BMCR 2021.01.16

Euripides-Rezeption in Kaiserzeit und Spätantike

, Euripides-Rezeption in Kaiserzeit und Spätantike. Millennium-Studien, 83. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2020. Pp. 406. ISBN 9783110671650 $126.99.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This volume, the fruit of a conference held in Göttingen in 2017, presents nineteen papers (twelve in German, seven in English) classified under five headings: Transmission (three chapters), Linguistic and Stylistic Exegesis (three), Rhetoric and Literature (six), Philosophy (three), and Christianity (four). As can be seen from these headings and from the titles of the chapters, there is a good deal that refers to the reception of Euripides before the Roman Imperial period, offering background and context for understanding the moments of reception featured in the book’s title. There is also one extension beyond the stated period in the last essay, which concerns the Christus Patiens, if one agrees, as many do, that this cento is likely to be from 11th- or 12th-century Byzantium rather than the work of Gregory of Nazianzus (4th cent.), as claimed in the manuscripts.[1]

The most comprehensive previous treatment of this theme is that of Hermann Funke in 1974,[2] so it is certainly by now worthy of renewed attention. One major difficulty with discussing the reception of Euripides is that his plays, notable passages, individual words, and treatments of myths were passed on through many different channels. For every possible allusion to or apparent citation of a Euripidean play, one must ask whether it attests to someone reading a full text of the drama. Euripidean excerpts were abundant in gnomologies, and famous speeches may have been studied on their own in rhetorical education. Extracts of some plays were adapted for later modes of performance. To be a πεπαιδευμένος (in the late Hellenistic, Roman Imperial period, and beyond) necessitated a wide familiarity with the important traditional myths and their possible variants, and this could be gained efficiently from general mythographic works as well as from the specific collections of brief narratives summarizing the mythical background and main lines of the plays of Sophocles and Euripides, which probably originated around the beginning of the period of concern in this volume. So general allusions to the content of a play do not necessarily bespeak direct access to a text. Most of the studies in this volume face this problem, and usually the authors are sufficiently forthright about the limitations of what can be claimed or state outright that the Euripidean elements they discuss are derived from earlier selections found in sources like lexica and anthologies. Only occasionally did I feel an author was being overly optimistic about direct reading of Euripidean plays: for instance, while it is clear that Heliodorus knew many tragedies very well, the use of certain plot-twists and plot-motifs could equally be grounded in a very thorough mythographic training.

There are too many chapters for all to be reviewed in detail. The abstracts can be read on the publisher’s website. Some chapters rely more on a survey approach, examining questions such as how often is Euripides cited; how does his presence compare to that of other authors, especially Sophocles and Aeschylus; for what purposes is he cited; whether the citation gives evidence of direct reading of a full text of a drama or more likely derives from an intermediate source or a source of a different nature. This approach is most evident in Carrara, Valente, Olson, Nesselrath, Schramm, Massa, Morlet, Herrero de Jáuregui. Other chapters study a small selection of test cases from a single author, usually exploring a range of possible uses of or reactions to Euripides: Fornaro on Dio Chrysostomus, Baumbach on Lucian, Iakovou on Heliodorus, Schmitz on Nonnus, Friesen on Philo of Alexandria, Opsomer on Plutarch, Krauss on Christus Patiens.

The authors each provide up-to-date bibliographies, and naturally not all arguments will strike a particular reader as equally convincing. Given the nature of the evidence, I sometimes felt that the conclusions were more or less what one would expect a priori. I will comment on a few papers that inspired me to further thought or from which I gained a new perspective. In Hose’s treatment of the early performance history of Euripides in the key centuries before the Alexandrian edition, the most novel aspect is his argument downplaying the cultural importance of old tragedy (and Euripides) before about 350 BC. In this he reacts against the orthodox narrative of Euripides’ popularity after his death. The major support he offers for this revisionist view is the absence of Euripides from early fourth-century prose authors like Xenophon and Isocrates. I do not find this absence surprising, given the genres in which they work and the fact that Isocrates is trying to establish and maintain the prestige of his own approach to paideia and rhetoric. The kind of belletristic sprinkling of quotations we see later in a Plutarch would have at this earlier period existed mainly in oral communication, especially in urbane conversation (such as occurred in the elite symposium, where the “wisdom” of the poets had always been a source for recitations and a starting-point for agreement or disagreement about values). In Hose’s interesting treatment of Euripides in Demosthenes and Aeschines, he connects (p. 19) Demosthenes, de corona 180, ὃν ἐν Κολλυτῷ ποτ’ Οἰνόμαον κακῶς ἐπέτριψας, with the anecdote found in the Life of Aeschines 7 (καὶ ὑποκρινόμενον Οἰνόμαον διώκοντα Πέλοπα αἰσχρῶς πεσεῖν καὶ ἀναστῆναι ὑπὸ Σαννίωνος τοῦ χοροδιδασκάλου, “and when playing the role of Oenomaus pursuing Pelops he fell in an embarrassing way and was brought to his feet by the chorus-trainer Sannio”). But as Wankel notes in his commentary,[3] Demosthenes’ ἐπέτριψας should be taken as the insult that Aeschines “butchered” the role and not as an allusion to anything physical (compare the Loeb translation “Oenomaus, whom you once murdered by your bad acting at Collytus”), while the reliability and date of origin of the anecdote are subject to doubt (not to mention the fact that Oenomaus pursuing Pelops was most likely to occur in the famous chariot race, which would have been narrated in a messenger speech, not seen on stage).

Piccione devotes several pages in her overview of textual transmission to the important presence of Euripidean passages in anthologies and gnomologies, on which she herself has published extensively elsewhere. She concludes (p. 57) that one cannot make inferences about the circulation of plays from their excerpting in anthologies. This is not unexpected, in my view, since the featured passages were selected on the basis of topics (those dear to raconteurs, teachers, philosophers, rhetoricians, and later theologians) and not on the basis of a play’s popularity with performers or readers.[4]

Wöckener-Gade’s contribution presents a foretaste of a forthcoming book studying the relationship between the narrative hypotheseis that have survived in papyri and the reconstruction of the lost plays. For comparison she looks at the hypotheseis extant in the manuscripts of Andromache and Rhesus and assesses how their first sections reflect the opening scenes of each play, and then she applies the detected pattern to evaluating the likelihood of various reconstructions of the opening of the lost Stheneboea. That pattern is as follows (p. 80): (1) the information in the first part of a hypothesis (up to the first change of grammatical subject) corresponds to the information in the prologue monologue; (2) usually the person who is the new subject at the start of the next section is the character who enters at the beginning of the first episode; (3) as a rule, if there is another scene in the prologue after the monologue, it is passed over without reference in the hypothesis. I look forward to the fuller discussion in her book.

It is satisfying to see sophisticated literary interpretation applied to a Byzantine poem, especially one of the cento genre, in the way done in Krauss’ chapter on Christus Patiens. Building on the observation that most of the Euripidean lines reused in the poem are from Medea, Bacchae, and Rhesus, she argues that the three main sources predominate in three successive portions of the drama showing stages in Maria’s development or transformation. First, a despairing (and excessively emotional) Maria is presented speaking many lines from Medea as she reacts to Christ’s arrest, sufferings, and crucifixion. Then, in a section dominated by lines borrowed from Bacchae, Maria is seen as a prophetic and revelatory figure, opening up the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice and the divine plan for redemption of mankind. In the last part of the poem, the dawning light of the day of the Resurrection is celebrated using significant quotations from Rhesus, which had also been an important intertext at the beginning of the Christus Patiens, which opens in the dark of night. As Krauss sees it, the author of the cento has thus used his source texts to create a Maria-figure who, because of her own experiences, can be an intercessor for sinners.

This collection contains much that will be instructive to scholars in the early stages of studying Euripidean reception, and individual chapters in the heart of the book will be of value to scholars studying the particular later authors, periods, or genres considered.

The book is produced in the shared format now standard for many collected volumes and journals from De Gruyter (including the ugly bold sans serif font used in titles and headings) and with the usual unevenness in copy-editing and proofreading.[5] It helpfully contains an index of names, an index of topics, and a very full index locorum.

Authors and Titles

Michael Schramm, “Einleitung”
Martin Hose, “Die euripideische Tragödie auf der Bühne der Antike”
Rosa Maria Piccione, “Von der Bühne in die Bücher: Zur Dynamik der Euripides-Überlieferung”
Eva Wöckener-Gade, “Die Euripides-Hypotheseis – ‚geschrumpfte‘ Dramen? Überlegungen zur Rekonstruktionsproblematik anhand der Hypotheseis zu Rhesos, Andromache und Stheneboia”
Laura Carrara, “Euripides bei den Grammatikern”
Filippomaria Pontani, “Euripides und die Scholien”
Stefano Valente, “Beobachtungen zur Rezeption des Euripides bei den Lexikographen”
Sotera Fornaro, “Dion Chrysostomos und Euripides”
Manuel Baumbach, “Gelehrtes Scheitern: Der parodistische Umgang mit Euripides in Lukians Werken”
S. Douglas Olson, “Traces of a Genre: Euripides and other Tragic Poets in Athenaeus of Naucratis”
Elena Iakovou, “Tragödie im Roman: Euripides-Rezeption in Heliodors Aithiopika”Heinz-Günther Nesselrath, “Euripides in der Dritten Sophistik”
Thomas A. Schmitz, “Euripides’ Bacchae in Nonnus’ Dionysiaca”
Courtney J. P. Friesen, “Attending Euripides: Philo of Alexandria’s Dramatic Appropriations”
Jan Opsomer, “Plutarch and the Epistemic Authority of Euripides” (pp. 275–300)
Michael Schramm, “Euripides in der kaiserzeitlichen Stoa, Skepsis und im Neuplatonismus”
Francesco Massa, “Reading and Rewriting Euripides in Clement of Alexandria”
Sébastien Morlet, “Euripides in Greek Christian Apologetics (2nd – 5th c. AD) ”
Miguel Herrero de Jáuregui, “Euripides in the Poems of Gregory of Nazianzus”
Lena Krauss, “Maria, die Medea, die Bakchen und der Rhesos: Beispiele für die Euripides- Rezeption im Christus patiens”


[1] See p. 393 n. 4, for bibliography on the dating; Krauss herself does not take a position.

[2] “Euripides” in Nachträge zum Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum = Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 8/9 (1965–66) 233–279 (242–279 on Roman Imperial period and later). This is a dense encyclopedia article full of abbreviations and as such does not make for easy reading. It is properly referenced by several of the contributors, but oddly not referred to in Schramm’s “Einleitung.”

[3] H. Wankel, Demosthenes, Rede für Ktesiphon über den Kranz (Heidelberg 1976) II.892; I don’t currently have access to Yunis’ commentary.

[4] I also note that Piccione (p. 52) accepts too readily the identification of the Dionysius of the subscriptions to the Euripidean scholia; Pontani (p. 117) is more cautious: “Neben der blossen Tatsache, dass wir sogar die Identität und das Zeitalter des in die Subscriptiones zu Orestes und Medeaerwähnten Grammatikers und Scholiensammlers Διονύσιος nicht kennen…”

[5] The typos (including in the Greek) should not cause much difficulty. But p. 181 “Bellerophon” is an error for “Pegasus”; p. 211 “Iphigenie in Aulis” should be “Iphigenie in Tauris”; p. 306, line 3, I think “bewusst” should be “unbewusst” for what follows to make sense. There are a few errors in translation of Greek that do not affect the argument. At p. 363 Morlet goes badly astray in interpreting the scholion on Euripides, Phoenissae 546. There are unidiomatic expressions in some of the pieces translated into English (a few times in Massa, more often in Herrero de Jáuregui). In this age of dysfunctional governments, I cannot refrain from quoting from p. 387, where what should have been Euripides’ “taste for pathetic speeches” has appeared as his “taste for pathetic parliaments.”