AESCHYLUS: THE SUPPLIANT WOMEN

Edited by A.J. Bowen with a Translation, Introduction and Commentary

Liverpool (Aris and Phillips Classical Texts, 2013) p/b 374pp £22.99 (ISBN 9781908343345)

This is an edition on a substantial scale—indeed, if there had been no translation, one might have expected to see it in the familiar ‘Green and Yellow’ covers of Cambridge.

The long Introduction covers the standard topics: Synopsis, the Myth (chief elements and sources), and the Tetralogy, where B. accepts that Suppliants is the first play, though not all scholars would agree (see Sommerstein, 1995); this is followed by a long and admirably argued section on the date, starting from the notorious P. Oxy 2256.3, but carrying on to look at dating by structure, by contemporary events (with excellent detail), by language, and by dramatic technique: B. concludes by proposing a date circa 463 BC, not long before Oresteia. B. then moves on to the play’s form, its people, staging, and its costume and props (a large cast of extras is required). Then in ‘After Supplices’ B. looks at the course of the trilogy that follows: evidence, to put it mildly, is scant, but a sequence of Aegyptii and Danaides is as probable as any other—and is minutely looked at further in the following section, where the evidence is even more scanty.

B. now turns to the ‘Merits of Supplices’, which he finds to be considerable (‘interesting and challenging in its choice of myth…dynamic in structure…confident in execution’ and more). B. next considers the MS(S), basically the Mediceus, a ‘very careless manuscript’ (R.D. Dawe, not exaggerating). For the text and apparatus, B. largely follows West’s Teubner text of 1998, but he emphasises that it is his own text—and indeed, by my reckoning, he introduces some 20 conjectures of his own, whose merits will appear over time in their acceptance, or not, by other scholars: your reviewer was sometimes left unconvinced (of course, so corrupt and lacunose is the tradition that conjecture to produce a readable text is essential). Be it said, however, that the apparatus, based on West’s, is of as much brevity as the material allows.

Next comes the translation, which B. says is meant ‘to be most helpful to readers with little or no Greek’, and is ‘not intended for performance’; it is actually pretty awful, even compared with the straightforward translation in Sommerstein’s Loeb, e.g. ‘Why is it my future to look down Zeus’s mind in bottomless gazing?’ Your reviewer was unfairly reminded of the infamous Bohn. B. finally considers metre, starting with a simple account of the trimeter, trochaic tetrameter (catalectic) and anapaests, before moving on to the lyric metres, at which point Greekless readers will be lost. A Bibliography follows before the Commentary, which is itself followed by six useful Indexes.

The scope of this review does not allow detailed discussion of individual points, but the reviewer may perhaps be allowed to say that he would have been more than grateful to have had a commentary of this substantial scale and quality as an undergraduate: but we must not pretend that it is suitable for those with ‘little or no Greek’. It is an example of the tendency for commentaries to grow bulkier as time passes (well-known series from Oxford and Cambridge provide many examples), with the result that original virtuous intentions as to readership somehow get lost—a process not helped, of course, by the lessening provision of Greek teaching in schools.

This is a fine commentary, in which the editor has omitted no point of significance or dispute (contrast, say, the old editions of the tragedians by F.A. Paley). But no help of an ‘elementary’ nature is provided, such as would have been given in one of the old Pitt Press editions, and is in fact being given (rather ingeniously) in, for example, the huge Basel commentary on the Iliad slowly emerging from de Gruyter. That said, the reviewer welcomes so admirable an addition to his library.

Colin Leach

 

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