The last two or three decades have seen a great deal of interest in the social, political, and festival contexts of Greek drama – that is, in where, how, and why drama was performed throughout the Greek world in the Classical period. Anna Lamari’s new book fits squarely into this trend; in fact, it appears to have much in common with Edmund Stewart’s recent monograph on Greek Tragedy on the Move (Oxford 2017). The importance of reassessing what we think we know about the performance of Greek drama is undeniable, but unfortunately Lamari contributes little to this reassessment.
As the title indicates, the book pursues the broad thesis that Greek tragedy was regularly reperformed in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. and that this practice was paralleled by a general “cultural mobility.” The discussion proceeds through four chapters. The first establishes a context of traveling poets in which to place Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides and reviews the evidence for the interest of these tragedians in reproducing their own plays both within and beyond Athens; their motivations seem to come down to a desire for ever more fame or “advertisement” of the genre (p. 34). The second chapter reworks some of this material from the perspective of “politics” in a broad sense and attempts to show how poets, actors and rulers deployed drama for their own ends. Moving into the fourth century, the author focuses on how drama came to be performed not only at public festivals like the Dionysia but also in the “private” courts of kings (though the dichotomy public/private seems to me a false one in this case). Chapter 3 takes up the actors again with a focus on the authority of the texts in the absence of the poet and on the potential impact of histrionic interpolation. The final chapter turns to vase-paintings to explore the movement of drama between Athens and other parts of the Greek world (especially Magna Graecia). A short conclusion essentially summarizes these chapters. Throughout, the book emphasizes reciprocity, with the spread of drama both causing and resulting from its own popularity; the final chapter also suggests a reciprocity between vase-painting and drama, where each could influence the other, though no specific examples of drama inspired by vase-paintings are explored.
The book falls short of success in several respects. It appears to have been hastily conceived and produced; the result is both sloppily presented and lacking in scholarly rigor.
To take the least important item first: in addition to the kind of mechanical errors that are bound to pop up in any book-length work (e.g. misspellings, mistakes in punctuation and capitalization, some inconsistency of transliteration), the language is often not quite English: the reader frequently encounters an oddly chosen preposition, words used incorrectly, or phrases like “[t]here was big public attention given to the choregiae ” (p. 70). While some of these issues are simply annoying (e.g. the close repetition of “On the Peiraeus Dionysia, see…. On the Dionysia at Peiraeus, see…” in n. 182), they occasionally become confusing or misleading, as in the citation of “ IG II 2 3.2320,” where the first 3 is extraneous (n. 310), or the citation of Eur. Med. 1321, which is followed by quotation of line 1320 (p. 146). Moreover, many sentences are awkward, confusing or tautological. Flaws like these are unfortunate since they could have been easily remedied by a proofreader before publication.
Given that so much of what we know (or think we know) about how drama was produced in the Classical Period is based on very little evidence—often fragmentary inscriptions, Aristophanic comedy or later authors whose comments may be anachronistic or invented—I confess to a preference for laborious scholarship that explains carefully what evidence is reliable (or not) and draws judicious conclusions about specific dilemmas. After all, reassessing any scholarly topic requires not only examination of new evidence but also a meticulous sifting of material that has previously been accepted without question. Lamari’s book, however, is characterized by a certain imprecision with respect to dates, places, sources, and definitions. For instance, p. 20 briefly discusses Ion of Chios, who belongs to the mid-fifth century, before jumping directly to Aristodemus of Metapontum a hundred years later; the point is to establish generally that Athens participated in a “culture of travel and reperformance” (the title of the section), but the immediate juxtaposition of such chronologically distant figures is unsettling. Surely Ion’s world was not the same as Aristodemus’s?
Perhaps most concerning is Lamari’s failure to distinguish between different types or contexts of reperformance: should we be thinking of a play first produced at the City Dionysia then restaged somewhere else (either in the demes or abroad)? or a play that premiered elsewhere before being brought to Athens? or a play from the City Dionysia that was produced a second time at the same venue? And in any of these cases, should we assume that the play in question was competing against new plays? Lamari seems to have all of these things in mind, and one can hardly begrudge her casting her net wide when the evidence is so meager to begin with. But since these scenarios differ from each other in important ways, the evidence for each cannot be lumped in with the others in service of a specific, satisfying argument about how reperformance was done in Classical Athens. Lamari’s lack of engagement with distinctions of this sort leads often to a simplistic treatment of recent scholarship and ultimately to a thesis without much substance. Take, for example, the question of whether or not the Athenians passed a decree granting a chorus to anyone who wished to produce a play of Aeschylus after his death (as reported by the Aeschylean Vita, among other sources). Zachary Biles has given a number of good reasons to mistrust the testimonia that provide this information,1 but he has not denied the practice of tragic reperformance in the fifth century; instead of addressing his criticisms of the testimonia in order to make a specific argument about (e.g.) the reperformance of Aeschylean tragedy in the competitions at the City Dionysia, Lamari reduces him and others (David Kovacs and William Allan get similar treatment in n. 172) to anti-reperformance strawmen. This move also has the effect of reducing her own argument to a simple claim that reperformance happened in the fifth century, which is already generally accepted. It is thus hard to see what advances are being made here.
Indeed, in several sections Lamari follows a particular scholar very closely but without adding anything to the discussion (e.g. pp. 125–9 on histrionic interpolation, which rely on Finglass 20152; or pp. 142–4, which reproduce Taplin 2007: 126–303). Likewise, extensive quotations of ancient texts are typically accompanied by only sparse analysis; passages are summarized without an explanation of why they matter, which is especially disorienting when the quoted passage is immediately shown to be irrelevant. Thus on p. 102 an excerpt from Plato’s Laches claims that tragic poets (ὃς ἂν οἴηται τραγωιδίαν καλῶς ποιεῖν, which Lamari interprets, without support, as including actors) congregated in Athens, while Lamari concludes on the same page that “goal-oriented professional traveling would have certainly outgrown Athens.” Why quote Plato if (a) he does not support the argument and (b) he is not being refuted? A similar dynamic is at work in the section on histrionic interpolation, in which Lamari first imagines how extensively the actors could have tampered with the texts before concluding that they actually did relatively little damage. In the last chapter, she asks whether the premiere of Euripides’ Medea featured a snake-drawn chariot, as is commonly depicted on vases (pp. 144–50), and is unable to come up with an answer, which leaves the discussion rather without point.
The methodology is shaky, as conclusions are drawn on the basis of a variety of ancient sources (scholia, Vitae, Plutarch, etc.) without consideration of their reliability or the possibility of anachronism: for example, the Sophoclean Vita ’s reference to a “ thiasos for the Muses” is accepted without argument and even dated to c. 450 B.C. (p. 111). Also recorded as fact is the attribution of the introduction of the second and third actors to Aeschylus (pp. 117–8) — although here several sources (including those that give the third actor to Sophocles) are collected in a footnote together with one sentence of analysis: “Although ancient sources attribute the introduction of the third actor to Sophocles there are certainly three actors in the Oresteia.” The fact that the Oresteia used three actors does not mean that an earlier production (by either Aeschylus or Sophocles) could not have done the same. But the fundamental problem with cases like these is not the author’s acceptance or rejection of a given ancient source but that she does not defend her position or acknowledge complicating factors.
Lamari also tends to make rather large assumptions even in the absence of any (cited) evidence. She often assumes the existence of traveling troupes of actors but never explains when or how this phenomenon is likely to have come about. On pp. 72–7 she suggests that Pericles may have used Aeschylus’ Persians throughout his career to remind Athenians of his connection to the battle of Salamis – a connection he could claim only by virtue of having been choregos for the original performance of Persians in 472. Again, we are told that “[i]n the early days of tragic performances, the poet would have to be one of the actors, unless there was a plausible excuse…” (n. 473). The idea that a poet was required to act unless he could convince someone (the archon? the choregos?) that he was unable is entirely new to me. The book’s disregard for the details of procedure in the organization of festival competitions greatly vitiates its conclusions regarding the culture of tragic reperformance.
I have a few more quibbles with the footnotes. Citations of testimonia in TrGF are often given without the “real” citation; it would be nice to know, for example, that TrGF IV Test. A 1.20-2 (n. 529) is actually from the Sophoclean Vita without having to look it up. Millis/Olson 20124 is variously cited, both correctly and in the form Olson/Millis 2012 (both of which appear in the bibliography). In n. 434 the claim that “choreuts seem to be composed of demesmen” is supported only by a personal communication from Eric Csapo; this is surely correct, but a factual statement of this nature needs to be founded on argument or hard evidence (such as IG I 3 969),5 not another scholar’s unpublished opinion, however expert he may be.
In the end, it is not clear who is meant to be reading this book. It is too general and careless with the evidence to advance the scholarly conversation on specific points, but it also skates through the material too superficially to be useful to non-specialists, who can get a better grasp of the sources and the main issues at stake from reading Pickard-Cambridge’s The Dramatic Festivals of Athens (which still holds up well in most respects) or The Context of Ancient Drama (Csapo—Slater 1994).
1. “Aeschylus’ Afterlife: Reperformance by Decree in 5th C. Athens?” ICS 31–2 (2006–7), 206–42.
2. “Reperformances and the Transmission of Texts,” in A. A. Lamari (ed.) Reperformances of Drama in the Fifth and Fourth Centuries BC: Authors and Contexts, Trends in Classics Special Issue 7.2 (2015), 259–76.
3. Pots and Plays: Interactions between Tragedy and Greek Vase-Painting of the Fourth Century B.C. (Malibu, 2007).
4. Millis, B. W. and S. D. Olson, Inscriptional Records for the Dramatic Festivals in Athens: IG II 2 2318–2325 and Related Texts (Leiden and Boston, 2012).
5. Discussed by P. Wilson, The Athenian Institution of the Khoregia (Cambridge, 2000), 131–5 and E. Csapo, Actors and Icons of the Ancient Theater (Chichester and Malden, MA, 2010), 91-92.