Monday, November 5, 2018


C. T. Hadavas, Cebes' Tablet + Prodicus' "Choice of Heracles": An Intermediate Ancient Greek Reader. Beloit, WI: C. T. Hadavas, 2018. Pp. xvi, 208. ISBN 9781985703780. $15.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Thomas M. Banchich, Canisius College, Buffalo, NY (

Version at BMCR home site


Constantine Hadavas' book merits the attention of teachers and students of Greek. The two texts it contains—Cebes' Tablet (hereafter Tablet), by an unknown author and today typically dated to the 1st c. CE, and what Xenophon at Memorabilia 2.1.21–34 presents as a display speech by the 5th-century BCE sophist Prodicus on "The Choice of Heracles" (hereafter "Choice")—were often read for moral instruction and, especially in the case of the Tablet, from the publication of its earliest printed editions, to facilitate the teaching and study of Greek. So the foundational document of Jesuit education, the Ratio studiorum of 1599, gives instructors of intermediate grammar an option of having their charges read either the "graecus Catechismus [George Mayer's translation of the Latin catechism of Peter Canisius] , aut Cebitis tabula." Translations of the Tablet and of the "Choice" into a variety of languages—in the case of the former, including Arabic—extended the influence of both far outside the circle of those teaching and studying Greek. Given this, it should comes as no surprise that the study of the reception of both texts sometimes yields odd results, from the language of locker-room exhortations to modern board games, the "Mansion of Happiness" board game for children and its successors being but one example.

It is fair to say, though, that today few have read the Tablet itself. It recounts through the voice of one of a group of visitors to a temple of Cronos the party's puzzlement about the meaning of a painting on a pinax dedicated in the precinct. An elderly man offers to explain the painting. His exegesis, followed by his Plato-like elenchus of the original questioner, and a closing summary in the voice of the exegete comprise the bulk of the text. The picture is, in reality, a veiled depiction of every young man's journey through life—the text seems clearly to assume a readership of young males—in process of which topographic challenges and the attractions of vices and virtues allegorically presented in human and nearly always in female form combined with the free will of the traveller result in dead ends, disasters, delays, or, for some, the attainment of true Paideia. Because of its portrayal of Socrates, Xenophon's Memorabilia is currently far better known than is the Tablet. Still, apart from scholars interested in Prodicus, few have focused on the "Choice." Therein, the young Heracles, at a loss about which of two divergent paths he should follow, encounters two women—one Vice (Kakia), the other Virtue (Aretê)—each of whom attempts to persuade him to take her course by describing what he will experience along the way and what awaits him at journey's end. Xenophon's Prodicus leaves unsaid which path Heracles selected.

Hadavas prefaces the Tablet and the "Choice" with thoughtful introductions, each geared to students and teachers rather than to scholars. He includes also eight sometimes idiosyncratic appendices. Appendix A offers the Greek texts of Hesiod's Works and Days 286–292 and Simonides' fr. 37 Diehl. To this pair Hadavas supplies a brief introduction and to each a vocabulary and commentary. Appendix B consists of Havadas' introduction to and a reprint of Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie's 1910 translation of the Tablet, complete with the original publication's strange mix of mystical and Art Noveau inspired decoration. Appendices C and D present two images inspired by the Tablet from Jacob Matham and Hendrick Goltzius' 1592 Tabula Cebetis. Appendix E offers for the purpose of comparison with Xenophon's description of the clothing of Kakia (Vice) at Memorabilia 2.1.22 images of relief sculptures of the so-called "Three Goddesses" from the east pediment of the Parthenon and of Nike adjusting her sandal from the Temple of Athena Nike. Albrecht Dürer's engraving Der Hercules, which in important ways cuts against the grain of Prodicus' and Xenophon's allegorical figures, and Pompeo Girolamo Batoni's interesting painting "Ercole al Bivio" comprise Appendices F and G respectively. Appendix H is an interesting example of 18th-century English verse inspired by Xenophon, William Dunkin's "The Judgment of Hercules." Hadavas complements the images or texts of each appendix with brief, thoughtful, and suggestive comments. Neither instructors nor students should dismiss these appendices as extraneous to the reading and understanding of the Tablet and the "Choice."

Karl Praechter's Teubner Cebetis tabula of 1893 at The Internet Archive and the 1929 second edition of Edgar Marchant's OCT of Xenophon (Omnia Opera, Vol. II) for the "Choice" provide Hadavas' texts. To Praechter's and Marchant's chapter numbers, Hadavas adds his own line numbers and gears his commentary to these. To Praechter's text, he adds the names of the speaker of the passage in question. Although he does not include apparatus critici for either text, he notes deviations from his models on pp. 9 and 86 and in his text regularly reproduces sigla as they appear in Praechter and Marchant. Hadavas' Greek text is large and sharp. Students will have no difficulty making out breathing marks and accents. Because the thirty-four pages of Praechter's Teubner equal 571 lines of Greek, many of no more than a few words, and Marchant's four OCT pages of the "Choice" only ninety lines in Hadavas' text, the length of the Tablet and of the "Choice" minimizes the risk for students of their reading becoming a slog.

Beneath each Greek passage is an alphabetically arranged vocabulary, followed by commentary. The former omits forms of εἰμί along with the most common conjunctions, adverbs, and particles and includes all other words through their first five appearances. For verbs, the vocabularies typically list only first principal parts, and for nouns of the first and second declensions, nominative singulars and the appropriate definite articles. A glossary of all words occurring more than five times (pp. 199–204) supplements the vocabularies for individual passages. Of course, this means that students will sometimes need to consult a lexicon or, in the case of the Tablet, the vocabulary at pp. 75–87 of Richard Parsons' student text. For the "Choice," there is Perseus. Hadavas' commentary, mostly grammatical and syntactical (with references to Smyth's Greek Grammar), regularly supplies the necessary information about forms as they appear in the texts themselves and sometimes deals also with literary features, people, places, and things. In addition, Hadavas furnishes basic bibliographies of editions and scholarship suitable for his targeted readership, together with listings of works and terms cited by abbreviation in his commentary.

Compared with other student editions of the Tablet (for which see Hadavas, p. xv), Hadavas' is, for various reasons, consistently superior. Hadavas prints the entire texts, includes more and better ancillary material, and presents running vocabulary and commentary on each page of Greek. The book is well produced. The binding is sturdy. The price is far more than reasonable. Note that, though a PDF of Geoffrey Steadman's Cebes' Tablet is available for no cost here, its placement of passages and commentary on alternate pages necessitates constant scrolling up and down. Apart from the relevant portion of Josiah Smith's commentary in his 1903 student edition of the Memorabilia (linked to the Perseus Memorabilia) there seems to be nothing comparable to Hadavas' "Choice."

A few fairly minor points perhaps deserve mention. Hadavas explains (p. xiii) that in his Greek text brackets ([ ]) enclose material "inserted by various scholars to complete the sense of the readings in various manuscripts of Cebes' Tablet." In fact, Praechter uses [ ] to mark his own proposed deletions or deletions proposed by earlier editors. He uses < > (not in Hadavas' list of abbreviations on pp. xiii–xiv, though it appears several times in his text) to mark his own proposed corrections or additions or those of other editors that he has accepted. Since Marchant's OCT of Xenophon employs [ ] and < > in the same way as Praechter, Hadavas' comment on Memorabilia 2.1.30 at p. 86 might confuse. Instructors may also wish to explain †διέσῃ on the same page. Hadavas' change (p. 9 on p. 26 line 7) of Praechter's ἔστι to ἐστί after a colon may be warranted, though this depends on how one takes the force of the colon. On the same page, the reference to p. 67 line 5 should be to line p. 67 line 7. Finally, p. 91.5 (Memorabilia 2.1.23) misses Marchant's brackets around ἐπί.

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