EURIPIDES: TROADES

Edited by David Kovacs with Introduction and Commentary

OUP (2019) h/b 370pp £90.00 (ISBN 9780199296156)

It is a pleasure to welcome this outstanding edition of Troades by David Kovacs, whom we know already as translator of Euripides for the Loeb Library: Trojan Women is in Volume IV (1999), in which K. does not mind pointing out here the occasional perceived imperfection, as at lines 886, 1251-2.

Following the Preface, which includes valuable information about his editorial decisions, K.’s Introduction discusses Date, Staging, Trilogy, Themes and Unity, MSS and papyri, and Reception (one paragraph). The play is dated securely to March/April 416/5 BC: we shall return to the (possible) implications of this below. Under Staging, K. argues convincingly for a second herald, i.e in addition to Talthybius: see note on 707. Under Trilogy, K. gives a full account of the other plays—Alexandros (i.e. Paris), and Palamedes—so far as they are known: in Alexandros, the youthful Paris overcomes both a trial and an assassination attempt, ultimately leading, of course, to the catastrophic events displayed in Troades, the third play of the trilogy: we learn that Euripides won only the second prize, losing to an unknown called Xenocles (Arrian even suspected bribery among the judges).

In Themes and Unity, K. observes that ‘no ancient source says or suggests that Euripides used this play—or any of his plays—to criticize or call into question the policies of Athens, and some passages imply the reverse’. Here we consider K.’s approach to the long-standing question: does Troades reflect the fate of Melos, which had occurred some three months earlier? For 150 years, the consensus was ‘yes’: while the main arguments were made between 1839 and 1923, K. lists some 15 scholars who accepted the thesis between 1923 and 2012. K’s attack on the communis opinio has two strands: first, dramaturgy. Melos fell about 3-4 months before Troades was staged: but Euripides need to have his tetralogy (including the satyr play) ready to show the relevant archon perhaps 5 months before Melos was destroyed. Then the plays would have to be copied, and rehearsed (remember, the chorus were amateurs). Nor need the play be taken as displaying a ‘generally hostile’ attitude to the Peloponnesian War—as K. points out, the chorus express a longing to be sent to Athens and not to Sparta (208-13); and (however regrettably to our eyes), ‘recent history presented a series of such measures against defeated populations’.

But was the audience expected to ‘feel outrage’ at the sufferings of the Trojan women? It seems unlikely, given that enslavement is what is expected—as is adequately shown by passages in both the Iliad and Odyssey. K. adds evidence from Stesichorus and from the Septem and Antigone, besides contemporary art (e.g. a painting by Polygnotus at Delphi). Prose sources, including Xenophon and Aristotle (Pol 1.6, 1255a6-7) tell the same story, and K. observes that persons or groups enslaved in consequence of war figure in eleven out of the 31 tragedies that survive from the fifth century, while it must have been a prominent theme of a lost play by Sophocles, Aichmalotides. By such arguments, we may feel that K. is fully justified in dismissing the supposed Melos connection with Troades: a view of the play which is, says K., ‘a temporary and regrettable aberration’.

MSS: we turn now to the Text, which has descended to us in two families, varying from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century AD; papyri afford little help. While K. takes Diggle’s 1981 OCT as his starting point, he tells us (Preface, p. vi) that his text differs from Diggle’s in about 100 places. In a footnote he lists about 60 such instances, under various headings (conjectures, deletions, assignment of speaker, defence of transmission, marking or proposing lacunae—on occasion K. offers lines exempli gratia to fill the assumed gaps—use of obeli, significant alteration of punctuation). Why so many? Because, says K., he believes that where the MSS give us a clumsy or slipshod (reading) they are wrong, given that Euripides is a ‘polished and careful author’. Your reviewer has looked at each of the above-mentioned 60 instances (for which K. in every case gives full and carefully argued justification or explanation): on occasion he approves another scholar’s conjecture (I noted Wecklein, Hermann, Weil, Dobree, Hartung, Cantor, Willink, West, Prinz, Bothe, Porson, Jackson). At 702-5 he lists seven possibilities; elsewhere, there is ‘no decent proposal’ (1087), the metre is at fault (316-7), or the lines are from another play (e.g. 424-6). 

An example: to the puzzling 95-7 he devotes, in addition to his note, the entire Appendix A of eight pages, giving sense to a seemingly simple (but very odd) and sententious comment by Poseidon. In Diggle’s text, we read ‘That mortal is foolish who sacks cities, temples and tombs, holy places of the dead, and having given himself over to desolation, he himself perishes’, a translation reached by having to add σφ’ to the third line, and implying that city-sackers always perish.  But city-sackers do not always perish, nor does sacking necessarily imply sacrilege.  K. therefore follows Blomfield by changing τε to δε (meaning ‘but’) after ‘temples’, so that the meaning becomes ‘but, giving over to desolation temples and tombs, holy places of the dead, perishes later himself” (sc. as the result of impiety: Ajax son of Oileus is an example cited by K.). K. goes into all this in hugely greater depth in Appendix A. 

A few suggestions struck me as bold (435-9, 440-1), but the great majority will demand careful attention from the play’s next editor, who, however, should not be needed for a long time. That is not to say that K.’s conjectures or answers are always ‘right’—omniscience is not given to mortal scholars—but one was constantly reading the most cogently argued solution to problems whose difficulties had not always been previously appreciated, or, even if appreciated, dealt with as thoroughly as in these pages. Textual matters of less moment are set off in the commentary by a dash, as in Barrett’s Hippolytus. 

Of course, it should not be thought that K. pays any less attention to the play’s key episodes: the appearance of Cassandra, the murder of Astyanax (taken away by Talthybius), and, especially, the debate between Helen and Hecuba (and the workings of the gods in the world). As to who was the winner in the debate, your reviewer, after reading the episode afresh, suspects that Helen would have made the greater impact on a jury: Hecuba is more abstract in her language. (Somehow, Helen seems to get away with it—remember the virtuous Helen of the eponymous play). And, despite the obvious difficulties, since our MSS do not offer stage directions (‘Enter Hecuba, weeping’), K pays ‘close attention to the clues in the text that allow us to reconstruct the physical performance’. (Latinists may be interested to learn that a key notion of Lucretius is anticipated at line 638).

The Commentary matches the thoroughness of the Introduction and the examination of textual problems; it is followed by three Appendices, a Bibliography of sensible length, and Indices.

This is an edition of exceptional quality, almost certain (one would imagine) to be the subject of, for example, graduate seminars. I cannot recommend it too highly.

Colin Leach 

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