Scholia Reviews ns 6 (1997) 24.
Alan H. Sommerstein, ed. Frogs: The Comedies of Aristophanes vol. 9. Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1996. Pp. xii + 299. ISBN 0-85668-648-4. UKú16.95/US$28.00.
Wilfred E. Major
St. Anselm College
Long one of Aristophanes' most popular and widely read plays, Frogs has been well served by modern editors. Most important are the editions of Radermacher, revised by Kraus (Vienna 1954), Del Corno (Milan 1985), and Dover's magisterial Clarendon commentary (Oxford 1993). Nonetheless, Alan Sommerstein has added an editon worth keeping in their company. In it, he provides substantial contributions in his historical introduction, and a clear, up-to-date, yet detailed commentary, although the translation is not as successful. The format follows that of previous volumes, as well as of other Aris & Phillips editions. A relatively brief introduction (pp. 1-23) with a useful bibliography opens the book. The Greek text with facing English translation follows. Notes and commentary, keyed to the English translation, encompass roughly half the book (pp. 157-299).
The introduction is almost entirely historical in focus. Those desiring dramatic, literary, or other references on Frogs will look elsewhere. Sommerstein situates the play against the background of Athens' perilous condition on the verge of surrender in the Peloponnesian War. Broadly speaking, Sommerstein sees Frogs as a play about the very salvation of Athens, possibly to the point of effecting real political action. Within its limited scope, this is a useful introduction to the play.
The Greek text features a simplified apparatus and numerous minor differences from previous editions. Sommerstein generally provides solid justification for his readings (e.g., for (O)/KNOU PLOKA/S in 186). Errors are few (for A)PODU/SEQE in 641, read A)PODU/ESQE) and mostly in the form of missing or incorrect accents (272, 366, 494, 501, 518-19, 930, 1187, 1469). Sommerstein's decision to print the 'revised' and 'original' scripts in parallel columns at 1252ff, 1431, and 1437ff is more distracting than clever. It could also mislead a non-specialist reader to think we know more for certain about the revised version of the play than we do. Any translator of Aristophanes faces severe challenges in trying to preserve the comedy of Aristophanes' verse without sacrificing too much of what Aristophanes says literally. Sommerstein has wavered uncomfortably throughout the series and improves little here. His translation is generally stiff, not stageworthy, and strays from a close translation too often to be a reliable prose reference to the Greek. On occasion he finds a good rendering (e.g., 'daredevil' for SXE/TLIE in 116) and provides useful explanations in the notes for many passages that might otherwise mislead. Too often, however, Sommerstein's sporadic attempts to convey the different registers of Aristophanes' language come across as jarring ('innit' in 28; 'some Tom, Dick or Harry' in 1374; 'pronto' in 1514). Some of Sommerstein's choices are perplexing. Why, for example, render PITUOKA/MPTAI (966) as 'tree-benders' with a note giving 'pine-benders' as the literal translation? And the translation of the first half of 145 lands on a different page from the Greek.
The notes and commentary, by contrast, make this book a worthwhile acquisition. Sommerstein brings fresh observations to a number of cultural and historical points in the play. Thorny textual and linguistic problems he lays out with exceptional clarity. Sommerstein slips only rarely (he forgets about Sophocles' Trachiniae at 946-47 and 1122; he reads too much into 366 and 1066, with which contrast his more sceptical note at 15). Even those well-versed with the text will find Sommerstein's comments valuable both in their own right and for citing much very recent and forthcoming bibliography on relevant topics. Yet at every step, Sommerstein explains issues plainly enough for the relative novice. Everyone from a serious undergraduate on up can use this book with profit.
With this volume, Sommerstein comes closer to completing the series, begun in 1980 with Acharnians, of individual editions for each of Aristophanes' comedies. The entire series is a fundamental resource on Aristophanes. We can look forward eagerly to the remaining two volumes.