Scholia Reviews ns 16 (2007) 8.
Justina Gregory (ed.), A Companion to Greek Tragedy. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005. Pp. x + 552. ISBN 1-4051-0770-7. US$149.95 / UKŁ85.00.
Research Office, Trinity College Dublin
This book is part of the Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World series. As the series has two particular strands, one of which is Literature and Culture, it is not surprising that there is a companion to Greek tragedy. Given the fact that basic information about Greek tragedy is easily available elsewhere and introductory texts on the subject are appearing constantly, however, it is not unreasonable to wonder whether or not there is a need for another one. Furthermore, weighing in at five hundred and four pages and comprising thirty-one chapters by different scholars, this is a 'heavy' companion. (A list of contributors and the titles of their chapters is included at the end of this review.) The chapters are arranged into four sections which bring together similar concerns, though each chapter is independent treatment of a particular theme and is immediately followed by a helpful 'Further Reading' note. The Companion is obviously intended as a reference work and will be a very valuable addition to library shelves of universities with students of Classical Civilisation. In fact, several contributions are truly excellent and will undoubtedly serve as introductory reference points for a long time.
The first section, 'Contexts', has seven chapters which survey tragedy's historical, religious, political, and artistic backgrounds. In 'Fifth-Century Athenian History and Tragedy' (pp. 3-22), Paula Debnar takes the reader through a narrative of Athenian history in the fifth century which is interspersed with discussions of particular tragedies. The aim is to show how tragedy, if at all, is to be seen as historical. In 'Tragedy and Religion: The Problem of Origins' (pp. 23-37), Scott Scullion considers the possibility that the origins of tragedy lie in religion. The issue about the origins of tragedy is a notoriously controversial and Scullion adopts a sceptical view on its religious ones. As the title of the third chapter (pp. 38-54) -- 'Dithyramb, Comedy, and Satyr-Play' -- indicates, Bernd Seidensticker examines the other genres which were performed at Athens' public festivals and considers mutual influences between these different literary forms. In 'Tragedy's Teaching' (pp. 55-70) Neil Croally outlines the evidence for the didactic nature of tragedy. The chapter is structured around three questions and Croally outlines concisely what he developed at book length on Euripides.[] In the next chapter, 'Tragedy and the Early Greek Philosophical Tradition' (pp. 71-82), William Allan considers how tragedy reflected, or even contributed to, the development of Greek philosophical concerns before Plato and Aristotle. The chapter is an excellent resource for this topic and, importantly, Allan stresses the need not to neglect tragedy's intellectual context in favour of its civic and political context. An aspect of the latter context is considered in the following chapter by Christopher Pelling. 'Tragedy, Rhetoric, and Performance Culture' (pp. 83-102) is a very accessible introduction to what might otherwise be quite abstruse material for a non-specialist reader. The final contribution in the first section is by Jocelyn Penny Small. Her 'Pictures of Tragedy?' (pp. 103-19) dismisses the idea that vase-painting contain depictions of tragedy. While her scepticism is well-founded, it is, arguably, overstated for a collection of essays aimed at a non-specialist.[]
The second section is called 'Elements'. Its six chapters examine features which distinguish this genre. Michael Anderson's contribution is 'Myth' (pp. 121-35). It lapses into a narrative of plot types and innovations, but it contains many great points. Anderson's piece is appropriately followed by Deborah Roberts' treatment of 'Beginnings and Endings' in tragedies and how they relate to myth (pp. 136-48). In 'Lyric' (pp. 149-66) Luigi Battezzato discusses the sung elements in Greek tragedy. He begins by looking at the formal and structural aspects of the sung element before considering its effects and place in tragedy. Michael Halleran considers very effectively the arrangement of non-lyric sequences of tragedy in 'Episodes' (pp. 167-82). After a general overview, he discusses three types of episodes -- three-actor scenes, messenger scenes and ag? scenes -- in the three tragic poets before an appraisal of the Medea in particular. The chapter does an excellent job in conveying a sense of the structure and its effect on dramatic action. In 'Music' (pp. 183-93), Peter Wilson examines the evidence for the musical element in tragedy. It is, understandably, one of the briefer contributions, though it gives a good impression of what is lost. The section closes with John Davidson's piece on 'Theatrical Production' (pp. 194-212). It is a full, though rather dry, list of issues related to physical aspects of the Theatre of Dionysus. Some illustrations would have helped the reader and it was odd that Davidson never stated that the tragic poets were responsible for managing the performance of their own works.
The third section, 'Approaches', is the largest part in the Companion. The initial three chapters in this section comprise analyses of the tragedies by Aeschylus (Suzanne Sa?, pp. 215-32), Sophocles (Ruth Scodel, pp. 233-50) and Euripides (Justina Gregory, pp. 251-70). Each is informed and engaging in its own right. These chapters are followed by Martin Cropp's very useful 'Lost Tragedies: A Survey' (pp. 271-92). His survey of the lost plays of the three major tragic poets is wedged between analyses of early tragedy (pp. 272-74) and other fifth-century tragic poets (pp. 286-90). Five of the remaining six chapters address specific themes, though the next one in sequence is about a particular interpretative approach to Greek tragedy. In 'Tragedy and Anthropology' (pp. 293-304), Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood presents a concise description of her anthropological approach to interpretation. This method, with its 'cultural filters' and 'zooming and distancing', will already be known to scholars who are familiar with her work, though I couldn't help thinking that this chapter's presence was something of an anomaly.[] Douglas Cairns, in 'Values' (pp. 305-20), provides a dense discussion of ethical concerns in tragedy. It ranges from societal relations to human-divine interaction embracing concepts like dikę, aidws and hubris and concludes with an examination of Sophocles' Ajax. By stressing the difficulties involved in determining what precisely the Athenians believed, Cairns presents a challenging and sophisticated reading to the non-specialist reader and/or undergraduate student. The divine element in the chapter leads neatly into Donald Mastronarde's piece on 'The Gods' (pp. 321-32). It covers visible presences and background influences in tragedies, and also raises the issue of mortal misgivings about the gods. The gods are also present in Mark Griffith's chapter on 'Authority Figures' (pp. 333-51). He takes the reader through four broad fields and structures of authority: these are the public, domestic, religious and cultural. The inevitable chapter on women in Greek tragedy is contributed by Judith Mossman in 'Women's Voices' (pp. 352-65), though it is quite sophisticated for the non-specialist. It examines strategies for interpreting women's speeches and possible feminine characteristics of spoken elements in tragedy. The final chapter in this section is Mary Ebbott's 'Marginal Figures' (pp. 352-76) which examines some categories of such figures, such as slaves, and argues that their marginality usually confirms Athenian attitudes and conventions.
The fourth and final section is 'Reception'. It deals with the afterlife of the plays covering transmission, interpretation and re-performance from antiquity to modern times. In 'Text and Transmission' (pp. 379-93), David Kovacs presents a concise and informative history of the transmission of the texts of Greek tragedy. Stephen Halliwell, in 'Learning from Suffering: Ancient Responses to Tragedy' (pp. 394-412), examines a variety of critical responses to tragedy in antiquity. It covers the responses from Classical Athens (Aristophanes, Plato and Aristotle), Stoic philosophers and Longinus. In 'Polis and Empire: Greek Tragedy in Rome' (pp. 413-27), Vassiliki Panoussi considers some effects of the reception of Greek tragedy on Roman literature by outlining some patterns and motifs in Greek tragedy that are employed by Vergil, Ovid and Seneca.[] The Companion remains in Italy for the next chapter, but leaps forward a millennium when Salvatore Di Maria, in 'Italian Reception of Greek Tragedy' (pp. 428-43), considers the influence of Greek tragedy on the tragedy of the Italian Renaissance. In 'Nietzsche on Greek Tragedy and the Tragic' (pp. 444-58), Albert Henrichs offers a fascinating biographical account of the evolution of conception of tragedy that is found in Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy and the critical reception of that work. Ismene Lada-Richards' contribution, 'Greek Tragedy and Western Perceptions of Actors and Acting' (pp. 459-71), will be heavy going for a non-specialist reader. Starting with the metatheatricality of Euripides' Helen, a premise which is far from uncontroversial, and the anecdote about the actor Polus in Attic Nights, Lada-Richards gives an account of the role of the actor in Greek tragedy and its influence on European performance history and the theory of the same. Herman Altena considers responses to, and issues related to the production of, contemporary performances of Greek tragedy in the penultimate chapter, 'The Theater of Innumerable Faces' (pp. 472-89). As many people experience Greek tragedy nowadays through contemporary translation and adaptation, it is appropriate that the final chapter, Paul Woodruff's 'Justice in Translation: Rendering Ancient Greek Tragedy' (pp. 490-504), examines issues related to translation. It is a lucid and informative discussion. However, its opening metaphor of translation as a lifeboat and the concluding observations based on several translation of a passage of Aeschylus' Agamemnon could be interpreted as negative swipe at the Greekless reader.[] This interpretation is probably wrong because it would be an unfortunate note on which to end a work which does so much to help a Greekless reader grapple with the issues and complexities of reading Greek tragedy.
As noted at the outset of this review, the wide availability of introductory material to Greek tragedy means that any new work entering the arena must fight hard for its very existence: this Blackwell Companion has staked a claim for longevity. Some contributions will not last long, but many likely to appear as required reading in the bibliographies of courses on Greek tragedy for a long time. The Companion has one shortcoming: this is the absence of an overall introduction or, what would have been better still, introductions to each of the four sections. This was an opportunity lost. Although the book is undoubtedly intended as a reference work, such introductory pieces could have set the scene for the state of scholarship in the various areas at the start of the twenty-first century. Nevertheless, there is much to recommend. This Companion is a heavy-weight who will be faithful to students of Greek tragedy for a long time.
[] N. T. Croally, Euripidean Polemic: The Trojan Women and the Function of Tragedy (Cambridge 1994).
[] Small is undoubtedly right when she argues that we cannot establish direct correspondence between the image on a vase and a particular tragedy. However, the idea that this means that a vase painter was never influence by a tragic performance is just as weak as the assumption, which Small attributes to the non-sceptical Classicists, that it must always depict a tragedy. For example, Small dismisses the idea that five Attic vases from the second half of the fifth century BC were influenced by the production of Sophocles' Andromeda (pp. 105f.). It is possible that the painters were influenced by a production in which the binding of Andromeda was a part of the dramatic action. In contrast with Euripides' Andromeda of 411 BC which began with a bound heroine, the existing fragments of Sophocles' tragedy hint that the binding was part of the action. So there is reason to be sceptical about Small's arch-scepticism and move towards a more central interpretative position.
[] Sourvinou-Inwood's approach will be familiar to most scholars, though the inexperienced reader will not know about problems associated with the conclusions which her approach yields. Whether or not it was deliberate on the editor's part, her problematic interpretation of Sophocles' Antigone is raised at the beginning of the very next chapter by Cairns (p. 305). Sourvinou-Inwood doesn't help the non-specialist reader with some alienating expression. When considering the parados of Aeschylus' Eumenides, for example, she observes (p. 298), 'For the audience would not have perceived this hymn as sung only by the Erinyes in the world of tragedy; because of the activation, though the choral self-referentiality, of the persona of the chorus as a chorus in the present, they would have perceived the hymn as being sung by a chorus of Athenian men in the present. This perception is important, because in the world of the spectators the Erinyes were indeed worshipped, and this fact was inevitably activated for them through the chorus's singing of the hymn.'
[] Although the point of the piece on Ovid is, admittedly, to highlight some motifs of Greek tragedy in the Procne story of the Metamorphoses, it is still odd that Panoussi does not once refer to Sophocles' Tereus. An excellent discussion of other reception-related issues in the Procne story in Ovid is D. Curley, 'Ovid's Tereus: theater and metatheater', in A. H. Sommerstein (ed.), Shards from Kolonos: Studies in Sophoclean Fragments (Bari 2003) 163-97.
[] It would, of course, be impossible task to cover every English translation, though some other notable ongoing translations such as Oxford University Press' Greek Tragedy in New Translations and Cambridge University Press' Cambridge Translations from Greek Drama might have got a mention in the further reading.