Review Article: Old Comedy

Keith Sidwell

University College

IAN. C. STOREY, Eupolis: Poet of Old Comedy. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2003. ISBN 0-19-925992-5. Pp. xii + 441. STG £79 (Hb).

Eupolis, whose dramatic career began in 429BC and may have ended in 411, was renowned in antiquity: Horace counted him among the big three Old Comic poets along with Cratinus and Aristophanes, and Macrobius said ?Everyone knows Eupolis?.[1] But he is not well known today. The main reason for this is that his works survive only in fragmentary form 489 snippets in all (plus a handful of spuria), the longest only 34 lines long, from (possibly) 17 plays. Measure this against the survival of around a quarter of the output of his exact contemporary, Aristophanes, 11 plays covering the period from 425 to the 380s, and it is possible to judge the scale of our loss and of the inherent bias towards identifying Old Comedy the genre both poets used with the works of the survivor.

A subordinate reason for Eupolis? relative obscurity in modern times is the fact that until now there has been no comprehensive study of his remains, many of which have been recovered relatively recently from the sands of Egypt (including several chunks of commentaries on individual plays). Now Ian Storey has put that right with a monograph that presents a detailed and wide-ranging look at all aspects of the poet?s oeuvre, and the major problems that it presents. I welcome his book unreservedly. Its appearance makes Eupolis more available for a discussion which is crucial to the understanding of the phenomenon of satirical comedy in the 5th century and in particular to the proper investigation of the interrelation between the various competing comic poets of this period. Of this latter, more anon.

After a brief introduction, Storey (henceforth S.) presents a translation of the fragments. The slightly frustrating thing here is that, although he gives his own variants in brief notes on obscurities, he does not print the Greek text he is adopting. It may be argued that anyone who wishes to can see these in the Poetae Comici Graeci of Kassel-Austin.[2] But it would not have added many pages to an already fat book to have provided S.?s own text (or K-A where he accepts it) and it might have obviated the need to print many of them in the body of the book. Still, this is only a minor gripe (at least from one who has PCG on his shelf !).

After the translation, S. turns to the main menu, dealing in Chapter 1 with Eupolis? reputation in antiquity, in Chapter 2 with the vexed questions of his dates and career, including consideration of the number and titles of his plays. The bulk of the volume, however, the extended Chapter 3 (over 200 pages), is given over to a detailed consideration of each of the plays, in alphabetical order (by Greek title) from Aiges (?Goats? or ?Nanny-Goats?) to Chrysoun Genos (?Golden Race?). There follow two more general chapters, which deal in turn with (Chapter 4) the vexed question of the relationship between the comic poets (e.g. did Aristophanes and Eupolis collaborate to write Knights?) and (Chapter 5) what we can say about the structure of Eupolis? plays, the topics he covered, and his political attitude.  There are five appendices, dealing with (I) the evidence for Eupolis? death and burial, (II) the location of unassigned fragments, (III) the named satirical targets, (IV) the Eupolidean metre, (V) the meaning of the plural of demos in the 5th century. A full bibliography, an Index Locorum, and a General Index complete the package.

There are many points of detail which I might wish to pick up and dispute with the author. However, it is more important here to give a general impression of the book?s approach and methodology. If I say that it is broadly speaking philological and traditional, this will immediately commend it to many in contrast with the ?fantastic interpretation? offered of Old Comedy by other recent writers.[3] Though I value strict philology, I do not use the term ?traditional? as a positive term. S. makes many valid points using the evidence at our disposal, but he is over reliant upon such matters as the use of komodoumenoi in dating plays (the chronological spread of reference in Aristophanes should always give us pause here).[4] Moreover, though S. does utilise as much of the external evidence as possible in attempting to reconstruct the outlines of the plots of lost plays (for example, Aelius Aristides, Aphthonius and Plutarch in his discussion of Demoi),[5] he is reliant for the most part upon direct reading of and extrapolation from the remaining fragments, often adducing Aristophanic parallels as a framework for discussion.[6] He assumes, too, that, despite the quite clear focus of many of Eupolis? plays upon actual individuals (e.g. Hyperbolus in Marikas, Kallias in Kolakes), such satirical targeting is not absolutely central to the genre, because it is not (we currently assume) in Aristophanes. In other words, by and large, although S. does listen carefully to uncomfortable noises from dissident research, he formulates his view of Eupolis through the spectacles of the established underlying theory of Aristophanic comedy.

I will, nonetheless, pick up two specific details of S.s treatment, which will lead me on to tackle this more serious, overarching issue about methodology and paradigm on which S. (Chapter 4, pp. 297-300) offers a refutation of positions taken by myself in papers published between 1993 and 2000, and which I would like to respond to briefly.

First, I am not entirely convinced by his treatment of the evidence for Eupolis? death and burial (pp. 56-60 and Appendix I). S. inclines to accept the story in Suda that Eupolis died at sea in the Hellespont,[7] and hypothesises that he was fighting for Athens at the battle of Kynos Sema, identifying him with the Eupolis mentioned in the casualty list IG i3.1190.52 of c. 411. However, he does not pay enough attention to the evidence of Pausanias, who records a ?grave of Eupolis the Athenian comic poet? at Sikyon.[8] In recent years Pausanias? veracity has been very much upgraded by archaeologists and it seems highly unlikely that he did not see such a monument.[9] If we are to dismiss the evidence even so, we need to find a good reason why the Sikyonians would have bothered to invent a connection which would have at some point justified the need or desirability of claiming the tomb. It seems more likely to me that Eupolis was buried at Sikyon and if this is true, it has some important consequences, because (as can be seen by a quick trawl through references to this city in Thucydides) it was on the opposite side to Athens throughout the war (for this period, see 8.4). If Eupolis was drowned at sea, then, as S. wishes to believe, his body was retrieved and taken not to Athens, but to the unfriendly Sikyon. Why? Certainly, if he was buried away from Athens in a city unfriendly to her, and he disappears from the comic didaskalic record around this time (as seems to be the case: see S. p. 59 ?no allusion in Eupolis demands a date after 410?) there ought to be at least a suspicion that he was involved in the oligarchic revolution on the oligarchic side. This suspicion would throw into complete confusion the current belief that it is impossible to locate the political sympathies of any Athenian poet (beyond the general belief that Aristophanes was a sort of Kimonian conservative[10]). If Eupolis was engaged in real politics, the whole paradigm of the relationship between comic poets/poetry and political life requires a complete overhaul. And in his case specifically, the proximity of his Demes to 411 (not on S.?s dating 417- but on the traditional one, 412), with its apparent theme of new laws given by long-dead but resuscitated leaders, and the suspicion of a strong move to the ?right? might lead to a revival of a political interpretation (which S. discards).

Secondly, I want to examine  a detail in S.?s treatment of the career of Aristophanes (pp. 279-81), in which he discusses the theory of Halliwell and Mastromarco that Aristophanes at Wasps 1015-20 is having his chorus speak of a period in which he collaborated (secretly) with other poets (of whom Eupolis might have been one), before having plays of his own put on, and finally taking charge himself of production. The chorus? description of this ?secret? period involves the use of an analogy with the way that an entity called Eurycles operated, that is, by entering the belly of another and using that person?s voice to promulgate what were in fact Eurcyles? own words. In accepting Sommerstein?s description (based on evidence in Plutarch) of Eurycles as ?a spirit ?controlling? another poet and making him utter words which are really Ar[istophanes?] own?, S. by-passes, as others have, an important piece of evidence in Plato about the nature of this being (Sophist 252c). For Plato also uses Eurycles as an analogy, but in a discussion of self-contradiction. People who deny predication must use predicates in their arguments and so risk being refuted out of their own mouths: ?They go about always with an enemy inside their house speaking surreptitiously to oppose them, as though they were carrying the amazing Eurycles around with them.? I pointed out the consequences of this for the Wasps passage more than ten years ago,[11] and it is absolutely vital: if the poet whose actions are represented by the Wasps chorus here acted like Eurycles, then his intention in entering the bellies of other poets was not collaboration with but satire of those poets. In fact, I have yet to see in print a refutation of this interpretation or an attempt to incorporate it into traditional readings of the Wasps parabasis.

The point may seem merely pedantic. Let me explain why it is crucial. The debate about the meaning of this and other comic passages which refer to some sort of collaboration relies on the acceptance of a practice of interpretation of comic texts as though they were somehow transparent and will yield their humorous secrets by close reading (as will, on this theory, the plays as a whole). However, if Eurycles in this passage provides a model for ventriloquial satire (i.e. presenting a play in the voice of another poet whose purpose is to make fun of that individual and his comic practices), then we are in danger of facing a situation in which comic texts may be thoroughgoingly ventriloquial and will not, therefore, yield their meaning to close textual scrutiny since that text will be built upon an invisible (to us, but not to the original audience) structure of parodic appropriation. In words of one syllable, the Wasps passage might alert us to the possibility of a comic poet?s having written a play as though it were by another poet in order to attack that poet.

I move on to the central issue dividing S. and myself, which rests, no doubt on my inability to see (and other scholars? refusal to explain in simple words which I might understand) why this interpretation of the Eurycles image, resting as it does upon both the ancient pieces of evidence (Plutarch?s and Plato?s, not just Plutarch?s, which is in any case much later) is wrong. That is the issue of ?paracomedy?, the practice of satirising other comic poets, particularly by the Euryclean method of pretending that your play is by another poet. I developed this theory in response to a number of long-standing problems caused by the Aristophanic corpus when it was interrogated in terms of its function within the Athenian polis, but in particular to the question of what, if any, is its relationship with actual political life. As I will articulate the matter in my forthcoming study of the Peloponnesian War plays of Aristophanes, the Eurycles method does in fact allow us to penetrate the apparent self-contradictions which lead to diametrically opposed and also to non-committal answers given by scholars to this vital problem. For if, in fact, as may be shown by consideration of the circumstances of Eupolis? burial, poets were not simply independent satirical agents, employed by the polis when the archon was tickled by their plays, but under pressure from and therefore often allied with and supporting the interests of, specific political groupings within the polis (a more realistic scenario within a small community compare the way your University operates!), it follows that poets themselves would be excellent targets especially in wartime for the satirical treatment both of themselves and of their dramatic opus.

S.?s method, however, disallows him from doing anything but assert the invalidity of my approach. Like other scholars who work on Old Comedy, he assumes that to a very large extent what you see is what you get. If that is confusing and self-contradictory, then too bad: comedy is like that. However, comedy as a cultural phenomenon is accessible to a quite different approach, one in which its function is contextualised within the parameters of the cognitive apparatus established for and by the people who attended its performance. Scholars have tended to avoid the difficult task of attempting to reconstruct these parameters, this cognitive space, because the practice has been to assume that the plays are our direct evidence and must be allowed to speak first and loudest. Consequently, no one has bothered to ask of the external evidence about comedy from the period whether the confused and self-contradictory messages which emerge from our reading concur with what contemporaries or those who could speak to contemporaries thought. My examination of this material leads to me suggest that the expectation of a contemporary audience would have been that these plays would be primarily satirical, primarily focused on the caricature of individuals (whether named or, like Paphlagon/Kleon in Knights, or Marikas/Hyperbolus in Eupolis? Marikas, in disguise), with the plot (the greatest focus of our attention) being only a means of dramatising the inherent invective intention (I borrow quite deliberately from Aristotle?s description of comedy?s development he knew what he was talking about, but has been misunderstood because of the methodology we have adopted).[12] When we put together this insight with the Eurycles method and the suggestion that comic poets were not politically neutral or unattached in the real world of the polis, we can begin to see the outlines of an entirely different paradigm for the reading of our surviving texts. In time of war, when direct satire was problematic (witness the decree banning comic satire during the Samian War, 440-437),[13] it would have been natural for the poets to find a more indirect way of conveying their attacks, without falling victim to the accusation of attacking the city itself. My proposal leads directly to support of Ewen Bowie?s 1988 insight that the comic poet behind the ?Dikaiopolis? of Acharnians was meant to be Eupolis (and not Aristophanes).[14] The problem for S. and other scholars who follow conventional philological methodology is, to put it simply, that ?you can?t get there from here?. In other words, approaching the text from a philologist?s angle and applying proofs based on investigations and ?findings? from that method will never allow the proper investigation of Bowie?s hypothesis (witness Parker?s 1991 ?refutation?[15]). This is characteristic of the problems faced by a ?paradigm shift? (to use a Kuhnian term), where two systems are occupying the same space but cannot be examined in terms of each other (an analogy might be ?Darwinism? and ?Creationism?). The task is not easy, but the clues are there and (as I hope to show shortly in my forthcoming monograph) it is possible to construct readings of the Aristophanic corpus which both make sense of the evidence for poetic rivalry and of the political engagement of the comic poets with each other and their polis.[16]

I will sum up. S. has produced a major book which needs to be in every University collection, as well as in the personal collection of anyone interested in Aristophanes. His detailed treatment of the material will require careful consideration by every future scholar who has to deal with Eupolis, whether on a narrow or on a broad front. And there are many individual findings with which I find myself fully in tune. However, I remain unconvinced that the paradigm within which S. studies Eupolis is the correct one. If my view, developed from Ewen Bowie?s, is correct, then we are likely to be able to learn quite as much and perhaps much more about Eupolis from the parodies of his themes and style produced by his contemporary and fiercely antagonistic rival Aristophanes. Watch this space.

[1] Horace, Satires 1.4.1; Macrobius, Saturnalia 7.5.8.

[2] R. Kassel and C. Austin, Poetae Comici Graeci (Berlin, 1983-). The fragments of Eupolis are to be found in volume v.

[3] S.?s term (299) for work by myself (see below n. 11) and M. Vickers, especially Pericles on Stage (Austin, 1997).

[4] E.g. 217, where he writes ?on balance the komodoumenoi in Poleis are a bit late for a date of 426?. His subsequent argument, however, that ?the theme of allies and ?cities? in Peace?works well if Poleis was produced the year before? has much more force and may, with other considerations, eventually persuade me to agree with his dating of this play to Dionysia 422!

[5] S. 114-6.

[6] E.g. 258, where he uses Aristophanic scenes to ?refute? E.L. Bowie?s thesis that Taxiarchoi was an ?anti-war? play.

[7] e 3657: ?He died in a shipwreck in the Hellespont during the Peloponnesian War?? (tr. S.).

[8] 2.7.3: ?After the memorial of Lykos, once you have crossed the Asopos, there is the Olympion on the right, and a little before that on the left side of the road is a grave of Eupolis the Athenian, writer of comedy? (tr. S.).

[9] See, for example, Christian Habicht, Pausanias? Guide to Ancient Greece, (Berkeley, 1985; new edition 1998), 3-4, ?Comparison of Pausanias? narrative and the fragments of earlier periegetic literature, added to the evidence of excavations in numerous places, has proven conclusively that Pausanias, as he claims, wrote from personal observation?.

[10] See G.E. M. de Ste. Croix, The Origins of the Peloponnesian War (London, 1972), Appendix xxix.

[11] Keith Sidwell, ?Aristophanes? Acharnians and Eupolis?, Classica &Medievalia  45 (1994), 93.

[12] Aristotle, Poetics 1448b-1449a5. Note especially the implication underlying the phrase ?not dramatizing invective, but the laughable?. See my discussion in ?From Old to Middle to New ? Aristotle?s Poetics and the History of Athenian Comedy? in F.D. Harvey and J. Wilkins (eds.) The Rivals of Aristophanes: Studies in Athenian Old Comedy (London, 2000), 247-58

[13] The decree of Morychides, evidenced at SAcharnians 67.

[14] E.L. Bowie, ?Who is Dicaeopolis??, Journal of Hellenic Studies 108 (1988), 183-5.

[15] L.P.E. Parker, ?Dicaeopolis or Eupolis??, Journal of Hellenic Studies 111 (1991), 203-8.

[16] A curious aspect of S.?s response to my work (300, n. 26) is that he attacks me for a practice he also adopts: ?Too often a conclusion ?might? follow from the comic text, or an allusion to a previous work ?might? be present.? However, note that the language of S. when dealing with the fragments of Eupolis is, quite rightly, equally full of uncertainty and conjecture. See e.g. 191-2 on Kolakes: ?it would fit ... and could well belong to this comedy. It would be ... The kolakes are very likely ... but this is not absolutely certain. The context could be ... The kolakes of these fragments seem ...? (italics mine, except for the word kolakes).

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