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R ev iew s
The general conclusion is th at this is a fine book containing
scholarship of the highest im portance. It m ight in fu tu re be seen as
a m ajor stim ulus for the new era in Pom peian scholarship.5
T. R. Stevenson
U niversity of A uckland
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NETTA ZAGAGI The Comedy o f Menander: Convention, Variation and
O riginality (London: D uckw orth, 1994), 210, ISBN 0715 62622 1,
N ew books on M enander are alw ays welcome. This one com es
w ith an endorsem ent b y Sir H u g h Lloyd-Jones on its dust-jacket as
'b y far th e b e st g en e ral stu d y of M e n a n d e r' a n d 'a b so lu tely
essential read in g ' for those interested in him . In fact, the book is
n o t so m uch a general study as a collection of essays loosely centred
on the them e of M en ander's originality w ithin the conventions of
N ew C om edy, as indicated in the subtitle. It sets ou t in particular
'to in terpret M enander out of M enander' rather than from the Latin
ad ap tatio n s; to m ake 'co m p ariso n s w ith o th er G reek au th o rs—
m ain ly d ra m a tists like h im self w ho in flu en ced o r m ay h av e
influenced h im ', w hich turns out to m ean m ainly Euripides; an d 'to
b rin g o u t the social aspects of M en an d er's characters a n d their
5 I w ould like to thank m y colleagues Bill Barnes, Paul McKechnie, and in
particular Marcus Wilson, w ho offered valuable comments and references
that helped me greatly. I am, of course, com pletely responsible for any
remaining infelicities.
R e v ie w s
b e h a v io u r' b y usin g the external evidence of law s, custom s and
social life (9).
The first of the six chapters introduces the question of variation
w ithin the conventions. Zagagi show s th at M enander m akes varied
use of such com m on elem ents as the false suspicion of a love affair,
th e anagnorisis of b lo o d re la tio n sh ip s, th e in trig u e , th e stock
characterisation of the miles and the m eretrix, the lover's th reat to go
into exile, a n d the rape a n d pregnancy of the free girl. T h o u g h
m u ch of this g ro u n d is by n ow well trodden, it is useful to h av e the
sheer variety of M enander's variations dem onstrated, an d there are
so m e in te re stin g su g g estio n s, for ex a m p le th a t M e n a n d e r's
tendency w as to 'in tro d u ce an ethical dim ension into conventional
situations a n d m otifs' (33). But Zagagi cannot resist the tem ptation
to fill o u t h e r p ictu re of M en an d er b y reference to the R om an
adaptations, in direct contradiction to the approach prom ised in the
preface; an d it rem ains unclear w hether, an d if so on w h at grounds,
she su p p o ses th a t M en an d er w as the one creative in v en to r of
v a ria tio n s in G reek N ew C om edy w h ile h is c o n tem p o raries
rem ained content to stay w ithin the conventions.
The second chapter, on artistic principles, is a b it of a m ixed
bag. Three artistic principles are discussed: polyphony, exem plified
b y th e co m bination of p lo t strands of differing tone an d b y the
incorporation of tragic echoes into com edy; econom y, w hich m eans
b o th the curtailing of lengthy explanations a n d the exploitation of
m o tifs a n d situ a tio n s for a n u m b e r of in te rw o v e n d ra m a tic
p u rp o se s; a n d em p h asis on h u m a n in tera ctio n as a m ean s of
solving the com plications of the plot. To these are ap p en d ed a brief
exposition of the social conventions w hich u n d erla y m ale-fem ale
relationships at A thens and som e illustrations of the flexibility w ith
w h ic h M e n a n d e r tre a te d th e five-act stru c tu re .
T he m o st
interestin g section here is the discussion of tragic echoes a n d the
variety of w ays in w hich these function; the least convincing is the
view th at in die p u rsu it of polyphony M enander has 'd a m a g ed the
stru ctu ral u n ity an d dram atic developm ent' of Dyskolos (47), w hich
in m any p eo p le's ju d g m en t (and the review er's) is a perfectly w ell
constructed play.
R ev iew s
There follow tw o relatively brief an d straightforw ard chapters.
The first of these, on the chorus, deals m ainly w ith M enander's well
kn o w n practice of in tro d u cin g them atic links b etw een the en d of
one act a n d th e b eg in n in g of the next; it also illu stra te s the
usefulness of the choral interlude to convey the passing of dram atic
tim e necessary for the perform ance of off-stage action. The second
is concerned w ith 'technical variety in the use of m otifs', an d covers
tw o ra th e r d isp a ra te p oints: the re p e titio n of an action w ith
different dramatis personae or tone an d the d isap p o in tm en t of the
audience's expectations w h en a foreshadow ed action does not take
The fifth chapter, en titled 'B etw een C om edy an d Life', is the
lo n g est in th e book a n d in m an y w ays the m ost rew ard in g . It
c o n sid ers th e q u e stio n of M e n a n d e r's 're a lis m ' th ro u g h an
extended analysis of Dyskolos and Sarnia, an d is the one place in the
book in w h ich Z agagi fulfils in any d etail h e r prom ise to relate
M en an d er's plays to the social realities of his times. In the case of
Dyskolos she show s th a t M en an d er offers a ju d icio u s b le n d of
rom anticism an d realism , or, to p u t it in h er ow n w o rd s 'a creative
ten sio n b etw e en com edy a n d reality ' (113). It is n o t m erely a
q u estio n of settin g the 'ro m a n tic ' S ostratos (an d th e eq u ally
'u n re a lis tic ' K nem on) ag a in st the 're a listic ' G orgias; a careful
analysis of the actions of each of the m ain characters reveals how
far each acts in conform ity w ith, or defies, the conventions of real
life, even d o w n to sm all details such as the form of engyesis. Sarnia,
b y co n trast, 'is co m posed alm ost en tirely of realistic elem ents
w hich...reflect the b ourgeois aspirations of contem porary A thens'
(113, cf. 141). Characters m ay on occasion for various reasons m ake
suggestions w hich are unrealistic in term s of social norm s, b u t these
are m o m en tary aberrations; D em eas' treatm en t of M oschion and
C hrysis is entirely consistent w ith the expected b eh a v io u r of the
h ead of an oikos tow ards his son and his pallake.
The final chapter, w hich is rep rin ted alm ost u nchanged from
th e 1990 H a n d le y -H u rst collection Relire M enandre, deals w ith
divine intervention an d h u m an agency. In it Zagagi exam ines the
three plays w here w e have a divine prologue m ore or less com plete
(Aspis, Perikeirom ene, an d D yskolos ) an d exam ines the ex ten t to
R e v iew s
w hich these divine figures m anipulate the plot. A ttitu d es to this
q u estio n h a v e ra n g e d all the w ay from re g a rd in g th e divine
prologues as m ere expository devices to a belief that, once a divine
sp e a k e r h a s in d ic a te d a p a rtic u la r p u rp o se , e v e ry th in g th a t
h a p p e n s can be ascribed to his or h er activity. Z agagi belongs
closer to the latter end of the spectrum , claim ing th at M enander's
aim is to 'tu rn his plots into som ething m ore com plex, deep and
subtle th an a m ere d ram atization of everyday reality' (143); at the
sam e tim e she does well to insist th at the plots w o rk perfectly w ell
on the pu rely h u m an plane.
T his is a u se fu l b o o k , w h ic h tu rn s o u t to b e m o re
com prehensive th an its subtitle m ight have suggested. It reads well
enou g h to be accessible to the non-specialist; its extensive footnotes
a n d u p -to -d a te b ib lio g rap h y w ill m ake it a g o o d tool for the
advanced student; and, though m ost of the ideas w ill be fam iliar to
the expert, there is en ough to provoke another look at som e of the
issues w hich it raises.
John Barsby
U niversity of O tago
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