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Brill’s Companion to the Study of Greek Comedy (review)

From: Classical World
Volume 105, Number 4, Summer 2012
pp. 567-568 | 10.1353/clw.2012.0039

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This volume presents thirteen substantial essays by highly respected specialists in Greek comedy. The essays average a robust thirty-five to forty pages in length, and they are organized into three sections. At the heart of the collection are the four essays covering Aristophanes (Ralph M. Rosen), the origins of ancient Greek comedy and fifth-century comedians other than Aristophanes (Ian C. Storey), “Middle Comedy” (W. Geoffrey Arnott), and “New Comedy” (Stanley Ireland). These contributions are prefaced by the editor’s historical overview of critical approaches to the study of Greek comedy and by four additional introductory essays, which supply contexts for this enterprise by detailing the nuts and bolts of comic performances in Athens and elsewhere (J. Richard Green on “The Material Evidence” and Eric Csapo on “The Production and Performance of Comedy in Antiquity”), and by considering the intersections of comedy with politics (S. Douglas Olson) and myth and ritual (Angus M. Bowie). In the third section, two essays treat the transmission of the plays of Aristophanes (Alan H. Sommerstein) and comic fragments (Heinz-Günther Nesselrath) from antiquity to the present day; the two other contributions address the structure and meters employed in comedy (Bernhard Zimmermann) and the phonology, syntax, and other linguistic phenomena in fifth-century comedy (Andreas Willi). A bibliography and subject index round out the volume, and several illustrations of vase paintings, mosaics, and reliefs—some of which are not yet well-known—complement Green’s review of the material evidence for the performances and reception(s) of comedy.

One would expect this group of “A-list” experts, as Dobrov identifies them in his preface (vii), to deliver first-rate scholarship, and these gentlemen certainly meet that expectation. Each essay is lucid, informative, and engaging, and taken together they provide a well-rounded picture of the aspects of Greek comedy that have intrigued spectators and scholars for centuries—from its elusive origins to the various choices and accidents that determined the survival of the scraps of information and the handful of texts and fragments in our possession today. Although every contribution deserves praise, it seems wise to mention the merits of those that, in my view, exemplify the strengths of the volume as a whole: Olson’s “Comedy, Politics, and Society” (ch. 2), Csapo’s chapter on the conditions under which comedies were performed and viewed in antiquity (ch. 4), and especially ch. 7 on Aristophanes by Rosen, who took what could have been a ho-hum assignment and did something completely creative and truly helpful, a model of what one can do in these kinds of essays.

This volume lacks essays devoted specifically to gender (a topic that is not listed in the subject index—“women” receives but two entries), and to the modern theatrical reception of ancient Greek comedy, although the reception of New Comedy by Plautus and Terence is discussed by several contributors including Dobrov, whose introduction quite intriguingly posits theatrical reception as “an implicit form of criticism” (20). Perhaps the judgment was that topics such as gender and modern reception have been or will be amply covered in other recent or forthcoming publications (e.g., Edith Hall and Amanda Wrigley’s Aristophanes in Performance: 421 b.c.e.–a.d. 2007, or the soon-to-be-published Cambridge Companion to the Study of Greek Comedy, edited by Martin Revermann). Nonetheless, the noninclusions are noticeable. The division of labor among the individual essays seems for the most part appropriate. An exception is Bernhard Zimmermann’s short contribution on both the structure and the meter of Greek comedy. These two broad topics, each of which might easily take up a chapter on its own, cannot be adequately covered in just fifteen pages, and one consequence of the compressed treatment is a lack of sustained engagement with L. P. E. Parker’s magnificent 1997 analysis of the songs of Aristophanes, which explains with extraordinary lucidity how choral and solo lyrics contribute to the dramatic architecture of the eleven extant Aristophanic comedies. In more general terms, one might reasonably worry about the accessibility of the volume to the broad range of readers at whom it seems aimed, which is evidently supposed to include (at...

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