a cura di Caterina Barone
(con testo a fronte)
Firenze: Giunti 1995
pp. XLIV +145
Reviewed by Guido Bonelli
Facoltaè di Scienze della Formazion
Università di Torino
The book, which belongs to the collection of the 'Giunti Classics,' under the scientific revision of E.V. Maltese, includes an extensive Introduction, the text with Italian translation and footnotes, and a detailed bibliography. The text is that of G. Murray; the editor points out (p. 136) that she had no access to Diggle's new Oxford Euripides (1994) until her proofs were on the way to the printer. She moves away from Murray's text in some passages listed in a 'Note on the text and translation' (pp. 135-6, where she also focuses on the MS tradition) and accurately discussed in the footnotes.
The introduction is entitled 'From myth to drama: the ambiguous gift of beauty,' hinting that the heroine's misfortunes arise not only from her beauty, but also from the relationship of doubleness and ambivalence between Helen and her eidolon. Barone first examines the development of the mythical Helen, from Homer to Euripides' Trojan Women and Gorgias' Encomion in order to highlight the completely different way Euripides handles her character in Helen. In the latter we have the 'new' Helen of Aristophanes Thesmophoriazusai (850) who is no longer a licentious, forward woman, but a faithful wife unfairly slandered.
Barone builds up the dramaturgical development effectively, underlining its basic features, among which the theme of the double Helen stands out. The appearance of Helen's eidolon in Troy causes the real Helen to suffer 'loss of identity'--a fate which is for modern spectators 'the most truly dramatic core in the first part of the work' (XVI). Barone likens Helen's appeal to that of some of Pirandello's characters, 'Forced to play a part which has no correspondence to their inner selves, behaving as claustrophobic prisoners tied to the roles imposed on them from the outside' (ibid.). After learning of Leda's suicide, Menelaus' supposed death, and the disappearance of the Dioscuri, Helen actually feels responsible even though she cannot be blamed for the reported events. The blame is laid on her double, which people take for her to such an extent that she ends up by identifying herself with it rather than the other way round.
Behind the eidolon are the gods whose victim Helen is. The coercive role they play in the tragedy has its modern counterpart in bourgeois drama: the 'others,' the society which forces us to behave according to its unbreakable patterns and rules. The eidolon also reveals the gods' negative attitude towards human beings, their utter indifference to our sufferings, because it was the gods' will that so much blood be shed over a phantom . This is why 'the sorrowful, desperate words of the old soldier echo loudly, when he incredulously remarks that men fought for a cloud,' (XXIII). Despite the overturning of Helen's reputation, this play too deals with the inhumanity of war, just as Trojan Women did. Barone recognizes a consistency between the two plays in Euripides' portrayal of the human condition as unsafe and precarious.
She also underlines another aspect of 'novelty' in Helen, an 'experimentation' typical of late Euripides and shared with such works as Ion, Orestes, and the two Iphigeneia plays. This novelty expresses itself in the fictional plot with its coups de théâtre, in the fact that the tragedy develops through the unforeseen and thus anticipates features of New Comedy and the late Hellenistic novel (XXI). Barone pays particular attention to the effect of this kind of plot on performance.
The Italian translation is both modern and fluent, neither overly literal nor 'classicizing', thus making it suitable for both reading and performance. The translation never falls into gratuitous modernizing in its pursuit of fluency. The footnotes, besides providing necessary explanations for non- specialist readers, allow a close examination of the topic both from a philological-literary point of view and from a theatrical one. They refer to the full range of literature on the subject, with which the editor establishes an exhaustive, convincing comparison. This secondary literature is gathered in a heavily annotated bibliography in which works are assessed in light of the most recent scholarship. This bibliography, along with Barone's subtle analysis, make the book relevant to serious scholars of Euripides as well as to those encountering the play for the first time.
Università di Torino