De Gruyter (2017) h/b 386pp £109.95 (ISBN 9783110514919)
Volume 45 in the series Trends in Classics—Supplementary Volumes, this is a collection of twenty essays published in honour of Georgia Xanthakis-Karamanos marking her retirement in 2014 as professor at the Universities of Athens and the Peloponnese. As an appendix reminds us, her academic output is formidable, embracing not only 5th C BC drama but its later reception and development, as well as rhetoric and wider societal issues, all of which subjects find a place in this book. Material is divided into four sections: (i) Tragedy and Comedy (from their beginnings to their dissemination by Alexander the Great and his successors, and including essays on philanthropic gods, allegory, the people in Aeschylus’ tragedies and the poetics of Aristophanic comedy); (ii) Individual plays (namely Agamemnon, Ajax, Philoctetes, Iphigenia in Aulis and both Electras); (iii) Reception (the use of quotations in speeches by Demosthenes, Antiphon and Lycurgus, as well as a short piece on tyrants and kings as tragic poets and a longer survey of classical myth in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde); and (iv) Theatre and Music (in Plato’s Symposium and Aristotle’s Politics and Poetics). The list of contributors is impressive, comprising scholars from across the globe, for some of whom English is not the first language. Along with the sometimes less than rigorous copy editing, this causes one of my very few gripes: while some non-anglophones have opted to have their papers professionally translated, others have apparently relied on their own skills, leading to occasional clumsiness, not to mention ambiguity.
In their introduction, the editors state that ‘in order to improve the readability of this collection of erudite articles, every effort has been made to ensure that the book stays consistent, while at the same time retaining each author’s stylistic intent and special preferences’. The degree to which they have succeeded will be judged by individual readers, but it must be stressed that the collection is aimed primarily at specialists. (Indeed, discussing Aristotle’s use of teaching notes, one contributor draws parallels with ‘our own experiences and techniques as academic teachers’.)
Despite this, slightly wider audiences will find much to entice them—including Alan Sommerstein’s elegant discussion of how human-friendly gods appear in the Odyssey, Aeschylus and comedy but not the Iliad, Sophocles or Euripides; Chris Carey’s study of the staging and function of allegorical characters in comedy (Peace in Peace, Reconciliation in Lysistrata etc.) which, although often serving primarily as visual aids, sometimes develop a fantastical life of their own (the King’s Eye in Acharnians); Berhard Zimmermann’s fine examination of comic tropes, knowledge of which (he argues) allowed playwrights to engage with audience expectations in the same way as knowledge of myth did in tragedy; Justina Gregory’s consideration of whether in Sophocles’ Ajax the true heir of Achilles is Odysseus or Ajax (or perhaps both); or Ioannis Perysinakis’ engaging analysis of Orestes’ speech in 367–390 of Euripides’ Electra in the context of the late 5th C BC shift in social values. Indeed, many might wish to dip rather than immerse themselves in every essay, and should not be put off by the oddly (and inappropriately?) polemical tone of the first contribution (by Francisco Rodriguez Adrados) on the origins of drama.
With useful bibliographies accompanying most of the essays, many schoolteachers, too, should find the volume valuable, especially perhaps for its studies of fifth-century drama, but also for its emphasis on the continuing vibrancy of Greek tragedy and comedy after Euripides and Aristophanes, whether in the theatre and law-courts of Athens, the studies and libraries of Alexandria and Rome or the monasteries of Britain and Ireland. For this is a rich cornucopia, providing (for the most) part thought-provoking and stimulating reading.