Thursday, March 26, 2015


Guido M. Berndt, Roland Steinacher (ed.), Arianism: Roman Heresy and Barbarian Creed. Farnham; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014. Pp. xviii, 381. ISBN 9781409446590. $139.95.

Reviewed by Eugene Webb, University of Washington (

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This volume of essays is an important contribution to the literature on Arianism, especially because it not only provides further clarification of the controversies around Arianism in its origins in the fourth century but also gives welcome attention to the various forms it took subsequently among the various Germanic peoples (Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, Burgundians, Lombards…) who adopted it—a subject greatly in need of more exploration.

Arianism has been a contested subject over the centuries, and this volume itself exemplifies that, since not only do the authors discuss the history of controversies in the field but some of them directly oppose one another's interpretations of the surviving evidence and even disagree whether the term "Arianism" is still useful (since it has had so many meanings and nuances, and since later Arianism may have had little to do directly with Arius) or should be replaced with another. As Hans Christof Brenneke explains in his lucid introduction to the volume, in his controversy with his bishop, Alexander, Arius wanted to emphasize God's transcendence and, appealing to Proverbs 8:22-25 ("The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old….before the beginning of the earth…."), he claimed that "God alone is ἀναρχῶς, and thus he was not always Father. Before all time, and before the creation of the world, God called the Son into being ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων" (p. 9). The ambiguity of a "creation" before all time and before the creation of the world is apparent, but Alexander interpreted it to mean that Arius assigned the Logos a place among created beings and concluded that he thought the Son/Logos was merely a man adopted by God. In subsequent controversy Alexander's successor, Athanasius, denounced so many opponents as "Arian" and so loosely that the term came to cover too much ground to have any precision—a problem compounded for later historians by the Nicenes' almost complete destruction of Arius's own writings, so that we have only sketchy ideas of what exactly he had in mind.

In the present volume, the main issue is how we are to understand the "Arianism" of the Germanic peoples, whose non- Nicene Christianity was legally exempt from the otherwise universal obligation of Nicene orthodoxy after the Council of Constantinople in 381. Several of the authors of the essays contained here advocate replacing "Arian" with the term "Homoian" when referring to Germanic Christianity. The first essay, by Knut Schäferdiek, "Ulfila und der sogenannte gotische Arianismus," argues this forcefully, saying that although they were called "Arians" by the Nicenes of the empire, they labeled themselves "catholic" or "orthodox" (he cites, for example, a Visigothic reference to converts "de Romana religione ad nostram fidem catholicam venientes," p. 22) and that their own theology was not based on that of Arius at all. (This one essay of the volume is in German, but it is followed by a brief English summary.) The two writers that follow after Schäferdiek, on the other hand, Sara Parvis in "Was Ulfila Really a Homoian?" and Paul Parvis in an essay on Saint Sabas disagree with him on this. Sara Parvis argues that "there are "clear theological parallels between Arius and Ulfila" (p. 58) and that "Ulfila is an excellent example of the unhelpfulness of the category of 'homoian'" (p. 65). "His links with the early players and early years of the Arian Controversy are, if anything, stronger than those of the later years,"" she says, "and it is there, I would suggest, that his theology also best fits." Paul Parvis (whose main argument is that Saint Sabas, who has traditionally been treated as a Catholic convert, was actually an Arian with a doctored posthumous Catholic hagiography) also comments on the Arian vs. Homoian issue, dismissing it as a question of "whether the word 'Arian'—inverted commas or no—should be excised from the historical lexicon altogether and replaced with a neologism that means precisely the same thing" (p. 75).

Several of the essays deal at least in part with what exactly Homoianism was and how the Goths associated with Ulfila (whose name is spelled in different ways by different authors in this collection) adopted it and how later Germanic peoples who entered the empire adopted it from those who learned it from him. Uta Heil's "The Homoians," which focuses on this, says that the earliest statement of the Homoian position was in a synod at Sirmium in 357 CE where the core concern was that one should refrain from speculative disputes involving non-biblical language (such as ousia and hypostasis). Its advocates wanted to drop both homoousios and homoiousios—terms argued for and against at Nicaea in 325 CE, with homoousios winning out there. The Sirmian formulation of 357 became the basis for imperially convoked synods at Rimini and Seleucia in 359 and finally the one in Constantinople in 360 (with Ulfila in attendance), which declared (p. 95) that the Son was "begotten before all ages and before every beginning" (to differentiate their position from that of Arius, says Heil), that the Son is "similar to the Father who begat him" (hence the term "homoian"), and that non-biblical terminology should be avoided. The Homoian doctrine of the Synod of Constantinople in 360 subsequently remained the official "orthodoxy" of the empire through most of the 370s. This was the theology that was adopted by Ulfila and was transmitted by him to the other Goths who migrated into the empire in the fourth century.

Hans Christof Brenneke, in his "Deconstruction of the so-called Germanic Arianism," is not particularly concerned with the nomenclature of "Arian" vs. "Homoian," but he agrees with Heil that Gothic Arianism was actually the religion of the 360 synod, and he uses that fact to counter the claim of numerous scholars of the last century or so that the reason Germanic tribes took up Arian Christianity is that there was a special affinity of the German cultural mind-set for Arianism. Rather, he says, Wulfila (his spelling of Ulfila) and other Goths chose it because at the time they entered the empire that was the "orthodox" version of Christianity they encountered: "In their view they did—obviously—not become Arians but simply Christians" (p. 120): "This barbarian turn towards Arianism can thus be found in the historic coincidence that the Goths adopted Christianity during the reign of Constantius II and Valens" (p. 123). Brennecke also argues that the theological writings of Wulfila were "entirely rooted in the Greek and Latin theological tradition" (p. 128).

Brendan Wolfe, in "Germanic Language and Germanic Homoianism," makes a similar case, arguing that "the emphasis on hierarchy and obedience cannot possibly have been stronger in Germanic society than in the Late Roman Empire" and that "it is not clear that a hierarchy of honour within the Trinity was an un-Nicene doctrine in this period, let alone a distinctive reason to prefer Homoianism," (p. 194). Rather, he suggests that a simpler reason for a Germanic preference for Homoianism is that words for "like" are equivalent in various languages and were easy to translate and understand, whereas the Greek philosophical vocabulary of the Nicenes was not.

Other essays in this collection are mainly concerned with the form the "Arian" (or "Homoian") version of Christianity took in the actual lives of the various Germanic peoples during the centuries before they eventually took up what after 381 CE became the imperially endorsed Catholic version. If there is a common concern of all of these writers, it is the need to correct the tendency of earlier historians to look at questions about the Germanic Christianity of that time through Nicene spectacles. (Yitzhak Hen, in his brief concluding note to the volume speaks of this as the "Nicene myopia.") This has led to a search for parallels or lack of parallel (deemed therefore more primitive or less developed) between Arian and Nicene church organization and religious life.

There is too much for full summary in this review, so I will list briefly some of the main points the other authors take up. Ulfila has often been referred to as "the apostle of the Goths," but Herwig Wolfram argues that Vulfila (his spelling) was a secular leader, rather like the "judges" of ancient Israel, and although he was ordained a bishop, that was not his main role among the Goths (as a historian with Nicene expectations might have supposed it to be). He also argues for religious diversity among the Goths themselves (Homoian, Catholic, and Audaian), claiming (against Paul Parvis) that Sabas really was a Catholic. Ralph W. Mathisen, Guido M. Berndt and Roland Steinacher, Pietro Majocchi, and Uta Heil (in a second essay, on "The Homoians in Gaul") all speak of the relatively relaxed relations between Germanic Arians and Catholics in most parts of the empire, with Arians and Catholics, attending each others' churches and participating in each others' liturgies and sacraments. Ralf Bockmann studies the archaeology of surviving Arian churches in various place to show how whatever other differences there may have been between Arians and Catholics, they did not produce "any iconographic or architectural differentiation" (p. 201), so that "it is easy to picture a mixed congregation" in such churches, with neither Arian nor Catholic laity actually much bothered "with the theological differences competing bishops discussed" (p. 218).

The exception to this general picture of tolerant intermingling comes in the essay of Robin Whelan on "Arianism in Africa," where the Vandal kingdom (439-534 CE) made a sustained effort to make its version of Christianity the orthodoxy of the new kingdom, but he says that although it used to be thought that the Vandals were persecutors of Catholics, in reality "coercion in favour of the Homoian Church and against the Nicene was far from ever-present" (p. 245). Meritxell Pérez Marinez's essay on Catholic opposition to Arian thought in England focuses on a point that was mainly a preoccupation of bishops because it supported their claims to power, the divinity of relics (something that, of course, would make no sense in Homoian terms): "the relics of the martyrs are consubstantial with God.…every single fragment was part of the divinity of the whole" (p. 308)

Manuel Koch's essay on "Arianism and Ethnic Identity in Sixth-Century Visigothic Spain" echoes the other authors in this volume who emphasize the low level of tension between Arians and Catholics in most places and says this is the reason the conversion of the Visigoths to Catholicism under Reccared took place so easily. What King Reccared and his father, Leovigild, both wanted to do in different ways was to bring their domain under a single ecclesiastical structure that they controlled and could use as an instrument of governance. Reccared succeeded by converting himself and then establishing a universal Catholic Church. That there was so little resistance to this on the part of the Visigothic Arians Koch takes as an indication that the borderlines between Arianism and Catholicism were in practice "quite flexible" (p. 268) and that "a supposed dissolution of a religiously marked ethnic segregation was not the aim but the basis of the attempts of both Leovigild and Reccared" (p. 269). "This situation." he says, "formed the precondition for the kings to be able to pursue their underlying aim: to end the existence of two ecclesiastical structures as a hindrance to the expansion of central royal power."

Differing as they do in their carefully researched arguments, the essays in this volume give a rounded and nuanced picture of the state of current understanding of the religion and the social organization of the various Germanic peoples in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages.

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Eugenio Amato, Pierre Maréchaux, Procope de Gaza. Discours et fragments. Collection des universities de France. Série grecque, 503. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2014. Pp. cix, 617. ISBN 9782251005874. €145.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Elizabeth Mattingly Conner (

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This impressive Belles Lettres volume, edited with commentaries by Eugenio Amato in close collaboration with Gianluca Ventrella and Aldo Corcella, presents the first complete collection of the rhetorical writings and fragments of Procopius of Gaza currently known, accessible for the first time in a French translation by Pierre Maréchaux. In particular, the present edition is the consequence of the discovery in the fall of 2011 of two works of Procopian oratory, the Epithalamium for Melēs and Antonina and a short dialexis introducing the epithalamium, as well as the recent demonstration of the Procopian authorship of two anonymous monodies previously attributed to Choricius, Procopius' successor at the School of Gaza. Additionally, this collation bases its text of works I-X on the discovery in 2012 of Vat. Lat. 9781, an apograph reproduced between 1804 and 1834 by the Italian paleographer Girolamo Amati, which survives in better condition than its antigraph, the Vat. gr.1898, the sole manuscript transmitting these works which was badly damaged by time and by chemical treatments administered by Cardinal Angelo Mai (ca. 1841). The volume is organized into an introduction with an appended older translation of Choricius' Funeral Oration to Procopius; the main body consisting of introduction, text of rhetorical works I-XV with facing-page translation, and elaborate notes, followed in turn by the text and facing-page translations of the fragments (F) and testimonies (T), followed by notes, a comprehensive bibliography (pp. 521-97), index locorum, index nominum, a concordance comparing the Teubner with the present edition, and plates reconstructing the Gaza clock and the painting described in the ekphrasis eikonos.

Amato's lengthy introduction offers a most useful synthesis of the available data concerning Procopius' biography, his writings, and their reception, as well as the transmission of the rhetorical writings and the relatively recent history of their editions. From the scant biographical data (the principal sources: Choricius' Funeral Oration, Procopius' letters, and Photius' Bibliotheca), Procopius (A.D. 470-530) emerges as an urban spokesman who enchanted Syro-Palestinian audiences with his oratory and played a public role in the continuing Christianization of his city (pp. XIX-XXVIII). Procopius' oeuvre that Photius dubbed "πολλοὶ τε καὶ παντοδαποί" encompassed scriptural commentaries, a rich variety of rhetorical genres (panegyric, ekphrasis, dialexis, ēthopoiia, epithalamium, monody), letters, a lost Homeric metaphrasis for classroom instruction, and two lost refutations of Proclus of which Amato accepts Procopian authorship (a controversial issue, see pp. XLV-LII). Amato's synopsis of the fate of Procopius' corpus surveys the sophist's admirers, imitators and collectors, including anonymous authors of lexica and florilegia (as in the 7th c. Lexicon Seguerianum, likely produced at Gaza, and the 9th c. Florilegium Marcianum), and Byzantine excerptors, particularly the literati of the Palaiologan era, who produced most of the surviving non-apograph copies of his works (the exception is the 16th c. ms. Athonensis Μον.Διονυσ.347[3881 Lambros]).

The commentaries of Amato and Ventrella pertaining respectively to the dialexeis (works I-III) and ēthopoiiai (works IV-VII) reprint much of the material presented in Amato's admirable 2010 volume Rose di Gaza: gli scritti retorico-sofistici e le Epistole di Procopio di Gaza (RDG).1 Amato contributes an illuminating survey of the possible festival/religious contexts of the dialexeis, arguing in particular for associating the Gaza festival of the Day of the Roses with the cult of the martyrs, and offers a persuasive reading of the figure of Dionysus as an allegorical reference to the Eucharistic wine in the Dialexis on the Rose (work III; pp. 32-39). In this way, Amato argues strongly for interpreting the Day of the Roses as accessible for Christians, thus grappling with an issue central to understanding the transition from paganism to Christianity. Ventrella's essay introducing the ēthopoiiai highlights the value of these texts for understanding the instruction and use of this complicated but widely-practiced rhetorical exercise, and underscores Procopius' lively and flexible engagement with a variety of genre prescriptions and models (pp. 75-88).

Commentary, text/translation, and notes concerning the two surviving ekphraseis (works VIII and IX) follow. Amato's commentary on the incomplete ekphrasis of a decorative animated clock housed in the Gaza city-center contains much of the discussion published in RDG but the present essay is noteworthy for its expanded demonstration of Procopius' creative adherence to the advice of the progymnasmata, evident in the description's organization and themes, and his discussion of the strategies the sophist deployed to draw upon his audience's Hellenic memory to elaborate the mythological narratives implicit in the clock statuary. With regard to Procopius' ekphrasis on the Gazan megalograph featuring mythological scenes of Theseus, Phaedra, and Hippolytus, as well as scenes inspired from Iliad Book 3, Amato offers new suggestions about the painting's layout and location as well as the identity of its donor Timotheus. Developing Manganaro's hypothesis that the painting may have adorned a public bath at Gaza, Amato identifies Timotheus as the same Timotheus, uncle of Melēs, whom Procopius praises in the epithalamium for restoring a Gaza bathhouse (see pp. 159-61). With the discovery of Vat. Lat. 9781, Amato clarifies a phrase in section 42 of the ekphrasis that was illegible in Vat. gr. 1898: the benefactor is identified as νόμων προβεβλημένος. Amato's suggestion that this indicates that Timotheus was a praetor (p. 168) is highly speculative, and it is inviting to suggest alternatively that Timotheus was an otherwise unknown provincial governor, possibly at Caesarea. Various late antique inscriptions from the Greek East honor the provincial governor as charged with execution of the law.2

The next section contains the extant incipit of Procopius' panegyric to the stratēlatēs Asiaticos (work X) a text virtually ignored by scholars of late antiquity since its publication in J.F. Boissonade's edition in 1846. Amato suggests the identification of Asiaticos with the homonymous official charged with military command of the province Phoenicia Libanensis that Evagrius Scholasticus mentions at Hist. eccl. 3.34. According to Evagrius, emperor Anastasius ordered Asiaticos in 515 to remove Cosmas and Severius, bishops of Epiphanius and Arethusa respectively, because of their letter of excommunication to Severus of Antioch, a champion of miaphysitism (p. XXVI; 225). Procopius' proximity to the figures of Asiaticos, Anastasius (also miaphysite), and Severus himself (a fellow-student at Alexandria, and later a monk at Gaza's port, Maiouma) provides Amato with new evidence of Procopius' probable miaphysitism, renounced later in life in favor of Chalcedonian orthodoxy (see pp. XXV-XXVIII). This oration, most likely an exemplum of the prosphōnētikos logos regulated by Menander Rhetor, provides important details for reconstructing a genre of which few examples survive (the discourse of Choricius addressed to the stratēlatēs Soummos furnishing a useful counterpart). Because of its truncated state, however, one wonders about the extent to which Procopius also amalgamated encomiastic genres in the remainder of the original. A succeeding section containing Amato and Ventrella's astute commentary and notes to the Panegyric to Anastasius (much of which was published in RDG) underscore the rhetor's dynamic adoption of classical literary forms in constructing the persona of the Christian basileus.

Corcella's subsequent discussion of a brief dialexis (work XII) transmitted with the two monodies makes a compelling case that this text may have introduced the epithalamium on the basis of its intertextual design (cf. p. 336). Amato's incisive reading of the Epithalamium for Melēs and Antonina (work XIII) that follows contains exciting new information concerning urban notables at Gaza (namely the families of Melēs, a former student of Procopius, and his bride, Antonina), and their contribution to Gaza political culture and monumental benefaction (pp. 349-58). This text also provides precious data for our knowledge of the genre of the gamēlios logos, of which regrettably few examples survive from any period, and offers new details concerning the late ancient Greek marriage rite (p. 349; pp. 358-63). Furthermore, the oration preserves valuable testimony for the reconstruction of a lost Empedoclean poem On Nature and also sheds light on a passage of Damascius' Commentary on Plato's Parmenides (p. 349; pp. 380-98). These latter two finds are fascinating for thinking about Procopius' identity as a philosopher-sophist and the vivacity of philosophical traditions among Gaza literati. One hopes that Procopius' incorporation of Empedocles may be of use to specialists, and in the meantime, Amato identifies tantalizing traces in his commentary and notes. Amato's distillation of the stages of Empedocles' cosmogony (final paragraph p. 393), however, could be clarified with references to specialist reconstructions and debates. Although Amato theorizes that Procopius' reference to Damascius betokens reciprocal exchange among Neoplatonist circles in Syria and Palestine, it is more likely that this evinces exchange between Gaza and Alexandria or Athens where Damascius acceded to the position of diadochos ca. 515. Damascius (460-538) and Procopius studied at Alexandria, at or around the same time, and likely shared similar intellectual networks. Additionally, Procopius' reference to a Greek Romance, specifically Achilles Tatius Life of Leucippē and Clitophron 1.17, to illustrate the force of Eros in the vegetal world includes a genre largely absent in Procopian intertextuality.

In the penultimate section of texts, Aldo Corcella confirms the Procopian paternity of two anonymous monodies (works XIV and XV), preserved in the ms. Laur.plut.60.6 [14th c.]), the first of which contains a verbatim passage attributed to the sophist at Florilegium Marcianum70. Corcella subsumes these texts under the designation of monody despite reservations owing to their experimental admixtures of funerary oration genres. Undoubtedly, both orations offered consolation for the loss of men hailing from families of the urban ruling classes: the first laments the death of a recently espoused young man (Amato contends that he should not be identified with Melēs, cf. 350-51n8), the second, a celebrated notable who enjoyed a long career in imperial administration, served in Egypt and occupied magistracies at Gaza itself. The final section of texts contains fragments of Procopius' lost Monody on Antioch, fragments of an Epitaph for Salaminios (whom Amato identifies as the great-uncle of Melēs), the testimony and fragments of the Metaphrases of Homer, the fragments and testimonies pertaining respectively to Procopius' two treatises refuting Proclus, fragmenta incertae sedis , and dubia vel spuria.

It is difficult to overstate the erudition and care of the authors, a small circle of Italian scholars, who contribute greatly to the contemporary understanding of a series of texts that have scarcely been the object of recent penetrating study. Applying impeccable paleographical methods, the contributors offer trenchant readings of texts recently discovered and long-neglected and present lucid translations, detailed and pain-staking annotation, and thoughtful suggestions for future study. This edition makes accessible in a modern language the vibrant interplay of classical and emerging Christian literary forms in Procopius' Greek that appears to characterize the leading figures of the so-called School of Gaza. Beyond its contribution to the study of Procopius of Gaza, this volume offers texts with fascinating applications relevant to key issues in the historiography of late antiquity, including the nature of benefaction and philotimia in the late ancient city, the role of the rhetor as the voice of the city whose oratory defined the major caesurae of citizen lives, the intertextual devices by which late antique literati developed a living identification with the classical past, and the rhetorical fascination of late ancient literati with scientific devices such as mechanical clocks. One can only hope that with such a fine volume, the scholarly community, particularly historians, will begin to notice these understudied works of the "other" Procopius.


1.  Eugenio Amato, ed., Rose di Gaza: gli scritti retorico-sofistici e le Epistole di Procopio di Gaza Hellenica 35 (Alessandria: Edizione dell'Orso, 2010).
2.   For inscriptions commemorating governors, see, e.g., Louis Robert, "Épigrammes relatives à des gouverneurs," Hellenica 4 (1948): 35-114, at 107-8; for the inscription honoring Nomos, provincial governor at Caesarea, see NO. 1260 Walter Ameling, et al. eds.Corpus inscriptionum Iudaeae/Palaestinae vol. 2 (Berlin; New York: De Gruyter, 2011).

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Filippo Canali De Rossi, Le relazioni diplomatiche di Roma, Volume IV. Dalla 'liberazione della Grecia' alla pace infida con Antioco III (201–194 a. C.). Roma: Scienze e lettere, 2014. Pp. ix, 197. ISBN 9788866870715. €35.00 (pb).

Reviewed by John D. Muccigrosso, Drew University (

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Table of Contents

This is the fourth in the series of volumes by Canali de Rossi on the variety of Roman diplomatic activities for which we have evidence. The format and contents are consistent with the previous volumes (reviewed in BMCR 2005.02.19, 2008.07.36, and 2014.06.24, respectively), though the first volume, including as it does the regal period, is somewhat sui generis. Readers are encouraged to consult these reviews, the opinions and overall tone of which remain valid for this most recent volume.

Canali De Rossi notes in the short preface to the work that the number of years covered in each volume is rapidly shrinking (from well over 400 in the first, to 49, then 15, and now eight), as one might expect given the nature of the historical evidence, and expresses a doubt that he will in the end be able to finish the original project of covering the entirety of the republican period. The single note in the preface also contains a welcome comment that Canali De Rossi may take up the suggestion of the reviewer of the third volume by presenting a methodological argument to explain his definition of "diplomatic relations."

The work covers the second war with Macedonia (in the first two chapters), the liberation of Greece, and the peace with Antiochus. The organization continues that of the previous volumes: chapters are numbered sequentially from them (so, XIX–XXII), as are the individual diplomatic events (778–1000).

The contents of the chapters themselves continue to be narrative accounts of the events of the period in question, arranged mostly year by year, with the year ("a. C.") and the Italian forms of the names of the consuls provided in the margin. Each chapter concludes with the supporting source material for each event quoted in full in the original language, and occasionally a scholarly bibliography. Occasional footnotes mainly address difficulties with a particular point in the main text, sometimes with reference to scholarship.

Several indices follow the bibliography at the end. First, names of divinities, Romans, non-Romans ("foreigners"), and places and people (combined such that, e.g., Aetolia and the Aetolians form one entry), are all provided in their Latin forms. Then follows a list of Greek and then Latin words cross-referenced to the text, and finally an index locorum. This last is unsurprisingly dominated by Livy, who provides nearly two of the four and one half pages (of which a half page is one inscription, listed under its four possible citations and broken into multiple diplomatic events by groups of lines). Polybius is the other major contributor with about three-fourths of a page to himself.

The indices are extremely useful. My only complaint about their organization is that when reference is made to a diplomatic event, the page number for it is not provided as well. I noted this in my review of the first volume in the series, and I will repeat the request I made there too: "The one addition I would ask for is a simple list of diplomatic events arranged by date with references to their location in the text. It is easy enough to go to the narrative section for any given year, but the reader should not need to wade through Canali De Rossi's narrative to discover what events occurred in a specific range of years." This last is of course less of an issue in a volume that covers only eight years.

On the editorial side, I found few errors (e.g., a repeated "anche" on p. 17, and an ὄνομα with the wrong breathing, which persisted from the text into the index). The quality of the Greek text is disappointing as the letter spacing often appears "off," mainly after accented letters.

This is a very useful book, which will serve as an excellent resource for students of the period. I wonder whether a more compact form with less narrative (and perhaps in a heavily linked on-line format, taking advantage of existing textual and other resources associated with the ancient world) might not provide its benefits with much less work for the author.

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Ryan K. Balot, Courage in the Democratic Polis: Ideology and Critique in Classical Athens. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. xiv, 408. ISBN 9780199982158. $65.00.

Reviewed by Christopher Moore, Penn State University (

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Ryan Balot's Courage in the Democratic Polis sets out to reconstruct a distinctly Athenian and democratic form of andreia ("courage" or "manliness"). One feature in particular sets this form of courage apart from other classical instantiations of the virtue. It combines, according to Thucydides' Pericles (2.40.2-3), the otherwise antithetical forces of passion and reason. Harmony between these two aspects of human action develops via democratic deliberation about the nature of courage and the eudaimonistic goal of personal and communal life. At any rate, this is what the Athenians told themselves. In support of this self-understanding, Balot marshals evidence from across fifth- and fourth-century literature — historiography, drama, oratory, and philosophy — showing that Pericles' celebration of a unique mode of courage is more than a self-congratulating rationalization for Athenian imperialism and exceptionality. Balot argues that virtues do in fact "vary according to regime type," and not only in form or context but also in quality. Democratic courage, he claims, is better than the tyrannical, conservative, or coerced forms of courage found among the Athenians' neighbors and predecessors. It is better in that it conduces more effectively to both extrinsic and intrinsic values. Among these he counts protecting the city, on the one side, and advancing the city's, and the citizens', flourishing, on the other. Much of the detail of this rather long book sets out the differences between Athenian democratic courage and other forms of courage:

Population Saturation. Whereas courage in archaic or non-democratic Greece suited the singular hero or the aristocratic hoplite, Athens found a way to distribute it across the social classes (ch. 8). Naval rowers, for example, could manifest a specifically marine courage, despite the scorn they typically faced from soldiers. The Athenian populace's ability to accept a range of occasions for courage, and thus for increasing the number of people deserving of honor and commemoration, brought more citizens into close affective ties with the city. It may also have allowed Athenians to understand courage as protecting the entire city, rather than just preserving their own prerogatives or advancing their fame (ch. 1).

Psychological Motivation. When non-Athenian men, including Homeric, Spartan, and non-Greeks, acted courageously, they did so more often than Athenians on the basis of fear, patterns of obedience, and the desire for esteem (ch. 9). Athenians, by contrast, more often acted courageously on the basis of the love of what is noble. Balot emphasizes that this is a comparative claim: "Demosthenes' funeral oration [for example] shows that the Athenians themselves sometimes relied on notions of honor, shame, and fear of the law in order to motivate their citizens to act courageously." But the Athenians also appealed, and were receptive, to articulations of overlapping communal and personal value.

Spectator Education. Spartans learned courage through "a severe education that harshly censured cowardice…; [their courage was] based on the most rigorous kind of training, and [was] the result of traditional discipline and austerity" (ch. 9). The Athenian dramatic festivals, by contrast, presented plays meant to infuse self-knowledge about, among other matters, courage. The Lysistrata, for example, contrasted fiery men obsessed with honor, devoted more to the polis than the oikos, and unable to restrain any desire, to women who exercised practical intelligence and thus actual political courage (ch. 12). Tragedy presented the democratic ideals to which the audience considered itself, if vaguely, already subscribed, as well as the disaster-laden counter-ideals of non-democratic masculinity (ch. 13, taking up Agamemnon, Andromache, Heracles, and Trojan Women). Drama, sculpture, and oratory (ch. 10) — especially funeral speeches — presented their viewers with images of the ancestors or contemporaries worthy to be tried out, assessed, and modified as models of courage, or, put another way, as authoritative judges productive of self-regulating shame (ch. 11). Balot treats Euripides' Theseus in the Suppliants, with the statues of the tyrannicides, as exemplary. He emphasizes that while these public works of art may not have caused direct institutional change, or even direct psychological or moral purification, and they may often have reinforced popular ideology, still they allowed the Athenian citizenry to take a reflective interest in the nature of courage in a way unavailable to non-Athenians.

Political organization. Freedom of speech (ch. 3), frequent sessions of critical forensic, deliberative, and exhortative exchange (ch. 10), and joint decision-making (citing Ober, Democracy and Knowledge, BMCR 2009.04.24), give occasion for critiquing, refining, and justifying the Athenian view of courage. They also give occasion for practicing a non-martial but still risky and agonistic, if not antagonistic, form of courage. Balot relies especially on the texts of Thucydides (ch. 2) and Isocrates (ch. 7) for the argument here.

Balot's book in fact has two major strands of discussion: how Athens could treat as its own brand of courage one that blends reason and daring; and how Athens sometimes, or often, failed to act courageously in that special way. An important witness for Balot's latter strand of discussion is Plato's Laches (ch. 6). Neither Laches nor Nicias, famed generals both, prove able to unite energy and reason—erga and logoi, or tolma and gnômê—in the way that Pericles presented as the ideal of democratic courage. They fail in opposing ways, Laches failing to understand the importance of understanding what to do, Nicias failing to apply the abstract lessons he gained from Damon. Balot takes this as evidence that "the Athenians are unlikely to unite the[se] apparently antithetical attributes." This is, at any rate, Plato's assessment, and Balot finds other contemporary observers sympathetic to Plato's conclusion. Elsewhere, Balot argues that in Lysias' speech on the scrutiny of Mantitheus, we see a similar failure to attain perfect democratic courage. He diagnoses a tension between Mantitheus' attempt to publish his democratic courage by advertising that he joined the common man's infantry rather than the relatively safer aristocratic cavalry, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, his claim to his audience that he wants to look good to the demos, which "flies in the face of the democratic ideals of independent thinking and free speech," on the other (ch. 10). In support of his charge that Mantitheus gives into a non-democratic shame culture, Balot quotes Lysias' speech: "I did this, not because I found it easy to fight with the Lacedaimonians, but in order that, if I were ever unjustly threatened at law, I would secure every sort of justice because of the good reputation I had won with you. … We have to recognize the honorable and orderly citizens (tous philotimôs kai kosmiôs politeuomenous) of the polis on the basis of behavior like this" (Lys. 16.17-18). For my own part, I wonder whether Mantitheus would have actually been worse off justifying his actions by appeal to the "democratic ideals of independent thinking," given that this eudaimonistic reasoning may sound unduly self-sufficient and confident, indeed aristocratically self-improving, in just the way he meant to avoid. Perhaps some democratic debate need not always identify the deepest or best reason for doing something.

What those best reasons for acting courageously are is explained most fully in the final chapters of Courage in the Democratic Polis. Balot reads Lysias' "Funeral Oration" as showing how democratic Athens could resolve "the paradox of courage," the supposed problem that of all virtues, courage looks the most self-sacrificing, and is thus the one that pries furthest apart one's own good from that of one's city (ch. 14). Athens did better than Sparta, Balot argues, in producing a three-pronged defense against this problem: that the flourishing of the city is dependent on the flourishing of individuals; that the individual is educated through cultural institutions; and that aretê is intrinsically worthy. In explaining the third prong, Balot takes a line familiar from Alasdair MacIntyre (ch. 15). We are each embedded in, even constituted by, a community and set of relationships, and so their good is internally our own good. Further, we can make sense of ourselves only as people working to preserve (i.e., courageously) what we care about. The Athenians regularly promulgated such narratives of a situated life and identified themselves with doers of noble deeds. Balot supports this account with an analysis of courage in Solon's tale of Tellus (Hdt. 1.30).

In this book Balot canvasses a tremendous amount of classical Athenian literature about, and expressive of, courage, and he cites a great deal of relevant scholarship. And yet it is not easy to use his book for thinking about the definition of courage. Balot admits that he does not wish to take on the "numerous debates about the character of courage altogether," only the historical one, but even if he does not want to enter these debates, he should at least list the Greek terms he takes as synonymous or at times contextually equivalent with andreia. He does give a provisional definition of courage, as "an intrinsically worthwhile excellence of character, on the basis of which ethical agents knowingly strive to overcome difficult, dangerous, painful, or frightening obstacles or uncertainty, with a view to achieving noble ends." But I wonder whether the inclusion of "uncertainty" creates a too-expansive view of courage. We can see the consequences of this in Balot's praise of Socrates. The Laches, he argues, presents a positive picture of Socrates' courage. Socrates is in fact militarily courageous, humble about his knowledge of courage, and persistent both in his investigations about the nature of courage and in his pursuit of courage. These last two elements, his intellectual and self-therapeutic persistence, constitute "philosophical courage," since together they manifest perseverance in the face of obstacles and difficulties. It is true that the Laches entertains "steadfastness of soul" as a definition of courage. But then in Balot's argument courage as karteria becomes remarkably akin to sôphrosunê ("discipline," "sound-mindedness"). Even for those accepting the unity of virtue, this is a puzzling outcome.

The differences and similarities between andreia and sôphrosunê return, in the final chapter, but with little increase in analytic clarity; Balot shifts quickly between their objects as "danger," "suffering," and "adversity" (ch. 16), which seem at least potentially ethically distinct. (I note that Balot makes only three passing remarks about Plato's Protagoras; the long discussions of courage in that dialogue may have been helpful resources for the book.) A philosophical courage that is responsive to fear and danger seems in principle possible, if it is connected to the dread of having to sacrifice one's pleasures and projects, for example, perhaps even to the extent that one loses oneself as presently constituted. But Balot does not discuss this. (We may also wonder whether Socrates' "courage" is influenced by his purported belief not to find bodily harms bad; were he really to believe this, then he would not find military battle dreadful, and so he might not need to exercise courage to put up with it.)

Leaving aside discussion of the necessary conditions of courage has its disadvantages. We end up with a less certain grasp of Balot's idea of political courage or any other non-militaristic versions of courage. This is especially the case when Balot claims, near the book's end, that "we might envision courage as providing a space for rational reflection by resisting the pressures to make quick and easy decisions based on the authority of cultural paradigms." In a similarly challenging statement, Balot argues that "in order to defend themselves, states will occasionally need the courage of bold action, but it is only the courage of steadfastness that permits adequate reflection on the question of when, where, how, why, and within what limits bold action should be undertaken." Does this mean that courage has two parts, or two moments, or is simply two related virtues? These questions could lead to the skeptical worry that applying the term "courage" to patience, due diligence, and the confidence in rational or experiential assessment is not as productive as it may on first glance seem.

For all that, the concluding chapter makes some sober and important remarks about courage and its connection to violence. Balot remains an optimist, however, hoping that democracy remains or becomes able "to disentangle courage from bellicosity, to imagine more appropriate and self-consistent ways for courage to express itself, and to transform standards of behavior." And it can set courage below justice, where it belongs, and find avenues for its citizens to exercise life-improving courage in non-militaristic pursuits: advocacy, sport, art, and radical thought.

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Barbara A. Olsen, Women in Mycenaean Greece: The Linear B Tablets from Pylos and Knossos. New York; London: Routledge, 2014. Pp. viii, 380. ISBN 9780415725156. $130.00.

Reviewed by Dimitri Nakassis, University of Toronto (

Version at BMCR home site


Linear B tablets, sometimes derided as mere laundry lists, are in fact a rich source for economic and social history. Although the latter has often been overshadowed by the former, in fact the most commonly attested words in Mycenaean Greek are personal names. The tablets thus include a wealth of information about the relationships of individuals and groups to the palatial authority. In this much-awaited book based on her 2004 dissertation, Olsen has done us a great favor by synthesizing the evidence for some 2000 women, for a comprehensive study of the role of women in the Mycenaean world has long been a lacuna in the scholarly literature.

Olsen's study falls into eight parts. An introductory chapter sets the stage and outlines the objectives of the book: to locate Mycenaean women, understand why they appear in the tablets, and assess the role that gender played in the polities of Pylos and Knossos, specifically addressing the question "is the treatment of women in the economic records from Pylos and Knossos the same?" (16). The second chapter lays out criteria for identifying women in the tablets and sketches the contexts in which women appear in the tablets. Evidence for low-status female workers at Pylos are treated in detail in Chapter Three. Olsen sorts the evidence by professional designation and location, and reviews the thorny issue of the status of these women, concluding that they were probably slaves. Chapter Four reviews the evidence for women as holders of property at Pylos. In some cases the women are allocated material in the texts, while in other cases they are involved in operations that suggest their control over goods and labor. Olsen shows that nearly all of the women who appear in these texts are probably or certainly religious officials and reasonably concludes that at Pylos, "only the institution of religion could trump gender" (154).

From Pylos, Olsen moves to Knossos. The production and property of Knossian women is the subject of Chapter Five. As with the Pylian data, Olsen moves systematically and in detail through the various groups of workers, and shows that in contrast to Pylos, all of the female producers at Knossos whose duties are identifiable concern themselves with textiles. She argues that, in contrast to the Pylian workers, Knossian women were largely corvée laborers. With respect to higher-status women, again the Knossian pattern seems different from the Pylian one: there is no evidence that religion plays an important role in regulating women's access to economic activity monitored by the palace, as it does at Pylos.

Two more chapters compare the situations of the women at Pylos and Knossos: first in respect to land tenure (Chapter Six) and then in respect to religious office (Chapter Seven). The first of these chapters shows that at Pylos, women have severely restricted access to land. Although the Knossian evidence is extremely sparse, Olsen nevertheless argues that the land-holding system there was "significantly less circumscribed along gender lines" (227). Chapter Seven demonstrates clear differences between the two polities: at Pylos, religion lent authority to women and did not significantly differentiate between male and female officials, whereas at Knossos, religion has a negligible effect on gender hierarchies.

Olsen's chief conclusions are two: first, that there are significant and qualitative differences between the statuses of women in Linear B texts at Pylos and those at Knossos, both when it comes to low-status workers and higher-status officials. There was no single Mycenaean system of gender. Second, Olsen suggests that regional variation can be attributed to cultural and historical differences. Specifically, she argues that the Knossian evidence may shed light on previous "Minoan" gender regimes, in contrast to the mainland "Mycenaean" pattern evidenced at Pylos.

Olsen's first conclusion is convincing: she shows forcefully how different the gender regimes at Pylos and Knossos are. Especially important is her demonstration that most women at Pylos appearing in prominent roles are religious officials, whereas at Knossos religion seems not to have been a significant factor in this respect. Olsen's work is therefore a salutary reminder of the heterogeneity of the Mycenaean world, a heterogeneity that is often concealed by the Pylocentric view of most work on Mycenaean society, including my own. I am somewhat less convinced by the second conclusion, for two reasons. First, Olsen speaks of "mainland institutions" (259) structuring gender but does so by conflating Pylos with the Greek mainland. In fact we have no idea whether gender structures at Pylos were comparable to those at other mainland centers like Mycenae or Thebes. Second, Olsen assumes the traditional narrative of "Mycenaean" mainlanders invading and occupying "Minoan" Knossos, such that it is possible for her to conclude that mainland gender structures had not penetrated very deeply into Knossian society, yet this is now a controversial position. Many now prefer to understand the "Mycenaeanization" of Crete in terms of local changes to Knossian elite identities rather than through the traditional cultural-historical narrative of intrusive mainlanders.1

Returning to the first conclusion: there are some problems with Olsen's interpretations of individual tablets and Mycenaean terminology that affect the validity of her conclusion as stated in its strongest form. For instance, Olsen concludes that Pylian women did not own private land whereas Knossian women did (257). The first claim is based on the observation that plots of land designated as ki-ti-me-na at Pylos are never said to be "from" (pa-ro) a woman. What ki-ti-me-na means is controversial and uncertain, however. Olsen follows Ventris and Chadwick's suggestion from the first edition of Documents in Mycenaean Greek (1956) that ki-ti-me-na plots are privately held, in contrast to communal ke-ke-me-na plots associated with the dāmos. Over the course of the 1980s and 1990s, however, research into these documents demonstrated that both terms referred to land associated with the dāmos.2 Unfortunately this literature does not appear in Olsen's discussion or bibliography. The second claim, that non-sacerdotal "Knossian women were attested to as owning their own land" (257), is based on two words, both hapax, recorded against plots of land in the Uf series: pe-ri-je-ja and ]ka-wi-ja. Olsen interprets both as certainly feminine personal names on purely formal grounds (unfortunately these tablets are extremely lacunose and fragmentary, so that contextual grounds are simply absent). While the former is probably the name of a woman (although it has also been interpreted as a man's name), the latter may not be a personal name at all; furthermore, if it is a personal name, it is more likely to be not feminine but masculine: Kalwiās (cf. Καλλίας).3 We are thus left with a single probable example of a Knossian woman holding land, but there is no reason to believe that she actually owns the land. Other claims about the economic power of Knossian women are also on shaky ground.4

It also seems to me that the evidence for women in positions of economic prominence at Pylos is downplayed. Olsen concludes that at Pylos religion was "the sole locus where ideologies of economic restriction and subordination were superseded" (255, emphasis mine) and that all female laborers recorded at Pylos belong to collective workgroups (254). Both claims are debatable. With respect to the first claim, there is the example of a Pylian woman who, although she is never identified as a religious official, controls significant holdings. This woman, named Kessandrā (ke-sa-da-ra), is allocated extremely large quantities of grain and figs in two texts, presumably in her capacity, attested in a third text, as a labor supervisor of high standing.5 With respect to the second claim, there is the evidence of PY Ub 1318, a tablet normally interpreted as a record of allocations of hides to named leather-workers, male and female, who are tasked with producing finished leather goods. 6 Thus, although Olsen is correct to point to the differences between women at Pylos and at Knossos, Linear B specialists will find much to disagree with in the details of her argumentation.

In conclusion, this book is a valuable examination of an important and understudied issue. Although rich in technical detail, its topic and argument will doubtless appeal to a broad audience of Aegean prehistorians and ancient historians. The project is an important one, and Olsen does an good job pulling together all of the textual evidence, demonstrating how differently Pylian and Knossian women appear in the Linear B tablets, and relating these differences to social practices. We need more studies like these: studies that use the rich Mycenaean textual evidence to contribute to broader debates in Greek history and prehistory.


1.   See, e.g., Jan Driessen and Charlotte Longohr, "Rallying around a Minoan Past. The Legitimation of Power at Knossos during the Late Bronze Age," in M.L. Galaty and W.A. Parkinson (eds), Rethinking Mycenaean Palaces: New Interpretations of an Old Idea (Los Angeles 2007), 178-189.
2.   Especially J.T. Killen, "The Rôle of the State in Wheat and Olive Production in Mycenaean Crete," Aevum 72 (1998), 19-23. The complex history of this issue is summarized in S. Lupack, The Role of the Religious Sector in the Economy of Late Bronze Age Mycenaean Greece (Oxford 2008), 57-85.
3.   F. Aura Jorro, Diccionario Micénico (1985, 1993) s.vv. ]ka-wi-ja, pe-ri-je-ja. Olsen (correctly) does not include ]ka-wi-ja in her list of Knossian names identifiable as female by form (Table 2.4, p. 41). Possibly ]ka-wi-ja is actually a toponym, since the Uf tablets written by Hand "124" normally list a toponym immediately prior to the DA ideogram; one possible supplementation would be a-]ka-wi-ja (cf. a-ka-wi-ja-de, KN C 914.B). I owe this observation to Michael Lane.
4.   Olsen claims that Knossian women "were also attested as having massive amounts of food-stuffs, slaves, raw and finished textile products, and luxury goods such as gold and bronze vessels" (257), yet I cannot find any textual evidence that slaves and luxury goods are controlled by women at Knossos. Olsen's useful table 2.8 (53-54), entitled "Women's holdings at Knossos," records "slave woman" for KN Ga 713 (now re-classified as KN Gg 713), but the slave is the woman herself, and she seems to belong to *ma-ri-ne-u, which is either the name of a male deity or of a man. I can find no evidence for women holding luxury goods in the Knossos tablets, unless reference is again meant for KN Gg 713, but this text records an amphora of honey; the material from which the amphora is made is however unspecified. It is true that a large quantity of foodstuffs are allocated to women at Knossos (in a single text, KN E 777), but in this case the allocation represents monthly rations to a group of women.
5.   Olsen discusses ke-sa-da-ra (149-150) and cites my own discussion of this woman (D. Nakassis, "Labor Mobilization in Mycenaean Pylos," in Étudies mycéniennes 2010. Actes du XIIIe colloque international sur les textes égéens (Biblioteca di Pasiphae 10), ed. P. Carlier, C. De Lamberterie, M. Egetmeyer, N. Guilleux, F. Rougemont and J. Zurbach [Pisa-Rome 2012] 269-283), where I suggest that she belonged to a group of high-ranking administrators. Olsen on the other hand suggests that she was "a local rations supervisor," which seems to me to underestimate severely her administrative importance, considering that she commands quantities of grain comparable to high-ranking administrators like qa-ra2.
6.   See, e.g., A. Bernabé and E.R. Luján, "Mycenaean Technology," in A Companion to Linear B: Mycenaean Greek Texts and their World. Volume I, ed. Y. Duhoux and A. Morpurgo Davies (Louvain-la-Neuve 2008), 201-233. Olsen's discussion of this tablet (150-153) is heterodox and a little confusing; she seems to think, for reasons that are unclear to me, that the women are not producers but recipients of leather goods being prepared for them.

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Paul Barolsky, Ovid and the Metamorphoses of Modern Art from Botticelli to Picasso. New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2014. Pp. xviii, 250. ISBN 9780300196696. $45.00.

Reviewed by Rosemary Barrow, University of Roehampton (

Version at BMCR home site

Barolsky makes clear at the start of his book that this is not a traditional academic study but rather a meditation on art works inspired by the writings of Ovid. His aim, as he states it, is to aspire to a 'lightness' or 'leggerezza' that Italo Calvino ascribed to the Latin poet in Six Memos for the Next Millennium (p.230). Instead of writing within familiar conventions of scholarly discourse, Barolsky has endeavoured to reproduce something of the playful Ovidian tone into his discussion of art works themselves based on Ovid's texts.

The structure initially follows the Metamorphoses, but then (as Barolsky admits), the sequence becomes more capricious. Part I begins with a personal reflection of the author's own discovery of Ovid in art, and is followed by a general introduction to the Roman Ovid himself. Part II concentrates on two major works – Titian's Diana and Actaeon and Bernini's Apollo and Daphne– in order to explore metamorphosis from poetry to painting and from marble to flesh. Less coherent in theme, part III includes notes on a number of works concerning pursuit, seduction, and revenge. Part IV is devoted largely to pictorial receptions of Pygmalion, especially prevalent in the nineteenth century. It also includes a discussion of Narcissus where Caravaggio's painting, in particular, points to large questions surrounding the relationship between art and desire as found in Ovid's retelling of the myth. Part V begins with Bruegel's Fall of Icarus in which a ploughman continues his work unaware of the tragedy unfolding around him, and the chapter continues the theme of Ovidian stoicism as explored in Poussin's eternal cycle of nature paintings. The same chapter mentions natural and artificial architecture and touches upon metamorphosis and the grotesque with the transformation of the Lycians turning into frogs by Giuseppe Chiari and Lucas Cranach's Actaeon, in which the stag still wears human hunting boots.

The myth of Arachne begins part VI with weaving and interweaving as its theme. In Velásquez' The Spinners, Arachne's tapestry of the myth of Europa takes on a life-like appearance, as indicated by Ovid, so that the cupids hovering in the sky seem as if they are flying before the image rather than being part of it. Velásquez also looks back to Titian's painting and perhaps also Rubens' copy of it., thus suggesting an intertexuality characteristic of the way that artists look back to other artists as well as to the classical texts that inspire their works when dealing with mythological subjects. The chapter goes on to look at Venus, Mars and Adonis. The subjects of part VII are Bacchus, Apollo and Orpheus. Here Ovidian landscape is also touched upon with the example of Domenichino's Hercules and Achelous in which natural surrounding overwhelms Ovidian characters. Fewer images in the visual repertoire as a whole derive from the last five books of the Metamorphoses, and Barolsky lights upon two paintings by Poussin from book 13 of the Metamorphoses showing Achilles hiding among the daughters of king Lycomedes as comparatively rare examples of Ovidian Trojan war subjects.

In keeping with Ovid's Metamorphoses as the main source of inspiration transformation is a major theme. Another important theme that emerges is the exploration of what can and cannot be depicted. The representation of the 'seen' and 'unseen' is illustrated in Bernini's sculpture Apollo and Daphne, with its suggestion of the'unseen' wind and the 'seen' effect of wind on the fluttering drapery of Apollo. In a similar vein, in Correggio's Jupiter and Io, where we see Jupiter in the form of a cloud embracing an ecstatic Io, vapour is shown as if it were corporeal. Barolsky also ponders the 'limits of art' (p.194): the whispering reeds that relate that King Midas has the ears of an ass cannot be visualized; nor can the head of Argus, decapitated by Mercury, and spilling onto the rocks; nor Philomela's tongue, which, continues to twitch and quiver after Tereus has cut it out of her mouth.

Barolsky has selected more paintings than sculptures for discussion, the majority of which belong to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Most are well known but occasional unexpected examples such as Honoré Daumier's nineteenth- century caricature of the Pygmalion myth and Kiki Smith's late twentieth-century brutal plaster sculpture of Daphne's transformation into a laurel tree, offer contrasts with the Old Masters. Particularly noteworthy is Recumbent Venus with Cupidby a sixteenth-century Flemish follower of Titian, Lambert Sustris. A nude Venus awaits her lover Mars who is shown arriving in full armour in the background. Before the goddess two doves copulate as she gently strokes the male's feathers in an episode of 'displaced foreplay' (p.157).

Particularly effective is Barolsky's description of Piero di Cosimo's A Satyr Mourning over a Nymph, in which an intense feeling of sorrow matches Ovid's descriptions of death of Procris and Adonis. He similarly compares yearning in Ovid's Cephalus myth with Poussin's Cephalus and Aurora, where the young man held captive by the lovelorn goddess of dawn looks at the portrait of his beloved wife. An entirely different mood is captured in Guido Reni's Atalanta and Hippomenes. Barolsky describes the foot race depicted as a dance of the two figures who move across the canvas in opposite directions. For a recollection of the tensions between stone and flesh found throughout the Metamorphoses, Barolsky cites Bernini's Pluto and Persephone, where the god grasps his victim so tightly that his fingers press into her thigh as if it were not hard marble but soft flesh.

As well as suggesting connections with Ovid's text, Barolsky makes a number of perceptive observations on individual paintings. In Titian's Europa Jupiter in the guise of a bull has 'big dewy eyes' (p.137) that look out of the canvas. This is an irony echoed in the putto on the back of sea creature that imitates Europa on the bull's back. Both parodic details are at odds with the violence of the central image of the powerful bull charging through the water. The same myth depicted by Veronese has a very different (and arguably less successful) effect. In a literal visualization of Ovid's description of the bull kissing Europa's hand, Veronese shows his bull licking her foot. What Ovid imagines anthropomorphically becomes ridiculous when depicted literally.

Alongside interesting observations and connections, the book touches upon some important issues that would have benefited from further discussion. Although art historians are familiar with the application of linguistic and semiotic theories to the study of visual material, 1 Barolsky makes the bold claim that the concept of 'reading' is applicable to words and not images (p.23). His example of the difference between seeing and reading is Titian's Diana and Actaeon. The picture presents only one active moment when Actaeon stumbles upon Diana bathing, and it is the painting's symbolism – a stag's skull and animal skins hanging in the trees – that prompts the viewer's memory of Ovid's narrative. The complex relationship between text and image, a subject well-discussed in art historical research, does merit elaboration. So also does the concept of the gaze, another well-researched art historical topic and highlighted in Rubens'Orpheus Leading Eurydice from Hades, a painting about the dangers of looking, in which, as Barolsky points out, most of the figures look at one another. This is an interesting observation that would have profited from elaboration.

Barolsky has written extensively on the connection between Ovid and post-classical art,2 but his previous articles are not cited nor their arguments noted. He points out that Botticelli's Primavera is too rich in symbolism to be treated fully in this book (p.74), but he does not provide any hints as to further reading, not even his own writings.3 The book has no footnotes and only a brief bibliographical note; the absence of both is noticeable. If the reader is expecting an academic book that expands on themes already explored by the author, then s/he will be disappointed, but if s/he is looking for a journey through the pleasures of the history of art, then this engaging and beautifully illustrated volume will be more than satisfying.


1.   For an overview of the topic, see, for example, M. Bal, 'Reading Art?' in G. Pollock, ed., Generations and Geographies in the Visual Arts (London, 1996), 25-41.
2.   See, for example, 'As in Ovid, So in Renaissance Art', Renaissance Quarterly, 51. 2, 1998, 451-474; 'Ovid, Bernini, and the Art of Petrification', Arion 13. 2, 2005, 149-162; 'Ovid's Protean Epic of Art', Arion14. 3, 2007, 107-120.
3.   'Florentine Metamorphoses of Ovid', Arion 6.1, 1998, 9-31.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Milena Bontempi, La fiducia secondo gli antichi: 'pistis' in Gorgia tra Parmenide e Platone. Pensiero giuridico e politico. Saggi, nuova serie, 30. Napoli: Editoriale scientifica, 2013. Pp. 255. ISBN 9788863424973. €20.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Fjodor Montemurro, Università degli Studi della Basilicata (

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L'universo semantico del greco πίστις copre una rete di significati che ritroviamo anche nella corrispondente fides latina; a differenza di fides, tuttavia, πίστις richiede, come base dell'articolazione, un rapporto di parità tra i contraenti. Concentrando la sua indagine su Parmenide, Gorgia e Platone, Bontempi propone un saggio di filosofia politica di solido impianto scientifico in cui evidenzia le diverse modalità con cui πίστις si configura quale fondamento dello sviluppo dell'interazione. Il saggio è diviso in 7 capitoli, accompagnato da "Fughe e variazioni", piccole appendici che fungono da contrappunto o approfondimento filosofico ad alcuni concetti impiegati dall'Autrice.

Nei capitoli 1 e 2, dedicati a Parmenide, Bontempi mette nitidamente in luce come πειθώ e πίστις non possano essere intesi come termini intercambiabili, ma indichino due momenti gnoseologici ed ontologici differenti: πειθώ, riferibile sia alle ἀλήθειαι sia alle δόξαι, si delinea come uno stato del parlante (semplice convinzione di verità) nel momento dell'assestamento di una condizione di relazionalità e reciprocità, ma è sempre preceduta da πίστις, credenza o fiducia tipica del λόγος, che si esprime soltanto nell'ambito dell'essere e del pensiero, i quali per Parmenide, come è noto, coincidono. Scrupolosa la critica che Bontempi muove alle traduzioni dal greco che sminuiscono la portata di πίστις a mero fenomeno psicologico o che ne forzano indebitamente il significato (in particolare risulta convincente, a p. 45 n. 80, l'opposizione alla proposta "Evidenz" di Fraenkel-Heitsch, che assimilano πίστις a πειθώ). In Parmenide, la persuasione si concretizza, secondo la formula di Bontempi, in una "relazione assoluta". Dato che la lingua degli uomini è persuasiva mentre il λόγος è sempre λόγος πιστός, contro il rischio di un'apertura al molteplice e la disposizione di una relazione nella differenza a causa di πειθώ, intervengono i "lacci di πίστις", conditio sine qua non per l'instaurarsi di una forma reale di reciprocità e che delinea, nell'Eleate, un "modello relazionale contrapposto a quello dis-posizionale che apre al molteplice e al divenire" (p. 52). Nella relazione tra essere, pensiero e linguaggio bisogna evitare che si generi un di più o un di meno: la logica dell'uguale o dell'identico è alla base della proposizione di identità che suggella tutto il pensiero parmenideo, una proposizione tautologica scevra da ogni vizio dialettico (senza gli esiti hegeliani di Essere come Nulla) che si dà come relazione già positivamente determinata risultante dall'esclusione di ogni differenza, dis-crasia o dis-posizione. È l'etica o l'ascetica della ripetizione o dell'uguale, imposta da πίστις: il logos parmenideo non è passaggio di informazioni, né rivelazione o rappresentazione.

I capitoli 3, 4 e 5 prendono in esame il λόγος gorgiano. Come si evidenzia dal trattato Sul Non Essere, Gorgia dimostra l'incomunicabilità dell'ente: il λόγος è puro passaggio di parole, l'ente se ne sta al di fuori e non viene mai comunicato; tuttavia, l'atto di parola non rinuncia ad essere poietico, ma produce una esteriorità che compone una referenzialità rovesciata. La parola non è compressa in un significato predeterminato, ma per essere disponibile ed essere fatta propria da altri deve essere ambigua: il λόγος e la comunicazione si reggono sull'ambiguità delle parole e sulla loro potenza creatrice. Si viene così introdotti all'elogio dell' ἀπάτη che campeggia nell'Encomio di Elena: il λόγος è poiesi, e il suo effetto, la persuasione del linguaggio, produce ἀπάτη, inganno; contro Parmenide, la parola è persuasiva quanto più inganna. L'Autrice dedica alcune pagine alla discussione della struttura del processo percettivo rilevando nel testo gorgiano un parallelo tra l'artificio della percezione (declinato anche nella sfera teatrale) e il discorso stesso: "la relazione percezione-emozione non è univoca e dipende dall'intervento ermeneutico -decodificatore, culturale- dell'individuo" (p. 108 n. 138); acute e precise le riflessioni sviluppate intorno alla concezione gorgiana delle funzioni psichiche (p. 92 n. 119 , pp. 94-5 n. 121, e p. 100 n. 130). Rivelato quindi che il λόγος è costituzionalmente scambio e passaggio di parole, benché non di enti, informazioni o vissuti, e che tale scambio produce legami coscienziali e sociali, Bontempi si spinge ad attribuire a Gorgia la categoria ermeneutica della transazione deweyana, intesa come quella "relazionalità assoluta" che sintetizza il λόγος quale τέχνη e poieisi, suprema espressione della sua potenzialità generativa.

La categoria della transazione dall'io parlante all'altro che ascolta segna il passaggio dall'Encomio di Elena all'Apologia di Palamede, orazione dove domina l'aspetto relazionale del λόγος gorgiano, quasi assente nell'Encomio. Bontempi mette in luce come πίστις venga ad assumere nella perorazione tre livelli di significato: nell'ipotetico scambio tra Palamede e il barbaro, πίστις si configura come pegno, garanzia o vincolo, ma per la mancanza di un movente ragionevole, e per l'incompatibilità tra i beni offerti dallo straniero e il male assoluto che colpirebbe il traditore, πίστις assume l'accezione di fiducia che viene data allo scambio e non della garanzia dello scambio stesso, ponendosi come discriminante rispetto alla follia. Palamede serra l'argomentazione ed estende la transazionalità logologica sino alla dimensione unica che permette l'atto della parola: la sua dimensione sociale. Il tradimento, infatti, mette a rischio la partecipazione dell'uomo libero alla vita della polis, ne mina la sua identità: chi perde la πίστις non può avere transazione alcuna. Bontempi opera una buona disamina del par. 14 dell'orazione e allarga gli orizzonti inserendo l'argomentazione gorgiana all'interno della riflessione etica della Grecia del V secolo; pertinente ed equilibrata è la sua comparazione tra l'epideixis gorgiana e l'intellettualismo etico socratico. L'Autrice procede a chiarire, seppur con una certa ripetitività, la funzione del λόγος come atto sociale, evidenziando la tragicità di fondo dell'Apologia di Palamede: l'eroe non può fare appello alla sua esistenza precedente, in cui ha dimostrato di essere πιστός tra gli uomini: la parola appare nuda, scoperta, disarmata, e l'elogio di se stessi si rivela meramente un discorso, sullo stesso piano della calunnia. La πίστις vive quindi un paradosso: a meno di non essere deficitari di diritti costituzionali (come i folli) o socio-culturali (come gli schiavi), il gioco di decostruzione della credibilità del discorso altrui rappresenta una minaccia sempre latente anche per il proprio λόγος: la relazionalità, che πίστις sostanzia tra gli uomini, non solo è dubbia, ma è sempre revocabile.

Rifuggendo letture gorgiane orientate alla messa in luce di derive solipsistiche del Leontino, Bontempi nel capitolo 5 riscopre in Gorgia un io poetico, produttore dell'atto comunicativo, irriducibile alla parola, mai risolvibile nel λόγος stesso: nello scarto tra l'io che si esprime e la parola stessa risiede la possibilità della comunicazione, poiché ogni parlante mette in circolazione un qualcosa di esterno, indipendente da lui e produttivo (ambiguo) verso gli altri. Diversamente da Parmenide, per cui Bontempi conia la formula di "relazione nell'identità", ovvero di "identità senza differenza" (λόγος, ἐόν e νοεῖν), per Gorgia la prospettiva è ribaltata, per cui si può parlare di "uguali nel differire", ovvero di "differire senza identità". Solo rifuggendo dal vincolo identitario lo scambio può essere produttivo; Bontempi lo chiama generativo, per rimarcare il legame quasi genitoriale tra l'io po(i)etico e il λόγος. Acutamente, l'Autrice rimarca che, come per Parmenide, anche per Gorgia πίστις non va confusa con πειθώ: πειθώ non ha alcun freno, è pura forza, e si avvicina subdolamente a βία, cieca e unilaterale violenza che agisce su soggetti inerti (le donne, come Elena) o impossibilitati (come gli schiavi). In secondo luogo, Bontempi ha buon gioco nello svincolare πίστις dalla fides romana: se fides trascina con sé un universo giuridico, religioso o politico, πίστις fonda l'uguaglianza che sta alla base della relazione sociale all'interno dell'uomo Greco; come il fr. 276 Radt di Eschilo suggerisce, non sono i giuramenti a fondare la garanzia, ma è l'uomo, con la sua εὔνοια, che si pone a garanzia del giuramento.

Se Πίστις è categoria sostanziale alla relazione e delimita il sociale in quanto generazione costruttiva, risultano esclusi dai rapporti sociali sia lo schiavo sia il folle. Accomunate a queste due categorie di parlanti infidi, seppur in maniera problematica, sono le donne, esseri della socialità ma non della società, ossia della politica. Tradizionalmente dipinte come truccate, ove l'estetica è ossessivamente inganno e seduzione e l'ornamento è intenzionalmente raggiro, la donna esprime il differire come condizione pre-politica, laddove la deriva di πειθώ non è trattenuta dall'attività delimitante di πίστις. In controluce, escludere la donna dalla politica significa intendere il sociale come relazione in cui ci si espone nudi, non camuffati o nascosti, poiché "πίστις è una relazione sociale fra individui che si mettono l'uno nelle mani dell'altro, senza veli" (p. 239).

Nei capitoli 6 e 7 Bontempi rileva l'eredità gorgiana alla base della concezione platonica del λόγος. Restringendo l'analisi ai dialoghi Gorgia, Repubblica e Leggi, Bontempi rileva come il rapporto di fiducia, che in Gorgia si definisce secondo la disponibilità, la trasparenza e la revocabilità, si ritrova anche in Platone, ma si amplia ulteriormente, perché l'iniziativa dell'uomo significa tensione verso il bene: "solo un dire legato ad un pensare è produttore di senso e realtà" (p. 203). È la razionalità che guida l'uomo nelle scelte e nelle situazioni di giudizio: la generica intelligibilità gorgiana cede il posto alla ragione, mentre il parlare poetico di Gorgia viene ridotto a esempio di imitazione. La πιστότης, che si configura come vicinanza alla ἀλήθεια, diviene, nelle Leggi, la caratteristica preferibile nell'uomo correttamente inserito nel contesto della socialità politica. Se il Palamede gorgiano metteva a paragone la città con lo straniero, le Leggi platoniche riconducono il rapporto con l'altro all'interno della città stessa e lo spingono sin dentro l'anima di ognuno. La città è integrazione e armonizzazione dell'individuo nel legame comunitario: l'uomo πιστός, per non scivolare in un astrattismo morale kantiano, deve saggiare la bontà della sua relazionalità all'interno della comunità, mettendo in gioco, in una prospettiva etica molto più ampia di quella gorgiana, anche se stesso. Nel gioco della differenza dell'io con l'altro, nell'irrimediabile distanza reciproca, nella stasioticità latente quale elemento essenziale della comunicazione politica, trova la sua collocazione πίστις, la quale, come forma dell'opinione e non del sapere, agisce come memento della precarietà dei legami sociali: è infatti sottile la linea che separa l'affidamento dall'acquiescenza al sistema vigente. Pertanto, l'affidamento all'interno delle differenze deve mantenersi dialettico, preservando quella tensione critica negli assetti comunitari per non ritrovarsi ingabbiati nella gerarchia e in realtà sovra e sub-ordinate. Poiché l'altro si configura come istanza sempre da integrare (e mai di fatto completamente integrabile) in una relazione costantemente revocabile che trova la sua ragion d'essere proprio nella sua irrisolutezza e frantumazione, la comunità non è il superamento omogeneo delle differenze, ma è confronto tra soggetti irriducibili e discreti i cui rapporti divengono riconoscibili nell'interazione con gli altri. Il λόγος non è universale, si immiserirebbe nella ὁμολογία che sanerebbe le differenze, eliminando quella tensione ossimorica alla base della politica, che Bontempi chiama della "resistenza generativa". Se il λόγος diventa semplice riconoscimento oppure organizzazione, e non più costruzione di nessi dialettici tra identità e differenze, rischia di tradursi in oppressione. Questa eventualità è scongiurata dalla criticità della ragione che, surrazionalmente, si interroga su di sé e conosce la possibilità di modificare anche se stessa: davanti al "non" dell'altro, l'io diventa più potente e al contempo, in tale sovrabbondanza, la relazione con gli altri si attiene alla sua dimensione politica e non oppressiva.

Nel complesso, il saggio si muove con grande disinvoltura tra problemi testuali, questioni filosofiche, e implicazioni socio-politiche, proponendo prospettive organiche e convincenti. Bontempi mostra grande rispetto per il testo e solidità filologica. La scelta di traslitterare il testo greco (tranne nelle note a carattere più tecnico) mira a coinvolgere lo studioso del pensiero politico prima che il filologo, che comunque troverà nel saggio un valido strumento di confronto (unico refuso nel greco a p. 100 n. 80). Apprezzabile è l'acribia terminologica e l'utilizzo delle etichette di "relazione assoluta" e "relazionalità assoluta". Ciò che, invece, risulta poco attraente e rende il saggio non di agevole lettura è una certa ripetitività ed una eccessiva ridondanza retorica dell'argomentazione, talvolta legata ad una compiaciuta prolissità, specie nei capitoli dedicati a Platone, che soffrono di una eccessiva enfasi ermeneutica. Questo rischia di limitare la conoscenza del saggio presso gli studiosi che vogliano approfondire la valenza politica della nozione di πίστις, e di privarlo della diffusione che, per robustezza e finezza di analisi, esso sicuramente merita.

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Mark Heerink, Gesine Manuwald (ed.), Brill's Companion to Valerius Flaccus. Brill's Companions in Classical Studies. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2014. Pp. xiii, 438. ISBN 9789004227415. €149.00.

Reviewed by Jessica R. Blum, Yale University (

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As Mark Heerink and Gesine Manuwald point out, Valerius has been the last of the Flavian epicists to benefit from the burgeoning scholarly interest in this field, and it is high time that he do so. This volume provides an in-depth introduction to the Argonautica and accurately illustrates the current state of the field. Five sections ("Text, Language and Poetic Techniques"; "Themes and Contexts"; "Characters"; "Latin Intertexts"; "Reception") offer many points of access and show the methods that may usefully be applied to the poem's interpretation. Juxtaposing a range of possible readings – pessimistic, optimistic, and in between – it reflects the existence of conflicting ideologies at work throughout the poem in a series of accessible and persuasive essays.

The editors prioritize this interpretive polyphony in order to illustrate the variety of possible approaches and the richness of Valerian scholarship. In this, they succeed admirably. The brevity and organization of the chapters provide an effective introduction that combines accessibility with a thorough presentation of recent scholarship and methods. This begins with the introduction, in which Heerink and Manuwald helpfully provide an outline of the poem's plot and survey of recent scholarship, and continues throughout the volume. All passages are translated in full – especially important for a poem that is both just outside the canon and famously compressed – and listed in an index that facilitates the reader's appreciation of key interpretive loci. In addition, individual chapters provide, implicitly or explicitly, a great deal of essential background material for both the Argonautic myth and the poem itself (Ruth Taylor-Briggs, Alain Deremetz, and James Clauss in particular). Several indicate potential directions for future research (Alison Keith, Ruth Parkes, Anthony Augoustakis), an important element in a volume that seeks to establish the Argonautica's interest for scholars in a variety of fields. While it would be impossible for this review to give each contribution the attention it deserves, it will attempt to point out particularly intriguing and convincing points.

Taylor-Briggs offers a clear, concise, and accessible summary of the Argonautica's manuscript tradition. Drawing together recent advances in Valerian manuscript studies, she shows with engaging detail the importance of each new branch of chronological reconstruction. Comparing the traditions of Italy, Northern France and Belgium, she argues for the independence and authority of more branches of the tradition than previously recognized.

Michael Barich's contribution raises the question of how Valerius's contemporary readers experienced his dense and allusive poetic style. This is, to some extent, unanswerable, but once raised, I would have liked the chapter to take this question a little further. Discussing Valerius's Virgilian "idiom," Barich asks how sensitive contemporary readers would be to subtle contextual interplay, and how they would separate purely verbal imitatio from thematic resonance. This last point has immediate relevance for modern scholars, yet with it Barich moves away from more compelling issues to a discussion of Valerius's poetics. His reading demonstrates the complexity and consistency of thematic integration throughout the Argonautica, while leaving open the question of how accessible such stylistic density is and was.

Deremetz and Heerink offer compelling readings of Valerius's self-presentation within the epic tradition. Developing Barchiesi's model of "allusion in a future tense" (p.62),1 Deremetz shows Valerius's construction of his poem as "the facsimile of the foundational epic that will lead the tradition to Homer, Virgil and Ovid." Through themes of sea-storm and war, Deremetz shows that Valerius establishes the Argonautica as the arche from which all other epics derive. Heerink analyzes the Argonautica's two major ecphrases, the paintings on the Argo and the doors of Sol's temple in Colchis, in relation to Juno's temple in Aeneid 1. Assembling the numerous verbal and structural parallels, he shows that both episodes comment metapoetically on Valerius's relationship to Virgil to reveal a "poetics of inversion" (p.74). His insightful reading reveals Valerius's play on his audience's expectations and his violations thereof.

In treating the Argo's crew as a character in its own right, Helen Lovatt's chapter identifies an important point of investigation for the Argonautica. She thoroughly analyzes the tensions surrounding Hercules's role among the crew and Valerius's emphasis on his catasterism alongside the Dioscouri and the Argo itself. Particularly engaging is her discussion of the death of Tiphys in Argonautica 5, showing how Valerius uses Virgilian intertexts to comment on the teleology of the poem as a whole (p.222).

Clauss's essay on mythopoesis in the Argonautica appeals on many levels. He examines Valerius's articulation of Flavian cultural values through mythopoeic manipulation: "Intertextuality and myth work hand in glove to articulate and account for the return to an older sense of greatness based on heroic aspirations…not family…" (p.107). Clauss identifies Valerius's poetic enterprise as an attempt to locate the new Flavian regime in universal history and mythic tradition, and provides an important model for the inseparability of intertextual and socio-cultural readings of epic.2

Attila Ferenczi's contribution neatly complements the chapter by Clauss, demonstrating the overlapping concerns of epic and philosophy with (e.g.) origins, the telos of global history, and the role of the individual. Both essays locate the Argonautica in its contemporary intellectual environment, finding, in this case, the poem's relevance in its exploration of the ethical framework for human action. Examining the integration of (at times contradictory) ideas about fate, determinism, and human labor, Ferenczi elucidates the aesthetic effects of Valerius's importation of philosophical concepts into his narrative.

Along similar lines, Neil Bernstein considers Valerius's response to the imperial system. Through the lens of cultic practice, he shows the poem's constant play between character and reader perceptions of the chain of causality; the contrast between the two renders provisional contemporary claims to religious restoration (p.162). He finds further evidence in the often-noted ubiquity of tyrants in the Argonautica, and suggests that this, too, undermines any positive image of political power.

Marco Fucecchi, Cristiano Castelletti, and Peter Davis respond to ongoing debates in Valerian scholarship: the narrative's integration of love and war, and the question of Jason's heroism. Fucecchi describes how love and war, through the integration of Homeric and Virgilian traditions, "undergo programmatic redefinition as literary themes," and seek new compatibility within the narrative plot (p.135); he reads this process as a metaliterary comment on epic categories. Castelletti and Davis both analyze Valerius's characterization of his protagonists in terms of the tension between epic and tragedy. Castelletti views Jason as a reflection of the poem's overall evolution, examining Valerius's use of tragic and epic exemplars to illustrate the antinomies embedded in the narrative. Like Ferenczi, he raises the issue of individual culpability, but by summarizing interpretive problems Castelleti reflects rather than advances debates about Jason's heroic character. Davis discusses Valerius's reconciliation of Medea's roles as epic princess and tragic mother. He notes as distinctive Valerius's focus on future rather than past, showing that both halves of the poem remind the reader of Medea's entire story, and, importantly, her role in world history. Particularly effective are Davis's exposition of Valerius's use of Homeric, Virgilian, and Ovidian models, and his reading of Medea's resistance to divine influence as her most salient Valerian characteristic.

Both Randall Ganiban and Robert Cowan explore how Valerius, through interaction with the Aeneid, problematizes the ethical framework in which his characters operate. Cowan's engagingly titled "Argonautic Antagonists and Valerian Villains" shows how Valerius keeps optimistic and pessimistic views of the Argo's voyage in tense balance throughout the poem. Sympathetic voices complicate otherwise unambiguous depictions of the Argonauts's opponents, while Valerius hints at his heroes's susceptibility to the temptations of political power. Cowan demonstrates that "Valerius's remarkable achievement is to paint his villains as black as can be, but still render his readers uncomfortable at the victory of his heroes" (p.248). Ganiban revisits a primary locus for Valerius's engagement with the Aeneid, Jupiter's prophecy in Book 1. He teases out the implications of Valerius's substitution of Sol for Venus, showcasing Valerius's practice of adopting a Virgilian structure while changing its thematic or ideological meaning (a point also made by Heerink). Illustrating the generational tensions between Jupiter and his interlocutor, and the centrality of dynastic concerns to both sides, Ganiban argues that Valerius's Jupiter rejects a Virgilian worldview (p.252). He persuasively concludes that Jupiter's assertion of impartial rule is dramatically undermined by his blatant favoritism towards his sons and his unrelenting prioritization of political supremacy.

Alison Keith, Tim Stover, and Emma Buckley offer comprehensive discussions of Valerius's relationship to his imperial predecessors. Keith traces Valerius's interaction with the Metamorphoses through a series of episodes, positing a relationship wherein Valerius uses Ovid to "trace fissures in the optimistic Virgilian epic paradigm" (p.269). She notes, in particular, Ovidian landscapes and the story of Io as loci for Valerius's incorporation of metamorphic themes. Stover reiterates the argument of his recent monograph, that Lucan's Bellum Civile provides Valerius with a point of departure from which the later author enacts "a poetics of amelioration and reconstruction" (p.291).3 Stover's elegant reading, while demonstrating the importance of this intertext, fails to capture the ambivalences and ambiguities illustrated by several other essays in this volume (see especially Cowan, Ganiban, and Buckley).

Buckley offers an illuminating counterpoint to Stover's thesis, exploring Valerius's use of Senecan tragedy to maintain awareness of the poem's tragic aftermath within his recuperated epic mode. She shows how Senecan intertexts in Book 1 "adumbrate interpretative choices about the value of the voyage of the Argo, its socio-political outlook, and its narratological drive" (p.308). Particularly noteworthy is her intriguing demonstration that Valerius uses the Hercules Oetaeus to hint at an optimistic end to the story. Valerius's Hercules, she concludes, represents both the poem's overdetermined tragic ending and the possibility of its triumphant rewriting.

Both Parkes and Augoustakis explore the nature of the intertextual process, offering compelling readings of material and thematic allusion in Valerius's immediate successors, Statius and Silius. Parkes argues that the Thebaid and Achilleid position the Argo's voyage as a recent event, in parallel to Statius's own status as Valerius's successor. She traces a familial dynamic through the image of Peleus and Achilles in Argonautica 1, suggesting that Statius uses Valerian intertexts to construct a sense of inevitability in the tradition. Parkes also shows the combative element of their relationship: Statius corrects the details of overlapping material, and integrates Valerian references into his characteristic method of multiple interpretation. Augoustakis examines Silius's response to Valerius as part of his attempt to construct a new national epic in contrast to the Aeneid. Focusing on the mass suicide at Saguntum in Punica 2 and Hercules's repeated appearances, he demonstrates Silius's use of allusion to promote Flavian ideology in the very different context of historical epic. Both show the Flavian authors's exploitation of their epigonal status, and indicate avenues for future research.

As the only essay in the final section ("Reception"), Andrew Zissos's chapter on Pio's 16th c. addition to the Argonautica looks a bit like an afterthought. In its discussion of Pio's close engagement with both Apollonian and Valerian poetics, however, this essay nicely complements Taylor-Briggs's opening chapter. Zissos focuses on Pio's dual authorial persona, as both Apollonian translator and Valerian continuator, roles that are, he suggests, at times mutually exclusive. In his attempt to fill in Valerius's text with Apollonian material, Pio illustrates the interpretive difficulties inherent in the Argonautic tradition.

Heerink and Manuwald's volume provides not only a comprehensive and stimulating introduction to the Argonautica, but also an invaluable starting point for future research. As Valerian scholarship continues to grow, this companion showcases the excellent work currently being done and the different, fruitful, methods that they employ, offering new models for the evaluation of a belated work in the epic tradition. It attests to the richness of Valerius's poem: its generic and allusive interplay, incorporation of contemporary political and philosophical discourses, and impact on the literary tradition, both in the short term and at a remove. This compelling work will appeal to the general reader in Classics as well as specialists, and is a most welcome contribution to the field.


1.   Citing Barchiesi (1993), "Future Reflexive: Two Modes of Allusion and Ovid's Heroides." HSCP 95: 333-365.
2.   See Hardie's introduction to Barchiesi (2015), Homeric Effects in Vergil's Narrative. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press: ix.
3.   Stover (2012), Epic and Empire in Vespasianic Rome. Oxford: Oxford University Press

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Marios Skempis, Ioannis Ziogas (ed.), Geography, Topography, Landscape: Configurations of Space in Greek and Roman Epic. Trends in classics, 22. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2014. Pp. viii, 559. ISBN 9783110314731. $168.00.

Reviewed by Katharine T. von Stackelberg, Brock University (

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Table of Contents

A long time ago, in a land far, far away there lived a child whose process for selecting books had one strict criterion: upon cracking open the cover, there had to be a map delineating the exotic topography that its protagonists would traverse in the course of the story. No matter how fatuous the ensuing tale, the thrill of that initial psycho-geographical encounter kept me coming back for more.

Skempis and Ziogas' well-curated collection of essays on Greek and Roman epic demonstrate how germane such mental configurations of space are to the process of narration. Even when the epic in question is not explicitly moving its characters along, the association between story and place can be so strong as to unavoidably call specific sites into mind (to many of my generation the opening lines of this review will invariably lead them to Tatooine). Early excursions into the study of epic geography focused on concrete issues: To what extent could authors have obtained first-hand knowledge of the topographies they described? Could the audience of the Argonautica (either version) have successfully navigated their own sea-journeys by following the text? Where exactly was Ithaca? But, just as Tolkien's maps of Middle Earth tell us more about early twentieth-century geopolitics than the exact distance between the Shire and Minas Tirith, so the places described in Greek and Latin epic serve as a metaspace for exploring (and exploiting) articulations of power, immanence and alterity. The "spatial turn" mediated by philosophers and geographers such as Yi-Fu Tuan, Edward S. Casey and Edward Soja has produced a rich crop of literary studies on the narratology of space, and Skempis and Ziogas' volume brings together many of the key classical scholars in the field to provide a comprehensive and stimulating guide to epic space.

The collection is divided equally between Greek and Latin epic, with each part arranged in chronological order, the Greek beginning with Homer's Iliad and ending with Nonnus' Dionysiaca, the Latin bracketed by Ennius and Valerius Flaccus. Individual chapters are highly integrated with the volume overall, sharing many points of reference. Consequently, readers who confine themselves to cherry-picking individual poets or ignoring Greek epic in favor of Latin (or vice versa) may miss out on some useful insights. Fortunately, Skempis and Ziogas provide an excellent introduction that points out the interconnections between chapters while guiding readers through current methodologies and theoretical approaches.

Homer, of course, is our fons et origo here, with the Iliad providing the first sustained excursion into ethnography. However, Johannes Haubold's opening chapter on Zeus' wandering gaze to far-away lands (Il. 13.1-9) argues that this passage could not have been the first example of Greek ethnography. Instead, it draws on already-established ethnographical traditions to emphasize cultural distinctiveness not between the different tribes of mankind but between gods and men, with men on the wrong end of the voyant-visible dynamic. The implication that the very perception of space affects human occupation of the same in epic poetry is repeated throughout the volume, usually expressed as an encounter between familiar West and exotic East or between imperial center and colonial (or subaltern) periphery.

An ethnographical approach to space is not the only tool available to classicists, and the following two papers demonstrate how different applications of critical theory can open up new interpretations of epic space. Alex Purves takes Auerbach's assessment of Homeric style as "all foreground" as her starting point for a close study on the narrative intersection of time and space. Purves' intra-textual study of wilderness topoi embedded in Euryclea's recognition of Odysseus expands the spatial frame to include temporal depth by considering not only the defining moment of the boar hunt, but all of Odysseus' other excursions into the wild. By tracing the semantic associations of the adjective applied to the boar's hide (pukinos) Purves demonstrates how this digression becomes a Mandelbrot text of branching associations, each in turn presenting the reader with other Homeric thickets. In contrast to Purves' tight focus, Donald Lateiner's cognitive approach offers a broad synthesis of the mechanics of spatial perception in the Homeric corpus. Heroic and divine perceptions of space are understood to be socially determined, with distance not only a question of measurable units and ethnographic difference, but indicative of relational proxemics of gender and status.

Whereas the Homeric papers present cases where the boundary between urban and non-urban space is fluid and subject to negotiation, Anthony T. Edwards' phenomenological study of ethical value reads Hesiod's representation of town and country as firmly structured polarities. However, this spatial opposition is performative, not geographic; it is the taskscape of ergon not the landscape of agros that determines Hesiod's assessment of the social value of space. In the only chapter to present a sustained focus on the proxemics of gender (an important and emerging area), Kirk Ormand's valuable study of Atalanta's race returns to the subject of unstable boundaries. Ormand draws on both Theognis' and Hesiod's accounts to argue that the male-directed routes of racetrack and hunting path lead Atalanta into a Foucauldian "heterotopia of crisis", a landscape that both reflects and facilitates her identity crisis and her psychological transition from nymph to bride. Driven by erotic desire and murderous intent, Atalanta's racecourse transforms itself into a Homeric battlefield, re-casting the race between Hector and Achilles in front of the Scaean Wall, before reaching the telos of both finishing-line and marriage.

The ease with which real and mythological landscapes could segue into each other and create new narrative possibilities is a vital part of understanding how epic space acts as an agent in its own right, rather than simply serving as a passive backdrop to the action. Evina Sistakou's chapter brings this point into high relief by analyzing the imbrication of real and fictive geographies in Apollonius Rhodius' Argonautica. Sistakou identifies five types of counter-factual landscape—fantasyland portals, landscapes of epiphany, idealized spaces of desire, heterotopias (mainly of crisis, less so of deviation), heterochronic mythic places, and mirage territory – and argues that these places facilitate immanence, creating opportunities for the kind of encounter between human and divine that turns a journey into a quest. A focus on unreal geography also allowed Hellenistic poets to establish their own narrative space, one that could point to epic predecessors while allowing creative freedom. This is an operative factor in the narrative treatment of space in late imperial epic, Quintus of Smyrna's Posthomerica and Nonnus of Panopolis' Dionysiaca, both works firmly rooted in Homeric tradition. Katerina Carvounis' chapter demonstrates how Quintus' recontextualization of famous Homeric landmarks expands their narrative frame to incorporate Hellenistic traditions. The resulting multiplication of persons and places (Niobe's Sipylos is Hecuba's Cynomessa; Memnon's river Paphlagoneios is Phaethon's river Eridanus) reflects the crowded itineraries of his contemporary world, the "globalized" imperium. Similarly, Robert Shorrock's chapter on the Dionysiaca argues that Nonnus's epic engages with both Homer and Callimachus to redraw the Hydaspes, the boundary of exotic India, as the more familiar Nile and Scamander rivers. Empire makes the world geographically bigger, but topographically smaller.

The Homeric clash between East and West is revisited with Ennius' Annales. The fragmentary nature of the text precludes definitive conclusions but Jackie Elliott's carefully organized analysis (including three appendices) indicates a nascent anxiety with Rome's overseas expansion, partially cast in gendered terms (Ilia's confusion at her dream of Rome). Virgil appears to have resolved this anxiety, in Stratis Kyriakidis' chapter, by establishing a semantic relationship between Delos and Latium and through the continuous deferral of geographic knowledge throughout Aeneas' journey. Thus, even before foundation, Rome already has overseas territories waiting to be reclaimed, as per Apollo's clear (delos) but hidden (lateo) prophecies. This expansion is maintained in Marios Skempis' study of the Caieta and Circe sequence in Book 7, where Aeneas' speech and actions morph foreign women into local places, colonizing western Latium with eastern toponyms even as Latin epic appropriates Greek literary traditions. This intersection of people and places is also the subject of Ioannis Ziogas' study of onomastic wordplay in Ovid's Metamorphoses. This chapter, which has such strong ties with Kyriakidis' and Skempis' submissions that one could profitably assign all three to a senior class on Augustan poetry, demonstrates how mythic landscape is reworked to suit imperial needs, with Apollo's laurel transplanted from Delphi to Rome, and Thessalian narratives substituted for Trojan. What is placed by authoritative tradition can also be displaced or replaced.

The reception of mythic landscapes is further explored in Alison Keith's study of Valerius Flaccus' and Statius' reworkings of Metamorphoses Books 7 and 3 in the Argonautica and Thebaid. As Carole Newlands and Stephen Hinds established, Ovid's inviting woods and meadows are deceptive places, only at the critical point of transformation is their danger apparent.1 Flavian poets keep Ovid's settings but avoid his ambiguity; their landscapes are openly unsettling and threatening, highlighting their themes of marital and martial discord. A more subtle example of how narrative space conveys poetic meaning can be found in Erica Bexley's chapter on Lucan's Pharsalia. Focusing on the spaces and places abandoned by Caesar and Pompey's troops, Bexley highlights the tension between natural and artificial boundaries which are illustrative of how civil war reduces the scope of Roman power, severing genealogical ties between land and people, and between citizens and the state.

Dynastic change and the traumatic memory of the Year of the Four Emperors provide a solid historical rationale for why Flavian poets would favor Ovid's polyvalent topography over Virgil's expansionist itinerary, but there is plenty of scope for further studies in this area. The different approaches of Flavian and Augustan poets to epic space suggest that there was a cognitive shift in the perception of space; distance and difference took on new meaning, prompted by the ease and scope of travel within the peaceful borders of the Roman empire. Ruth Parkes' study of journeys in the Thebaid, notes the temporal elasticity of narrative space, with both the Argive women and Theseus' army making journeys of the same itinerary but radically different duration. Statius' road to Thebes demonstrates the paradox of place, the more one pays attention to it, the longer it is; as in Purves' chapter, epic topography is fractal. Epic topography is also recycled, the experience of each journey filtered through previous accounts. This is the theme of Helen Slaney's paper on the Argonautica, which argues that Valerius Flaccus deliberately presents foreign landscapes within a culturally familiar context in order to promote a vision of a globally, integrated Roman empire. The colonizing periplus of the Hellenistic world thus becomes a tour of subaltern territories, foreign and yet utterly familiar. In this world can the theme of East meeting West still have any meaning? Gesine Manuwald's final chapter explores this question, noting that in this Latin version of the Greek myth the Argonauts' journey destabilizes the boundaries between East and West even as it defines them. The Argonautica is a journey of discovery, but the routes it opens up, like those of imperial expansion, bring negative consequences, as well as positive, in its wake.

It is to the editors' credit that despite the wide range of topics and approaches the volume works exactly as an edited collection should: providing a snapshot of the field as it is now to readers familiar with the subject; offering an introduction to available texts and methodologies to those who want to expand their research in new directions; and suggesting avenues for further exploration to probing minds. It is a pleasure to read such a diverse and yet highly integrated collection. My only criticism? More maps please.


1.   Newlands, C. E. (2004) 'Statius and Ovid: transforming the landscape', TAPA 134, 133-155; Hinds, S. (2002) "Landscape with figures: aesthetics of place in the Metamorphoses and its tradition", in Philip Hardie (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Ovid, Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 122 149.

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