R. GARLAND, Surviving Greek Tragedy. London: Duckworth, 2004. Pp.† 224. ISBN 0-7156-3123-3. STG £16.99 (Pb).
Review by Isabelle Torrance
University of Nottingham
This book is both timely and extremely valuable. Although the title might lead one to believe that it deals primarily with the reception of Greek tragedy (further suggested by the cover illustration of a scene from Peter Hall?s 1981 production of the Oresteia), it quickly becomes clear that the main focus of the book will be the physical survival of the text through the process of transmission, although as Garland notes, ?the two phenomena cannot be fully disentangled? (p. viii). After a general introduction, the book is divided into seven main chapters, followed by some conclusions, a chronology, a glossary, six appendices (all of which contain a wide range of useful information), notes, a comprehensive bibliography, an index locorum and a general index. It also boasts 58 plates, all black-and-white, but of good quality. Of the main chapters, only the last deals primarily with reception, though some engagement with reception is interspersed throughout the preceding chapters.
With an enviable mastery that one has come to expect from such an accomplished scholar, Garland steers us through two and a half millennia of textual transmission, always careful to contextualize, and demonstrates a critical awareness of the huge range of issues affecting transmission. The greatest value of this work is that it synthesizes (for the first time) a wealth of information in clear and accessible form, and not only will it be of interest to the general public, but of use also to scholars and students alike. While the† non-specialist will find it easy to follow, Garland often delves into issues of transmission in such detail that even the specialist will learn something new.
Each of the main chapters is divided into several (sometimes many) subsections. This makes the book very easy to read, but can occasionally lead to unnecessary repetition (within a couple of pages) for the seriatim reader. For example much of what is said on p. 77 with reference to the Byzantine triads and the Emperor Justinian?s edict banning the teaching of philosophy and law is repeated on p. 79; cf. also p. 80 and p. 82 which both mention the renewed interest in Greek tragedy in the 9th century. It would also have been helpful to have the subsections listed in the Table of Contents, though their omission was no doubt an editorial decision. The first chapter (?Readers and Actor?) deals with the difficult issue of† accessibility to texts in the fifth and fourth centuries BC, and with the peculiar discourse between fifth and fourth century tragedy, and the development of acting as a profession. Chapter two (?Librarians and Kings?) discusses the survival of tragedy under the cultural patronage of the Hellenistic era, and the creation of the famous library at Alexandria, where textual criticism of tragedy was born, always taking into account (here and elsewhere) the actual materials used in transmission, in this case papyri. The third chapter (?Teachers and Churchmen?) addresses tragedy in Rome, the new genre of pantomime, and the effects of Christianity on classical literature. The strange ambiguity with which Christians treated tragedy is well remarked upon by Garland, who explains that while Christians were generally hostile to the theatre, they also used excepts from tragedies relating to divine will for their own purposes. Chapter four (?Barbarians and Scribes?) traces the fate of tragedy through the ?dark ages? between AD500-800, and its resurgence in the 9th-12th centuries through Byzantine education and scholarship, to the manuscripts of the humanists in the 15th Century. The fifth chapter (?Refugees and Publishers?) discusses productions and transmissions of tragedy in the Renaissance, while chapter six (?Philologists and Translators?) explains the textual tradition of the 18th and 19th centuries, and the growing popularity of translations and performances from the 18th Century to the 21st. The final chapter (?Producers and Playgoers?) gives an impressive overview of influential productions and shows how Greek tragedy has been used for political purposes in different forms (though the statement on p.181 that Mnouchkine?s tetralogy ?preserves the structure of the Athenian original, but with the ?satyr? play preceding the tragic trilogy?, is somewhat misleading for the non-specialist- Iphigeneia at Aulis is not a ?satyr? play).
The greatest strength of this book is its clarity, and I do not think this would have been affected by inserting references to the endnotes in the body of the text. As it is, one either has to take it upon oneself to check the notes while reading, in case they relate to the section in question, or one has to read the notes separately and after the fact. Neither of these is satisfactory, and the editorial decision is a shame, since the notes are comprehensive and of much use. There are a small number of typographical errors, but they do not cause any serious problems. On p. 40 insert ?have? between ?may? and ?been? in the first sentence of ?The Library at Alexandria?; on p. 45, five lines from the bottom, read ?identify? for ?identity?; on p. 175, Fig. 43, read ?Menelaus? for ?Agamemnon? (cf. p. 177); on p. 179 delete ?Russia? which appears twice in the list.
This book is timely in that it seeks to answer the question- why is Greek tragedy important ? The question, which others have also addressed, is answered in a way which is accessible to the general public, and this is crucial for the future survival of Greek tragedy. Although this reviewer found Garland?s opening remark (p. xv), which wondered how we would have faced up to contemporary horrors without Greek tragedy, over-sentimental (or to use his own word ?fatuous?), his book is ultimately successful in making clear how Greek tragedy has been important in multiple contexts over the centuries, from being used as a tool for teaching language and rhetoric to being exploited for making political statements.