Monday, February 5, 2018


Antonio Martina, Menandrea: elementi di struttura della commedia di Menandro (3 vols.). Quaderni della 'Rivista di cultura classica e medioevale,' 13.1–3. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2016. Pp. 332; 372; 515. ISBN Vol. 1, 9788862278652; Vol. 2, 97888622786786; Vol. 3, 9788862278690. €68.00; €76.00 ; €105.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Ben Cartlidge, University of Liverpool (

Version at BMCR home site

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Menander scholarship already owes to the pen of Antonio Martina a number of important articles on Menander, and a colossal commentary on the Epitrepontes.1 The contribution under review is another mammoth compendium of learning. It is not, let readers note, a collected papers, though one chapter, 'L'arbitrato negli Epitrepontes di Menandro', 1.74–94, is reprinted from AION 7–8, 1985/6; it can be fruitfully compared to the material in 3.73–88, on tragic elements of the arbitration scene.2 Newcomers to the field will wish to plunder its extensive resources for key concerns of Menander scholarship; notwithstanding the need to supplement these volumes with further bibliography, readers will find a range of stimulating ideas, which might be particularly useful for graduate students studying Menander. The scale of the book, over 1,200 large pages in rather small print, means that this review remains rather general: readers will have their own detailed disputes with Martina's exposition of the vast number of passages discussed in the book (I found my own disagreements with Martina's account of the Dyskolos extremely stimulating). The book is less effective as a sustained discussion than as a series of individual, remarkably self-contained studies, and its value will be greatest for those interested in a particular problem, rather than those needing a monographic treatment of Menander. Any scholar of ancient comedy (of all flavours, see below) should consult the table of contents to discover how s/he may profit from the book; those who embark on cover-to-cover reading will find their patience a little strained.

The first volume has two papers on ethical issues, five on aspects of Epitrepontes supplementing Martina's commentary, and four on Menander's posthumous reception (in Terence, in fragments, and on papyrus). The second volume deals with prologues, monologues and the chorus, topics which Martina links—sensibly (see 2.39–41, 211–2, 336–61) but not always coherently (see below).3 The third and largest is a volume of two halves, on Menander's use of tragedy (3.11–266) and gnomai (3.267–504) respectively (though even here there are interesting links that could have been explored in more detail, see 3.287, and indeed 2.223–6). No volume is furnished with an index, which is frustrating; at least a list of passages discussed would have made the books significantly more navigable (particularly the more discursive volumes 1 and 2). The lack of an index will be particularly regretted by those primarily interested in Old and Roman Comedy: both are deeply integrated into Martina's discussion in a manner unusual in current scholarship; the book is much the richer for it, and this manner of talking about comedy should be widely imitated.

All three volumes assemble huge quantities of material. Indeed, parts of the book seem intended as a personal reference guide, and will be useful for other readers—I doubt I am the only one who will find my notes partially replicated in the pages of these books. Useful lists include the catalogue of papyrus testimonia and ancient quotations (1.283–323); the selection of ancient definitions of πρόλογος (2.203–8), marred only by Martina's indecision between 'F' and 'T' to indicate a reference to these lemmata; the catalogue of addresses to the audience in Terence (2.45); the presentation of crossover between Lucian's Timon and Knemon (2.68); dramatic texts in papyrus anthologies (2.343); arbitration in Roman comedy (3.73); the study of tragic references in the fragments and of gnomai are essentially annotated lists, and will be essential reading for anyone composing a commentary on Menander (3.201–66, 291–342, 426– 504). It is plain, and perhaps unsurprising, that Martina writes with the commentator in mind.

There are some drawbacks to this encyclopaedic approach. On occasion, Martina is content to list possible solutions without weighing them to reach a conclusion. For textual discussions this is a welcome reminder about the uncertainties of Menander's text (e.g. 2.93–101 on Sik.1–19: some suggestions here were new to me); elsewhere, one misses a position. He asserts, for example, that the identity of the prologue deity is important for the interpretation of the plays (2.50, cf. also 99); however, it is hard to tie him down on the reason for Pan's appearance in Dyskolos (an interpretative crux), beyond the full documentation of the opinions of others (2.62, 83–87). Martina does not make up his mind on the crux of the identity of the chorus (Πανιστάς or παιανιστάς, Dysk. 230?), or on the right restoration of Dysk.48 (discussed at length 2.76). The approach sometimes leads to contradiction. The ancient definition of 'prologue' as 'everything that occurs before the chorus enters' (e.g. Arist. Poet. 12.1452b) is used by Martina as a link of the second volume as a whole, as it requires careful consideration of the chorus, the various forms of comic prologue, and the role of monologues within them; but we are told both that 'la teorizzazione aristotelica...non è adattabile alle commedie di Menandro' (2.57) and that 'è meglio, quindi, considerare come prologo tutta la parte che precede il primo intermezzo corale' (2.60). According to Martina, the indication χοροῦ is 'dal valore puramente formale' (2.40). Yet Martina's fuller discussion (e.g. 2.357–8) assumes choral performances took place (as they must have, unless χοροῦ is a semantically empty act divider).

The second problem is a certain meandering structure, often leading to repetition of material or lack of delivery of promised discussion. The first study (1.15–44), for example, is a study of τύχη and related terms in Menander, in which almost every citation is given in two places: the chapter could have been halved in length. The chapter on the fata Menandri (1.252–332) discusses the citations of Menander in ancient literature, sometimes as a catalogue rather than in prose, but surprisingly rejects discussion of the 'giudizi antichi' (i.e. ancient value judgements) at 274. The discussion of prologues, similarly, uses the same references to the secondary literature to discuss the use of personal names in prologues in two different plays (Dysk. at 2.69 and Sik. at 2.97): this makes the discussions self-contained, but is frustrating to read through in toto. The introductory material on prologues (2.13–60) could have been presented more concisely: at 2.31, e.g., Martina reveals that there is a fairly tight typology into which the extant Euripidean prologues can be fitted. This would have been preferable to a presentation which does not always document previous scholarship carefully (e.g. 2.30 on the Hippolytus). It also prevents clear comparison between (e.g.) Aristophanes and Euripides, since the two are treated entirely separately. Having said that, the integration of Aristophanes into the appreciation of Menander (e.g. 2.51–3, 109, 164, 210, 216—but contra 3.75) is extremely welcome: Menander, for Martina, is part of the history of comedy, not a mere imitator of Euripides (yet see the interesting insight 2.216 on the reason why Menander turned to Euripides rather than Aristophanes).

Cross-references might therefore have been used to greater effect (there are occasional arrows pointing to words in the text, but if they are cross-references their use is opaque to me). They would have allowed the book to become a coherent whole, bringing issues to light that do not get a monographic treatment (one such example is the influence of the Peripatos on Menander: cf. e.g. 1.15–73, 2.14–19, 72); the discussions of gnomai scattered throughout volume 2 would be better if systematically linked with volume 3. The general (though not total) absence of K.–A. in the first two volumes (though not the third) is frustrating; comic fragments are referred to by the numeration of Kock, and for Menander, Körte–Thierfelder. Aside from the inconsistency, philological problems arise from this: e.g., at 2.42, fr. 717 K.–Th. rests on too slim a textual basis to be secure evidence for a prologue, and fr. adesp. 154 Kock remains adespoton, yet both passages are cited as firm evidence for Menander's practice. K.–A.'s testimonia have been used (1.274) but the discussion is curiously separated from the account of Menander's Nachleben in the rest of the chapter.

A drawback of the work's monumentality, and the length of its genesis, is its slightly eccentric bibliography. The bibliography of the 'direct tradition' (i.e. papyrus texts) in 1.283–323 is full, but not up-to-date (the Leucadia is missing; the latest Menander edition I detect a reference to is Lamagna 1994; that the discovery of lines from the Titthe is missing is perhaps more understandable given the mystery in which this development has been shrouded since 2003). The Hydria, as reconstructed by Gaiser, seems to be accepted as genuine Menander; very few scholars have been convinced by Gaiser's theory. A similar misgiving applies to several chapters in the work, for which the bibliography is rather outdated: on tragedy I miss Cusset 2003, on hetairae Traill 2004 and Krieter–Spiro 1995; work on the sententiae Menandri by Pernigotti (e.g. 2008) and Liapis (e.g. 2002) is only fitfully used; these are not exhaustive (I consider monographs before c. 2010 to allow, generously, for the ms. to be finalised). This does not detract from the quality of the insight a reader of Menander like Martina can give us, and I mention this only because these books, for all their bulk, cannot be considered the last word. In the case of Epitrepontes Martina has been unable to integrate the new papyrus finds fully into the discussions of volume 1; this is unfortunate, as our understanding of the play has moved on from 2000, and it would have been interesting to read Martina's reflections on the play in light of the new texts. More concerning are ideas not given their proper parentage (e.g. the notion, 2.199, that the divine prologue of Misoumenos was spoken by Polemos, for which see already Turner) or carelessly reported (Sandbach 'legge' (2.113) when he only weighs the value of a—metrically impossible—conjecture). Perhaps attributable to a stage in which the book was delivered in lecture format is the occasional presence of doublets, where scholarship quoted in a foreign language is later paraphrased in Italian (English of Gomme–Sandbach at 2.178 paraphrased on 179).

The book might have been easier to use if Martina had entrusted the material to an editor who could have ironed out the problems of presentation and organisation, updated references, removed repetitions and added indices. However, the work's scale, rich detail, hard scholarship, and sensitive readings will continue to daunt and interest readers of Menander, and Martina deserves our gratitude for making his archive of reflections and insights available in this way: a monumentum aere perennius on the near side of the fields of asphodel (cf. 1.13).


C. Cusset, Ménandre ou la comédie tragique, Paris, 2003.
M. Krieter-Spiro, Sklaven, Köche und Hetären: das Dienstpersonal bei Menander, Stuttgart, 1997.
M. Lamagna, La fanciulla tosata, Rome, 1994.
V. Liapis, Mενάνδρου Γνῶμαι Μονόστιχοι, Athens, 2002.
C. Pernigotti, Menandri Sententiae, Florence, 2008.
A. E. Traill, Women and the Comic Plot in Menander, Cambridge and New York, 2008.


1.   A. Martina, Menandro: Epitrepontes, Rome 1997.
2.   The earlier work in vol. 1 concentrates on legal aspects of the scene, arguing that Davos is entitled to keep the recognition tokens, while Syros is acting with unusual moral rectitude; it points out the limits of our knowledge about the social and economic realities that underlie the arbitration scene. Many of the problems this paper introduces are in fact answered by the considerations of the scene's literary antecedents in vol. 3, the comic value of the slaves taking the role of tragic speakers, rather than economic actors. It is unfortunate that the connection is not more explicitly signposted.
3.   The second volume thus comes in for most comment in this review, as it is the most coherent and discursive product.

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