Athenian Comedy in the Roman Empire ed. by C. W. Marshall and Tom Hawkins
Scholars have attended, albeit intermittently, to the reception of Greek comedy in the Roman imperial period (see E. Fantham, "Roman Experience of Menander in the Late Republic and Early Empire," TAPA 114 , 299–309, and R. B. Branham, Unruly Eloquence: Lucian and the Comedy of Traditions [Cambridge, MA, 1989]), but the past decade has witnessed a flourishing of such studies in monographs and select chapters in Oxford handbooks, Cambridge companions, and festschrifts. This volume is a valuable participant in this flourishing for the balance it achieves of topical variety and thematic focus throughout its thirteen chapters. Contributors treat diverse authors, texts, and evidence, yet each chapter remains firmly rooted in a measured consideration of the received genre. Readers with an interest in Athenian comedy, Old or New, or in a cautious yet productive approach to comic reception, will discover much of value in this well-executed volume.
The introductory chapter, "Ignorance and Reception of Comedy in Antiquity," coauthored by the volume's editors, begins with an overview of Greek comedy to contextualize the array of studies to follow. The potted survey offers a smooth-reading but citation-rich outline of the theatrical genre, proceeding from the earliest comic performances in Athens to Hellenistic New Comedy and its transformation during the Roman Republic. Marshall and Hawkins then introduce questions that the subsequent studies tackle, required reading if one wishes to understand the volume's modest ambitions. The editors regard the personified Agnoia (Ignorance) "as a kind of muse for this project" (2), and they make clear that the assorted contributions articulate explorations in—rather than definitive boundaries to—the study of comic reception in the Empire: "This is not a complete account, nor even a representative survey, but it does offer a number of new studies that complement what we know about comedy in this period" (13).
The editors' alertness to Agnoia's sway in their designated field of study is evident in the restraint with which they and other contributors routinely approach discussions of reception. Consider a quote from Marshall's chapter on the second-century c.e. sophist Aelian (chapter 11). Having suggested that Aelian had access to certain of Eupolis' plays, Marshall states, "In other cases, we simply do not know enough about lost comedy to be able to determine with precision how much Aelian actually knew" (203). Chapters throughout the collection acknowledge comparable gaps in evidence while nevertheless laboring to reveal what scholars can and do know.
Contributions average twenty pages in length (including endnotes) and advance in loose chronological order through the Empire. Readers can begin [End Page 143] by considering how the Juvenalian satirist presents his Latin verse satire as a literary successor to New Comedy (M. Hanses, chapter 2) and conclude by examining New and Old comic allusions in the Greek epistolography of Alciphron and Aristainetos (M. Funke, chapter 12; E. A. Barbiero, chapter 13). Scholars interested in investigating Lucian's engagement with Old Comedy (R. M. Rosen, chapter 8; I. C. Storey, chapter 9) can first examine what the epigraphic evidence from Asia Minor reveals of the performance of Greek New Comedy in the second and third centuries c.e. (F. Graf, chapter 6). The volume predominantly comprises literary studies, but authors regularly engage with fragmentary papyri, archaeological evidence, and stage history. They also engage with one another, as frequent references by authors to other chapters in the book attest.
Considerable familiarity with the particulars of Athenian comedy and the wider field of classical studies (including facility with Latin and Greek) is expected of the readership, but efforts to make contributions accessible to a broad audience are also apparent. Most chapters announce their trajectories within their titles, and all but a few provide explicit outlines in the initial paragraphs and headings for relevant subsections. Several contributors also offer brief but welcome introductions to authors, texts, or concepts under consideration. For example, the opening paragraphs of Hawkins' "Dio Chrysostom and the Naked Parabasis" (chapter 4) include Dio's dates and an embedded definition of a "naked parabasis" (i.e., the isolated invocation of comic poetry to serve an admonitory function).
The editors' decision to supply a comprehensive bibliography at the end of the book is particularly apt in light of the frequent overlap of references between chapters. That the volume's contributions so noticeably share in a collective endeavor may be a consequence both of shrewd editorial work and of the volume's development out of a 2014 organizer-refereed APA panel ("Greek Comedy in the Roman Empire"). I recall attending the panel and leaving the conference room inspired by the quality of the individual presentations, the cohesiveness of the ensuing discussion, and the significance of the questions raised for further study. Evidence of this volume's success lies in its provocation of a comparable feeling: the desire to continue the conversation and to consider the explorations that a second volume might include.