BMCR 2018.06.50

Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis

, , Iphigenia at Aulis. Aris & Phillips Classical Texts. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016. 656 pages. ISBN 9781911226468. £95.00​.

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Christopher Collard and James Morwood have collaborated to produce a new edition of Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis ( IA). Such an edition has long been a desideratum.1 Though I note some shortcomings below, this edition is an admirable achievement and will be required reading for anyone interested in this Greek tragedy.

I begin with three coincidences. IA was part of Euripides’ final production. So too is this the last of the twenty editions in the Aris & Phillips Euripides sequence. The series began in 1986 with the publication of Shirley Barlow’s edition of Trojan Women. Christopher Collard has been the steward of this series since its inception: his thirty-plus years closely correspond to the roughly thirty-three years Euripides took to write these tragedies in the first place, from Alcestis in 438 to IA in 405 BCE. It is entirely fitting that he be one of the editors for this final entry. IA was produced posthumously, and this too resonates. Sadly, James Morwood passed away unexpectedly in September 2017, and so this volume constitutes one of his final efforts. In the general foreword (vii), Collard pays tribute to Desmond Conacher, Kevin Lee, and Martin West, all past contributors who did not live to see the series’ completion. A venerable list, to which we now add Morwood. His career was long and prolific, and his energies as a translator, commentator, and teacher of our primary languages will be much missed.

Much has changed since that first edition of Trojan Women, and it shows — and not just because the typeface has improved. As Collard notes (vii), the remit of the series has evolved considerably over three decades. Students, and therefore their instructors, have different needs and skillsets when they sit down to read Greek tragedies. Trends in scholarship have opened more and broader avenues of consideration. Fortunately, the greater complexity demanded of later volumes has been met by increased facility in production, easing the cost and availability of printing.

IA, with a textual tradition unlike any other tragedy, needs these increased capacities. Uncontested in antiquity, the authenticity of great swaths of its script have been challenged since Musgrave discovered an apparently superfluous book fragment in 1762. Uniquely within the series, this edition has been produced in two volumes with consecutive page- numbering. The publisher is to be praised for keeping the price fairly close to IA ’s single-volume siblings. Volume 1 — the same page length as Barlow’s Trojan Women — contains the Introduction, Text, and Translation. Volume 2 is devoted to Commentary and Indexes, at very nearly double that length. One upshot of this arrangement is that it is possible to consult text and commentary at the same time, without flipping back and forth through the volume. This will be a great relief for the advanced reader, as the critical apparatus and commentary are frequently cross-referenced.

Size doesn’t always help, however. Despite the generous 80 pages allotted, the Introduction still manages to occasionally feel rushed and I did find it wanting in a couple areas. The section on ‘Metre’, for instance, is heavily compressed (45–50). The use of ‘s’ and ‘l’ to represent short and long syllables, instead of the more visually distinct breve (⏑) and macron (‒), does not enable an informative guide. Indeed, nowhere do the editors give any hint at how the quantity of a syllable is determined. Also not helpful is the refusal to actually print out the pattern of a complete line. The editors do not, for example, show us an iambic trimeter, but parenthetically describe it as ‘(“three measure”, basic metron x-l-s-l)’. This is not inaccurate, of course, but bewildering to a reader not already familiar with the basics of metrical theory. This system of s-l is not much used in the commentary either, which relies mainly on technical terminology to describe the metrical patterns. To be clear, discussions of metre in the commentary are detailed and precise, and competently point the way to more thorough studies; they are just not well served by the introductory material.

The Bibliography is large but necessarily selective, arranged by subheadings for ‘Editions and Commentaries’, ‘Some English Translations’, ‘Bibliographic Guidance’, and ‘Secondary Works’, mostly on IA itself. Volumes cited in full in the introduction often do not make their way into the bibliography (but sometimes do) and so careful cross-referencing is necessary to find all sources. There also appears to be a reluctance to cite sources more than once, and so some works do not appear where they would be most helpful. The single paragraph in the Introduction sub-titled ‘Sacrifice before marriage in IA ’ does not cite Helene Foley’s important monograph on the topic, for example. That volume is later used to support an incidental claim about Clytemnestra’s ‘bourgeois’ nature.2

The selective list of translations exposes what may be the volume’s greatest critical blindspot. One notable absence is Mary-Kay Gamel’s 1999 translation of the play.3 That translation and its accompanying introductions and notes take a gender-critical approach. While a study of Greek tragedy need not foreground this approach, it is difficult to imagine any critical edition in this century not giving space to such considerations. Yet the introduction does not identify gender in its discussion of ‘Themes and Motifs’ (33–37), nor in any of its other subheadings. In this regard, there are significant omissions in the general bibliography.4

The Commentary is equally muted on gender issues. One might expect more on the provocative line 1394: εἷς γ᾽ ἀνὴρ κρείσσων γυναικῶν μυρίων ὁρᾶν φάος: ‘It is better that one man should see the light of day than numberless women.’ In the note for this line, we get the usual comparators (Hesiod, Semonides), contemporary accusations of misogyny, and the lackluster rebuttal that ‘the poet was often ‘fair’ or sympathetic to women.’ (593) I could not imagine reading this line with students without a lot more consideration.

But there are many strengths, too. Many themes of the play are handled deftly: subsections on “Human and Animal Sacrifice” and “Panhellenism” standout, as do detailed considerations of kleos, tyche, and ananke. One important question for any edition of IA is the state of the text. Collard and Morwood print a complete text in the received order of manuscript L, with only a few lines transposed. Indeed, textual authenticity, carefully balanced against the needs of a coherent performance, is a key concern and this issue is one of the strengths of the edition. Collard and Morwood have generated their own text and critical apparatus, acknowledging their debt to the texts of Günther, Stockert, and, above all, Diggle. The editors signal about 80 deviations from the text of Diggle’s OCT (61–62), and a handful more go unremarked.5

Although the introduction declares a position of ‘editorial tolerance’ and ‘see much in it that is Euripidean in origin and spirit’ (58), in the introduction, critical apparatus, and commentary the editors take great care to present thorough arguments for and against authenticity at all appropriate points: the prologue, entrance of Iphigenia and Clytemnestra, and both messenger speeches all receive thoughtful, informative consideration. Many notes throughout the commentary are lemmatized [Text . . .], and this edition would be ideal for a senior undergraduate or graduate class to explore issues of textual criticism for Greek tragedy.

The translation is functional and appropriate for the nature of the edition. Not surprisingly, the English hews closely to Morwood’s own translation in the Oxford World Classics series. Variations tend to be movements away from English idiom to more awkward, but more literal, translations of individual lines. Thus, lines like τὸ μὲν σόν, ὦ νεᾶνι, γενναίως ἔχει· τὸ τῆς τύχης δὲ καὶ τὸ τῆς θεοῦ νοσεῖ (1402–03) are rendered ‘Your part is noble, maiden, but that of fortune and that of the goddess — they are where the sickness lies,’ to better capture the use of the genitives (compare Morwood’s earlier and smoother ‘The part you play, maiden, is a noble one. But fate and the goddess — that is where the sickness lies.’).

The translation is occasionally marred by typographical error: ‘my brother put all kinds of argument’ (97, presumably ‘put forward’ was intended for προσφέρων), ‘the two Dioscuri in the heaven’ (769), or ‘nor there is any friend near me’ (912). Typos are unfortunately numerous throughout, with names and dates being particularly susceptible.6

An English edition of Euripides’ final tragedy has long been lacking, and Collard and Morwood have addressed this need admirably. Though I note concerns above, IA presents an immense challenge and the editors have pulled off quite a trick in producing such a lucid and comprehensive edition. A worthy capstone to the decades-long project these volumes comprise.


1. Advertising material and the blurb on the back cover claim that this is ‘the first English edition with complete commentary of the play since 1891.’ Strictly speaking, there was a BMCR commentary by Tarkow and MacEwen in 1989.

2. Foley, Ritual Irony: Poetry and Sacrifice in Euripides, (Ithaca, 1985).

3. Blondell, Gamel, Rabinowitz, Zweig, Women on the Edge: Four Plays by Euripides, (New York, 1999).

4. Rabinowitz’s opening chapter of Anxiety Veiled: Euripides and the Traffic in Women, (Ithaca, 1993); Wohl’s discussion of Iphigenia in tragedy in Intimate Commerce: Exchange, Gender, and Subjectivity in Greek Tragedy, (Austin, 1998); Chong-Gossard’s chapter on IA in Gender and Communication in Euripides’ Plays: Between Song and Silence, (Leiden, 2008); or even Wilkins’ chapter on self-sacrifice in Euripides in Powell, (ed.) Euripides, Women, Sexuality, (London, 1990).

5. E.g., at line 15, they silently allow the elision of κἀκίνητοι over Diggle’s καὶ ἀκίνητοι.

6. E.g., C. E. E. Luschnig for C. A. E. Luschnig (43), Cavander for Cavender (64), Parker 2106 in the addenda. The bibliographic entry for Gurd provides two dates, the incorrect 1989 and the correct 2005. It is surely misleading to state that “Panhellenic forces under Spartan leadership conquered the Persians in a succession of sea and land battles in 480–79” (15).