Scholia Reviews ns 9 (2000) 21.

Judith Mossman, Wild Justice: A Study of Euripides' Hecuba.[2] London: Bristol Classical Press and Duckworth, 1999. Pp. viii + 283. ISBN 1- 85399-596-7. UKú13.95.

Elke Steinmeyer
University of Natal, Durban

Mossman's highly acclaimed study of Euripides' Hecuba, first published in 1995, is now also available in a paperback edition. Still, to label this a 'second edition' on the title page is quite misleading, for as the author herself states in her second preface, 'one who republishes a work after four years must feel a certain sense of embarrassment at having made no changes to it' (p. vi). It is a great pity that the chance was missed at least to update the bibliography that was finalised in the middle of 1993 and to provide the reader with some additional information about the achievements of recent scholarship.[[1]] In this regard it would have been more appropriate to use the term 'reprint' than 'second edition'.

'Revenge is a kind of wild justice', says Francis Bacon in his essay Of Revenge.[[2]] In six chapters and a conclusion, Mossman guides us through Euripides' often criticised piece of revenge tragedy from various angles. Her main focus lies on 'both the verbal texture and the narrative technique of the drama' (p. 4), and it is amazing how many nuances, themes, and connections she discovers in the text. She unravels the different threads of the complicated drama meticulously: 'A sacrifice-plot with a revenge- plot, with a strong element of a war-play and overtones of suppliant drama' (p. 208). Her method is rather conventional, though leading sometimes to some unconventional results. Chapter 5, 'The Death of Polyxena' (pp. 142-63), and Chapter 6, 'Hecuba's Revenge' (pp. 164-203), which I found particularly interesting, are good examples. Mossman strictly denies any sexual or erotic connotations in Polyxena's death[[3]] and therefore establishes a bold counter-position to Nicole Loraux's approach (pp. 143, 148 n. 20, 155, 157f.);[[4]] she not only refutes the negative view of Hecuba's revenge and the deterioration of her character (communis opinio among a substantial number of scholars) but suggests that the Athenian public was more tolerant and understanding towards Hecuba's violence.[[5]] One might be convinced or not by her interpretation; Mossman is persuaded by the grandeur of Hecuba and maintains her position confidently. Her detailed analyse de texte is followed by a very learned Epilogue (pp. 210-43) on the wide reception of Hecuba, 'the archetype of extreme unhappiness and misfortune' (p. 2), in Later Antiquity and the Renaissance; the book is rounded off by half a dozen useful appendices and indices.

Previous reviewers have already pointed out the major ups and downs of Mossman's study: her 'sensitivity to the play's language and structure' that 'yields many insights into this often problematic tragedy',[[6]] her 'obvious admiration for Hecuba' and 'the balanced and unforced quality of her reasoning'[[7]] on the one hand, but the fact that 'too many of the drama's rougher edges and disturbing aspects are explained away' and 'the nods to contemporary criticism do not work' on the other.[[8]] I do agree with the first point of criticism: Euripides is certainly not the kind of author who leaves his spectators with a relaxed feeling about his tragedies, and there is no way to smooth out all the unsolved questions he presents in his plays, especially in this difficult drama that ends in complete hopelessness. I personally would have liked to see Mossman also elaborating more on the phenomenon of the missing gods 'in this strangely godless play' (p. 201). But nevertheless, what struck me most while reading this book was the open enthusiasm with which Mossman re-assesses this long- underestimated tragedy, and the sheer pleasure with which she communicates her many ideas to the reader. I felt somehow reminded mutatis mutandis of the famous metaphor in Plato's Seventh Letter concerning the understanding of his philosophy: '. . . it is brought to birth in the soul on a sudden, as light that is kindled by a leaping spark . . .' (341C, tr. Bury). We must be grateful to Mossman for sharing this 'leaping spark' with us.


[[1]] One title, which comes spontaneously to my mind, is the provocative and controversial book of Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz, Anxiety Veiled: Euripides and the Traffic in Women (Ithaca 1993).

[[2]] Quoted by Mossman, pp. 12 and 210.

[[3]] ' . . . it [i.e. virgin sacrifice] is aimed at the creation of pathos. I would want to insist that any appeal to sexuality was unconscious on the part of author and audience' (p. 144).

[[4]] Nicole Loraux, Fašons tragiques de tuer une femme (Paris 1985) 67, 71 and n. 91, 73f. and n. 97, 93f., 97. This books has been translated by Anthony Forster under the title Tragic Ways of Killing a Woman (Harvard 1987).

[[5]] 'There is little doubt that desire for revenge would not necessarily have been condemned by a fifth- century audience; for it is clear that in certain circumstances taking vengeance was positively considered a duty by the Greeks' (p. 169) and 'Hecuba has every excuse to take revenge' (p. 205).

[[6]] Robin Mitchell-Boyak, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 7.2 (1996) 141-45.

[[7]] Georgia Ann Machemer, AJP 118 (1997) 134-137, at pp. 135 and 137.

[[8]] Michell-Boyak [6].