Monday, June 9, 2014


Antonio Melero, Mikel Labiano, Matteo Pellegrino (ed.), Textos fragmentarios del teatro griego antiguo: problemas, estudios y nuevas perspectivas. Prosopa, 4. Lecce: Pensa MultiMedia, 2012. Pp. 260. ISBN 9788882329396. €30.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Andrea Lozano-Vásquez, Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá (

Version at BMCR home site

Difficult though it is, the study of fragmentary texts is crucial for our understanding of Greek theater since they provide information about lost dramas and unknown authors, topics, styles, and poetic devices and also shed light on the environment of poetic production in Athens and its place in the city's public life. This is true of Antonio Melero's, Mikel Labiano's and Matteo Pellegrino's edited volume, which provides us with new information on nine pieces written by six ancient playwrights. These pieces are: Cratinus's most famous play "The Wine-Flask", Aristophanes's "Lemnian Women", Critias' "Pirithous", Hermippus's "Porters"; Aeschylus's "Myrmidons" and Euripides's "Hypsipyle", "Bellerophon", "Telephus", and "Rhesus".

Given the scarce and complex material basis of the fragments, a philological focus is certainly the start for any investigation. Nevertheless, as stated by Melero in the introduction, the general method is here completed with other methodological approaches, tradition and heritage recovery and literary exegesis, among others.1

Thus some articles are grounded purely on the philological discipline: Mikel Labiano, "E. Rh. 686 'μὴ' ἀλλὰ: una cuestión sintáctica"; Juan Luis López Cruces, "Un astro versátil (E. Hyps., TrGF. 765b.)"; and Piero Totaro, "Eschilo, Mirmidoni, fr. *** 132c,1-4Radt". The disciplines of cultural history and literary exegesis underlie other articles: María José García Soler, "El vino y el arte de la comedia en La garrafa de Cratino"; Javier Martínez, "Dorillus and the Female Audience: A note on Aristophanes Fr. 382"; Giuseppe Mastromarco, "Dall Bellerofonte di Euripide alla Pace di Aristofane"; Antonio Melero, "Critias, Pirítoo, fgs 2.1-4-5 Snell"; Matteo Pellegrino, "I beni divini del Mediterraneo: parodia in Ermippo, fr.63"; Lucía Rodríguez "Tipología de la hipérbole en los cómicos griegos fragmentarios del s. V a.C."; and Maria de Fatima Silva, "El Télefo de Eurípides. Motivos de un éxito." By contrast, Theodorus Grammatàs's article, "Il lungo viaggio di Dionysus", deals with the reception of tragedy in the contemporary world.

In what follows I will focus on a few of the contributions. Labiano presents a detailed study of the lectio of Euripides's "Rhesus", line 686. The issue here —as he anticipates in the title— is syntactic: whether an adverb of negation is needed or not in that line. Labiano's analysis begins with the semantic content, continues with the pragmatic and situational contexts, and then turns to the grammar rules. But he does not conclude there: starting from this problem, Labiano discusses the play's Euripidean character, the distribution of the characters, the stylistic links between tragedy and comedy, and the role of conversational speech in both genres.

The article by Antonio Melero, a renowned scholar of the sophistic movement, also belongs to the field of theater studies and literary exegesis. It addresses the authorship of the tragedy named "Pirithous", which commentators attribute either to Euripides or to Critias. Melero reconstructs the arguments relating the play to three other tragedies by Euripides and thereby making it part of a tetralogy, but favors the sophist, and takes the fragment to be a parody of a hymn to Zeus, reflecting Critias's criticism of religion and its mysterious practices. He also comments on the correct interpretation of the irony and the rhetorical vocabulary contained in the fragments.

Though this volume provides several pieces of new knowledge, its main contribution is the posing of fresh questions and perspectives in the field of comedy. The "Wine-flask", by Cratinus deals with the relationship between the poet and his work, which in the piece is represented by means of the metaphor of marriage. According to García Soler, other common topics are also represented here: the connection between drunkenness and poetic inspiration, the criticism of the political and contemporary situation by other comics and intellectuals, and the use of parodic images and mockery of other poets to the benefit of his own agenda. Giuseppe Mastromarco focuses on some scenic mechanisms, and on some features of Aristophanic parody, evidencing in this way the relationship between tragedy and comedy. His article is an example of how the analysis of fragmentary texts can illuminate our knowledge of the preserved corpus.

This is also Matteo Pellegrino's perspective in his article about the comic poet Hermippus. The essay is framed within literary studies, but, instead of correcting our understanding of comedy,2 it provides new evidence on some of the features commonly attributed to this genre. In fact, fragment 63 of Hermippus is parodic, carnivalesque, and fantastic. Additionally, the fragment is an invaluable testimony for thalassocracy and the city's socioeconomic history. According to Pellegrino's research, parody is not only made of this historical circumstance, but also of the epic and cultural tradition—including other artistic representations such as pottery depicting Dionysus as a sailor.

Though its usefulness would have been enhanced through the inclusion of an index of passages and authors cited as well as a unified bibliography, the book contributes crucially to Spanish-language study of ancient theater, and in its study of fragments of Greek theater is a strong complement to publications in other languages as well.


1.   The extensive and detailed essay of Lucía Rodríguez on the typology of the hyperbole shows in great detail the kind of research that Melero suggests. Besides quantifying and defining the corpus of hyperboles, Rodríguez shows how this rhetorical device works from the point of view of the characters and spectators.
2.   As does Martínez, whose main goal is to revaluate a common and often preconceived reading of Aristophanean fragments, and to show that parody can be found in tragedies too.

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