EURIPIDES: HECUBA

Edited by Luigi Battezzato

CUP (2018) p/b 287pp £23.99 (ISBN 9780521138642)

Hecuba, a welcome addition to CUP’s ‘Green-&-yellow’ series of commentaries, is designed to be ‘useful for upper-level undergraduates and graduate students’, as well as ‘of interest to scholars’, ambitions which it comfortably meets. The Introduction is not excessively long at 28 pages; its ten sections (which happen not to include a synopsis of the plot) may be summarised (with comments as necessary) as follows: 1. Euripides: Life and Works. 2 .The date of Hecuba: Metrical considerations place the date between 423 and 418 BC; B. looks for other (e.g. historical) evidence, but ‘such arguments are very fragile’. 3: Production: Casting the Play and Stage Movements. 4. Myth: B. shows how Euripides’s account profoundly varies from that given in Homer, notably where Polydorus is concerned; Polymestor, too, may simply have been created by the playwright. 5: Characters and Reciprocity: charis, xenia, philia. This is a key section, well handled: all the characters in Hecuba are linked by a web of obligations and favours, and there is always the inescapable fact that Hecuba is a victim of war, not a victor. Polyxena will not accept a life of slavery, while the cultural superiority of the Greeks is displayed by Agamemnon and Odysseus. 6: Hecuba’s Revenge: The blinding of Polymestor and murder of his sons. As B. observes, ‘assessing the morality of Hecuba’s revenge is bound to be influenced by one’s views about justice and punishment’; just so, but what would an Athenian audience have made of it? B. makes no attempt to answer that question, but cites examples of exemplary revenge in Herodotus; but more relevant may be the judicial procedure which follows—and following which, Agamemnon does not condemn Hecuba. 

7: Reception. B. concentrates here on Virgil’s adaptation of the play in Book 3 of the Aeneid, while Ovid, in Metamorphoses 13 ‘concentrates on filling the gaps in Virgil’s adaptation and correcting it’. B. also considers Seneca’s Trojan Women. Hecuba became a popular play; much later, the translation into Latin by Erasmus was ‘famous and influential’. 8 and 9: Transmission of the Text, and Presentation of Textual Evidence in this Edition. The popularity of Hecuba meant that there was a profusion of manuscripts (200 or more) into which, to make things worse, inauthentic lines or passages were added. The result is an ‘open tradition’, with widespread ‘contamination’, against which, as Paul Maas observed, there is no defence. Diggle used twenty-one MSS in his OCT edition, supplemented with readings from thirty-two others; B. himself takes the readings from four pre-thirteenth century MSS, supplemented on occasion from more recent ones; his apparatus criticus is commendably uncluttered. He also lists the names of a number of scholars who have, he says, been successful in improving our text by conjectural emendation, and his own name appears in the apparatus on at least 17 occasions. Here, I look ahead and comment that while most of B.’s changes etc. are of minor consequence—time will tell whether they, or some of them, find acceptance—two deserve to be singled out. First, he imports a prodelided ἐς before πλοῦν at 901, giving real point to a line which previously had, at best, a poor meaning; and secondly he proposes καινὰς ἀνάγκας for καὶ τὰς ἀνάγκας at 847, where the adjective will mean ‘strange, unexpected’, again giving point to an otherwise vague line. B. gives parallel examples, but misses Aristoph. Thes. 850, where τὴν καινὴν ʿΕλένην, referring to Euripides’s play Helen, gives exactly that meaning. 

10: Metre and Language. B. gives an account of the main metres used by Euripides in the play, iambic trimeters, anapaests, and Aeolic and dochmiac cola. Here again I look ahead and report that in the Commentary, all lines of the choric songs are spelled out, with their metrical length (long, short or anceps) shown above each vowel; an explanatory label is attached at the end of each line (e.g. glyconic, telesillean etc.). Here, however, our ‘upper-level’ undergraduate must go back to pages viii-ix (Key to Metrical Symbols) to see the labels’ cola spelled out in detail. (As it happens, description of the ibycean seems to have eluded B., and the perhaps unfamiliar wilamowitzian is described as a choriambic dimeter, whereas Martin West (Greek Metre, 1972) added ‘anaclastic glyconic’ as another interpretation of it). In Language, B. introduces the concepts of ‘topic’ and ‘focus’ from pragmatics, and explains what he means by them. 

Hecuba is not a difficult play, and the plethora of MSS has resulted in a text with, indeed, many suspect lines, but perhaps only one locus desperatus (236, where Herwerden’s simple but bold suggestion would save the day). If the primary task of the editor is to establish, explain, and illustrate the text, B. fulfils all those tasks admirably, with translations generously provided. Thus he handles well the important three-way dialogue between Odysseus, Hecuba and Polyxena (216-443) and when he compares Hecuba’s position to that of the Plataeans and Melians in Thucydides, speaking to an audience whom they have no chance of persuading and who have them in their power, the parallel is all too appropriate: and we are reminded from time to time of the parallel between Polyxena’s sacrifice on the way back from Troy (and the future fate of Agamemnon) and that of Iphigeneia on the way out: note especially lines 524-560. I also found the detailed introductions to the three stasima notably helpful, especially those to the second and third: (I cannot resist referring to the exquisitely Greek comment at 906 that ‘Troy will not be counted any more among unsacked cities’, as though lists of them were available). Smaller matters do not escape B.’s notice (I note the comment on the avoidance of a breach of Porson’s Law at 729, while at 742, where ἄν appears twice in one line, the indirect reference to Wackernagel’s Law [more direct at line 16], and the parallel at Hippolytus 270, are also timely; the comment on, and parallels with, the deformation Αἰνόπαριν at 945 might have been expanded: but such matters are trifles). 

The Commentary is followed by a Bibliography and Indices. Undergraduates will be well served by this edition, and may welcome the close attention which B. pays to matters of grammar and syntax throughout. The price of the paperback edition is undemanding.

Colin Leach

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