Aristophanes: The Complete Plays (review)
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Reviewed by
Paul Roche, trans. Aristophanes: The Complete Plays. New York: Signet, 2005. Pp. 736. US $18.95. ISBN 978-0451214096.

Paul Roche (1916–2007), as well as having been an associate of the Bloomsbury group and an author of poetry, novels, fables, and a travel memoir, was a prolific translator of ancient Greek and Roman drama, having published versions of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound and the Oresteia, all of Sophocles, and nearly all of Euripides, as well as three plays by Plautus. His last endeavour was to turn his attention to Aristophanes, providing accessible translations of all eleven of his surviving plays.1 The result is a large volume (700+ pages) which is a handy and cheap (less than $20) means of obtaining all of Aristophanes in a fresh, contemporary translation [End Page 85] and thus it is particularly well suited to undergraduate survey courses. It must, however, be used with great caution.

The work begins with a short introduction about Aristophanes, his plays, their production, and Roche’s translations. Then, for each of the eleven plays, Roche briefly discusses the theme, gives a list of the characters and silent parts, provides a short synopsis of the story, and adds some observations as well as the time and setting of the play. Roche has some unorthodox ideas: Aristophanes was an all-out pacificist (as implied at ix and 66) and in Thesmophoriazusae he proposes that Aristophanes believed that “in truth women are our only hope” (481). For many of the plays, Roche does not provide the etymologies of the names of the characters (such as the meaningful Cinesias and Myrrhine in Lys.) but when he does they are often incorrect: for instance, Phidippides is “Shyhorse” (131), Peisetairus is “Mr. Trusting” (335), and Cario is “shrimp” which means “Smarty” (667). In Thesmophoriazusae Roche names Euripides’ in-law Mnesilochus without acknowledging that this name is not to be found in the manuscripts; he is also confused about his relationship to Euripides, calling him a relative (481) and implying at one point that he was Euripides’ nephew (491) and at another point his father-in-law (530).

For the plays themselves, no line numbers are provided (either of the original Greek text or of the translation). Notes are kept to a minimum, thus not distracting too much from the reading. However, there are no cross-references between plays and information is often repeated from play to play. Thus, for example, we are told again and again that Boeotia is pronounced Bee-o-sha (13, 294, 346, 421, and 505, and see 72 for Bee-o-shan) and there are three substantially similar notes on silphium (407, 662, and 705). Sometimes notes from different plays are contradictory: at one point Roche says that “grasshopper” (that is, cicada) brooches were worn in Athens because these creatures had sprung from the earth, as the Athenians had (125 on Eq. 1331), but he later claims that these insects were chosen because they were common in Attica (176 on Nub. 984).

In the notes Roche cites Jeffrey Henderson’s Loeb about 80 times2 and freely admits that Henderson is his “unfailing savior and source of information” (266). Roche also once uses Liddell and Scott on κότταβος (28–29);3 however, he later says that according to the Loeb γλάνις is a kind of shad and that he was not able to find the word in his lexicon even though [End Page 86] it is in the LSJ as “sheat-fish” (110). He also seems to have ignored LSJ’s fellare for λεσβιάζειv (or Henderson, The Maculate Muse, 183–184), understanding the word instead as “performing cunnilingus” (599, on Ran. 1308, and see 651, on Eccl. 920).4 Usually Greek words are transliterated when mentioned in the notes; when the Greek is given it is inevitably without the proper accentuation (91, 301, 520, 554, 597, 644, 662, and 712) and sometimes also inaccurately (560 and 655).

More disturbingly, Roche never cites any of the editiones maiores nor, for instance, Alan Sommerstein’s work. Too often, Roche says in a note that a person is unknown or a joke obscure when it is not the case. For instance, on...