D. Kovacs (ed. & tr.), Euripides, Suppliant Women, Electra, Heracles. Vol. 3. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998. Pp. 455. ISBN 0-674- 99566-X. US$19.95, UKú12.95.
Classics Programme, University of Natal, Durban
The much awaited third volume of the new Loeb Euripides comprises three works from a timespan that covers roughly the years 423-416 (or 413?) BC. Given the usual layout of a Loeb volume, each play is preceded by a brief, but concise and useful introduction and a selected bibliography of primary and secondary literature. Although the latter necessarily has to be limited, I observe with regret that no reference to literature of the 90s is included and that consequently some interesting works of modern criticism are missing. Taking as an example the Electra, on which I will focus for the rest of this review, it would certainly have been worthwhile to mention at least Luschnig's stimulating chapter this tragedy[] or Michael Lloyd's elucidating analysis of the central agon of the play.[]
Over the past decades, Kovacs has published widely on Euripides and can undoubtedly be called one of the specialists in the field of Euripidean manuscripts today. He shows his expertise by a masterly handling of the introductions as well as of the editorial work, although he is sometimes quite quick to give Euripides a helping hand. His clear and precise introduction to the Electra offers an excellent summary of the main problems that have aroused so much criticism among scholars against this play. I was glad to see that Kovacs tries to restore the faith in 'Euripides as destroyer of tradition [of tragedy]' (p. 143) by providing some persuasive explanations and plausible solutions for the unheroic elements in the Euripidean plot and especially the much debated mockery of Aeschylus' recognition scene in the Choephoroi (Electra 518-44), although he himself feels rather inclined to doubt its authenticity.[]
In the third volume, Kovacs also follows the principles and methods that he laid out in the general introduction to volume one (p. 36f.) and that he applied to the texts in volumes one and two. 'K[ovacs] is not a timid editor' as John Gibert[] rightly pointed out in his review of volume two. Kovacs generously re-arranges some paragraphs in the Euripidean text established by former editors (prominently vv. 290-96 and 959-66; the latter implies a significant change in interpretation) and indulges in conjectures all over the text; he enthusiastically fills in supposed lacunas with his own verses (up to 8 verses between vv. 914 and 915) 'purely by way of illustration, what the sense seems to require (p. vii)'.[] In order to be able to appreciate at full Kovacs' efforts and his apparatus criticus, it is indispensable to have his Euripidea Altera[] at hand, to which he refers in the preface (p. vii). Despite the obvious merits of this work, which thoroughly tidies up the older editions, it remains questionable whether a total renovation of the ancient texts is necessary and whether at the end of the day it really furthers the interests of Euripidean scholarship.
To comment on somebody else's translation is certainly the most tricky task for a reviewer. Given the fact that a Loeb translation is intended to provide a useful tool for the understanding of the original text rather than to be a translation in its own right, Kovacs' version features a lot of positive aspects: his prose translation is very much to the point, he uses mainly short and clearly structured sentences, and -- in obvious contrast to his predecessor A.S. Way -- he tries to eliminate strictly any old fashioned and florid vocabulary. In addition, special care was taken that the English translation of the lyric verses matches the Greek text line by line in order to facilitate a better understanding of the meaning. The result is a modern English text equipped with a small number of footnotes, which provide helpful background information, but on the other hand Kovacs's sober style extinguishes any poetic feeling for the genre of tragedy. Transparency and poetic diction do not exclude each other automatically, as we can see by comparing the following passage (vv. 432-41) in Kovacs' translation and the more subtle version of Katherine Callen King:[]
Kovacs: Glorious ships that once went to Troy, ships that with those numberless oars escorted the dances of the Nereids, dances wherein the dolphin that loves the sound of the pipe gamboled in company with dark-blue prows: you ferried Thetis' son, Achilles of the swiftly leaping feet, with Agamemnon to the banks of the Simois, Troy's river.
King: Famous ships who travelled once to Troy with innumerable oars moving in dancing procession with sea nymphs where the flute-loving dolphin leapt rolling about the dark-blue prows, conveying Achilles, light-springing son of Thetis, with Agamemnon to the coasts of Troy, where Simoeis flows.
Although Kovacs used 58 words to translate the 34 Greek words, King comes closer to the Greek original with 47 words, keeping the translation of the epithets often more condensed than Kovacs (compare for example v. 435: FI/LAULOJ becomes 'the flute- loving dolphin' in contrast to Kovacs' 'the dolphin that loves the sound of the pipe.') In addition, she gives her translation a stronger poetic touch by the choice of vocabulary (v. 434: PE/MPOUSAI is translated by King 'moving in dancing procession', but Kovacs opts for a simple 'escorted'; v. 440f.: *TRWI/AJ E)PI\ *SIMOUNTI/DAJ A)KTA/J can be translated either by the objective formulation 'to the banks of the Simois, Troy's river' (Kovacs) or the softer description 'to the coasts of Troy, where the Simoeis flows' (King). Nevertheless, Kovacs found a convincing compromise while dealing with the eternal problem of translation; his limpid and lucid version enables the reader to follow the Greek text easily and yet to enjoy a pleasant English reading.
All in all, it must be concluded that Kovacs both in his capacity as editor and translator not only meets, but surpasses the expectations put on him. I can only agree with Kevin Lee, who concluded in his review on the two first volumes by saying: 'I look forward to seeing the next stages of Kovacs' important task.'[]
[] C.A.E. Luschnig, 'Electra's pot and the displacement of the onstage and offstage settings in Euripides' Electra', in The Gorgon's Severed Head (Leiden 1995) 86-159.
[] M. Lloyd, The Agon in Euripides (Oxford 1992) 55-70.
[] Kovacs discusses this issue at length in his article 'Euripides, Electra 518-44: Further doubts about Genuineness', BICS 36 (1989) 67- 78. For a recent survey of the problem see now M. Davies, 'Euripides' Electra: The recognition scene again', CQ 48 (1998) 389-403.
[] BMCR 96.12.2.
[] To quote once again John Gibert: 'It is only fair to add that he [Kovacs] holds it to be a scholar's duty to write a Greek supplement when claiming that a text is lacunose.'
[] D. Kovacs, Euripidea Altera (Leiden 1996). For the Electra, see especially pp. 95- 125.
[] K.C. King, 'The force of tradition: The Achilles ode in Euripides' Electra', TAPHA 110 (1980) 198.
[] Scholia Reviews ns 6 (1997) 4, http://www.und.ac.za/und/classics/schrev/scholrev.htm l