EURIPIDES, ION: Edition and Commentary

Gunther Martin

De Gruyter (2018) h/b 613pp £106.99 (ISBN 9783110522556)

This is a most important edition and commentary on a play which has seen only three such for British students since F.A. Paley’s in 1886: A.W. Verrall’s (with translation) for Cambridge in 1890, A.S Owen’s Oxford ‘Red’ in 1939, and K.H. Lee, for Aris and Phillips, in 1997. The Introduction opens with Structure (M. emphasises leitmotifs, intratextual references and ‘mirror scenes’); next come Problems of Interpretation: in this ‘play of mixed reversal’, in the not especially well-chosen phrase of the late A. Pippin Burnett, which ends happily—like Helen and Iphigeneia in Tauris—a ‘good deal of ambivalence remains’: affirmation of Athenian superiority? Or criticism of a god (Apollo) who lies and fails to predict human behaviour? (No surprise that Verrall opened this discussion, by positing that Apollo was immoral and irresponsible). It is in this section that the action of the play is outlined. 

The Myth is considered in similar depth (and Euripides may have invented the highly important central concept of Apollo, rather than Xuthus, being father of Ion; the fragments of Sophocles’ Creusa are inadequate to rebut this). But M. also considers Ion and the Erichthonius myth, as contributing to Ion’s claim to true autochthony, via Ion becoming ‘the new Erichthonius’. Ideological implications include the way that Euripides reconciles the Athenians’ autochthony and their relationship with the Ionians, by ‘making the latter their descendants’. M. goes on to consider the play’s Date, under three criteria: metrical, structural and external: the date is normally believed on metrical grounds to be circa 413 BC (e.g. Diggle). M. argues not only that the incidence of resolved feet places it close to Phoenissai (410/09), but also that a date after ‘the desertion of allies in 412, when the importance of the Ionian and Hellenic ties became particularly important’, suggests a production date after that year. The reviewer notes, however, that Russell Meiggs (in The Athenian Empire, 1972, pp.371-2, but not listed in M.’s Bibliography) argued that, after Cyzicus, circa 410 Athenian fortunes were improving, and that a favourable outcome to the war was thought likely. (Other approaches to dating the play are considered, but—surely rightly—dismissed as unhelpful). 

After a section on The Set (Entrances, Exits, etc.), comes The Text. Ion is one of the ‘alphabet series’ of nine Euripidean plays, Ε to Κ, which depend on a codex unicus, the Laurentianus (L): no help comes from papyri, and the Testimonia are thin. The result is that, while M. provides a generous apparatus criticus, its content consists largely of the many proposals to improve a manuscript tradition which has much need of it: names frequently mentioned are those of Wilamowitz, Diggle, and, indeed, M. himself: the small number of Gilbert Murray’s proposals which M. takes account of are favourably received. Perhaps the reviewer need add only by way of example that line 1, in the MS., breaks Porson’s Law, and that M. already obelises part of lines 2 and 3; many other obeli appear in this edition. However, an additional point must be made concerning Interpolations, which are, in all probability, especially common in Ion—perhaps over 130 lines in all, made up, in M.’s classification, as (a) explanatory, (b) dramatic extensions, possibly by actors (the largest class), (c) anticipatory, augmentative, or connective, and (d) ‘political’/declamatory. And noteworthy, and surely to be appreciated by scholars, is the Concordance of M.’s text with that of Diggle’s OCT given on pp. 113-116: there are about 170 cases of disagreement. 

The Commentary is of exemplary quality, for not only are all matters of textual uncertainty, questions of grammar and syntax, and relevant parallels discussed, with the views of other scholars given full airing (but this is far from being a variorum commentary), but also M. deals handsomely and convincingly with dramaturgical matters, not excluding the players’ motives (justified or unjustified) in saying what they do at any given moment in a play which is full of misunderstandings, deliberately engineered, of course, by Euripides. M. seeks, he tells us, ‘to help the reader understand what the Greek text means on the literal level, and how the poet has arranged the characters’ words and deeds in a way that they form a coherent and cogent dramatic structure’, and he unquestionably succeeds: future producers, take note! Similarly, what may be called the ‘subplot’—the emphasis on the identity, ideology, and autochthony of Athens—is well brought out: see, for example, the note on lines 585-647; however, in a commentary of 425 pages it makes little sense to single out individual items. It is followed by a Bibliography of some 50 pages and an Index.

It goes without saying that this outstanding Edition and Commentary will find its use at, and not below, the level of graduate seminars: indeed, it will surely become the standard edition for many years to come. As always with De Gruyter, production values are impeccable. 

Colin Leach

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