De Gruyter (2020) h/b 356pp £118.00 (ISBN 9783110646269)
This book, which has its origins in a conference held at Oxford in 2017, is a Festschrift for Angus Bowie. Its 17 chapters are split into three parts: Genre (five chapters); Texts and Contexts (eight chapters) and Reception (four chapters). As is usual in books of this kind, some of the chapters will appeal mainly to specialist audiences.
Ionnis M. Konstantakos makes full use of pitifully inadequate fragments in looking at ‘The Characters of Doric Comedy’, via (a) Doric farce and the roots of the comedy of characters, (b) Spartan deikelistai (mimes) and kindred types (backed up by a quotation from Sosibius cited in Athenaeus), and (c) the characters of the Megarian plays, featuring a gluttonous Heracles. Less certain is the possibility that a drug-seller was a recurring personage—and thus a theatrical sibling of the foreign doctor of the Spartan farce described by Sosibius.
Michael Silk’s ‘Connotations of Comedy in Classical Athens’ takes a leisurely look at (especially) how the uses of κωμῳδεῖν (stronger than ‘satirise’, perhaps ‘malign’ or ‘slander’) and κωμῳδία developed. The verb is usually pejorative (hence μὴ ὀνομαστί κωμῳδεῖν [Scholiast on a passage in Aves say LSJ, not commented on by Dunbar, or from the Second Sophistic, without μή, says S.], but the word is neutral in, say, κωμῳδοδιδάσκαλος. S. discerns five stages in how comedy was regarded: (i) Before the 480s, official disapproval; (ii) from the 480s, official approval; (iii) the last 30 years of the fifth century, comedy at its most prevalent and self-assertive; (iv) the fourth century, when comedy enjoyed secondary, not dangerous, status; (v) after the 4th century, the distinctive strength of Menandrian new Comedy—‘realism’ could be safely applauded.
In a lively piece, Dimitrios Kanellakis looks at ‘Types and Functions of Para Prosdokian in Aristophanes’. ‘Para-proverbial’ para prosdokian is exemplified by examples from Acharnians and elsewhere; the more interesting ‘paratragic’ para prosdokian appeals (K. suggests) to the more educated spectators: again, good examples illustrate the theme (and Aristophanes was a master of paratragedy). ‘Magnifying’ para prosdokian again demands a degree of knowledge (the joke would fall flat for us at Pax 363, if we didn’t know that Killikôn was a semi-legendary traitor). Two other uses of the form are also considered, before K. adds a brief coda on oxymoron (extensively used by Euripides, but only rarely by Aristophanes). But when K tells us that para prosdokian is an inherent element of Aristophanes’ works and ‘the definition of his comedy’, does he go too far?
H-G. Nesselrath returns to the charge in his article on whether ‘Middle Comedy’ is an outdated term or still a ‘useful notion’, against sturdy opposition from E. Csapo and K. Sidwell. For the period in question of about 40 years between Aristophanes and Menander, we know the names of many poets, and the titles of hundreds of plays, but not even one has survived. Nothing much is at stake, but whatever the rights and wrongs ‘Middle Comedy’ is a useful descriptor, and W.G. Arnott uses it in his admirable article in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, sv. Comedy.
Andreas Founoulakis offers ‘Glimpses of a Male World: Performing Masculinities in Menander’. This is heavy going, and the reviewer can do no better than offer F.’s summing up: ‘these plays provide their social and cultural context with representations capable of establishing related perceptions in the collective consciousness of the audience. Even when the notion of “hegemonic masculinity” is not projected by means of specific individuals performing relevant roles, an essentially male “hegemonic” vision remains dominant in the plays’.
Texts and Contexts
Francesco Morosi’s ‘Fathers and Sons in Clouds and Wasps’ gives an engaging picture of the four characters involved, both by comparison and contrast. The battle, as he sees it, is how is the son to take over the father’s responsibilities? Unlike Philocleon, who would like to support his son, but cannot, Strepsiades would like to stop supporting his son, but (again) cannot. So while Strepsiades vainly tries to hand over paternal authority, Philocleon reverses the father-son relationship and ‘creates a spectacular palingenesis’—as his father’s son, with logical but absurd consequences. But by contrast, Pheidippides has learnt in vain his tricks in the ‘Thinkery’ (perhaps’ Reflectory’ is better): this is the ‘realm of the unnatural’, where, by comic logic, time can be modified and twisted.
Eleni Avdoulou on the dung-beetle’s (κάνθαρος) frequent appearances in Aristophanes (in Wasps, Peace, and Lysistrata) has the task of trying to create a consistency or internal logic where none may exist. The fable exemplifies the triumph of the weak over the strong (the eagle in the fable), but this is hardly achieved in Lysistrata (where all ends in happy alliance). A. also lays stress on the iambic nature of invective: just so, but most iambic verse is not invective, nor, one suspects, would extended passages of hipponacteums (‘limping iambus’) have found much favour; and see Rotstein’s (2009) The Idea of Iambos for detailed consideration of the topic: it is not listed in the References (i.e. Bibliography).
Alessandra Migliara’s ‘Imagining Space’ takes a ‘cognitive approach’ to explain how Aristophanes used verbal and visual clues to shape the audience’s perception of the dramatic space and stimulate their imagination. This is obviously important in Aves, for how is Cloudcuckooland to be shown other than by getting the audience to suspend its collective disbelief? This problem would also have occurred in Clouds—and in tragedy in Prometheus Bound (we cannot know to what extent the play’s producer would have been in despair!).
‘Comic Euboulia’ (by Hans Kopp) and ‘Comic Pathways for Peace’ (by Andreas Markonatas) can be considered together, since they concentrate on the political aspect of Lysistrata, given the dire straits in which Athens found itself in 411 BC after the catastrophic failure of the Sicilian Expedition. To be sure, euboulia was in short supply. and while Lysistrata wanted to end the war, the ‘real’ Athens wanted to fight even more determinedly (preshadowing the call for ‘Total War’ by Josef Goebbels to a packed crowd of Nazi bigwigs in early 1943 after the disaster at Stalingrad). But there is a big difference between wanting peace and advocating (as has been suggested) an oligarchy: M.’s chapter takes us through the catchily styled epirrhematic syzygy, here taking the place of a parabasis, where the playwright, so to speak, mounts the pulpit. As it is, the spectators are brought to appreciate the complexity of political and social problems, and the mention of Hippias and Aristogeiton would arouse memories of an ‘indomitable democratic spirit’. But the play’s ‘heartfelt advocacy of reconciliation’ would fall on deaf ears. There is little ‘comedy’ in these detailed and carefully argued chapters, which are, however, highly relevant to historians of that dark moment for Athens.
Armand D’Angour, in a persuasive and cogently argued chapter, considers the Musical Frogs in Frogs. As he says, ‘It is surprising that this identification (i.e. of the frog-like appearance, sounds, and action of the aulete) has eluded commentators, although the aulos was the most conspicuous avant-garde instrument of the New Music, of which Euripides was a prominent representative’. D’A. argues that the contest between Dionysus and the frogs ends in a win for the god by asserting a slower trochaic tempo to match the tempo of his rowing; he initiates his victory by appropriating βρεκεκεκὲξ κοὰξ κοάξ in slow time. D’A. then presents the passage as understood according to his preceding analysis. By establishing his victory over the aulete and control of the stage action, Dionysus asserts himself in suitably comic fashion as the god of comedy.
Frogs also are highlighted by Natalia Tsoumpra’s admirably documented consideration of the ‘Shifting Gender Identity of Dionysus’ in the play. She shows how the essentially feminine deity grows into sexual maturity, with the aid of Aeschylus; en route, she gives full value to the many explicit or implicit sexual references, including the notorious ληκύθιον passage. She adds a comparison of Dionysus and Pentheus in Bacchae, Dionysus being an inverted and more successful model of Pentheus. She reaches the conclusion that ‘comedy is a mimesis fundamentally masculine in its action’.
E. Hall’s chapter extols Cario, the slave in Aristophanes’ Wealth. It seems that a 2016 production of the play in Philadelphia received ‘glowing reviews’; in it Cario was played by ‘the brilliantly expressive Carlos A. Forbes’ (we are not told whether H. was there). What H. seems to miss is that Cario is the very prototype of the brash, scheming and dominating Plautine slave, as typified by Pseudolus in the eponymous play—the aspect of Plautus so masterfully captured by E. Fraenkel in his Plautine Elements in Plautus.
The chapter by Almut Fries on ‘Evidence from Aristophanes for the Language and Style of Euripides’ might with perfect propriety have found a place in the preceding section. F. justly quotes the famous line of Cratinus which includes ‘Euripidaristophanizôn’; and ‘trace’ analysis carried out in a different context displayed lines by Aristophanes which carried all the marks of Euripides (as it turned out, intentionally so). F. notes a number of poetic words favoured by Euripides—many of which appear in a short passage of Frogs; again, a number of words invented or introduced into tragedy by Euripides are used by Aristophanes, and the same is true of some phrases or ‘verse formulae’. Nothing very surprising here—except that we have yet more evidence for Aristophanes’ unerring feeling for style.
Oliver Taplin writes on the wealth of comic vases coming from the ‘Greek West’—at least 125 from the period 420 to 330 BC—and looks in detail at two vases illustrated in the book: The Charis vase, known as ‘The Cake Eaters’, and an Apulian calyx-crater, ‘The Bari Pipers’. What did the owners of these comic vases make of them? Who performed the comedies depicted? Where did they take place? There are more questions than answers, but Taplin suggests that Italians appreciated Greek comedy more than 100 years before Rome saw its first plays in Latin.
Nelio Sidoti uses fragments of Middle Comedy to posit that 4th century playwrights could rely on their audience’s knowledge of ‘classical’ tragedies, quite probably through re-performances, since comic appropriation of tragic themes sometime ‘evokes scenic features of the tragedy parodied.’
Peter Swallow—whose dissertation was supervised by Hall—writes on translations of Aristophanes by two nineteenth century Tories who interpreted Aristophanes as a starkly political author, who thus reinforced their own world view. The authors’ determined suppression of Aristophanes’ frequent indecency was a natural feature of the times. J. Hookham Frere, says S., produced work that became a vehicle for Aristophanes’ reception by the working class; Thomas Mitchell, by contrast, produced ‘classroom aides’ for the nobility. There is more to say, but it is hard to imagine that the work of either man is studied now except, perhaps, by someone with a political axe to grind.
This is, as noted, a Festschrift, and contributions to such publications are, by their very nature, ἀγωνίσματα ἐς παραχρῆμα rather than κτήματα ἐς ἀεί. That said, the editors are to be congratulated on producing an assembly of chapters with such a wide and relevant spread of interests. If a reviewer may venture a comment, it would be that Armand D’Angour’s fascinating work on the ‘musico-metrical imperative’ in Frogs will certainly have to be taken into account in any future edition of the play.
As always with de Gruyter, production quality is exemplary; there is a list of Bowie’s publications and a Bibliography, called ‘References’.