R. FERRI (ed.) Octavia: A Play Attributed to Seneca. Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries 41. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2003. Pp. x + 471. ISBN 0-521-82326-9. STG £70 (Hb).
Review by Arthur Keaveney
University of Kent
The essential information about the fabula praetexta can be found easily in a standard work such as W. Beare?s Roman Stage (1963). It was a type of play in which the Romans depicted episodes from their legendary or historical past. There survive only a few fragments and titles from the republican period. The one complete specimen we have is the Octavia and it is of imperial date. Recently the fabula praetexta has been attracting some attention. At the end of the last century T.P. Wiseman argued that our knowledge of the genre may be increased since he holds that the lineaments of plays hitherto lost and undetected may be detected in extant authors such as Plutarch. In Klio 85 (2003) I pointed out the shortcomings, nay absurdities, of this theory. An altogether more important contribution is G. Manuwald?s Fabulae Praetextae (2001). This book length study is marked throughout by care, sobriety and sensitivity. The same characteristics are hallmarks of this edition of the Octavia which Ferri has based on a fresh examination of the manuscripts. In his preface he concerns himself, broadly speaking, with three issues. Naturally the historical background is one. The Octavia deals with the unfortunate fate of Nero?s wife whom the emperor got rid of in order to marry another and Ferri thoroughly examines the relevant sources. Next comes the question of authorship. Rejecting, as might be expected, the authorship once attributed to Seneca the editor argues for an unknown writer in the late Flavian period. Finally, we are provided with a discussion of style, metrics and dramatic technique. Those familiar with the series in which it is published will not be surprised to learn it is not an edition for the beginner or for the fainthearted. Argumentation, both in the introduction and the ample commentary, is often detailed and dense with no translation of either Latin or Greek. Nor is there any translation of the play itself. However, for anybody with a serious interest in the subject the learning on display here will make Ferri?s work indispensible.