- Greek Theatre Between Antiquity and Independence: A History of Reinvention from the Third Century B. C. to 1830 by Walter Puchner
This historical account of Greek theatre was written by a prolific Austrian scholar who taught at the University of Crete (1978–1988) and the University of Athens (1989–2014). He was assisted by Andrew Walker White, an American scholar who copyedited the manuscript and "de-Teutonized" (but did not de-Hellenize) Puchner's English (xvii). Puchner's Greek-English triggered many confusing renderings such as "conservative policy" for "conservationist policy" (19), "pure conception" for "immaculate conception" (76), "divided" for "conflicted" (129), "tiny child" for "little child" (133), "the small Ioannis Chrisostomos" for "young John Chrysostom" (204), "Victor Koryphaios" for "Victor Corfiatis" (207), "literates" for "literati" (247), "The Stray" for "The Prodigal" (260), "intensive stage action" for "intense stage action" (274), "The Spendthrift" for "The Prodigal" (281), "desperate outbreak" for "desperate breakout" (276), and "criterium" for "criterion" (321). Regardless, I found Puchner's book to be a very useful survey and a valuable source for beginning students of Greek theatre, thanks to its rigorous references that are divided into ten sections preceded by helpful commentaries on scholarship and suggestions for further reading.
The book has eight interesting chapters with an introduction and an epilogue. It traces the path of Greek theatre from 270 b.c. to a.d. 1830, and identifies 110 Greek plays written during this 2100-year period. The surviving testimony about these plays, their authors, their performances, their producers, and their Greek-speaking audiences is sparse and does not lend itself easily to analysis. As a result, many of the chapters remain generous outlines repeating [End Page 443] information that is already included in the listed references. Puchner concludes that the long trajectory of Greek theatre is so discontinuous and incomplete that it cannot be narrated with an evolutionary model in mind or any other type of master narrative. He identifies the discontinuities in terms of "geography, theme, style, language, and organization" (316), and dismisses as "pointless" all previous debates over the master narratives (which have been used to tell the story of Greek theatre) mainly because he sees "any discussion based on the elitist selection of facts" and the "a priori stated goals" endorsed by historiographers as "superfluous, since before 1830 there is not enough evidence to analyze" (320).
Early in the book, Puchner asserts that "Greece offers a new paradigm of a non-evolutionary theatre historiography" (x) and that "Greek culture cannot be treated adequately [when] using models and concepts stemming from other cultures" (9). Later, however, Puchner surprises his readers by adopting an outdated (1988) periodization model (categories and concepts) proposed by Tom Postlewait, an American scholar who was oblivious to the 2100-year period of Greek theatre narrated by Puchner. Contrary to expectations, Puchner does not show how wrong the a priori application of American-made models and paradigms is to the historiography of Greek theatre. Greek theatre requires that historiographers avoid replicating Goethe's Italian journey when they enter the time and space of Greece from late antiquity to early modernity or from the era of Romanticism to the era of Realism. The task of piecing together the history of Greek theatre in a meaningful way has always been a difficult and unrewarding endeavor for many scholars who deserve our thanks despite the meager or uninspiring results of their work.
The standard chronological, geographical, sociological, and economic considerations of nativist and nationalist pedagogies in Europe and in Greece manufactured consent, hegemony, and cohesion through polarities or oppositions between religious dogmas, social classes, ethnic communities, nation-states, and so forth. They are often unhelpful for reaching a better understanding of the drama (pun intended) of many Greek playwrights from Herodas to Hatziaslanis. I am approaching my allotted word limit, so I will end my review with a suggestion: the historiography of Greek theatre (from "moment" to "era...