Michigan (2021) p/b 263pp £25.99 (ISBN 9780472054770)

This is indeed a commentary that O. has produced—but, as will appear, one far removed from, say, Cambridge’s Green-and-Yellow series; nor, we are told, does the present volume attempt to emulate Dover’s justly famous and ground-breaking edition of 1968. O’s target audience is ‘intermediate’—readers who ‘know the basic forms, vocabulary and structures of classical Greek, but who may be unfamiliar with some of its complexities’. He hopes that even more advanced readers will benefit from what he has to offer on ‘staging, usage, and overall dramatic structure’.

One result is that the text, which is his own, is presented, with only speakers’ names, almost as though coming straight from the playwright; no apparatus criticus, and no history of the text in the Introduction (Dover takes 27 pages). O. tells us that the text is his own, though he startlingly berates, in the short bibliography which forms part of the introduction, Nigel Wilson’s OCT edition (2007), because he ‘failed to carry out most of the basic manuscript work (that is) necessary for such an edition, and include(d) a large number of dubious conjectures’: yet Wilson of course had the benefit of Dover’s detailed work. O. suggests in the Preface that ‘more advanced readers may find it interesting to consider (O.’s text) beside those of Dover and Wilson’: perhaps so, but why did not O. himself fulfil the duty of an editor to provide a table setting out in three columns the cases where he differed from his two predecessors? Such a table (perhaps as an appendix) would have been of substantial use to future scholars—and reviewers (my own research, via O.’s commentary, came up with about half-a- dozen places where O.’s text differed from the OCT, none of them of any great moment, but perhaps on balance favouring O.). As it is, O.’s ‘intermediate’ readers will of course be left in ignorance of even the Ravennas and Venetus MSS—never mind the other 134 pre-17th C MSS, including 69 about which ‘nothing is yet known’ (Dover).

The Introduction occupies only 15 pages, and covers (i) The Poet and His Play, in which O. considers the decision of Aristophanes to rewrite his failed earlier version (it came third or lower at the City Dionysia in 423 BC); what we have is the revised version, though whether, when or where it was performed is not known (again, see Dover’s 26 pages for a full account); (ii) Socrates in Clouds: here O. asks an important question: was Aristophanes deliberately ‘dialling up’ hostility to Socrates in the revised version of the play? Was he pandering to ‘what he must have known were ugly, stupid prejudices driven by a blandly incoherent anti-intellectual moralizing (which) he could assume dominated in his audience’? (This implies that the first version was less overtly hostile to Socrates, thus, it may be, helping to lead to its failure). (iii) Staging: notable is the apparent need for five actors, none of them ‘bit’ players, from line 888 to 1112. (iv) Metre, where O. describes the spoken metres, even including Eupolideans; sung metres are analysed in Appendix III; and (v) Bibliography: a short but eminently useful section, limited to recent items in English; this lists relevant works under a variety of headings, and serves to remind us of other works by O. on the comedians, including a three volume translation and commentary on the fragments of Eupolis (2014-7).

Dover’s 1968 commentary was ground-breaking in its bluntly frank exposition of Aristophanes’ use of obscenity, and since then we have had Jeffrey Henderson’s The Maculate Muse (1975, 1991) (he also translated the plays of Aristophanes for the Loeb Library). O. takes a similarly robust and matter of fact approach—while willing to diverge from Henderson on occasion. Thus, at line 52, where Strepsiades is complaining about his wife, he calls her Kolias (in the genitive), which Henderson translates (p.73) as ‘Aphrodite of the Hard-on’. O. ignores this—as indeed does Henderson himself in his translation of the play.

The commentary as a whole at times seems rather bare—because O. deliberately refrains from giving references to (e.g.) grammars, on the grounds that students have as much access as they want to them via non-print media, in the unlikely event that they can be bothered to use them! Similarly, citation of parallels is relatively infrequent (those seeking more meat can go to Dover); an innovation, however, is O’s decision to break up individual items in the notes into their constituent parts—thus, e.g., ἀπ-έχεσθαι, ἀ-πέραντον, a practice which, however useful to students in showing how words are formed, becomes somewhat tedious to those less in need of such an aid. Since no overall translation is provided, O. is generous in translating individual words or phrases and explaining awkward forms (e.g. ληφθεῖσι, aorist passive participle from λαμβάνω), and such help will unquestionably be of practical use.

The problem of numeration: ‘A pedantic insistence on the original Brunck numbers … serves the interest of no-one’ (because it leads to confusion: accordingly, O. has kept as closely as possible to Dover’s numeration—and, by implication, not that of Wilson). The commentary is followed by three appendices—fragments of the ‘original’ Clouds, passages (numerous) from other comedies which refer to Socrates, and the songs—detailed, but perhaps unlikely to be of use to ‘intermediates’. There are also two indices.

This commentary, as noted, is aimed at a particular target: whether it will serve that market more satisfactorily than Sommerstein’s Clouds of 1982 (which of course has a translation) will doubtless appear in due course. At about £26 in paperback, it cannot be called expensive.

Colin Leach