Thursday, April 24, 2014


John H. Oakley, The Greek Vase: Art of the Storyteller. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2013. Pp. 155. ISBN 9781606061473. $29.95.

Reviewed by Susan Woodford, London (

Version at BMCR home site

Lavishly illustrated, The Greek Vase: Art of the Storyteller is a beautiful book, its glorious photographs seeming to promise an equally illuminating text—a promise regrettably left unfulfilled for the general reader to whom it is addressed. The images are drawn primarily from the collections of the British Museum and spiced with a fair number from the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Arranged thematically, the book consists of six chapters: two introductory chapters, two on mythological images, and two on scenes from daily life. The first two chapters introduce various aspects of vase painting. The first, 'Fabric, Form and Function,' deals with how clay is prepared and how vases are shaped, painted and used. Different centres of production are named (there is no map), and the development of styles, starting from the Geometric period, is sketched along with a brief exposition of different techniques. The use of vases at symposia, for storage, as oil containers or as ritual vessels is illustrated in a number of plates. The chapter concludes with mention of foreign shapes (Etruscan) and their influence on Attic manufacture, of trade and of purchasers at home and abroad.

Chapter Two, 'Potters and Painters,' deals with the men who produced the vases. Painters are dealt with first, those who signed (beginning with Sophilos) and those who can be identified by individual characteristics of style. Oakley explains how connoisseurship and attribution allow scholars to recognise master-pupil relationships, a number of which are cited. Discussion of potters leads on to identification of workshops, their size and composition and how painters related to potters, both painters who moved among potters and those who travelled outside of Athens. Archaeological and literary evidence is cited, inscriptions are discussed and the chapter concludes with representations of painters and potters at work (these last illustrated by vases in Munich and Oxford).

Chapters Three and Four are devoted to mythological subjects. Chapter Three, called 'Depicting the Divine,' starts by explaining how anthropomorphic gods can be identified by attribute and touches on the use of new scholarly approaches, for instance semiotics, structuralism and information theory in the study of vase paintings.

Non-narrative images of gods (examples of Aphrodite and Hermes) are discussed first, followed by the lives and adventures of the gods under the rubrics of 'Childhood' (exemplified by the birth of Athena and infancy of Dionysos); 'The Gods and their Loves' (Zeus, Eos, Boreas and Apollo); The Gods and their Struggles' jointly in conflict with Giants, singly fighting one another or punishing offenders (Tityos, Aktaion and Ixion); and, finally, 'Followers of the Gods' (Dionysos and his crew, Aphrodite accompanied by personifications and the Eleusinian goddesses with Triptolemos).

The fourth chapter, 'Meeting the Myth Makers,' tackles a wide range of heroic themes starting with Herakles and Theseus, continuing with the Trojan War, and concluding with a motley selection of heroes and sagas (Perseus, the Seven against Thebes, the Argonauts and the final fate of Orpheus). Oakley retells the relevant myths as necessary but sometimes in a way that seems rather too elaborate and at other times too compressed to be entirely helpful.

The last two chapters deal with 'daily life'. The fifth chapter, 'A Life Well-Lived,' begins by pointing out that supposed pictures of normal life cannot be taken at face value. In some images it is unclear whether the subject of the representation is an everyday event or a special occasion—or even the depiction of a myth. Sections are devoted to 'Childhood, Men at Work, Women at Home, Funerals, Theatre, Other Rituals' and 'Sport'.

The final chapter, 'Seducing the Senses,' begins with symposia 'At the Party'. It includes a good deal on sexual activity and concludes with a section called 'Courting' which continues and elaborates on matters to do with sex.

In the chapters on mythology, the author includes comments on alternative interpretations, the possible influence of contemporary events and, in some cases, inspiration from the theatre. In scenes of 'daily life' he discusses ambiguities, points out how selective the representations of ancient Greek activities and experiences are, and explains social and religious customs to give a context to the images.

To this reader, the last two chapters on daily life are better presented, more informative and generally clearer than the somewhat arbitrary selection of myths in the preceding two. They give an interesting introduction to how Greek life was lived and enjoyed and what aspects are emphasised or suppressed in the repertoire of vase painting. The author neatly illustrates this by describing what women actually did and observing how few (and limited) the representations of women at work are.

A list of 24 books for Further Reading follows. There is no index.

The book claims to be addressed to the general reader, and herein lies its most grievous fault: the first two chapters are packed with so much detailed information and so many names of people, places, styles and techniques as to presuppose anything but a 'general reader'. In short, too much information is provided with too little explanation.

For instance, the first chapter offering a comprehensive overview of the background to Greek vase painting is filled with such a baffling number of technical innovations and geographically diverse centres of production as to discourage any nonspecialist reader. Some flesh might have been put on these bare bones of nomenclature had cross-references been provided to images elsewhere in the book. Examples of Corinthian could have been cited on pp. 12 and 54; Laconian on p. 93; Chalcidian on pp. 86-7, coral red on p. 66, Apulian on pp. 38, 50, 55, 64, 76-77, 126-7, 128; Lucanian on pp. 57, 85 89; Campanian on pp. 88, 96-7 Gnathian on p. 129 and so on. (The illustrations are, unfortunately, not consecutively numbered throughout the book, but the page numbers are adequate for identifying them). As it is, the fascinating variety of fabrics remain just a matter of mere words with little hint of their geographical or visual significance. A map certainly would have helped and unburdened Oakley's text of clumsy geographical glosses such as 'Boeotian (the region to the north of Athens),' 'Euboean (an island off the eastern coast of Attica),' etc.

It is unfortunate that someone (author? editor? publisher?) had the idea of providing the misleading subtitle 'Art of the Storyteller'. Storytelling, or in fact any discussion of narration, is only incidental and occurs infrequently in the course of the book. On page 10 Oakley states that this book is 'concerned solely with vases that have figured decoration,' a statement that, suitably modified, could have provided a more apt subtitle.

More confusion comes, however, from the fact that although the majority of the vases illustrated come from the British Museum, some 15% are from the J. Paul Getty Museum. As a result Oakley's book serves neither as a guide to a single institution nor as a general introduction to Greek vase painting (confined as it is to just two collections supplemented only by images of pottery workshops—from Oxford and Munich—on pages 36 and 37 and of necessity ignoring all the key works from other collections).

The mass of erudition (which flows easily from the learned author, himself an accomplished teacher) has not been edited into a form suitable for the reader who is new to the subject. It seems as if the author feared leaving any aspect of the study of vase painting untouched—which would be understandable, perhaps, in a book addressed to an aspiring academic audience, but even then unacceptable if presented too baldly and without examples and explanation.

Though the eye-catching colour images and crystal-clear details are certainly a great recommendation for Oakley's book, the factually overloaded text lacks the clarity and delicate aesthetic sensibility that might help the reader, see, understand and appreciate the distinctive beauty of Greek vases.

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Felix Mundt (ed.), Kommunikationsräume im kaiserzeitlichen Rom. Topoi: Berlin studies of the ancient world, 6​. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2012. Pp. xviii, 278. ISBN 9783110265934. $112.00.

Reviewed by Bettina Reitz-Joosse, Leiden University (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

This is an edited volume of a 2010 conference on spaces of communication in imperial Rome. 1 The editor and his contributors set out to explore an interesting and well chosen question: how do the urban spaces of the imperial city of Rome relate to and influence communicative processes taking place within them and around them? The book aims to investigate, in short, "die urbanen Voraussetzungen des Sozialen" (ix). The collection of papers is divided into three parts, dealing with (1) communication through monuments, (2) urban space as a condition of private and public communication, and (3) literary constructions of urban spaces of communication (x).

The contributions are concerned with a clearly defined space that is both physical and literary: the city of Rome from the foundation of the principate to late antiquity (ix). According to Mundt, every city has an "Eigenlogik" and thus offers a specific set of conditions for communication (viii). The palimpsestic nature of Rome's urban spaces renders them a very specific and complex communicative venue, while literary engagements with the city (the theme of part three of the volume) further add to this complexity. Although, like many conference proceedings, the work under review contains papers of varying quality and depth, an investigation of the specific relation between Rome's meaningful spaces and communication is a very worthwhile undertaking.

"Communication" is used in the broadest possible sense, as Mundt himself points out: "Sehr vielfältig sind ... die Formen der Kommunikation, die hier untersucht werden. Kommuniziert wird in der Stadt, über sie und durch sie" (ix).

The combination of investigations of very different types of communication in, about and through the city renders this collection both exciting and problematic. The advantage of Mundt's broad conception of communication lies in the range of different types of evidence and the variety of approaches that the volume brings together. In combination, the contributions can show how different kinds of communicative acts (architectural, literary, iconographic, body language, etc.) can combine, overlap and impede or reinforce each other. For example, the chapters by Schmitzer, Stenger, and Fuhrer analyse different types of communicative acts all taking place within the Forum Iulium, as well as the literary techniques of the authors who present them, resulting in a multi-faceted picture of the Forum Iulium as a 'Kommunikationsraum'. 2

At times, however, the volume appears to lose focus. In several chapters, communication is not explicitly addressed at all, featuring only as the (implicit) assumption that the author of a text, monument, or architectural ensemble is somehow attempting (through these media) to communicate with readers or viewers. Furthermore, while I highly commend the interdisciplinary inclusiveness of the volume, I feel that epigraphy is underrepresented (absent except for Voegtle's fine contribution on non-verbal graffiti and a number of remarks about elogia in Schmitzer's chapter on the Forum of Augustus). This is problematic not only because it is a missed opportunity for further interdisciplinary cross-fertilisation, but also and especially because among epigraphists (perhaps more than any other group within Classics) the question of the interrelation between space and communication has been the subject of sophisticated analysis and discussion for many years now. 3 Notwithstanding these objections, however, many of the individual contributions are not only worth reading in their own right but also engage in fruitful dialogue with each other.

The first part of the volume on 'communication through monuments' consists of three articles on Roman fora and communication in relation to their architecture. Susanne Muth presents a convincing and well-documented analysis of the reconfiguration of memorials of the past in the Forum Romanum in the Augustan period. Charting the disappearance and rearrangement of republican honorific statues and monuments (especially in the area of the comitium), Muth demonstrates how the visual programme of the Augustan period represents a shift in emphasis from the commemoration of one past to another, from competitive republican politics to the more remote, mythical past. Muth largely limits herself to communication through monuments while her remarks about the forum as a space of communication itself remain very general (she speaks of architecture influencing the 'diskursives Klima', but we do not learn how such influence might actually function in practice).

Klaus Stefan Freyberger, who recently completed a large-scale survey of the Basilica Aemilia, offers an analysis of sacred spaces surrounding it. 4 Of special interest are eleven sacella, located between the facade of the Basilica and the Via Sacra, which Freyberger attempts to identify by drawing on a range of archaeological, numismatic and literary evidence. He argues that these sancturies (among them Venus Cloacina and the famous shrine of Janus) bear a special relation to the early history of Rome and especially to the legendary conflict between Romans and Sabines. Although it does not address the topic of communication, this is an accessible presentation of important new research on the Forum Romanum.

Ulrich Schmitzer analyses a range of literary (and some epigraphic) evidence regarding the widely different functions of the Forum Augustum as a space of imperial communication. As far as the ruler's communication through architecture is concerned, Schmitzer may be pressing our sources a little too hard regarding the personal involvement of the emperor. 5 Schmitzer's readings of literary depictions of the Forum, however, connect well with the third part of the volume on literary constructions of space. He stresses the fact that complex literary texts such as Ovid's Ars, Fasti or Tristia are suitable for archaeological reconstructions only to a very limited extent since they do not so much describe as manipulate the space they depict according to their own specific communicative purposes.

The three contributions included in the second part of the book (urban space as a condition of communication) address communication and its actors, media and mechanisms more directly. Simone Voegtle's chapter deals with graffiti and the effects of space and (written) communication on each other. She stresses that graffiti are not distributed randomly but concentrated in particular spaces: the amount and type of (verbal and non-verbal) graffiti can serve as indicators of these spaces' significance. In a second step, Voegtle argues that graffiti use different kinds of communicative strategies depending on their specific placement, and she investigates the cumulative nature of this communicative medium: one graffito on a wall attracts further comments, allowing for an open form of communication with largely anonymous senders and recipients.

Joachim Knape provides a theoretisation of the 'dual perfomativity' of rhetoric in Rome, charting the differences between the 'biblioscriptural' and 'scaenocorporal' performance of speeches and the requirements of these different communicative situations. A welcome addition to this theoretical framework would have been an analysis of the ways in which a specific venue of rhetorical performance (rostra, basilica, temple, curia) affects communicative strategies.

Jan Stenger's chapter addresses the interrelation between space and communication explicitly, and is in my view one of the strongest of the volume. It focusses on an inconspicuous passage in several Caesarian vitae: the dictator offended a group of approaching senators by not rising from his chair to greet them. Stenger analyses this act of nonverbal communication in detail, investigating the physical setting, the respective expectations of the dictator and the senators, and the reasons for the ultimate failure of the communicative act. Beyond this specific case, Stenger's investigation also highlights rulers' nonverbal communication in Rome as an extremely worthwhile object of further investigation.

The third part of the volume deals with literary creations of urban spaces. It opens with a chapter by Felix Mundt in which he analyses the literary techniques that govern the representation of the imperial city of Rome in Cassius Dio, Herodian und the Historia Augusta. Mundt argues that the authors' visually evocative, creative depictions of the city imitate, in a literary manner, the emperors' own creative interventions in the urban fabric. He also offers some theoretical reflections on textual elements which evoke visual images (the "Bildlichkeit" and "Theatralität" (177) of texts), which might also have benefitted from reference to the ancient concept of enargeia and its extensive modern literature. 6

His chapter is followed by two pieces on Ovid's Fasti and their special blend of mythical past and Augustan present. Ulrike Egelhaaf-Gaiser's excellent contribution focusses on the Anna Perenna episode, but it should be of interest to anyone working on the Fasti. She applies Bakhtin's concept of the chronotopos to the Fasti, convincingly demonstrating its usefulness in analysing the special interconnectedness of space and time in Ovid's calendar poem. Anna Perenna's suburban grove and its structural pendant, the grove of Fors Fortuna, function as topographic and chronological 'Grenzräume' for the poem, with programmatic significance for the relationship between space and time in the Fasti as a whole.

In a second piece on the Fasti, Mario Labate argues for a strategic inclusiveness and plurality of both the Fasti and of Augustan Rome. He analyses violent and 'primitive' foundation myths and the festivals connected with them (especially the sacra of Pan/Faunus associated with the Arcadian Evander), and shows how these 'chaotic' foundations are subsumed into the Roman religious oikoumene and controlled by the specific Augustan revivals and reconfigurations of festivals such as the Lupercalia.

In her discussion of spaces for philosophical discussion, Therese Fuhrer compares the literary settings for the philosophical discussions of Roman aristocrats in the works of Cicero and Tacitus. She argues that Tacitus' portrayal of these settings especially shows the lack of 'space' (both physical and intellectual) for philosophical discussions of ethical values under a morally incapable emperor.

Finally, Maria Bettetini's chapter analyses the narrative function of different types of literary space (garden, theatre, road, church) in serving the larger communicative purpose of Augustine's Confessiones. This chapter also contrasts Augustine's narrative uses of three different cities (Carthage, Rome, Milan), offering several points of contact with Fuhrer's volume in the same series on Rome and Milan in Late Antiquity. 7

The papers collected here address the topic of the volume to varying degrees, but the collection as a whole is nevertheless a welcome contribution on the city of Rome as a 'lived space', altered and altering all the time, physically and in meaning, as communication takes place within it. The book is beautifully produced, richly illustrated and carefully edited. There are few typographical errors, none of which obscure the sense. ​


1.   The conference was organised by an interdisciplinary group of the Berlin-based Cluster of Excellence 'Topoi' working on representations and functions of cities in ancient art, literature and architecture. For a conference report, including summaries of papers not included in this volume, see Judith Esders, Christoph Klose, Felix Mundt (2010), Bollettino di Studi Latini 40, 649-53.
2.   The extensive and accurate indices have an important function in helping the reader to locate such communicative nexus throughout the book.
3.   One example is the long-standing debate about levels of literacy in the ancient world and the impact of (different types of) literacy on the communicative value of an inscription, but one may think also of the explorations of the topographical contexts of inscriptions and the relation between those contexts and the content of the inscriptions (on the city of Rome see, e.g., M. Corbier, (2006), Donner à voir, donner à lire: mémoire et communication dans la Rome ancienne, Paris (especially the introduction and parts 1 and 2); A. E. Cooley, 'Inscribing History in Rome', in Cooley (ed.) (2000), The Afterlife of Inscriptions, London, 7-20; and, on the communicative aspects of funerary inscriptions in the suburbium, W. Eck, 'Römische Grabinschriften: Aussageabsicht und Aussagefähigkeit im funerären Kontext', in H. von Hesberg und P. Zanker (1987), Römische Gräberstraßen, München, 61-83).
4.   The final results of the project will be published in C. Ertel, K. S. Freyberger, K. Tacke und T. Bitterer, Die Basilica Aemilia auf dem Forum Romanum in Rom, Rom.
5.   For example, I do not quite see how Pliny's comment on an elogium, 'Quod ... Divus Augustus inscripsit' in nat.hist. 22.6.13, proves that Augustus "sich ... persönlich um die Inschrift kümmerte" (81), rather than refers to Augustus' overall responsibility for the complex as a whole.
6.   On enargeia as a rhetorical term in antiquity, see, e.g., R. Webb (2009), Ekphrasis, Imagination and Persuasion in Ancient Rhetorical Theory and Practice, Aldershot, 87-106. On enargeia and visual presence in ancient historical writing see e.g. A. D. Walker, (1993), 'Enargeia and the spectator in Greek historiography', TAPhA 123, 353-77; and C. Damon, (2010), 'The Historian's Presence, or, There and Back Again' in C. S. Kraus, J. Marincola, and C. Pelling (eds.), Ancient Historiography and its Contexts: Studies in Honour of A. J. Woodman, Berkeley, 353-63.
7.   T. Fuhrer (2012) (ed.), Rom und Mailand in der Spätantike: Repräsentationen städtischer Räume in Literatur, Architektur und Kunst, Berlin/Boston, see BMCR 2012.08.27. ​

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Ariel G. López, Shenoute of Atripe and the Uses of Poverty: Rural Patronage, Religious Conflict and Monasticism in Late Antique Egypt. Transformation of the classical heritage, 50. Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press, 2013. Pp. xi, 237. ISBN 9780520274839. $75.00.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Platte, Kalamazoo College (

Version at BMCR home site


In his introduction, López writes, "This book is a study of [Shenoute's] restless struggle for leadership and public recognition—a study, in other words, of an abbot's public career" (3). López' work indeed presents Shenoute, the fifth-century abbot of an influential monastic foundation in southern Egypt, as a public figure rather than a secluded ascetic. He places Shenoute alongside such figures as Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Libanius of Antioch, and even Augustine of Hippo (128), emphasizing both Shenoute's involvement in the social and political life of Panopolis, the city where his monastery was located, and Shenoute's place among some of the most famous figures of Late Antiquity. In particular, López argues that Shenoute's use of poverty in his own writings and sermons established the abbot as a public and political figure. Shenoute, according to López, used the opposition between wealth and poverty in order to explain his place in the rural landscape of fifth-century Egypt, presenting himself as an advocate for the poor in contention with secular local landowners, while also connecting himself to powerful imperial figures.

The first chapter, "Loyal Opposition," presents an image of Shenoute's character gleaned from his own writings. Here, López introduces the role of poverty in the construction of Shenoute's public character: Shenoute speaks for the poor, and therefore presents himself in clear opposition to the rich, including his primary target, a wealthy local landowner named Gesios. As a supporter of the rural poor, Shenoute also distrusted the entire city of Panopolis, near which his monastery was located. Shenoute thus set up a series of binaries—city and countryside, pagan and Christian, rich and poor—which clearly defined his own place in society. At the same time, his advocacy for the poor also connected Shenoute with the Roman state in a sort of "vertical solidarity" (36) (an idea López adopts from Assmann1), as both the abbot and the imperial hierarchy felt a religious need to support the poor, unlike the local aristocracy. However, López is careful to note that the poor, in Shenoute's thought, were not defined by a lack of means, whether voluntary or systemic. Instead, for Shenoute, the poor were primarily a group oppressed by the rich, and especially by local landowners—Shenoute's own enemies. Shenoute's interests and those of the local poor were therefore aligned. In this chapter, López also introduces the contrast between parrhesia, which he defines as "fearless speech" (35) and rhetoric. However, the lack of clear definitions of these terms, along with a lack of engagement with theories of rhetorical expression and presentation in Shenoute's speech, may leave readers wondering precisely how López has untangled the historical from the rhetorical in the speeches of Shenoute.

In the second chapter, "A Miraculous Economy," López addresses Shenoute's description of the wealth of his monastery in the context of his self-representation as a champion of the poor. Here, López makes two crucial, related points. First, Shenoute presented the material success of his monastery as miraculous, as the title of the chapter would suggest. In particular, Shenoute used stories based on biblical models of duplication to describe the agricultural wealth of the monastery, even when called upon to feed 20,000 refugees of barbarian invasions (57-63). Secondly, the miraculous success of Shenoute's monastery was a direct result of his support of the poor through charity: "By being given out to the poor, the monastery's wealth became involved in a 'virtuous circle.' The more Shenoute gave, the more 'blessings' he received from God" (62). López's readings of these miracle stories to illuminate the use of poverty in Shenoute's thought is both innovative and convincing. Furthermore, throughout this chapter, López engages with the rich economic evidence from Shenoute's own works to consider the relationship between wealthy monasteries and Christian care for the poor, therefore providing scholars interested in the monastic economy with another valuable source. Nevertheless, some readers will doubtlessly desire more than the cursory engagement that López offers with the archaeological evidence not only from the White Monastery and its environs, but from fifth-century Egypt in general.

While López's second chapter focuses on descriptions of wealth within Shenoute's work, in the third chapter, "Rural Patronage: Holy and Unholy" López makes use of papyrological evidence to consider the rural economy in fifth-century Egypt and the place of patronage in Shenoute's care of the poor. López argues that the phenomenon of rural patronage, or the close dependence of poor agricultural laborers on wealthy land owners, informed Shenoute's use of poverty and his self-representation as an alternative patron for the poor. He writes, "In an operation that is the exact opposite of Shenoute's glorification of his monastery's wealth, this discourse of economic inequality exposes rural production for what it really is:[…]a violent and abusive activity that takes from the poor what they rightfully deserve" (75). López focuses his analysis on patterns of alleged abuse by landowners in Shenoute's work, considering in depth descriptions of exploitative epoikia, or workers villages, and the "stinking wine" that wealthy landowners, such as Shenoute's adversary Gesios, forced on his laborers. Shenoute contrasted this "unholy patronage" with the holy support of the poor offered by both the charity of his monastery and his own vocal advocacy. In conjunction with the preceding chapter, these two chapters form a strong argument for the close connection between the function of Egypt's rural economy in the fifth century and the charitable actions and local influence of rural monasteries and abbots, like Shenoute.

Finally, in "The Limits of Tolerance," chapter four of the book, López addresses Gesios' paganism in light of Shenoute's attacks on his adversary. Although this chapter is thematically related to the others through its discussion of Shenoute's conflict with Gesios, the relationship between this chapter and the argument of the book seems disjointed, especially in light of the preceding two chapters. López is justified in including a discussion of Gesios' pagan beliefs in order to more firmly integrate Shenoute into the contentious religious landscape of the fifth-century; indeed, this chapter includes an extended comparison between Shenoute and Libanius that illustrates Shenoute's famously violent actions in light of comparable, non-Egyptian texts. Moreover, the topic of this chapter allows López to consider Shenoute's public failure to further his anti-pagan cause, as Shenoute's notorious smashing of jars of urine on Gesios' door exceeded, as López argues, the "limits of intolerance" (116-117). However, the reader would also be justified in desiring a clearer articulation of the connection between Shenoute's religiously motivated actions against Gesios and his use of poverty to combat the wealthy landowner.

In addition to these four chapters, the book includes a short conclusion and an introduction to Shenoute and the history of scholarship concerning the abbot, which will be especially useful to readers new to fifth-century Egypt, as will the two appendices, covering the chronology of Shenoute's life and work and editions of texts. There are also extensive endnotes, bibliography, and a full index.

Considering the the numerous strengths of this book as a study of the corpus of Shenoute, and López's own emphasis on long quotations from texts and accessible translations (x), the general lack of Coptic in this volume is notable and, at times, frustrating. All Coptic words in the main text of the book are transliterated rather than provided in a Coptic font, but the author does not provide a key to transliteration, which would presumably be helpful for those readers who do not know Coptic. While the book does use Coptic font in the endnotes, the author rarely supplies his reader with more than a single word. Even passages of Shenoute's writings that López has singled out as particularly difficult or important are not included in the original Coptic in notes. While López should be commended for writing a book on fifth-century Egypt, and Shenoute in particular, which is truly appealing and accessible to a non-specialist audience, many readers of this work will inevitably be Coptic readers or Copticists. Such an audience is sure to find the failure to provide key passages in the original language puzzling, especially given the difficulties of working with Shenoute's corpus and that fact that López's argument rests on some unpublished texts—points which López himself brings up several times. With this exception, this volume is quite well edited and well presented, and the shortcomings mentioned here in no way overshadow the importance of López's argument for Shenoute's particular place in the rural landscape of fifth-century southern Egypt.

In this reader's view, the great strength of this work is the integration of Shenoute into the late Roman world, and scholars and students of the rural economy or poverty in the ancient world would do well to pick up this book. The wealth of information López has provided about Shenoute's place in the economy of fifth-century Panopolis is valuable in itself, but his convincing interpretation concerning the connection between Shenoute's self-presentation and his support of the poor also adds an important new angle for the interpretation of the fifth-century monastic economy. Indeed, the publication of López's volume is timely, following on the heels of Peter Brown's monumental study of wealth and poverty in Late Antiquity2 (the timing may be more than fortuitous, as Brown was the advisor of the dissertation that eventually became this book). López's volume is an essential counterpart to the current dialogue on wealth and poverty in late ancient Christianity, as it provides a prospective from the Egyptian countryside that is often sorely missing from the broader discussion.


1.   Assmann, J. 2006. Ma'at : Gerechtigkeit und Unsterblichkeit im alten Ägypten. 2nd ed. Beck'sche Reihe, 1403. München: C.H. Beck.
2.   Brown, P. 2012. Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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Sebastiano Timpanaro, Giuseppe Ramires, Carteggio su Servio (1993-2000). Testi e studi di cultura classica, 58. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2013. Pp. 284. ISBN 9788846737168. €25.00 (pb).

Reviewed by James Zetzel, Columbia University (

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Sebastiano Timpanaro was an outstanding scholar of (among other things) Latin philology, and was also, as Fabio Stok says in his preface to this volume, a great writer of letters. Since his death in 2000 at the age of 77, his admirers and executors have overseen the publication of various selections of his correspondence, of which the present volume is the fourth, and the first on a classical subject.1 The subject is a specialized one: Giuseppe Ramires, a young scholar with a recent doctorate from the University of Catania, first wrote to Timpanaro in 1993 and sent him a copy of his dissertation, an edition of Servius' commentary on Aeneid 9, and much of their ensuing correspondence involves details of the text and editing of Servius, leading up to the publication of Ramires' editions of Servius on Aeneid 9 in 1996 and (after Timpanaro's death) on Aeneid 7 in 2003.2 The present volume, which contains a lengthy introduction by Ramires about Timpanaro's work on Servius followed by 53 letters by the two scholars, combines two scholarly genres that flourished in the nineteenth century, "life and letters" and adversaria, but it is of more limited scholarly interest than either one. Indeed, one wonders why, other than as an act of homage to an admired scholar, it has been published at all.

It is no reflection, I believe, on Ramires' scholarly merits (which are readily visible in his published editions of Servius) to say that the main interest of a volume like this lies in Timpanaro's contribution to it; and yet in fact Timpanaro's contribution is not large: of the 53 letters in this volume, only 21 are by Timpanaro; of 191 pages, only 66 are by him. Only two of Timpanaro's letters are of more than four pages, while nine of Ramires' are. The Servian parts of the correspondence consist largely of Ramires' lists of questions about particular passages in Books 9 and 7, with Timpanaro's much briefer answers: in only a few places are there genuine discussions of problems in interpretation, and while those can be quite interesting, Ramires has published the most important ones separately, either in his editions or in articles. The slight value of the correspondence for students of Servius, moreover, is diminished by Ramires' poor presentation. The editorial annotation is maddening. In the early portions of the correspondence, page references to Servius are given to Ramires' dissertation—not a volume readily accessible to anyone not within reach of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence. When accessible editions are cited in the text, the identification is repeated in a footnote: thus (p.188) the reference to a textual problem in Servius' note on Aen. 7.682 is given as "3-5 Ram. [footnote: Servius 2003, p. 95] = 182, 1-4 Thilo [footnote: Servius 1878-1881, p.182]." And instead of providing a straightforward introduction to the manuscripts or a set of sigla to make the very detailed textual discussions comprehensible, Ramires gives an identifying footnote at the first mention of each manuscript but no cross-references when the sigla recur. Given such painstaking and pointless repetition, it is worth pointing out remarkable sloppiness: Ramires constantly cites Thilo in the notes as having been published 1878-81, when (as the bibliography knows) the publication dates of the three volumes are 1881, 1884, and 1887. He even cites his own dissertation as both "Servius 1989-91" and "Ramires 1989-91", including only the former in the bibliography.

Indeed, the editing of the correspondence displays a strange mixture of reverent accuracy and considerable inattention. The documentation of the correspondence itself is inadequate: in letter 1, Ramires is apparently giving the text of his draft (always a less reliable source than the final text), which has an illegible word; letter 46 is missing a post-script cited in letter 47 (and noted by Ramires). The form of the letters (handwritten or typed) is not given, as is customary in such editions. Ramires claims (41) to provide a diplomatic transcript, but emphasis is displayed three different ways (italics; underlined italics; Sperrdruck), and Ramires gives no hint of how it was done in the original. At the same time, however, he is unwilling to put into the text (as other editors of modern correspondence often do, using typographical means to indicate editorial comment) updated or fuller references to editions or texts—which would have eliminated many of the useless and distracting notes referred to above. More important is that where real annotation is needed, it is not supplied. To be useful to students of Timpanaro (or of Italian academic life and politics in the 1990s) in future generations—or even to non-Italians now—the book needs annotation of many telegraphic and oblique references: apart from the long lists of textual questions lacking any context, there are several elliptical discussions, at times with unexplained abbreviations, of academic politics and institutions or political parties and elections. Ramires recognizes no possible audience other than Timpanaro's friends and admirers and apparently has no desire to elucidate anything beyond the immediate concerns of the correspondents and the text of Servius. It is proverbial that "every man who is his own lawyer, has a fool for a client"; the same applies to editors.

If one sets aside the Servian material that is either available elsewhere or not very intelligible as presented, what is left? Not a "Carteggio su Servio", to be sure, but a kind of epistolary novel with various para-Servian strands. Most appealing is the deepening relationship between the young Ramires and the aging Timpanaro (70 when the correspondence began): from being strictly concerned with precise Servian problems, the topics addressed expand to include family and health, vacations and weather, politics and academic politics as the informality grows from "Lei" to "tu" and from "Ramires" to "Giuseppe", culminating in Ramires' finally visiting Timpanaro in Florence in 1999.

The relationship between Ramires and Timpanaro has other aspects. At the outset, Ramires has a recent doctorate and is teaching in a liceo in Messina; the narrative that develops reveals a bright and frustrated young man seeking academic success and hoping for the aid of an eminent scholar. He seeks Timpanaro's advice not only about the text of Servius, but about where and how to publish his edition and what to do with articles derived from his work on Servius; he asks for Timpanaro's support in both publication and in the competition for university positions. One finds here more, perhaps, than one wanted to know (or fully understands) about the politics of the academy and of academic publishing in Italy, including (what may be customary in Italy but is not so, I think, in the United States) Timpanaro's proposing to review Ramires' edition after he had seen it in draft and commented on it, sending his review to Ramires for comment, working hard to place the favorable review in a suitable periodical, and tailoring his views to fit the result he wants to achieve. A large part of the correspondence concerns either the publication of this review or the attempt to mitigate the effects of the less favorable review given to Ramires by H. D. Jocelyn.3

Another part of the relationship is somewhat different. Ramires starts, it seems to me, by being completely deferential to Timpanaro's views, but gradually becomes less so. Timpanaro believed strongly in the value of indirect tradition; often useful indeed, but in Timpanaro's later work it turns into a rejection of direct tradition and thus of stemmatics. In the case of Servius, this specifically meant a rejection of the so-called "Harvard Servius" and in particular of the important research on the manuscripts done by the late Charles Murgia. Murgia was, I would agree, at times too rigid in his reliance on stemmatics in choosing among variants, but his explanation of the manuscript tradition is fundamental, and both Ramires and Timpanaro constantly and rightly rely on his work. One sees a curious dialectic: the hostility to Murgia appears in the rather one-sided account of the differences between him and Timpanaro given by Ramires in the introduction, and continues in the correspondence itself. But Ramires seems gradually to realize that his own initial stemma (with the discovery of a sub-group α to which he accords excessive importance) is itself too rigid, and "contamination" is mentioned more frequently, while Timpanaro is clearly torn between his dislike of using any stemma and his even greater dislike of Murgia. That leads him to support Ramires' stemma against Murgia's more emphatically than Ramires himself does and simultaneously to want to deny (210), absurdly, that Servius Auctus exists at all.4

Ramires, although he never clearly explains Murgia's contributions or his own reliance on them, shows, particularly in the latter part of the correspondence, a much more nuanced judgment than Timpanaro. Timpanaro was a superb Latinist, but he never, as far as I know, edited a text or collated a set of manuscripts, just as he never could endure the strains of an academic career. Ramires copes with the difficulties of his working life, just as he faced the hard and grueling work of editing. For all that, I have great respect for him, even though I continue to disagree with his reconstruction of the stemma of manuscripts and with the format of his editions.

But there are some disquieting aspects of this correspondence, notably the light it casts on Timpanaro's temperament. Stok (10) speaks of the "dark and pessimistic" outlook of Timpanaro's last years, but it is not merely a state of mind. It is generally known, and is apparent in his more political writings, that he became ever more anti-American and anti-Zionist; but there is more to it than that. In one unpleasant passage, referring to Jocelyn's friendship with C. O. Brink, he writes of Brink (154) "era un ebreo (il suo vero cognome era Levi or Levy)" and later in the same paragraph says "Certo, la psicologia degli ebrei, per ragioni ben comprensibili, è spesso complicata." Brink had converted to Lutheranism (and later to Anglicanism) and changed his name in 1931, before Nazi rule. At his death in 1994 he had been an Anglican communicant for decades, nor was his "real" name Levy; and "ebrei" do not have a uniform psychology. For Timpanaro, it seems, once a Jew always a Jew; and they are all alike.5

Were my own private correspondence published, I am sure that I would be found to have said some silly, trivial, and ignorant things, and probably some things that would offend readers: most of us say the wrong thing at times inadvertently or in unguarded moments. After reading this, I fervently hope my letters and emails stay firmly buried. I wish that I had not read these letters, and there is no book that I more regret having reviewed. My admiration of Timpanaro's learning remains high; my opinion of his judgment has dropped considerably. ​


1.   The other three are: Sebastiano Timpanaro--Francesco Orlando, Carteggio su Freud (1971-1977) (Pisa, 2001); Cesare Cases—Sebastiano Timpanaro, Un lapsus di Marx, Carteggio 1956-1990 (Pisa, 2005); and Carlo Ginzburg—Sebastiano Timpanaro, Lettere intorno a Freud (1971-1995), in E. Ghidetti and A. Pagnini, eds., Sebastiano Timpanaro e la cultura del secondo Novecento (Rome, 2005) 317-45. I have only seen the first of these. I have written at greater length about Timpanaro (and his work on Vergil in particular) in BMCR 2002.02.09.
2.   My review of Ramires' two editions (Book 9 [Bologna, 2003]; Book 7 [Bologna 2003]) appeared in Vergilius 54 (2008) 202-212.
3.   Jocelyn's review, which seems to me extremely balanced, appeared in Latomus 57 (1998) 434-437.
4.   Both my review and Jocelyn's discuss the stemmatic issues, which there is no room to explain here.
5.   On Brink, see H. D. Jocelyn's entry in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, behind a login wall.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Matteo Pellegrino, Nicofonte: Introduzione, Traduzione e Commento. Fragmenta Comica (FrC), Bd. 15. Mainz: Verlag Antike, 2013. Pp. 99. ISBN 9783938032572. €49.90.

Reviewed by Giacomo Mancuso, Caltagirone (

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Significativo prodotto di quella che oramai, a buon diritto, può definirsi 'scuola barese', il commento di Matteo Pellegrino ai frammenti del commediografo Nicofonte costituisce il quindicesimo volume della serie Fragmenta Comica, edita nell'ambito del progetto Kommentierung der Fragmente der Griechischen Komödie, diretto da Bernhard Zimmermann e promosso dalla Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften. Pellegrino è studioso esperto di poesia comica frammentaria,1 ed è, quindi, un bene che i magri resti della produzione drammatica di Nicofonte (cinque titoli di commedie e un totale di trenta frammenti, dei quali otto anepigrafi) siano finiti in mani competenti. Più specificamente, il volume qui recensito rivede e amplia (p. 9) un lavoro del 2006 con il complemento di alcuni contributi precedenti.2

Nell'introduzione (pp. 11-20), espansa rispetto al lavoro del 2006 (cf. n. 2), Pellegrino estrae, con la dovuta cautela, dai testimonia e dagli esigui resti dell'output drammatico nicofonteo le informazioni utili a delineare i contorni della figura del commediografo (cronologia, temi caratterizzanti, drammaturgia, lingua e metrica). In assenza di appigli cronologici costituiti da riferimenti ad eventi storici, komodoumenoi o altre opere letterarie di sicura datazione (p. 17), Pellegrino si avvale dei dati epigrafici forniti dalle liste dei vincitori degli agoni dionisiaci e lenaici3 e dell'Argumentum 3 Chantry (=hyp. III Wilson) del Pluto secondo aristofaneo, andato in scena nel 388 a.C., per collocare la produzione teatrale di Nicofonte "tra l'ultima decade del V sec. e i primi decenni del IV sec. a.C." (p. 11). Contemporaneo, ma appartenente ad una generazione successiva a quella di Aristofane, Nicofonte - per quanto è dato giudicare dai titoli delle commedie e dai frammenti pervenutici - sembrerebbe appartenere alla cosiddetta 'fase di transizione' fra l'archaia e la mese. La predilezione, inoltre, per la tematica mitologica e l'assenza di attacchi ad personam consentirebbe di ricondurre la produzione teatrale nicofontea nell'alveo del cosiddetto filone 'disimpegnato' della commedia attica antica, che ebbe i suoi più famosi rappresentati nei più anziani Cratete e Ferecrate (pp. 11-12 con n. 3 e 14). In relazione alla problematica informazione fornita da Ateneo (6.270a) che le Sirene di Nicofonte, al pari dei Turiopersiani di Metagene, siano rimasti ἀδίδακτα,4 Pellegrino si mostra meno aporetico rispetto alla posizione precedentemente espressa5 e propende ad accettare l'ipotesi di M. Revermann6 che le commedie non siano state rappresentate ad Atene, ma in qualche teatro dell'Italia meridionale: di qui la designazione di ἀδίδακτα (scil. Ἀθήνησιν), dovuta alla loro assenza dalle registrazioni didascaliche che Ateneo, o meglio la sua fonte, avrebbe consultato (pp. 17-19). Personalmente, anch'io sono incline ad accettare una simile ipotesi e citerei a confronto, pur consapevole delle rilevanti problematiche sottese, il noto schol.mny Eur. Andr. 445 οὐ δεδίδακται (Cobet: δέδεικται codd.) γὰρ Ἀθήνησιν: che, senza bisogno di scomodare le didascalie, un'espressione di tal fatta finisca per essere conguagliata in un mero ἀδίδακτον non stupirà chi abbia esperienza delle traversie cui andarono soggette queste informazioni nel corso dei secoli, man mano che il ricordo della concreta realtà teatrale antica andava impallidendo.

Le pp. 21-22 sono dedicate alla presentazione dei testimonia, dei quali viene opportunamente fornita anche una traduzione. Avrei, forse, speso qualche parola in più su Sud. ν 406 (=test. 1 K.-A.)7: la 'particolare' figura sermonis (τῶν δραμάτων αὐτοῦ καὶ ταῦτα) che introduce la Schriftenliste, di origine - a quanto pare - esichiana, denuncia evidentemente la presenza di attività escertoria (a carico di chi, è difficile stabilirlo con sicurezza), confermata dall'esistenza del titolo Ἄδωνις, pervenutoci per 'altra via'; gli ultimi due titoli Ἐγχειρογάστoρες e Σειρῆνες violano l'ordo alfabetico della lista (i frr. delle Σειρῆνες, inoltre, sono tràditi solo da Ateneo).

Com'è logico attendersi, la parte più corposa del lavoro è dedicata al commento dei frammenti (pp. 23-76). Di ciascuna commedia Pellegrino, con sano giudizio e ragguardevole dominio bibliografico, esamina le varie proposte interpretative attraverso il confronto con la superstite produzione aristofanea e con quella degli altri commediografi, anche nei casi un cui di un dramma non ci sia pervenuto altro che il nudo titolo (è il caso dell'Ἄδωνις e dell'Ἐξ Ἅιδου ἀνιών, discussi rispettivamente alle pp. 23-25 e 55). Mi pare che il punto di forza del commento risieda soprattutto nella delucidazione dei Realien, e in particolare di quelli, per così dire, gastronomici (cf. il commento ai frr. 6, 14 e 21): in questi casi Pellegrino mette a frutto una competenza acquisita attraverso un'esperienza di lungo corso; ciò non toglie che all'occorrenza siano caratterizzati efficacemente anche elementi di lingua e di stile comici (ad esempio, ad frr. 2,1 e 30). Minore spazio riceve, invece, il trattamento di problematiche più squisitamente critico-testuali, anche perché – come lo stesso Pellegrino rileva – i frammenti "non pongono significativi problemi critico-testuali" (p. 20). Il testo dei frammenti è conforme a quello stampato nei Poetae Comici Graeci (VII, pp. 63-73), mentre l'apparato è riprodotto selettivamente solo nei casi in cui il commento discuta varianti testuali rilevanti o interventi congetturali (cf. e.g. i frr. 1, 6, 7); criterio analogo è adoperato per i testimoni dei frammenti, che vengono di norma solamente citati, ma discussi laddove il contesto di citazione dei frammenti serva a migliorare la comprensione di questi ultimi (p. 9). Di ciascun frammento Pellegrino fornisce una traduzione in lingua italiana e la scansione metrica, cosa particolarmente gradita in anni in cui le conoscenze metriche diventano sempre più appannaggio di pochi. Sarebbe tuttavia utile al lettore, anche se non si tratta di prassi univoca, che nei trimetri giambici venisse segnalata la presenza della maasiana brevis in longo in fine verso (frr. 1,1; *5,2; 6,1; 7,1; 8; 21,3; 22), così come andava indicata nei trimetri privi di cesura principale (pentemimere o eftemimere) la presenza della cesura mediana (frr. 1,1; 2,1; 6,2; 20,4).

Ecco alcune osservazioni sparse su singole commedie o frammenti.

Ἐγχειρογάστορες: due le forme tràdite del titolo: Ἐγχειρογάστορες e Χειρογάστορες. Kassel e Austin optano per la prima (e così anche Pellegrino), convinti, a quanto pare, dalla testimonianza di Sud. ν 406 (non entra in gioco Χειρ.- di Sud. ν 407: il titolo deriva verisimilmente da Athen. 14.645bc; per cui, cf. già A. Meineke, Quaestionum scenicarum specimen secundum, Berolini 1827, p. 60) e dalle argomentazioni di J.W. White (cf. PCG VII, p. 65). Per White (The Scholia on the Aves of Aristophanes, Boston and London 1914, p. 277) "In eight of the nine cases [...] in which Nicophon's play is cited, the title Χειρογάστορες is given, but in six of these the phrasing is ἐν Χειρογάστορσι, which may well originally have been Ἐγχειρογάστορσι". Un errore originato da errata divisione di parole, quindi. Io sarei più dubbioso: in realtà, i casi sono tre (Athen. 9.389a, 14.645bc; Lex. Bachm. 155,27), negli altri due troviamo ἐν τοῖς Χειρ. (Poll. IV 56; Athen. 3.126e), che non è proprio la stessa cosa, il sesto non esiste. Le spiegazioni paleografiche - si sa - possono essere 'rivoltate come calzini'; si potrebbe pensare anche ad un errore di dittografia: ἐν Χειρ.- > ἐνχειρ.- > ἐν Ἐγχειρ.- (si veda in Poll. IV 56 la lezione fornita da S: ἐν τοῖς ἐνχειρ.-). Fr. 7,2: sul significato di χρηστός vs. πονηρός, si veda anche D. Rosenbloom, TAPhA 134.1, 2004, pp. 55-105 e 134.2, 2004, pp. 323-358 (queste pagine sono, invero, segnalate da Pellegrino nella precedente versione del commento nicofonteo: cf. AFLB 49, 2006, p. 59). Fr. 10: ai venditori ricorrenti in commedia (pp. 48-49) aggiungerei anche λυχνοπώλης (cf. Ar. Eq. 739) e, soprattutto, l'ἀλλαντοπώλης (Ar. Eq. 143 etc.).

Chiudono il volume una ricchissima bibliografia (pp. 77-96) e tre utili indici (passi discussi, nomi e cose notevoli, termini greci discussi, alle pp. 97-99).

Accurata la correzione delle bozze. Segnalo una sola svista: p. 40 r. 9 "supra", scribe "infra".

In conclusione, possiamo congratularci con Pellegrino per averci fornito un valido sussidio per la comprensione e l'interpretazione della figura e dei frammenti di Nicofonte.


1.   Del 1998 è il commento ai frammenti di Metagene, edito nel volume collettaneo Tessere. Frammenti della commedia greca: studi e commenti, a c. di A.M. Belardinelli-O.Imperio-G. Mastromarco-M. Pellegrino-P. Totaro, Bari, pp. 291-339; ma si vedano, in aggiunta, i lavori citati nella n. 2.
2.   Cf. M. Pellegrino, I frammenti di Nicofonte, AFLB 49, 2006, pp. 43-97; il fr. 21 K.-A. delle Σειρῆνες era già stato oggetto di commento in Id., Utopie e immagini gastronomiche nei frammenti dell'Archaia, Bologna 2000, pp. 127-132, mentre agli Ἐγχειρογάστορες è dedicato un articolo successivo (SPhV [N.S.] 3, 2002-2003, pp. 43-97).
3.   Non faremo una colpa a Pellegrino di non aver probabilmente fatto a tempo (cf. p. 77 n.*) a fare riferimento alla recente edizione di IG II2 2318-2325 prodotta da B.W. Millis e S.D. Olson, Inscriptional Records for the Dramatical Festivals in Athens, Leiden-Boston 2012.
4.   Queste le parole di Ateneo: οἶδα δὲ ὅτι καὶ οἱ Θουριοπέρσαι καὶ τὸ τοῦ Νικοφῶντος δρᾶμα ἀδίδακτά ἐστι. La traduzione fornita da A. Rimedio (in AA.VV., Ateneo. I Deipnosofisti. I Dotti a banchetto, II, Roma 2001, p. 641: "So per certo che i Turiopersiani, come anche la commedia di Nicofonte, non sono mai andati in scena") non mi pare accettabile.
5.   Cf. Pellegrino, Utopie, ma si veda già il commento ai frammenti di Metagene (citt. n. 2), rispettivamente alle pp. 133-134 n. 1 e 304 n. 4.
6.   Cf. M. Revermann, Comic Business, Theatricality, Dramatic Technique, and Performance Contexts of Aristophanic Comedy, Oxford 2006, pp. 71-72 e 329-330.
7.   Sulle caratteristiche e su alcune delle problematiche connesse a questi materiali, cf. il documentato lavoro di A. Lorenzoni, Eikasmos 23, 2012, pp. 321-347.

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Federico Santangelo, Divination, Prediction and the End of the Roman Republic. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. xii, 357. ISBN 9781107026841. $99.00.

Reviewed by Daniele F. Maras, Pontificia Accademia Romana di Archeologia (

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Table of Contents

Federico Santangelo has written a wonderful book on a difficult, crucial subject that has never been discussed in such depth in the past, although a great number of scholars have dealt with the interaction of religious issues and politics in the late Republican period. The excellent methodology and rich bibliography, accurate editing, and a reasonable price make this book well worth purchasing by historians of pre-Roman and Roman Italy.

Santangelo has chosen a historical focus for his work, grounding his deductions and conclusions in a thorough analysis of the relevant literary sources―with occasional references to inscriptions―putting each piece of information in its correct chronological and historical context.1

As a result the reader has a clear and detailed overview of the political intelligence behind the ostensibly rigid religious formality of Roman institutions, and the complex relations between political and religious authorities, such as the augurs. 2

Cicero's figure dominates the greater part of the chapters, as "a competent and intelligent witness of Roman divination" (35). In fact Chapter 1 (10-36) starts with the need to provide a historical context for De divinatione, which is our most important source on divination and prediction. The dialogue takes the form of two monologues delivered by the characters Quintus and Marcus, the former defending the value of divinatio, the latter railing against superstitio.

Santangelo points out that the De divinatione was written over a period of two years, between 45 and 44 BCE, when Cicero was forced to diminish his political commitment during the dictatorship of Caesar (32-33), and was finished after the Ides of March, thus allowing the author to reassess his personal commitment to both politics and public religion, and to express in the conclusion his own views on the subject through the words of Marcus (13). The dialogue was part of a trilogy with the De natura deorum and the De fato. Unfortunately, the close of the latter work does not survive; Santangelo supposes that it would have clarified the scope of the trilogy as a whole (17).

In Chapter 2 (37-68) a detailed discussion of the history of the terminology of divinatio and its different meanings over time is probably one of the best parts of the volume. A sub-chapter is devoted to the distinction between superstitio and religio, which is fundamental for understanding Cicero's negative use of the former term (38-47). It is important to note that early attestations of the word superstitiosus show a close link with prophecy, as a form of divinely inspired divination3; later uses of the concept seem to refer mainly to forms of religious fear or unacceptable religious practices. As a confirmation, Nigidius Figulus observes that the suffix –osus implies a negative slant, and quotes an old carmen comparing religiosus to religens, maintaining that the former "is applied to one who has involved himself in an extreme and superstitious religio" (42). Therefore, when thundering against superstitio, the character Marcus in the De divinatione describes correct practice as "to regulate religion" (moderare religionem), as stated in the De natura deorum.

The abstract noun divinatio is never attested before the late Republic (48-49), and probably derives from the necessity of translating a Greek term such as mantiké; but the reference to the "divine" adds a special value to the Latin word. Different uses of this concept and word in Cicero's works show that divinatio implies a prognostication depending on the interpretation of signs, whether they are of divine origin or not: in this sense, even the ability to foresee future political or military events can be defined as divinatio. And "fore-seeing" is exactly the original meaning of the term prudentia (providentia), with which Santangelo deals in the second part of the chapter (56-68), along with prudens. In the De inventione Cicero defines prudentia as a form of knowledge (scientia), divided into three parts, memoria, intellegentia, providentia, respectively referring to past, present and future events.

Again, in Cicero's philosophical works prudentia is probably a translation of the Greek phronesis, as opposed to sophía-sapientia; but the etymology of the Latin word is more informative of its actual meaning (57). Moreover, the meaning of the verb providere "may be that of 'foresee', but it can also mean 'to take appropriate action before something happens' " (64). The further development of prudens as a synonym of sciens shows its progressive separation from the concept of divinatio: prudentia "refers to specific forms of expertise, which are clearly codified and may be taught. It is also used to refer to wisdom" (68).4

Cicero's works are not informative on issues of ritual or religious practice relating to divination (69), and should be considered a biased source when studying forms of divination that were not directly controlled by the elites or involved in the political activity of the ruling class (14-15). Chapter 3 (69-83) is dedicated to some less structured forms of divination, such as the interpretation of dreams and cleromancy, as well as foreign practices. The author states correctly that Cicero is not always a reliable witness for these practices. Although in this context Santangelo refers to some iconographic and epigraphic material, he does not take into consideration the discovery of inscribed lots in Latin as well as Italic and Etruscan contexts during the Republican period, which would have provided further, material evidence for the practices he mentions. 5

Chapter 4 (83-114) is devoted to the activity of the haruspices in the late Republic, highlighting their responses as increasingly prophetic in comparison to other forms of divination.6 It seems that in Roman religion Etruscan lore had found a niche not filled by other practices, which may account for its great prominence in political life. Cicero's careful rebuttal of the interpretation of Clodius for the prodigies of 56 BCE (in the De haruspicum responsis) testifies to this situation, since the orator never questions the authority of the haruspices, but stresses instead the need for an interpretative effort on the part of those who receive their response (102-107).

The disciplina Etrusca "was a set of doctrines, … but it was not an immutable practice. It was the object of study and reflection and that very process of critique and enquiry took place within the Etruscan elites" (100). This explains both the transmission of the haruspical tradition within families of Etruscan origin and its link with power and politics, as well as the continuous updating work of each generation, which reshaped and adapted the original lore of Tages to current times. This is particularly evident in the brontoscopic calendar of Nigidius Figulus, which dates back to the Iron Age,7 but includes elements referring to Hellenistic Etruria and late Republican Rome (101).8

With Chapter 5 (115-127) we reach the central argument of the volume: expectations for the future of Rome during the troubles of the 1st century BCE, in coincidence with the advent of a new age of history that Virgil―among others―depicts as a Golden Age. A reflection upon the periodization of time with special regard to the history of Rome and the number of saecula that were allocated to the city was inserted into the Hellenistic philosophical debate, but this also involved the experience of the Etrusca disciplina, which possessed its own doctrine of saecula, as recorded by Censorinus quoting Varro.9 Of course Augustan propaganda made use of the most optimistic views on the future age; but fears for the possible end of Rome still lingered in the air (127).

In Chapter 6 (128-148) Santangelo deals with the tradition of the Sybilline prophecies, and their reference to Roman history: in the Greek world in the case of some oracles handed down by literary sources, and at Rome as regards the Sybilline Books. These were burned along with the Capitol in 83 BCE, and restored some years later by gathering oracles and prophetic sayings from several sources in Italy and the Mediterranean. By transferring the Sybilline Books to the temple of Apollo on the Palatine in 12 BCE, Augustus incorporated them in his religious propaganda, thus averting the potential opposition of the (quin)decemviri in charge of the consultation of the texts (137-141).

The destabilising influence of private consultations of soothsayers (harioli and vates) on public opinion and on statesmen is addressed in Chapter 7 (149-173), with reference to the potential threat of uncontrolled practices and the relevant measures taken by the Senate from time to time.

Pessimistic views of the inescapable decline of society, and the related explicit or implicit predictions of the decline of Rome are the argument of Chapters 8 and 9, with reference to Cicero's late correspondence (174-181) and Sallust's moralistic and 'irreligious' view of history (182-191). The protagonist of Chapter 10 (192-219), on the other hand, is Livy, who in contrast "took religious themes and motifs very seriously" (192).

In the 19th century Livy was at the center of a debate on his skeptical attitude towards the irrational aspects of Roman religion (193-196). According to Santangelo, Livy's purpose in writing "a comprehensive political and moral history" of Rome is apparent in his stigmatization of religious negligence as a cause of crisis and decline: current tendencies towards harboring a contempt for the gods are opposed to the piety and religiosity of the ancient times (197-199), and overlooking religious obligations causes an interruption of the pax deorum (203). In relation to this, Santangelo presents a case study of Livy's accounts of divinatory practices and responses, as well as their interpretations, whether correct or flawed (203-208).

Virgil is the subject of Chapter 11, which focuses on his use of prodigies and prophecy as a literary device for foretelling the tragedy of the Civil War, as well as the glorious future of Rome and the advent of a new Golden Age (220-234). In this regard, it is interesting to note that most of the prophecies that we encounter in the Aeneid "come from gods and do not take place in a ritual context" (227).

Chapter 12 (235-266) describes the reshaping of the practice of divination in Rome, which was boxed in by the religious agenda of the newborn Principate. Augustus skillfully turned in his own favor the rumors of prodigies that preceded and accompanied Caesar's death (236-240), and attached a number of favorable omens to his own rise to power in order to gather a general religious consensus (240-246). This is also the background of the princeps' sudden interest in astrology, which "did not fade away throughout his long reign" (251).


1.   On the other hand, an adequate search for archaeological and iconographical evidence is missing, with special regard to Etruscan studies: see recently L. Bonfante, J. Swaddling, Etruscan Myths, Austin 2006; L.B. van der Meer, Etrusco Ritu. Case studies in Etruscan ritual behaviour, Louvain-Walpole 2011; N. de Grummond, Haruspicy and Augury: Sources and Procedures, in J. Turfa (ed.), The Etruscan World, Oxford 2013, 539–556.
2.   See also the Appendix (273–278) on Mark Antony's activity as an augur.
3.   The preservation of this old meaning of superstitio casts new light on the famous sentence of the late Christian writer Arnobius (Adv. nat. 7.26), who labelled Etruria as genetrix et mater superstitionum.
4.   In actuality Santangelo does not take into consideration the complex cross-reference with the terms scientia and disciplina―the latter closely bound to the divinatory science of the Etruscan haruspices―, which should have led him to be cautious in drawing definitive conclusions on the subject.
5.   D.F. Maras, 'Le sortes', in Il dono votivo, Pisa-Rome 2009, 37–40.
6.   This is probably the historical background in which the reshaping of legends on public prodigies in the age of kings took place, such as Romulus' auguria (217–219) and the caput Oli (85, note 6).
7.   J. Turfa, Divining the Etruscan World, Cambridge 2012, not seen by Santangelo, but including much more than an "English translation and extensive discussion" on the work by John Lydus (100, note 66).
8.   On the Etruscan origin of Nigidius Figulus, see now G. Colonna, in Studi Etruschi 73, 2009, 101–134.
9.   See also F. Mora, 'I saecula etruschi', in Res Antiquae 5, 2008, 173–180.

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Augustine Casiday, Reconstructing the Theology of Evagrius Ponticus: Beyond Heresy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. ix, 265. ISBN 9780521896801. $99.00.

Reviewed by Ellen Muehlberger, University of Michigan (

Version at BMCR home site


Condemned in the mid-sixth century, the late fourth-century Christian writer Evagrius of Pontus presents a puzzle to historians of late antiquity. Working without the benefit of the robust apparatus of scholarship that develops around ancient authors deemed orthodox, scholars often engage in the most fundamental of historiographical tasks: what texts are his? what are the facts of his biography? what were his aims? Answering these questions requires advanced skills, for Evagrius's corpus, composed in Greek, does not fully survive in that language; some of the most important works survive only in Syriac; until the twentieth century, editions of Evagrian texts were mostly lacking; and some of those still in use are less than optimal.1 In this environment, radical reconsideration of Evagrius's life is possible in a way it is not for other, more well-attended figures from the past. Casiday's book, the outgrowth of articles written over the past twelve years, suggests a significant revision to current scholarship on Evagrius.

The book's subtitle, "Beyond Heresy," indicates the context for Casiday's revision. In previous articles, Casiday divided Evagrian scholarship into two opposing camps: those in the "Heresiological School," whom Casiday reckons find Evagrius "interesting chiefly because his name is connected to some excesses within the Origenist tradition," are compared to those in the "Benedictine School," like Gabriel Bunge.2 Casting scholars in this way produced a "good guys and bad guys" scenario that has continued to influence Casiday's assessment of scholarship. Lest that seem an unfair imposition, let me note that in the book under review, Casiday's discussion of the figure he places at the head of the "Heresiological School," Elizabeth Clark, culminates in a bizzare comparison of Clark's logic in The Origenist Controversy (1992) to the false justifications offered by Donald Rumsfeld, the United States Secretary of Defense, in the run-up to the United States' invasion of Iraq in 2003. Such a dichotomous parsing of the field obscures the reality: those who might fit in the so-called "Heresiological School" do not seek out heresy for heresy's sake, but instead see in Evagrius's work a measure of the diversity of fourth-century Christianity, while those who are classed in the "Benedictine School" often can be found to insist on the detailed and qualified view of the coherence of the past that Casiday in this scenario disdains.

Casiday's own approach to Evagrius, laid out in Chapters 1 to 3, in fact fits neither school. It is idiosyncratic, combining a maximalism regarding the historical value of some sources with a surprising minimalism with respect to others. On the maximalist side, Casiday accepts biographical texts written after Evagrius's lifetime as uninflected representations of his practices. Among the sources important for Casiday's reconstruction, most salient are the Coptic extensions of Palladius's Lausiac History. The early-fifth-century Lausiac History is already a difficult source, as it was an edificatory biography, oft translated and expanded in antiquity. What arguments have been made about the uncertainty of using its Coptic extensions to recreate Evagrius's practice are noted by Casiday.3 Despite his assurance, however, that the text will be used sparingly (20), the book relies on the Coptic extensions to depict Evagrius.

The minimalism I mentioned applies to the most attention-getting text in Evagrius's corpus, the Kephalaia Gnostica (KG). Originally written in Greek, already at the start of the seventh century the KG was circulating in two different Syriac versions (known to scholars as S1 and S2). In this book Casiday rejects the influential thesis of Antoine Guillaumont, whose 1962 work argued that S2 was an unexpurgated version of the text, while S1 had been edited to bring Evagrius into line with orthodox, especially non-Origenist, theology. (46-71) As support, Casiday notes the lack of Evagrius's name among those under scrutiny for Origenism at the end of the fourth century, reasoning that there would thus be no need to produce an expurgated version of KG. Casiday instead posits that S2 was a later expansion of S1.4 So, when Evagrius was condemned in the sixth century, it was on the basis of the mistaken attribution of S2 to him.

Seeing Casiday's efforts to establish the priority of S1, a reader might think that it would become central to his reconstruction of Evagrius, but that is not the case. A second, more rigid minimalism is applied to Evagrius's work: Casiday also argues that the genre of some Evagrian texts disallows the historian their use in understanding Evagrius's theology. Specifically, he claims that Evagrius's kephalaic literature—that is, literature comprising lists of short, gnomic statements—is inappropriate material by which to find Evagrius's ideas about the divine. (37-42) In this, Casiday bucks the system: Evagrian scholars of all perspectives tend to see the KG and its two kephalaic siblings, the treatises known as Praktikos and Gnostikos, as central to the Evagrian project. Witness, for example, the diverse team of scholars currently producing an edition of this trilogy for Oxford University Press.5

Casiday's choices about sources enable a presentation of Evagrius divergent from the main stream of Evagrian studies. So, in Chapter 4, Casiday draws heavily from the Coptic expansions of the Lausiac History to depict Evagrius as a monk within a traditional monastery, who accepts numerous visitors, keeps in his cell the money such visitors bring him, and leaves that cell at times to travel to Alexandria to refute heretics with great zeal. In summary, Evagrius is described as "a sophisticated thinker who made judicious use of his intellectual and personal resources in serving the Church." (98) Alignment with an institutional Church is not among the aims that animate Evagrius's own writings, but the use of the Coptic expansions of the Lausiac History supports that view. Chapter 5 delineates Evagrius's use of texts, which Casiday sees in line with orthodox scriptural interpretation. His primary aim in this chapter is to negate the idea that Evagrius was engaged in "Alexandrian"-style allegory, something he assumes would strike readers as "startling" and "repugnant." (127) The existence in antiquity of other uses of texts, especially as represented in philosophical schools, is not within the scope of Casiday's portrait of Evagrius, so recent illuminating work about Evagrius goes unmentioned and unengaged here.6 In Chapter 6, Casiday aims to show that "there is no basis for the anxiety about Evagrian prayer being excessively intellectualised." (165) Instead, he claims that prayer as prescribed by Evagrius takes place in an "emotionally rich" atmosphere, in which the monk was "heavily emotionally invented in his prayers." (162) It is difficult to overstate this claim's incongruity with the common understanding of Evagrian prayer, namely, that it is indebted to Stoic theories of the passions and that communion with God occurs only when the passions are tempered, allowing the nous to shine unshaded by such immoderate movements of the soul.

This book also offers a new account of Evagrius's theology. In Chapter 7, a single passage is key, On Thoughts 25. There, Evagrius imagined how a person conjures mental representations of objects in the sensible world and explained: "So just as the mind receives the mental representations of all sensible objects, in this way it receives also that of its own organism—for this too is sensible—but of course with the exception of one's face, for it is incapable of creating a form of this within itself since it has never seen itself."7 For Evagrius, this mental form explains how it is possible for practitioners to be tempted with bodily acts like fornication even when sitting alone away from other people. Most scholars have understood On Thoughts 25 as a demonstration of Evagrius's diligent attention to human psychology; to overcome the temptations, which are also passions and demons, one must understand how these things work, and that includes understanding their preferred field of battle, human cognition. For Casiday, however, this short explanation offers an opening into which a speculative theology can enter. If a person's mental representation of himself lacks a face, it is not simply a blind spot in cognition; it is instead the location held for the proper "face" of each human being, namely Christ. This reading introduces Christ more centrally to Evagrius's account and defends against scholars who have seen Evagrius's theology as "isochristic," meaning that Christ was model of practice for human beings who could then become like him, rather than as a mediator who bridged the distance between human beings and the divine. If Casiday is correct in seeing Christ as the missing face of one's mental representation of oneself, then Evagrian practice is truly dependent on the mediation of Christ—a real innovation in interpretation of Evagrius.

The final chapter pivots from Christ's facilitation of Evagrian practice to its goal, knowledge of the Trinity. Here, it becomes clear how the exclusion of the KG has affected Casiday's reconstruction: if one is to report an eschatology for Evagrius anywhere within the pale of received Christian orthodoxy, a text like the KG, even the version known as S1, is problematic. Casiday's reconstruction of Evagrius's eschatology depends instead on the Great Letter, which treats both Christology and eschatology explicitly. Ultimately, these more speculative chapters aim to present an Evagrius who "primarily worked to promote monastic practice and theory that would be consistent with the principles of Nicene orthodoxy," a claim Casiday advances early in the book. (99) While it is clear that Evagrius was influenced by his time serving in church offices before 380 C.E., the texts that survive from his period in Egypt do not place questions of orthodoxy to the fore. This reconstruction does, and to the extent that readers agree with Casiday's selection of texts to represent Evagrius, it is a convincing portrait.

It is also a truly novel one. As should be clear, the central goal of this book is the establishment a path by which to reincorporate Evagrius into mainstream orthodox tradition, in part to allow for his writings to be useful in contemporary Christian theological ventures. This does not mean that scholars unconcerned with such rehabilitation of Evagrius will find the book to be without use. It has the benefit of reminding us of the constructed nature of our knowledge about this brilliant fourth-century author. It also reminds all scholars, perhaps inadvertently, of the constructed nature of our portrait of the Christian past, bringing back into our attention the contingency of the choices we make when we seek to draw a simple narrative from the complexity of antiquity.


1.   The complexity of the situation and the promise of careful, philologically-informed scholarship is legible in The Guide to Evagrius Ponticus an online resource created and painstakingly curated by Joel Kalvesmaki.
2.   Augustine Casiday, "Gabriel Bunge and the Study of Evagrius Ponticus," St Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 48 (2004): 249-297. See also "On Heresy in Modern Patristic Scholarship: The Case of Evagrius Ponticus," Heythrop Journal 53 (2012): 241-252, quotation at 250.
3.   For the problems in adopting the Coptic extensions as representative of the fourth century, see Mark Sheridan, O.S.B., "Review of: Quartre ermites égyptiens," in From the Nile to the Rhone and Beyond: Studies in Early Monastic Literature (Rome: Studia Anselmiana, 2012), 149-153, who notes that the Coptic dialect in which the expanded portion survives, Bohairic, does not appear in literary texts before the tenth century. In this book Casiday appears to be working from Tim Vivian's 2004 translation of the Coptic expansions, as no edition is cited.
4.   This argument rests on the dating of the Armenian translation of S1 printed by Barsegh Sargisean in Venice in 1907. Casiday cites Sargisean's opinion, but not the location of the argument for it; I was unable to evaluate Sargisean's dating because I do not read modern Armenian.
5.   That team represents a rather wide range of positions and approaches: Luke Dysinger, O.S.B, Sidney H. Griffith, Joel Kalvesmaki, Charles M. Stang, Columba Stewart, O.S.B., and Robin Darling Young.
6.   See, for example, BMCR 2011.05.56.
7.   On Thoughts 25, trans. Robert E. Sinkewicz, Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus (Oxford, 2003), 170. See also Evagrius's discussion of cognition in Letter 39.

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Jonathan Harris, Catherine Holmes, Eugenia Russell (ed.), Byzantines, Latins, and Turks in the Eastern Mediterranean World after 1150. Oxford studies in Byzantium. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. xi, 378; 8 p. of plates. ISBN 9780199641888. $150.00.

Reviewed by Brian A. Catlos, University of Colorado at Boulder (

Version at BMCR home site


The volume Byzantines, Latins, and Turks grew out of a two-day colloquium held at Oxford in 2005, and its thirteen essays include contributions from leading scholars on various aspects of the Medieval Mediterranean. The virtue of such collections is that they gather the work of diverse scholars around a determined period or theme and are often rich in their variety of approach and perspective; on the other hand, it is a challenge to maintain overall coherence precisely due to that characteristic. The essays gathered here range from religion to economics and from politics to literature, bridging the worlds of Latins, Greeks, Mamluks, and Turks, and spanning over five centuries – discrete and independent snapshots that editor and contributor, Catherine Holmes endeavours to tie together in her substantial introduction to the collection, and in the lead essay, "'Shared Worlds': Religious Identities – A Question of Evidence."

In the introduction Holmes stakes out the volume's purpose as "to make sense of the region's highly fragmented and fluid polities, economies and societies… which may allow us to speak with confidence about the late medieval Eastern Mediterranean as a coherent field of historical inquiry" that "by identifying unities amid disunity we can begin to construct a framework which current and future research into the region as a whole and into its component parts may be conducted." (p. 1). Holmes notes the prevalence in recent historiography of the region of themes relating to "fragmentation, plurality, hybridity and interconnectedness" (p. 9) and of the difficulty of "making general sense out of highly localized studies." (p. 10). The importance of Horden and Purcell's Corrupting Sea is acknowledged; although, as Holmes points out, the jury is not quite yet in as to how well their model holds up against "limited periods of time or particular zones" (p. 14) (although they themselves might not make firm claims in that regard).

In fact, the Introduction serves also as the volume's conclusion, in which, after reviewing the various chapters, Holmes concludes that it is unclear as to whether the Mediterranean (or more narrowly, the Eastern Mediterranean) should be considered a distinct unit or region, and as to how useful Horden and Purcell's distinction between scholarship "in" versus "of" the Mediterranean is. In her view some of the studies presented here seem to undermine the Horden-Purcell view of the Mediterranean, while others seem to resonate with it, and she closes the introduction/conclusion rather tentatively, unsure of what we can say the Mediterranean (Eastern or not) meant for even the people who inhabited it, and suggesting that "all-encompassing histories of the Byzantines, Ottomans, Mamluks, Venetians, or Genoese must surely be written within a framework which pays close attention first to the profound fragmentations within the late medieval eastern Mediterranean world, and second to the common cultural, political, and economic practices which united such a plurality of communities" (p. 25; her emphasis).

In fact, the thirteen essays can be divided fairly clearly along the lines of the Horden-Purcell "in"/"of" binary. Over half of the chapters, including Jonathan Shepard's "Imperial Constantinople: Relics, Palaiologian Emperors, and the resilience of Exemplary Culture," Jonathan Harris's "Contantinople as a City State, c. 1360–1453," Theresa Shawcross's "Conquest Legitimized: The Making of a Byzantine Emperor in Crusader Constantinople (1204–1261)," Christopher Wright's "Byzantine Authority and Latin Rule in the Gattilusio Lordships," David Abulafia's "Aragon versus Turkey – Tirant lo Blanc and Mehmed the Conqueror: Iberia, the Crusade and Late Medieval Chivalry," Judith Ryder's "Byzantium and the West in the 1360s: the Kydones Version," and Kate Fleet's "Turks, Mamluks, and Latin Merchants: Commerce, Conflict and Cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean" can be seen as falling into the former category by virtue of the approach, and emphasis on discrete events, locales or scenarios. The balance, including Catherine Holmes's "'Shared Worlds': Religious Identities – A Question of Evidence," David Jacoby's "The Eastern Mediterranean in the Later Middle Ages: an Island World?" Eurydice Georgantelli's "Transposed Images: Currencies and Legitimacy in the Late Medieval Eastern Mediterranean," Dmitris Kastritis's "Conquest and Political Legitimation in the Early Ottoman Empire," Christopher Tyerman's "'New Wine in Old Skins'? Crusade Literature and Crusading in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Later Middle Ages," and Robert Irwin's "Palestine in Late Medieval Islamic Spirituality and Culture," fall into the "of the Mediterranean" approach.

All together it is a rich collection, and the various contributions are impressive in their quality both as individual works and in their breadth as totality. That said, the predominance of Byzantinists and of the British academy among the contributors certainly should caution the reader as taking these pieces as necessarily indicative of the validity of the Mediterranean (or Eastern Mediterranean) as a frame of inquiry, or of concluding as does Holmes that history here must be conceived of first in terms of fragmentation.

Indeed, although the authors may not have set out to emphasize it, the Mediterranean comes out clearly in many of the pieces that fall into the first category. For example, although the word "Mediterranean" does not even appear in Shepard's chapter, to this reviewer's eyes the Mediterranean itself clearly does in the integration of Latin, Byzantine and extra-imperial Orthodox players that the author describes, and the fact that their expressions of sovereignty, legitimacy and authority are articulated within the framework of a common, or at least commonly comprehensible set of concepts, rituals and objects. The same might be observed regarding Shawcross's chapter, which like that of Wright and of Harris, can be seen to illustrate how profoundly interdependent Latins and Byzantines were in the Eastern Mediterranean, irrespective of the formal identities and polities that divided them. Similarly, Abulafia reminds us that the Catalano-Aragonese attitudes to the Ottomans as evinced in the chivalric romance in Tirant lo Blanc must be considered also in the light of Catalano-Aragonese competition with Genoa.

The interconnected, and "corrupting" Mediterranean comes out even more clearly in the "of" chapters. Georgantelli's fascinating essay on the shared symbols of later medieval Anatolian coinage shows how the borrowing of the symbols of authority across ecumenian lines was not limited to transitional periods of grand conquest, but took place throughout the Middle Ages in politically-contested Anatolia, as does Kastritis's chapter on the early Ottomans. Irwin's survey of religiosity in post-Hattin Palestine undermines the traditional, cataclysmic (from the Latin Christian perspective) view of the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem. The ambiguities of the use of Crusade rhetoric in the late Middle Ages and Early Modern era and its relation to Eastern Mediterranean politics and trade also comes out in Tyerman's essay. And although Jacoby is somewhat restrained in his conclusion as to whether the Eastern Mediterranean can be described as "an island world," focusing on the rivalry between Venice and Genoa, he notes that "interlocking an partially overlapping networks of communication linked insular and continental territories across political boundaries and the fault lines between zones of dominance." (p. 112). Indeed, this is an observation that is all the more compelling when one considers that the rivalry between the two trading republics was only one of several overlapping nexus of competition in the region.

The Mediterranean, it seems, is there for those who look for it. But this is not to say that it is any less valid as a framework for inquiry or as a historical "region" than any other. As to the question posed in the introduction: whether the Eastern Mediterranean in the Late Middle Ages is a "coherent region" (p. 23), one might suppose that leans rather heavily on what one considers "coherent" and how one conceives of a "region." And one wonders if this is a question that we even need to bother asking. Whereas on some planes the "fragmentation" of the Eastern Mediterranean in this era is clear, it is equally clear that integration and interdependence also drove the historical process, and that alongside the rhetoric and action of confrontation and conflict between Latins, Greeks, Mamluks and Ottomans, there was also rhetoric and action (typically more subtle and more self-conscious) of commonality and concord among players who identified with these larger and formally-opposed categories. Moreover, it seems that these latter forces—remarkable in view of the formal differences that distinguished rival religio-political cultures—were rooted to a great extent in the particular environment of the Mediterranean as described (if only obliquely in terms of political and cultural history) by Horden and Purcell. Historians should be prepared to account for both of these types of interaction and engagement. Considering the Mediterranean or even the Eastern Mediterranean as a "coherent region" does not eclipse the reality of the regional coherence of Europe, the Islamic World, or what have you, it simply serves to answer certain questions better. And taken both independently and as a whole, the fourteen excellent chapters in this collection demonstrate both the Mediterranean character of late medieval Anatolia and its environs, and also the ways in which it was an arena for conflict and competition among external regions that might be seen as non-Mediterranean.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Elizabeth Courtney Banks, The Settlement and Architecture of Lerna IV. Lerna: results of excavations conducted by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 6. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2013. Pp. xx, 484. ISBN 9780876613061. $150.00.

Reviewed by Vassilis Petrakis, National Hellenic Research Foundation (

Version at BMCR home site

[The volume's contents are given at the end of this review.]

This is the sixth volume in the series of final reports on the excavations of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens' excavations (1952-1958) at Lerna, a site located on a low mound near the village of Myloi in the Argolid. This volume publishes the architecture and stratigraphy of the fourth settlement (Lerna IV), which dates to the Early Helladic (hereafter EH) III period. Since the publication of J.L. Caskey's seminal 1960 article, 1 Lerna has been a protagonist in discussions about the EH II/III 'transition' (the passage from Lerna III to Lerna IV in terms of the site's history) and its historical implications, often exercising 'paradigmatic pressure' upon our understanding of this crucial period. Caskey interpreted the destruction of the Lerna III settlement as typical of a broader horizon of invasion of new 'ethnic' elements in the southern Greek Mainland, a viewpoint recent overviews have shown to be misleadingly oversimplified. 2

Banks' publication should be consulted alongside Rutter's monumental analysis of the Lerna IV pottery. 3 It is clear throughout the book that Rutter and Banks have collaborated quite closely: Rutter's ceramic analysis has defined the tripartite phasing of the Lerna IV settlement (IV.1, IV.2 and IV.3), which is fundamental to the whole presentation, and references to Rutter's pottery groups are ubiquitous throughout the analysis of the various contexts and in the final discussion (pp.33-367 and 395). We may use Rutter's and Banks' publications as two parts of a single synthesis. With this publication, the only Lerna IV material that remains unpublished is the small finds, which will be treated by Banks in a separate volume, 4 but are nonetheless considered in the concluding discussion (pp.343-367).

This volume is very conveniently organized into nine chapters, followed by five Appendixes. Chapter 1 provides essential guidance on how to use the book alongside other presentations of the Lerna material. Chapter 2 is also necessary reading: various types of buildings (apsidal, rectilinear and a few disputable cases of other curvilinear constructions) and other features (hearths, ovens and so-called 'bothroi') are defined, described and discussed in detail, enabling the reader to access the actual presentation of the evidence. The suggested typological distinctions of building ground-plans (pp.12-17) will be particularly appreciated and ‒one hopes‒ may lead to the establishment of a common terminology in studies of Helladic architecture. The discussion of 'bothroi' (of which over 200 have been assigned to Lerna IV) is particularly commendable, and Banks argues persuasively for their possibly diverse nature and functions (pp.20-22). In Chapters 4 to 7, the material is presented by sector (Main Area, Area D, and the various early 'test' trenches) and by settlement phase (a proper stratigraphic assignment is more ambiguous for the remains presented in Chapter 8). The concluding discussion (Chapter 9) is also divided in phases and includes a brief discussion of plant remains (the latter based on identifications by Maria Hopf, pp.364-367). All Appendixes provide essential information referring to Chapters 4- 8: a tabular presentation of architectural features, concordances of pottery lots and groups to context and page numbers, a full catalogue of the Lerna IV bothroi with commentary, a note on the few burials associated with the settlement and a revision of the faunal assemblages (the latter by David Reese).

Banks sees Lerna IV as a relatively small settlement compared to the Lerna III town, although she commendably refrains from speculation on population size, admitting that only a small part of the site has been explored (p.344). She also follows Rutter in suggesting the 'mixed' nature of the Lerna IV culture ("a Lerna-Tiryns-Aigina/Kolonna symbiosis" featuring an "Anatolian-derived drinking behavior": pp.354, 358). 5 Lerna IV settlers lived the average Bronze Age life, with subsistence based primarily on farming and herding, while specialized crafts (ceramic production, obsidian working and perhaps metallurgy) were also practiced (Melian obsidian and copper were imported to the site). Conclusive evidence for intra-site differentiation (hierarchical or heterarchical) is quite scarce (a scarcity typical of EH III-Middle Helladic settlements, Kolonna on Aigina being the well-known exception). It seems probable that the settlement expanded in size to cover almost the entire mound by the end of phase IV.3 (p.361). Banks sees in this expansion evidence for a further arrival of newcomers at Lerna (there is no evident cultural change until the end of Lerna V).

Two features of this publication in particular stand out: Banks' interpretation of the tumulus upon the 'House of the Tiles' (Chapter 3: pp.23-31) and Reese's revision of the Lerna IV faunal identifications (Appendix V: pp.421-467). Although these certainly do not form the bulk of this volume, both mark major advances in our understanding of the site, therefore justifying a more extensive discussion.

The circular shield-shaped tumulus had long been considered the first EH III construction on the site. Made of the mixed debris of the 'House of the Tiles' (ash, brick, tile, charcoal and stone), it had been traditionally interpreted as an expression of reverence and awe towards the 'House' by the new settlers of Lerna IV. 6 Banks' suggestion that the tumulus was actually the latest EH II construction at Lerna introduces a fascinating new perspective on this monument. 7 Her approach is influenced by Forsén's concept of "ritual tumuli" (i.e., mounds not intended to mark or accommodate burials). 8 Given the lack of pottery associated with the construction of the monument (p.29), 9 Banks advances two indirect arguments for the association of the tumulus with Lerna III. On the one hand, she emphasizes the similarity between the Lerna tumulus and the Thebes Museum and Olympia tumuli (pp.29-30), which are not especially close, 10 although these monuments do demonstrate that mounds (funerary or not) were already constructed during EH II. On the other hand, she argues that "[t]he neatness of the tumulus and the careful selection of the encircling stones and paving slabs are totally consistent with the Lerna III psyche" but not with the Lerna IV settlers who "were not a tidy lot" (p.30): the investment of expertise and care can vary among different kinds of contemporary constructions (cf. the elaborate Early Mycenaean funerary architecture versus the unremarkable contemporary dwellings).

Despite the reservations expressed above, this reviewer is convinced that Banks' date must be correct. Her most compelling argument, however, is her closing comment on the treatment of the tumulus in the Lerna IV period (p.31). The best way to associate the tumulus with Lerna III is to dissociate it from Lerna IV. In this respect, stratigraphic evidence can be quite indicative: there is no Lerna IV building phase during which the tumulus was truly 'revered'. Although the central area of the mound was not built over until phase IV.3, there is building activity cutting through its periphery early in phase IV.1 (Building W-21 on pp.66-68, plans 4, 8 and fig.14). Assigning the mound to an incipient Lerna IV phase raises the question why the tumulus was not retained intact, but was built over almost immediately. It is clear that the tumulus makes far better sense as a final EH II construction, which Lerna IV settlers apparently felt no need to respect. At first, it must have been considered impractical to demolish the tumulus in its entirety, since there was plenty of space around, and in fact the central area of the tumulus remained largely undisturbed through IV.1-IV.2. But things apparently changed with the expansion of settlement in phase IV.3 (plan 23): there was just no space to spare any longer. As Banks eloquently observes, Lerna IV settlers "encroached upon what was not for them 'sacred ground'" anyway (p.31). 11

In Appendix V, David Reese has undertaken a major revision of Gejvall's identifications of animal remains from Lerna, published as Lerna I. 12 Reese shows how selective Gejvall's analysis was and reconsiders many of his original identifications and interpretations. 13 Highlights are his revision of Gejvall's identification of cut-marks and burned bones (pp.461-2) ‒these include evidence for the consumption of dogs in Lerna IV and V‒ and the identification of some of Gejvall's Lerna IV donkey bones as horse (p. 455).

Excavation photographs (mostly by Caskey himself) are on the whole excellent. Their inclusion within the text, alongside clear and lucid plans and sections, enhance considerably the user-friendliness of the volume. Overall, the outstanding quality in presentation, discussion and production will make this volume an extremely valuable addition to every library with even a peripheral interest in Aegean prehistory.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements [v-vii]
Table of Contents [ix]
List of Illustrations [xi-xiv]
List of Tables [xv]
Abbreviations [xvii-xx]
Chapter 1: Introduction and Organization [1-5]
Chapter 2: Architectural Overview [7-22]
Chapter 3: The House of the Tiles Tumulus [23-31]
Chapter 4: The Settlements in the Main Area: Lerna IV.1 [33-110]
Chapter 5: The Settlements in the Main Area: Lerna IV.2 [111-160]
Chapter 6: The Settlements in the Main Area: Lerna IV.3 [161-311]
Chapter 7: The Settlements in Area D [313-334]
Chapter 8: The Settlements in the Minor Trenches [335-341]
Chapter 9: Concluding Discussion [343-367]
I. Walls and Buildings [371-381]
II. Pottery Lots and Rutter Pottery Groups [383-395]
III. Bothros Catalogue and Commentary [397-417]
IV. Burials [419-420]
V. The Fauna (by David S. Reese) [421-467]
References [469-480]
Index [481-484]


1.   J. Caskey. "The Early Helladic period in the Argolid." Hesperia 29 (1960): 285-303.
2.   J. Forsén. The Twilight of the Early Helladics. A Study of the Disturbances in East-Central and Southern Greece Towards the End of the Early Bronze Age (SIMA Pocket Book 116). Jonsered 1992. See also D.J. Pullen. "The Early Bronze Age in Greece" in The Cambridge Companion to the Bronze Age Aegean, edited by C.W. Shelmerdine, Cambridge 2008, pp.19-46 (at pp.36-41); E. Weiberg and M. Finné. "Mind or matter? People-environment interactions and the demise of Early Helladic II society in the northeastern Peloponnese." AJA 117 (2013): 1-31.
3.   J.B. Rutter. The pottery of Lerna IV (Lerna. A Preclassical site in the Argolid III). Princeton 1995 (with an Introduction by Banks, pp.1-10).
4.   In preparation (along with other EH and Middle Helladic small finds) based on her 1967 doctoral dissertation at the University of Cincinnati under Caskey's supervision.
5.   Rutter (supra n.3); id.. "The Anatolian roots of Early Helladic III drinking behavior." in The Aegean in the Neolithic, Chalcolithic and the Early Bronze Age, edited by H. Erkanal, H. Hauptmann, V. Şahoğlu and R. Tuncel, Ankara 2008, pp.461-481.
6.   J.L. Caskey. "Excavations at Lerna, 1955." Hesperia 25 (1956): 147-173 (at pp.164-165); id.. "Lerna in the Early Bronze Age." AJA 72 (1968): 313-316 (at p.314).
7.   M.H. Wiencke's "Lerna", in The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean (ca. 3000-1000 BC), edited by E.H. Cline, Oxford 2010, pp.660-670 (at p.664).
8.   Forsén (supra n.2), pp.234, 255, but see also the critical remarks on the meaningfulness of the concept by E. Weiberg. Thinking the Bronze Age. Life and Death in Early Helladic Greece, Boreas 29, Uppsala 2007, pp.155-185. Unfortunately, Banks could not take into account the papers by V.L. Aravantinos, K. Psaraki and S. Müller Celka published in Ancestral Landscapes. Burial mounds in the Copper and Bronze Ages (Central and Eastern Europe - Balkans - Adriatic - Aegean, 4th-2nd millennium BC), edited by E. Borgna and S. Müller Celka, TMO 58. Lyon 2011, pp.401-428. The manuscript of the work reviewed here was submitted in December 2009 (p.vii).
9.   Cf. Rutter (supra n.3), p.645.
10.   The recently excavated Thebes Museum tumulus was constructed over the ruins of a large apsidal building (cf. the construction of the Lerna tumulus over and from the 'House of the Tiles' debris), but it marked a mass burial, which the Lerna monument certainly did not; the Olympia tumulus was apparently not a burial mound and was paved with flat stones just like the Lerna tumulus, but was not constructed over the ruins of any building. Their similarity to the Lerna tumulus is not sufficiently close to be considered a "compelling" (p.30) argument for dating the latter to EH II as well. For references see supra n.8.
11.   "a cultural trait that under the new circumstances had outlived its use" (Weiberg and Finné 2013, supra n.2, at p.27).
12.   N.-G. Gejvall The Fauna (Lerna. A Preclassical site in the Argolid I). Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens 1969.
13.   See also D.S. Reese. "Faunal remains from Late Helladic Lerna (Argolid, Greece)." Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 8 (2008): 5-25; id.. "Faunal remains from Early Helladic II Lerna (Argolid, Greece)." Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 13 (2013): 289-320.

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