EURIPIDES: IPHIGENIA AT AULIS

Ed. by Christopher Collard and James Morwood.

Volume 1: Introduction, Text, and Translation; Volume 2: Commentary and Indexes 

Liverpool UP (Aris and Phillips Classical Texts, 2017) p/b 668p £29.99 (ISBN 9781911226475)

This substantial edition of and commentary upon Iphigenia at Aulis (henceforth IA) is to be welcomed, not least because it is the first to appear in English for nearly 130 years (indeed, the familiar edition of F.A. Paley is even older). The unusual circumstances surrounding the play’s composition have also rightly called for detailed treatment.

In Volume 1 (pp. 1-234), a Preface, which sets out the principles on which this work has been founded, and which acknowledges the decline in students’ ‘knowledge and sureness’ in Greek, is followed by the admirable Introduction, covering 62 pages. (Note that the action is not summarised here, but rather in the commentary at the start of each formal section.) It starts with the ‘Myth’, of which the earliest accounts may be in the Cypria (there is nothing or hardly anything in Homer) and Hesiod’s Catalogue of Women. In ‘Human and Animal Sacrifice’, C/M report the generally accepted view that human sacrifice in ancient Greece was ‘unlikely’, an episode recounted by Plutarch notwithstanding; animal sacrifice was another matter. C/M go on to give a highly relevant account of the dismal ‘Political context of IA’ at Athens in the last years of the Peloponnesian War. Next, ‘Panhellenism’, a feature, after all, of the Greek expedition to Troy, at the end of the 5th century could be viewed in a number of ways: cynicism about a failed concept? Or hopeful aspiration to make the ideal a reality? In ‘Dramatis personae’, particular attention is naturally given to Iphigenia herself, notoriously accused of inconsistency by Aristotle: C/M summarise the range of interpretations offered by scholars which aim to counter Aristotle’s objection. Next comes the attitude of the ‘Army’ (from indifference to war madness), a short section on ‘Troy’, and then the ‘Chorus’, with its ‘surprising’ identity of young women. C/M go on to list and discuss a number of ‘Themes and Motifs’, including shame, fortune, necessity and glory.

A substantial section on ‘Early Performance …  (brought about by the playwright’s son or nephew in about 405 BC) and … and Late Reception’ emphasises, in some detail, the play’s revival in the professional theatre toward the end of the 20th century: interesting as this is, as demonstrating the work’s continuing dramatic power, the reviewer wonders how it will stand up in later years, given the likely very long ‘shelf-life’ which this edition assuredly deserves. C/M next give a most helpful account of the play’s ‘Metre’, in rather more detail than is sometimes the case, with the work of A.M. Dale and L.P.E. Parker being given full attention. IA’s ‘Text’ now falls for consideration, and after discussion of the (distinctly limited) MS tradition, C/M turn to the vital issues of authenticity and interpolation. It is a lamentable and remarkable fact that, of IA’s 1629 lines, only about 200 had escaped suspicion or athetization by 1994, with the closing 100 lines being almost universally deleted, and another 14 places, some substantial, coming under heavy suspicion as inauthentic. C/M helpfully list both ‘deleters’—especially heavy in the 19th century—and more conservative editors. Notably, Gilbert Murray (1913) is (unsurprisingly) included among the conservatives: he had also believed, with reservations, in the authenticity of Rhesus; James Diggle (1994) is among the more suspicious: it is a great pity that Wilamowitz seems not to have pronounced an overall verdict. C/M tell us that their attitude ‘has inclined strongly to editorial tolerance’: they see much that is ‘Euripidean in origin and spirit’ and they add that even if IA is in the main the ‘progressive expansion of a Euripidean outline’, it can be compared with Rhesus, ‘transmitted as Euripidean, but almost certainly from the 4th century BC’ and some other plays suspected of interpolation.

This section is followed by a conspectus of ‘Editions and Commentaries’, starting from the Aldine edition of 1503. The editors, while acknowledging their debt to Diggle’s work, have printed their own Greek text and critical apparatus. C/M usefully give a list of their divergences from Diggle’s OCT, numbering some 80 instances (C/M print lines 1510-1629, but regard them as inauthentic: we shall revert to these lines in due course). ‘Bibliographies’ follow, helpfully subdivided into four sections, before a list of ‘Abbreviations’ and the text with an ‘unpretentious’ translation; the apparatus criticus is of a sensibly limited nature, explained on pp. 79-80. For an all too clear example of the problems faced by C/M, the reader needs look no further than the introduction to the apparatus on lines 1-163 (p. 84).

Volume 2 (pp. 235-668) contains the Commentary and Indexes. In line with the guidance given in the Preface, notes are divided into up to four sections: general, Greek, [text], kept in brackets, and occasionally metre; frequently, the notes on text are extended, and those on Greek take as their starting-level matters not treated in Morwood’s Greek Grammar (OUP, 2001). Perhaps a little surprisingly, C/M ‘seldom mention rarities of vocabulary, especially single occurrences in Greek literature or Euripides’, except in special circumstances; however, while considerations of space prohibit any attempt at singling out individual notes, those on Greek which the reviewer sampled were relevant and informative, and certainly not unduly elementary. (A proposed emendation by Wilamowitz at line 234 is astonishingly ill-judged).

The formidable task facing, and the general approach taken by C/M, can be demonstrated by the Prologue-Scene (lines 1-163), where (first) content, staging, metre, authenticity and integrity of the scene, then (secondly) formal singularity, coherence, contradictions, adequacy, compatibility with Euripides’ habits, and finally conclusions, are all examined. As to integrity, the wide spectrum of recent scholars’ positions is summed up under nine headings. C/M reasonably point out that what we have now is ‘something that would work in the theatre’ and add that it is rarely pointed out that few, during a performance, will perceive minor inconsistencies. The editors reflect upon the irreconcilability of scholars’ views, and urge the readers to form their own opinions; they think it likely that two forms of prologue have become conflated, with anapaestic and iambic parts imperfectly brought together, probably in the hands of a theatrical director working quickly, and with successful performance as his main aim.

C/M soon find many of the same problems at 164-230, but especially at 231-302, a sort of ‘catalogue of ships’, where scholarly opinion is sharply divided: six reasons for, and seven reasons against authenticity are listed; Diggle and Page are among the doubters, but Wilamowitz lined up on the other side (if the reviewer may express an opinion, he finds Kenneth Cavander’s argument for inauthenticity very persuasive: see p. 294): C/M also come down on the side of inauthenticity.

The foregoing are only examples of what are recurring themes through the commentary; another example is at lines 919-74, where one scholar, of many cited, observes wryly that ‘the same observations are used to express different views on the issue of authorship’. Finally, mention must be made of 1510-1629, accepted by C/M as inauthentic, where an ending is given which, at least in part, must have been composed much later—even as late as 5/6th C AD—leaving doubt as to whether Euripides would have composed a scene to end in the miraculous rescue which we now have, and which of course is a given in the earlier Iphigenia among the Taurians; but C/M well point out (pp. 618-19) that an ending at 1509, with Iphigenia about to die, would completely satisfy modern dramatic sensibilities.

From the foregoing, the commentary must seem almost as though it is a variorum edition, and indeed the number and complexity of the problems encountered do call for a wide conspectus of scholars’ views to be presented: but C/M themselves always give their conclusions, expressed in varying degrees of firmness or perplexity. The thoroughness of the editors’ work is manifest (and laudable) throughout, with ‘much discussion of plot, characters and dramaturgy’. Will the translation and commentary achieve their aims of meeting the needs of those with little or no Greek, those more confident in the language, and finally university students and academics? The reviewer can speak confidently only of the third class, who will assuredly be well satisfied—and at a gratifyingly modest price for the paperback edition. This has been a labour of love (and on a Heraclean scale) for the editors, who deserve our thanks and congratulations.

 

Colin Leach

 

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