Scholia Reviews ns 7 (1998) 9.

Marica Frank (ed.), Seneca's Phoenissae: Introduction and Commentary. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995. Pp xvii + 268, incl. an appendix. ISBN 9004-09776-7. US$84.00, Gld.129.00.

B.J. Gibson
Corpus Christi College, Oxford

The book opens with a useful and judicious introduction of some 45 pages in which Frank deals with vexed issues such as the relation between the two halves of the play (pp. 3-8), arguing convincingly that such verbal echoes as, for example, the repetition of ibo, ibo in lines 12 and 407 point to clear links and contrasts between the scenes involving Oedipus and Jocasta. There is good discussion of antecedent treatments of the Theban legend (pp. 16-29), although one might have wished for the subsequent Thebaid of Statius to have featured a little more both in the introduction and the commentary, given the enormous resurgence of interest in Statius' epic in recent scholarship. Discussion of the manuscripts would have been welcome; though a publication such as this is no doubt aimed at professional scholars, rather than students, one can reasonably expect something more than the sigla and three references given by Frank on p. 45; compare, for instance, Tarrant's concise and helpful discussion in his edition of the Thyestes.[[1]] This matter apart, the introduction is however an excellent guide to the play; Frank's arguments are well presented, and her careful treatment of the issue of Stoicism (pp. 29-32) is especially to be applauded.

In her preface, Frank sees her work as concentrating on 'a literary analysis' of the text, in contrast to the more philogical interests of Theo Hirschberg's commentary,[[2]] but in fact there is much here to delight the philologist. One area given particular attention by Frank concerns Senecan linguistic usage; see for instance her notes on Phoen. 411 (the respective frequencies with which Jocasta refers to herself as mater and parens) and 492 (the respective frequencies of metuo, timeo and uereor, in not only Seneca but also Statius and Lucan as well. Parallels, especially from elsewhere in Seneca, are carefully documented, and there is even a list of Senecan passages cited in the commentary at the end of the book (though note that no reference to Troad. 966 can be found on p. 199). There are one or two places where useful comparisons are missed; at Phoen. 411-12 feruidos iuuenes anus / tenebo, comparison with Horace C.. 4.13.26-28 possent ut iuuenes uisere feruidi / multo non sine risu / dilapsam in cineres facem seems in order, particularly since, as Oliver Lyne has noted, in Horace's poem feruidi suggests not only the ardour of the young men but also their eventual decline as they too burn out;[[3]] with Seneca one can make the similar point that feruidi, applied to Polyneices and Eteocles, also evokes the double burning of the young men on their funeral pyre. At Phoen. 354-55 non satis est adhuc / ciuile bellum it is surprising that Lucan's bella . . . plus quam ciuilia (1.1) is not mentioned.

Frank's literary comment is often very subtle and illuminating. Her notes on, for example, Seneca's inversion of the trope of a blind man asking to be led about at Phoen. 5-6, and on the resonances of libauit at 174-75 are good examples, while her note on Phoen. 77-79 is a careful analysis of the complex relation existing between Seneca's dramatic and philosophical treatments of suicide. The commentary has its occasional disappointments: at Phoen. 615 Frank remarks as follows: 'Is Seneca making Jocasta indulge in deliberate irony by calling Adrastus fortis, when in 510 she described him as hostis? Probably not; it seems likely that Seneca intends us to perceive it as a piece of unconscious irony on Jocasta's part.' Quite apart from the fact that there is no reason why a hostis should not be called fortis without irony, the language of intention used in this note and others (see, e.g., on 618 and 623-24) is unhelpful. And, at the end of an otherwise judicious discussion of the half-line at Phoen. 319 and its place in arguments concerning the unfinished status of the play, Frank concludes with unworthy (and unsubstantiated) scorn, damning the dramas as 'having been composed with careless speed (e.g clumsy versification, excessive use of stock descriptions, unoriginal and repetitive choral lyrics)'.

Frank's handling of textual matters is generally prudent; Peiper's uoluat, which she favours over the MSS ducat at Phoen. 116 can be defended by comparison with other parallels where uoluere is used of rivers, such as Horace C. 3.29.38, Virgil Aen. 8.539. At Phoen. 551 Frank conjectures and silently prints uestraque, a good suggestion that deserves to be acknowledged at least with a laconic scripsi in the apparatus! At Phoen. 2 the lemmata in the commentary are confusing; the MSS have patris leuamen, which appears in the text and in the lemma for 1-2, but Gronovius' conjecture lateris appears in the lemma for 2. Frank notes that Gronovius does not attempt to explain lateris, and suggests that lateris is an example of synecdoche. The idiom perhaps becomes more understandable if one compares the use of latus in royal and imperial contexts such as Seneca Dial. 6.15.3 Seiano ad latus stanti, Statius Silv. 3.3.65, 5.1.187, Martial 6.76.1, and Lactantius on Statius Theb. 2.312.

There are only a very few misprints and slips, such as the incorrect lemma for Phoen. 195, the reference in the note on 96 to Statius Theb. 614-18 (read '4.614-18'), and the claim in the note on 546-47 that chariots were not used in Greek warfare after Homeric times -- the scythed variety appeared in the Seleucid army as late as the battle of Magnesia in 190 BC.[[4]]

This volume represents a valuable contribution to the scholarship of Senecan tragedy. Frank's commentary is a work of much erudition and serves usefully to illuminate a play which has received little attention.


[[1]] R.J. Tarrant (ed.), Seneca's Thyestes. Edited with Introduction and Commentary (Atlanta 1985) 36-38.

[[2]] T. Hirschberg (ed.), Senecas Phoenissen: Einleitung und Kommentar (Berlin 1989).

[[3]] R.O.A.M. Lyne, The Latin Love Poets (Oxford 1980) 211.

[[4]] See Livy 37.41.5-7, and B. Bar-Kochva, The Seleucid Army: Organization and Tactics in the Great Campaigns (Cambridge 1976) 83-84.