Thursday, September 18, 2014


Brenda Griffith-Williams, A Commentary on Selected Speeches of Isaios. Mnemosyne, supplements. Monographs on Greek and Latin language and literature, 364. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2013. Pp. xx, 272. ISBN 9789004258570. $141.00.

Reviewed by Rosalia Hatzilambrou, University of Athens (

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The fourth century orator Isaios had the privilege of being the first among the Attic orators on whose work a detailed (amounting to 735 pages) and highly scholarly commentary was written: that by William Wyse, published in 1904.1 However, this commentary has become an impediment for scholarship on Isaios. It was generally considered that Wyse's book left little or no scope for further scholarship, while its negative assessment of Isaios based on anachronistic ethical standards, and of the Athenian legal system as a result of Wyse's attempt to impose on it principles derived from Roman law, proved vastly influential for later scholarship on Isaios and Attic orators in general, even though it was soon recognized as biased. Thus, later scholars have either taken Wyse's views for granted in their work and deliberately avoided commenting further on the factual and legal aspects of Isaios' speeches,2 or they have chosen to challenge Wyse's unjust skepticism and sometimes appeared over-inclined to take what Isaios says at face value.3 This is mainly why Brenda Griffith-Williams' new commentary on four speeches of Isaios is particularly welcome; it is the first commentary to appear after Wyse's book that offers such an independent, fresh and unbiased assessment of Isaios' work.

The volume starts with a brief, informative Preface, where the need for a new commentary is explained and the content, structure, approach, methodology and conventions of the commentary are illustrated. I hasten to note, with regard to the methodology, that I consider particularly original the systematic reference to modern parallels, wherever relevant, which "illustrate the resemblances as well as the differences between ancient and modern legal procedures and advocacy techniques" (p.xiii). Griffith-Williams provides her own translation into English of all Greek lemmata and citations from other classical Greek sources; her translation is accurate, useful not only to the reader who does not know Greek, but also to the classicist who often needs help in understanding argumentation which involves Attic law. She also provides English translations of all the quotations from French, German and Italian scholars. I have noted only one peculiar editorial decision, namely the choice of Griffith-Williams to abbreviate Greek lemmata of more than one line in length: this is not very convenient, and undermines the commentary's suitability to be read as an independent scholarly work, especially since the Greek text is not included in the volume. Additionally, Griffith-Williams fails to cite the critical edition of Thalheim among the editions which potentially could have been used as the basis for her commentary (p. xiv).4 Given that the OCT edition of Isaios is in progress, Thalheim's edition is still considered the standard critical edition of Isaios. Finally, although her policy on transliteration is clearly outlined on p. xiv, it sometimes results in slight inconsistency, especially with Greek names cited in juxtaposition, e.g. Aeschylus Khoephoroi (see pp. xix and 54).

After the Acknowledgements and the list of Abbreviations there follows a General Introduction (31 pages). It provides a concise discussion of Isaios and his work and an overview of aspects of the Athenian inheritance system in the fourth century relevant to the four speeches covered by the commentary. The chapter on the Athenian inheritance system is subdivided into seven sections (Substantive Law, Procedure, The Prevalence of Inheritance Disputes in Classical Athens, Kinship Patterns in Athenian Inheritance Disputes, Wills, Evidence and Argumentation, Persuasion: The Rôle of the Logographer); it presents legal, rhetorical (i.e. logographic) and social aspects in combination and successfully marks Griffith-Williams' 'holistic' approach, which is not confined to the interpretation of the speeches. The General Introduction ends with an account of Isaios' reception from antiquity to the twenty-first century, where she clearly indicates the different scholarly traditions. My only objection to this account is Griffith-Williams' criticism of Edwards' recent (2007) translation of the speeches of Isaios into English,5 on the grounds that "he does not attempt a detailed (italics are mine) legal analysis of the speeches" (p. 31). This does not fall within the scope of a translation.

Griffith-Williams has chosen to write a commentary on four out of the twelve speeches of Isaios preserved entirely (or almost entirely). These are the speeches 7-10, all delivered in court by a claimant in a diadikasia, that is, a judicial procedure aimed at establishing the legal position without plaintiffs and defendants, used to determine contested inheritance claims. Given that selection, Griffith-Williams has fully succeeded in exploring and illustrating similarities and differences between the logographic strategy in diadikasia and formally adversarial procedures (dikai, graphai etc), which largely depend on whether the speech was delivered first or second in the diadikasia-procedure (see, e.g., pp. 91, 223). As is to be expected the commentary is divided into four chapters, one for each speech. Each speech has its own very clear introduction, in which Griffith-Williams generally maps out information on background and chronology, the legal issue and the legal procedure, specific relevant legal provisions, the structure of the speech, and an assessment of the strength of the speaker's case. Whenever needed, more sections are adduced in the individual introductions to clarify specific issues, e.g. in the Introduction to the tenth speech the sections 'The Adoption of Kyronides', 'The Status of the Speaker's Mother', 'The Succession of Aristarkhos Senior'. Each introduction includes a diagram which depicts the family of the de cuius (deceased) in each inheritance case. On them Griffith-Williams has also very thoughtfully marked the relation of each person to the de cuius. I have spotted an error only in the diagram on p. 195, namely that Apollodoros is the son of Aristomenes and not the brother of Kyronides and Demokhares, and an omission in the diagrams on pp. 195 and 197, namely that of the daughter of Aristomenes, who was given in marriage to Kyronides. Extremely helpful are the sections in the introductions on the speaker's story, in which Griffith-Williams applies to Isaios' speeches the approach of 'storytelling in law'.6 In general, the introductions are so thorough that each speech can be read in isolation, although there are some cross-references to other speeches and other introductions.

The introductions are followed by a commentary on each speech. This focuses on the legal and factual issues in dispute, and on logographic strategy and tactics. Griffith-Williams offers an exhaustive analysis of these aspects, objectively plays the advocatus diaboli against both Isaios and Wyse, and thus succeeds in offering a balanced view of Isaios' logographic art. Griffith-Williams makes original observations on devices employed by Isaios to enhance the credibility of his story and focus the attention of the dikastai on the particular points he wanted them to remember. Such techniques are the vague chronology and distortion of the sequence of events,7 the change of focalization,8 the counter-narrative and counter-attack instead of defense,9 the direct address to the dikastai,10 the 'sowing of seeds',11 the inclusion or omission of detail,12 the deployment of testimony.13 Through the detailed analysis of the legal and factual issues of each contest and the identification of logographic tactics, Griffith-Williams has managed to come to reasonable conclusions regarding the strength of each case; a particularly good example is her assertion in the tenth speech (passim) that Kyronides was probably adopted after his father's death, which would justify the orator's difficult task and many of his tactics. Something I particularly appreciated in the book was the reconstruction of the sequence of events that constitutes the background of the speech, and its presentation in almost tabular form (e.g. pp. 70, 90-91).

What I sometimes felt was missing was any discussion of the stylistic features of Isaios' diction (tropes, figures of speech, figures of thought), which the orator deliberately employed to support his argumentation. Additionally, Griffith-Williams might have done well to clarify, e.g. by adducing evidence, points of the commentary taken for granted, e.g. the non-eligibility to citizenship of illegitimate children born to Athenian citizens, which is still a controversial issue (p. 120); the Athenians' fear of the perceived irrationality of women (p. 128); the grounds on which the reading sēmatos and not mnēmatos is adopted at 8.27 (p. 131); the meaning of polītis for an Athenian woman; the possible change of name for males after an adoption (p. 219); the way the opponent could have tricked the speaker at 10.2 (p. 213).

Two useful sections are included in Griffith-Williams' work: an Appendix, which consists of a catalogue of contested court hearings in Athenian inheritance disputes, the first to the best of my knowledge, and a Glossary of technical terminology. The book ends with a Bibliography where all the essential literature is included, and two Indexes (General Index and Index of Ancient Sources).

The text on the whole is well edited, although I noted several typographical errors, the majority of them in Greek lemmata.

However, the typographical errors and the few reservations recorded here are minor quibbles. This is an illuminating and comprehensive commentary on four speeches of Isaios, the first to offer a modern and balanced assessment of the orator's work. Through this work Griffith-Williams sets high standards for commentaries on oratory. The book is essential reading for everyone interested in Attic oratory, rhetoric and Athenian law.


1.   W. Wyse, The speeches of Isaeus, with critical and explanatory notes, Cambridge, 1904.
2.   For instance, R. F. Wevers, Isaeus: chronology, prosopography and social history, The Hague, 1969.
3.   W. E. Thompson, De Hagniae hereditate: an Athenian inheritance case, Leiden, 1976; S. Avramovic, Iseo e il diritto attico, Napoli, 1997; P. Cobetto Ghiggia, Iseo: contra Leocare (sulla successione di Diceogene), Pisa, 2002; S. Ferrucci, Iseo: La Successione di Kiron, Pisa, 2005.
4.   T. Thalheim, Isaei orationes cum deperditarum fragmentis (Biblioteca Teubneriana), Leipzig, 1903.
5.   M. Edwards, Isaeus, translated with introduction and notes, Austin Tex., 2007.
6.   Cf. M. Gagarin, "Telling stories in Athenian law", TAPhA 113 (2003) 197-207.
7.   See, for instance, pp. 124, 137, 173, 183, 199-200, 218, 219, 240.
8.   See, e.g., pp. 75, 140, 156, 163, 233.
9.   See pp. 139, 142-143.
10.   See, e.g., pp. 41-42, 104-105, 156, 158, 171, 187, 212, 225, 243.
11.   See, e.g., pp. 107, 163, 222, 226.
12.   See, for instance, pp. 113, 132, 178, 211, 215-216, 238.
13.   See her comments, e.g., on pp. 53-54, 154-156, 164, 184-185.

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Mark Beck (ed.), A Companion to Plutarch. Blackwell companions to the ancient world, 98. Malden, MA; Oxford; Chichester: Blackwell, 2014. Pp. xvi, 625. ISBN 9781405194310. $195.00.

Reviewed by Sophia Xenophontos, University of Glasgow (

Version at BMCR home site


Beck's book is the long-awaited companion to antiquity's most eminent biographer and moralist, Plutarch of Chaeronea. It comprises a large gamut of contributions by world-leading scholars with the aim of offering an encompassing survey of the author's life, setting, and worldview. The Companion is prefaced by an Introduction to the major scholarly trends in Plutarchan studies (e.g. history and topography, aesthetics, characterization, compositional methods), and then treats in four distinct sections Plutarch's political and intellectual milieu (Part I), the philosophical backdrop to his Moralia (Part II), the most salient themes of his biographical output (Part III), and, finally, his astonishing afterlife (Part IV).

The first three chapters that make up Part I are now the most up-to-date accounts of Plutarch's context. They provide beginners in the field with the basics and serve as a useful reminder to those already initiated. Philip Stadter's treatment of Plutarch and Rome is rich in information and at the same time a pleasant read, and the same can be said for Michael Trapp's chapter on Plutarch as a philosopher. Thomas Schmitz's chapter focuses on Plutarch's place in the so-called Second Sophistic. It provides a useful discussion of how Plutarch understood notions pertaining to sophists. He presents these either in a positive light, following Herodotus's definition of the sophist as a wise man, or in a negative light that reflects Plato's prejudice against sophistic deception and amorality. One of the most thought-provoking points here is the link between sophists and excessive ambition (philotimia); this corroborates Schmitz's conclusion that the Second Sophistic was not a living reality for Plutarch (it flourished a generation later in Asia Minor, away from mainland Greece), but an 'ideological construct' (40) meant to provide his readers with counter-examples to avoid. A comprehensive study on Plutarch's attitude towards rhetoric in particular is still needed. Lieve Van Hoof's contribution on Plutarch's practical ethics is interesting and well-written. Drawing on her recently published monograph,1 Van Hoof reassesses the value of Plutarch's popular-philosophical essays (for a long time seen as second-rate philosophy), and argues that these were meant to reform the social behavior of Plutarch's audience. In classifying those essays into thematic groups, Van Hoof excludes works such as On Moral Virtue, How Could One Become Aware of One's Progress in Virtue?, and the Dialogue on Love, claiming that they 'do not share in the aim and strategies that characterize Plutarch's practical ethics' (141). One wonders how clear-cut and unequivocal such distinctions are, especially in view of the practical advice provided in those writings. How Could One Become Aware of One's Progress in Virtue? for instance seems to meet Van Hoof's main criteria: this one too is targeted at a highly elite audience (Sosius Senecio is the direct dedicatee but as often he represents the unification in a single person of Roman power and Greek culture, representing thus a larger readership); although it might be an essay seemingly treating the Stoic notion of prokopē (ethical progress), the theoretical/technical discussion fades away and is replaced by a series of exhortations designed to initiate readers into philosophy without distancing them from social participation. In fact, the work conforms to the reader's social ambitions by offering relevant advice for instance on proper public performance (e.g. 80B-E) or the ideal attitude in the company of peers (e.g. 81F-82F). In general, Van Hoof's work introduces fresh interpretative methods for the Moralia and casts new light on their peculiar nature.

Marianne Pade's chapter is one of the most valuable in the volume. By discussing Plutarch's reception from Antonine Rome all the way up to the Italian Renaissance, Pade gives a comprehensive overview of how Plutarch's works were transformed by later authors and cultures. Her lucid exposition, accompanied by concrete examples and overwhelming textual evidence which betrays long expertise in the field,2 will stimulate further research in less explored periods. Her section entitled 'Plutarch in Medieval Byzantium', although it considers many key figures, leaves out some important ones: Michael Psellos (1018–after 1081) is a case in point, as there is a significant amount of borrowing from the Moralia in Psellos' Philosophica and Theologica Minora as well as from the Parallel Lives in his Chronographia. Similarly, Plutarch was a precious source for Komnenian intellectuals such as John Tzetzes (Chiliades, 3.105-234, 10.624-674) and Nikephoros Basilakes (Progymnasmata, 11), whereas Plutarch's prominent standing in the activities of Palaiologan literati is not attested by the case of Maximus Planudes alone, but also by that of Theodore Metochites and that of Nikephoros Kallistos Xanthopoulos. Pade could have also referred briefly to Plutarch's fortunes in the Syriac and Arabic world (e.g., Syriac translations, the popularity of the Pseudo-Plutarchan tradition in the Arabic-Islamic Middle Ages). Nonetheless, her neat emphasis on the intellectual processes that introduced Plutarch to the Latin West or on how his texts responded to the peculiarities of Italian Humanism, especially in the context of ideology and the propaganda of the Medici, compensates for such gaps and makes the chapter a reference point for any reader who wishes to get a concise image of Plutarch's afterlife.

Other important contributions to the companion include the chapter by Jan Opsomer on Plutarch and the Stoics, who suggests that the Stoic commonplaces found in Plutarch's works are subordinated to the fundamental tenets of Platonism to which he is devoted; those by Geert Roskam and Chris Pelling that explore deftly Plutarch's political philosophy from different perspectives yet both emphasizing the pedagogical drive of statesmanship in the Lives and the Moralia; and that of Anastasios Nikolaides on morality, characterization, and individuality. The variety of subjects represented in this collection is impressive, and most of the contributions are learned, succinct, and professional.

All in all, Beck's Companion to Plutarch has now become the major reference work for scholars and students of Plutarch, as well as for a wider class of readers (specialists and non-specialists alike) who want to enter the charming world of the Chaeronean philosopher. We now look forward to its siblings, the Cambridge Companion to Plutarch and Brill's Companion to Plutarch's Reception, which will round off the recently burgeoning activity on antiquity's great classic.3


1.   L. Van Hoof, Plutarch's Practical Ethics: The Social Dynamics of Philosophy. Oxford/New York 2010.
2.   M. Pade, The Reception of Plutarch's Lives in Fifteenth-Century Italy, vols 1-2. Copenhagen 2007.
3.   F. Titchener and A. Zadorozhnyy, The Cambridge Companion to Plutarch. Cambridge forthcoming; K. Oikonomopoulou and S. Xenophontos, A Companion to the Reception of Plutarch. Leiden forthcoming.

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Christine Walde, Neros Wirklichkeiten: zur Rezeption einer umstrittenen Gestalt. Litora classica, 7. Rahden/Westf: VML Verlag Marie Leidorf, 2013. Pp. vi, 354. ISBN 9783867574778. €49.80 (pb).

Reviewed by John F. Drinkwater, University of Nottingham (

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Table of Contents

The Julio-Claudian emperors have recently been receiving significant attention. Walde's volume will be compared with Buckley and Dinter's Companion to the Neronian Age [BMCR 2014.02.29], also published in 2013. They are, however, complements not rivals, with Walde's being wider in scope and more unbuttoned in approach. As she outlines in her Introduction, the 'reality' (Wirklichkeit) of Nero was quickly obscured, being outshone by that of a dominant source-tradition, shared by Tacitus, Suetonius and Dio, that reviled him as a 'monster'. The 'reality' of 'the monster' was seized on by Jewish and Christian writers, and passed through Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages into modern times where it has been exploited in print and film. This produced the 'Nero-myth', which found probably still its most powerful manifestation in Mervyn LeRoy's film version of Sienkiewicz's novel, Quo Vadis, released in 1951. Yet almost as soon as the scientific study of the Ancient World began in the sixteenth century, scholars recognised the negative tradition and sought to correct its distortions in order to reconstruct the authentic 'reality': what Nero 'really' did, and why. A relatively recent example of this is Champlin's Nero (2003). As a result, Nero' 'realities' are now pursued in two broadly different ways.

The first is the 'scholarly', which in this volume is represented by five papers, dealt with here in chronological order of the events concerned. (I consider papers in a slightly different order from the one in which they appear in the book. All are in German, except Esposito's (Italian), and those of Maes, Rostropowicz and Schumate (English). I summarise all because neither Walde's initial survey nor the separate English précis is wholly satisfactory.) Renate Bol reconstructs a group of statues placed in the Metroon at Olympia. Proposing that it showed Claudius flanked by Octavia and Nero, and Agrippina and Livia, she argues that it advertised the renewed strength of the dynasty after the marriage of Claudius and Agrippina and, particularly, after that of Nero and Octavia in 53. Depicted as a heroic young bridegroom, in full armour, Nero projected the 'reality' of undisputed heir and guarantor of future greatness. His pairing with Agrippina resembles the 'coronation' relief at Aphrosidias, which may have been contemporary.

Sven Günther investigates three, generally misjudged, 'realities' of Nero's early fiscal policy: reform of the aerarium in 56; reform of the tax on the dealing in slaves in 57; and the proposed abolition of indirect taxation in 58. The first two were practical and successful, not popularist measures. The third, heavily criticised by ancients and moderns alike, was a failure in the sense that Nero's proposal was not ratified, but a success in that it led to major improvements in the collection of indirect taxes throughout the Empire. Paolo Esposito examines the 'reality' of the relationship between Nero and Lucan, based on a study of the gushing praise of Nero that prefaces the Bellum civile. Some have sought to explain and justify this as hidden satire, finding references to Nero's squint, obesity, baldness etc. Better is a more recent approach, based on taking the poem as it comes. There was a catastrophic breakdown between Lucan and Nero as the Bellum civile took shape, but it was not there at the start. In lauding the incumbent princeps Lucan was simply acting comme il faut. Alongside Esposito on Lucan belongs Yanick Maes on 'Neronian literature'. Though Maes dislikes the term, after an odd excursion into comparative literature (relating to the 1992-96 siege of Sarajevo), he deploys it to assess everything that it might cover. He argues for continuity, not 'renaissance', in the writing of the period, but observes and even seems to accept that a spike in quality has resulted in its distinct treatment. Its stimulation was the political climate: the culmination of the false 'reality' of the 'Restored Republic', which drove aristocrats to parade in a grotesque carnival of fear around the real 'reality' of the autocratic ruler. Their fears found expression in literature that presented a world turned upside-down.

Dennis Pausch explores two opposing 'realities' of Nero, as 'emperor' and as 'artist' – specifically, as citharode. The context is a society in which artistic activities had to a degree replaced politics as an arena of competition for young aristocrats. A certain level of involvement in these was acceptable, even praiseworthy; and it may have been that Nero, a non-military emperor, sought to use art as a new means of establishing himself as first among equals. His mistake was to confuse the roles of performer and ruler, obsessively acting the professional musician while tyrannically compelling people to applaud his performances.

The second approach to the 'reality' of Nero is artistic reception. This takes 'the monster' of the source-tradition and manipulates him for a wide range of purposes — intellectual, political, for entertainment etc. The divide between scholarly and artistic is bridged by the editor, Christine Walde, in a study of the Alma Johanna Koenig's novel, The Young God. Published in Austria in 1942, just before Koenig's death in the Holocaust, it covers Nero's life to the death of Agrippina. Walde sees Koenig as much more than 'anti-Nazi' or 'proto-feminist'. Rejecting Nero 'the monster', she sought his 'reality' through the psychology that she had learned in fin-de siècle Vienna. Through this, and a fine writing-style, she presented a man whose character was (de-)formed by family conflict, and who was even 'groomed' to accept sexual abuse.

The other fictional 'realities' of Nero found in this volume are, however, much closer to the source tradition. I deal with them in chronological order of the writer studied. Joanna Rostropowicz considers J. I. Kraszewski's novel Rome in the Reign of Nero, published in 1866. Kraszewski was a celebrated Polish author, and was the first to bring Roman persecution of Christianity into popular literature. The 'reality' of his Nero is very much that of 'the monster', whose end, and that of decadent Rome, could be accomplished only through the triumph of Christianity. Kraszewski conceded that his tale was a nationalist allegory: Rome is imperial Russia, Nero is Tsar Alexander II, and the Christians are Poles. Though the work was eclipsed by Quo Vadis, its influence was acknowledged by Sienkiewicz. Lisa Sannicadro examines a tragedy by Arrigo Boito, an Italian librettist who died in 1918. His Nerone presents Nero's attempts to escape the guilt generated by the murder of Agrippina. Its 'reality' is, again, that of Nero 'the monster', the tyrant who confuses life and art. Its approach is, however, like Koenig's, 'psychological'. Its Nero is paralysingly dependent on others and on his own artistic self-identification as Orestes, the mother-killer par excellence. However, sensing his imminent doom while acting Orestes on stage, he finally yields to reality — 'Io sono Nerone!' – only to find himself heartbreakingly alone.

Patrick Schollmeyer deals with the Munich intellectual, Alfred Schuler. In a series of lectures after World War I, Schuler denied the 'reality' of Nero 'the monster', and proposed an alternative based not on psychology but on mysticism. Rejecting the 'subjectivity' of the sources, Schuler favoured his own, unique, approach that glimpsed underlying reality – of what just had to be — through a union of 'science' and intuition. His Nero is superhuman, brimming with a primeval life-force that made him the perfect unity of male and female, the embodiment of the Gnostic saviour, and the supreme symbol of a freer, happier, pre-Christian age. Finally, Achim Lenz, a stage-director, ponders Martin Walser's dramatic piece of the 1980s, Compliments of Nero. Here, every night, an actor returns home from work to perform the (Suetonian) death of Nero. Lenz attacks current productions that focus on the actor satirising Nero 'the monster'. The piece is a 'monodrama', not a monologue, and should include the artist's wife – as audience and helper — and the musical commentary provided by an unseen guitarist. There is in fact another play outside the artist's performance, about the relationship between husband and wife, and between art and today's corrupt 'cultural industry'.

Two contributions are 'scholarly', but do not address the question of the 'historical' Nero. Helmut Seng looks at Tacitus on Nero, but is more interested in the 'reality' of the Annales than that of the princeps. Perceiving symmetry around a strong theme as characteristic of the 'Neronian' books, his identification of the same in the extant 'Tiberian' books allows him to reconstruct fragmentary Book 5. Proposing a fundamental similarity between the Tiberian and Neronian books as a whole, he argues that the 'Annals' originally comprised three hexads: 1: Tiberius [1-6]; 2: Gaius and Claudius [7-12]; 3: Nero [13-18]. Book 18 went to the end of 68, where it was continued by the two hexads of the 'Histories'. Detlev Kreikenborn illustrates the power of tradition on scholarship in a study of the identification of statue-heads and busts of Nero. In the eighteenth century, there was an eagerness to identify the 'reality' of Nero in portraits that apparently depicted 'fearful tyranny'. In the nineteenth century, the development of the science of archaeology and dispassionate artistic criteria, and the acceptance that Nero's character could not be read into or out of portraiture, produced more sober analysis. In the early twentieth century, however, the art-historical world again seemed inclined to return to the notion that Nero's portraiture allowed a glimpse into his soul. At the end, the continuing fluidity between the scholarly 'reality' and the traditional/imaginative 'reality' is demonstrated by Nancy Shumate, who reveals that she has been forced to reject her earlier, reasoned, denial of Nero 'the monster' by her perception of the presidency of George W. Bush. This taught her that it is entirely possible for a ruler to confuse reality and fiction, especially when much of the fiction is self-inflicted. Shumate, like Maes, observes that the sources present Neronian society as a world turned upside-down. Thanks to Bush – 'it really happened, and it was bad' – we can see that the Neronian tradition is correct: 'all of a sudden the narrative [sc. of Tacitus] rang completely true'.

Neros Wirklichkeiten is a challenging but fruitful read. The thought of Schuler experiencing visions of Nero, in a halo of violet rings, while indulging in his regular morning masturbation is unforgettable. Walde (p. 8) asks if one needs to have had similar experiences as Nero in order to understand him, and how one might be affected personally by disturbing interpretations of him; but since both questions are impossible to answer here, I offer three observations. The first is that while Nero continues to be a source of inspiration in every creative field, this Nero is 'the monster' whose image, like that of 'Jack the Ripper', can never be reshaped by scholarly research. In Maes's terminology, 'NERO' has become larger than 'Nero', possessing, as Walde says, a 'reality' as authentic as any other. The second is that every 'reality' is based on assumptions about Nero. In the case of 'NERO', these are self-evident: he was 'mad' and 'bad'. With 'Nero', however, such assumptions are more implicit than explicit. Maes notes (p. 290) how commentators interpret Neronian literature in the light of their particular view of Nero, and admits (p. 301) that his own reading of the 'fiddling while Rome burned' story is 'of necessity connected to a particular conception of Nero and his regime'. Since, as Günther shows, alternative interpretations are possible, everyone should be as honest as Maes before pontificating on 'Nero': all should declare how mad or bad they believe Nero was. Finally, in dealing with Nero the barrier between reasoned speculation and inspired fiction is wafer-thin. The novelist's recourse to psychology is not very far from the modern historian's (e.g. Champlin's). Koenig's conceit that Nero never consummated his marriage with Octavia is not impossible. However, there is no evidence. The difference between novelist and historian is that the latter must always respect the sources, and never indulge in such poetic licence. Not that poetic licence is to be despised: growing interest in virtual reality has, apparently, made Schuler a cult figure in 'multi-media' studies.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Daniel Groß, Plenus litteris Lucanus: zur Rezeption der horazischen Oden und Epoden in Lucans Bellum Civile. Litora classica, 3. Rahden; Westf.: VML Verlag Marie Leidorf, 2013. Pp. 305. ISBN 9783867574730. €34.80 (pb).

Reviewed by John Henderson, King's College, Cambridge (

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This doctoral thesis book from Mainz treats Lucan's deployment of intertextuality with Horace's oeuvre thoroughly, imaginatively, and combines scrupulous correctness with comprehensive documentation. Gross has no difficulty in vindicating subtle and powerful manipulation for this particular instance of the (fiendish) literariness in Bellum Ciuile. The guts of the presentation is the collected mass of cases of specific allusion; but Gross presses on much further, pursuing diligently and fearlessly wider thematic takes on sundry cultural and ideological propositions that run across generic divisions and exclusions, in effect challenging the monopoly of post-Virgilian epic moulding for the poem. The Lucan thing of provoking strongly argued interpretation at odds with all the lines presented by other worthy citizens works once again—YOU MUST READ LUCAN—as Gross (esp.pp.53-5, 'ernst') hangs BC on the proem's deferential scrape to Nero and finds the rest of the epic agreeing with Horace that the way past the traumatic doom experienced by Romans living through the Civil Wars, and recapitulated in the Epodes was the salvation brought by the new order of the Caesars represented by the Odes and Epistles—except that the world was waiting, not for Augustus, but for Nero, and so for Lucan, not Horace. The strategy consists, then, in foregrounding Horatian citation (and re-casting, including reversal and inversion), and in pressing for a thoroughgoing harnessing of Horace's status as participant observer then survivor and (faux) moralist of civil war for a vividly melodramatic but ultimately upbeat hailing of present felicity, built on the discrediting of Horace's delusionary hosannas. The poser, Gross knows, will be how to extricate Nero's Rome from the hail of scorn.

The book's Introduction (pp. 9-40) gears up with brisk reviews of Horace in scholarship on poets between Horace and Lucan, of brands of intertextuality and their heretofore neglected commandeering for BC (q.e.d.). A second chapter (pp.41-70) concentrates on the profiling of Lucan's narrator figure, lyricizing, frenetic, and inyaface aggressive: this obtrusive authoring is what bespeaks (yells) 'HORACE is in and for it—Virgil, not so much'.

Chapter 3 detonates the substance of the book (pp. 71-261, sporting the Petronian tag of the main title, from Satyrica 118.6), with just Results, Conclusion, and 1-page English Summary to wrap up (pp. 268-77; 278; 279). The key Horatian passages discussed are: Epodes 2, 7, 16; Odes 1.1, 2, 8, 12, 23, 37; 2.1; 3.2, 3,16, 20, 25, 30; (and short discussions of 1.3, 4, 35; 2.13, 15; 4.9; plus brief notices on Satires 1.7; Epistles 1.10; Carmen Saeculare). Gross's demolition work, however, extends through 'Horace' to the Augustan bid to eternalize the self-representation of their state: as Golden Age agribusiness, as devotion to duty above flesh, as cultural identity re-inscribed from Trojan and Romulean foundation myths; as cosmopolis re-centering empire on cityscape heritage, as verity trumpeted past time by the privileged/sponsored medium of affirmative poetry, as definitive construal of the great men monumentalized at, and as, the effectual end of history.

Verbal responsion entwines Epod. 2.5 with 4.186, ib. 17 ~ 2.46; 16.1, 66 ~ BC 7.553-4; ib. 5 ~ 1.120; Odes 1.1.18 ~ 5.539; 1.2.24 ~ 1.27, 25-6 ~ 5.200-1; 1.4.1 ~ 9.998; 1.12.41-3 ~ 1.168-70, 10.151-4, ib. 35-6 ~ 9.595; 1.23.5-6 ~ 8.5-6; 1.37.6-8 ~ 10.63, 22, 32 ~ 10.452-3, 458; 2.1.35 ~ 7.851; 3.3.65 ~ 9.965; 3.3.10 ~ 7.593; 3.2.20~ 1.132; 3.5.1-2 ~ 7.447; 3.16.26 ~ 5.403; 3.20.15-16 ~ 9.972; 3.25.1-3 ~ 1.564, 676-8; 3.30.1=2 ~ 7.7-8; 4.8.25-7 ~ 9.981; 4.9.28 ~ 9.980 (plus Epistles 1.10.8 ~ 7.596; 12.19 ~ 1.98). Gross assembles and deploys this mixed, largely familiar but (true) yet to be pressurized, batch of linkage way away from the obvious cases of shared personnel and events, trounced programmatics and negated imagery, to expropriate lyric forging of a wor(l)dview from axiomatic assertion—rather than to beef up tragified historical narration, say as Horace reads Pollio in Odes 2.1, or to weigh into the tragical wing of horrorshow epic, say as in any Thebaid we can imagine: at every turn, the transumption of triumviral by post-revolutionary Augustan poet impels the Neronian hitman to pivot his work on treacherous emulation, with Flaccus exposed for model and target. Needless, no doubt, to retort that what Lucan's Horace does to one Caesar slides right across to apply to the latest Caesar facing Lucan, proemial declaration, enigma, or sarcasm notwithstanding: ever and again, critique of BC properly disseminates division. Among many striking formulations of Lucan's re-handling of key topics is a fine exposition of an 'ambivalent' (?) Julius, sweeping away rotten tradition, gods, political system, norms and controls, and installing instead in his own figure the energies of decisiveness, audacity, chance (pp. 231-47). PLENUS LITTERIS LUCANUS may not manage to hoist its mangled and reassembled Horace up into the driving-seat, but the demonstration that this intertextuality has deserved and rewards concentrated investigation is secure.

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Mario Baier, Neun Leben des Homer. Eine Übersetzung und Erläuterung der antiken Biographien. Schriftenreihe altsprachliche Forschungsergebnisse, Bd 9. Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovač, 2013. Pp. 232. ISBN 9783830071501. €75.80 (pb).

Reviewed by Paola Bassino, Durham University (

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This book offers the first collection of the ancient Greek biographies of Homer with German translations and commentaries. In particular, the book focuses on the following nine texts: Pseudo-Herodotus' On the origin, time and life of Homer; two biographical excerpts from Pseudo-Plutarch's On the life and poetry of Homer; Proclus' Homer's date, life, character, catalogue of poems, from the Chrestomathy; the two Vitae Scorialenses; the Vita Romana; Suda, 'Homer'; and The contest of Homer and Hesiod. These texts are crucial witnesses to the reception of Homer across different periods: although, in their current form, they mostly come from the Imperial or Byzantine period, they collect the results of centuries of ancient speculation on the life and works of the poet. They were handed down in medieval manuscripts, often together with the texts of the Homeric poems, and are very diverse in terms of origins, length, contents and scope.

The Lives of the poets have been the object of growing academic interest. Recent scholarship has established the value of these biographical accounts not as historical sources, but as witnesses for the ways in which poets were imagined by the early audiences and readers of their works.1 The Lives of Homer, more specifically, have been translated into English in a Loeb edition, and a few monographic studies and commentaries on some of the texts are also available.2 Baier's book is a welcome contribution to existing scholarship in the field, not least because the process of close reading enabled by the commentary format has never before been applied to some of these texts (e.g., Vitae Scorialenses, Vita Romana, Suda).

The book starts with an Introduction, in which Baier explains his approach to Homeric biographies and highlights the value of those texts as sources for literary and intellectual history; then, as a preamble to the detailed analysis of the nine Lives, the Introduction offers a generally well-conducted overview of the earliest developments of the biographical tradition on Homer. Baier traces the beginnings of this tradition in the archaic period, and analyses the role of the rhapsodes, the performers of the Homeric poems, and of the earliest individuals to whom an interest in the life of Homer can be attributed (e.g., Stesimbrotus and Antimachus). Baier also turns his attention to the ancient dispute concerning the poet's birthplace, and presents a well-informed discussion on Smyrne and Chios, two of the oldest contenders, whose claims on Homer were associated to Homeric works (Hymn to Artemis for Smyrne and Hymn to Apollo for Chios). In the following pages, Baier presents a detailed survey of the works that were attributed to Homer in antiquity, and of the poets to whom those works were sometimes alternatively ascribed.

The main body of the book is made up of nine chapters, each including translation and explanatory notes for one Homeric biography. Baier's translations are largely based on Wilamowitz's text,3 which he defines as 'die immer noch maßgebliche griechischsprachige Edition' (p. 21).4 Indeed, Wilamowitz's edition, although it is almost a century old and less accessible than others, still distinguishes itself for philological good judgement and its brief yet informative apparatus criticus. The order of the texts in Baier's collection also follows that of Wilamowitz. Here it should be noted that the order in which these texts are presented varies in different collections, and the fact that Baier usually refers to them, in the index and throughout the book, by number rather than by title or author ('erste Leben', 'zweite Leben' and so on) can be frustrating for the reader.5

Each biography is accompanied by a short introduction (only the Vitae Scorialenses, two texts which are very similar to each other, share one), which provides information on the textual transmission of the work and some of the most important manuscripts. This is particularly useful because studies other than critical editions rarely give a sense of how these texts have been handed down. Here the reader also learns about some of the main features of each text; for example, Baier notes that the two Vitae Scorialenses transmit an epigram which is a rare but important witness to the Peisistratid recension of the Homeric poems. However, some of the issues discussed in the introductions to individual texts might have benefited from a deeper analysis. For instance, in his introduction to the Life by Proclus, Baier explains that part of modern scholarship questions the traditional attribution of the Chrestomathy, from which the Life derives, to the fifth century AD Neoplatonic philosopher Proclus Diadochus, in favour of a lesser known Proclus, a grammarian from the second century AD, and agrees that there are good reasons to do so; but he does not go into the details of the dispute, nor does he provide new insights into such an important issue as the authorship of this text.

After these short introductions, each chapter offers the translated text of a Life divided into paragraphs, with comments on individual paragraphs of text. (Different fonts are used for the texts and the explanatory notes.) Baier's discussion can thus be read alongside the passage of text to which it refers. This facilitates the use of the commentary, especially in the case of the longer texts such as the Life by Pseudo-Herodotus, while making it more difficult to read the texts continuously. The commentaries cover a wide range of issues and are generally well-organised. Baier guides the reader through the main features of the corresponding passage of text, and also considers details such as individual characters, places or works. Furthermore, the commentaries include a large quantity of references to relevant passages from other Greek and Latin works, as well as visual sources (e.g., the Pompeian fresco which portrays the young fishermen proposing a riddle to Homer in the commentary on Pseudo-Herodotus 34-6, and Archelaos' relief depicting Homer's apotheosis in the commentary on Pseudo-Plutarch 1.5). Scholars interested in the topic will find useful material in these commentaries which will also inspire further study, especially in the case of those Lives on which no other commentary is available. An example is the Vita Romana, a text that offers two peculiar accounts of how Homer became blind (either as a consequence of seeing Achilles' gleaming second armour, or because of Helen's anger at the way Homer presented her in his poems). Here Baier draws a picture of the origins and the resonance of such episodes in antiquity by taking into account a number of significant passages, such as the description of Achilles' armour in Iliad 18 and 19 and the story of how Stesichorus was allegedly blinded by Helen.

Because of its structure, the book lends itself to the use of 'hit-and-run' readers, who may be interested in the comments on a particular passage. This type of readership is generally well served by numerous cross-references, which will enable them to locate Baier's discussions of related topics elsewhere in the book. There are, however, cases where this does not work so well. Some paragraphs of text are left with no commentary or cross-references, although they provide material for interesting reflection (as in the case of Vita Scorialensis 1.3, the only passage where Homer is said to 'starve himself to death' after his failure to solve the fishermen's riddle; or the opening of the Vita Romana, which states the impossibility of identifying Homer's origins). But what is most problematic for the 'hit-and-run' reader is the lack of an index of names and/or places mentioned in the Lives, which would have worked well as a systematic guide through the several biographical details that repeatedly occur in the texts, often with interesting variations.

Although the texts are only given in translation, on several occasions Baier engages with the original language and critically reflects on textual issues, manuscript readings and editorial choices: in Proclus 8, he accepts an emendation proposed by Allen and West concerning the problematic title of a Homeric work, and justifies his choice on the basis of external evidence. He also highlights some of the features of the textual transmission – for example, commenting on the name Hyrnetho (one of Homer's alleged mothers) in Vita Scorialensis 1.1, he claims that the several variant readings here 'für eine erhebliche Unsicherheit bei der Manuskript-Überlieferung sprechen'.

At the end of the book, Baier offers a Summary in which he gives a brief overview of five aspects of the biographical tradition on Homer: 'Der Name "Homer" als biographisches Indiz', 'Ilias und Odyssee als "Quellen" der Biographie', 'Der Einfluß "lokaler Traditionen" auf die Biographie', 'Der biographisch "tiefere Sinn" von Homers Lebenszeit', and '"Muster" in der Biographie eines Kultur-Heroen'; an Appendix collects translations of biographical passages from Tatian, Clement of Alexandria, Jerome, Eusebius and Aulus Gellius.

There are a few problems with this book, especially some missed opportunities to offer new insights and some difficulty in finding pieces of information or discussions. Still, because of the translations and the breadth of the topics addressed in the commentaries, Baier makes the Lives accessible to a wider range of German readers. With his discussion of the textual transmission and editorial issues related to the Lives, Baier also offers useful material for scholarly research.


1.   See, for example: M. Lefkowitz, The Lives of the Greek Poets, Baltimore 2012 (1981); B. Graziosi, Inventing Homer: the early reception of epic, Cambridge 2002. This approach is currently at the core of the research project Living Poets: A New Approach To Ancient Poetry, funded by the European Research Council and directed by Prof. Barbara Graziosi at Durham University.
2.   M. L. West, Homeric Hymns. Homeric Apocrypha. Lives of Homer, Cambridge (MA) 2003; among the monographs on individual texts, see e.g. M. Hillgruber, Die pseudoplutarchische Schrift De Homero, 2 volumes, Stuttgart 1994-1999; M. Vasiloudi, Vita Homeri Herodotea: Textgeschichte, Edition, Übersetzung, Berlin 2013.
3.   U. von Wilamowitz, Vitae Homeri et Hesiodi in usum scholarum, Bonn 1929 (1916).
4.   See E. Vogt, 'Homer – ein großer Schatten?', in J. Latacz (ed.), Zweihundert Jahre Homer-Forschung, Stuttgart and Leipzig 1991: 365-77 (p. 368).
5.   Furthermore, the texts in Baier's collection are not associated with the same number as in Wilamowitz's (although following the same order): Baier treats the two biographical excerpta from Pseudo-Plutarch in two separate chapters (second and third Lives, see the respective Introductions), while Wilamowitz had put them together under the heading '2. Vitae Pseudoplutarchi'. As a result, Proclus is n. 3 in Wilamowitz but n. 4 in Baier, and so on.

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Susanna Phillippo, Hellenic Whispers: Modes of Greek Literary Influence in Seventeenth-Century French Drama. Medieval and Early Modern French Studies, 13. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2013. Pp. xvi, 577. ISBN 9783034308519. $89.95.

Reviewed by Thomas A. Schmitz, Bonn University (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Seventeenth-century French tragedy was one of the culminating points of classical reception in European literature: several theatrical companies in Paris competed for the favor of an elite audience of courtiers and noblemen. The subject matter of their dramatical performances (which have not always been preserved as texts) was most often taken from Greek myth and Roman history. Pierre Corneille (1606–1684) and Jean Racine (1639–1699) are classics in France, and their plays are still performed in theaters all over the world. Their enduring success and status as school authors have eclipsed the fame of most of their contemporaries. Writers such as Alexandre Hardy (1570–1632), Jean Rotrou (1609–1650), or Jacques Pradon (1644–1698) may have been successful in their own time; today, they are little more than names without substance for a general public (or even for students of French literature, for that matter).

Susanna Philippo has devoted a voluminous book to this period. Her preface informs us that it had an unusually long history: its origins lie in a PhD thesis (at the University of St. Andrews) which she completed in 1992. Even in the humanities, twenty years is a long time to complete a book. The volume under review is a strange work, and some of this strangeness may have to do with this long lapse of years.

The bulk of the book consists of three long chapters which each study one particular example of classical reception in seventeenth-century France. As Phillippo explains in her introduction (p. 8), these three chapters are meant to represent case studies in which the fundamental parameters of reception differ. Chapter 3 (pp. 67–150) examines plays deriving from Iphigenia in Tauris: apart from Euripides's Greek text itself, the only available "source" was the Latin translation accompanying Paul Estienne's 1602 edition (more on this translation later). The chapter concentrates on François Joseph de La Grange-Chancel's Oreste et Pilade (1697), emphasizing that the French writer was aiming at "a dramaturgy of multiplicity and variety" (p. 146). As was usual in his time, he added several sub-plots and love interests, thus running the risk of making his plot too subtle and complex for his audience. Chapter 4 (pp. 151–354) examines the Euripidean Iphigenia in Aulide; in this case, there were Latin (Erasmus) and French (Thomas Sébillet) translations as well as earlier adaptations. The three French texts studied in detail are all entitled Iphigénie, by Jean Rotrou (ca. 1640), Jean Racine (1674), and Michel Leclerc (1675). In Chapter 5 (pp. 353–503), Phillippo studies tragedies that depict the fall of Troy, in particular the fate of Andromache and Astyanax. Knowledge of the Euripidean texts (esp. Hecuba, Andromache, and Troades) is here mediated by important Latin versions of the story such as Virgil's Aeneid and Seneca's Troades; Robert Garnier's La Troade (1579) is an important French intermediary. Phillippo here examines Sallebray's La Troade (1639), Racine's Andromaque (1667), and Jacques Pradon's La Troade (1679); unlike the accomplished Hellenist Racine, Sallebray and Pradon knew the Greek texts through Seneca and his French followers. There is a somewhat timid attempt at presenting some results of her research in the form of an extended table (pp. 495–503), which made me wish Phillippo had been more inventive throughout her book—as a reader, I sometimes felt that her long series of examples and quotations did not offer enough guidance as to the book's overall design and that some form of tabular or graphical presentation would have been helpful. A final chapter (pp. 505–43) summarizes Phillippo's conclusions in a clear and succinct manner.

I have mentioned that the book originates in a thesis finished in 1992 (and embarked on several years earlier, I surmise). Phillippo herself admits that these twenty years have brought about momentous change: she mentions (p. viii) that her research was undertaken "before online access became a wide-spread resource," and today's readers would have expected her to be more consistent in mentioning online editions in her bibliography (they are available for many of her key texts). But this is a mere technicality; what is more important is that the years between, say, 1990 and 2010 have seen extremely important changes in the way we look at reception studies, allusivity, intertextuality, and the classical tradition. Phillippo quotes a few recent studies, but overall it is obvious that they have not led her to rethink her approach and that references to bibliographical material published after 1990 are spotty. She gives short shrift to theoretical considerations (pp. 3–25; see esp. p. 21 n. 21); it is surprising to see a section entitled "Allusion and Intertext" (p. 535) without any reference to the relevant discussion. Instead, Phillippo emphasizes the individuality of literary creativity (see, e.g., pp. 524–31 or p. 308: "our central question of the variety of ways in which the influence of Greek drama operated on different writers," emphasis Phillippo's). She defends Quellenforschung as a valid way of looking at the tension between this creativity and the reworking of the multi-layered tradition and of gaining "potential insight into a writer's mental workshop" (p. 14; curiously, the use of the somewhat loaded term "influence" in the book's title is never explained). But as becomes more and more clear as one reads those case studies, the material she has chosen to explore does not lend itself to source criticism of this sort. The sheer number of potential direct and intermediate "sources" available to every individual author is so huge that we arrive at a situation which we would call an "open recension" in textual criticism: rampant cross-contamination renders every vertical link between source and target tenuous, as Phillippo acknowledges. As an example, I quote a few passages from her analysis of the Iphigenia in Tauris plays: "this must remain speculation" (p. 81 and p. 87); "permits only tentative speculation" (p. 88); "it is at least plausible" (p. 105). The expression "may have" is a constant companion throughout the book and the conclusion seems inevitable: neither the nature of the material nor the way most French authors worked allows certain inferences to be drawn (one notable exception being Racine, whose readings of ancient authors we can analyze; see pp. 229–307).

The book has its merits in the treatment of individual passages: Phillippo is attentive to detail and has a very fine ear for poetry and dramatic technique. The volume contains a great number of excellent observations and interpretations; see, e.g., her conclusion on La Grange-Chancel (p. 118) or the observation on a point of dramatical economy in Rotrou (p. 221); on the other hand, her conclusion on Racine's Iphigénie (pp. 304–7) hardly scratches the surface of this playwright's theatrical and moral ideas. Phillippo's close readings alone would justify the book's publication since most of the texts discussed have never been analyzed in such detail by someone who is competent both in classical and in seventeenth-century French literature. Phillippo is sometimes in danger of not seeing the forest for the trees (or at least of overwhelming her readers with too many examples of similar phenomena), but her patient manner of paying attention to every tree, its single branches and leafs is admirable indeed.

However, this emphasis on individual texts and authors seems to imply a lack of interest in the cultural, political, social, and intellectual background. It is by no means a new discovery that the great French "âge classique" was not a harmonious and homogeneous period, but marked by immense tensions: between protestants and catholics, between nobility and royal power, between "noblesse d'épée" and "noblesse de robe," between Jesuits and Jansenists, to name but a few. These tensions occasionally led to violence, unrest, and even civil war (especially the "Fronde" of 1648–1653), but it is important to remember that they were often at the center of intellectual debates as well: the "Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes" which marked the last decade of the century had been prepared by a number of similar "querelles" that opposed members of different social groups. These tensions were also momentous for the way in which classical texts were read and used: whether an author wrote for the royal court, for a (female) public of "salons," or for scholars and intellectuals, will be decisive for her or his use of classical intertexts. Of these debates and developments hardly a trace can be found in Phillippo's book; she presents her writers as a group of talking heads, not as actors on a social stage often involved in heated debates. She does not make use of the numerous poetological treatises that appeared in France during the period, she does not study the relation between the plays and the rules of classicism as they developed from Scaliger to Boileau. Leclerc's Iphigénie (available online at Google Books) contains a "Préface" of seven pages in which the author contrasts his own use of classical sources with Racine's in great detail—Phillippo quotes it just once (p. 322; cf. the fleeting reference pp. 537–8) for an insignificant point. She speculates that France's involvement in the Thirty Years' War may have motivated a surge of patriotism in Rotrou's depiction of Agamemnon (p. 187), but she never pursues these questions systematically: "[...] the twin themes of patriotism and personal honour are more sympathetically treated throughout by Rotrou than by Euripides, partly in line with themes prominent in the theatre of his own time and culture" (p. 204). Why were these themes prominent in this period, how do they integrate into the religious and political landscape, can we detect historical developments and social affiliations? Curious readers want to know, but Phillippo appears to be indifferent to such questions.

Yet for all her aversion to grand theories and all her attention to small detail, Phillippo is not a rigorous philologist either. The Greek passages she quotes are an inconsistent mix of Diggle's modern OCT and the editions (by Aldus and Estienne) that the French authors had at their disposal; all too often she leaves her readers in the dark as to which edition she is quoting: e.g., at IA 1396 (p. 158) and 1115 (p. 216), she cites the unmetrical text offered by the early editions (without a hint at its problematic nature), but at IA 399 (p. 212, p. 328), she prints Triclinius's ἐγεινάμην where both early editions have the transmitted ἐγείναμεν (again without any note). The same problem occurs in her quotations from French texts. In a note at the beginning of the book (p. xiv), she announces that she adheres to the original spelling of seventeenth-century texts unless a modern edition is available, but when I double-checked some of her quotations, I found that they presented an inconsistent mixture of original and modernized spelling (and that punctuation had been modernized throughout). Numerous misprints mar quotations in all languages (p. 58 copiosus instead of copiosius; p. 98 "une cinquième acte" instead of "un cinquième acte"; p. 122 "j'attende" instead of "j'attends"; p. 135 "n'eust" instead of "n'eut"; p. 211 preimerem instead of perimerem; p. 326 "le surmonte" instead of "la surmonte," to quote just a few examples). Even the title of one of the plays is misquoted (p. 548: Sébillet's translation is not entitled L'Iphigénie d'Euripide, but L'Iphigène d'Euripide—a huge difference if you are looking for an online edition...). She is not interested in the philological work of early modern editors and commentators either; there is a wealth of information in prefaces, notes, dedications, and commentaries of which she makes no use. Estienne's 1602 edition misattributes the Latin translation he prints to Willem Canter, but it can be shown to be by Aemilius Portus. All Phillippo has to say about this curious history is a reference to a "staff view entry on the Yale University Library entry for their copy of the 1602 Stephanus edition" (p. 57 n. 8). In a study that defends Quellenforschung, I would have expected more attention to the sources.

In sum, Phillippo's book, for all its literary merits, lacks both philological and theoretical rigor. Its author has a real passion and enthusiasm for her subject; she reads her ancient and modern texts with love and attention, and she is ready to take them seriously as drama that is meant to move its audience. On the other hand, her approach is under-theorized, she is out of touch with current research, and her scholarship is too often slipshod. Her book fills an important niche—as advertisers love to say, "there is nothing quite like it on the market." Racine's use of classical predecessors has not found the scholarly attention it deserves, and the production of minor playwrights such as Rotrou and Leclerc is all but terra incognita (see, however, the works of the Sorbonne Centre de Recherche sur l'Histoire du Théâtre). To this extent, Phillippo's study is a welcome addition. However, it is more a mine of facts and texts and a motivation for further research than a satisfactory contribution in its own right.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Alessandra Zanobi, Seneca's Tragedies and the Aesthetics of Pantomime. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014. Pp. xi, 282. ISBN 9781472511881. $112.00.

Reviewed by Karin Schlapbach, University of Ottawa (

Version at BMCR home site


This monograph, first published in virtually identical form as an e-thesis in 2008, makes a valuable contribution to the study of Senecan drama in light of the recent revaluation of pantomime as a prominent component of imperial performance culture.

The peculiar outlook of Seneca's tragedies has always raised questions, and the intended form of production has occasioned scholarly controversies which have by no means subsided. In 1966, O. Zwierlein, who followed Schlegel in making a case for recitation only, perhaps unwittingly dropped the key word "pantomime" in an otherwise disparaging account of the tendency of Senecan drama to narrate actions in great detail, including actions that are shown onstage (58; he also uses the term "stummes Spiel" or "dumb show", 56).1 Later on, B. Zimmermann proposed that this feature betrays in fact the influence of imperial pantomime, which in its standard form was characterised by a mute performer and a voiceover spoken by a chorus or an actor.2 This suggestion can also account for the focus on strong emotions and the extensive naming of body parts and facial expressions in Seneca's tragedies (ibid. 165-167).

Zanobi expands on these findings by offering a systematic analysis of four elements of Senecan drama that differ considerably from the Greek tragedies of the fifth century BCE, namely the loose dramatic structure (ch. 2), the 'running commentaries' just mentioned (ch. 3), self-analysis in monologues (ch. 4), and narrative set-pieces (ch. 5).

A short Introduction briefly situates Seneca's tragedies in the context of contemporary literary tastes and the plurality of tragic styles en vogue in the first century CE. Using Harrison's terminology, Zanobi characterises tragedy as 'host' genre and pantomime as 'guest' genre (ix), leaving open the question which aspects of pantomime are the most influential ones – the dancing as such, or the types of plot, or the poetry of the libretti, or (as the expression "the aesthetics of pantomime" perhaps suggests) some combination of these.

Chapter 1 offers further context by discussing the influence of mime and pantomime on writers preceding Seneca. The reason for including mime in this discussion is that there is no clear borderline between mime and pantomime. The former included dancing, and the latter could involve a considerable number of performers. Zanobi writes that the greatest difference between mime and pantomime is thematic, and that even in this regard the two genres partly overlap, e.g. in their mutual interest in the reversal of fortune. I would add that the presence or absence of dialogue is perhaps a more reliable criterion to keep the two genres somewhat distinct. If one accepts this criterion, the consideration of mime elements in this chapter appears perhaps slightly less relevant for the following discussion of Seneca, where the main feature in need of explanation is the relation – or disjunction – of words and (silent) action.

The chapter gives a balanced and reliable account of the origins and nature of pantomime. It then proceeds to a useful survey of literary texts that plausibly illustrate the influence of the (at least partly) "sub-literary" genres of pantomime as well as mime (Apuleius, Metamorphoses 10.2-12 and 30-34; Catullus 63; Cicero, Pro Caelio; Ovid; Seneca, Apocolocynthosis; Petronius). Vice-versa, we know from Lucian, De saltatione 61 that pantomime builds on tragedy and epic. The contribution of tragedy seems clear – the dramatic mode and the mythic subject matter – whereas epic, in Zanobi's words, "provided ... the descriptive mode of narration" (14).

Chapter 2 examines the loose dramatic construction of Seneca's plays. The chapter opens with a table expounding the structure of each of the eight plays (the spurious Hercules Oetaeus is not included here but is adduced elsewhere as representative of Senecan drama: 118-120). Among the features that contribute to the impression of dramatic incoherence are the succession of detached episodes, the neglect of plot development, the doubling of themes, and uncued transitions, entrances and exits. Particularly noteworthy is the extensive use of monologues, which serve to portray the inner life of the characters, although it is typical of Senecan drama that the latter do not emerge as individuals but rather as types (80-82).

A closer look at Seneca's notorious 'running commentaries' follows in Chapter 3. As mentioned above, they often focus on extreme emotional states and in particular their visible manifestation through the body. It is clear that a physical medium like pantomime must have been especially interested in exploring and exploiting the connection between the emotions and the body, and it is thus highly plausible that Seneca was inspired by pantomime performances in this regard. Zanobi goes beyond previous scholarship in identifying an influence of pantomime in three aspects of running commentaries, namely content, style and metre. Seneca elaborates on topics to do with strong emotions, which were also the subjects of pantomime performances. The choice of the madness of Hercules as a plot subject , for instance, may be influenced by pantomime performances (103). In terms of style, the paratactic structure and the use of monosyllables and asyndeta, especially of verbs, contribute to a "staccato mode" which favours the presentation of characters and actions "in clipped segments" rather than in a continuous flow (97-102). Regarding the metre, Zanobi notes the use of galliambi in Medea 849-878, a metre with 'oriental' connotations, and relates it to Catullus 63, discussed also in ch. 1 (99f.). A wide range of metres may have conveyed different "attitudes" and accommodated different dance figures (103); the use of stichic metres helps to structure and slow down the pace (108).

It is plausible that the recurring vocabulary for body parts and actions we encounter in the 'running commentaries' mirrors the presumably highly standardised formal means – gestures and dance figures – by which emotions were expressed in pantomime (94). We may also infer that in pantomime, actions that took place indoors were performed in front of the audience, and that Seneca adapted this technique for his plays (114). It is perhaps a corollary of this technique that Seneca organises scenes that take place in the imagination of a character in a similar way, as in Cassandra's vision of the killing of Agamemnon at Agamemnon 867-909 (123). Likewise, the strong interest in the supernatural may be due to new performative experiments in pantomime. In terms of options for a production this entails the transgression of any physical limitations which traditional stage conventions focusing on theatrical illusion posed (125f.).

The interest in showing what is invisible is intertwined with the topic of the next chapter, self-analysis in monologues (Ch. 4). This element is often elaborated through a combination of running commentary on a character followed by a monologue by that same character, which allows for a variation of voices and metre.

Chapter 5 is dedicated to narrative set-pieces, which differ from traditional messenger speeches in that they usually do not narrate necessary plot elements or violent deeds, but instead expand on imaginary landscapes, which sometimes appear to be animated, or on supernatural or horrific events. Again, it is fair to suppose that this element is influenced by pantomime libretti.

A very short Conclusion, a bibliography and indexes conclude the book.

Zanobi is able to draw extensively on observations made by previous scholars but assembles them for the first time with an eye to her main question, the influence of pantomime on Seneca, so that many already familiar observations appear under a new light.

The study convincingly demonstrates the influence of pantomime on Seneca. But what are the conclusions we are to draw from this insight? How does it affect our understanding and evaluation of Senecan drama? Among the results that emerge from Zanobi's study is a yet stronger case in favour of performance versus recitation (109, 114, 123). But this is not the major purpose of this study, which rather aims to show that the plays make sense for a variety of production styles (similarly agnostic in this respect is a recent monograph by A. Heil, see BMCR 2014.07.27). More importantly, Zanobi's enquiry does advance the understanding of certain scenes, e.g. Hercules furens 895-1053, Amphitryon's running commentary on Hercules' fit of madness (103-5). Last but not least, the consideration of Senecan dramatic technique with pantomime in mind allows us to form a clearer idea as to what actual pantomime libretti looked like, which in the absence of ancient specimens of this genre is very precious.

The book's real identity as a thesis is obvious. On the positive side, this translates into a clear structure of an introduction and five chapters, which are easy to navigate thanks to plentiful subsections. On the negative side, there are no translations of Latin passages, which are quoted at length in the original only. In view of the clearly scholarly audience which this implies, the choice of providing endnotes instead of footnotes seems a bit incoherent. The systematic and exhaustive analyses which the book offers are of course a merit in terms of scholarly method but pose a limit to readability. With little further work this thesis could have been transformed into a book that reaches a wider audience, and given its quality, it is a shame that this path was not taken. Also, it is regrettable that no attempt was made to update the bibliography since 2008.3 That said, Zanobi's study no doubt is of great interest to scholars of Roman performance culture and in particular specialists of Senecan drama, who will use it as a welcome aid especially when working closely on certain controversial passages.


1.   O. Zwierlein, Die Rezitationsdramen Senecas. Meisenheim am Glan, 1966.
2.   B. Zimmermann, "Seneca und der Pantomimus", in: G. Vogt-Spira (Hg.), Strukturen der Mündlichkeit in der römischen Literatur. Tübingen, 1990: 161-167 = "Seneca and pantomime", in: E. Hall, R. Wyles (eds), New Directions in Ancient Pantomime. Oxford, 2008: 218-226.
3.   The English translation of Zimmermann (note 2) would have been worth including in the bibliography; its absence may well be due to the fact that the 2008 thesis has undergone very little revision. The same holds probably for the surprising omissions of R. Webb, Demons and Dancers. Cambridge MA, 2008 and R. Wyles, "The Symbolism of Costume in Ancient Pantomime" in: E. Hall, R. Wyles (eds), New Directions in Ancient Pantomime. Oxford, 2008: 61-86, to name but two.

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Jed W. Atkins, Cicero on Politics and the Limits of Reason: The Republic and Laws. Cambridge classical studies. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. xiv, 270. ISBN 9781107043589. $95.00.

Reviewed by Catherine Steel, University of Glasgow (

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Recently James Zetzel, in his chapter in The Cambridge Companion to Cicero, noted that 'Cicero's political theory has been discussed very little in English until fairly recently and there is still no satisfactory full-length treatment of De re publica...'. 1 Atkins' elegant and probing analysis in this monograph, the recasting of a 2009 Cambridge PhD thesis, goes a very long way to filling that gap.

Its focus is not simply De republica; that work is considered alongside De legibus. After a brief Introduction, largely dedicated to indicating the monograph's contents, chapter one ('Reading the Republic') surveys the basic problems which face a reader, particularly one who comes from contemporary political philosophy, in reading this work: the role of Cicero and his relationship to Scipio; the use of dialogue form; and the grounding of philosophical activity in a firmly Roman context. It concludes by suggesting that 'it is a helpful rule of interpretation to conceive of the dialogue as a cooperative investigation' (p.42). Chapter two, 'The dream of Scipio and the science of politics', tackles a major speed-bump head-on: what on earth is the dream of Scipio doing in the work? Atkins outlines the peculiar reception history which has made, and continues to make, attractive a discrete engagement with this part of the work, before suggesting an alternative. Scipio's dream fits because it revisits the role of reason in political theory and practice. The cosmos is rational, but humans are not: the contrast indicates why De republica rejects ideal states for Roman reality, and opens up space for the politician, or statesman, to contribute to the beneficial running of a state. In chapter three, 'Constitutional change and the mixed constitution' (arguably the most important in the monograph), the focus is on the mixed constitution. Atkins takes this apparently familiar concept and, through meticulous and probing analysis, demonstrates the gulf between Polybius and Cicero in their use of the mixed constitution. He shows how Cicero rejects Polybius' understanding of human nature as predictably and rationally motivated by fear in favour of one in which humans can be and are motivated by the benefits and advantages of associating with one another in political communities. At the same time, De republica does not locate the stability of the mixed constitution in a system of checks and balances, as Polybius does, but instead in its capacity to moderate unrestrained desire for liberty among the citizen body.

Chapter four, 'Political Society and Citizens' rights' sets up De republica as an introduction to De legibus by considering the legal framework that Cicero seems to invoke in the earlier work. Atkins argues that the concept of rights can be traced in De republica and, importantly, that these citizen rights are distinct from and can be asserted against the position given to them by those who govern. Thus the Roman people can make a claim, usually for freedom, against the res publica. (It's a pity that very close publication dates mean that Atkins is not here in dialogue with the work of Valentina Arena ( see BMCR 2013.08.51); that will in due course be an interesting conversation). Atkins notes, too, the way that nature is apparently absent from De republica, permitting Scipio to avoid the problem of how non-ideal states can claim legitimacy. That issue comes to the forefront in chapter five, 'Natural Law', which explores the philosophical history of this concept in De legibus, concluding that its first book offers a reasonably orthodox Stoic account of natural law. The crunch point is chapter six, 'Legislation for the best practicable regime', where Atkins offers a delicately nuanced interpretation of De legibus' approach to the misfit between written law in any particular state and the universal claims of natural law. Some neat close-reading underscores Atkins' claim that Cicero was well aware of the problem. A conclusion offers some observations on other modern readings of these two works.

Atkins' attempt to offer a sustained reading of these two dialogues as serious contributions to political philosophy is, to a very large extent, a great success. He deftly analyses Cicero's positions within the existing philosophical framework, showing not only the extent to which he differs from Plato, Aristotle and their successors but also explaining why those differences are interesting and productive. In addition, his alertness to Cicero's ability as a writer enables him to relate structure to argument in consistently productive ways: so, for example, the discussion of astronomy (49-56) as a flawed analogy for politics which shows why the discussion in the first book of De republica begins where it does. It's true that he wants Cicero to be a good writer of political philosophy, an assumption which may be prior to the arguments we find here; by and large the assumption pays off, but the monograph does raise questions which perhaps point to a less consistent and less effective Cicero. One feature of the monograph that struck me was how distant Cicero frequently feels; although there is a lot of detailed discussion of individual passages, the process of forming a coherent argument takes the author, and reader, a long way from the Ciceronian texts. In part of course this is due to their fragmentary state, but not entirely. Making sense of Cicero in terms of contemporary political thought does involve a lot of rewriting and recasting, and we shouldn't lose sight of that gap: whatever De republica and De legibus were initially intended to achieve, it involved a rather different conceptualisation of talking about one's community than we have. In this connection, it's perhaps a pity that Atkins did not bring De oratore into his argument to a greater extent. That work offers us an example, in a text which we have complete, of Cicero's approach to structuring and formulating a complex argument across a number of books and between a number of interlocutors. Fox's analysis of De oratore as a text which evades fixity could offer a stimulating counter to Atkins' approach; 2 for all Atkins' skill as a close reader and his alertness to Cicero's own sceptical moves, this monograph feels fairly dogmatic in its final interpretative positions.

Atkins notes that (6-7) that these treatises were being written alongside major political change and a transformation, at the hands of a large number of intellectuals and writers, of Rome's cultural landscape. Yet the implications could be pushed further. In particular, his analysis of natural and statute law – and the ways in which Cicero allows for the difference between the two – cries out for contextualisation not only in the political life of the 50s but also in Cicero's own approach to dealing with opposition. As Harries in particular has shown, the slippage from opposing Cicero to opposing the res publica to no longer being a part of the res publica happens with extraordinary frequency and consistency in Cicero's writings.3 Creating a position, as Cicero does in De legibus which permits him to judge what statute law meets the criterion of being a law, is a very important element in his ability to enforce discrimination between acceptable and unacceptable political activity; conversely, it is very tempting to see Cicero's experience of Clodius in his formulation of the relationship between natural law and what passes for law at Rome in De legibus.

The book is excellently produced and largely free from presentational errors.


1.   Zetzel, J., 'Political Philosophy', in Steel, C., ed., The Cambridge Companion to Cicero, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2013, 181-195, at 195.
2.   Fox, M., Cicero's philosophy of history, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2007, 111-141.
3.   Harries, J., Cicero and the Jurists: from Citizen's Law to the Lawful State, London: Duckworth 2006.

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Claudio Buongiovanni (ed.), Gli epigrammata longa del decimo libro di Marziale: introduzione, testo, traduzione e commento. Testi e studi di cultura classica, 54. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2012. Pp. 473. ISBN 9788846733399. €30.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Sara Sparagna, Università degli Studi di Cassino e del Lazio Meridionale (

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La valorizzazione delle dinamiche compositive del Gedichtbuch marzialiano ha conosciuto, in tempi recenti, una notevole fortuna critica, che ha portato ad una ridefinizione della sua entità di opera letteraria autonoma e conclusa.1 Il volume di Buongiovanni presenta una tecnica di indagine sperimentale nell'ambito dei commenti e analizza gli epigrammata longa del X libro di Marziale. Questa tipologia epigrammatica è sempre dotata di una sua peculiare autonomia nel liber marzialiano, come si deduce dagli attenti accorgimenti adottati dal poeta per segnalarne la presenza all'interno del libellus. I carmina longa vengono alternati, nel corso della raccolta, con carmi brevi, che li seguono e li precedono; essi diventano veicolo di contenuti specifici e, inoltre, il poeta dimostra una notevole consapevolezza terminologica e metapoetica nel loro processo identificativo.2 Sebbene ci siano stati studi dedicati a questa tipologia di componimenti, si è trattato di indagini trasversali e relative all'intera raccolta del corpus marzialiano.3 Pertanto, la scelta dello studioso si pone come un primo tentativo di rottura dell'approccio consolidato e mostra come la valorizzazione dei carmina longa in un singolo libro possa giovare alla conoscenza delle logiche compositive profonde che lo animano e a garantire un'interpretazione approfondita del significato del singolo componimento, analizzandolo sia autonomamente sia in rapporto agli altri epigrammi del libro. In particolare, anche in assenza di continuità tematiche evidenti, tutti i longa di un medesimo liber sono connessi fra di loro. Questi condividono, infatti, la medesima posizione rilevata per la loro estensione stessa e svolgono un ruolo di snodo nell'ambito della raccolta epigrammatica allestita dall'autore e, quindi, la scelta di analizzarli in maniera unitaria garantisce un'interpretazione completa delle caratteristiche eidetiche del componimento, sebbene il commento sia parziale.

Nell'introduzione Buongiovanni ripercorre le tappe sostanziali dello status quaestionis relativo alla definizione del sottogenere (soprattutto pp. 13-19). In mancanza di un criterio esplicito e canonizzato ufficialmente sin dall'antichità, non vi è un numero di versi, universalmente condiviso dalla critica, al di sopra del quale un epigramma si possa considerare longum.4 La scelta dello studioso, che segue le linee guida fissate da J. Scherf,5 valorizza il contesto del liber specifico. Vengono pertanto considerati longa gli epigrammi che abbiano un'estensione pari ad almeno il doppio della media dei componimenti del libro, ovvero, in questo caso, i componimenti dai 18 versi in su. La scelta dello studioso non è tuttavia condotta su un dato prettamente numerico, ma ben ponderata anche alla luce dei messaggi veicolati dai singoli testi. Vengono selezionati ed analizzati gli epigrammi 5, 20, 35, 37, 48, 87, 92 e 104. Manca invece l'analisi dell'epigramma longum 30 per cui l'autore rimanda all'analisi di Fabbrini, D. (2007) op. cit.. Molto utile ed agevole, sempre in sede introduttiva (pp. 19-25), l'enucleazione dei motivi di continuità fra i longa del liber: anche da questa selezione di epigrammi emerge la natura complessa di questo libro marzialiano, che risente del conflitto esistenziale e storico del poeta, costretto a allestire una seconda edizione del volume per potersi allontanare dalla pesante eredità domizianea che caratterizzava il X nella sua prima edizione. Ne consegue che motivo tematico forte sia la tensione spaziale e dimensionale, volta alla ricerca di un recessus rusticus e all'anticipazione del viaggio di ritorno di Spagna. La tematica si intreccia al problema costituito dalla ricerca di un patrono cui affidarsi, nell'estremo tentativo di riscatto romano, e nel complesso diviene metapoetica, contribuendo a creare un senso di unità sostanziale fra tutti questi carmi che, quando non dedicati al viaggio o a patroni e amici (o ai due temi insieme, come nel caso dei due propemptika 20 e 104), si occupano di questioni di natura letteraria.

Il testo presentato si attiene all'edizione di Heraeus,6 condivisibilmente preferita ad altre più recenti ma non migliori. Occasionali divergenze vengono di volta in volta segnalate e discusse ad loc., sebbene manchi un prospetto consuntivo. Ulteriori migliorie potranno probabilmente derivare, in futuro, da una nuova edizione critica. In questa sede, tuttavia, data la natura dichiaratamente parziale del commento, la scelta adottata appare condivisibile e non inficia lo spessore del lavoro. Per ciascun epigramma viene offerta una traduzione di servizio che ha il pregio di rispettare il dettato originale del testo, senza indulgere in forzature 'stilistiche' cui facilmente un componimento poetico si potrebbe prestare. Viene anche utilmente segnalato il metro del carme, talora ulteriormente discusso in sede di commento (cfr. il caso dell'epigramma 5, pp. 34-35) e corredato da notazioni statistiche che efficacemente rilevano l'importanza della scelta metrica sia nella ricerca di variatio perseguita da Marziale all'interno del liber, sia nel suo farsi essa stessa veicolo di contenuti metapoetici. Notevole il fatto che negli epigrammata longa di questo X libro si ribaltino le proporzioni più tipicamente marzialiane e il poeta preferisca metri quali il falecio (20; 35; 87; 104) ed il coliambo (5; 30; 92) al distico elegiaco (37; 48). Alla questione, per altro, viene dato rilievo dallo studioso anche in sede introduttiva (p. 24), aspetto che contribuisce ulteriormente a dare persuasività alla scelta degli epigrammi selezionati per l'analisi.

Per ogni epigramma il commento presenta la medesima ripartizione. Una prima parte introduttiva ripercorre le tappe più significative delle interpretazioni critiche, con un vaglio meticoloso della bibliografia e fitti rimandi intratestuali e intertestuali. La scelta consente allo studioso di proporre un inquadramento completo degli antecedenti latini e greci cui Marziale allude e permette al lettore di avere un'idea di massima della tipologia epigrammatica di riferimento, nonché della sua storia specifica e della sua fortuna letteraria. L'agevole strutturazione line by line del commento filologico ne rende immediata e diretta la fruizione. L'ulteriore suddivisione fra pericopi e poi, a seguire, i singoli lemmi, ha il pregio di garantire continuità al discorso, meno frammentato di quanto non accada normalmente in lavori simili. Questo aspetto diviene particolarmente evidente nei casi in cui, a fronte di un testo non del tutto perspicuo o molto dibattuto dalla critica (cfr. il caso di 10, 48, 20-23, pp. 281-300), lo studioso riesce a fornire un quadro chiaro e dettagliato delle problematiche esaminate senza costringere a rintracciare le informazioni in punti separati del commento. L'approfondita analisi e l'attenta esposizione delle divergenze critiche rende questo commento uno strumento efficace per avere un quadro dettagliato delle questioni rilevanti, sia per la valutazione della tradizione critica precedente che per la presentazione di proposte innovative.


1.   Si tengano presente gli innumerevoli passi in avanti compiuti nella ricezione interpretativa del liber come un tutto unitario ben rappresentati dalle polemiche sulla libellus theory (cfr. D. P. Fowler, 'Martial and the Book', Ramus 24 (1995) 31-58). Attualmente, si ritiene che la selezione stessa dei carmi che compongono il libro e loro disposizione nella raccolta strutturata per la pubblicazione siano compartecipi del discorso poetico sviluppato dall'autore.
2.   Cfr. Mart. I, 110, 1; II, 77, 1; VI, 55, 5.
3.   Fondamentale il convegno dedicato alla problematica della definizione del genere, con numerosi interventi dedicati all'autore, per cui si veda A. M. Morelli (ed.), Epigramma longum: Da Marziale alla tarda antichità / From Martial to Late Antiquity. Atti del convegno internazionale (Cassino, 29-31 maggio 2006), Cassino 2008, vd. BMCR 2010.12.68. Un esempio di studio analitico dedicato ad epigrammata longa di diversi libri marzialiani è quello di D. Fabbrini, Il migliore dei mondi possibili. Gli epigrammi ecfrastici per amici e protettori, Firenze 2007, vd. BMCR 2009.02.11.
4.   Le misure proposte sono oscillanti fra i due estremi di 11 (secondo l'ipotesi avanzata da M. Puelma, 'Epigramma: osservazioni sulla storia di un termine greco-latino', Maia 49 (1997) 189-213) e 22 versi (come proposto da A. Canobbio, 'Epigrammata longa e breves libelli. Dinamiche formali dell'epigramma marzialiano', in Morelli (2008), op. cit., 169-193).
5.   J. Scherf, 'Epigramma longum and the arrangement of Martial's book in Morelli (2008), op. cit., 195-213.
6.   M. Valerii Martialis epigrammaton libri, recognovit W. Haraeus, Lipsiae 1925, editionem corretiorem curavit I. Borovskij, ibid. 1976.

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Monday, September 15, 2014


Yvan Nadeau, Dog Bites Caesar!: A Reading of Juvenal's Satire 5 (with Horace's Satires I.5; II.5; II.6; Epistles I.1; I.16; I.17). Collection Latomus, 342. Bruxelles: Éditions Latomus, 2013. Pp. 100. ISBN 9782870312896. €20.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Biagio Santorelli, University of Florida (

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Il ricco Virrone offre un banchetto e vi invita anche il povero cliente Trebio. Questi accorre entusiasta, ma la cena avrà da offrirgli soltanto umiliazioni: il patrono predisporrà due diversi 'menus', riservando a sé le pietanze più raffinate, al cliente solo cibi d'infima qualità. La cena diventa così emblema della degenerazione dell'istituzione clientelare; di qui l'esortazione al cliente, perché abbandoni una condizione di vita improduttiva quanto umiliante. Questo, in sintesi, il quadro della satira 5 di Giovenale, di cui Yvan Nadeau propone un saggio interpretativo: un volumetto ricco di spunti, che indaga in una nuova prospettiva l'intento e il referente satirico del componimento. Il volume è articolato in dodici capitoli (A-L), al cui ordine mi atterrò nel ripercorrere il discorso dell'autore.

Una breve introduzione (A) espone la tesi fondamentale del volume: nella satira 5, Giovenale intenderebbe sovvertire la concezione tradizionale dell'amicitia che avrebbe legato i membri del circolo di Augusto, attingendo ai versi di Orazio per fare del poeta e del princeps i propri bersagli.

Il discorso muove dall'analisi dei vv. 1-11 (B), soffermandosi inizialmente sulla relativa persona loquens (§1). Nadeau ripropone l'uso, introdotto nel suo commento alla sat.6,1 di indicare con «Giovenale» il Giovenale 'storico', con «Giunio» lo 'speaker' della satira; la questione della vicinanza tra i due viene qui impostata, ma le conclusioni sono rimandate al termine del volume, così come ogni altra riflessione sul profilo (§2) e la 'filosofia' (§3) del destinatario. Ciò che qui si mostra chiaramente è l'«intertestualità augustea» su cui l'esordio della satira è costruito. Già i precedenti commenti avevano individuato in questi versi la presenza di reminiscenze oraziane e virgiliane, ma Nadeau ne propone ora una lettura d'insieme (§§4-8).

Il primo testo oraziano preso in considerazione è epist.1,1 (C): dopo una riflessione preliminare sulla struttura dell'epistola (§§9-10), l'autore si sofferma sul senso della recusatio della persona loquens (ancora «Quinto» vs. «Orazio») (§§11-14), approfondendo quindi la dimensione filosofica di tale scelta (§§15-23). Con il rifiuto di «Quinto» a comporre nuovi carmina per Mecenate, Orazio sostiene di voler abbandonare la precedente filosofia di vita parassitaria, da seguace di Aristippo, in favore di una nuova attitudine filosofica d'orientamento stoico. In tal senso «Quinto» sostiene di aver ormai cambiato proposito di vita (1,1,4 non eadem est mens); «Orazio», tuttavia, continuerà a comporre versi in lode di Mecenate e Augusto, ed è proprio a questa discrepanza che Giovenale guarda quando, rappresentando un cliente che non sembra ancora intenzionato ad abbandonare la propria condizione, rovescia la rivendicazione di «Quinto» (5,1 Si te propositi nondum pudet atque eadem est mens). Prende quindi corpo l'ipotesi di una connessione tra «Quinto» e l'interlocutore di Giovenale (§24); l'intero discorso giovenaliano, in tal senso, si configurerebbe come la 'reprimenda' di un cinico contro un aristippeo pervicace (§25).

Questo contrasto è approfondito alla luce di epist.1,17 (D). A parlare è qui un esperto aristippeo, che indica a un amico la via per diventare a sua volta un «parassita qualificato» (§26-29); una via che consente di tenersi lontani, in particolare, dalla vita da mendicante del cinico (§§30-34). Nel rimprovero di «Giunio» al cliente che preferisce la condizione del parassita a quella del mendicante (5,3-11), quindi, «Giovenale» non starebbe facendo altro che usare il «Quinto» di epist.1,17 contro quello di epist.1,1 (§§35-37).

La presenza in Iuv. 5,2s. di un riferimento a Sarmento, cliente di Augusto, induce al confronto con Hor. sat.1,5, dove lo stesso personaggio è protagonista di una contesa con Messio Cicirro (E). Nadeau ritiene di poter ricostruire una certa corrispondenza tra il profilo biografico di Orazio e quello di Sarmento, corrispondenza che Giovenale avrebbe a sua volta distorto (§38): in quest'operazione, tuttavia, Nadeau concede troppo credito allo scolio giovenaliano ad loc., che andrà più verosimilmente considerato un autoschediasma derivato proprio dai versi oraziani.2

L'ultima questione relativa all'exordium di Iuv. 5 riguarda il v.5 quamvis iurato metuam tibi credere testi: il problema fondamentale è stabilire cosa abbia a che fare con la vita clientelare questo riferimento al testimone spergiuro (§39). Nadeau ritiene che l'espressione celi un riferimento alla figura del parassita captator e, in particolare, a sat.2,5. Qui Tiresia indica a Ulisse, come via maestra per una facile ricchezza, l'arte della captatio, tra i cui espedienti rientra lo spergiuro in tribunale (2,5,27-31). Nadeau ritiene che da questo consiglio derivi il timore di «Giunio»: se il suo interlocutore può sopportare le umiliazioni della vita clientelare, allora potrebbe essere pronto anche a seguire il suggerimento di Tiresia. Degli spunti intertestuali sin qui indicati, quest'ultimo mi pare il meno stringente: un tale collegamento richiede una catena di associazioni troppo lunga e indiretta, e personalmente dubito che, in mancanza di un chiaro «segnale testuale», un lettore avrebbe potuto spingersi tanto indietro. A mio avviso, l'interpretazione del verso non può prescindere dal valore idiomatico dell'espressione («non ti crederei nemmeno sotto giuramento»); la connessione con la situazione del parassita, poi, è evidente alla luce dell'intera satira: che un cliens possa essere felice della propria condizione, senza vergognarsene e continuando a considerare bona summa i maltrattamenti del patrono, è idea tanto inverosimile che, se qualcuno volesse sostenerla, andrebbe guardato come un testimone di sospetta attendibilità.

Con il §46 Nadeau ricapitola il discorso sin qui proposto, offrendoci occasione per un parziale bilancio. Le conclusioni tratte dall'interpretazione di Iuv. 5,1-11 sono:

1) «Giunio» è portavoce del punto di vista cinico, una sorta di Diogene, mentre il destinatario appare come un seguace di Aristippo. Una simile polarizzazione può essere utile a comprendere le istanze 'filosofiche' in gioco, ma personalmente eviterei di estremizzarla: Giovenale ostenta sempre disinteresse per la filosofia e per le specificità delle diverse scuole,3 e le sue competenze in materia, d'altra parte, si limitavano probabilmente alle theseis filosofiche incontrate nel corso degli studi declamatorî.4 Trovo improbabile, quindi, che l'esordio della nostra satira possa essere fondato su una contrapposizione di punti di vista filosofici: invitando il cliente ad abbandonare la vita parassitaria e darsi piuttosto all'accattonaggio, a mio avviso, Giovenale sta più semplicemente mettendo in campo una strategia 'dissuasoria' analoga a quella di 6,25-37, dove esorterà un promesso sposo a suicidarsi, o a trovarsi un amasio, piuttosto che mettere in pratica i suoi propositi matrimoniali.

2) I collegamenti intertestuali con Orazio consentono di individuare analogie tra la situazione della mensa di Virrone e quella della cerchia di Augusto, e tra il Trebio di Giovenale e l'Orazio di Satire ed Epistole. Trovo che la più felice intuizione di Nadeau sia l'aver sfruttato l'«intertestualità augustea» per offrire una chiave di lettura dell'exordium della satira: in apertura di un componimento dedicato alla degradazione dei rapporti clientelari, Giovenale evoca il più celebre paradigma di amicitia, affettiva e politica al contempo, tra uomini di diverso rango sociale; e per rappresentare un cliente pervicace, allude al proposito (irrealizzato) di «Quinto». Non ritengo, tuttavia, che da ciò si debba dedurre che l'intento di Giovenale fosse l'attacco a Orazio/«Quinto». L'intera sat. 5 è ricca di relazioni intertestuali non solo con Orazio, ma anche con Virgilio,5 Ovidio6 e soprattutto Marziale,7 senza che ciò comporti alcun intento polemico nei loro confronti: Giovenale, piuttosto, attinge materiali e stilemi dai propri modelli, valorizzandoli nella prospettiva più utile al proprio disegno satirico. Un disegno più ampio di un episodico 'attacco' a Orazio, e che può essere compreso solo alla luce dell'intero libro I: in sat. 1 (programmatica dell'intero libro) Giovenale espone l'intollerabile degradazione della clientela; in sat. 3 (componimento centrale e più ampio del libro) mostra di approvare la scelta di un cliente che, incapace di continuare a vivere in una tale abiezione, abbandona Roma per una nuova vita in provincia; in sat. 5 (conclusione del libro) si rivolge a un cliente che fa la scelta opposta, e continua ad accettare ogni sorta di umiliazione. Evidenze interne ed esterne8 lasciano intendere che il Giovenale 'storico' dovette condividere a lungo una tale sorte: il destinatario di Iuv. 5, incapace come «Quinto» di mutar proposito, non assomiglia dunque a «Orazio» più che a «Giovenale» stesso. Anzi, per restare fedeli alla terminologia di Nadeau, più che attaccare «Quinto»/«Orazio», in questa satira «Giunio» sta forse parlando a «Giovenale».9

Nadeau salta quindi alla conclusione della satira (vv. 156-173) (G): è questa forse la scelta meno condivisibile nel volume, che rinuncia non solo a una lettura della satira 5 nel contesto del libro I, ma anche a un'interpretazione davvero complessiva di questo singolo componimento. Concentrandosi sui vv. 170-173 (Omnia ferre / si potes, et debes. Pulsandum vertice raso / praebebis quandoque caput nec dura timebis / flagra pati), Nadeau vi individua un «evidente» riferimento a un abuso sessuale patito dal cliente: «Juvenal is referring to the patron forcing his prick into the client's mouth»; sessuale sarebbe anche il valore di omnia…pati e dura…flagra (H). Giovenale, tuttavia, sta qui rappresentando un cliente che, pur di continuare a vivere delle elargizioni del patrono, si umilia al punto da offrirsi spontaneamente alle percosse che sono tipiche delle stupidus del mimo e del parassita della commedia (metafora preparata dai vv.156s. Hoc agit ut doleas; nam quae comoedia, mimus / quis melior plorante gula?). L'interpretazione sessuale di questi versi è a mio avviso ingiustificata, e la lunga trattazione sulle umiliazioni sessuali del cliente (§§48-67) non mi sembra avere punti di contatto stringenti con la nostra satira.

I capitoli J e K individuano ancora due luoghi in cui Giovenale rovescerebbe altrettanti spunti oraziani. Il primo è ai vv. 20-23, dove la presentazione del cliente ansioso di presentarsi per primo alla chiamata del patrono potrebbe essere ricalcata su Hor.sat.2,6,23-26; il secondo a 133-145, dove l'allusione al dono di 400.000 sesterzi da parte di un dio o di un similis dis / et melior fatis…homuncio potrebbe alludere allo status che Orazio aveva conquistato servendo sotto Bruto, e che la generosità di Mecenate e Augusto aveva corredato delle necessarie proprietà. È possibile che Giovenale avesse qui in mente Orazio; anche in questi casi, tuttavia, penserei all'utilizzo di un immaginario (anche) oraziano nell'ottica del discorso complessivo sulla clientela, piuttosto che a un deliberato intento di rispondere a «Quinto» o contraddire «Orazio».

Giungiamo così alla conclusione (L), dove le tesi sin qui esposte tornano arricchite da nuove considerazioni. Una di queste riguarda il profilo di «Giunio», presentato come un moralista cinico, votato alla censura di tiranni e parassiti mediante l'attacco a Orazio e Augusto. Alle riserve già esposte in proposito, mi limito qui ad aggiungere che le testimonianze di Marziale (sorprendentemente escluse dal discorso di Nadeau) dovrebbero indurci a ipotizzare, se non una perfetta coincidenza, almeno una grande vicinanza tra «Giunio», «Giovenale» e il suo interlocutore. Nadeau ritiene che gli attacchi a Orazio e Augusto possano essere letti in senso più generale, e parlare anche al Cesare del tempo di Giovenale (Traiano?Adriano?); a mio avviso, invece, Giovenale intende rivolgersi soprattutto ai clientes del suo tempo, quei clientes con cui lui stesso aveva molto in comune.

Al netto di giudizi e valutazioni personali, il volume colpisce per l'ampiezza delle fonti primarie chiamate in causa e l'attenzione nell'individuare collegamenti intertestuali che a prima vista potrebbero sfuggire. Ne risulta un'opera ricca di stimoli e suggestioni, che ha il merito di suscitare riflessioni su elementi lasciati ai margini dell'attenzione nei tradizionali commenti. Manca uno sguardo più complessivo sulla satira esaminata e sul suo contesto, ma forse proprio la lettura di questo volume potrà ispirare nuove ricerche in tale direzione.


1.   BMCR 2012.09.19.
2.   Sul punto cf. B. Santorelli, Giovenale, Satira V. Introduzione, traduzione e commento, Berlin-Boston 2013, 54s.
3.   Cf. Iuv. 13,120-123 Accipe quae contra valeat solacia ferre / et qui nec Cynicos nec Stoica dogmata legit / a Cynicis tunica distantia, non Epicurum / suspicit exigui laetum plantaribus horti.
4.   Cf. S. F. Bonner,Roman Declamation in the Late Republic and Early Empire, Liverpool 1949, 2-11.
5.   Iuv. 5,44s. ~ Verg. Aen. 4,36; 261s.; Iuv. 5,101 ~ Verg. Aen. 1,52-54; Iuv. 5,125 ~ Verg. Aen. 8,264s.
6.   Iuv. 5,22s.~ Ov. met. 10,446s.; Iuv. 5,141 ~ Ov. met. 12,262-264.
7.   Cf. Santorelli, cit., 19-25.
8.   Nel corso del libro I, Giovenale mostra di conoscere nel dettaglio la vita degli sfortunati clientes del suo tempo, tradendo una certa solidarietà nei loro confronti; Marziale, poi, rappresenta l'amico satirico proprio nelle stesse condizioni dei suoi clienti (12,18,1-6).
9.   Cf. Santorelli, cit., 15-19.

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