Scholia Reviews ns 14 (2005) 49.

Robert Garland. Surviving Greek Tragedy. London: Duckworth, 2004. Pp. xvii + 286, incl. 58 monochrome illustrations and 5 appendices. ISBN 0-7156-3123-3. UKú16.99.

Betine Van Zyl Smit
University of the Western Cape

Surviving Greek Tragedy is a history of the transmission of the Greek tragedies that have continued to exist until our era, but covers considerably more than chronology, accident and design. It also, albeit briefly, indicates the changing ways in which Greek tragedy has been regarded in different locations and at different periods over its long existence. Garland is the author of a number of books[[1]] dealing with different aspects of the ancient world and he does justice to the absorbing topic of his latest work.

Surviving Greek Tragedy is prefaced by a page entitled 'Honoris causa'. The subtitle, in Latin, reads: 'These are a few by whose energy Greek tragedy has been preserved for ever'. Nineteen names are then listed. These names and their associations form a synopsis of the vagaries of Greek drama over the millennia. Yet later, in the body of the work, some of the people mentioned are treated surprisingly cursorily, such as 'Alexander Turyn, codicologist', who has only one sentence devoted to him, on p. 131, while others, amongst whom are Aristotle, Aristophanes of Byzantium, Giovanni Aurispa, Aldus Manutius, Erasmus, and, surprisingly, Gilbert Murray, enjoy more attention. Of course, as Garland acknowledges later, Greek tragedy has survived 'thanks to the resourcefulness, learning and zeal of numerous individuals, some well- known, others identifiable only by name, but the vast majority anonymous' (p. xvi).

Garland succeeds in conveying to the reader the excitement of the story of the survival of the Greek tragedies. In the introduction (pp. 1-11) he succinctly outlines the conditions under which the dramas were originally produced in Athens. There follows a brief overview of the lives of the three great tragedians, and also of their 'afterlives' -- the fate and popularity of their works through the centuries. Chapter 1, 'Readers and Star Actors', (pp. 13-37), deals with the reception of the tragedies in antiquity. As Garland remarks, 'If we concede that the 5th century BC witnessed what was perhaps the greatest efflorescence of tragedy that the world has ever known, it follows that everything subsequent is Nachleben.' (p. 13) This chapter thus deals with the spread of tragic drama throughout the Hellenic world, the building of theatres, revivals of the 'old' tragedies, the gradual establishment of the classical repertoire, and the law of Lycurgus that safeguarded the integrity of the original texts by requiring that the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides should be written down. The use of tragic texts in education, especially rhetorical training was a novel application that contributed to their survival by this type of diversification. Consideration of the importance of Aristotle's Art of Poetry as a first attempt at critical analysis of the tragedies brings the chapter to a close.

The second chapter, 'Librarians and Kings' (pp. 39-55), surveys the fate of the Greek tragedies in the Hellenistic world. Garland describers the role of the Library at Alexandria in the development of textual criticism. He includes colourful anecdotal evidence of the less than scrupulous methods of the early Ptolemies to acquire books for the library, amongst others allegedly the authoritative version of the Athenian tragedies established by Lycurgus. Garland rightly cautions readers that there is a large element of speculation in modern knowledge of the criteria according to which the Alexandrian scholars worked and that little of their work on tragic drama survives. However, the importance of this scholarly work in emphasizing the purity of the textual tradition is also made clear. Garland lists the names of scholars who did work associated with the texts of the tragedies and briefly discusses their probable contributions. The chapter also considers the performance of tragedy in the Hellenistic world and notes that popularity with audiences did not guarantee endurance. Euripides' Andromeda which has not come down to us, seems to have been a favourite with the audiences of the time. That many dramas that are no longer extant were still being read and performed as late as the first and second century AD is amply proven by the evidence of the papyri. Garland summarizes the contribution to our knowledge of Greek tragedy made by the discovery of the papyri. Although no complete non-extant work has been found, fragments have proved of great interest and the texts have served as useful sources of comparison with the medieval manuscript tradition.

The impact of Greek tragedy on Roman culture and on the Christian church is introduced in Chapter 3, 'Teachers and Churchmen' (pp. 57- 76). Garland presents a detailed overview of the role of Greek tragedy in Roman literature and life. He summarizes the works of the Senecan tragic corpus and their correspondence to extant Greek plays, and also stresses the vital part that they were to play in the preservation of Greek tragedy by stimulating interest in the originals during the Renaissance. Another sphere of Roman life contributed to the continued interest in the Greek dramas. This was their use in the training of orators. Although libraries were not uncommon in the Roman world, there is no record of whether their holdings included copies of Greek tragedies. Excerpts from Greek tragedies were however preserved in anthologies. These arranged the extracts under headings such as 'the insecurity of fortune', 'the natural world', and so on, and would have appealed to pagans and Christians alike. There is little evidence that the Church systematically banned or destroyed pagan literature. Thus the decline in interest in these writers was a stronger factor in the loss of texts than an active campaign to ensure their eradication. From the third century AD there were new elements that were to assist the endurance of texts: the invention of the codex and the increased use of parchment in place of papyrus.

'Barbarians and Scribes' is the title of Chapter 4, which, in fewer than twenty pages (pp. 77-94) deals with almost a thousand years, from the fourth to the thirteenth century AD. As Garland makes clear, there is much that is obscure regarding Greek tragedy during this period. It is thus probably lack of indisputable facts that has led him to compress this period to an extent that risks confusing the reader. It was during this period that tragedy experienced its darkest hour. It is likely that there were no performances of tragedy in the West, overrun by barbarian hordes, as in the East where the plays were probably still studied by grammarians and rhetoricians. A measure of revival of learning in the mid-ninth century brought the introduction of minuscule script and the consequent greater ease in copying manuscripts in the West, while the 'Second Hellenism' in the Byzantine Empire included the rediscovery and copying of codices stored in monasteries and libraries. Among these were the selected plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, many with commentaries in separate codices. This flickering of interest in the Greek tragedies was followed by sporadic further attempts at scholarship and transmission but was dealt a devastating blow during the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. It is believed that the libraries in Constantinople suffered heavier losses in this rampage than in the Ottoman invasion two and a half centuries later. In the intervening years, however, much scholarly work was done at Constantinople during the Palaeologan Renaissance. This period of scholarly activity in the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries included philological work on Greek manuscripts including the tragedies. Unfortunately some of the Palaelogan scholars also wrongly emended the texts of the manuscripts but, on balance, their contribution in reviving serious interest in Greek tragedy and preserving readings that might otherwise have been lost, outweighs this damage. Garland ends the chapter by listing the number of surviving manuscripts of each of the three tragedians. He includes some pointers on criteria for the reliability of manuscript readings and describes some of the most famous manuscripts, such as Mediceus Laurentianus 32.9, in detail.

Chapter 5, 'Refugees and Publishers' (pp. 95-118), deals with the humanists and the rediscovery in Western Europe of Greek literature. It recounts how travellers and refugees from the expanding Ottoman Empire brought back to Italy manuscripts of ancient Greek texts and also taught the language that had almost disappeared in the West. Greek tragedies were among the manuscripts, but did not at once shake the hold of Roman drama on the theatre of the period. It was only during the 16th century that the first modern performances of Greek drama were undertaken. These were mostly confined to educational establishments or the courts. The revival of Hellenism in Italy was greatly advanced by the invention of printing and the determination of Aldus Manutius of Venice to publish the whole of ancient Greek literature in the original. It is estimated that the usual print run of a work was 1000 copies. These libri portales or pocket-sized volumes found their largest market among the Italian humanists, but also spread more widely in Europe. Translations into Latin made the Greek plays available to a wider public. Translations into modern European languages followed.

In the wake of the dissemination of Greek tragedies, more scholars mastered Greek and became aware of the complexity of the manuscript tradition. Systematic investigation of the accuracy of the printed text followed. This textual criticism, together with broader interpretation and translation of Greek tragedy are the subjects treated in Chapter 6, 'Philologists and Translators' (pp. 119-45). Garland gives a lucid account of the development of the work of the great textual scholars and of the theories of interpretation. However, he deals too perfunctorily with translation. He does not distinguish clearly between translators who work from the Greek text, translators who do not know Greek but attempt to establish an accurate version of the original, and adaptors who often very loosely structure a new play on a Greek tragedy or even on certain aspects of it. Thus he includes among 'distinguished translators' (p. 120) Jean Anouilh, T. S. Eliot, Athol Fugard, Eugene O'Neill, and others who would generally be regarded as adaptors rather than translators. Later (p. 149) Garland does refer to the tragedies of Corneille and Racine as 'adaptations'.

Chapter 7, 'Producers and Playgoers' (pp. 147-85), recounts how Greek tragedy was absorbed into the mainstream of Western cultural life from the 17th to the 20th century. In this period performance became a prominent part of transmission. As befits the triumphant survival of Greek tragedy against the odds, this chapter celebrates its success in the modern world. Garland presents a rich survey of notable performances on stage and film and covers aspects ranging from the festivals of Greek tragedy to politicisation of Greek tragedy. As he deals with the reception of Greek tragedy in the modern world, Garland also issues a caveat that we should not assimilate the Greeks wholly to ourselves. This is a timely warning when many students find it hard to accept and acknowledge the differences between our modern world and its culture and that of the ancient Athenians.

Garland asserts 'Greek tragedy has come down to us . . . because it speaks to the raw reality of human experience' (p. 187) and predicts 'it [Greek tragedy] will survive as long as Western civilisation itself' (p. xvii). It is hard to disagree with him. He has captured the fascinating tale of the endurance of Greek tragedy in a style that reflects not only his learning, but also his love and enthusiasm for these great works of the human spirit.

The body of Garland's book is followed by a number of lists that are useful sources of information. The first is a chronology (pp. 191-3) that starts with the 530s BC, the introduction of the competition in tragedy in Athens. It covers various events that Garland presumably considers meaningful or even crucial in the creation, preservation and transmission of the tragedies, but the inclusion of some items seem somewhat arbitrary. It seems hard to attach the same importance to 'Laurence Olivier performs in Oedipus the King at the Old Vic' in 1946 as to the founding of the Library at Alexandria in 295 BC. Still, the chronology does provide an overview. It ends in 2000 AD with the production of Barton's Tantalus in Denver, Colorado.

Next is a glossary (pp. 194f.) containing explanations of some of the technical terms used in the book. Five appendices follow. The first (pp. 196f.) is entitled 'Surviving Tragedies' and also contains a list of fragments and where to find them. Appendix II (pp. 198-201) lists manuscripts of Greek tragedy in Italian libraries in the fifteenth century, while Appendix III, (pp. 202-206) deals with 'Notable Translations of Greek Tragedy'. It is an eclectic list but offers examples in Latin, most European languages and even Chinese and Indonesian, but no Japanese or Afrikaans. Appendix IV is devoted to the production history of Greek Tragedy (pp. 207-30). It is of course impossible to cover all known productions in such a limited compass, but Garland includes the most memorable and best known stagings of each of the plays. He also mentions some film versions as well as works of figurative art and music. There are references to the databases of the Oxford Archive and the Open University's reception project where interested readers could get further information. Appendix V (pp. 231f.), 'Productions of Greek Tragedy with a Political Agenda', again seems idiosyncratic. Included is for instance Gilbert Murray's Trojan Women of 1919. The reasons for the selection are given in parenthesis and here it is 'critical of the terms of the treaty of Versailles'. There is no reason why that should be included and productions of Murray's translation of Medea[[2]] that were interpreted as supporting the Suffragette cause, be omitted. Sometimes the rationale also seems deceptive, for instance Anouilh's Antigone in Paris in 1944 would probably not be classified simply as 'anti-bourgeois' by most critics given the context in which it was first performed. A considerable number of the plays listed here are adaptations rather than performances of the Greek originals in translation.

The appendices are followed by notes referring to information in the chapters. Then comes a substantial bibliography (pp. 255-77) to which is added a short list of internet sources, most of which are unfortunately already out of date. The final lists in the book contain abbreviations and an index locorum (pp. 278-81) and then a general index (pp. 282-86).

In Surviving Greek Tragedy Garland has provided an excellent introduction and source of reference for the general reader and enough information to interest students of Classical literature and the history of theatre. Numerous black and white photographs enhance the considerable enjoyment provided by the wide-ranging text.


[[1]] Robert Garland, The Greek Way of Life (London 1990); idem The Greek Way of Death (London 1985); idem Introducing New Gods (Ithaca 1992); and idem The Eye of the Beholder: deformity and disability in the Graeco-Roman world (London 1995).

[[2]] See E. Hall, 'Medea and British legislation before the First World War', G&R 46 (1999) 42-77.