Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Lorenza Savignago, Eisthesis: Il sistema dei margini nei papiri dei poeti tragic. Minima philologica 3. Alessandria: Edizioni dell'Orso, 2008. Pp. 356. ISBN 9788862740951. €25.00 (pb).
Reviewed by C. Michael Sampson, St. Olaf College

Savignago's monograph represents the culmination of over a decade's work and is the first (to my knowledge) of its kind,1 comprising some fifty-eight case studies of tragic papyri whose columns have irregular left-hand margins--i.e. some of whose verses are indented to various degrees relative to one another. The Aristophanic scholia vetera describe such alternations of margin with the terms eisthesis (indentation) and its opposite ekthesis. These variations appear in tragic papyri in a variety of contexts, but usually for the purpose of marking metrical change, from sections of trimeters to tetrameters or to lyrics, etc. The volume is to be welcomed, not only because its case studies tidily collect the relevant data and scholarship, but also because the analysis of marginal variation opens up a variety of scholarly issues--reconstructing metrical features and fragmentary plays, as well as clarifying extant tragedies' textual history. Those with interests in the individual passages or fragments in question will find it a helpful resource; Savignago grasps well the technical problems pertaining to the papyri, and the bibliography is rich and multilingual.

Reviewing a book of this kind is a difficult task. For, although it provides a fine collection of studies, the reality is that even amongst philologists, such technical subject matter--metrical, philological, and papyrological--will prove tough going and will appeal primarily to a fairly specialized audience. Even interested specialists may find themselves occasionally adrift among the case studies, particularly with respect to a larger, sustained argument. Marginal variation primarily indicates metrical change, so tetrameters require a wider margin than trimeters (e.g. P.Oxy. 2162; P.Oxy. 4566; P.Oxy. 3719), while lyric passages are themselves indented relative to trimeters (passim). The procedure of the individual case studies, however, stands in contrast to the simplicity of the system: there do appear patterns of indentation, but the individual studies are so concerned with the technical aspects of the fragments that they lose sight of (if not actually obscure) its tidy operation. The forest, in other words, can be lost for the trees; save the appearance of a table at the start of each study outlining the fragment(s)' use of eisthesis (the data from which is collated at the study's conclusion, with only a brief summary--pp.317-319), the treasure trove of raw data remains, lamentably, unsynthesized.

The introductory matter is the weakest part of the book; the brevity its discussion disappoints, especially as pertains to the history of eisthesis. For, while in other articles Savignago has argued well that the terminology of eisthesis derives from Heliodorus (and that the system itself precedes him),2 the introduction focuses rather on comparing the system of margins in papyri to the medieval manuscript tradition, which means that scribal and editorial practices up to and including the Alexandrians, by contrast, receive comparatively short shrift (more on this later).

The case studies, rather, are the heart of the book, and in their success lies its strength. As regards P.Köln 67 (E. IA 301-309, 795-806), for example, Savignago reevaluates the layout of the editio princeps, and, by considering the vertical alignment of the visible letters, argues that vv.795-800 would have been indented by about five or six letter-spaces, a width that is fully appropriate for distinguishing the lyrics they contain from the subsequent trimeters (pp.188-190). Since the papyrus preserves the ends of these verses and since they are consistent with what appears in the later manuscript tradition, both the colometry and Savignago's reconstruction are convincing. A knowledge of when and how eisthesis appears can also help in addressing textual matters: regarding P.Schøyen 8 (E. Ba. 1032-1034), for example, Savignago supports Carrara's treatment of the lacuna at v.1034, which posited the transposed word order μέλεσιν] εὐάζω ξένα βαρβάροις (cf. mss. εὐάζω ξένα μέλεσι βαρβάροις). Savignago notes both that the transposition still produces dochmiacs and that this reconstruction requires eisthesis of about four letter-spaces--again, appropriate for distinguishing the lyric meter from the preceding lines' trimeters (p.153-154). The analysis of P.Oxy. 2369, a fragment of Sophocles' Inachus, is similarly convincing (esp. ad fr.1 col.ii.23-28): the presence of a diple marks the beginning of a choral passage, but within the passage, Savignago argues that three successive marginal notations χο(ρός) combined with the eisthesis of vv.23-25 and 27 suggest rather an epirrhematic exchange amongst the chorus (or with the coryphaeus): eisthesis distinguishes the lyrics from trimeters, and the marginal notes (used instead of paragraphoi) mark the distribution of speakers within the chorus (pp.114-116). The analysis is even more interesting because other satyr-play fragments, which Savignago dutifully cites, feature this marked kind of interlocution, and its presence here therefore supports the contention that Inachus was a satyr-play.

A major criticism of the volume, as has been hinted above, lies in the idea of a 'sistema' governing marginal variation. For, while Savignago is open to the flexibility of its employment, acknowledging that there are many possible editorial practices operating across the period of time (and space) in which the papyri were manufactured and copied (p.11), she nonetheless holds that the alternation of margins to represent the metrical sections of plays is "quasi assiomatico" for literary papyri (p.12).3 Yet Savignago ignores the early Ptolemaic period's practice of transcribing lyrics as prose (with no division of lyrics into cola) by excluding such papyri from study, offering their lack of a criterion for metrical division as a reason (p.14). In this respect, the aforementioned weakness of the introductory material becomes more serious: while the system of metrical division is owed to Aristophanes of Byzantium, the emergence of eisthesis, by contrast, remains hazy.4 For her part, Savignago agrees that the system precedes Heliodorus, but says little more (p.11). Furthermore, the questions of metrical criteria and editorial practices also introduce the larger scholarly controversy surrounding the authority of Alexandrian colometry, particularly vis-à-vis the practice(s) of the classical period. Excluding the papyri written as if they were prose from discussion sweeps such larger questions under the rug, and Savignago declines to engage the controversy directly,5 even though her unique expertise would make, I am sure, for provocative conclusions.

Survey of Savignago' case studies further reveals the flexibility of the 'sistema' as employed by individual scribes and the variety of contexts for eisthesis. In the anapaestic context of P.Mich. 140, for example, eisthesis marks changes of speaker rather than of meter; in P.Oxy. 1174 (esp. col. xvii), it appears to be employed in addition to paragraphoi for the purpose of distinguishing the speakers in a three-way conversation (cf. P.Oxy. 2369), and in P.Oxy. 1369, for the purpose of marking metrical change, it is employed inconsistently. There is even evidence of a second hand correcting a text laid out with eisthesis so as to standardize the margins (i.e. P.Oxy. 3151, fr.4.14-16), and of different papyri of the same passages employing different layouts (i.e. P.Oxy. 4016; cf. P.Oxy. 1370). These last examples, in particular, show that while there may have been an editorial tendency to employ variable margins, it was not a system universally applied or understood. The case of P.Oxy. 1174(+2081a) (Sophocles' Ichneutai) is perhaps most interesting in this respect; as was already noted, eisthesis appears in conjunction with paragraphoi to distinguish speakers in this papyrus, but it also shows a variety of editorial methods of marking choral song. Eisthesis combines variously with coronides, diplai, paragraphoi and marginal notation to introduce choral songs, subtle variations which are all the more compelling given the impressive size of the fragments: instead of a single coherent system, one gets the impression that there was a variety of tools available to a scribe (e.g. paragraphoi, eisthesis, diplai, coronides, marginal notation) by which various features of the text--from metrical change to change of speaker to responsion--could be indicated. So while there may be a tendency towards the normalized use of those tools, individual scribal practice with respect to them could nonetheless vary, not only from text to text, but even within a particular text.6

The assumption of consistency when treating fragmentary or lacunose texts is as unverifiable as the assumption that the lacunae of papyri contain the readings of the medieval manuscript tradition. An example will help illustrate this: I have already mentioned the case of P.Köln 67 (E. IA 301-309, 795-806) and Savignago's success in treating the layout of vv.795-800. The analysis of vv.301ff., in contrast, is much less secure. Savignago similarly posits eisthesis on the basis of the visible letters' vertical alignment, but unlike the prior case, irregularities result. For, because of the fragmentary state of the lines (neither verse-beginning nor -end are preserved, and only a handful of letters from the middle of the column are visible in each line), Savignago's reconstruction necessary speculates on the basis of the vulgate text and, more critically, by analogy from how eisthesis operated in the previous case (pp.190-197). The reconstruction and analysis of eisthesis is ultimately plausible, but only as the result of some editorial massaging that requires that the fragment depart from the colometry of the Laurentine manuscript for IA. Whereas the analysis and reconstruction of vv.795-800 was supported by the manuscript tradition, the assumption of coherence in the utilization of eisthesis, in this second case, results in the violation of the tradition.7 Other case-studies are more cautious (e.g. P.Berol. 21169, pp.249-253; P.Oxy. 2460, pp.307-9), but even though Savignago acknowledges flexibility in the system, there is occasionally a bullish tendency towards systematization.

There is much of interest and excellence in these pages, and the fact that I was intrigued enough by the larger questions raised by marginal variation to hope for their treatment attests to the need for studies of this kind. Savignago's data will point a way forward for further study of tragic papyri in their Alexandrian contexts and against the murky background of classical practice(s): questions remain, but she is doubtlessly correct in demonstrating that there are particular, if not quite systematic, uses for eisthesis, and, in this respect, the volume is a success.


1.   Savignago's previous work includes her dissertation, Eisthesis-ekthesis nei papiri di Euripide Diss. Padova (1999-2000), as well as three articles: "Eisthesis-ekthesis nei papiri sofoclei," in G. Avezzù (ed.), Il dramma sofocleo: testo, lingua, interpretazione (Stuttgart: 2003); and "Il sistema dei margini nei papiri di Euripide," in L. Battezzato (ed.), Tradizione testuale e ricezione letteraria antica della tragedia greca (Amsterdam: 2003); "Rilettura di P.Oxy. 4510 (Aristofane, Acarnesi," in G. Avezzù (ed.), Didaskaliai II. Nuovi studi sulla tradizione e l'interpretazione del drama attico (Verona: 2008).
2.   See "Eisthesis-ekthesis nei papiri sofoclei" (2003: 291-299) and "Il sistema dei margini nei papiri di Euripide" (2003: pp.77-81), which make for a far better introduction. Strangely, these two articles are not listed in the monograph's bibliography.
3.   As Kathleen McNamee stresses from the beginning of her study of related matters (Sigla and Select Marginalia in Greek Literary Papyri, Brussels: 1992), variation is rife and flexibility must be granted: even for the Aristarchan sigla, the marks are consistently in the right place at the right time in "only a little over half the texts" (p.8).
4.   W.S. Barrett, ed., Euripides: Hippolytus (Oxford: 1964) p.84.
5.   For example, this problem undermines the discussion of the Ptolemaic-era papyrus (P.Mich. 6973), which Savignago introduces in supplement to that of the later P.Oxy. 2458 (pp.272-5): Savignago questions Diggle's opinion that the Michigan papyrus was written katalogaden (see above) by tentatively suggesting the possibility of responsion. The bases for the suggestion are a single paragraphos and some badly preserved traces of the supposed antistrophe (an unlikely, but not impossible argument), but more problematically, the significance of the fact that the two texts reveal different colometrical layouts is passed over, despite the fact that it is manifest that the Ptolemaic (or pre-Aristophanic?) practice differed from the subsequently employed colometry.
6.   Some comparison with the use of eisthesis in non-dramatic manuscripts (ancient and medieval) might be warranted: see, for example, the discussion in A. Cameron, Greek Mythography in the Roman World (Oxford: 2004) pp.78-83.
7.   So also in P.Oxy. 1370 (frr.4-5 pag.2) Savignago posits ekthesis for a tetrameter (Or. 727) on the basis of a single visible letter (p.223).

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