Monday, November 30, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
ALSO SEEN: A. J. Podlecki, Aeschylus. Prometheus Bound. Aris and Phillips Classical Texts. Oxford: Aris & Phillips, 2005. Pp. 222. ISBN 0-85668-472-4. $28.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Pär Sandin, University of Bergen

The book opens with a comprehensive introduction including eleven subchapters: (1) a short anthropological note on mankind's taming of fire and an assertion of the ideological content of the myth of Prometheus, (2) "Prometheus in archaic Greece", (3) "Associated myths", (4) "Near Eastern parallels", (5) "Prometheus in fifth-century cult", (6) "Prometheus philanthrôpos: the fifth-century idea of progress", (7) the trilogy, (8) "The 'Problem' of Zeus", (9) "Prometheus in ancient Greek art", (10) reception history, (11) the text. The tenth section is something of an innovation in the genre, and is to be welcomed, the classical tradition being worth a study in its own right.

After the introduction there follows the Greek text with a facing line-by-line translation (in prose, at times approximating blank verse); the commentary keyed to the translation; appendices on (1) the authenticity and (2) the geography of the play; and a bibliography. The work lacks indices.

The translation is plain and may aim at vernacular ease. There are awkward features, such as the elision of auxiliary verbs ("he'll", "won't", "doesn't", "who's" = who has, v. 70), which renders a false note in what is, after all, elevated tragic diction (e.g., 786-88 "since you're so eager, I will not refuse to tell ... To you, first, Io, I'll recount..."). There are peculiarities in the translation, some of which only with considerable leniency could be described as unnecessary licenses. I pick a few from the beginning of the play: 42 θράσους πλέως "much too bold", 117-18 ἵκετο τις [...] πόνων ἐμῶν θεωρός, ἢ τί δὴ θέλων; "Has someone come [...] To view my distress, or what can it mean?", 128-31 ἅδε τάξις [...] μόγις παρειποῦσα "[...] I had trouble persuading".

The main problem of the work is that the primary purpose of its author has not been scholarly or even pedagogical, but evangelical. Podlecki's aim is to promote the Prometheus as a symbol of liberal-progressive ideology throughout the centuries, or in his own preaching manner of expression, as "the divine champion of humans against tyrannical oppression" (p. 41), "the tireless and persistent champion of the rights of human freedom against arbitrary and malevolent authority" (p. 54), a name that "continues to evoke the deeply rooted human instinct to know and to be free, to survive authoritarian threats and tortures designed to silence dissent and break the spirit" (p. 68). He tries to show not only that the depiction of Prometheus in the present drama carries an ideological significance, but that a libertarian note is strung by the character in myth from its very origins--which, incidentally, according to Podlecki are not Indo-European but Near-Eastern multicultural (p. 14).

Biased, tendentious readings and translations, petitio principii and glib preaching are the rule rather than the exception. I will mention only a few examples to illustrate the case. 10-11, ὡς ἂν διδαξθῆ τὴν διὸς τυραννίδα στέργειν. Podlecki translates "So that he may be taught to love Zeus's Tyranny". τυραννίς, basically non-evaluative ("monarchy, sovereignty" LSJ I), often takes an outright pejorative sense in classical Greek. However, the person speaking is Kratos, a servant of Zeus, who from his own perspective is certainly intending a neutral sense. The reader expects to find in the commentary a discussion of the term (as for instance in Mark Griffith's 1983 commentary ad loc.), and a defence of the choice of translation. What we get is: "an oxymoron, if not a contradiction. Tyrants want to be loved by their subjects [etc.]". Secularism is part of the ideological package: thus Io is "hallucinating" the ghost of Argos in 570n.; Zeus' μῆτις is translated as "wiliness" in 906; and θεῶν ἔρως is emended to θεῶν τις in 903-4, in order to make the gods' designs appear even more sinister.

In the first Appendix, Podlecki attempts a defence of the authenticity of the play. It consists of variations on the theme "if Aeschylus wanted to write in a different style, use different vocabulary, metre, etc., than usual, who are we to say that he couldn't?" The best part is the citation of Lloyd-Jones for the suggestion that Aeschylus might have produced the drama in a different (read: easier) style for a Sicilian audience and, especially, chorus.

The second Appendix is about the geography of the play. Prometheus' description of the (future) wanderings of Io in 707-818 has seemed utterly confused and inconsistent with the version given in the Supplices (540-61). Seeing that Podlecki is aware of Margalit Finkelberg's 1998 article on the subject (RhM 141, 119-41), one would have expected a detailed discussion of her case and, if not whole-hearted acceptance, then a proper refutation of what to me, at least, seems to be a flawless solution to the problem.

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