Scholia Reviews ns 9 (2000) 50.


Carmen Chuaqui, El text escénico de las Bacantes de Eurípides. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1994. Pp. 253, incl. 13 black and white illustrations. ISBN 968-36-4054-0. No price supplied.

Carmen Chuaqui, El text escénico de las Ranas de Aristófanes. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1996. Pp. 283. ISBN 968-36-5700-1. No price supplied.

Edmund P. Cueva
Xavier University, Cincinnati

These two texts by Carmen Chuaqui will be of interest not only to professional classicists but also to those who are fond of classical tragedy and comedy, and, in particular, to theatre critics, theatre aficionados and music students. Although the texts were written with the undergraduate in mind, they supply adept analyses for the scholar and the more advanced student. The author provides impressive and thorough cultural, literary, mythological, historical, musical and dramatic contexts for both Euripides and Aristophanes.

El texto escénico de las Bacantes de Eurípides consists of a prologue, five chapters, twelve vase illustrations, a translation of the Bacchae, a chronology of the development of performances at different festivals (dating from 534 to 150 BC), a chronology of principal authors and musicians, a glossary divided into terms on the structure of tragedy, the architecture of the ancient theatre, actors and theatrical cues and directions, wardrobe, music and instruments, and dance and mime. The book concludes with a bibliography.

In the prologue the objective of the book is made clear: a 'virtual' reconstruction of the play will be attempted in order to be able to produce it on stage (p. 11). In the first chapter, 'La dramaturgia griega' (pp. 15-32), the methodology of Chuaqui's objective is explicated when she notes that there is a great difference between the literary text and the 'texto escénico', which can be understood best as a semiotic interpretation of the play. Chuaqui is very careful to stipulate that because the art of interpretation is subjective, the translator has to make some choices. Archaizing or modern? Verse or prose? Literal or free and paraphrased?[[1]] The prose translation presented (pp. 203-40) is one that has been adapted for the stage emphasizing the signifier and signified.

The second chapter, 'Mito y dramaturgia' (pp. 33-52), includes the three reasons for Chuaqui's selection of this play: the work reveals a great amount of information about the rites of Dionysus and about the god himself, the importance of the chorus, and the play's music. All of these three elements are examined to see how they can contribute to a greater connection and interplay between the actors and audience. After an introduction to the historical and mythological elements of the play, which reviews plays and authors who have dealt with the story of Dionysus, she proceeds to a cross-cultural comparison of this god with other Indo-European peoples in order to show that there is a mytho-genealogical lineage for what is found in Euripides' working of the myth. Chuaqui uses the madness that is central to some of the rites of Dionysus to construct her 'texto escénico' by allowing the chorus of her production to act frenzied.

Chapter Three, 'Conceptos medulares de la semiología teatral' (pp. 53-89), is a synopsis of the history, theories, criticisms and reactions to semiotics. The review begins with Ferdinand de Saussure[[2]] and Charles Sanders Peirce[[3]], and concludes by pointing out that for the purposes of this play's translation the modified theories and models of Tadeusz Kowzan will be of primary importance.[[4]] A diagram on page sixty-three demonstrates the method by which she will analyze the text -- the analysis is carried out in Chapter Four, 'Análisis de las Bacantes' (pp. 91-133). The adapted model of Kowzan is divided into two major sections: performers (actors, dancers, musicians, singers) and place of theatrical production. Each of these sections is studied to see if it has visual or auditory cues and spatio-temporal dimensions. In the performers' section are included: oral expressions (speech, singing), which have auditory and temporal markers; bodily expressions (gesticulation, exits and entrances, dance and musical sounds), which have visual and spatio-temporal markers; and wardrobe (clothing, makeup, masks, hair dress, accessories or instruments), which has visual and spatio-temporal markers. The theatrical locale section includes physical area (architecture, scenery, lighting, tools), which has visual and spatio-temporal markers, and sound effects (music, background music), which have auditory and temporal markers.

Chapter Five, 'La música en las Bacantes' (pp. 135-89), discusses what little is known about ancient Greek music as a framework to the very appealing speculation that ancient Greek music probably was similar to modern Arabic or Indian music. In other words, we should not be so quick to think in mainly European-polyphonic terms when discussing the music of the ancient Greeks. Dance is also discussed in this chapter, in particular the help that vase paintings can give for arranging the choreography of the play.

In her epilogue Chuaqui hopes that her translation, which is very good and closely adheres to the ancient Greek, will be considered a 'lectura activa' of the Bacchae (p. 191). I think that her expectation has been fulfilled. The translation is inspiring and should be welcomed by more than just the Mexican reading audience for which this text was intended (pp. 10f.).

In El text escénico de las Ranas de Aristófanes Chuaqui pretty much accomplishes the same for Aristophanes' Frogs as she did for Euripides' Bacchae. Since in this instance we are dealing with a comedy, she gives the reader a translation and contextual setting for the play that will afford 'not only a way of reading the Frogs as a dramatic text, but also of imagining and visualizing it as a libretto for a musical comedy' (p. 10). Kowzan's modified model is also used extensively in this book and the work of Mikhailovich Bakhtin is quoted and referred to in order to vary somewhat the semiotic approach taken in her first book.[[5]] The text comprises a prologue, three chapters, an epilogue, a translation of the play and a bibliography.

In the first chapter, 'Las Ranas y el medio ambiente' (pp. 15-73), the author centers on the religious and literary components of comedy: Aristotle and the possible origins of comedy, Doric influence, the information supplied on choral dress by vase paintings (in particular choruses dressed as animals), the differences and similarities between CW=MOJ and W)|DH/ and the likelihood that comedy may have been a type of religious mimesis. Among many other things in a chapter overflowing with detail, there is also an analysis of the traditional structure of comedy (parodos, agon, parabasis, exodos), the variations that Aristophanes makes on this format (i.e. the parabasis before the agon), the life of Aristophanes (what little we know) and a critique of editions and translations of the Frogs. Chuaqui's digression on the troubles with translating a text full of obscenities is worthwhile and is probably the most original part of this chapter, which ends with the author placing the production of the play in historical, political and religious contexts.

Chapter Two, 'La risa dionisíaca' (pp. 75-128), is a mélange of different topics ranging from the relationship between comedy and tragedy to paratragedy and paracomedy. The main two subjects, however, are generated from Bakhtin's observations on the carnival and its atmosphere as correlative to Greek comedy and the celebrations held at the dramatic festivals, and F. M. Cornford's ritual-structural approach to the development of Attic comedy.[[6]] The chapter winds up with Chuaqui grappling with the definitions of comedy and humor, which may or may not contain obscenity, sex, double entendres, verbal dexterity and grandiose words and thoughts.

Chapter Three, 'Dramaturgia de las Ranas' (pp. 129-71), seeks to answer the question of how to stage a comedy. Depending greatly on the Oliver Taplin's research on tragedy and comedy,[[7]] Chuaqui produces a translation (pp. 187-278) that is meant to be a 'virtual' production -- a text that allows for staging; not that the play would or could be produced (p. 130). Once again employing Kowzan's modified model she analyzes the comedy and departs into a brief but interesting discussion on the sites that these comedies may have been staged.[[8]] The rest of the chapter speculates on the structure of the comedy, the architecture of the theatre, the actors and their numbers and entrances onto the stage and music.

In the epilogue Chuaqui writes that Aristophanes' play may be the most difficult of all comedies to translate and stage because it is so intricate in its historical and literary references and allusions. It is indeed, according to the author, almost unintelligible to a modern audience (p. 181). The complexity of the comedy is made evident by the extensive number of explanatory footnotes given in the translation -- there are one hundred and seventeen footnotes in the Frogs compared to the ten supplied for the Bacchae. Although the contextual intricacy definitely exists, nevertheless Chuaqui supplies a competent and entertaining translation of the comedy (pp. 187-278).

These two texts are worthwhile studies into the natures of tragedy and comedy, and Carmen Chuaqui has chosen excellent representatives for both genres. Misspellings and typographical mistakes are rare.[[9]] A minor fault with both works is the extensive quotation of scholarship. In Chuaqui's first book some blocked quotations can run on for pages at a time (e.g., the use of George Mounin, pp. 55f.), in the second work extensive blocked quotations are for the most part replaced with extensive unblocked quotations (e.g., excerpts from Henderson's The Maculate Muse are the text for five pages (pp. 104- 9).[[10]] This wholesale use of citation can be a bit disconcerting. However, all in all Chuaqui has done an admirable and laudable job in her handling of these two plays.


[[1]] Chuaqui relies heavily on the following works for formulation of her approach: G. Steiner, The Death of Tragedy (London 1961); T. S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (London 1948).

[[2]] F. de Saussure, Cours de linguistique générale (Paris 1916).

[[3]] C. S. Pierce, Collected Papers (1931, 1958).

[[4]] T. Kowzan, 'El signo en el teatro. Introduccíon a la semiología del arte del espectáculo', in T. W. Adorno, El teatro y su crisis actual (Caracas 1969).

[[5]] M. Bakhtin, La cultura popular en la Edad Media y en el Renacimiento. El contexto de François Rabelais (Mexico City 1990); also available as L'oeuvre de François Rabelais et la culture populaire au Moyen Age et sous la Renaissance (Paris 1982).

[[6]] F. M. Cornford, The Origin of Attic Comedy (New York 1961, 1914).

[[7]] O. Taplin, Greek Tragedy in Action (London 1978); 'Fifth-Century Tragedy and Comedy: a Synkrisis', JHS 106 (1986) 163-74.

[[8]] In this digression Chuaqui uses the findings of M. Bieber, The History of the Greek and Roman Theatre (Princeton 1971, 1939) and A. W. Pickard- Cambridge, The Dramatic Festivals of Athens (Oxford 1991).

[[9]] I noticed only one typographical mistake in El texto escénico de las Bacantes de Eurípides: J. E. Harrison's Themis is written as themis (p. 48).

[[10]] J. Henderson, The Maculate Muse: Obscene Language in Attic Comedy (New Haven and London 1975).