Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
P. J. Finglass (ed.), Sophocles: Electra. Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries 44. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xi, 646. ISBN 9780521868099. $160.00.
Reviewed by David Kovacs, University of Virginia

[The reviewer apologizes for the lateness of this review, for which he alone is responsible.]

This is a superlative commentary whose learning and acuity would do credit to a much older scholar (the preface is dated March 2005, less than four years after F[inglass] took his B.A. at Oxford). It is based on a D.Phil. dissertation on lines 251-870, which he wrote during his time as a fellow by examination at All Souls College. It is also an astonishing feat to write such a full and thoughtful commentary in such a short time: commentaries on a similar scale, such as Barrett's Hippolytos or Mastronarde's Phoenissae, seem to have occupied their authors for a much longer time. In the same year 2007 he published in the same series a commentary on Pythian Eleven.

The introduction has the following sections: (1) Date (Finglass argues that the much discussed question of whether Sophocles' or Euripides' play came first is less important than it has seemed to some); (2) The story before Sophocles (on Sophocles' debt to Aeschylus, Homer, and Stesichorus); (3) Good spirits? (discusses the split between the "optimists," who view the matricide as just and morally uncomplicated, and the "pessimists," who think Sophocles meant his audience to be troubled; Finglass claims to take neither view but to read the evidence in each scene on its own terms); (4) Leaving out the polis? (Sophocles doesn't quite do this but steers a middle course); (5) Production (on the staging, particularly the use of the two eisodoi); (6) The text (a useful if brief discussion, which also justifies Finglass's policy of ignoring transmitted colometry and adopting the orthography of contemporary inscriptions advocated in West's Teubner Aeschylus); and (7) Reception (a brief listing of six recent treatments of the question). The text and critical apparatus that follow are Finglass's own. The commentary, at 461 pages of fine print, is a thorough treatment of the time-honored questions of text, staging, interpretation, and parallel expressions in earlier and later literature. There follow Appendix 1, containing the location of conjectures mentioned in the app. crit. but not in the commentary, and Appendix 2, unpublished remarks by Fraenkel, now in the archive of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, on the play's messenger speech, together with an English translation by Finglass and an assessment of Fraenkel's argument. These are followed by a full bibliography of standard reference works, standard works on Sophocles, editions of his Electra, editions, commentaries and translations of other works, and works cited by author's name with date, the last running to 51 pages and containing more than 1200 items. There is a full index of subjects and a full index of Greek followed by a jejune index locorum (readers interested in the light Finglass sheds on authors from Homer to Dante and beyond will simply have to page through the commentary).

Finglass has abilities of a high order in textual criticism and metrics. To these is joined an enviable familiarity with the secondary literature on tragedy (someone who wants to know what resources are available for explicating tragedy in the first decade of the twenty-first century could begin by reading Finglass) as well as on a large number of other authors and topics. I treat these in order.

Sophocles' text (even in the plays of the triad) is one the ages have corrupted by accidental alteration and omission and by deliberate interpolation. He is also an author who stretches the resources of the Greek language to pretty near their limit. So the editor is frequently confronted with a choice: is the oddity of expression here the result of corruption needing to be corrected, or is it the work of the poet and deserving of defense? Finglass to my mind does the work both of a skeptical critic and a conservative critic (both of which are needed in editing Sophocles) to a superlative degree. Here are some departures from the OCT that show good skepticism. 1 del. Haslam (on strong external evidence); 86 καὐγῆς Hussey et Russell; 145 ὧν Stinton, which Finglass also finds in L ante corr., restoring meter; 312 καὶ Meineke, restoring idiom; τούς με χρὴ Tournier; 683 ὀρθίῳ κηρύγματι Earle; 845 δ'οὖν West; 853 ἰδομένα θροεῖς Diggle, removing dubious prosody and restoring Greek idiom; 1128 ὑφ' ὧνπερ Wecklein; 1434 πάλιν . . . τὰ πρίν Musgrave. (Finglass's own conjectures are limited, with the exception of the deletion of δ' in 1296, to orthography and supplementation.) Where the OCT has adopted conjectures, Finglass often makes a strong case for the soundness of the paradosis, as at 610 and 918 (less convincingly at 123 and 186) or (more frequently) he obelizes passages where he finds proposed solutions not wholly convincing, as at 278, 345, and 1086-87 (perhaps unnecessarily at 139 where he makes a strong case for οὔτ' εὐχαῖς).

Finglass is a good metrician, and his justifications for the analyses he adopts are always well argued. In a few places, e.g. 823-4=837-8, the colometry of his text does not marry up exactly with his schema.

The breadth of Finglass's reading is impressive. Time after time he cites the perfectly apt discussion of a point at issue, some of them new to me. Only three times was I surprised by omissions: at 492 the designation of a γάμος as ἄλεκτρος and ἄνυμφος is illuminated by D. Fehling, Hermes 96 (1968) 142-55; at 272 he could have cited F. Zucker's treatment of αὐθέντης , SBLeipzig, Philol.-hist. Kl. 107 (1962), Heft 4; and at 516 the discussion of unannounced entries might have cited M. Halleran, Stagecraft in Euripides.

Readers will no doubt test Finglass's literary judgments against their own experience of the play. In view of the wide divergence of interpretation on the question of Sophocles' attitude toward the matricide, it was scarcely to be hoped that Finglass would carry all before him. He sets out not to be either a doctrinaire "optimist" or "pessimist," and through most of the commentary he judges each scene and speech on its own merits. Thus, on the one hand he quashes, successfully in my opinion, a number of views of the early parts of the play that would make the whole idea of divinely ordered matricide, and the trickery that that entails, seem dubious to begin with. On the other hand he gives a lot of space to Electra's admission (regarding Clytaemestra's claim of justice) that the same act can be just and shameful, which of course applies to the killing of Clytaemestra as well. But at the end of the play Finglass seems to turn "pessimist" with a vengeance. On 1398-1441 he claims that the tone of 1406 and 1410, especially the use of feigned ignorance in the τις, alienates "our" sympathy. He admits that claims of justice continue to be made but says that Electra's vengeful attitude indicates that her character has suffered. The principle behind these and other remarks seems to be that unless tyrannicides are clearly seen to act from a sense of disinterested justice, they forfeit the audience's sympathy. Yet the Athenian lawcourt, where the prosecutor for murder was a relative of the victim and wore his desire for revenge on his sleeve for all to see, suggests that Sophocles' audience would have had different expectations. A further question raised by the end of the play is the meaning of Aegisthus' reference in 1497-98 to the present and future woes of the Pelopids. Finglass says that the final exit into the skene rules out later pursuit by the Erinyes and prefers to give Aegisthus' words no definite reference. But Oedipus' exit into the palace, pace Taplin,1 does not rule out his later exile or make Teiresias' prediction of it a dead letter. My own instinct is that his words do hint (unwittingly) at the Erinyes and that this is Sophocles' way of saying "but that's another story."2 There is thus a slight darkening of the mood at the end (slight because, ghastly as the Erinyes are, Orestes finally escapes them) but nothing to indicate that the two principals are morally tainted or that their successful killing of the usurpers is a wholly futile act, which would be hard to reconcile with the kind of interest Sophocles has encouraged us to take in Electra and Orestes in the rest of the play.

It is a reviewer's job to point out errors and omissions. The haul, including the reservations expressed in the last paragraph, is slight. 236-50 is a difficult passage where Finglass gives less help than he might and makes some choices that in my judgment make the passage harder. Finglass is right that in 236 κακότατος is not "misery." But instead of "wickedness" (sc. of Agamemnon's killers) "disloyalty" (sc. of Electra) would give better parallelism with the other questions. Given that it has several meanings in tragedy he might have indicated that ἴσχουσα here means "restraining." Finglass says nothing about the logic of the γὰρ in 245 (the connection between Electra's lament and the punishment of Agamemnon's murderers is explained by Jebb). For the sentiment that if this particular murder is not punished, justice in general is gone, he could have cited Eur. Hec. 799-805 (reading ἀνθρώποις ἴσον with the mss.). Lastly, both ἔρροι and ἁπάντων and the general argument seem to me to make against uppercase Aidos and Eusebeia. On the other hand, like Dawe and unlike the OCT he prints Martin's necessary τἂν at 249.

At 855 Finglass remarks on ἵν' "the word must here denote not the place to which, but from which, Electra does not want to be led," but he offers no parallels, nor do LSJ or Ellendt. Jebb translates "in a case where," but preceded by a compound of ἄγω we might expect it to mean "to where" (thus Lloyd-Jones), which is difficult sense in view of 834-36. Perhaps the text is corrupt.

In the use of the two eisodoi Finglass has made things more difficult for himself than necessary by putting Agamemnon's tomb at the end of Eisodos B and using Eisodos A for all other entrances and exits (p. 12). This means that Orestes' and Pylades' first entrance is by Eisodos A and their exit, toward Agamemnon's tomb, by Eisodos B. This creates a difficulty he notes on 55: "It is not clear how the urn can already have been hidden near the tomb, since Orestes and the Paedagogus are only now setting off in that direction. The audience will not have lingered over the point, but it remains an inconcinnity." But to judge from Arist. Poetics 1455a25-28, at least in the fourth century a play could be hissed from the stage for having a character enter from the wrong direction. A simpler and quite common division is between the foreign and the local eisodos. A tomb, always outside the city, is naturally situated down the foreign eisodos, as at Alc. 835-36. The only drawback to this scheme is that the foreign eisodos will be used for the entrances of the Paedagogus, Chrysothemis from the tomb, Orestes with the urn, and (probably) Aegisthus, and the local eisodos will be little used: only by the Chorus for its first entrance and final exit. But this is not a play where momentous developments are to be expected from Mycenae as well as from abroad.

The book is mercifully free of misprints. In the text read τιθῇς at 581 (same error in the commentary ad loc.). In the app. crit. at 492 the reading of RZg and the conjecture of Blaydes should probably be ἐπέβαν. On p. 126, line 4 fb the two Greek words appear to be interchanged. On p. 127, lines 16-17 read "of being eaten last." On p. 169, line 8 fb read ἐπ' as the last word. In the note on 308, line 5 read "between preposition and substantive." On p. 242 the comment on γένυς belongs further down. On 812 the lemma should read ποῖ με χρὴ μολεῖν.


1.   O. Taplin, "Sophocles in his Theatre," in B. M. W. Knox et al., edd., Sophocle, Entretiens Hardt 29 (Vandoeuvres-Geneva, 1983), pp. 172-74, argues that Oedipus instead of exile receives the harsher penalty of perpetual incarceration. But not only does this falsify Teiresias' prophecy but also, as pointed out by J. March, The Creative Poet: Studies on the treatment of myths in Greek poetry, BICS Supplement 49 (1987) 148, the idea that incarceration is worse than exile is never made in the text and is too subtle to be left unsaid.
2.   This is the view well argued for by D. Roberts, "Sophoclean Endings: Another Story," Arethusa 21 (1988) 178-9.

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