Scholia Reviews ns 12 (2003) 5.

Jeffrey Henderson (ed.), Aristophanes: Frogs, Assemblywomen, Wealth. Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 2002. Pp. 601. ISBN 0-674-99596-1. UKú14.50.

Carl A. Anderson,
Michigan State University

Jeffrey Henderson's edition of Aristophanes' Frogs, Assembly-women and Wealth is the fourth and final volume in the new Loeb Classical Library edition. As with the three previous volumes, Henderson has edited the Greek text anew, and provided a useful and lively translation. Each play features a general introduction containing a plot summary and discussion of major themes, a note on the text, and a list of major annotated editions. An index of personal names that appear in the three plays is appended. This volume will appeal to students of Aristophanic comedy and Athenian popular culture. Readers with an interest in ancient literary studies will also want to own a copy of this book.

In the introduction to Frogs Henderson discusses the play's restaging in 404 as well as its overarching issues, particularly the decline of Athenian power and the decline of tragedy. Henderson presents all of these topics clearly and succinctly. In the comedy itself, literary allusions and parodies are well annotated, as are significant textual conjectures (for example, notes 46 and 47) and variants for the first and the second versions of the play (note 117). A distinctive and innovative feature is the inclusion of important variant readings in the main body of the text (for example, lines 1431a, 1431b, 1437-50). Suggestions about staging possibilities help readers to imagine the performance itself. Henderson proposes, for example, a leaping chorus of frogs following Charon's boat across the stage in the parabasis (p. 530), and suggests the three chairs needed to commence the agon may have been brought on the stage or the whole tableau rolled out on the ekkyklema (p. 139). The Greek text and English translation are very clean. I found no errors in the former, and only one in the English translation (read 'our' p. 141).

Readers of the Greek text will find the translation to be useful and unpretentious. Henderson continues to preserve Aristophanic obscenity, and he invariably finds the English equivalent to convey the force and humor of the original (examples on pp. 145, 427, 740). Many of the literary passages, moreover, are artfully fashioned and could themselves serve as models of tragic parody. Henderson's ability to capture the tone and flow of the original is clearly demonstrated in the following selection, taken from the choral prelude to the agon:

'Bristling the shaggy-necked shock of his hirsute ridge of mane,

his formidable brow frowning, with a roar he will hurl

utterances bolted together, tearing off timbers

with his gigantic blast' (lines 822-25).


A memorable feature of the translation is the use of contemporary, topical, phrases for comic effect. The use of 'green berets' for PH/LHKAJ (line 1017) and 'profiles in courage' for POLLA\J A)RETA/J (line 1040) would seem unlikely equivalents for the Greek, but they work surprisingly well in context. There are of course particular renderings that may momentarily give the reader pause (for example, 'minestrone' for E)/TNOUJ (line 62), or 'grown-ups' H(BW=SI (line 1055), but no translation can be perfect, and the fact remains that the new Loeb translation captures the energy, humor, and drive of the original.

The two other comedies in this volume share the virtues of their fifth century companion. For many readers, the Loeb translation of Assembly Women will invite comparison with Henderson's earlier translation of the same play.[[1]] With few exceptions, such as the rendering of W)\ TRISKAKODAI/MWN as 'I'm damned three ways from Sunday' (line 1098) rather than 'Ah thrice ill-fated me!' (Henderson 1996, p. 189), the new Loeb translation rivals and often surpasses the 1996 version. Improvements usually amount to a word change or the rephrasing of a line to sharpen the dialogue and enliven the dramatic action. For example, Praxagora's address to her lighted lamp as 'O radiant eye of the wheel-whirled lamp' in the first line of the Loeb translation improves on the 1996 one, 'O radiant disk of my ceramic lamp' (p. 152) as does the rendering of BLE/PWN U(PO/TRIMMA (line 292b) as 'with a salsa look in his eye' rather than as 'looking sharp' (Henderson 1996, p. 161).

In the introductory note to Wealth, Henderson discusses how closely the version of the play under review and the earlier version of Wealth, produced in 408 BC, are related. He notes that comparison of comments by the scholia of the two plays suggests they are similar enough to be confused, but concludes (less emphatically than Sommerstein)[[2]] that structural differences and differences between the complexion of the comedies tend to point to our Wealth as a new play rather than as a revised version, like extant Clouds, of the first comedy (p. 416). The notes to the body of the play are interesting and informative. Typical examples can be found at note 20, a parody of a dithyramb by Philoxenus in which Cario sings the role of the Cyclops (lines 290ff.), and at note 24, where Henderson suggests that the temple of Aesclepius to which Chremylus plans to take the blind character Wealth is probably the one at Zea, near Athens (line 411). Like the other translations in the volume, this one stays close to the original and is fast paced and easy to follow (compare the lively rendering of the debate between Poverty and Chremylus at lines 520-600). I found no errors in the Greek text or the English translation of either play.

In just over four years Henderson has edited and translated the four volumes of the new Loeb edition of Aristophanes. Every volume is well edited, succinctly annotated, and so translated as to engage the reader in the humor and seriousness of the comedies. It is likely there will be more readers studying Aristophanes rather than fewer ones with the publication of this final volume.


[[1]] J. Henderson, Three Plays by Aristophanes: Staging Women (London 1996).

[[2]] A. Sommerstein, Aristophanes: Wealth (Warminster 2001) 33.