Monday, May 30, 2016


Richard Green, Mike Edwards (ed.), Images and Texts: Papers in Honour of Professor Eric Handley CBE FBA. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies: Supplement 129. London: Institute of Classical Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, 2015. Pp. x, 136. ISBN 9781905670567. £32.00.

Reviewed by Tyler Jo Smith, University of Virginia (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of contents is at end of the review.]

Classicist and Papyrologist Eric Handley (1926–2013) will be remembered by many for his lifelong research on Greek drama, especially the New Comedy of Menander. Others will forever associate him with a keen interest in and some important contributions to the study of 'monuments' (vases, mosaics, terracottas, etc.) associated with ancient theater. 1 Thus, the current volume, which derives from a colloquium organized in London to celebrate his 85th birthday, is a very fitting tribute to a prolific scholar who ever wore the two hats of text and image.2 There are a few additions, including Alain Blanchard's "Tribute to Eric Handley: Papyrology and Menander" (actually in French), which was presented at the Institute of Classical Studies in June 2013 as part of a day-long memorial, a Curriculum vitae academicae, and a complete list of publications. It is evident that each of these authors shared a close personal connection to Handley, either as colleague or former student, and their indebtedness to his generosity and wisdom is clear throughout. Considering the list of invited luminaries, it comes as no surprise that the writing is of a universally high standard, and several offerings may be considered non-trivial additions to their respective sub-fields. The book is nicely illustrated, well-edited, and error-free. It does, however, assume a knowledgeable, specialist reader.

Handley's much-loved Menander is as central to the spectacle as the honoree himself. Christopher Carey explores the relationship between tragedy and Menander's comedy, and is particularly interested in the ancient author's voice—"the dialogic self-definition" (15)—looming behind his masked actors despite the loss of the parabasis of Old Comedy. Staging and humor, metatheatricality and psychology, are all themes of importance in a beautifully penned essay that is a model of how the combination of primary and secondary sources may be used to illuminate the poet, the genre, the audience, and the setting. Peter Parsons' rather brief "A Few More Letters" reminds readers of Handley's seminal research on Menander's corpus, singling out the Misoumenos ('The man she hates') for special mention, as well as the impact that a few more letters (and thus words) can have with each new discovery of Oxyrhynchus papyrus. The sentiment is echoed by Mike Edwards in his paper on the Archimedes Palimpsest, where the modern scientific technique of Multi-spectral Imaging has been used to aid in decipherment. Both Parsons and Edwards, maybe inadvertently, make a strong link with archaeology, an adjacent discipline that privileges such new discoveries and often depends on similar technical aids in order to scrutinize enigmatic material artefacts.

Visuality is a theme underlying several contributions, and it is one that transcends the text-image dichotomy. Pat Easterling's "Space in the Tragic Scholia" takes up the matter of 'stage action' referencing, expectedly, the writings of Oliver Taplin, Rush Rehm, and W. G. Arnott among others. Her quandary, however, is what, if anything, the ancient scholia on tragedy can "tell us…about the conceptualization of space shared by dramatists, performances, and audiences" (1). She brings to the forefront the important issue of how classical Greek scripts, in particular those of Sophocles, were understood by later readers and how the experience of revivals in other venues might have played a part in interpretation and staging. She entreats readers to consider scholia not simply as source material, but, rather, as confirmation for "the responses of readers at different periods" (3). Posing questions, such as "How was Ajax's suicide managed?" (cf. Ajax, 815–65), inevitably brings to mind the fixed performance space of the theater as well as artistic renderings (both fixed and portable) of the subject by both vase-painters and sculptors, and encourages us to questions whether it is better to segregate or to elide seeing and reading. J. R. Green faces a similar set of concerns using a rather different set of evidence in his "Pictures of Pictures of Comedy. Campanian Santia, Athenian Amphitryon, and Plautine Amphitruo." The aims of his paper, three in total, engage with current scholarship concerned with South Italian vases and the performance of Greek drama: the reliability of ancient evidence for the "style of comic performance" (45), the reception of Greek comedy, especially on decorated pottery, amongst native South Italians, and the extent to which images of comedy were known before Menander. His fascinating investigation of the much-discussed Santia jug, a Campanian red-figure oinochoe in the British Museum, demonstrates the necessity of employing the traditional methods of descriptive formal analysis, iconography, connoisseurship, and epigraphy, alongside more current contextual and comparative readings of both imported and locally made pottery in the regions of South Italy. Green's expertise in various ceramic fabrics, masks, and terracottas results in a sort of Kopienkritik centred on the vases' costumed slave figure labelled 'SANTIA' (Oscan for Xanthias).

The relationship between images and texts is expressed in yet another way, indeed a less familiar one, in the lengthy essay by Michael Squire, "Patterns of Significance: Publilius Optatianus Porfyrius and the Figuration of Meaning." Writing from the perspective of his undergraduate days at Cambridge where Handley was his tutor, Squire opens with a rather personal homage that encapsulates the generous sort of scholar and mentor he remembers so fondly. He defines perfectly Handley's signature approach: "Whether recognizing a gesture on an Apulian pot with reference to a little known passage of Menander, or reconstructing some Oxyrhynchus fragment with an eye to a Cypriot mosaic, Eric is a master at reconciling different sorts of visual and verbal evidence: while analysing images and texts alongside each other, he shows an exemplary sensitivity to the respective mechanics of each medium" (87). Squire introduces a not terribly well-known fourth-century CE poet, here called 'Optatian' for short, with careful attention to the "'iconotextual' qualities" of his poems. This lengthy chapter is a must-read for any scholar attracted to the dynamic interplay of word and image, or as the Squire describes it: "Optatian's carefully crafted pictorial-poetic artefacts" (90). Summarizing the poets' life, works, and reception (the footnotes are substantial), he guides us through the three surviving poems described by the poet himself as imagines metrorum, literally 'images of verses': an altar, a set of panpipes, and a 'water organ'. We here also learn about Optatian's letter grid compositions — an early form of word search puzzle — where the poetry is woven into the square configuration (a uersus intexti) and the words can be read horizontally, vertically, diagonally, left to right, top to bottom, and in reverse. Further embedded therein are diagrams formed by the words once circled or visually identified. Squire's writing necessitates careful reading as it is densely packed with information that may be unfamiliar to many readers, excellent comparanda and references, and a lengthy analysis of these poems.

All in all, this modest volume represents an ideal merging of old and new approaches to several standard classical topics, and mixes scholars at nearly every possible career stage. One minor quibble: there is no cross-referencing between the individual papers, although there is some predictable overlap of topics and people, both ancient and modern.

Table of Contents

Space in the tragic scholia / Pat Easterling
Menander on the poetics of comedy / Christopher Carey
A few letters more / Peter Parsons
The text and staging of the recognition scene in Menander's Perikeiromene / William Furley
Pictures of pictures of comedy : Campanian Santia, Athenian Amphitryon, and Plautine Amphitruo / J.R. Green
Hyperides in the Archimedes palimpsest / Mike Edwards
Patterns of significance : Publilius Optatianus Porfyrius and the figurations of meaning / Michael Squire
Tribute to Eric Handley : papyrology and Menander / Alain Blanchard


1.   E.g. R. Green and E. W. Handley, Images of the Greek Theatre (1995) was published in English in two countries, was revised and reprinted (2001), and has been translated into both Greek (1996) and German (1999); cf. 'Books and Monographs' in the book under review, p. 125. Handley was long involved in the Ancient Theatre Project at the Institute of Classical Studies.
2.   A. Griffiths (ed.), Stage Directions: Essays in Ancient Drama in honour of E. W. Handley. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies: Supplement 66 (London: 1995). BMCR 96.9.25.

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