Monday, October 20, 2014


Nicolas Vinel, Jamblique: In Nicomachi Arithmeticam, introduction, texte critique, traduction française et notes de commentaire. Mathematica graeca antiqua, 3. Pisa; Roma: Fabrizio Serra editore, 2014. Pp. 348. ISBN 9788862276160. €110.00 (pb).

Reviewed by John Dillon, Trinity College Dublin (

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This is a very fine edition of a work of Iamblichus that has in general been much disdained but, as Vinel well argues, not entirely justly. It is generally, but superficially, presented as a commentary on the Introduction to Arithmetic of the second-century CE Neopythagorean Nicomachus of Gerasa, but in fact Iamblichus is not purporting to be composing anything like a formal commentary; instead, as is suitable to the context in which it is presented (which is his so-called 'Pythagorean Sequence' of ten treatises, setting out an introduction to the whole of Pythagorean philosophy), it is rather a meditation on the first principles of arithmetic based, rather loosely, on Nicomachus' introductory work, with various additions (including a number of passages from other volumes of the collection, specifically the Vita Pythagorica and the De Communi Mathematica Scientia).

A nice example of Iamblichus' adaptation of Nicomachus occurs at the beginning of §2 of the work, where he prefixes to Nicomachus' discussion of Quantity a series of (largely Pythagorean) definitions of number and the monad which are of considerable interest (and borrowed gratefully later by Syrianus in his Commentary on Metaphysics M-N) – all this excellently annotated by Vinel.

Appreciating this properly is of some importance for an accurate evaluation of Iamblichus' work, and it is this which Vinel undertakes, with an impressive degree of comprehensiveness. He provides first a copious introduction (1-66), in which, after a short account of the life of Iamblichus, and of the composition of the ten-volume 'Pythagorean Sequence' (of which the present work is the fourth, and the latest surviving, member – the last six being lost), he turns to an examination of the work itself. He starts (§3) with a discussion of the nature and title of the work, arguing, I think persuasively, that the title as handed down in the manuscripts, Peri tês Nikomakhou arithmêtikês eisagôgês is misleading, the last element, eisagôgês, being the work of an 'intelligent' scribe, who assumed that it was similar to later commentaries on Nicomachus, such as those of Philoponus or Asclepius of Tralles. If that is excised, the title describes the work pretty well. Vinel also provides a detailed analysis of the contents, dividing it up into chapters and sections in a way that previous editors, Tennulius and Pistelli, had omitted to do, and thus rendering it much more approachable.

He then embarks on a series of three sections, each covering a salient feature of the work, and all presenting much material of interest. In §4, 'L'arithmétique de la justice et les carrées dits "magiques"', we find an extended discussion of the tradition of numerical squares, or wheels, beginning with the so-called 'Square of Theon (of Smyrna)', representing the number 5 as a centre for the sequence of numbers 1-9, followed by a series of more elaborate squares, embodying more complex sets of numbers, having magical significance, including some found in Pompeii, which Iamblichus discusses in II.33-7 and 51-2.

In §5, 'Le topos du point et de la ligne réinventé', he focuses on IV.5-6, where Iamblichus adverts to the problem of postulating the point as first principle of the line (the problem, indeed, which led Xenocrates, in the Old Academy, to postulate the 'indivisible line' as such a first principle). In connection with which Iamblichus produces a sentence containing a fine sequence of hapax legomena: all' êtoi psaustôn adiastasia estai ê diastantôn apsaustia, duly celebrated by Vinel.

The third of these sections, however ('La naissance oubliée du concept de zéro'), is the most substantial, dealing as it does with what seems a notable innovation by Iamblichus in proposing the concept of ouden, or 'zero', in a numerical sense. This arises in II.32-52, where Iamblichus embarks on an extended discussion of the concept of ouden, in connection with his observation that, if the number 1, like all other numbers, is to be reckoned as the sum of either of its contiguous numbers divided by two, we will have to postulate, on either side of 1, 2 and 0. He then finds various other uses for 0. Vinel finds this quite notable, and I agree with him; I am less confident, though, about his interesting suggestion that Iamblichus may have been stimulated to postulate the zero by reason of his equally remarkable postulate of an 'absolutely ineffable' principle prior to the One! The innovation seems adequately motivated by the considerations adduced by Iamblichus in the context. However, his discussion of this topic is both full and valuable.

The text itself is a considerable improvement on that of Pistelli. Fortunately, there are only two manuscripts that need to be considered, Laur. Plut. 86,3, and Laur. Plut. 86,29, both in Florence (all others being apographa of the latter. But, as Vinel remarks, the discipline of having to translate the text (of which he does an excellent job) constrains one to adopt emendations which a mere editor of the Greek may simply toy with, and he has adopted many necessary ones. Apart from short notes at the bottom of the page, there follow the text and translation 65 pages of most useful supplementary notes, together with a copious Index Graecitatis, followed by much shorter indices of passages quoted, manuscripts, and proper names.

All in all, this is a very fine piece of work, which gives the In Nicomachi Arithmeticam the sort of edition it deserves.

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Stephen Gersh, Being Different: More Neoplatonism after Derrida. Ancient Mediterranean and Medieval Texts and Contexts. Studies in Platonism, Neoplatonism, and the Platonic tradition, 16. Leiden; Boston: E. J. Brill, 2014. Pp. xiv, 249. ISBN 9789004261402. $141.00.

Reviewed by Dylan Burns, Universität Leipzig (

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Stephen Gersh begins Being Different: More Neoplatonism after Derrida by defining "Neo-Platonism" as would most—the Platonic tradition as understood from Plotinus on, a central player in the history of Western philosophy through Descartes, in part thanks to its "many subordinate phases, many interruptions and reprises, and many deviations" (p. viii). Recalling Jacques Derrida's celebrated appropriations of Plato and Neoplatonism—and, in particularly, Neoplatonic negative theology—he continues, "one could … see Derrida's quasi-method of deconstruction as simply the latest stimulus towards the continuance and transformation of Neoplatonism." Few would contest this statement; fewer still would take up the challenge he proposes in the following sentence: "the project of 'Neoplatonism after Derrida' is designed precisely in order to facilitate Neoplatonism's possible future enrichment from that source—however radical the transformation of Neoplatonism may turn out to be" (ibid.).

Gersh thus writes as philosopher rather than historian of philosophy, developing a post-Derridean Neoplatonism rather than chronicling Derrida's use of Neoplatonic sources. Being Different is his second volume in this daunting enterprise; the first, Parallelograms,1 might be considered a "workbook" for scholars of Platonism seeking to understand Deconstruction, and vice versa.2 The major contention of Parallelograms was that, even if the Platonic tradition, confronted with the ontological wager of hyper-essentiality, bets on presence rather than absence, philosophers—including Derrida himself—have failed to recognize the depth of the parallels between Neoplatonic and Deconstructive approaches to the structure of language and thought. Being Different is an appropriate sequel, bringing in new players (Augustine, Damascius, Mallarmé) to revisit many of the problems explored in the first volume, while ultimately steering the inquiry into the tantalizing questions of the "performative utterance" and verbal theurgy. The three chapters of Being Different are starkly diverse in character and may be read independently of one another, but they form a surprisingly coherent whole, despite the protestations of the author, who, appropriately, emphasizes his method of "juxtaposition"—the non-hierarchical arrangement of textual units and their gaps, ideally generating meaning as a "combination of constative and performative elements" (pp. xi-xii). Conversely, the volume may be read independently of its predecessor.

Chapter One, "Neoplatonic Compulsions," offers critical summary of two well-known readings of Neoplatonism performed by Derrida: "How to Avoid Speaking: Denials," and "Circumfession: Fifty-nine Periods and Paraphrases." Indeed, each section of Being Different comments upon and even recalls the structure of the former essay, whose themes—Derrida's treatment of Plato's epekeina tēs ousias and khōra, the difference(s) between negative theology and the "trace-structure" of Deconstruction, the concepts of the "secret," and "prayer," and the three paradigms of negative theology (see below)—are taken up with vigor. The structure enacted by the latter essay in its discussion of conversion, Gersh argues (22), is a fourfold-structure of terms that together comprises a "semiotic square"3—positive (affirmative seme a, negative seme b), combined (affirmative seme a, affirmative seme b), negative (negative seme a, affirmative seme b), and neutral (negative seme a, negative seme b). Gersh is particularly interested in Derrida's treatment of prayer, both as "a non-predicative language of address to the Other" and "as a mixture of non-predicative language of address to the Other and predicative language of statement about the other" (24). Gersh concludes that Derrida's treatment is superficial, insofar as he fails to apply "to Neoplatonic doctrines a dynamic version of that (fourfold-)structure in which the various configurations of affirmative and negative semes are based on shifting values," which betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of crucial elements of Neoplatonic thought, such as the non-discursive thinking of Intellect, the intellection superior to reasoning that transpires at the level of Soul, or the practice of negative theology in its final stage (27-8).

Chapter Two, "Derrida's Paradigms of Negative Theology," turns inside out Derrida's consideration of the "three paradigms" of negative theology (levied in "How to Avoid Speaking…"): Greek (Plato), Greek and Christian (Pseudo-Dionysius, Meister Eckhart), and neither Greek nor Christian (Heidegger). Divided into four sections, the chapter begins with "Bridging the Gap," aiming to show that even the arch-Platonist Proclus is less "Greek, Platonist" (sensu Heidegger, Derrida) than one might suppose. Examples include the ambiguity of the status of henads (associated more closely with the One or with Being?), Proclus' mitigation of the "priority of temporal presence through the elaboration of structures of mediation" via "a weakening and subversion of that same priority through the coincidence of certain terms occupying the position of the Form of the Good with certain terms occupying that of Khōra," conceptual maneuvers that bring one into the heart of theurgic practice (49-50, 52), and the ambiguous nature of the faculty of causality attributed to the One and the henads or gods (64-65). Gersh then juxtaposes Proclus' account of the gods and their powers with that given by Heidegger. Predictably, the latter account emphasizes that any inquiry into the divine must be left in a state of hermeneutical "tension," but "it is not the case either that the gods create man or that man invents gods but rather that the Truth of Be-ing, by enowning itself between them and enowning each to the other, decides on both" (74). The significance of this juxtaposition Gersh leaves to the reader to divine.

The following two sections ("Prayer(s)," "Hearing Voices") hew more closely to the structure of Derrida's essay by addressing Pseudo-Dionysius and Meister Eckhart. While Derrida argued in "How to Avoid Speaking" that Denys' notion of prayer is to be sharply distinguished from the enactment of the deconstructive "trace," Gersh responds that "Dionysius' own doctrine can be viewed as a deconstruction of the Platonic model of negative theology in its depiction of prayer as a movement towards God as transcendent Other" (93). Similarly, Gersh turns Derrida's deconstruction of Eckhart's writings about negative theology on its head by demonstrating that Eckhart's notion of the negatio negationis could be read as paralleling the "denial of the secret" explored by Derrida, the space of the "fourfold-structure" that governs the activity of Deconstruction, and even the "non-discursive mode of thinking" semantically expressed through the contradiction of terms (112-14). The final (and most interesting) section ("From the One to the Blank") treats Damascius, who Gersh dubs "the Heidegger of antiquity" (119). As is well known, Damascius' circumlocutions around the Ineffable—brilliantly assigned by Gersh the lexeme of [ ] (i.e., a blank)—"not only … establish an intimate relation between the denial of denial and the [ ] but also to deny the ineffability of the ultimate referent of discourse," denials that are performed insofar as they lead to silence, a silence Damascius shows as much as tells (139, 150-1). This, Gersh argues, "corresponds most exactly to the common essentiality of Avoidance and Being in Heidegger's writings" (155; also 158).

Chapter Three, "Philosophy [Space] Literature," will make or break this volume for many readers. It takes its cue from Derrida's "The Double Session," which explores the tension between philosophy and literature by juxtaposing extracts from Plato's Philebus and the Mimique of the symbolist French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, a pioneer of strategies of writing through typographical arrangement. Gersh therefore juxtaposes passages from Mallarmé's Un Coup de dés ("A Throw of the Dice"), Proclus' Commentary on Euclid's Elements, and his own scholarly commentary on each (not both!). It thus is more like a tool the reader may use to generate meaning —an oracle—than an explanation, as we find in the other chapters. Nonetheless, one could argue that its most central theme would be that exploration of Mallarmé's notion of the "blank" (and demonstration of how readers use the "blanks" between juxtaposed texts to generate an infinity of meanings) helps us see that "the notion of infinity that sustains the emanative system" Proclus describes actually "performs most of the functions" of the blank (185). Indeed, Proclus and Mallarmé proceed through parallel terms, in Gersh's arrangement: Mallarmé's agonized protagonist reaches "the pinnacle of myself," just as Proclus' investigation arrives at "the triangle," which "has a close relation to the gods" (204). Gersh concludes appropriately with meditation on the hermeneutics of chance, with nods (following Derrida) to Democritus as much as Heidegger.

The philosophical project itself is unlikely to win many converts. Readers who enjoy Proclus but not Heidegger will find little relief here. Yet those who already see Derrida's engagement with the Platonic tradition as potentially fruitful for the philosophical enterprises of Platonism and Deconstruction will consider this study to be of great value indeed. The present reviewer is among them, and thus restricts critical remarks to niceties. Being Different is not without editorial lapses: the prose occasionally repeats itself, as for instance in the discussion of Proclus' De arte sacrificiali at 59, much of whose content repeats what is conveyed in a lengthy footnote several pages prior (55 n. 111). The transition from discussion of Proclus' Platonic Theology to the Elements of Theology at 61 is jarring, simply introducing the new text with "it is proposition 28 to the effect that…"—only a reader already familiar with the Proclan corpus will know that we have arrived at the Elements. Typos are occasional (see again 55 n. 111). Such complaints are less minor than usual in a book such as this, which, like Derrida, demands the reader to consider gaps in argument, jarring transitions, and / or contradictions as cause for reflection. Again, taking its cue from Mallarmé, Deconstruction sets a high standard indeed for typography.

Significant, then, is p. 140 n. 161, which contrasts "traditional Neoplatonic" notions of silence from "something like Valentinian Gnosticism (see below notes 131-133)." Yet nn. 131-3 are above, in this chapter, and of different content; p. 143 n. 170-2 (on the lexica of "silence" in the Chaldaean Oracles, Proclus, and Damascius) is probably meant, but refers to no Gnostic sources. This omission (enacted rather than explained, appropriately!) calls into question Gersh's presentation of the contours of Neoplatonism. Recent scholarship has demonstrated that Gnostic Christians were deeply involved in the development of Platonic philosophy in the second and third centuries CE, not least with respect to speculations about the transcendent and what discursive strategies we might use to address it.4 Would a "Neoplatonism after Derrida" that also addresses "Platonizing" Coptic apocalypses like Zostrianos (whose discourse on negative theology shares a source with Marius Victorinus, and agrees in content with the anonymous Turin commentary on the Parmenides) or Allogenes (whose enactment of Neoplatonic apophatic theology is more explicit and cohesive than any in the Platonic tradition prior to pseudo-Dionysius or even Damascius) look any different than that presented by Gersh?5 One hopes we will find out in a third volume of Neoplatonism after Derrida.


1.   Stephen Gersh, Neoplatonism after Derrida: Parallelograms (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2006).
2.   D. Gregory MacIsaac, "Platonic Deconstruction," Dionysius 27 (2009): 199-232, 201.
3.   Also so-called in Parallelograms.
4.   See recently John D. Turner and Kevin Corrigan (ed.), Plato's 'Parmenides' and its Heritage, 2 vols. (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2010).
5.   On the latter point see Dylan M. Burns, "Apophatic Strategies in Allogenes (NHC XI,3)," Harvard Theological Review 103 (2010): 161-79.

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David A. Teegarden, Death to Tyrants! Ancient Greek Democracy and the Struggle against Tyranny. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2013. Pp. xiv, 261. ISBN 9780691156903. $45.00.

Reviewed by Alex Gottesman, Temple University (

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Why did Greek democracy survive? David Teegarden offers a novel answer to this perennial question. He suggests that in part it had to do with laws that encouraged people to murder would-be tyrants. This is accordingly the first monograph to collect and discuss all the relevant epigraphic evidence since Hans Friedel's Der Tyrannenmord in Gesetzgebung und Volksmeinung der Griechen (Stuttgart 1937), including two cases discovered subsequently. Teegarden argues that such laws acted as a kind of "technology" (4) for helping democrats mobilize against possible threats from their opponents.

Based on a 2007 Princeton dissertation, it follows in the wake of recent work by Josiah Ober, especially his Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens (Princeton, 2008). That book used social scientific approaches to explore how the Athenian democratic system identified and addressed problems of social knowledge (i.e. how I know X, and how you know that I know X, and vice versa). In this case, Teegarden considers the "collective action" problem of how to mobilize democrats against a possible coup. According to Teegarden, anti-tyranny legislation helped solve this problem by sending a clear message to democrats and their enemies alike that any attempt to overthrow the democracy would be met with a collective response, and also provided the outlines of what a response would and should look like. This fostered the trust among pro-democrats on which any collective mobilization must rely, thus making mobilization more likely to be successful and more credible as a deterrent.

The book takes the anti-tyranny measures in chronological order. Although anti-tyranny proclamations date to the time of Solon (AP 16. 10), the earliest case of anti-tyranny legislation is the Athenian Law of Demophantus, promulgated in Athens after the overthrow of the Four Hundred in 410. Teegarden credits this decree as setting the standard for the entire genre of anti-tyranny laws that followed it. His interpretation of its significance relies heavily on Thucydides' account of the assassination of Phrynichus. Teegarden reads this assassination as the spark that helped solve the "coordination problem" Athenians were facing at the time. They did not know how big the oligarchic conspiracy was or who was behind it. This ignorance prevented them from mobilizing and striking back against the oligarchs. The assassination of Phrynichus changed the calculus, according to Teegarden. It showed that people were ready to act, and led to the uprising that brought about the oligarchs' subsequent overthrow. This experience of how assassination sparked mobilization subsequently led to the adoption of the Law of Demophantus, which enjoined all Athenians to perform an oath ritual which created the common knowledge that they would never again allow anyone to overthrow the democracy, but would instead "kill by word and by deed … anyone who overthrows the democracy of Athens" (And. 1. 97), that is, to do to such a person what happened to Phrynichus. And in fact, when the Thirty came to power a few years later, Teegarden suggests that the oath of Demophantus was "largely responsible for the successful mobilization against [them]" (44). It had enabled Athenians to manipulate their "revolutionary thresholds" by means of public rituals that propagated the awareness of their credible commitment to respond to an anti-democratic threat.

The second measure is the Eretrian anti-tyranny legislation of ca. 340. The inscription consists of two fragments, one originally published in 1857 and subsequently lost and the other discovered in 1958 and published in 2001 (SEG 51. 1105). Our knowledge of Eretrian history is patchy, but it does appear that the city was subject to frequent bouts of one-man rule. The law thus addressed a pressing need to stabilize the city's constitution. Teegarden offers an interesting interpretation of this law as setting up "layers of defense" (71) against attempts to overthrow the Eretrian democracy, ranging from the incentive of a statue in honor of anyone who killed a tyrant, to instructions on how to identify a situation that the democracy has been overthrown and how to mobilize in its defense.

It has long been recognized that the 337 anti-tyranny law of Eucrates (GHI 79), the third to be considered, was modeled on the law of Demophantus. Teegarden maintains that the resemblance between the two Athenian laws is due to the fact that Athenians credited Demophantus' measure with securing their democracy in a time of uncertainty. Eucrates' law makes sense in a post-Chaeronea context in which Athenians worried that their democracy might be overthrown (even though that did not happen until more than a decade later). One of the biggest problems of interpreting Eucrates' law in this way is to understand why it threatens the Areopagites in particular, as there is no other evidence that the Areopagus was seen as anti-democratic at this time. Teegarden's novel solution to this problem is to treat the Areopagus in the law not as a threat but as a "signaling institution" (104). If the Areopagus failed to meet, that failure would signal to the Athenians that their democracy had been overthrown and thus they should mobilize in its defense. As to why the Areopagus rather than the assembly or the council had the job of being the canary in the coal mine, Teegarden suggests it was because the Areopagus was seen as being the "guardian of the politeia" (AP 25. 2) and as being potentially harder to manipulate than the assembly.

Did anti-tyranny laws always aim to protect democracies? Teegarden's reading of the so-called "anti-tyranny dossier" from Eresus (IG XII 2, 526) suggests that the answer is yes. The inscriptions, ranging in date from 333 to 305, refer to an anti-tyranny law (not extant) and relate to it the trials of former "tyrants" under the auspices of Alexander and his successors. Teegarden interprets the motive of Alexander in having the tyrants tried by the Eresians as an attempt to stabilize the city by establishing the Eresians' "threat credibility" (122) against those who would overthrow it. In terms of knowledge-production, the trial served a similar function as the oath of Demophantus. The recorded verdict, 876 to 7, further advertised the unity of the Eresians against those who would threaten their democratic constitution. The publication of the Macedonian kings' repeated referrals to Eresian democratic institutions further showed that they too were inclined to jump on the anti-tyranny "bandwagon;" or rather that they were disinclined to interfere in the internal affairs of Eresus (137). This was in keeping with Alexander's professed intent to abolish tyrannies and to permit cities to be autonomous (Plut. Alex. 34. 2).

The next case, the "Philites Stele" from Erythrae (I. Erythrai 503), also does not involve an anti-tyranny law per se. Instead, the third-century inscription underscores how the politics of the commemoration of tyrannicide revolved around attempts to encourage or to discourage mass mobilization. Debates about the statue of the tyrannicide Philites were really debates about the future of Erythraean democracy. When the oligarchs removed the sword of Philites, they were advertising the message that democratic mobilization against them would fail. By taking away the sword and by allowing a patina to form on it, they suggested that the memory of the tyrannicide was being obliterated. According to Teegarden, these efforts were designed to make Erythraeans think twice before "going first" and setting off a mass mobilization. Later, after the oligarchs were overthrown, the democrats repaired the statue and passed measures to maintain its dignity, and this served to blunt the oligarchs' message and negate their effort to lower the community's "revolutionary threshold." Repeated ceremonial crownings of Philites would have propagated this knowledge. "The statue was not simply a static, bronze object. It was a tool—a medium—for generating and maintaining common knowledge" (153).

The final case is the law from Ilium (I. Ilion 25). As Teegarden notes, "there is no direct evidence for a tyranny at Ilion during the Hellenistic period, yet it is from Hellenistic Ilion that we have the most detailed tyrant-killing law" (199). After careful study of the law's multiple provisions, he suggests that in fact the Iliotes must have experienced a brief period of a non-democratic regime (of uncertain character) and were now publicizing multiple and overlapping measures to ensure that this would not happen again. He supports the consensus date of the law of ca. 280 by offering speculation about the historical context based on the measures the Iliotes took.

He concludes by listing known fragments of anti-tyranny legislation from Hellenistic Asia Minor. The popularity of such laws explains, he argues, the "success of what might be called Asia Minor's 'Hellenistic democratic revolution'" (213-4). This returns to Ober's model of democratic knowledge and expands it to account for the wide spread of anti-tyranny legislation in the Hellenistic period. Teegarden argues that other democracies copied and adapted Athens' anti-tyranny legislation because they realized that it worked. "Simply put, good ideas spread throughout the ancient Greek world" (220).

This is a wide-ranging and thought-provoking work. Teegarden's effort to go beyond a classical, Athenocentric view of Greek democracy, while at the same time acknowledging Athens' importance as a model, is to be especially commended. Of course, it is inevitable that such a work will provoke quibbles. My major one is that while Teegarden has shown how anti-tyrannical legislation might serve to incite a riot against potential tyrants by lowering "revolutionary thresholds," as well as being a deterrent based on that capacity, it is unclear that it would be much help in forging consensus that a tyranny existed in the first place. The extent to which a bandwagon effect would follow, or could rationally be expected to follow, an assassination surely depended more on how the victim was seen, and on how political violence was seen in general, than on the presence or absence of anti-tyranny laws. And this determination would probably be made after the fact.1 I am skeptical that legislation or ritual alone could provide rational assurance to a would-be tyrannicide that public opinion would share his interpretation of the deed. As John Wilkes Booth learned to his great chagrin, just shouting "sic semper!" is not sufficient to turn an assassination into a tyrannicide.


1.   A neat illustration of the tyrant-identification problem is the case of Timoleon (not discussed by Teegarden). According to some versions of the story, he killed his brother as a would-be tyrant but this did not settle the matter, as the act divided Corinthian public opinion, some praising the act and others condemning it depending on their political stance. Timoleon was invited back into politics from a self-ordained exile with the comment, "If you perform nobly we will consider you to have killed a tyrant, if poorly, a brother" (Plut. Tim. 7. 2). On Timoleon's reception see most recently B. Smarczyk, Timoleon und die Neugründung von Syrakus (Göttingen, 2003), pp. 18-32. Compare also the case of Euphron, whom the Thebans considered a tyrant but the citizens of Sicyon heroized with a burial in their agora, leading Xenophon to comment, "Most people define as good men those who benefit them" (Xen. Hell. 7. 3. 12). On the rival traditions about the "tyranny" of Euphron, see S. Lewis in JHS 124 (2004): 65-74. On political violence as ritual action compare also the perspective of W. Riess, Performing Interpersonal Violence: Court, Curse, and Comedy in Fourth-Century BCE Athens (Berlin, 2012). ​

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Giuseppe Squillace, I giardini di Saffo: profumi e aromi nella Grecia antica. Quality paperbacks, 424. Roma: Carocci editore, 2014. Pp. 118. ISBN 9788843071111. €11.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Adeline Grand-Clément, Université de Toulouse 2-Jean Jaurès (

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[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Depuis plusieurs années, les historiens de l'Antiquité s'intéressent à l'expérience sensorielle et à la culture sensible des sociétés antiques : les couleurs, les sons, ainsi que les odeurs font l'objet d'investigations. Il s'agit non pas tant de restituer l'univers des sensations (qu'est-ce que les Anciens voyaient, goûtaient, entendaient, sentaient, touchaient ?…) que d'analyser la façon dont leurs perceptions s'inséraient dans un système de valeurs et d'appréciation partagé par l'ensemble de la collectivité (comment les Anciens ressentaient-ils et réagissaient-ils à leur environnement sensoriel ?). Plusieurs publications collectives ont ainsi été consacrées aux odeurs et aux parfums, explorant différentes facettes de leur signification symbolique et sociale.1 Le dernier livre de Giuseppe Squillace, auteur de plusieurs articles et d'un ouvrage sur la question,2 est d'ambition plus modeste. Il propose à un public large, de non spécialistes, une courte synthèse destinée à montrer l'importance des effluves et produits parfumés dans le monde grec, entre le VIIIe et le Ier s. av. J.-C. Il se fonde pour cela sur une sélection de sources littéraires variées, qui mentionnent les diverses substances odorantes (aromates, huiles, poudres, baumes…) connues et manipulées par les Grecs.3 En dressant ce panorama très général, l'auteur cherche à mettre en lumière les évolutions chronologiques et les dynamiques spatiales. Il soutient l'idée d'un enrichissement progressif de la gamme des fragrances, à la faveur des progrès de l'art de la parfumerie. Selon lui, les usages tendent à se diversifier : à l'origine réservés aux dieux et aux soins funéraires, aromates et parfums servent de plus en plus dans la sphère privée pour le mariage, le banquet, la toilette,... Des spécialisations régionales se dessinent et se recomposent au fil du temps : la Lydie, puis Athènes et enfin l'Egypte et la Syrie, s'imposent tour à tour dans l'imaginaire grec comme des lieux riches en senteurs. Les 9 chapitres du livre suivent un ordre chronologique, depuis les débuts de l'époque archaïque, avec Homère, jusqu'à la fin de l'époque hellénistique, privilégiant chacun un genre littéraire (épopée, poésie lyrique, théâtre, philosophie) ou une œuvre particulière (Hérodote, Théophraste), à l'exception des derniers chapitres, qui rassemblent des sources plus éclectiques (à propos d'Alexandre le grand ou des rois hellénistiques).

Le premier chapitre est consacré à la poésie homérique. L'auteur relève au moins deux contextes d'usage des parfums dans l'Iliade : d'une part l'univers de la toilette nuptiale, de la séduction et de l'érotisme, sur lequel règne Aphrodite ; de l'autre les soins réservés aux corps des héros défunts. Avec l'Odyssée viennent s'ajouter des références à l'ambroisie des Immortels ainsi qu'aux végétaux odorants qui ornent les jardins et demeures des dieux. L'auteur traite donc dans ce chapitre de différents types de produits odorants : plantes aromatiques, baumes protecteurs et huiles parfumées – en fait, on aimerait savoir si une telle classification correspond bien aux catégories grecques, ce qui nécessiterait une enquête lexicale. La fin du chapitre mentionne brièvement les hymnes homériques à Déméter, Hermès et Aphrodite, dans lesquels figurent des références à des aromates et effluves parfumés, mais le rôle de ces derniers dans les récits mythiques ne fait pas l'objet d'une réelle analyse.4 Par exemple, le lien qui existe entre parfum, ambroisie et nature divine reste à creuser.

Ce sont les poètes lyriques des VIIe et VIe s., dont l'œuvre sert d'appui au deuxième chapitre, qui nous introduisent dans le monde de l'artisanat des parfums. On y trouve en effet les trois premières appellations connues et destinées à rester célèbres par la suite : bakkaris, basileion, brentheion. Les poèmes d'Archiloque, Sappho, Alcée, Anacréon et Hipponax témoignent de l'importance des produits parfumés dans l'entourage des tyrans et dans les cercles aristocratiques, en particulier lors des banquets. Les premières formes de condamnation morale apparaissent aussi, avec Sémonide qui tourne en ridicule la « femme-jument », trop apprêtée, et Xénophane qui voit d'un mauvais œil les mauvaises habitudes prises par ses concitoyens de Colophon au contact des Lydiens.

Le troisième chapitre aborde le passage de l'époque archaïque à l'époque classique, pour laquelle on dispose de davantage de témoignages, principalement athéniens. L'auteur évoque brièvement les lois somptuaires de Solon, qui visent à réfréner le luxe et l'ostentation des aristocrates, avant de déployer sa réflexion autour de quelques passages connus d'Hérodote : les histoires plus ou moins légendaires liées à la collecte de l'encens, de la myrrhe, de la cannelle et autres aromates qui abondent dans l'Arabie heureuse, aux qualités de la rose de Macédoine, au Phénix, ou encore aux baumes cosmétiques des Scythes.

Dans le chapitre 4, poètes tragiques et comiques athéniens des Ve s. et IVe s. fournissent quelques éléments intéressants sur la nature des produits parfumés que l'on pouvait se procurer sur l'agora d'Athènes à l'époque classique. Ils témoignent d'une diversification de la palette, mêlant productions locales et exotiques : aigyption, irinon, megaleion, rhodinon, … Les produits parfumés restent encore selon l'auteur des biens de valeur, réservés à une élite. Un usage excessif peut toutefois confiner au ridicule, comme le révèlent les comédies d'Aristophane : les normes sociales imposent au citoyen une certaine modération dans le travail des apparences corporelles et des pratiques cosmétiques.

Le chapitre 5 est consacré à la réflexion philosophique. Les présocratiques (Héraclite, Alcméon, Empédocle, Anaxagore) cherchent à comprendre les mécanismes de perception des odeurs, en l'associant au processus de la respiration. Avec les élèves de Socrate, Xénophon et Platon, se développe une critique de la cosmétique, l'art d'embellir et de tromper, par opposition à la gymnastique, qui assure au corps une beauté véritable et saine. Dans cette perspective, le parfum est une odeur empruntée, qui masque les effluves corporels naturels, que le bon citoyen doit cultiver par la fréquentation assidue du gymnase et la recherche de la vertu. Quant à Aristote, qui s'interroge sur la nature des sensations, il prolonge les réflexions de Platon sur la genèse des odeurs et le fonctionnement de l'odorat humain, et se fonde sur la classification du goût pour affiner la typologie platonicienne, qui reposait sur l'opposition binaire bonnes/mauvaises odeurs.

Le chapitre 6 renoue avec l'approche chronologique et montre que les conquêtes d'Alexandre le grand marquent un tournant, en élargissant les horizons et en rendant accessibles aux Grecs une plus grande quantité de parfums et d'aromates. Le souverain macédonien utilise alors le pouvoir des odeurs dans un but politique. Il multiplie les gestes de démonstration de puissance et de dévotion dans lesquels aromates et parfums jouent un rôle aussi important que les métaux précieux. Se développe par la suite le mythe d'un Alexandre sentant naturellement bon, mythe qui contribue à le placer au-dessus des autres hommes et à le rapprocher des dieux. Le chapitre 8 révèle que les souverains hellénistiques, en particulier les Lagides et les Séleucides qui contrôlent les régions productrices d'aromates, reprennent la stratégie politique initiée par Alexandre. Les rois utilisent les produits parfumés pour effectuer des offrandes somptueuses aux dieux, organiser des processions impressionnantes (comme celle de Ptolémée II Philadelphe à Alexandrie) et des banquets royaux fastueux. Une telle ostentation tombe facilement dans l'excès et le ridicule, comme le révèle l'image négative laissée par Antiochos IV et dont Athénée de Naucratis, au IIe s. ap. J.-C., se fait l'écho.

C'est à Théophraste, élève d'Aristote, que le chapitre 7, le plus long du livre, est consacré. L'auteur y reprend de manière très synthétique les analyses présentées dans son ouvrage de 2010 (cité note 2). Ce chapitre aurait pu être placé à la suite du chapitre 5, pour mieux relier la pensée du savant à la tradition philosophique dans laquelle il s'inscrit. L'originalité de l'œuvre de Théophraste réside surtout dans le choix d'une approche botanique. Différents traités abordent la question de l'odorat, mais l'un d'entre eux, Sur les odeurs, aborde de manière plus approfondie la fabrication des parfums. L'auteur pense qu'il faisait à l'origine partie de la dernière section de l'œuvre intitulée Les causes des phénomènes végétaux. Théophraste y explique de façon détaillée la manière dont on préparait les huiles parfumées, les poudres odorantes et les vins aromatiques, à partir de différentes parties des végétaux (fleurs, racines, feuilles…). Le traité renferme ainsi une mine de renseignements sur les multiples parfums circulant en Méditerranée au début de l'époque hellénistique. Théophraste, installé à Athènes, a dû récolter ses informations auprès de Callisthène, qui a accompagné Alexandre le grand dans sa campagne en Asie jusqu'à sa mort, en 327, mais aussi auprès des membres des expéditions effectuées dans le sillage de la conquête macédonienne. L'auteur ajoute qu'une part de sa connaissance lui vient des parfumeurs de l'agora d'Athènes, qui ont probablement accepté de l'initier aux arcanes de leur tekhnè. Et cet art de la parfumerie continue de se développer à l'époque hellénistique, comme le montre le chapitre 9. Les régions se spécialisent et la géographie des parfums et des appellations évolue.

Dans cet opuscule court et facile à lire, Giuseppe Squillace a rassemblé un florilège de passages significatifs, qu'il a voulu rendre accessibles à des non hellénistes. C'est pour eux qu'il a introduit chaque citation par une remise en contexte historique, certes parfois sommaire,5 et qu'il a adjoint plusieurs cartes ainsi qu'une petite chronologie (qui s'arrête cependant au règne d'Alexandre). Pour pallier l'absence de notes de bas de page, l'auteur fournit des indications bibliographiques à la fin de l'ouvrage et le lecteur averti devra s'y référer pour trouver des compléments d'analyse. Privilégiant la clarté et la synthèse, Giuseppe Squillace a aussi fait des choix pour opérer sa sélection dans la documentation littéraire. Par exemple, il laisse de côté Disocoride, à cause de l'empan chronologique qu'il s'est fixé, mais il est obligé de mobiliser à plusieurs reprises le témoignage d'un auteur plus tardif comme Athénée. Signalons en outre que le corpus hippocratique, qui renferme pourtant une mine d'informations, n'est pas exploité ici. Plus gênant, peut-être, l'auteur ne distingue pas suffisamment pratiques et imaginaire du parfum, comme si les deux correspondaient exactement ; le décalage qui existe est au contraire riche de sens pour l'historien.

L'étude proposée ici repose donc uniquement sur l'examen des sources littéraires. On ne trouvera aucune référence à l'épigraphie ni à l'archéologie, qui sont pourtant d'un grand secours pour l'historien, comme le souligne l'auteur dans l'introduction. Il faudrait y ajouter la richesse de la documentation iconographique, si l'on songe par exemple au répertoire figuré de la céramique attique, lequel accorde une large place aux scènes de toilette et aux représentations de vases à parfum.6 Or les quelques illustrations choisies par l'auteur pour accompagner le texte ne proposent que des reproductions de fresques pompéiennes.

Si l'ouvrage ne renferme pas d'apport notable pour les chercheurs déjà engagés dans la quête des senteurs disparues de l'Antiquité, il constitue une bonne entrée en matière pour ceux qui souhaiteraient investir ce terrain d'étude fécond et encore partiellement laissé en jachère. Plusieurs pistes, parmi d'autres, méritent d'être explorées : la variabilité des seuils de tolérance, les normes culturelles liées au parfum et à la toilette corporelle, la question du genre et des hiérarchies sociales, les interactions avec les autres registres sensoriels (couleurs, saveurs, sonorités, textures…) induites par la manipulation des substances parfumées, ou encore les propriétés de ces produits actifs, qui les rangent au sein du groupe des pharmaka.

Table of Contents

1. Il profumo di Ettore
2. La Ionia profumata
3. Tra Solone ed Erodoto
4. I profumi nella drammaturgia attica
5. Il filosofo di fronte al profumo
6. Tra Oriente e Occidente: Alessandro Magno 'signore delle spezie'
7. Nella bottega del profumiere: le indagini di Teofrasto
8. I re profumati
9. L'arte della profumeria in epoca ellenistica
Indice dei nomi e dei luoghi


1.   Aroma of Antiquity : exhibition catalogue (State Hermitage Museum, 2007) ; Lydie Bodiou, Dominique Frère, Véronique Mehl (eds.), Parfums et odeurs dans l'Antiquité (PUR, 2008) ; Annie Verbanck-Piérard, Natacha Massar, Dominique Frère (eds.), Parfums de l'Antiquité. La rose et l'encens en Méditerranée (Musée royal de Mariemont, 2008) ; Alfredo Carannante et Matteo D'Acunto (eds.), I profumi nelle società antiche : produzione, commercio, usi, valori simbolici (Salerno, 2012) ; Dominique Frère et Laurent Hugot (eds.), Les huiles parfumées en Méditerranée occidentale et en Gaule (PUR, 2012).
2.   Giuseppe Squillace, Il profumo nel mondo antico. Con la prima traduzione italiana del "Sugli odori" di Teofrasto (Leo S. Olschki editore, 2010) : voir BMCR 2011.07.33.
3.   Un recueil de sources commentées a été publié récemment en français : Lydie Bodiou et Véronique Mehl, Odeurs antiques (Les Belles Lettres, 2011).
4.   Voir par exemple l'étude de Marcel Detienne (Les jardins d'Adonis. La mythologie des aromates, Gallimard, 1972), qui ne figure pas dans la bibliographie finale.
5.   Ceci au risque de simplifier à l'extrême, comme lorsque Xénophane de Colophon devient le défenseur d'une démocratie menacée par la tyrannie (p. 30).
6.   L'étude de Nikolina Kei, parue dans Parfums et odeurs dans l'Antiquité (voir note 1), a montré qu'un signe iconique comme la fleur permet de suggérer des effluves odorants.

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Sunday, October 19, 2014


Elisabeth Trinkl (ed.), Interdisziplinäre Dokumentations- und Visualisierungsmethoden. Corpus vasorum antiquorum. Österreich, Beiheft 1. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (ÖAW), 2013. Pp. 212. ISBN 9783700171454. €69.00.

Reviewed by Vladimir Stissi, Amsterdam Centre for Ancient Studies and Archaeology, University of Amsterdam (

Version at BMCR home site

Full Text

Although the study of Greek pottery is often seen as a rather traditional branch of archaeology, or even just art history, this reputation is no longer deserved. Scholars have combined traditional approaches with new analytical methods, high-tech tools and digital information technology. The Oxford-based Beazley archive was one of the first large-scale online databases offering a combination of images and information. Thin-sectioning has become a standard practice when information about provenance of pots is sought, and the use of chemical analysis has been promoted by prominent research institutes and major research projects. Less well known is that several archaeology departments started exploring the possibilities of using one of the modern types of medical x-ray machines, the computed tomography (CT) scanner, in pottery research as early as the 1990s. Almost from the start, this not only included the production of CT scans to replace drawings as quick and accurate images of section of pots, but also their use as an analytical tool: very detailed sections of materials, whether human tissue or pottery, also offer information on its density, purity and material composition.

Austria has always been one of the pioneering countries in this field, and the volume under review here offers a worthy testimony of that. It collects eight essays, mostly offering recent case studies, by research groups from museums, universities and the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The group of authors comprises both archaeologists and materials scientists, often combining forces. Besides the Austrian core, two British and one German scholars are included. It is clear that interdisciplinarity and interdepartmental cooperation pay off.

Almost all the articles in this CVA Beiheft offer precise descriptions of methods and technologies which are not always an easy read for the uninitiated. In view of the speed of technological progress, moreover, it seems likely that some of the approaches described will be superseded by improved or even completely new ones very soon. Although offering a good impression of the state of the art at a certain moment, a book may not be the ideal medium to present this kind of information, particularly if its production takes more than two years – as happened in the case of the volume under review. (Electronic) journals are probably a better place to offer (and find) this kind of information.

The first article in the volume, an introduction to the electronic Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum as it appeared in 2010 is even more out of place in a book, particularly one published in 2013 and mainly focusing on scientific analysis of pots and images of pots. Much of the text contains a historical overview, interesting in itself but out of place here, and instructions for using the website which often explain the obvious. The historical background in particular would have been more useful (in English) on the website itself, which only has very brief introductory texts.

The following two contributions, which focus on the production and use of 3D images of vases and various visual and non-visual methods of surface scanning, respectively, are again primarily descriptive. They mainly show methods of acquiring and processing sophisticated digital images and should be seen as guidelines and manuals rather than as research papers, even though some of the case studies shown offer potentially interesting insights in ancient methods of drawing and painting and modern restoration. Both articles are perhaps a bit too basic for the already initiated, but considering these are probably rather few, this is not a very serious issue. A paragraph on estimations of ancient vessel volumes in the contribution by Mara and Portl should have referred to the work done at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, which offers an online app where anyone can calculate vessel volumes by uploading profile drawings in jpeg format, and which also offers references to some of the research behind it.

The long contribution by Stephan Karl et al. on the use of industrial CT scanning as a research tool may be regarded as the real core of this book. Also because the methods explored are more exotic, this article is more successful than most others in the volume in combining detailed descriptions of methods and technologies with the archaeological results they have yielded, also indicating risks and future directions of research. Although the case studies are not extensively elaborated, they show how CT scans can offer precise and hitherto almost unattainable information on the composition and structure of clays and techniques of ancient potters. It is also made clear that when the right high resolution machine is used in a smart way, CT scans may partly replace much more time-consuming analysis using thin sections, and allows research on complete pots, which could be particularly interesting for museums. One issue, however, is hardly discussed at all: what are the costs of this kind of research, if the CT scanner is not somehow available already? I am afraid that precisely the financial aspect is one of the major issues blocking a breakthrough of the use of CT scans in archaeology at the moment.

The 45 page series of separate case studies based on CT scans in the following article, is somewhat disappointing after the very promising general introduction just before. The focus on the restoration history of vessels offers revealing insights in the way vases were treated in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but none of these are really surprising or innovative as similar cases have long been known from much less sophisticated, albeit often destructive, research. In several of the cases, moreover, a thorough visual inspection of the vase would show the crucial aspects of what the CT scan reveals in much more detail – although I must admit it is attractive and good fun to be able to see every single sherd of a pastiche produced by an old restorer without taking the pot apart.

Next follows a short article by Maria Christides on a single askos, which suffers similar problems. It is nice to have a precise picture of both the original manufacture and the restoration of the vessel, but while perhaps useful for this single item, the added value of use of the CT scanner in this case for ceramic archaeology more generally is very limited. The brief next contribution by Dimitrov et al., which combines 3D visualisation with CT scanning offers one more example of the attractive images which the latest technologies can provide, without really exploring the possibilities. Even more than in the first articles of the volume, the description of the methods remains at a rather basic level.

The long final article of the volume brings us back to the exploration of a method new to ceramic analysis. Reflection spectroscopy is tested as a non-destructive method to classify and group pigments on Athenian white-ground lekythoi of the fifth century BC. After a very extensive listing of the primary results, the conclusions are short and frustrating: although some grouping and linking between vases is possible, it mostly remains unclear what these groups actually represent, also because no pigments were tested as reference material. While the call for further research in the conclusion seems justified, it may perhaps have been wiser to postpone this publication or present it much more briefly.

All in all, this is an inspiring but somewhat odd volume. On the one hand, it shows well how ceramic studies have advanced and are successfully exploring contemporary technologies; several methods are clearly explained, and practical examples shown. On the other hand, not all the examples are convincing, because the added value of some costly technologies is not fully explored, and much of the focus seems to be on a rather limited descriptive exploitation of the new possibilities. Fortunately, the best articles do indicate the research potential of several non-destructive technologies which not only offer nice images, but also analytical tools. Therefore, it is recommended reading for everyone interested in the full range of possibilities in contemporary ceramic archaeology.

The book is beautifully produced and richly illustrated, mostly in colour. The price of the printed version is very friendly, and an Open Access online version is available from the Osterreichische Akademie der Wissenschafte.

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Mario Liverani, The Ancient Near East: History, Society and Economy. (Translated by Soraia Tabatabai; first published 1988). London; New York: Routledge, 2014. Pp. xxiv, 619. ISBN 9780415679060. $59.95 (pb).

Reviewed by C. Jay Crisostomo, University of California, Berkeley (

Version at BMCR home site


Twenty-six years after the 1988 publication of Antico Oriente: storia società economia, Mario Liverani and Routledge have provided an English translation and a "fully revised" edition of this classic work. In the preface to the original edition, Liverani asserted that a history of the ancient Near East (ANE) should be written anew, "requir[ing] radical revisions at least every generation or so" (xxii). The present review evaluates whether this new, updated edition of Liverani's history adequately accomplishes this task. Moreover, I assess the volume both as a work of historiography and a potential pedagogical standard for courses on ancient Near Eastern history for the English reading classroom.

On the whole, Liverani's history of the ANE is a model of historiography, a well-rounded treatment of the variegated sources, languages, kingdoms, and peoples. The narrative is readable, with adequate sprinklings of illustrative primary sources. The first two chapters, "The Ancient Near East as a historical problem" and "The geography of the Ancient Near East," should be required reading. In these initial chapters, Liverani discusses the particular problems which an ancient Near Eastern historian faces and lays out his own methodological approaches. Specialists working in the ANE and their students, as well as general historians, who must wrestle with the gaps between the source material and idealistic reconstruction, would benefit from Liverani's discussion of historiographical method. Liverani weds the details of political, economic, and social history through the narrative of each chapter without losing either the broader historical framework or his readers. With few exceptions, the methodology remains as fundamentally valuable in 2014 as the original edition in 1988. In some of the details and arguments, however, the volume's quarter century old origins are exposed.

Liverani's history examines the Near East chronologically from the Neolithic until the Persian Empire (500 B.C.E.) and geographically from the Iranian plateau to Anatolia, from the Black Sea to the Persian Gulf. These choices leave the Alexandrian Empire and subsequent kingdoms to Classical historians and largely ignore the history of the Arabian Peninsula, except for occasional points of contact with the peoples and kingdoms with which Liverani deals more extensively. Such arbitrary restrictions are, of course, necessary, if unfortunate.

In the former case, the Near East in the Hellenistic world has much to offer about which many modern Classical historiographies remain biased or ignorant. One thinks of the many intellectual advancements cultivated during the period, such as the explosion of mathematical astronomy in Babylonia or the inscribing of some biblical literature. The myriad ways in which Near Eastern societies accommodated, adapted to, and interacted with Hellenistic cultures has been the subject of much literature. The political history of the Ptolemies and Seleucids, the re-founding of Nineveh and Assur, the establishment of Selucia on the Tigris, and late Babylonian temple economy would have been worthy subjects for an additional chapter. Since the two other standard English language histories of the ANE (Kuhrt, 1995 and van de Mieroop, 2007) similarly end at the coming of Alexander, the need remains for an updated history of this period from a Near Eastern, rather than Classical viewpoint for English readers.1

The volume alternates between a chronologically and geographically oriented structure. This move is absolutely necessary to allow for a unity in the narrative, uninterrupted by shifting to other regions. Liverani can thus discuss, for example, the political history and society of the Neo-Assyrian Empire as a whole, without needing to discuss the Levantine tributary states as background to the military campaigns in Syria and Palestine. At times, however, the structure forces the inclusion of historical events and characters before they have been properly introduced or could be adequately discussed. The Battle of Qarqar is mentioned in passing as an important military encounter six different times, but is never actually described nor its significance substantiated.

Liverani's analysis is strongest in the late second millennium and early first millennium. His familiarity with the primary material for the Late Bronze Age states and the Neo-Assyrian Empire stands in contrast to his overviews of the early second millennium and late third millennium. For the former, he is much more transparent in his sources, indicating when he relies on royal inscriptions or a single literary source. For the Middle Bronze Age and earlier, he is reliant on the work of others and so is less forthcoming with his source material. This occasionally results in assertions without explicit grounding, such as his contrast of the role of the palace against the private sector during the Old Babylonian period (242–43). Liverani's approach may simply reflect the nature of the evidence for the Early and Middle Bronze Ages. The historical reconstruction of the late third millennium and early second millennium in Mesopotamia is heavily reliant on hundreds, even thousands, of archival documents and therefore may involve too much documentation for a historical overview. Some of the same issues emerge in Liverani's discussion of Neo-Babylonian economy and culture due to similar numbers of archival sources.

An added side effect of Liverani's lack of source transparency is a tendency to rely too much on later developments to interpret the data from earlier periods, especially when extensive and clear data is lacking. Such is the case particularly for the late fourth and early third millennia. Note, for example, his discussion of kingship in the Early Dynastic period (108–109), which draws on literary sources known from the early second millennium or later, such as the myth of Adapa. Other errors emerge from the process, such as a reference to the royal management of the palace (e2-gal) in the Late Uruk period (80), despite the lack—to my knowledge—of any clear reference in the Late Uruk texts to e2-gal as a royal palace.2 This tactic has the effect of flattening source material across centuries and millennia. The approach, while not uncommon in Assyriology or other fields of antiquity, exposes a lack of historiographical meticulousness in an otherwise fine work of historical reconstruction.

Similarly, his discussion of multilingualism in the Old Babylonian period provides another example of Liverani's occasional failure to differentiate historical periods for the reader. He references a trilingual list (the so-called Emesal vocabulary) with columns for words in regular Sumerian dialect, the alternative Emesal dialect, and Akkadian (202). This list, however, is not attested until later in the second millennium at Middle Assyrian Assur. Liverani does not intend to write an intellectual history of the sources from Babylonia and Assyria, so perhaps he can be forgiven such a lapse. His decision in this revised edition to largely ignore the contextualization and development of Babylonian and Assyrian intellectual contributions disregards some of the more important developments in Assyriology since the original edition.

Other aspects of the volume overlook recent advancements in the field, reflecting the lack of radical revision that Liverani demanded for a new history of the ANE. His discussion of the Middle Assyrian kingdom makes no mention of the hundreds of texts published since 2000 or the resulting alterations to our understanding of the period. Liverani's brief allusions to the Sealand dynasty also indicate no interaction with Stephanie Dalley's 2009 publication of nearly 500 texts that help to fill some of our historical ignorance of the post-Old Babylonian record. In his discussion of the Ur III state economy, there is no discussion of recent debates regarding the role of merchants acting within the economy and the repercussions on our understanding of the socio-economic history of the Ur III administration.3

Perhaps the most obvious indication of the volume's original publication date is Liverani's handling of cultural change or differences. Too often, he defaults to rudimentary ethnically based conventions for what are certainly more varied and complicated factors. In years past, the field erected dichotomies such as Sumerian/Akkadian, Sumerian/Amorite, Kassite/Babylonian, Babylonian/Assyrian, Judean/Moabite, Hattic/Indo-European, or Aramean/Hittite. Liverani's volume maintains these distinctions, attributing tendencies toward social structures such as tribalism to homogenous ethnic populations, namely the Amorites or Arameans. Studies over the last two decades offer alternative explanations for cultural shifts based on, for example, the anthropological concepts of identity and hybridity.4

From a pedagogical viewpoint, the text is logically organized and written for the non-expert reader. Maps at the beginning of each chapter or section showing all toponyms referenced would have been extremely helpful. Too often, Liverani discusses cities as though the reader has an innate knowledge of ancient geography. The lack of reference is more frustrating when the narrative indicates locations in relation to others, but offers no spatial orientation for the reader. The Google satellite images are excellent additions; dates of accession should have been included given the changing landscape of some of the sites. The illustrative primary sources are uneven and relatively sparse, but nonetheless practical. The charts for rulers of the Late Bronze Age states and Neo-Hittite and Neo-Assyrian empires are effective, although the indications for attested parallel rulers are not user-friendly.

While I am incapable of judging the whole of the translation, I can attest to the overall fluidity of the text. There are a few infelicities. For example, the frequently used "contraposition" is a calque from contrapposizione which, in most cases, would have been better-translated "contrast." The translation maintains the typical way of indicating sides of a tablet in Italian with the terms recto and verso (analogous to papyri), rather than using the terms obverse and reverse. Although I never read the original edition in entirety, I have referenced it enough in previous years that I regard the present edition a worthy and faithful translation.

The few blights I have indicated here should not take away from Liverani's The Ancient Near East as a whole. There is much that should be lauded. Very few scholars can handle the wealth of data so adroitly as Liverani. He effortlessly moves between archaeological reports, textual data, and historical interpretation in reconstructing the economies, societies, and political histories of a wide geographical area. Liverani is worthy of every accolade for not only attempting but also largely successfully navigating this task. He correctly models an approach of "reading between the lines," attempting to access the ideological, subliminal messages of the extant data in formulating a believable and overall accurate reconstruction of the states and peoples he covers. While charges of subjectivism may be leveled against his approach, he recognizes that we cannot naively accept a positivistic reading of our textual sources. Moreover, he is explicit in his own methodologies, elaborating on what can be labeled a Marxist materialist approach to ancient economy, most obvious in his regular appraisal of modes of production. The methodological approach modeled in this volume reaffirms Liverani's status as a world-class historian.

Liverani, the translator Soraia Tabatabai, and Routledge have gifted us with an excellent tool for the continued reconstruction and education of the ancient Near East in English. While not without its faults and not revised as thoroughly as it could have been, The Ancient Near East provides an exemplary treatment of historiographic erudition. I recommend the volume for use in university classrooms for overviews of the history of the ancient Near East, provided the deficiencies in the details are taken into consideration.


1.   Such as Francis Joannès, La Mésopotamie au 1er millénaire avant J.-C. (Paris: Armand Colin, 2000).
2.   Liverani is much more careful in his presentation of the early state in his Uruk: La Prima Città (Roma: Laterza, 1998; translated as Uruk: The First City [Sheffield: Equinox, 2006]). While he briefly mentions a palace, he does not construct an administrative organization surrounding the king and palace.
3.   See further Steven J. Garfinkle, Entrepreneurs and Enterprise in Early Mesopotamia (Bethesda: CDL Press, 2012). Although Garfinkle's volume was only recently published, the discussion is represented in several articles beginning in the early 2000s.
4.   See e.g. Feldman, Marian. Diplomacy by Design: Luxury Arts and an 'International Style' in the Ancient Near East, 1400–1200 BCE (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).

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Letizia Poli Palladini, Aeschylus at Gela: An Integrated Approach. Hellenica, 47. Alessandria: Edizioni dell'Orso, 2013. Pp. xiv, 380. ISBN 9788862744829. €35.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Gianfranco Adornato, Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa (

Version at BMCR home site

Dopo la vittoria alle Grandi Dionisie con l'Orestea nel 459/8 a.C., Eschilo si trasferì in Sicilia, a Gela, dove visse fino alla morte avvenuta nel 456/5 a.C.: qui, infatti, fu colpito in testa da una tartaruga caduta dagli artigli di un'aquila e morì, stando al racconto della Vita Aeschyli. Il volume di Letizia Poli Palladini si propone di indagare la tarda produzione teatrale e drammaturgica di Eschilo, vale a dire durante gli anni del soggiorno nella città di Gela. Le domande di fondo sono: il tragediografo continuò a comporre tragedie e drammi satireschi per un pubblico greco-occidentale? Quante tetralogie possono essere assegnate alla fase "geloa" di Eschilo? Attraverso un approccio integrato – una discussione filologica dei frammenti superstiti allargata alla documentazione artistica, monumentale e archeologica proveniente dal sito di Gela e dalle principali poleis della Sicilia –, Poli Palladini individua alcuni titoli e frammenti della produzione teatrale dal lungo catalogo eschileo e li assegna ai circa quattro anni del soggiorno geloo.

Nel primo capitolo "Aeschylus and Sicily in the 470s" (pp. 13-52), si discute dei possibili precedenti viaggi e soggiorni di Eschilo in Sicilia, prima del trasferimento del 459/8 a.C., dei contatti diretti e della reattività del tragediografo di fronte ai monumenti di alcune poleis dell'isola. Un primo viaggio risalirebbe al 476/5 a.C., quando il tiranno Ierone gli commissionò la tragedia Aitnaiai per celebrare la fondazione di Aitna.1 A questa prima occasione, inoltre, l'autrice assegna la composizione e la performance a Siracusa o in un'altra città dorica del Prometeo liberato. I riferimenti geografici all'Occidente e le vicissitudini di Eracle tra i Liguri (l'autrice collega la menzione dei Liguri nella tragedia di Eschilo con i mercenari liguri che facevano parte dell'esercito cartaginese nella celebre battaglia di Himera, stando al racconto di Erodoto) sarebbero delle prove a favore di una scrittura "occidentale" della tragedia. Nel 472 a.C. vengono rappresentati i Persiani ad Atene e, successivamente, Ierone invitò Eschilo a una seconda rappresentazione in Sicilia. A questa data dovrebbe riferirsi un altro soggiorno del poeta. Secondo la studiosa, risalirebbero a questo periodo delle visite a Himera, Agrigento e Selinunte: la vista di certi monumenti in queste città avrebbe colpito e influenzato molto le scelte tematiche delle successive tragedie, secondo un'ipotesi definita "attraente" dall'Autrice stessa. Un "numero di consonanze" tra i temi iconografici sulle metope dei templi selinuntini2 e i titoli di alcune tragedie di Eschilo costituirebbe un supporto a questa sua conclusione. Difficile valutare, tuttavia, l'influsso che esercitarono effettivamente le iconografie sulle metope dei templi selinuntini sulla produzione teatrale di Eschilo: si tratta infatti di temi e iconografie ampiamente diffusi e attestati anche ad Atene e in altre città della Grecia propria.

Dopo aver delineato il quadro storico e culturale di Gela in età arcaica e classica, "Aeschylus goes to Gela" (pp. 53-92), 3 il terzo capitolo "The Persīa tetralogy" (pp. 93-100) è dedicato alla tetralogia di Perseo, composta da Phorkides, Polydektes, Diktyoulkoi, e dal dramma satiresco Thalamopoioi. Secondo l'analisi di Poli Palladini, tematicamente la scrittura di questa tetralogia si legherebbe a Gela e al contesto siciliano per diverse ragioni, come l'attestazione del mito di Perseo localmente, la presenza del gorgoneion sui templi della città e l'abbondanza di sicelicismi o dorismi nel testo tragico. Questi elementi sono sufficienti per presupporre un soggiorno in Sicilia e/o un divenire siceliota da parte di Eschilo, con adattamento alla lingua locale. A favore di questa suggestiva ipotesi e dell'inquadramento cronologico proposto, tuttavia, non ci sono elementi decisivi: questi drammi, infatti, sono stati datati da Thalia P. Howe intorno al 490 a.C. e da Scott E. Goins nella tarda produzione del poeta.4

I capitoli 4 "Cretan women" (pp. 101-103) e 5 "Carians or Europe" (pp. 105-112) prendono in esame quelle tragedie con temi e miti legati all'isola di Creta, madrepatria di Gela insieme a Rodi. Più articolato e stimolante si presenta il capitolo 6 "Daughters of the Sun" (pp. 113-161), che analizza il mito delle Heliades e di Fetonte, figlio di Helios, e la trasformazione delle sorelle in alberi di pioppo e delle loro lacrime in ambra. La studiosa recupera un dato importante per corroborare la sua ipotesi, vale a dire il nome della madre di Fetonte: Rhodos, invece di Klymene, stando a Schol. ad Pi. O.7.132a.5 Secondo Poli Palladini, le Heliades rappresenterebbero in chiave mitica l'aspirazione da parte dei Rodii e dei Geloi di commerciare in Occidente, tra Adria e il fiume Rodano, insieme ai Liguri. La scelta di questi miti e questi luoghi costituirebbe un revival di ambizioni occidentali da parte dei Rodii dopo la caduta dei Dinomenidi. A conclusione di questa sezione "rodio-cretese" è il capitolo 7 "A Creto-Rhodian tetralogy including Glaucus of the sea" (pp. 211-220), in cui Poli Palladini avanza con cautela la possibilità di accorpare in una trilogia le tragedie sopra analizzate, vista la comunanza tematica e ideologica con i miti di Creta, di Rodi e dell'Occidente. Su questa ipotesi si basa il passo successivo, vale a dire l'individuazione del dramma satiresco all'interno dei titoli del catalogo eschileo. La scelta cade su Glaukos Pontios, a cui la studiosa assegna F25a, generalmente attribuito alla tragedia eschilea Glaukos Potnieus. I versi del frammento, che menzionano le rive del fiume Himera e i celebri bagni, sono qui riferiti a un sileno o a un satiro corifeo, sulla base anche di un confronto iconografico con un tetradrammo da Himera, su cui sono raffigurati una figura femminile sacrificante presso l'altare e un satiro bagnante in una fontana. Sebbene l'ipotesi risulti molto intrigante, la cronologia di queste emissioni è più recente rispetto all'attività di Eschilo in Sicilia;6 di conseguenza, a livello metodologico, l'iconografia sul tetradrammo non costituisce un solido appoggio per la ricostruzione della trama, per l'attribuzione di F25a a un dramma satiresco e per l'attribuzione dei versi a un sileno o a un satiro.

Il capitolo 8 "The Odyssia tetralogy" (pp. 221-266) affronta alcuni titoli e frammenti comunemente ritenuti pertinenti a una tetralogia su Odisseo; si tratta di Psychagogoi, Penelope, Ostologoi, a cui la studiosa associa il dramma satiresco Sisyphos, invece di Kirke satyrike. Molto puntuali risultano i paralleli testuali tra il F187 della Penelope e alcuni versi dell'Odissea, a supportare l'ipotesi che nella tragedia di Eschilo venissero trattati alcuni episodi del poema epico, in particolare l'arrivo di Odisseo a Itaca e i preparativi della vendetta.

I capitoli finali, "The anecdote of Aeschylus' death" (pp. 267-284) e "Aeschylus post mortem" (pp. 285-316), si soffermano sulla morte di Eschilo e sugli onori tributati al tragediografo attico da parte degli abitanti di Gela. Molto ampia e articolata è la discussione sull'aneddoto e sulla morte prodigiosa nella letteratura greca e latina. La simbologia dell'episodio viene così interpretata: l'aquila sta per Zeus e la tartaruga per la poesia, essendo il carapace associato alla lira. Riguardo alla tomba e all'iscrizione, così come viene trasmessa nella Vita, Poli Palladini sottolinea lo statuto e il culto eroico di Eschilo, le visite e i sacrifici presso la sepoltura. Colpisce nell'epitafio la totale assenza di riferimenti all'attività poetica e teatrale di Eschilo in Atene come a Gela, mentre alle linee 3-4, non sempre riportate da tutte le fonti letterarie, vengono ricordati il tumulo di Maratona e le prodezze del poeta in battaglia. Nel paragrafo "Aeschylus' fortune among the western Greeks" (pp. 302-308), la studiosa interpreta la presenza in Sicilia (e in Magna Grecia) di numerosi vasi attici con raffigurazioni vicine ai drammi di Eschilo come un segno della popolarità del tragediografo in queste aree sia durante la sua vita sia dopo la sua morte.

Il lavoro monografico di Poli Palladini si rivela denso di informazioni (non solo sulla produzione teatrale di Eschilo) e ricco di spunti che meritano attenzione e ulteriori approfondimenti. Molte le domande che rimangono aperte a causa della scarsa documentazione a nostra disposizione. Sarebbe interessante, per esempio, capire chi sponsorizzasse gli spettacoli nella Gela democratica, all'indomani della caduta della tirannide, e dove si tenessero. Altrettanto importante sarebbe poter stabilire eventuali commissioni da parte di altre città della Sicilia, come per esempio Siracusa. Da un punto di vista metodologico, tuttavia, l'approccio integrato e il ricorso al dato materiale non sempre consentono di dirimere le spinose questioni discusse o di supportare le conclusioni proposte. Infine, la scelta grafica ed editoriale di combinare fotografie di aree archeologiche scattate dall'autrice con i disegni a mano della stessa (p. 3: "as immediate illustrations of the argument for the reader, without any pretension of absolute accuracy") di mappe geografiche, vasi, monete, metope, antefisse, bronzetti, gemme risulta discutibile: la scarsa qualità dei disegni non consente di apprezzare dettagli e perizia tecnica degli artisti antichi, utili talora alla comprensione delle proposte avanzate. Il cratere apulo del Metropolitan Museum of Art di New York (inv. 16.140), per esempio, raffigurante il trasporto del corpo di Sarpedonte risulta illegibile: Hypnos e Thanatos non sono facilmente individuabili; è complicato comprendere l'atteggiamento della figura (un uomo? una donna?) nell'edificio e del guerriero orientale inginocchiato.

Per ricchezza e ampiezza di temi esaminati il libro si rivolge a un pubblico di studiosi molto variegato; le conclusioni proposte consentiranno di riesaminare e approfondire il periodo artistico di Eschilo fuori Atene.


1.   L'autrice preferisce la lezione Aitnaiai o Le Ninfe del Monte Etna invece di Aitnai.
2.   La studiosa fa riferimento alla metopa C2 (Est 7) con Perseo e Medusa, mito ripreso a suo avviso nella tragedia Figlie di Phorkys; alla metopa C4+C9 (Est 10) con l'uccisione di Clitennestra da parte di Oreste, soggetto dell'Orestea; alla metopa SM2 con Europa sul toro, mito presente in Carii o Europe. Sulla Lex Sacra, sui Tripopatreis e sull'elasteros si segnala l'importante contributo di A. Dimartino, "Omicidio, contaminazione, purificazione: il "caso" della Lex Sacra di Selinunte." AnnPisa (2003) 305-352, qui non menzionato.
3.   Il quadro delineato non appare sempre supportato dalle fonti letterarie e dall'evidenza archeologica in nostro possesso. E.g., a p. 68, nota 67, la prima fase del thesauros dei Geloi viene datata al VII sec. a.C., mentre la cronologia corretta è il terzo quarto del VI sec. a.C., su cui A. Mallwitz, Olympia und seine Bauten, Darmstadt 1972, pp. 171, 176-78. A sostegno della tirannide di Polizalo a Gela e di una sua vittoria pitica viene menzionata la base con dedica da Delfi (inv. 3517), già attribuita alla statua di Auriga: come dimostrato altrove (G. Adornato, "Delphic Enigmas? The Gelas anasson, Polyzalos, and the Charioteer Statue." AJA 112 (2008) 29-55), le fonti letterarie non menzionano mai Polizalo come tiranno di Gela; la base delfica non presenta un formulario tipico delle vittorie atletiche e nessuna prova esiste per dimostrare che il Gelas anasson dell'iscrizione sia Polizalo. Quanto alla cronologia dell'Athenaion di Siracusa, datato dopo la battaglia di Himera, già P. Orsi ("Gli scavi intorno all'Athenaion di Siracusa negli anni 1912-1917." MonAL 25 (1918) 353-762) aveva evidenziato che la ceramica attica a figure rosse rinvenuta dallo scavo del tempio fosse di un periodo successivo e che il tempio fosse di età ieroniana. A p. 73, inoltre, si afferma che l'intera isola cadde sotto il dominio dell'influenza dinomenide: si tratta di un topos retorico-letterario, utilizzato anche per la tirannide di Falaride.
4.   T.P. Howe, "Illustrations to Aeschylus' tetralogy on the Perseus theme." AJA 57 (1953) 269-75; S.E. Goins, "The date of Aeschylus' Perseus tetralogy." RhM 140 (1997) 193-210.
5.   Si segnala che sul D/ della moneta alla fig. 52 è rappresentata una figura femminile, forse la ninfa eponima di Rodi, e non Helios, come si riporta nella didascalia.
6.   Secondo la studiosa il tetradramma è "dated to the period 472-413 (or more precisely to about 450 B.C.)" (p. 217).

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Jon Hall, Cicero's Use of Judicial Theater. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014. Pp. xii, 190. ISBN 9780472052202. $30.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Jill Harries, University of St Andrews (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed at the end of the review.]

A famous advocate stands up to address the judges, who face him. On either side are the benches of the contending parties. He will deploy the numerous forms of argumentation laid out conveniently for him in the rhetorical handbooks. And then, in general but not always, before or during the peroration, he can introduce an element of performance – for which the handbooks provide no guidance. He is on his own.

Jon Hall's attempt to isolate and analyse the performative elements of judicial theater is not without its dangers. As he concedes (p. 155), "if we judge matters purely in quantitative terms, the part played by judicial theater was unquestionably rather small". Many advocates steered clear of Cicero-type histrionics altogether; others were let down by the failure of the props or other human actors to perform as expected. Cicero himself believed that a defense "should be supported by reasoned argument" (p. 156).

Nonetheless, Hall makes a persuasive case for the relevance of his topic for the understanding, not only of forensic rhetoric but also for the wider culture in which displays of emotion were set. Other orators too used similar devices, both before and after Cicero's time; the importance of the 'theatrical' element was acknowledged by Quintilian and, in their reimagining of the high points of Republican history, by Plutarch and Appian.

Hall begins with the second century BCE background, introducing themes that will recur in subsequent chapters. One is the use of "props" in forensic oratory, and Hall uses his few examples to telling effect. M. Servilius uses his body as a prop, when he uncovers his honorable wounds (pp. 5-6), a device later imitated by M. Antonius in his defense of M' Aquillius (pp. 18-20): Cato the Elder shakes a fresh fig out of his toga, to dramatize that Carthage is a mere three days away (p. 6); Servius Sulpicius Galba wins his (dubious) acquittal in 149 BCE by an emotional appeal "based on several children, whom he displayed in front of the audience" (pp. 8-10). As Hall concedes, these examples are perhaps statistically insignificant but they set the tone.

A second aspect was the close relationship of judicial to political theater, as illustrated by the fraught passage of Tiberius Gracchus' land law (pp.14-18), although the extent to which Plutarch, or his source, may have embellished his account is unclear. Both the use of props and other kinds of performance carried risks. They must conform to prevailing aristocratic etiquette (which is why many advocates steered clear of such devices in the first place) and the performances must pass off without a hitch, a theme picked up later with the tale of the unfortunate advocate Caepasius, who repeatedly urged the jurors to "look back" at the defendant, only to find, when he did so himself, that his client had sneaked out unnoticed (Pro Cluentio 59, pp. 131-2). Hall consistently emphasizes that the gestures employed in judicial theatrical performance cannot be analyzed separately from the words, which must both explain and accentuate the drama of the actions.

The main part of the book is devoted to analysis of three aspects of the topic: the wearing of mourning or dirty clothes (sordes) to evoke pity (pp. 40-63); the use of supplication (pp. 64-98); and weeping in court (on the part of the advocate, the defendant and even the jurors, pp. 99-128). Each is set in its wider context. The wearing of dark, torn or dirty clothes signified bereavement or distress from other causes but also came to be a form of protest (pp. 41-4); supplication was, like sordes, an "ambiguous" practice because of the indignities involved and thus the damage to aristocratic prestige (pp. 67-73), although Hall doubts that suppliants were in the habit of prostrating themselves and kissing feet, an operation which in, say, the Senate would have been excessively time-consuming. As for crying in public, the culture of weeping, as in many societies, was related to cultures of masculinity. Cicero himself was widely criticized for his excessive, and therefor unmanly, displays of emotion, especially concerning his exile and, later, the death of his daughter Tullia. But Hall also develops the hypothesis that tears were acceptable "when they conveyed a sense of social solidarity with family and friends" (pp. 105-6), and that this trumped the requirement on good Romans that they show masculine (and rational) restraint.

Hall's discussions of judicial theatrical techniques in detail highlight the ambiguities of the devices used. To be dressed in dark or dirty clothes was intended to inspire pity; to indicate real poverty; to serve as a protest against a forthcoming trial; or to be an indicator of character designed to evoke, not pity, but admiration. Such attire could also be ridiculed by a hostile advocate as a sign of the (deserved) humiliation of the wearer. In all these cases, the context and the verbal interpretations of the gesture supplied by the advocate will dictate the public reaction. Supplication was, for the aristocratic client, more awkward and Hall identifies a number of clients who clearly baulked at performing any kind of supplicatory act – so Cicero was obliged to do it for them. But when it came to tears in court, Cicero, so notably – or notoriously – prone to tears himself, found himself on the receiving end of imputations of excess and insincerity by opposing counsel. Laterensis, the prosecutor of Cn. Plancius in 54, was especially effective, pointing out that Cicero had tried tearful pleas in a previous case, that of one Cispius, to no avail, and he had no special relationship with Plancius either. Clearly the prosecuting counsel was trying to head off an anticipated attempt on Cicero's part to win by crying in public; Cicero countered by raising the emotional temperature still further, evoking in his peroration, the spectacle of floods of tears from Plancius, his father and Cicero himself (pp. 109-116).

In the book as a whole, Hall provides an elegant and well-documented account of a significant, if restricted, aspect of the practice of Roman forensic oratory in Cicero's day, combining analysis of language with some comparative sociology, sensible speculation and touches of humor. Crucially, he avoids overstating the importance of his topic; the evidence is limited and, for the second century BCE especially hard to handle, but Hall, in general, and subject to the general caveats about anecdotal evidence, uses his material to judicious effect. He also avoids falling into the trap, set by Cicero's dominance of the evidence, of seeing the world of late Roman forensic oratory entirely in Cicero's terms. Indeed, there is some suggestion that Cicero, in resorting as often as he did to emotive appeals, may have been out of line with the more restrained mores of contemporary forensic practice. Alternatively, given the real possibility that theatrical devices might misfire, Cicero's competitors may have preferred to leave the risks, and occasional rewards, to him.

Could Hall have pushed his study further? Audience reaction and interaction is part of the dramatic experience: should there have been some mention of altercatio and heckling? Cicero's use of gesture in general has been studied elsewhere, but a little more space (pp. 152-3) might have been allocated to the failure in the 60s of Cicero's opponent Q. Calidius to win a watertight case, despite the overwhelming strength of the evidence, because his austere, gesture-less manner of delivery conceded the benefit of the histrionic special effects to his opponent (Brut. 277),

And could the "props" be made to work harder, especially in the two cases when gender becomes significant? Hall devotes some attention to Cicero's defense of Cluentius in 66 BCE and the role of the pleas to the jury perhaps made by the defendant's mother, Sassia, as a "prop" for the prosecution (p. 99). Whether or not Sassia had appealed in person to the jurors, Cicero was clearly worried by a situation where his client, the unpromising Cluentius, was under attack by his own mother. The speech is exceptionally long and unusually inventive, even by his standards, in its slurs cast on the dead. If Sassia remained a looming presence on the benches behind the prosecuting advocate, the jurors would have needed (and got) constant reminders from Cicero as to why her otherwise damning testimony should be disregarded. The speech is an extended exercise in defamation, mostly of Sassia's now deceased husband, the elder Oppianicus, but also of Sassia herself, depicted as murderous, duplicitous and sex-mad. As with Clodia, at the prosecution of Caelius ten years later, the presence of a woman as a kind of anti-prop for the other side, was itself dramatic – and Cicero made the most of it.

Table of Contents

Notes on Texts and Translations
Chapter 1: Judicial Theater in Ancient Rome: Some basic Considerations.
Chapter 2: A Sordid Business: the Use of "Mourning Clothes" in the Courts.
Chapter 3: Too Proud to Beg: Appeals and Supplications in the Courts.
Chapter 4: Shedding Tears in Court: When Crying is Good.
Chapter 5: Judicial Theatrics beyond Cicero.
Index Locorum
Index Nominum
General Index.
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Thursday, October 16, 2014


Martin Worthington, Principles of Akkadian Textual Criticism. Studies in Ancient Near Eastern Records, 1. Boston; Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012. Pp. xxiii, 352. ISBN 9781614510512. $140.00.

Reviewed by Wolfgang D. C. de Melo, University of Oxford (

Version at BMCR home site


Worthington's book is an excellent contribution to both textual criticism and Assyriology. The book goes far beyond what it promises and tackles questions of orthography, phonology, morphology and interpretation as well. It is very well written and structured and should thus be easy to understand even for people without a background in Akkadian or Semitic.

As many classicists will be unfamiliar with Akkadian, I shall give an outline of its most important orthographical features, some of which will be referred to below. Akkadian is written in cuneiform taken over from Sumerian. The script has logographic as well as syllabic elements, with many signs having multiple functions and many syllables potentially being written by a variety of signs. Thus, a single sign may function as a Sumerian logogram (for instance Sumerian LUGAL standing for šarru 'king'); as a syllabogram with its original Sumerian sound value; as a syllabogram with an innovated Akkadian sound value; as a determinative, that is, as an indication of what semantic field the following or occasionally preceding noun belongs to rather than as an element to be pronounced (this is important for ambiguous sumerograms which could be read as two different Akkadian words); and, finally, as a phonetic complement, that is, a sign used after a sumerogram either to disambiguate it or to show the Akkadian case ending. Conversely, a syllable may be written with different signs, for instance the syllable u may be written as u or ú.

But let us now return to Worthington's book. The first chapter serves as a general introduction to textual transmission. As Worthington points out, even if a text has a colophon, it is not always clear whether the text was copied by sight, through dictation or from memory, as colophons are often worded ambiguously. The kinds of errors committed are not necessarily helpful, either. Phonetic errors need not point to dictation because they can easily arise if a copyist reads out the text to himself; and errors of misreading can occur in dictation as well because the person dictating is typically reading a text rather than making one up. It is also worth pointing out that the degree of fidelity a copyist aims for depends on a number of factors. Sacred texts are generally copied more exactly than utilitarian documents, for which the precise wording does not matter much; and different scriptoria may also adhere to different standards.

Chapter 2 deals with methodological problems. Worthington introduces concepts which should be familiar to any classicist, such as the difference between an autograph and a reconstructed archetype, which may be quite far removed from the autograph in time and phrasing. The reader is also introduced to stemmatic analysis conducted on the basis of genealogically diagnostic anomalies. Three points in this chapter are worth dwelling on. First, while Akkadian never developed a fully standardized orthography, there are some conventions and some tendencies; for instance, nidintum 'gift' may be spelled ni-din-tum, but not *nid-in-tum, because a single consonant between two vowels is obligatorily interpreted as a syllable onset. Second, not every misspelling is a true error. Some misspellings may reflect current pronunciation rather than conservative convention, but in practice it is often impossible to distinguish between misspellings and language change. And third, in texts with a long transmission history, a later, corrupted version may have become more influential than an earlier, more correct one, and editors need to make it clear whether they are aiming for the original text or for the one that would have been more familiar to the actual speakers of Akkadian.

Chapter 3 discusses the mechanisms of textual change. Sign similarity is a common problem. On p. 92, Worthington mentions the case of a man who asked for pots, but received straw instead, because the sumerograms for straw (INmeš, a plural) and pots (KANmeš) are similar, a problem that would not have arisen if the writer had used syllabograms, as the words are quite different in Akkadian (tibnu versus diqāru). Other errors arose when inherently ambiguous signs were misinterpreted, or when sumerograms were wrongly used for words which had homophones that could be written with sumerograms. Most other error types have close parallels in Greek or Latin, for instance when words or word groups are left out due to homoearchon or homoeoteleuton, when signs are forgotten randomly or by haplography, when dittography or sign inversion occurs or when words receive wrong endings by attraction to neighbouring words. Interpolations, glosses and misguided corrections of supposed errors are also found. A semantic basis can be found in polar errors ('hot' for 'cold') or synonym substitution (malku for šarru, both meaning 'king'1). Assyrianisms, cases where Babylonian texts are coloured by the Assyrian vernacular in the course of transmission, may sometimes be deliberate.

Chapter 4 treats patterns of orthography, phonology and morphology. Within a word, a writer may go for phonological spellings or morphological ones. Thus, in iparrasū 'they (masculine) decide', from a root PRS, the first and last vowels are affixes. A writer opting for phonological spellings would write i-par-ra-su, but one opting for morphological ones would write i-par-ras-u, showing the affixal nature of the last vowel. While phonological spellings predominate within words, word boundaries normally constitute syllable boundaries in writing, regardless of pronunciation; so šumu ukin 'he established a name' would be written šu-mu-ú-ki-in. However, in speech words are not separated from each other, and this may be reflected in occasional sandhi-spellings such as šu-mu-ki-in. Similar sandhi-spellings occur even in combination with sumerograms.

Worthington also examines the 'honorific' nominative of names or titles, used instead of syntactically appropriate accusative or genitive. This phenomenon is already attested in Old Babylonian, if only occasionally. To what extent it foreshadows the collapse of the case system is unclear, as personal names and honorifics often behave idiosyncratically across languages; thus, the unrelated Urartian normally has subject-object-verb order, but deities in non-subject function will mostly occupy the first position in the clause.

On p. 235-8, Worthington discusses the interesting case of plene spellings among contracted verbs. If we have a contracted verb such as ilqû 'they took', the contracted final vowel is commonly written plene (il-qu-ú). When followed by connective ma, an enclitic, some tablets consistently use non-plene spellings (il-qu-ma). Can this tell us anything about pronunciation? Is the vowel shortened, as in the well-known Latin phenomenon called Kürzung durch Tonanschluß (compare sī quidem versus sĭquidem 'if indeed')? The answer is negative. Not all tablets follow this practice, and it is consistently ignored if there is a final long vowel that did not arise through contraction. We seem to be dealing with an attempt at spelling standardization.

Chapter 5 deals with the question how easily Akkadian was sight-read in antiquity. Worthington's analysis is thorough and perceptive and does not rely on modern scholars' preconceptions. Various factors would have helped the ancient reader. For instance, many signs had only one function, as sumerograms or determiners, which decreases the ambiguity inherent in the script. Sometimes, plene spellings were used in order to help readers select the correct sound value of the preceding sign (in which case one ought not to be quick to draw conclusions about vowel length). Some tablets go further and use only ša1 for the subordinator and only šá for the syllable within a word. Exceptions are rare and can often be explained linguistically; for instance, the phrase 'without number' is ša lā nībi (literally 'which not number', a relative clause without verb), and here we do find the spelling šá, but this may point to univerbation, with šalā becoming 'without'.

Other factors must have made reading more difficult. The ubiquitous lack of word separation was probably not as much of a problem as it may seem to a reader trained in European languages, but the ambiguity of so many signs must have been troublesome even to a trained professional. However, most professionals received much less training than modern schoolchildren, and this training would not have extended much beyond the text types which they were going to specialize in. Worthington concludes that even the best readers would not have been able to read Akkadian as fluently as we read newspapers.

Chapter 6 is a short discussion of issues of edition and interpretation. Worthington points out that what one might consider a codex optimus is often incomplete, forcing the editor to rely on lesser tablets. Similarly, the principle of eliminatio codicum descriptorum, a standard practice in Latin and Greek, is in many cases inappropriate because Akkadian tablets are often copied from more than one source at a time, making a purely stemmatic analysis difficult or impossible. Finally, when we are editing a Latin or Greek author, it is of course our aim to come as close to the original wording as possible. Akkadian texts, on the other hand, are often authorless, and there is something to be said for relying on the majority of tablets, even if they are inferior, in order to recreate the text that had the largest cultural influence in the Akkadian-speaking world.

Chapter 7 is a very brief summary of the results of the book. A detailed table of contents, several lists of abbreviations, a thorough bibliography and a clear index will help any reader using this beautifully produced book, which I can recommend unreservedly.2


1.   It is hard to tell whether these are complete synonyms. In Hebrew, מלך does refer to a king, but a סר is a king's son, a prince. In Akkadian, Gyges is referred to as guggu šar māt luddi 'Gyges, šar of the land of Lydia', which shows that this role is higher than that of a prince.
2.   I am grateful to Grant Frame for going through my review and alerting me to some problems.

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