Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Nuala Distilo, Commento critico-testuale all'Elettra di Euripide (2 vols.). Padova: S.A.R.G.O.N. Editrice e Libreria, 2012. Pp. xlvi, 765. ISBN 9788895672182. €50.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Poulheria Kyriakou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (

Version at BMCR home site

Critical notes and work on the manuscript tradition are a staple of philological activity, but the book under review is a novelty. This two-volume work is the published version of Nuala Distilo's 2011 doctoral dissertation on Euripides's Electra, submitted at the University of Padua. It focuses on textual criticism, combining elements of an edition, extensive critical discussion, and some suggestions on its implications for the literary analysis of the play. In the first part (Introduzione) Distilo presents the results of her new collation of the Electra folios of the two principal manuscripts, L and P, on which the text of the play depends, undertaken for the purpose of defining more accurately their relationship. The central part (Commento), which cites the text of L without the errors due to transcription and Byzantine pronunciation, contains extensive, line-by-line discussions of textual and metrical problems and scholarly suggestions put forth for their solution. In the third part Distilo prints the text emerging from her discussion, without critical apparatus. The book concludes with copious bibliography and indices.

According to Distilo, the result of the collation confirms the theory of Turyn and his predecessors, namely that P is not a copy of L, despite the close affinities between P and L. She argues that the two manuscripts are twins, copied from an exemplar Λ, P perhaps from an apograph π; Λ was a working exemplar also corrected by Triclinius in a manner similar to that of Tr1 in L. Distilo also cites the conclusions of other editors who collated L and P to support her argument. This part ends with a stemma codicum for the play. The commentary aims at defending the merits of the manuscript tradition over emendations, at signaling problems and lacunae that had not been identified, and at reevaluating older critical suggestions neglected by more recent editors. In the analysis of the lyrical parts an effort is made to strike a balance between Euripides's fondness for experimentation and the reestablishment of regular responsion in places in which corruption is also signaled by disturbed syntax.

Distilo has produced a thorough and learned book, which scholars working on Euripides in general and on Electra in particular will need to consult and will do so with profit. Her discussions will prove particularly helpful to advanced students, or scholars working on commentaries, who wish to have a handy overview of the textual history of various passages. The fruits of Distilo's labor amount to a few dozen readings that differ from the latest editions, as is to be expected, given the amount and expert quality of earlier critical work. This does not detract from the merits of her insights, even when these mostly involve a defense or reappraisal of suggestions made by others. Some readers may consider parts of the book overly extended: for example the discussion of the notorious "parody" of the recognition scene of Aeschylus's Choephori at 518-44. To others, primarily to scholars familiar with editorial and critical matters, the problems or merits of some suggestions may seem self-evident. Those readers might prefer a shorter work focusing on difficult problems, or perhaps only containing the discussion of Distilo's differences from the latest editions. Although such views are not unjustifiable, it is probably preferable to err on the side of inclusiveness, especially as the commentary format is modular. Different readers are bound to find some arguments more persuasive than others, and I will discuss some of those that appeared rather unconvincing to me below. The objections are not meant to undermine the value of the work but rather to highlight its potential for fostering continuing debate.

Before turning to them, I should say that in my opinion the conclusions of Zuntz about the relationship of P to L in the alphabetical plays have not been refuted with certainty. This of course would necessitate a collation of the manuscripts in their entirety. Distilo has identified thirteen cases in Electra in which P offers readings that do not depend on L. I have no expertise in manuscript studies but I believe that even non-specialists may be reasonably skeptical of at least six of the thirteen cases (391, 607, 760, 816, 981, 1262). If a copyist is careless, he can certainly make mistakes that both vitiate the faultless readings of the original and accidentally correct its wrong readings. The correct readings of P may be attributed to felicitous mistakes in the copying of L. Besides, 391 is a trivial improvement over L that any copyist could insert, and the alleged correctness of P's reading at 981 is at best debatable. Still, cumulatively and in conjunction with the conclusions of other scholars, a reasonably solid case for a careful reexamination of Zuntz's hypothesis has been constructed.

Distilo's discussions in the main part of the book are also detailed and intelligent. For reasons of space I will limit myself to readings that differ from those printed in the editions of Diggle, Basta Donzelli, and Kovacs.

59: Distilo is right that the transposition Diggle prints does not solve any problem, but it is quite radical to delete a line that needed only a palmary emendation and is perfectly at home in the context. Either Murray's arrangement should be accepted, with 57-58 in parenthesis, or a full stop should be inserted at 58, probably with τ' changed to δ' at 59. The attack on Clytaemestra loses nothing of its poignancy coming after 59. Electra performs humiliating tasks in order to demonstrate the insolence of Aegisthus and laments her father in the open because her mother drove her out of the house.

161: as in the discussion of 59, Distilo sensibly reviews the thorny textual and metrical problems of 143-44/160-61. She adopts and defends the emendations of Reiske and Seidler for the former pair, which restore responsion, albeit at the small price of postulating an ithyphallic in a glyconic sequence, a rare but not unique combination. Her discussion of 161 is more controversial. She does not report that Denniston dismisses as inept ὁδίου βουλᾶς = "plan formed on the road" in connection with the passage, and seems to imply that Diggle suggests a plan of Agamemnon conceived during the trip to Troy (65). Diggle suggests a reference to Iphigeneia's sacrifice at Aulis, which would be plausible in a review of the background of Agamemnon's murder, but rather difficult to accept in the mouth of Electra. On the other hand, if 159 is lacunose and contained a verb expressing Clytaemestra's gloating, as Distilo thinks, then the reference to the sacrifice is less surprising. I find it likelier that Electra would not report her mother's alleged grievances, and the plan referred to at 161 is the murderous plot of Clytaemestra. It is not clear, though, that the plan was conceived during Agamemnon's return trip, and that Electra would say such a thing. Perhaps the sense is that the plan was conceived during, or originated from, the Trojan expedition. The text may be beyond easy restitution, and certainly the emendation δι' ὁδόν has nothing to recommend it over δι' ὁδοῦ, which is closer to the MSS reading.

187: the discussion is careful and detailed, especially in the part concerning the instances of prodelision of forms of εἰμί other than ἐστί. Still, the advantage of Nauck's emendation is arguable at best, as Electra seems to complain about her general circumstances much more (consistently) than about particulars. Distilo opts for it because she argues that it accounts better for the corruption. She seems to cherish this criterion, but it turns out to be too narrow at times. Certainly in this case the genitive κούρας could be influenced by the preceding Ἀγαμέμνονος, especially since the corruption of πρέποντ' must have obscured the sense of the clause. Similarly, at 1234 the decision to obelize the verb is too cautious, and the difference from 1237 is not obvious.

244: the treatment of this and other passages features the opposite problem. Surprisingly, Distilo favors the emendation that Platnauer suggested to Denniston, τί δ' ἢ σύ, over δαὶ σύ (L; δὲ σύ P). The minimal intervention δαὶ σοῦ restores the required syntax and presents no other problems. Distilo suggests in a footnote that the emendation and the parallel with IT 750 [sic; read 751] suggest that the reading of P originated in Λ, which the copyist of L corrupted, an error perhaps attributable to Byzantine pronunciation. But the corruption could certainly, and perhaps more plausibly, be traced in the opposite direction, and neither the corruption nor the alleged parallel with IT 751 prove anything about the reading of Electra 244 and the manuscript tradition. Another example of excessive emendation zeal is the adoption of Dobree's εἴ τι δὴ λέγεις at 566. Even if ἢ τί δὴ λέγεις is difficult, Dobree's emendation hardly improves matters, especially as it makes Electra's invocation of the gods conditional on the rationale of the old man's encouragement to Electra to call on the gods. If emendation is to be preferred, Dobree's other suggestion καὶ τί δή is more plausible, as is Weil's σὺ δὲ τί, but the latter is rejected by Distilo on paleographical grounds. As already pointed out, this criterion is too restrictive, and in this case, haplography, which might have eliminated the sigma of σύ (ΘΕΟΥΣΣΥ), was perhaps the origin of the corruption.

312-13: the question of whom and what Electra says that she shuns and/or feels shame before at 311-13 has exercised critics for a long time, and all editorial choices involve some degree of psychologising. Distilo keeps L's ἀναίνομαι δέ at the beginning of 312 and then opts for the emendation of Scaliger (312-13) Κάστορ', ὣ πρὶν ἐς θεοὺς/ ἐλθεῖν ἔμ' ἐμνήστευον (printed as ἐμὲ μνήστευον, L's reading), defended vigorously by Kovacs. Even if the dual is the original reading, it can hardly refer to the rites of the deified Dioscuri without any specification to that effect. Even if this were possible, the wooing of the same niece by two uncles is a mythological unicum, and thus quite unlikely, especially since Electra mentions only Castor at 1064.

1060: perhaps no emendation is needed, as ἀρχὴ…προοιμίου does not seem to be (much) more difficult to accept than the passages commonly cited as parallels, which contain statements such as "I will first begin etc." Although no exact parallel for ἀρχὴ προοιμίου is forthcoming, IT 1060-67 is quite close to Electra's speech, as far as the redundancy in the introduction and the great imbalance of the two parts are concerned. The reason for the imbalance is obvious, Iphigeneia's lack of any other argument, a problem also faced by Electra. 1110: the emendation πόσει, accepted by all editors, is very plausible. There is little reason for going over the arguments for and against it and especially for printing ποτε (πότε [sic], followed by no punctuation) as a way out of an alleged impasse (553).

1327-28: it is possible that Electra is the speaker of these lines, but the arguments for their attribution to her are far from cogent. Her silence is not prolonged, especially as the siblings may be thought to be mournfully hugging each other while 1327-30 are being pronounced.

The book is nicely produced, user-friendly, and affordably priced. Unfortunately, it is not free of typographical errors, a problem in several recent publications: the quite visible presence of such errors is rather ironic in a work of textual criticism. I have not checked specifically for typos or kept a tally of them, but in the course of my reading I noticed several, both in Greek (wrong accents and breathings, spelling, word-spacing, punctuation) and in quotations of English (ix, xxiv, 5), French (vii, xxxix), and German (86, 229) works. Although most mistakes are trivial and do not inhibit understanding, it is regrettable that the press did not invest in a corrector. It is hoped that a corrected second edition will follow.

Overall, the book is a welcome scholarly contribution in the vital areas of manuscript tradition and textual criticism, which seem to be regrettably falling out of favor among younger classicists.

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