BMCR 2023.02.07

Euripides’ Ino: commentary, reconstruction, text, and translation

, Euripides' Ino: commentary, reconstruction, text, and translation. Hellenic studies, 90. Washington, D.C: Center for Hellenic Studies, 2022. Pp. xii, 106. ISBN 9780674272552

Until recently the fragments of Euripides’ Ino amounted to some 25 short quotations, mostly sententious and only a few giving any hint of a dramatic context. Traditions concerning Ino are complicated and variable, but Hyginus, Fab. 4, entitled ‘Euripides’ Ino’, is the most likely evidence for the content of Euripides’ play and tells the story as follows. Ino, a daughter of Cadmus and sister of Dionysus’s mother Semele, was married to the Thessalian king Athamas, with whom she had two sons. She then disappeared and wandered as a maenad on Mount Parnassus. Athamas took another wife, Themisto, and had twin sons with her but later retrieved Ino and restored her to his household disguised as a servant. Themisto wanted to kill her husband’s two sons by his previous marriage and asked the unrecognized Ino to help her, requiring her to dress the sons of that marriage in black and her own in white. Ino did the opposite, Themisto killed her own sons and thereupon committed suicide. The summary states finally that Athamas killed one of Ino’s sons, Learchus, in a fit of madness while hunting, while Ino ‘threw herself into the sea with her younger son Melicertes, and was deified’.

The book-fragments were recently supplemented by the publication of P.Oxy 5131 with the remains of 25 verses which have been assigned to Euripides’ Ino with some probability.[1] The papyrus comprises an anapaestic scene-introduction assignable to the chorus announcing the bringing of a body related to the family of Cadmus ‘to the master’s house’ (vv. 3–7), instructions from Athamas (clearly identified and marked as deuteragonist) for this ‘small weight’ to be laid gently before the house and exposed to view (vv. 8–11), and the beginning of a lyric lament by another character identified less certainly as Ino, protagonist (vv. 12–15 with bits of twelve further verses). Comparison with Hyginus’s summary suggests that this is the body of Learchus, killed in the hunt and now returned to the palace to be lamented by his mother, although it is not entirely clear how the preceding action will have been organized.

The book reviewed here presents texts of the testimonia and fragments with brief and rather eclectic commentaries (Ch. 1), discusses the mythographic sources and previous reconstructions (Ch. 2) and the traditions of Ino’s madness (Ch. 3), and suggests a different reconstruction (Ch. 4) which is reflected in a new ordering of the texts (Ch. 5). The central argument (summarized, pp. 61–63) is that the allusion to Ino killing her sons in madness in Medea 1282–89 must reflect the plot of Ino since no other source for it is known (p. 8), that this rather than the killing of Themisto’s sons will have been the subject of Ino (as befits a tragedy named Ino), and that Hyginus must have altered the content of Fab. 4 to accord with the content of his Fab. 1, in which Themisto is indeed tricked into killing her own sons; the last sentence of Fab. 4. with a different account of the deaths of Ino’s sons, will then be unrelated to the plot of Euripides’ play (as others have suspected). The proposed plot comprises a prologue in which Athamas explains his current family situation and episodes in which Ino complains to Athamas about his treatment of her, Ino and Themisto conspire to punish Athamas by killing Learchus and Melicertes (Ino being blinded to their identity by ‘maenadic obscuration’, p. 71), Athamas reports the killings after witnessing them in the palace, Ino (sanity restored) laments their deaths as in P.Oxy. 5131, and Dionysus ex machina foretells Ino’s suicidal leap and perhaps her deification. The fragments are assigned to these scenes (or in some cases shoe-horned into them) accordingly.

All this is improbable on several counts. Tampering with a key element of the essential evidence is questionable, to say the least, and the author is vague on how and when Fab. 4 reached its present form (p. 63 suggests that Hyginus himself adapted a narrative summary of the play, but in footnote 16 his work was ‘an impeccable Latin translation of a Greek mythographic work’). The assumption that the Medea passage must reflect the plot of Ino is unjustified, given how little we know about earlier versions of the myth (it seems unlikely that Euripides would have presented as common knowledge a story he had recently invented himself). Nothing suggests that Ino might have been afflicted with madness after Athamas retrieved her (her earlier maenadism will have been part of the play’s prolegomena). In the Medea passage the filicide happens during her Hera-induced wanderings (ὅθ’ ἡ Διὸς δάμαρ νιν ἐξέπεμπε δωμάτων ἄλαις), which can hardly refer to a killing in the royal palace, and she dies with her sons (δυοῖν τε παίδοιν ξυνθανοῦσα), not after killing them. If the murders happened in the palace, there is no reason for the bodies to be brought outside, let alone carried ‘to the master’s palace’ (πρὸς δεσπόσ[υνον δ]ῶμα, v.7, mistranslated as ‘in their mother’s palace’, p. 86, but also said to refer to Themisto, p. 32), and the author struggles to read the papyrus text as referring to two corpses rather than one (pp. 33–35, 72–73 with translation, p. 87). What became of Themisto and her sons remains unexplained, so far as I can see.

The book is poorly edited, with many incidental errors and much idiosyncratic English uncorrected. More importantly, it misinterprets the texts, or interprets them tendentiously, rather often. For example, F 398 (εὕδουσα δ’ Ἰνοῦς συμφορὰ…νῦν ὄμμ’ ἐγείρει) does not suggest ‘that Ino is now expected to become offensive and dangerous’ (p. 9). F 401.2–3 means that women are inferior to men in praiseworthy conduct (καλά) and more inclined than them to shameful conduct (αἰσχρά), not that they are ‘in the good times at a disadvantage and in the bad even more’ (p. 80), and there is no reason to think that ‘this antithesis might be especially understood in the framework of the maenadic antithesis to male’ (p. 11). F 410.2–3 praises a maidservant ‘who will not keep silent about what is right and hates disgraceful conduct’, not one who will ‘disclose a secret when right, and express her hate for immoral people’ (p. 17: better interpreted on pp. 71 and 84). F 412 does not say that honest and well-meaning advice ‘are considered to be opposite to wealth and go together with poverty’, but only that poverty does not disqualify a person from giving good advice, and εὔνους does not characterize ‘a man who is high in someone else’s favour’ (p. 19: the speaker is unlikely to be female as suggested here, and the translation on p. 83 is incoherent). F 413 is presented (pp. 20, 71, 84) without mention of the likelihood that lines 4–5 are a separate fragment. On F 420, Philostratus’s anecdote is about Apollonius denouncing the Roman governor, not ‘a disgruntled spectator’ denouncing the actor declaiming these lines (p. 27).

On the whole, the book is not a reliable guide to the remnants of Euripides’ Ino nor plausible in its central thesis. One has to wonder why the distinguished members of the Center for Hellenic Studies’ editorial team (named on the copyright page) either failed to notice its many defects or failed to do anything about them.



[1] W. Luppe and W. B. Henry, The Oxyrhynchus Papyri 78 (2012), 19–25. See also P. J. Finglass, ‘A new fragment of Euripides’ Ino, ZPE 189 (2014) 65–82 and ‘Mistaken identity in Euripides’ Ino’, in P. Kyriakou and A. Rengakos (eds.), Wisdom and Folly in Euripides (Berlin, 2016), 299–315.