Friday, June 16, 2017


Anna Sofia, Aigyptiazein: frammenti della commedia attica antica. Ricerche. Letteratura greca e latina. Milano: Vita e Pensiero, 2016. Pp. xxix, 191. ISBN 9788834331309. €25.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Heinz-Günther Nesselrath, Georg-August-Universität (

Version at BMCR home site

The aim of the present book is to present an edition of all fragments of Attic Old Comedy that in some way or other seem to deal with or allude to things Egyptian and thus provide insights into the ways Athenians of the 5th century BCE looked at the country of the Nile and its inhabitants, of whom quite a few in that period were present at Athens herself (mainly in the Piraeus) as merchants and craftsmen of various professions.

Starting with the earliest references to Egypt in Linear B and Homer, the introduction (pp. XIII–XXIX) provides a survey of what still can be found concerning things Egyptian in the fragments of Old Comedy: allusions to or possibly even fuller treatments of Greek myths dealing with Egypt (e.g. the Io and Busiris stories) as well as reflections of historical developments of the 5th century (pp. XV–XVII); allusions to or reflections on aspects of Egyptian religion, e.g. the migration of Egyptian cults to Athens (most of all into the Piraeus; pp. XVII–XIX); the presence of Egyptian commercial products in Athenian daily life (pp. XX–XXVI; and (perhaps the most interesting subsection) evidence both for Athenian discriminatory attitudes towards Egyptians and for the economic and cultural integration of the latter (pp. XXVI–XXIX). In this last section a certain contradiction may be observed: on the one hand Sofia feels compelled to state that the equation of the verb Αἰγυπτιάζειν (which inspired the main title of this book) with πανουργεῖν ('behaving like a scoundrel') in later lexicographical sources should not induce us to think that the comic poets already used Αἰγυπτιάζειν negatively (p. XXVII); on the other hand she cites several comic fragments in which individual Egyptians are presented in an unequivocally negative way (p. XXVIII).1

After a note on the transmission of the fragments and a list of the main manuscripts of source texts for these fragments (pp. 3–6), the main part of the book (pp. 7–142) contains the fragments themselves: 78 texts altogether (of greatly varying length), almost half of which derive from Old Comedy's 'Big Three': Aristophanes (18), Cratinus (12) and Eupolis (8). Sofia presents all of them in the same way: after the title of the play2, there follows the Greek text of the fragment (mostly but not always as edited by R. Kassel and C. Austin in Poetae Comici Graeci = PCG), an indication of the metre, the relevant section of the source text, a critical apparatus,3 an Italian translation of the play title and the text of the fragment, a summary of what is known (or believed to be known) about the dating and presumable contents of the play, and finally a (selective) commentary which concentrates on details of the fragment that somehow are—or might be—connected with Egypt or Egyptians.

'Might be' is in fact a rather important qualification, as the connection of many fragments with things Egyptian or with Egyptians seems arguably quite tenuous or barely detectable. For instance, in the very first fragment presented (Amipsias fr. 1 PCG) a fish called κεστρεύς ("mullet") is mentioned, and that species is indeed found in the Nile (and depicted on Egyptian monuments), but it is also found in many other locations, and in the fragment there is no indication that a specifically Egyptian κεστρεύς is meant here. The same holds true for the fish called φάγρος ('sea- bream') mentioned in Amipsias fr. 8 PCG, Sofia's second text; and also in the third Amipsias fragment presented by Sofia (fr. 24 PCG) the δάφνης κλάδοι ('branches of laurel) may be connected with Egypt (see Sofia's commentary ad loc.), and then they may not be. Thus for all three Amipsias fragments presented in this book, the connection with Egypt remains dubious (to say the least). Many more cases like this could be cited (all in all, in more than half the texts assembled by Sofia, at least some doubt seems to be permitted with regard to an Egyptian connection). Perhaps it would have been advisable to split this collection into two sections, with the first containing the certain (or at least probable) cases and the second the more doubtful ones.

I add some further observations of detail:

p. 11: The critical apparatus misinterprets the information given by Kassel–Austin and ascribes to these editors a reading (οὐ instead of the transmitted οὐδ') which they never advocated.

p. 19: The byname of the Persian king Artaxerxes II should be "Mnemone", not "Memnone".

p. 21: According to Sofia, Aristophanes' play Georgoi ('I Contadini') might have been a "rielaborazione" of the play Peace, but as Georgoi is usually dated before Peace (and Sofia agrees with this), it could only be the other way round.

p. 23: One might wonder why Sofia discusses ἐγκριδοπῶλαι ('vendors of sweets') in connection with a fragment (Aristophanes 111 PCG) in which this word does not appear, and not while commenting on a fragment (Aristophanes 276 PCG treated on pp. 32–3) in which it does appear.

p. 33: The apparatus note on Aristophanes fr. 280 PCG is a bit mystifying ('λαβών ABCL πίττινον CL'); it would have been clearer to simply copy the apparatus note of Kassel–Austin ('λαβών om. FS πίττινον om. FSAB').

p. 39: Sofia should have kept Kassel–Austin's cruces around ἐστὶ ἡ in verse 1 of Aristophanes fr. 347 PCG, as this simply cannot have been the poet's original wording here.

p. 41: The metre of Aristophanes fr. 430 PCG cannot be 'tetram. iamb.', but only 'tetram. anap.'. Likewise, on p. 49 Sofia wrongly labels the metre of Aristophanes fr. 708 PCG as 'dim. iamb.'; it is 'dim. anap.'.

p. 49: At the end of her comment on Aristophanes fr. 640 PCG Sofia seems to have misunderstood Alexis fragment 57 PCG: there was no real statue of the Athenian politician Kallimedon with a crayfish in his hand standing in the Athenian marketplace: this is just Alexis' humorous fantasy about how the fish vendors might want to honour their great benefactor.

pp. 66–7: Both in her 'restoration' of the wording of Crates fr. 37 PCG and in her interpretation of the fragment's alleged historical background, Sofia too credulously follows the fantasizing of Edmonds.4 Are we really to believe that Crates wrote a comedy in which he made fun of a disastrous Athenian defeat (he might have remembered what happened to his fellow dramatist Phrynichus when he put the destruction of Miletus by the Persians on stage: see Herodotus 6.21.2)? Moreover, the events that Crates is supposed to have alluded to according to Edmonds and Sofia took place around 460 BCE, but Crates very likely only started producing comedies around 450: why should he have wanted to start his dramatic career by reminding his fellow Athenians of their bitter defeat in Egypt ten years ago? This is unfortunately not the only place where Sofia affords Edmonds too much credit.

p. 77: Sofia's remarks on the dating of Cratinus' play Ploutoi are rather contradictory: first, she advocates a date between 436/5 and 430 ('molto probabilmente'), then she comes round to the date considered by Kassel–Austin, i.e. 429. But there is even more to criticize in her handling of the text: in line 43 of Cratinus fr. 171 PCG she unhesitatingly accepts Edmonds' supplement φώσωνα θείς, although there seems to be not the slightest trace of lettering in the papyrus to suggest these words, and neither Kassel-Austin nor Storey 5 even mention them. Apparently the temptation to accept the supplement was too great in order to get another reference to Egypt (φώσων being the name of an Egyptian garment). All in all there is too much speculation about the lines Sofia has excerpted from this fragment: regarding a list of fish presented in lines 49–50, she assumes that there might be parody of Egyptian animal cults lurking here, but there is no evidence whatsoever to argue for this possibility.

p. 81: Commenting on πόλιν δούλων in Cratinus fr. 223 PCG, Sofia claims that a city called Δουλόπολις was located by lexicographical sources 'ora a Creta e nella Λιβύη ora in Egitto', but she provides no evidence for a location of such a place in Egypt, nor is there any to be found in Greek literature.

p. 85: The translation Sofia provides for Cratinus fr. 350 PCG, (ταῖς ῥαφανῖσι δοκεῖ, τοῖς δ' ἄλλοις οὐ λαχάνοισιν: 'con i ravanelli, sembra opportuno, non con altri erbaggi') seems questionable, and the grammatical explanation she then gives of the words ('i dativi dipendono da un verbo espresso nel verso precedente') does not match her translation. As for the most obvious translation proposed by Storey ("Radishes may think so, but not the other herbs"), she does not even mention it.

p. 88: For another interpretation of the word εὐριπιδαριστοφανίζων in Cratinus fr. 342 PCG, see H.-G. Nesselrath, Parody and Later Greek Comedy, in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 95, 1993, 181–95 at 185.

p. 102: Accepting Cobet's supplement κρούοντες (after ἀποκόπτοντες) in Hermippus fr. 31 PCG, Sofia remarks 'tetrametrum anapesticum (sic) restituens Cobet'; Cobet, however, did not want to restore an anapaestic tetrameter but two anapaestic dimeters, as the line end after ἀποκόπτοντες (which is also marked in Kassel–Austin's report of the conjecture) clearly shows. With Cobet's supplement, the line would simply not scan as an anapaestic tetrameter.

p. 109: In the apparatus to Leuco fr. 1 PCG, Sofia has created some confusion by ascribing the same conjecture (κατεδήδοκεν instead of the transmitted κατεδήδωκε) first to Kassel–Austin and then to Kock and Edmonds: in reality Kassel–Austin have adopted the conjecture κατεδήδοκε (sic) first made by Musurus, while Kock 6 (and after him Edmonds) wrote κατεδήδοκεν.

p. 112: Sofia mistranslates Myrtilus fr. 4 PCG, (Φέρωνος ἆρά που 'στὶν ἡ ξυναυλία;) with 'dov' è mai il concerto di Ferone?' A more correct translation would be 'Is Pheron's concert anywhere about?' (cf. Storey's translation).

p. 116: Sofia's own conjecture οἴκοι τ' ἔξειν for the obviously corrupt οἴκους λέξεις at the beginning of line 2 of Pherecrates fr. 11 PCG is flawed, because there exists no Greek word ἔξειν. Possibly she meant οἴκοι θ' ἕξειν?

p. 118: It is unclear to me why Sofia translates the infinitive ἀναψηφίσασθ(αι) with a third person plural "risottoposero"; more correct is Storey's "to rescind the decision …"

The concluding parts of the book consist of a copious bibliography (pp. 143–67), a list of the play titles to which the fragments once belonged (p. 171), a list of the comic poets with whom these fragments originated (pp. 173–4), an index of the source texts for the fragments (pp. 175–6), indices of Greek and Latin texts as well as Egyptian hieroglyphic and demotic texts cited in the commentary (pp. 177–84), and, lastly, an Index Nominum (pp. 185–91); an Index Rerum would have been welcome.

As the preceding observations may have shown, more care and caution might have made this a better and more reliable book. Still, such as it is, it provides helpful insights into the attitudes of later fifth-century Athenians towards Egypt and Egyptians as they are reflected in Attic Old Comedy.


1.   Already in her preface Sofia cites an Aeschylean fragment (373 Radt
7.  ) in which Egyptians are collectively branded as schemers and intriguers.
2.   In the few cases where the title is not preserved the heading is Incerta fabula or (when even the ascription to the poet is in doubt) Fragmentum dubium.
3.   A somewhat peculiar apparatus criticus: it notes not only readings and conjectures but also which editor (from Kock via Edmonds and Kassel–Austin to Storey) has chosen which reading or conjecture. The apparatus sections also contain some dubious Latin: autem as the first word of a sentence on p. 29, clare corruptus on pp. 116 and 133 should be replaced by locus aperte/manifeste corruptus, dubiose on p. 126 by dubitanter.
4.   J. M. Edmonds, The fragments of Attic comedy after Meineke, Bergk, and Kock / annotated and completely transl. into English verse, vol. I (Leiden: Brill, 1957).
5.   I. C. Storey, Fragments of Old Comedy, vol. I – III (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 2011).
6.   Th. Kock, Comicorum Atticorum Fragmenta, Vol. I: Antiquae Comoedia Fragmenta (Lipsiae: Teubner 1880).
7.   St. Radt, Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta, Vol. 3: Aeschylus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2nd ed. 2009).


  1. In the following lines I will go to present some remarks on Nesselrath’s review of my book.

    With regard to Nesselrath’s statement that ‘quite a few of Egyptians were present at Athens (mainly in the Piraeus) as merchants and craftsmen’, I would like to add some further observations.
    Although we can be sure that metics of Egyptian origin were living in Athens throughout the classical period, at no time can the amount of them be precisely estimated: the racial composition of the metoikia being not a great preoccupation for the Athenians, the ethnic origin of individual metics is given by the literary and epigraphic sources not always. Yet, at some time they obtained even the grant of enktesis for building a temple to Isis (we can learn it from IG II², 337): this fact (which perhaps occurred in the late fifth century BC, if the statesman decisive in securing the grant for the first Egyptian shrine on Attic soil was the same Lycurgus who was laughed at by Aristophanes, Cratinus and Pherecrates for his Egyptian leanings) would seem to indicate actually the presence of a substantial and influent community of Egyptians at Athens.

    Nesselrath points out a ‘certain contradiction’ in the last section of the introduction, in which I suggest that the comic poets did not use the verb αι̉γυπτιάζειν with a negative sense (well attested in later lexicographical sources), while I cite ‘several comic fragments in which individual Egyptians are presented in an unequivocally negative way’.
    Nesselrath’s objection is very interesting, because it concerns the correct evaluation of the attitude of the Athenians towards the Egyptians in the fifth century BC and beyond; but can we surely affirm that the inhabitants of the country of the Nile were actually represented in a negative light by the poets of Attic Old Comedy?
    Among the fragments in which Egyptians are treated negatively, one could include e.g. Archippus, fr. 1 (= 23 PCG). An Egyptian fishmonger called ‛Ερμαι̃ος is depicted here without any doubt as a despicable man. But was he regarded as a despicable man because he was an Egyptian metic or because he was a fish seller? If one read the commentary to the first verse of the fragment, my answer to this crucial question will be clear enough (see p. 13: «C’è da dire però che la qualifica negativa di μιαρώτατος è attribuita ad Ermeo non a causa della identità etnica, ma per l’attività che svolge […]. La professione di pescivendolo infatti risulta costituire uno dei bersagli preferiti dello scherno dei comici, […]»). Obviously the element of caricature in the fragment is very strong, but it is indissolubly linked with the profession of fish vendor rather than with the ethnic origin.
    Similar problem arises in interpreting the treatment of Δεινίας by Strattis, fr. 1 (34 PCG): not very gratifying notes about this Egyptian perfumer seem to be imputable to Heraclides Ponticus, but there is no reason to believe that the Egyptian perfumer was already slandered by Strattis.

  2. In referring to the interpretation I suggested for the historical background of Crates fr. 2 (37 PCG), it would be opportune to remind the commonly accepted chronology – based on the course of events given by Thucydides, while the reliability of the dates provided in Diodorus’ account is much controversial and some Aramaic and Demotic documents from southern Egypt cannot be considered decisive on this point – of the Athenian expedition in Egypt, which culminated in the destruction of the Athenian naval forces in the Nile Delta. Around 460 BC, there was probably not the siege of Prosopitis (which ended with the defeat of the Athenian soldiers), but the battle of Papremis (see Herodotus 3.12.4; Aigyptiazein, p. 67). According to most of the scholars, it is to be assumed that the final disaster on the Prosopitis’ island took place only around 454 BC, after the Egyptians and allied Athenians were locked up by Megabyzus and the Persian army in the siege of Prosopitis for a period of eighteen months. According to Thucydides’ account (1.110.1), in fact, the final Athenian catastrophe in Egypt occurred six years after the Athenians, who were campaigning at Cyprus with their ships, had accepted to help the Egyptians against the Persians and had sailed to the Nile Delta. After an initial victorious campaign in the Delta, the Athenians joined Inaros in besieging the Persians in the citadel of Memphis known as the ‘White Wall’ (Λευκòν τει̃χος). But in 456 a Persian army led by Megabyzus invaded Egypt and broke the siege of Memphis, droving the Greeks into the Prosopitis’ island, which was formed by two branches of the Nile joined together by a canal. Finally, the Persians succeeded by using a stratagem: they diverted the course of the river and connected the island to the mainland, being at this point able to invade the island. In my view (see Aigyptiazein, p. 66; Philologia Antiqua 5, 2012, p. 46ff.), the events that Crates alluded to are those which took place at the final stages of the siege of Prosopitis, when some contrast probably arose about a truce with the Persians. According to Diodorus (11.77.3-5), the Athenians burnt their ships in order to avoid their falling into the hands of the enemy and demonstrated a great courage: the Persian commanders, feeling thereupon a strong admiration for them, concluded a truce with the Athenians, whereby the soldiers were allowed to depart in peace. At this point, the accounts of Thucydides and Diodorus seem to diverge rather: according to Diodorus, the Athenians returned via Libya and Cyrene to their homeland in safety, while, according to Thucydides, most of them perished. According to Ctesias (FGrH 688 F 14 § 38), then, Megabyzus took Inarus and the Greek soldiers to Artaxerxes on condition that they should suffer no harm from the King and that the Greeks should be allowed to return home whenever they pleased. At any rate, it must be remembered that the survivors of the siege of Prosopitis probably reached Athens, after a long march across the Libyan desert to Cyrene, only a year later, around 453/2 BC. Thus, the chronological gap Nesselrath supposes between the Athenian defeat in Egypt and the beginning of the Crates’ career (around 450 BC) must to be widely reduced. Moreover, according Thucydides 1.112.3, at the time of the campaign in Cyprus sixty ships were sent to Egypt again, as reinforcements to Amyrtaeus, who was continuing the resistance against the Persians in the northern part of the Delta after the capture of Inaros. Thus, around 450 BC, the Athenians soldiers were still familiar with Egyptian landscapes.

  3. With regard to the reasons why Crates put an Athenian crash on stage, the attack against Pericles and the Athenian imperialism could be a sufficient one for alluding to these dramatic events (see Philologia Antiqua 5, 2012, p. 46): it might have been the intention of the poet to blame the decision of accepting Inaros’ request for assistance in order to support the Egyptians during the rebellion against Persia and of beginning a military expedition in a far land. I am aware of what happened to Phrynicus when he put the dramatic events of Miletus on stage (see Sfingi e Sirene, p. 6): however, it should be remembered that during the conquest of Myletus unarmed women and children were reduced in slavery by the Persians, while at Prosopitis the bloody fight involved only soldiers and most of the survivors were perhaps allowed to leave the besieged Prosopitis and return home safely; moreover, Aeschylus himself seems to have referred to the Athenian expedition in Egypt without fear of offending the sensibility of his fellow citizens (see Philologia Antiqua 5, 2012, p. 46 note 2; E. Luppino, L’intervento ateniese in Egitto nelle tragedie eschilee, Aegyptus 47, 1967, 196-212).

    Contrary to what Nesselrath claims, a place called Δουλόπολις was located in Egypt by Olympianus of Byzantium (or perhaps Ulpianus of Emesa?), FGrH 676 F 3, apud Steph. Byz., s.v. Δούλων πόλις p. 237.5 Meineke (= δ 117 Billerbeck). I cited this source in the commentary to Cratinus fr. 5 (= 223 PCG), but by a mere slip at the ending of line 8 of p. 81 I transcribed erroneously some words of the text.

    The beginning of the fragment a of ‘Papyrus Cumont’ is seriously damaged. I do not see a convincing alternative for restoring the text. With regard to the φώσων, a reference to this Egyptian garment is attested without any doubt in Cratinus, fr. 8 (=269 PCG), v. 1. Concerning the presence of some parody of religious practices beneath the lines 49f. of the same fragment, Nesselrath observes that this hypothesis of mine is too much hazardous: however, a comparison between the lines above mentioned and Aristophanes Av. 716 might take us in this direction. The parody of the Egyptian cult towards the sacred animals will be attested very well in some fragments of Attic Middle Comedy (e.g. Antiphanes fr. 145 PCG, Timocles fr. 1 PCG, Anaxandrides fr. 40 PCG: see A. Sofia, La religione egizia nei frammenti dell’archaia e della mese, Aegyptus 85, 2005, 297-324, at 311ff.).

    With regard to the radishes in Cratinus fr. 9 (350 PCG), I believe that a more plausible fate for them was that of being put in a pot, without having any possibility of thinking something, as it happens also to the ράφανοι both in Alcaeus Com. fr. 24 PCG and in Crates fr. 19 PCG, v. 1.

    Anna SOFIA, PhD