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Textual Practices and Euripidean Productions

  • Gerald Fitzgerald (a1)


This paper has two principal, though interrelated, objectives: to survey issues concerning the status of the texts of Greek Tragedy, particularly with respect to specific distinctions between a play as text-based and as audience experienced, between the “eye” of the reader of a play text and the eye of the theatrical spectator; and to consider some implications of these distinctions for Euripidean drama, above all with respect to The Bacchae, since its procedures, albeit more developed or extravagant than elsewhere, may be construed as characteristic for this drama. Much of what I shall say has reference also to the other—Aeschylean, Sophoclean—texts that we have of Greek Tragedy. But it is with Euripides that the terms of the relationship of text and play are most explicit, and controversial, and, it seems to me, most dislocated. We have “read’ Euripides sometimes very wrongly because we have been reading Euripidean texts.



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1 What is to be made of Aristotle's remark, in Poetics 26.9, that tragedy's effects are conveyed as vividly (enarges) in reading (anagnosis) as in production (erga)?

2 Puzzlingly and regrettably, these are questions that also remain substantially uninvestigated. A notable exception, however, has been the work of Havelock, Eric, The literate Revolutíon ín Greece and Its Cultural Consequences (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982) and The Muse Learns to Write (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986). He argues that literacy as a form of artistic exchange and communication was really becoming properly established only at the end of the fifth century (Literate Revolution, 265–66 and The Muse, 90). Distinctions between oral and literate cultures are a major subject of Havelock's inquiries, as they are too of the excellent work of Ong, Walter, Orality and Literacy (London: Methuen, 1982). They are not, however, a specific aspect of my observations in this paper.

3 Cf. Havelock, , The Literate Revolution, 45: “But as we painstakingly peruse the Presocratic philosophers or the Greek dramatists, annotating them line by line, can we bring ourselves to believe that what we are doing is from an historical standpoint an artificial exercise imposed upon linguistic arrangements which were framed to catch the attention of the ear not the eye, and responded to the acoustic sensibilities of audiences who would listen and remember some of what they heard, but never expected to read it or judge it as a written work of literature?”

11 This is not to suggest that all divine prologues were delivered from “on high,” but that for the Hippolytus it would have been dramaturgically most appropriate. For further discussion of stage mechanics, see Barrett, W.S., ed., Euripides: Hippolytus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), 396.

12 For instance, Kitto's, strictures in Greek Tragedy (London: Methuen, 1961), 210.

13 As Hecuba's remarks at 1023ff make clear.

14 Specifically, in the case of The Bacchae, Verrall, A. W., The Bacchants of Euripides (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910), and Norwood, G., The Riddle of the Bacchae (Manchester Manchester University Press, 1908). It is interesting to observe how recent work on Euripides—for instance Michelini's, AnnEuripides and the Tragic Tradition (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987)—is able to take aboard as virtual givens of Euripidean dramaturgy the notion of bending traditions (e.g., the amalgamation of tragic and comic modes [p. 67]), or of flouting them such as to shock the audience (ch. 3, p. 70ff).

15 Dodds, E. R., ed., Euripides' Bacchae (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1944), xlv.

16 Dodds, xlvi.

17 For example, Segal's, CharlesDionysiac Poetics and Euripides' Bacchae (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), and Goldhill's, SimonReading Greek Tragedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), ch. 11.

18 Specifically, at 64ff of The Bacchants (note 14 above).

19 Dodds, xlv–xlii.

20 See, for example, Winnington-Ingram, R. P., Euripides and Dionysus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948), 182; Castellani, V., “That Troubled House of Pentheus in Euripides' Bacchae,” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 106 (1976), 7183; Grube, G., “Dionysus in the Bacchae,” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 66 (1935), 3754, esp. 44; Murray, G., Euripides and His Age (London: Williams and Norgate, 1913), 186ff; Roux, Jeanne, Euripide: Les Bacchantes (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1972), 437450.Goldhill, , Reading Greek Tragedy, 277280, provides an excellent survey and critique of viewpoints on this episode.

21 Verrall, , The Bacchants, 79ff, discusses these matters in some detail.

22 Norwood, , Riddle, 48. His full discussion is to be found at 37–48.

23 The most elaborate exposition of this point is to be found in Castellani, “That Troubled House.” Segal, , Dionysiac Poetics, 219220, also essentially follows this line: “Even if there was some visual indication of the destruction of the palace, there remains a discrepancy between what could probably be shown on the stage and the Stranger/Dionysus' remark at 633 … This discrepancy between what is said and what is seen forces us to recognize the symbolic nature of what is enacted on stage. Euripides thereby brings home to us the power of dramatic illusion, the power of his art—which is also in part the power of Dionysus—to create a Active and yet convincing world.”

24 See Vellacott's translation, Euripides, The Bacchae and Other Plays (Harmonds-worth: Penguin, 1954). Roux, , Euripide: Les Bacchantes, 440, goes so far as to suggest that for productions of all Greek tragedy the palace buildings, where referred to, are to be understood as being off-stage.

25 Verrall, The Bacchants, and Grubc, G. M. A., The Drama of Euripides (London: Methuen, 1941), 415, are among those who hold this view.

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Textual Practices and Euripidean Productions

  • Gerald Fitzgerald (a1)


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