Tuesday, September 06, 2016


Formulaic Openings of Monologues

Euripides, Alcestis 747-750 (servant speaking about Heracles; tr. David Kovacs):
I have known many men from all manner of lands to come as guests to Admetus' house, and I have served them dinner. But never yet have I welcomed a worse guest to our hearth than this one.

πολλοὺς μὲν ἤδη κἀπὸ παντοίας χθονὸς
ξένους μολόντας οἶδ᾿ ἐς Ἀδμήτου δόμους,
οἷς δεῖπνα προύθηκ᾿· ἀλλὰ τοῦδ᾿ οὔπω ξένον
κακίον᾿ ἐς τήνδ᾿ ἑστίαν ἐδεξάμην.
Euripides, Alcestis. Edited with Introduction and Commentary by A.M. Dale (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954; rpt. 1971), p. 108:
This is the earliest appearance of what was to become so common a gambit in the dramatic monologues of comedy — the assertion of a superlative by the denial of a comparative (or by οὐχ οὕτω with the positive), in describing the behaviour of someone within the house; the speaker enters bursting, as it were, with irrepressible feelings about it, as Socrates (Nub. 627) about the stupidity of Strepsiades. E. Fraenkel, Plaut. im Plautus, pp. 165 ff., gives many examples from Greek and Latin comedy.
Eduard Fraenkel, Plautine Elements in Plautus, tr. Tomas Drevikovsky and Francis Muecke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 110-111 (notes omitted):
I cite the beginning of a monologue in Curculio (591) as an example. Antiquam [sic, read Antiquom] poetam audivi scripsisse in tragoedia mulieres duas peiores esse quam unam. res itast. verum mulierem peiorem quam haec amica est Phaedromi non vidi aut audivi, neque pol dici nec fingi potest peior quam haec est ('I heard a poet of old wrote in a tragedy that two women are worse than one. So it is. Truly a worse woman than this girlfriend of Phaedromus' I have never seen or heard of, nor by god can any worse than she be described or imagined'); the narrative then follows in the usual way with ubi (= ἐπεί). Here there are actually two introductory phrases: the monologue could easily begin with the second (mulierem peiorem quam haec ... est ... non vidi, 'I have never seen a worse woman than she is'). This is a formula very popular in Greek comedy, used to present a character coming on stage who is bursting with an impression (usually created by an encounter with another character in the play), and to highlight the intensity of this impression. Thus in a play as early as Clouds (627), Socrates, after an unsuccessful lesson with Strepsiades, steps out of the house and curses to himself: μὰ τὴν Ἀναπνοήν ... οὐκ εἶδον οὕτως ἄνδρ᾿ ἄγροικον οὐδένα οὐδ᾿ ἄπορον οὐδὲ σκαιὸν οὐδ᾿ ἐπιλήσμονα ('By Respiration ... I have never seen a country bumpkin so helpless, absurd, and forgetful'). Likewise in Menander, The Arbitration 382-3 (206 f. Körte) we find Onesimos coming out of the house and saying: μάγειρον βραδύτερον οὐδεὶς ἑόρακε ('no one has seen a slower cook'). Similarly in Menander's The Man She Hated (176-7, 9-10 Körte), an old lady enters and begins her monologue with the words: μανικώ- or σοβαρὼ]τερον τούτου, μὰ τὼ θεώ, ξένον οὐπώποτ᾿ εἶδον ('By the two goddesses I have never seen a guest [more mad or more violent] than this fellow'). It is certain, too, that the words from Diphilos' The Merchant (Ath. 6.226e = fr. 33 Kock (ii.551), K-A v.68): οὐ πώποτ᾿ ἰχθῦς οἶδα τιμιωτέρους ἰδών ('I know I have never seen a more expensive fish') come from the beginning of a monologue. In the Latin adaptations we find this same kind of monologue opening, for example, Aul. 60 (at the beginning of the aside): scelestiorem me hac anu certo scio vidisse numquam ('I am sure I have never seen anyone more of a crook than this old woman'), Cist. 653: nullam ego me vidisse credo magis anum excruciabilem quam illaec est etc. ('I believe I have never seen any old woman more deserving to be crucified than she'), Mil. 538: numquam edepol hominem quemquam ludificarier magis facete vidi ('By god I have never seen anyone fooled more amusingly'), Most. 532: scelestiorem ego annum argento faenori numquam ullum vidi quam hic mihi annus optigit ('I have never seen a more unfortunate year for interest on money than this year which has befallen me') (most probably Philemon, compare the jokes of the same kind in Trin. 32 f., Most. 159), Pseud. 136 (as he steps out of the house): neque ego homines magis asinos numquam vidi ('I have never seen fellows more like asses'), 1017: peiorem ego hominem magisque vorsute malum numquam edepol quemquam vidi quam hic est Simia ('By god I have never seen a worse and wilier fellow than this Simia'); Ter. Phorm. 591: ego hominem callidiorem vidi neminem quam Phormionem ('I have never seen a more cunning fellow than Phormio'), Andr. 844 (at the beginning of a short soliloquy which is immediately interrupted): ego commodiorem hominem, adventum, tempus non vidi ('I have never seen a more convenient fellow, arrival or time'). We see, therefore, if Curculio opened his monologue with the words (593): mulierem peiorem quam haec amica est Phaedromi non vidi aut audivi ('a worse woman than this girlfriend of Phaedromus' I have never seen or heard of'), he would be remaining entirely within the bounds of convention.

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