PSEUDO-EURIPIDES: RHESUS. Edited with Introduction and Commentary

Almut Fries

De Gruyter (2017) p/b 517pp £27.00 (ISBN 9783110365016)

This weighty (in more than one sense) volume comes hard on the heels of the excellent edition of Rhesus by Vayos Liapis (L.) (2012). It is a work of the most thorough and minute scholarship.

In her Introduction, F. starts with (I) The Play (the only extant fourth century drama, and the only one to be based on an episode in Homer, the Doloneia, albeit one of highly dubious parentage), followed by (II) The Myth (including Rhesus of Thrace) and a three page Appendix on the ‘Macedonian Theory’, in which F. disposes of the argument cautiously advanced in an earlier article by L. that Rhesus was produced there, probably around 350 BC, or even later. However, this theory is barely mentioned in L.’s commentary—Macedon does not even rate a mention in his Index—and one has a sense of a butterfly being broken on the wheel; F. does, however, later advance a cogent case for the production of the play in the ‘first third of the 4th century BC’.

In (III), Authenticity and Date, F. covers the External Evidence, the Language and Style (an impressive review by E. Fraenkel of an earlier book by Ritchie is given appropriate coverage), the Dramatic Technique, plus Rhesus and the ‘Euripidean Selection’, the standard repertoire of ten plays by Euripides that ‘were a mainstay of the ancient and Byzantine school curricula’. Of course, to use a vernacular expression, ‘this ship has already sailed’, since any idea of Euripidean authorship had already been decisively disposed of by L. 

This is in no way to decry the careful and detailed scholarship with which F. covers the ground, and the reviewer was particularly impressed by a long and highly detailed section on Poetic Borrowings , in which, among much else, she elucidates the poet’s ‘intertextual’ borrowings. Her work here will certainly be an early port of call for future scholars involved with Rhesus. F. notes that the play is ‘under-represented in the anthological tradition’, and held no appeal to Plutarch or even Athenaeus, possibly because of its lack of gnômai F. closes this section with a salutary reminder that tastes change: after all, Rhesus survived not by chance but ‘as a canonised work of [Euripides]. Authors like Virgil and Longus found in it aspects, even expressions, worth borrowing’ and the play was widely appreciated from the fourth C BC into the Middle Ages. F. suggests that Prometheus Bound offers a kind of parallel. 

F. gives a most useful account of the textual tradition, which depends on seven MSS, divided into two distinct classes (one partial witness, Athous Vatopedi 36, of the 11th C [Nigel Wilson’s dating] may give the earliest evidence of all, even before the 12th C O (Laurentianus)). Here we need mention only the disappointingly small amount of papyrus evidence, and the relatively sparse scholia and glosses (though they are by no means useless, confirming, for example, a conjecture of Musgrave at 854); F. regards the MS P (Palatinus) as being a copy of L (another Laurentianus), and thus of limited use: previously, after consideration, L. had come to the same conclusion, rather than the alternative opinion that the two MSS were independent, but derived from the same model. Note that L benefits from the attentions of the remarkable 14th C scholar Demetrius Triclinius. Before the text itself (which is based on that of Diggle, and presented with testimonia and an apparatus criticus on a truly generous scale), F. gives a detailed conspectus siglorum.

The Commentary, which is heavily footnoted, has its origins first from a seminar conducted by Martin West, then via a Staatsexamen in Goettingen, and finally via F.’s doctoral dissertation in 2008. The outcome is work of wholly admirable, indeed remarkable, thoroughness, especially in the generous provision of parallels, even if, so to speak, at times the scaffolding as well as the building itself is on display. The result is that it has taken about 360 pages of commentary to cover a thousand lines of text—even more than L.’s already substantial commentary. It is pleasing to see so much attention given to linguistic matters, and here one suspects the beneficial influence of Martin West. Delicate points of metre are not ignored: cf. lines 208 (with 986), 286, 804 (unique first foot dactyl), 849. Rhesus has a text that is relatively clear of corruption, and presents only a few loci desperati. 

The reviewer has looked at F.’s treatment of each case where the obelus has been brought into play, and while F. does not go so far as to accept any of the conjectures on offer, her conclusions are invariably judicious, and have an advantage over L., who, perhaps understandably, tends to refer the reader to one of his own published articles. In summary, at line 17, Dindorf (by excision) and J. Jackson (by addition) offer plausible suggestions; at 59, Wecklein’s ’xeleipon stands out; at 561 Diggle’s ‘obeli are the appropriate response’, though a conjecture of Headlam has some attraction; at 686, F. likes West’s highly plausible philous (but 685 is best left obelized); at 847 F. favours a suggestion by Gilbert Murray (suggenôn for summakhôn); and at 912, F. proffers three attractive suggestions (from Wilamowitz, Henning, and Jackson), while briefly dismissing a conjecture by L. F. says that she has been very sparing in reporting conjectures; I am not aware that she has made any of her own. 

The Commentary is followed by a select bibliography, and three Indexes (General, Passages—where Homer naturally features heavily—and Greek Words). De Gruyter have, as always, done a superb job, and the paperback edition, at £27, represents remarkable value for money. This book will be an essential purchase for any library which aims at completeness in Greek drama, and the author is to be warmly congratulated on her completion of so distinguished a work of scholarship. It may not be irrelevant, finally, to observe that the reviewer, in course of preparing this notice, had occasion to revisit J.D. Denniston’s ‘Oxford Red’ commentary on Euripides’ Electra (1949): Denniston was a fine scholar, but the advances that have been made in 70 years are truly remarkable.

Colin Leach

We welcome your comments; please send via our social media.
Back to Reading Room