setting (he argues for three doors, including Tyche’s shrine); the opening of the play (repeated, it seems to me, in the commentary); then a longer and somewhat dry section on legal points about the Athenian epiklēros law in which Ireland surveys scholarly opinions without finding they add much to our understanding of the play; a section on the role of Chance in the play with a splendid quote from Demetrios of Phaleron’s discourse On Chance, showing how the world had been turned on its head as if by chance in the last fifty years as a result of the Macedonian conquests. Very brief sections outline the rediscovery of the play in the Geneva Bodmer codex and explain Menander’s use of the comic trimeter. If the reader seeks a general introduction to Menander or New Comedy, he must look elsewhere before returning to this edition.

Ireland bases his text on Sandbach’s revised OCT of 1990 with additions where new material or scholarly conjectures postdate Sandbach. Ireland has a good scheme for indicating the varying degrees of confidence we can place in speaker-names: he employs three types of brackets beside non-bracketed names He uses dots to indicate lost or unreadable letters but shuns dotted letters. I wonder whether it is not pedantic in a simplified edition such as this to use brackets to mend itacism in the Bodmer codex as in e.g. Aspis 10 ποθ‹ε›ινὸν. Likewise, Ireland dutifully lists the originator of supplements and conjectures throughout the text, which takes up much space at the bottom of the page, as line beginnings and ends are frequent casualties in the manuscript. Nor does he tell us where the scholars published their conjectures, so the reader cannot check or trace them. An alternative might have been a comprehensive list of supplements and attributions in an appendix to the edition, as early Teubner ‘reading-texts’ sometimes did. I also wonder about the hybrid language of the apparatus with stock abbreviations in Latin (corr., suppl. and the like) but the rest in English.

Ireland’s prose translation is consistently readable and accurate and often finds the mot juste. He gets just the right balance, in my opinion, between up-to-date English turns of phrase without becoming slangy. Aspis 62 ὡς ὤνησ᾿ ἀποσταλεὶς τότε becomes ‘How lucky you’d been sent away’, an elegant and economical rendering. Aspis 77-79 becomes ‘So he heaped them all together [sc. the bodies] and cremated them en masse, and once he’d given them a very speedy burial, he immediately broke camp.’ The flow of the English sentence matches the light and ‘chatty’ style of Menander’s Daos. When the goddess Chance announces in the prologue ταῦτὶ μὲν οὖν μεμαθήκατε / ἱκανῶς, Ireland has ‘That’s enough information for you on that’— which well conveys the purpose of the prologue to ‘fill the audience in’ before the play proper starts. Ireland also gets the small interjections nicely. 171 ὤφελεν. τί οὖν; becomes ‘Yes, if only. So? ’ and νοῦν ἔχεις in the same exchange is well rendered ‘Quite.’ When the Greek becomes more colloquial Ireland keeps pace: 233-34 (waiter) κοπτόμενος ὑμῶν οὐδὲ ἓν /αὐτὸς διοίσω, ‘I’ll be just as cut up as you lot are’. There is some slight embarrassment with expletives: ἱερόσυλε (227) becomes ‘you useless article’; ὁ μιαρώτατος (313), ‘blackguard’. One needs something a little more robust here and up to date. Generally, Ireland’s translation reads fluently and he has captured many nuances of the original accurately; nevertheless, reading only the English translation gives one the impression that Menander is plain and prosy. The constant play and interaction between colloquial speech and the elaborate rhythms of the comic trimeter are what make Menander’s style charming in the original.

Ireland’s commentary aims to bring out the subtleties and undercurrents in the play’s action and dialogue. He concentrates on the traits and motives of the characters with attention to divergences from generic stereotype and telling parallels from other plays of New Comedy and Latin Palliata. His remarks are often the judicious digest of others’ comments and studies, always carefully attributed. His compass of scholarship on the play is admirable. The dominant theme of the commentary is, perhaps, irony, beginning with the overarching dramatic irony which is a structural basic of New Comedy (p. 6 and 211). Given the prologue, the audience is always in a privileged position to view the antics of the less enlightened stage characters as they struggle to cope with impending disaster. In addition to this, the commentary maintains a high level of dramatic exegesis, consistently pointing out the nuances of Menandrian scene-play and characterization. A good example of Ireland’s elucidation of such irony comes at the beginning of act three, in which Smikrines prepares to confront Chairestratos’ household, fearing a plot against him: little does he know what the others are in fact plotting against him, which gives, as Ireland succinctly shows, several shades of irony to Smikrines’ remarks. Or again, in the first act, Smikrines’ purported tact in not raising the subject of a wedding just after the news of death (158-161) in fact ‘confirms by denial: for […] it is exactly this [marriage to the heiress] that lies at the forefront of his own mind’.

Little help with Greek expression is given, but that is due to the format and the restrictions of space rather than to any fault of the author. Given the complexity of Menandrian diction, however, it is almost a mockery to be told that αἷς in line 65 is equivalent to ταύταις ἃς ( attractio relativi), or that ὄναρ in 358 is an ‘accusative of respect’, when so much else goes unexplained. True, the student can try to unravel Menander’s Greek from Ireland’s excellent translation, but otherwise he’ll need help from other editions to tackle difficulties in the text. Where Ireland does pay close attention to the text in the commentary is in the matter of questionable attribution of parts. Where explanation of historical matters is required, Ireland is informative, particularly in the matter of Attic law and mores, where these bear on the drama.

One might complain that Menander’s humour gets relatively scant mention in the commentary. There are references to the ‘black humour’ of Smikrines’ avarice, but Ireland is otherwise reluctant to ‘explain the joke’, as it were, which does run through Menander’s text. True, the opening of Aspis is sombre with the quasi-funeral cortège for Kleostratos, but the humour immediately steps in, with Smikrines’ barely-concealed greed when confronted with Kleostratos’ war booty. In the dialogue between cook and other kitchen staff in Act One, Ireland is not concerned to bring out the humour of their banter. Ireland also refuses to translate the spoof Doric lingo of the ‘doctor’ in Act Four, explaining in the commentary that others have ‘translated into an equally comic form of Scots; readers, however, are invited to insert their own prejudices’. I sympathise with this reluctance to import a national prejudice into the translation, but Menander obviously had no such qualms, nor Aristophanes, when it came to mocking the Dorians.

This rather deadpan tone of the commentary leads to some missed observations, it seems to me. For example, when Smikrines sniffs that Chairestratos is marrying the young heiress to ‘goodness knows who’ (177), Ireland seriously wonders whether Smikrines may in fact not know who the prospective groom is, whereas the whole point is that Smikrines is already envisaging himself as the ideal groom compared to this ‘nobody’. Or when the cook boasts that Thracian Getai are ‘real men, that’s why the mills are full of us’ (244-45), Ireland takes this as a serious reflection of the lawless nature of these Thracians, thus missing the irony of heroic he-men doing forced slave-labour. I acknowledge that explaining humour is not the most rewarding of activities. Perhaps Ireland really finds Menander funny. But I think readers need some help to see the subtlety of Menandrian humour as well as the serious side.

Minor Points

40 no comment on the imperfects ἐξώρμων, ἀπῇρον, which, I think, help explain the dramatic sequence (said to contain illogicalities in the commentary p. 77)

193a apparatus fails to indicate that the line is transmitted in O, not in B.

195 ἔστι[ν presumably (accent).

198-200 might refer to the agreements (ὅσα συνήλλαξέν τισιν) Kleostratos made when embarking on his travels (ἀποδημῶν), not ‘while abroad’ (I.). Is the reference not to the agreements Kleostratos made with Chairestratos (leaving his sister in his charge) before he set off? Ireland has no explanatory note.

205 no comment on ἀγνωμονεῖν, translated as ‘have no feelings’; but surely it’s more like ‘do you think I’m doing something crazy? ’ (cf. ἀγνώμων in Epitrepontes 918).

p.80 last line: Chairestratos, surely, not Kleostratos.

p.83: surely Chairestratos is not an ‘old man’? He is addressed as παῖ in 257.

p.87 top: Kone[i]azomenai

I will be more brief in my treatment of Epitrepontes as I published an edition of the play myself in 2009 (London), which, as Ireland says in the preface, appeared too late for him to consider in depth. Any detailed comments of mine here on his edition would only reflect what I have already formulated in print. Ireland begins his treatment of the play with another useful summary of action and issues, and a review of the characters in the play. He is good on Habrotonon, the hetaira with depth. Ireland, too, like myself (2009) finds Charisios ‘of pivotal importance’ in the play, despite the fact that he only appears briefly in Act Four. A. Blanchard, reviewing my edition of Epitrepontes in REG (124, 2011, 168-70), doubted this point, arguing that Smikrines is the central character.

A few other passing observations on the text of Epitrepontes may nevertheless be in order. The late lamented Colin Austin is conspicuous by his absence in the apparatus, although he published a series of articles on passages of Epitrepontes. My initials are W.D. (W.G. in bibliography). I don’t see how the reconstruction of line 703 works, with both αλλ’ and δε in it. Vollgraff, not Vollgraft, is the scholar’s name on p.164 and in the bibliography.

In the commentary on Epitrepontes the same virtues are on display as in Aspis. The reader is helped with useful background information, good elucidation of character and plot. The edition can be recommended to all those interested in reading and enjoying Menander without paying too much attention to the minutiae of the Greek text.