The scholia on Aristophanes

Since I discovered yesterday that a scholion on Aristophanes Peace 412 was an important source for information on the Adonia, I have been trying to find the text.  A search today led me to here.  This is a Google books preview of Eleanor Dickey’s Ancient Greek Scholarship: a guide to finding, reading, and understanding scholia, commentaries, lexica, and grammatical treatises, from their beginnings to the Byzantine period, Oxford University Press 2007.  Don’t bother clicking on the link unless you are American — the preview is for the US only (and what a wretched business it is, this new trick of keeping the previews hidden from non-US readers!)  But the book looks like a gem, on a subject which few know anything about.

Pages 28-31 contain the following interesting remarks:

The scholia to Aristophanes are among the most important sets of scholia, in part because they provide historical background without which many of the jokes and allusions in the comedies would be incomprehensible. They are relatively well preserved, and most of them can be found in a sound and reliable modern edition, making them easier to use than many scholia.

Most Aristophanes scholia fall into one of four groups: the old scholia, Tzetzes’ scholia, Thomas Magister’s scholia, and Demetrius Triclinius’ scholia. Scholarly attention tends to focus on the old scholia, which are the most useful in terms of the information they provide on Aristophanes, but the later annotations preserve some old material and are interesting in their own right because of the perspective they offer on Byzantine scholarship.

The old scholia to Aristophanes are derived from a variety of sources going back to the beginning of Alexandrian scholarship. Callimachus, Eratosthenes, and Lycophron (a contemporary of Zenodotus) all worked on Aristophanes to some extent, and the first continuous commentary on his plays was produced by Euphronius, the teacher of Aristophanes of Byzantium. Aristophanes of Byzantium himself produced an edition of the plays, providing an introduction to each (the extant verse hypotheses of the plays are thought to be distant descendants of these introductions) and may also have written a commentary; Callistratus and Aristarchus probably wrote commentaries on the plays, and Timachidas of Rhodes wrote one on the Frogs.

The work of these and other scholars was combined into a single commentary by Didymus in the late first century BC or early first century AD, and sometime in the first two centuries AD Symmachus compiled another commentary, using Didymus as his main source but also consulting other works. At a later date Symmachus’ commentary or one of its descendants, along with some other material, was copied into the generous margins of a book of the plays of Aristophanes and formed the archetype of our extant scholia.

Perhaps the most important of the additional sources of our scholia is the metrical commentary on Aristophanes written by Heliodorus around AD 100. This commentary is often studied apart from the other scholia, for it is crucial for our understanding of ancient metrical theory but of limited use in understanding Aristophanes. Heliodorus’ work has been preserved to varying extents for the different plays; one can reconstruct from the scholia nearly all of it for the Peace, as well as substantial sections of it for the Acharnians and Knights and some fragments for the Clouds and Wasps, but little else.

In addition to the direct tradition of the scholia, which is well attested in several manuscripts, there is an indirect tradition via the Suda, whose writer had access to the same body of material when it was more complete and therefore often preserves scholia that did not survive in the direct tradition. There are also a number of papyri and ancient parchment fragments with commentaries or scholia on Aristophanes; on the whole, those of the fourth century and later seem to reflect a body of material very similar to the ancestor of our scholia (though in some places more complete), while the earlier ones, which are much rarer, apparently belong to different traditions.

There is then a discussion of the Tzetzes scholia, and then the hard data:

The best edition of the scholia is a multivolume work edited first by W. J. W. Koster and later by D. Holwerda (1960– =TLG), which includes both old and Byzantine scholia, usually in separate volumes. The volumes containing the Thesmophoriazusae and Ecclesiazusae have not yet appeared, so for those plays the standard text of the scholia is still that of Dübner (1842 =TLG). While the Koster–Holwerda edition is unquestionably the best in terms of completeness and quality of the text presented, a number of older ones are still useful for specific purposes. Rutherford’s edition (1896) of the scholia in the Ravenna manuscript provides translations and commentary in English. White’s edition of the Heliodorus fragments (1912: 384–421) extracts all the Heliodorus fragments from the scholia, groups them together, and provides an excellent introduction (in English) with explanation of Heliodorus’ Greek. Jorsal et al. (1970) collect the Byzantine metrical scholia to the Frogs. White’s edition of the Birds scholia (1914) has much more detailed indices than the new edition, and Koster (1927) provides an important supplement for Plutus and Clouds.

Papyri with Aristophanes commentaries or scholia are not uncommon, and are conveniently collected with German translation and excellent discussion by Trojahn (2002). In addition, most of those relating to extant plays are included in the Koster–Holwerda edition, and those relating to lost plays can be found in Austin (1973).

Discussions of the Aristophanes scholia are numerous, lengthy, and extremely varied in character and conclusions. The best overview in English is still White’s exceptionally lucid introduction to his edition of the Birds scholia (1914), which covers the entire history of the creation and transmission of the scholia and includes detailed information on Didymus and Symmachus; this work is, however, out of date in places and is concerned almost exclusively with the old scholia. Dunbar’s introduction (1995: 31–49) is briefer but up to date and covers all types of scholarship. Rutherford (1905) offers a detailed and highly informative examination of the nature and contents of the old scholia, but many of his views are no longer accepted, and the author’s evident grumpiness can make the book difficult to read. Additional discussions of textual history can be found in Koster (1985), Hangard (1983, 1985), and the prefaces to the individual volumes of the Koster–Holwerda edition (particularly volumes i.i a, i.iii.i, and ii.i). Montana (1996) discusses the information the old scholia provide on the Αθηναίων πολιτεία. 

The papyrus scholia and commentaries are particularly interesting for the question of the dating of the transition from self-standing commentary to marginal scholia, as the marginal commentaries in Aristophanes papyri of the fourth century and later tend to resemble the medieval scholia more than is the case with other authors. Discussions of this and other issues relating to the papyri can be found in Trojahn (2002), Zuntz (1975), H. Maehler (1994: 124–6), Luppe (1978, 1982), and McNamee (1977: 175–96, 356; forthcoming). The best sources for discussion of Heliodorus are White (1912: 384–95) and Holwerda (1964, 1967). For the scholia recentiora one can consult N. Wilson (1962), O. L. Smith (1976b), Koster (1964), Koster and Holwerda (1954), Holzinger (1930), and the prefaces to volumes i.iii.ii, iii.iv b, and iv.i of the Koster–Holwerda edition. For examples of the way scholars use the Aristophanes scholia for historical information on the plays and on Athenian history and culture, see Carawan (1990), Lavelle (1989), Sutton (1980), Bicknell (1975), and Holwerda (1958).

I think the only possible comment on that is “wow”. 

I deeply approve of this book.  In fact I’ve got to buy a copy of it.  I’ve managed to find a bootleg PDF of it, but you can’t read a book like this on-screen!

The author knew what she was doing.  In the preface she tells us that scholars are increasingly making use of the ancient Greek scholarly tradition, while finding it very difficult to access.  Her book, therefore, is intended to facilitate access.  Well done!

It is a pity that Oxford University Press did not see facilitating access in the same way.

4 thoughts on “The scholia on Aristophanes

  1. I can second that this book is wonderful. I picked one up sometime last year and it has been invaluable.

    The books is also very well priced. I picked up my copy for about $25, which is much less than academic books of this caliber usually cost.

  2. Only $25!?! Wow. I meant to see how much it cost, but forgot in chasing other things. It’s £15 in the UK from Amazon — expensive, yes, but not anything like it might be.

    I might have to give it to myself as a present.

  3. Roger,

    A recent article may also be of interest to you; it’s by Matthew Dillon, whom I see you cite in a previous post: “‘Woe for Adonis’: But in Spring Not Summer,” in Hermes, Vol. 131, No. 1 (2003), pp. 1-16. Based in large part on the same evidence you have gathered, especially the references in Lysistrata and its scholia, he argues that the Adonia in Athens was not celebrated in mid-summer (as Plutarch seems to have it) but in spring, and he gives Mounychion 4 as a tentative possibility (this is based on the day’s connection with Aphrodite and the activities of the ekklesia in that month; Mounychion = April I think?).

    At any rate, here is the other scholium I mentioned; it’s to line 388, and unfortunately, I’m not sure it adds too much to the lines in the Lysistrata it’s trying to clarify, which you cite in your previous post on this subject. It’s mostly just a paraphrase, as the scholia so often are.

    χὠ τυμπανισμός: Ὃ βούλεται δηλῶσαι, τοῦτό ἐστιν, ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ τυμπανισμὸς καὶ ὁ Ἀδωνισμὸς, οὗ ἤκουον ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ. τοῦτο δὲ ἔλεγεν ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ ὁ Δημόστρατος, πλεῖν εἰς Σικελίαν. ἐν δὲ τῷ αὐτὸν λέγειν γυνή τις τὸν Ἄδωνιν ὀρχουμένη αἶ αἶ φησὶν ὑμνοῦσα. αὐτῆς δὲ ὀρχουμένης ὁ Δημόστρατος, ἔτι ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ ὑπάρχων, ἔλεγε καταλέγειν Ζακυνθίων ὁπλίτας. πάλιν δὲ ἡ γυνὴ ἐν γειτόνων ἐπὶ τοῦ τέγους πεπτωκυῖα, ἔλεγε κόπτεσθαι τὸν Ἄδωνιν. ὁ δὲ Δημόστρατος ἐβιάζετο ἐξ αὐτῶν θρυλουσῶν καὶ μὴ ἐωσῶν αὐτὸν δημηγορεῖν

    “And the τυμπανισμός [i.e., the drum beating]”: This is what he wants to make clear, namely that this is τυμπανισμός and Ἀδωνισμὸς which they were hearing in the ekklesia. And in the ekklesia Demostratus was telling them to sail to Sicily. But while he was talking, a certain woman said, “Ah, Adonis!” as she danced and hymned him. And when she was dancing, Demostratus, still presiding in the ekklesia, was telling them to enlist hoplites at Zakunthos. But again the woman was nearby on the roof, drunk,* and saying, “Mourn Adonis!” But Demostratus was arguing strenuously because the women were clamoring and not letting him address the assembly.

    *(there seems to be some corruption here in the scholium; at the very least, πεπτωκυῖα [“having fallen”] is surely a corruption of πεπωκυῖα or ὑποπεπωκυῖα [“having gotten drunk”], which is the word used in the Lysistrata passage itself. . .unless the scholiast thinks the woman was so drunk, she fell over!)

    Well, there you have it. Maybe not as useful as one might hope – but this mostly exhausts the subject of the Adonia in the Aristophanic scholia!

  4. Matt,

    Thank you very much indeed for that text and translation. You know, that is actually very evocative, isn’t it? Indeed rather dramatic, in a way!

    Thanks also for the article reference. Articles aren’t really accessible to us humble proles, but if I come across it, I will certainly take a look!

    I appreciate your contributions!



Leave a Reply