Sunday, May 12, 2013


Bernd Manuwald, Sophokles. König Ödipus. Griechische Dramen. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2012. Pp. x, 355. ISBN 9783110188257. $70.00.

Reviewed by P. J. Finglass, University of Nottingham (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

This handy volume by Bernd Manuwald offers a new text and translation of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, accompanied by an introduction and commentary. The series in which it appears, Griechische Dramen, edited by Jens Holzhausen, Peter von Möllendorff, and Bernd Seidensticker, is aimed at readers with little or no Greek who neverthless wish to experience what is found in the Greek original of the ancient tragedians (p. v); and readers of all levels of experience will certainly find useful material here.

A 'Vorwort der Herausgeber' (i.e. of the series editors) and 'Vorwort' (sc. of the author) are followed by a fifty- eight page 'Einführung' divided into seven sections: 'Sophokles: Der Dichter in seiner Zeit', 'Zur Datierung von Sophokles' König Ödipus, 'Zum Ödipus-Stoff vor und in Sophokles' König Ödipus', 'Der König Ödipus des Sophokles' (the longest, divided into ten subsections), 'Zur Rezeption von Sophokles' König Ödipus', 'Zur Überlieferung des Textes', and 'Zur dieser Ausgabe'. By far the greatest part of the book is taken up by the 'Text, Übersetzung, Kommentar', after which comes an 'Anhang' split into five sections: divergences from the Oxford Classical Text by Lloyd-Jones and Wilson; more detailed textual and linguistic discussion of sixteen passages; metrical analyses; the hypotheseis; and the text of the oracle given to Laius, the riddle of the Sphinx, and the solution to the riddle. A bibliography closes the book.

The introduction provides a solid foundation for the book as a whole, with generally helpful discussions of a range of issues associated with the drama. Manuwald's discussion of the date of the play, which he places between 436 and 433, is heavily influenced by a monograph by Carl Werner Müller from 1984. According to Manuwald, this book constitutes 'eine grundlegende Abhandlung'; Nigel Wilson, by contrast, called it an 'overgrown pamphlet', roundly declaring 'I do not find much to recommend here . . . the Mainz Academy was hardly well advised to commit resources to this production'. 1 Wilson seems to me to be on the money here. To cite just one of his criticisms, Müller's belief, accepted by Manuwald, that Oedipus' cry ὦ πόλις πόλις (629) is parodied at Ar. Ach 27, and that as a consequence Sophocles' play must have been performed before Aristophanes' (so before 425), is naïve: we possess only a small fraction of the tragedies known to Aristophanes, and this unremarkable phrase could easily have occurred in a lost drama. Readers of Manuwald's book would have been better served by a discussion which did not rely on so unsatisfactory a volume.

The heart of the book is taken up by the text, apparatus, translation, and commentary. Or rather, the translation, text, apparatus, and commentary, since that is the order in which these elements are placed on each double-page spread: translation at the top of the left-hand side, text in the middle, apparatus at the bottom, and commentary on the facing page. As the series editors remark, 'das Druckbild ist so gestaltet, dass der Leser alle Informationen auf einen Blick erfassen kann' (p. v).2 One is reminded of Jebb's famous commentaries, although there the text lies at the top of the left-hand page, the translation at the top of the right-hand page, and the apparatus and commentary spread over the bottom of both pages. That layout makes it easier to compare text and translation, since readers can look across from the Greek to the English, or vice versa, without needing to note the line number. The arrangement of Manuwald's edition is much less convenient: a pity, given that the author and series editors have rightly placed so much weight on ease of consultation. Still, it is a boon to have access to all this information without turning a page.

As noted above, the book is explicitly aimed at readers with little or no Greek. But how much benefit will either of these groups derive from it? Readers with no Greek at all will get nothing out of the text or the apparatus; for them, at least a quarter of each double-page spread is a waste of space. This audience requires a translation and a commentary: anything more is an irrelevant distraction. But readers with little Greek are hardly better served. They need more than a (vertically) parallel text and translation to assist their comprehension of this difficult poet; yet the commentary contains little engagement with or direct explication of the Greek, again as a matter of series policy (p. v). The brief linguistic notes in the apparatus3 do little to remedy this situation, whereas the detailed discussions of a few passages in an appendix go far beyond what the target audience requires. It seems odd to design a book for beginners and yet provide a level of linguistic assistance that even more experienced readers will find inadequate. Indeed, when it comes to Sophocles, we are all beginners: everybody needs guidance in construing, not to speak of interpreting, this poet, since 'no other author reveals such subtle nuances, and no other goes so far in bending language to his will'.4

Manuwald offers his own text. In some respects it improves on that of Lloyd-Jones and Wilson (1990, rev. 1992, further emended in Second Thoughts, 1997).5 For example, he rightly keeps the middle ἐπραξάμην at 287 rather than writing ἐπράξαμεν, and supports his decision with a good note in the apparatus; and at 677 he retains ἴσος rather than emending to σῶς, explaining his choice in the commentary. Other decisions are more questionable: in particular, his deletion of 447-62, Tiresias' final address to Oedipus, will not, I think, find many takers. Sometimes he seems to have overlooked useful discussions in the relevant scholarly literature. So at 1276 he ignores Housman's palmary conjecture περόναις, as well as Diggle's essential analysis of the passage;6 and at 1462, 1463, and 1466 he emends transmitted ταῖν, αἷν to τοῖν, οἷν more than four decades since Cooper showed that such interventions are unwarranted.7 Manuwald also misses the remarkable contribution that the papyri have made to our knowledge of the text. So he accepts line 531 as genuine Sophocles, seventy years since Rose demonstrated that the only ancient manuscript to preserve this part of the play is indeed correct to omit the line,8 and fails to adopt correct papyrus readings at 417 and 523. We are fortunate to have ancient manuscripts of unusual extent and quality for this drama; their testimony should not be rejected in favour of manuscripts from centuries later unless we are quite sure that they are wrong.

The problems identified above might have been counterbalanced by a fine commentary which brought out the literary qualities of Sophocles' masterpiece. Yet too often passages which cry out for comment are left undiscussed. For example, the remarks on the line τυφλὸς τά τ' ὦτα τόν τε νοῦν τά τ' ὄμματ' εἶ (371) contains no reference to the alliteration or to its possible significance. At 1284-5, the Messenger's extraordinary list in asyndeton of the afflictions that Oedipus' house must now face passes without literary comment. The general note on the exodos (1223-1514) takes up too much space with a parade of scholars' views on the authenticity of the ending,9 when what readers really need is a discussion of the overall contribution that the scene makes to the drama. Overall, the brilliance of Sophocles as a poet and as a dramatist is rarely apparent; so too the wonderful 'interaction of interpretation and philology'10 achieved by F. W. Schneidewin in his classic German commentary on the play is missing.

Readers in search of a text of Sophocles with a German translation would do well to consult Manuwald's volume; scholars too will take careful note of the appendix where problems are discussed in detail. That undoubtedly marks a real achievement on Manuwald's part, especially when we consider how much has already been written about this play. But deeper consideration of the needs of the intended audience could have made this book even more useful than it has turned out to be.


1.   N. G. Wilson, review of C. W. Müller, Zur Datierung des sophokleischen Ödipus (Abhandlungen der geistes- und sozialwissenschaftlichen Klasse, 1984, nr. 5; Wiesbaden 1984), Classical Review NS 35 (1985), 181.
2.   Roger Dawe, in the second edition of his commentary on the play (Cambridge 2006), laments that his publisher did not permit a similar arrangement (p. viii).
3.   Many of the scholars' names cited in this apparatus are incorrect. For example, the deletion of 8 is owed to Markland, not Wunder (see GRBS 51 (2011), 232-8, at 234); the conjecture at 1348 is owed to Valckenaer, not Dobree (see GRBS 49 (2009), 187-221, at 198); at 795, τεκμαρούμενος was not conjectured by Nauck, but that scholar rather recognised that Libanius read that word in his text of Sophocles (see AJP 114 (1993), 155-63, at 159); the deletion of 1424-1530 is owed to Jean Boivin de Villeneuve, not to Schenkl (see Philologus 153 (2009), 42-62, at 55-9). It might have been better to suppress these names altogether: a simplified apparatus would be best given the book's intended audience.
4.   H. Lloyd-Jones, review of A. C. Moorhouse, The Syntax of Sophocles (Mnem. Suppl. 75; Leiden 1982), CR NS 33 (1983), 171-3, at 171.
5.   Manuwald's list of deviations from the text of Lloyd-Jones and Wilson (pp. 311-13) is inflated by the inclusion of every change involving punctuation and capitalisation. Such changes should have been made silently; they would merit a place in such a list only when they have a significant effect on the sense (as for example with Housman's famous repunctuation of Catullus 64.324), and none of the changes mentioned by Manuwald fall into that category.
6.   J. Diggle, 'Housman's Greek', in P. J. Finglass, C. Collard, and N. J. Richardson (eds.), Hesperos. Studies in Ancient Greek Poetry presented to M. L. West on his Seventieth Birthday (Oxford 2007), 145-69, at 159-60.
7.   G. L. Cooper III, 'In defense of the special dual feminine forms of the article and pronouns τά, ταῖν, ταύτα, ταύταιν κτλ. in Attic Greek', TAPA 103 (1972), 97-125.
8.   H. J. Rose, 'Sophokles, O. T. 530-1', CR 57 (1943), 5.
9.   I might add that, pace Manuwald, I do not accept lines 1524-30 as authentic Sophocles (see Philologus 153 (2009), 42-62, at 59 n. 50).
10.   E. C. Kopff, review of books on Sophocles, AJP 114 (1993), 155-63, at 163.

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