Friday, February 24, 2017


Vernon L. Provencal, Sophist Kings: Persians as Other in Herodotus. Bloomsbury Classical Studies Monographs. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015. Pp. ix, 330. ISBN 9781780936130. $112.00.

Reviewed by Joel Alden Schlosser, Bryn Mawr College (

Version at BMCR home site

Who are Herodotus's Persians? Interpreters of Herodotus's Histories have long wrangled over the extent to which Herodotus's account can be trusted – whether it is factually inaccurate, overly flattering, or an example of objectionable "othering." Leaping into this still-simmering agon, Vernon Provencal's Sophist Kings offers a provocative thesis: Herodotus depicts the Persians as sophists, positioning them on one side of a cultural polarity with the Greeks on the other. On this reading, the Persians represent an implicit understanding of the law of nature that anticipates arguments by Sophists such as Protagoras, Gorgias, and the Callicles and Thrasymachus of Plato's dialogues, while the Greeks represent the rule of law grounded in pious recognition of the subjection of human affairs to divine retribution. For Provencal, Herodotus thus confronts his readers with an ideological division at the heart of human affairs, one that culminates in a split between the erotic tyranny toward which the sophistic Persians strive and the Greek ideal of isonomia or equality under laws. Original and stirring, this argument has moments of brilliance, yet its rigid categories seem to omit too many of the details that give the Histories their wondrous amplitude. Herodotus's Persians may not be as singular as Sophist Kings claims them to be.

Drawing on his own interpretations of Herodotus's text as well as secondary literature on the broader contexts of the period, Provencal's argument mostly restricts itself to claims about the meaning of the Histories. First Provencal tracks the arc of Herodotus's life (Chapter 1) and its intersection with the rise of sophistic thought (Chapter 2). Provencal then steps back from the details of the Histories to show crucial aspects of Persian history missing from its account (Chapter 3). The absence of "real Persia" creates a gap that Herodotus fills with a sophistic other and the Persians become the cultural other for the Greeks (Chapter 4). In contrast to the Greeks' lives of freedom under rule of law, the Persians play the role of "Persosophists" in the Histories (Chapter 5). Herodotus ascribes sophistic ideology not only to the Persian kings and empire but also to the whole way of life of the Persians.

Why would Herodotus depict the Persians as sophistic others? For Provencal, Herodotus sought to commemorate the birth of national consciousness among the Greeks, a birth that began in the inherent conflict of opposed ideologies. On this argument, Herodotus views the conflict between the Persians and the Greeks as rooted in the rivalry between monarchic despotism and the Greek polis. By representing the Persians as sophistic others, Herodotus reminds the Athenians of the defenders of freedom they once were, and the degree to which tyranny is the cultural antithesis to isonomia, the equality under the laws established only with the end of tyranny in Athens. The ideology of despotism and imperialism attributed to the Persians is a simulacrum of the Athenian ideology of the sophists, the intellectual movement that Provencal sees Herodotus opposing. Herodotus intends his Histories to call the Athenians (and the Greeks more broadly) back to their better selves.

Echoes of the sophists abound in Herodotus. Different parties offer opposing logoi for the conflict between the Persians and the Greeks. The Constitutional Debate presents an antilogy. Xerxes adopts eristic argumentation on the eve of his invasion. As narrator, Herodotus appears to employ a number of sophistic approaches: an interest in language and the precise use of words; a sense of humanity as universal; agnosticism and skepticism about religion; a distinction between phusis and nomos; incipient relativism about moral responsibility as well as truth and responsibility; and the use of theoretical categories for describing politics. Protagoras, Gorgias, Prodicus, Hippias, Antiphon, and Critias may not appear in the Histories but their imprint is undeniable.

For Provencal, these examples of sophistic techniques or approaches do not merely amount to echoes or anticipations. They instead suggest a project within the Histories. While previous interpreters of Herodotus have suggested that the different justifications offered for the conflict between the Persians and the Greeks in the Proem are Herodotean invention or parody, Provencal argues that Herodotus begins with the Persian justification for their conflict with the Greeks to show the fundamental difference between Greek and Persian ideology. The Greeks offer an account of mythic nomos transgressed, but Herodotus presents the Persians as justifying their invasion with interpretations of legends which cannot be verified or falsified. The Persians, in other words, engage in spin. Herodotus reports the story under protest, but marks this rhetorical use of myth as distinctly Persian – an example, according to Provencal, of Persian sophistry.

The depiction of the Persians as sophists does not correspond to the reality of the Persians as far as we know it. Provencal surveys the Elamite empire to highlight the "astonishing neglect" by Herodotus of evidence available in his time. Provencal calls particular attention to the distinctive development of Persia as a diverse and largely tolerant empire. Persian sovereignty was less a matter of conquest, as in Herodotus's account, than gradual acculturation. As many different religions as distinct peoples coexisted within the empire. Herodotus appears unacquainted with the distinctive Achaemenid theology of empire. Appointed by Ahuramazda the creator, the Achaemenid ideal king possessed excellence of mind and body; royal wisdom meant knowing and practicing justice. The king and the people were united in a harmonious relationship within this theology and Persia functioned as the "perfect, still center" around which the periphery of the empire, Greece included, extended. Yet the Medo-Persian kings portrayed in Herodotus lack these virtues and the world instead centers on the Hellenes.

With the "real Persians" largely omitted from the Histories, Provencal argues that Herodotus placed his constructed Persians in a Hellenocentric cultural grid. Here Provencal extends previous studies on Herodotus's "map of the world" and its organization of the world's inhabitants in terms of polarities: the Egyptian-Scythian axis of south-north and the Greek-Persian axis of west-east. Along these axes differences in religion, morality, society and education, kingship, and ideology define themselves. Yet between the Greeks and the Persians, unlike the Egyptians and the Scythians, these polarities are antagonistic. On the one hand, the natural lust for power among the Persians gives rise to their ideology of nomos phuseôs, the rule of natural instincts. On the other hand, the cultural unity that emerges among the Greeks in reaction to the Persians is organized around nomos basileus, the rule of law. This basic polarity extends to every aspect of the ideology: Persocentrism versus Hellenocentrism; Persian hierarchism versus Greek egalitarianism; Persian determinism versus Greek providence; and Persian naturalism versus Greek idealism. These differences culminate in different political constitutions: despotic tyranny among the Persians and isonomia, or equality of law, among the Greeks.

While not all of the Persian kings chronicled by Herodotus count as archetypal sophist kings, Provencal treats them as variations on a theme. For the Persians, according to Provencal, "sophia serves erôs turannidos in founding a constitution in which nomos is founded upon phusis" (224). Thus Deioces uses his knowledge to establish himself as the measure of all things political, first as a judge and then as a tyrant. The Median sophist kings Phraortes, Cyaxares, and Astyages refashion nomos to serve their imperialistic desires. Cyrus "manipulates the Persians" with "rhetoric crafted to awaken erôs turannidos" (229). Cambyses shows how reason is a slave to erôs, violating nomoi without restraint. Darius is a "master sophist king," a conspirator who wins the Constitutional Debate with sophistries and maintains law and justice for the sake of absolute power. Xerxes takes the homo mensura attitude of the sophist kings one step farther by making himself into a god.

The Greeks themselves exhibit certain similarities to the "Persosophists" that serve to associate tyranny in Greece with Asian despotism. Pisistratus and Thrasybulus are classic examples. Polycrates of Samos demonstrates unremitting erôs turannidos and the inevitable fate it entails. For Provencal, Herodotus also creates echoes between Periander of Corinth and Cambyses (with Periander's necrophilia and Cambyses's marrying and murdering of his sister) as well as Themistocles and Darius (with their "Odyssean intelligence"). These parallels heighten the contrast between Persians and Greeks by showing how the Greeks "become Persian" when they act tyrannically.

On Provencal's argument, Herodotus places himself on the side of the Greeks. While the Histories evince a constant dialogue between the sophistic conventionalism (and all it allows) of the Persians and the arkhaioi nomoi realized in the unity of the Greeks, the resolution comes not with synthesis but rather with victory of one side over another. Herodotus sides with the victors. The writing of the Histories is meant, according to Provencal, to remind these victors of what they fought for and thus what is worth preserving of Hellenism.

In many ways Provencal's study remains within the general framework developed by François Hartog in Le miroir d'Hérodote. Like Hartog, Provencal focuses on a particular set of relationships that have strong structural elements. Yet also like Hartog, Provencal downplays (or completely ignores) parts of the Histories that do not fit his model. What about the differences among the Hellenes, for example? Provencal speaks of isonomia and nomos despotês as if these were held by all parties. Both are far trickier. Isonomia is never applied to the Athenians or the Spartans: the Athenians are distinguished by their isêgoria (5.78); the Spartans by their isokratia (5.92). These characterizations also come in the mouths of different characters: Otanes proclaims isonomia which the Herodotean narrator redescribes as dêmokratia; the narrator also praises the Athenians' isêgoria, which might suggest a consistency of judgment of implicit differences. What explains these different concepts? They seem to complicate any generalizations about to Hellenikon.

The matter of who says what (and to whom) also has significance for nomos despotês. Does it make a difference that Demaratus uses this phrase? That he has been cast out of Sparta? That he is speaking to Xerxes? Provencal does not say. Abstracted from its particular context, the concept comes to mean "rule of law" in a quite general sense, but Herodotus has already called our attention to the quite different developments of nomoi in the Athenian and Spartan cases. Is it correct to say that the Athenians treat nomos as a despotês when the laws are regarded as products of the will of the dêmos?

Taking account of the complexity within the Hellenes also raises questions about why Herodotus would portray Persians as "sophist kings." While Provencal sets his argument against readings of Herodotus as a "relativist," he does not offer reasons for Herodotus's preference of isonomia and nomos despotês beyond their being what unified the Hellenes. Yet if this unity cannot be attributed directly to a coherent ideology, then where do we put Herodotus? Was he a partisan of Pericles or a critic? Are the Histories a paean to Greek freedom or to Athenian democracy more specifically?

The chief contribution of Sophist Kings lies in the range of evidence it adduces for the sophistry of the Persians. Yet one could draw the opposite conclusions from Provencal on the basis of the same evidence. The Persians are the heroes of the Histories, after all, and the portrayals of Cyrus and Xerxes are especially complex. Yes, they may exhibit sophistic characteristics but they are also psychologically nuanced in ways that many non-Persians are not. Provencal ends Sophist Kings by suggesting that Herodotus may well have engaged in "prolonged dialogue" with Protagoras as much as with Sophocles. Yet the dialogue with Sophocles, the sense of tragic characters struggling with their fate, seems missing. In dialogue with both Protagoras and with Sophocles, Herodotus is reducible neither to their mouthpiece nor to their antithesis. We have yet to comprehend the complexities of Herodotus's Persians – and the Histories more generally.

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Jeanne Marie Neumann, A Companion to 'Familia Romana'. Second edition. Based on Hans Ørberg's 'Latine Disco', with Vocabulary and Grammar. Lingua Latina. Indianapolis; Cambridge: Focus, 2016. Pp. xxiv, 405. ISBN 9781585108091. $28.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Giuseppe Marcellino, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (

Version at BMCR home site


Sintesi tra ricerca glottodidattica ed esperienza pedagogica, il Companion to 'Familia Romana' di Jeanne Marie Neumann è un validissimo strumento per i docenti e gli studenti che utilizzino il volume Familia Romana del corso Lingua Latina per se illustrata di Hans Ørberg (da ora in poi LLPSI).

Il lavoro rielabora intelligentemente ed è presumibilmente destinato a sostituire, almeno in ambito anglofono, tre originari volumetti redatti da Ørberg: Latine disco, Grammatica Latina e Latin-English Vocabulary. Seguendo il criterio già adottato dallo studioso danese, Neumann raccomanda d'intraprendere lo studio dei capitoli in cui è strutturato il Companion solo dopo l'attenta lettura dei rispettivi capitula di Familia Romana e delle sezioni di Grammatica Latina ivi presenti. Secondo tale impostazione, il momento di approfondimento metalinguistico è posposto, benché in realtà non subordinato, all'acquisizione della morfologia, della sintassi e del lessico, in quanto le spiegazioni grammaticali costituiscono un sussidio per la comprensione di regole già contestualmente incontrate e quindi in parte gradualmente assimilate nel corso della lettura dei brani latini. Ogni capitolo è corredato da un essenziale excursus storico-culturale (Studia Romana), assente nella prima edizione del Companion e sempre connesso con il contenuto dei singoli capitula. La presenza di una lista di vocaboli con traduzione inglese alla fine di ogni sezione, assente nell'originario Latine disco, si rivela ben riuscita ed efficace, perché consente di determinare con certezza non solo il significato principale di un termine ma anche l'esatta accezione con cui esso viene di volta in volta impiegato.

All'origine del lavoro della Neumann vi è l'esigenza di adattare il volume Familia Romana, concepito da Ørberg per un pubblico non ben determinato di autodidatti di paesi, età e formazione differenti, alle esigenze degli studenti dei colleges americani, che sono tenuti a frequentare un corso d'introduzione al latino per due terms, con tre lezioni a settimana, per un totale di circa 26-28 settimane. Nella Preface la studiosa dichiara apertamente di aver utilizzato il Companion presso il Davidson College "to strike a balance between a purely inductive method and the study of grammatical rules and paradigms" (pp. VII-VIII), ma aggiunge che esso può fungere anche da "ancillary guide for the natural (inductive) method of language acquisition" (p. VIII). Alla base di questa affermazione vi è la consapevolezza infatti che in un corso di avviamento al latino di così breve durata non è possibile, per ragioni di tempo, che il processo di acquisizione della lingua avvenga in maniera lenta e graduale, così come era nelle intenzioni di Ørberg. Per questo motivo, in definitiva, il volume assurge al compito di vero e proprio manuale da affiancare allo studio di Familia Romana, soprattutto là dove sia necessario accertare e valutare il processo di apprendimento individuale, come nel caso degli autodidatti. Di qui anche la scelta di sopprimere, in questa seconda edizione, l'esplicito riferimento al college che era invece presente nel titolo della prima. Se da un lato tale impostazione pare felice, in quanto non escluderebbe, almeno in linea teorica, alcun fruitore del volume, dall'altro si deve osservare che il tentativo di raggiungere un target così vasto ed eterogeneo determina un significativo incremento della mole del Companion, che in questa seconda edizione costa di circa 400 pagine, cioè 50 in più rispetto alla prima e ben 300 in più rispetto alla somma degli originari Latine disco, Grammatica Latina e Latin-English Vocabulary. Considerato che le 400 pagine di questo volume andranno a sommarsi alle oltre 300, tutte in latino, di Familia Romana, e alle circa 130 di Exercitia Latina di Ørberg, è inevitabile che in tal modo ai fruitori di LLPSI venga richiesto uno sforzo individuale maggiore che nel progetto originario dello studioso danese.

La scelta di Neumann di seguire, nella presentazione del materiale, l'impostazione di Ørberg appare nella maggior parte dei casi condivisibile e opportuna, considerato soprattutto che lo studioso dedicò diversi decenni al miglioramento e alla rifinitura dei suoi volumi. In alcuni punti tuttavia sarebbe stato meglio, a parere di chi scrive, riconsiderare il momento in cui somministrare certe spiegazioni, come, per limitarci a un solo esempio, nel caso del locativo domi, che ricorre nei capp. XV, 81 e XVIII, 151 di Familia Romana ma diventa oggetto di analisi nel Companion, non diversamente dal Latine disco di Ørberg, solo nel cap. XX, benché la funzione del caso locativo sia ben nota ai discenti già a partire dal capitolo VI, 47 e 59. Di converso, tuttavia, si riconosce che la studiosa ha cercato in linea di massima di rispettare quanto promesso a p. VIII della sua Preface ("To the degree possible, the commentary corresponds to the reading sections within each chapter, enabling students to view just the grammar for each section") e che pertanto il singolo docente potrà, all'occorrenza, decidere liberamente di integrare o approfondire alcuni argomenti trattati nel Companion in luoghi differenti.

La grande novità di questa seconda edizione, come abbiamo detto, è la presenza di schede di approfondimento sulla civiltà romana. Le sezioni di Studia Romana consentono di acquisire nozioni sui termini di inizio e fine della storia romana dalla fondazione dell'Urbe sino alla Caduta dell'Impero d'Occidente (I), sull'abbigliamento (II), sulle suppellettili della casa (III), sul concetto di familia (IV), sulle diverse parti della villa (V), sull'educazione scolare delle figlie femmine (VII), sui negozi (VIII), sulla pastorizia e le pratiche a essa connesse (IX), sugli animali (X), sulla medicina (XI), sul sistema dei tria nomina (XII), sul calendario (XIII), sull'insegnamento e la scuola (XIV-XV), sulla navigazione (XVI), sulle monete (XVII), sui supporti scrittori (XVIII), sul matrimonio (XIX), sul ruolo della madre (XX), sui giochi (XXI), sul servizio postale (XXII) e sulle lettere (XXIII), sui cibi e i pasti (XXIV), sulla mitologia (XXV-XXVI), sull'agricoltura (XXVII), sulla prima diffusione del Cristianesimo in Occidente (XXVIII), sui viaggi e la pirateria (XXIX), sulle terme e i banchetti (XXX), sulla pratica dell'esposizione dei bambini (XXXI), sugli schiavi (XXXII), sulla milizia (XXXIII) e infine sulla poesia (XXXIV). Gli unici capitoli sprovvisti di tali approfondimenti sono il VI e il XXXV che in Familia Romana sono rispettivamente dedicati alle vie di trasporto e all'Ars minor di Donato. Benché si debba notare che sarebbe stato preferibile, per ragioni di omogeneità, inserire una scheda di approfondimento anche in questi due casi, in generale si può affermare che le sezioni di Studia Romana, redatte sempre in stile vivace e coinvolgente, arricchiscono sensibilmente il corso di Ørberg, rendendolo certamente più conforme alle esigenze di chi insieme alla lingua latina desideri acquisire anche nozioni di cultura e civiltà.

Infine, pare opportuno soffermarsi sulle linee guide per i docenti, che dovrebbero non solo chiarire quali strategie didattiche si possano seguire, ma anche quali competenze si debbano già possedere prima di incominciare a guidare gli altri nella lettura del testo, soprattutto perché all'insegnante viene raccomandato di fare uso in classe del latino incoraggiando gli studenti a rispondere a domande e a parafrasare frasi complesse. Un elemento centrale, non solo per gli studenti ma anche per i docenti, per imparare a parlare in latino di grammatica latina è individuato giustamente da Neumann nello studio dei marginalia di Familia Romana, vale a dire delle glosse attraverso cui Ørberg chiarisce il significato dei nuovi termini che si presentano a mano a mano nel testo. Tuttavia, al di là di questo pur utile avvertimento, occorre notare che alla questione della formazione dei docenti il Companion non dedica sufficiente spazio nella sezione "For the Instructor". Neumann dopo aver scritto, in maniera del tutto condivisibile, che " Using Latin actively in the classroom can be a challenging experience for those of us who have learned Latin as a passive language" (p. XI), si limita ad aggiungere che "Before guiding others through the text, the instructor can learn a great deal about talking about Latin in Latin by becoming familiar with the GRAMMATICA LATINA sections at the end of each chapter and by studying the selections from Donatus's Ars Minor in the final chapter of Familia Romana" (p. XI). Come sa bene chiunque abbia adoperato i volumi di Ørberg, le sezioni di grammatica o gli estratti dall'Ars minor di Donato presenti in Familia Romana possono certamente contribuire ad avvicinare il docente alla produzione attiva in latino, ma non possono prescindere da un serio, lungo e impegnativo lavoro preparatorio che permetta poi di insegnare con LLPSI senza tradire l'essenza del metodo. A tale funzione infatti non può di certo sopperire l'utile, ma certamente non esaustivo e metodico, gruppo di google LLPSI segnalato dalla studiosa.

La nuova edizione del Companion contribuirà certamente a riaccendere il dibattito non solo sul metodo d'insegnamento diretto del latino ma anche sulla necessità di rinnovamento nell'ambito della didattica delle lingue antiche. Il lavoro di Neumann, infatti, per struttura e rigore, possiede tutti i requisiti per adattare alle esigenze del presente un testo che, benché sia stato concepito oltre cinquant'anni fa, rappresenta ancora un solidissimo e validissimo strumento per l'avviamento alla lettura dei classici.

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Jordi Pàmias (ed.), Eratosthenes' Catasterisms: Receptions and Translations. Mering: Utopica Verlag, 2016. Pp. x, 179. ISBN 9783944735047. €18.00.

Reviewed by Paul Ojennus, Whitworth University (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Pàmias presents fifteen essays on the reception and recent translations of Eratosthenes' Catasterisms, originally presented at the conference, "Eratòstenes, Catasterismes. 20 anys d'edicions i traduccions," (June 12-13, 2014, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona). The first eight papers focus on receptions of the Catasterisms, particularly but not exclusively in the twentieth century, and the remaining seven essays are by the authors of recent translations of the Catasterisms into various European languages. Generally, each author provided one chapter for each of the two sections. Topics in the section on reception include the history of scholarship, Eratosthenes as a source for mythology, Eratosthenes and the history of science, Eratosthenes and Greek identity, and Eratosthenes as a model for modern epic. Topics in the section on translation are similarly varied, including approaches to different audiences, the role of illustrations, dealing with Eratosthenes' problematic textual tradition, and replicating Eratosthenes' prose technique in modern languages. The contributors include many of the most important scholars working with the Catasterisms, and the collection as a whole well represents the scope of current research on that writing. The reception of Eratosthenes' Catasterims is a narrow topic, and the form of the volume as a collection of conference proceedings imposes some limits on its usability.

Consideration of space prevents discussing all fifteen contributions in detail; I have selected five by different contributors for commentary, three from the section on reception, and two from the section on translation.

In the first chapter Pàmias examines the interest in the texts of the Catasterisms in late nineteenth and early twentieth century German scholarship. He explains the strictly philological approach taken by this group of scholars as reflecting the ascendancy of rationalist and positivist approaches to the study of mythology in late nineteenth-century Germany over earlier romantic or symbolic approaches. At the same time, a sense of crisis among German Hellenists over precisely this rationalist approach led scholars to examine more marginal texts, especially ones that focused on less rational topics such as myth or religion, including the Catasterisms. That these trends contributed to a period of interest in Eratosthenes is broadly convincing, though they also suggest further questions, such as why the late nineteenth-century crisis over positivism resulted in a rationalist approach to a counter-rationalist topic rather than the reverse, that are outside the scope of what the author describes as a short outline of the topic. A timeline and bibliography of the scholarship in question concludes the chapter.

Geus, in chapter three, examines the principles according to which the constellations and the stars within the constellations in the Catasterisms are ordered. Geus first considers the question why the heavens should be divided into constellations. From a scientific point of view, he finds, although Hipparchus' coordinate system was more precise, it was not practical, and from a cultural point of view the fate of Eratosthenes' Catasterisms (and later the excerpt of the mythological portions) as a handbook of star myths secured the place of the constellation system. Next Geus compares the Epitome with the Fragmenta Vaticana as independent summaries of the Catasterisms, using the third catasterism (Draco) as an illustration of their typical organization. Given that only 13 of the 42 descriptions locate the constellation in relation to other constellations, Geus concludes that the original must have been accompanied by a star-chart or a celestial globe, a conclusion echoed in several other contributions in the volume. Further, compressed descriptions, common use of anatomy to locate individual stars, and rare usage of geometrical figures to describe the constellations suggest such illustrations represented idealized mythic figures. As to the ordering of individual stars within constellations, Geus finds this is varied among a few common patterns: from top to bottom or from front to back of the figures. Similarly orientation between constellations or parts of constellations can be from the point of view of the figure (e.g., right/left) or relatively within sky (e.g., north/south), with few exceptions. Absolute points of reference in the sky (Polaris, the celestial equator, the Zodiac) are not used at all. The most interesting argument, however, is that two graphic depictions of constellations were available in antiquity, a star-chart, in which the constellation appeared in the orientation as observed from the earth, and a celestial globe, where left-to-right orientation is reversed. This multiplicity of depictions accounts for errors in the text of the Catasterisms, where errors of right-to-left orientation appear, which were presumably introduced once the text had been divorced from its original graphic component and "corrected" by a copyist referencing the alternative representation.

The seventh chapter, by Papadopoulou, looks at the reception of the Catasterisms in nineteenth-century Greece, or as the case primarily was, its lack of reception. Papadopoulou contrasts the social function of Classical scholarship in nineteenth century Greece with that of nineteenth century Germany, as discussed by Pàmias in chapter one. For the Germans, marginal texts like the Catasterisms were territory to be colonized, but for the Greeks, Papdopoulou argues, the influence of Greek nationalism on the conception of the literary canon led the latter to marginalize the Hellenistic period in general and Ptolemaic Alexandria in particular. For example, Adamantios Korais, editor of the "Greek Library" series emphasized the literature of Classical Athens as promoting ideals of freedom and self-determination which resonated with the incipient nation-state in a way that Alexandrian court poetry did not. Other topics Papdopoulou relates to the development of the canon in nineteenth century Greece are the language question (katharevousa vs. demotic), debate over preferred words for Greek identity (e.g., Hellenes, Hellenism, Hellenistic), the places of the Byzantine Empire and Alexander in Greek history, and Droysen's recognition of a Hellenistic period. Papadopoulou's treatment of these themes is somewhat impressionistic, presumably due to the origins of the chapter as a conference presentation, but what emerges is a more complex picture than simply the influence of nationalism, that the fortunes of Hellenistic authors such as Eratosthenes were subject to a variety of forces throughout the nineteenth century, but they were eventually overshadowed particularly by Classical Athens, so that, by the turn of the century the Hellenistic period was virtually universally seen as a period of decline.

The fourth chapter in the section on translation, by Torres, surveys a range of issues the author encountered in producing his recent translation of the Catasterisms into Spanish. First, what is the audience of the series or volume in which the translation was to be included? Particular to countries like Spain where an academy governs correct usage, what is the proper form of the title of Eratosthenes' work in the target language, in this case Castellan Spanish? Since catasterismos is not recognized as correct Spanish, Torres opted for Astronomía mitológica. Geus also addresses this problem briefly in an earlier chapter, and had opted to use Sternsagen for his German translation. Next Torres surveys a set of issues around the inclusion of a Greek text with the translation, whether it is appropriate to the press or series, which text to use, whether to include an apparatus criticus or specialized bibliography on textual criticism. Finally, Torres opted for the form of authorial attribution as "nuevo Eratóstenes" to help communicate the distinction between the text translated here and the earlier editions associated with "Pseudo-Eratóstenes". If no individual point here breaks new ground, altogether they do communicate the important point that producing a translation is just as much about situating it within the texts and traditions of the target language as being faithful to the original.

In the last chapter, Fonseca examines various approaches to representing the verbal texture of Eratosthenes' text in translations into modern languages, particularly focusing on the poetic devices of assonance and alliteration. Aside from the issue of translation, this essay fills an important gap in the literature on the Catasterisms, which are approached primarily from the points of view of the history of science and mythology, or if studied for its literary qualities from the point of view of imagery, while Eratosthenes' prose technique is relatively neglected. Fonseca catalogs the instances of alliteration (or assonance) in the work and identifies various patterns (noun-adjective groups, other syntactical groups, alliterative sequences across syntactical breaks, and epic-style formulas). He also notes related stylistic patterns: interweaving of two patterns of assonance (e.g., Cat. 14 ἐστιν ἀστέρας ἔχουσα ἑπτά) and use of alliteration at the moment of the catasterism in the myth to recall the name of the constellation (e.g., Cat. 8 ἄστροις ἀνήγαγεν recalls Ἀρκοφύλακος). Fonseca finishes the chapter by looking at some examples of how different translators have attempted (or not) to reproduce these stylistic effects in their target languages. Not every example is equally compelling; would εἰσελθεῖν εἰς stand out as assonance, or suggest an epic-style formula? Perhaps. As a whole, though, Fonseca makes a compelling case that Eratosthenes did strive for effects of this kind and that they are worth trying to capture in translation.

Overall the volume presents a picture of the state of the scholarship on the reception of Eratosthenes' Catasterisms as approaching maturity: some core lines of research are well-developed, such as the relationship of the original text to star charts or celestial globes, or how varying nineteenth-century conceptions of the nature of Hellenism resulted in different receptions of Eratosthenes. On the other hand, some lines of research appear to be incipient: Fonseca argues for the use of imagery from the Catasterisms being used in the Portuguese epics of Camôes, Casto, and Macedo; but does not situate these usages within a larger tradition of the poetic reception of Eratosthenes. Translation of the Catasterisms appears particularly to be in a period of development, where only recently have good editions of the reconstructed text have become available to be used as the basis for translation, and a lack of a tradition of translations makes itself felt in the poverty of vocabulary to represent Eratosthenes' words, especially the titular καταστερισμοί. The individual chapters most commonly reproduce very closely the texts of the papers read at the original conference, keeping footnotes and bibliography to a minimum, though some seem to have been expanded somewhat (e.g., the chapters by Geus and Papadopoulou discussed above). While an understandable editorial choice, this does mean that the reader is sometimes presented with an elliptical reference to a larger argument the author has developed or is still developing elsewhere.

Authors and Titles

Jordi Pàmias, "Eratosthenes' Catasterisms and fin de siècle German Scholarship (1878-1907)"
José Ramón del Canto Nieto, "La contemplación de las estrellas como Fuente de la mitología astra y de la ciencia (a propósito de los Catasterisms de Eratóstenes) "
Klaus Geus, "Sternbild und Standpunkt: Zu einem Ordnungs- und Beschreibungsprinzip in der astronomischen Literatur der Griechen (Die Anordnung der Sternbilder in den Katasterismen des Eratosthenes) "
Anna Santoni, "Mitologia celeste e conoscenza del cielo. Qualche osservazione"
José B. Torres, "Recepción y receptors en los Catasterismos de Eratóstenes"
Arnaud Zucker, "Le 'livret' lacunaire d'Eratosthène: de l'image au texte"
Maria Papadopoulou, "What the Greek "National Myth" Did (not) Include: The Fate of Eratosthenes' Catasterisms in 19th Century Greece"
Rui Carlos Fonseca, "A memória dos heróis gravida nas estrelas: Eratóstenes e a épica portuguesa"
Jordi Pàmias, "Dues traduccions catalanes dels Catasterismes d'Eratòstenes"
Klaus Geus, "Eratosthenes, Sternsagen (2007): A German Edition of the Catasterismi"
Anna Santoni, "I Catasterismi: Traduzione e illustrazione"
José B. Torres, "La traducción castellana del Nuevo Eratóstenes"
Arnaud Zucker, "Le 'livret' lacunaire d'Eratosthène: une traduction en réseau"
Maria Papadopoulou, "Eratosthenes' Catasterisms and the Life of Astral Myths in Contemporary Greece"
Rui Carlos Fonseca, "A sonoridade das estrelas gravida nos Catasterismos de Eratóstenes"
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Thursday, February 23, 2017


András Patay-Horváth, The Origins of the Olympic Games. Archaeolingua Series minor, 36. Budapest: Archaeolingua, 2015. Pp. 156. ISBN 9789639911727. $30.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Dina Guth, University of Manitoba (

Version at BMCR home site

The Origins of the Olympic Games argues for the development of the crown games at Olympia from elite Iron Age hunting practices surrounding the hunt for wild cattle (aurochs) in the area. As an explanation that ties the origins of the games to early hunting rituals, Patay-Horváth's book builds on Sansone's Greek Athletics and the Genesis of Sport.1 A few of his arguments certainly hew closely to those of Sansone, but his focus on the origins of the games at Olympia specifically adds much that is new to the case. Starting with the archaeology of the site and then moving into the myths surrounding the games, Patay-Horváth's slim volume deftly weaves together arguments drawn from material culture, literature, anthropology and mythology, using evidence from such disparate cultures as the prehistoric users of the caverns at Lascaux, the inhabitants of Catalhöyük, the Polish lords of the early modern period, and the Eskimo.

The first half of the book focuses on the archaeology of Olympia, while the second section turns to the mythological argument. There are also numerous appendices (ten in total) that present points of evidence critical to the overall argument. These appendices occasionally go into greater depth on matters that may be familiar to some readers (the Doric staphylodromia ritual, geometric bull figurines, the cult of Artemis at Olympia), but others engage with relevant sources from beyond the classical world: pre-modern hunting practices, the physiology of aurochs, the hunting myths of hunter-gatherer cultures, and the like. Several appendices of the latter type are composed almost entirely of quite lengthy excerpts from non-classical scholarship.

After surveying the state of the question on the origins of the Olympics and considering alternative explanations (in funeral ceremonies, as a sacred nature/harvest ritual, an initiation ceremony, a torch race), Patay-Horváth reasonably points out that none of these theories explain why Olympia specifically saw the development of interregional games from such an early period. Turning to the Iron Age remains at the site, he focuses his attention on the tripod cauldrons and the figurines of horses and bulls that compose the prevalent types of dedications at the early cult. Instead of connecting these offerings to very early games (the tripods) or to substitutes/memorials for sacrifices (animal figurines), Patay-Horváth argues that both reflect a long-standing practice of auroch hunting in the area around Olympia. Using literary and archaeological sources, and comparing the deposits at Olympia to similar sites in Crete, Patay-Horváth argues that a population of wild cattle existed in the area prior to their extinction in the late Iron Age. The animal figures thus are representative of the hunt—and the bulls figurines specifically portray wild rather than domesticated cattle—while the tripods would have been used to cook the meat. Patay-Horváth also compellingly shows how this early aristocratic hunting ritual can explain several singular features of the later Olympic games: the aristocratic nature of the wild bull hunt explains why the shrine became popular on an interregional scale so early in its history; the cyclic nature of the hunt, originally coinciding with the regenerative cycle of the herd, leads to the penteteric nature of the future games; and the association of the hunt with masculinity leads to the taboo against women at Olympia. As for the games themselves, Patay-Horváth argues that they grew from a ritual chase at the cult that would symbolically enact the hunt and engender its success. He sees a parallel in the staphylodromia ritual conducted at the Karneia.

The second section of the book turns to the origins of the Olympics as articulated in myth, and specifically the myth of Pelops. Patay-Horváth does not discuss the other origin-myths surrounding the games, presumably supposing them to be later accretions, though this assumption is never clearly articulated. In the myth of Pelops Patay-Horváth sees an early reflection of a ritual hunting chase—he argues strongly that the contest between Oinomaos and Pelops should be viewed as a chase rather than a race. He also contends that the story of Pelops's being boiled in a pot should be seen as a continuation of the chase sequence, thus creating a narrative in which the chase of Pelops is followed by his ritual boiling and resurrection, reflecting the Iron Age hunters' wish for the regeneration of the auroch population around Olympia. Patay-Horváth supports his claims with reference to the myths of other hunting cultures and by the etymology of Pelops' name, which he traces to the character's originally animal nature.

The Origins of the Olympic Games ends by revitalizing the idea that originally the main cult at Olympia was not that of Zeus (or Hera or Gaia), but that of Artemis as Potnia Theron. As the local auroch population slowly diminished and then disappeared, the rituals surrounding the hunt, especially the chase/race, grew in importance and finally superseded it entirely.

This reviewer found Patay-Horváth's argument illuminating and, especially with respect to the archaeology of Olympia, persuasive. The mythological section was on the whole rather less convincing—the distinction between a chase and a race seemed somewhat strained, and the anthropomorphization of Pelops from an auroch figure must remain speculative. Perhaps, however, such uncertainties are only to be expected when dealing with myths that have come down to us in contexts so vastly different from those in which they would have originated. Patay-Horváth's conclusions also raise questions for further inquiry: notably, the development of the foundation myths of Heracles and Iphitos and how these came to supersede the myth of Pelops in the constellation of myths concerning the origins of the Olympics, as well as the existence of a cult of Artemis at the site and its eventual diminishment in favour of the cult of Zeus. Nevertheless, Patay-Horváth presents an innovative and compelling solution to the question of the origins of the Olympics and his wide-ranging and meticulous approach to the question is without a doubt inspiring. Anyone interested in early Olympia and the Olympics be well served in reading this book.

A few editorial matters: there were some references missing from the bibliography (these were particularly concentrated in a short early section entitled 'A Ritual Parallel'; the rest of the book did not suffer from this issue). There were also some infelicities in the English, more evident near the beginning of the book than the end. Numerous images throughout the book helpfully illustrate the arguments concerning the existence of aurochs at Olympia and early hunting practices.


1.   Sansone, David, Greek Athletics and the Genesis of Sport, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

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Alexandra Sofroniew, Household Gods: Private Devotion in Ancient Greece and Rome. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2015. Pp. ix, 142. ISBN 9781606064566. $25.00.

Reviewed by Bill Gladhill, McGill University (

Version at BMCR home site


Alexandra Sofroniew's Household Gods: Private Devotion in Ancient Greece and Rome is a slick and glossy publication by the J. Paul Getty Museum, which attempts to bridge the gap between the material objects of religious practice located in domestic spaces and the belief systems that underlie Greco-Roman society. The book contains 69 high quality images of statuettes, wall paintings, and reliefs preserved primarily in the Getty collection, with the inclusion of material from a handful of other collections in North America and Europe that all speak to the lived religious experiences of worshipers in domestic and private contexts. The ideal readership of Household Gods has little or no familiarity with ancient Greek and Roman history and culture. To this end, Sofroniew does a smart job enhancing her discussion of objects and images with brief summaries of domestic life, myth, history, and culture that allow the reader to engage thoughtfully with material culture and to imagine vividly acts of domestic devotion in Greece and Rome.

The first chapter, "Communicating with the Divine," sets up the basic premise of the book, "to give a sense of the original purpose and use of" votive offerings, which are implicitly multi-functional religious objects that could be given as "gifts to the gods at sanctuaries, buried in tombs, and used in the home for worship or just for decoration" (12). Sofroniew outlines the range of spiritual acts of communication between a human being and a god (prayer, votive, sacrifice). She gives a broad description of wet and dry sacrifices, and, in particular, focuses on terracotta, wood, bronze, and marble offerings, which she rightly suggests "became part of a longer conversation, a continual engagement between an individual and a deity that could stretch over a lifetime" (10). Essentially, the reader will view Greco-Roman religious experience through statuettes of the gods and other votive offerings, following their various incarnations and instantiations of an individual's religious life.

"Early Household Worship in Greece" reconstructs the various life-events one might experience around the hearth (hestia). Sofroniew begins with Hestia's marked presence in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite as the oldest and youngest Olympian god and the recipient of the richest portion of sacrificial victims. She then describes in detail the ritual of the amphidromia and the rites of marriage (accompanied by images of well-known artifacts ). The chapter then shifts to a brief summary of the rise of the city-state from the fall of the Mycenaean palaces to the rise of Hellenic identity in which she stresses that among the many tutelary deities worshipped from polis to polis "Hestia occupied a central place in many cities as guardian of a public hearth" (21). While she stresses a certain degree of similarity between domestic and public hearths, Sofroniew emphasizes that there are only a few examples of a fixed hearth in the archaeological record, which suggests that "the ancient Greek hearth was moveable" and as a consequence the domestic spaces in which food preparation and consumption took place were also not fixed. She ends the chapter by gesturing to the various domestic activities within the oikos, in addition to the ephemeral religious activities that might take place around the portable hearth.

Sofroniew shifts to Roman domestic religious experiences in "Power and Protection: The Roman Lares, Genii, and Penates." She nicely reconstructs elite domestic spaces and their social and political role in Rome. The real thrust of the chapter, however, centers on the religious activity in the House of the Vettii at Pompeii, where she describes the religious observance of the penates, lares, and genii situated in the lararium. Three times a month Roman families performed acts of private devotion around these domestic shrines. Sofroniew succinctly describes the various contexts in which one might encounter Roman household gods, the sorts of ritual activities devoted to their worship, and the potentiality of spiritual expressions they might articulate using detailed and illustrative images of the household gods in domestic shrines.

Chapter four, "Miniature Masterpieces," argues that the statuettes of domestic gods were often based on famous Greek prototypes, but "these types took on lives of their own, with artists playing with conventional iconography and creating distinct versions" (51). In the course of the chapter, Sofroniew discusses Rome's conquest of Greece and the complex influence of Etruscan and Greek aesthetics on Roman representations of their gods. In addition, she shows links between the styles of Phidias, Polyclitus, and Lysippus and Roman statuette reproductions. Domestic gods in the lararia were extensions of the most iconic and famous forms of divine representation in antiquity, and certain images often had ties to very specific cult statues, such as the Artemis of Ephesus.

The next two chapters offer more focused discussions of penates that embody "Love and Fertility" (chapter five) and "Divine Favor: Luck and Money" (chapter 6). Chapter five discusses the lararium of Petronius' Trimalchio, the House of the Chaste Lovers in Pompeii, Praxiteles' Aphrodite of Cnidus, and various statuette types of Venus, Eros and Priapus. Sofroniew emphasizes that the popular inclusion of Venus in household shrines was part of a much broader discourse, one that extended beyond the worship of Venus in domestic contexts to include various iterations of a naked Venus spurred on by Praxiteles' famous Cnidian Aphrodite. Chapter six covers a broad range of images connected to Tyche, Fortuna, superstition, amulets, and the roles of Hercules and Hermes in acts of private worship. This diffuse material is united by the manifold ways individuals attempted to influence the vicissitudes of their daily lives.

In chapter seven, "Health Matters: Kitchens and Bathrooms," Sofroniew discusses the common placement of household shrines next to kitchens, which were "an attempt to mitigate the health hazards of improperly cooked and stored food and the spread of waste matter" (96). This leads to a detailed summary of the roles of Aesclepius, Hygeia, rites of healing, and anatomical votives in Greece and Rome.

After a brief discussion of evocatio and the development of Roman inclusion of foreign gods, chapter eight, "Isis and Foreign Gods," examines the cults of Isis, Serapis, and Mithras through statuettes, wall paintings, reliefs, and shrines. Sofroniew succinctly recounts the myth of Isis and Osiris, the spread of Isis' cult through Greece into Italy, and the rites honoring her as described by Plutarch and Apuleius, in particular. The chapter ends with a brief discussion of Mithras and the various initiation rituals of the mithraeum. Chapter nine "From Antiquity to Today," spans from Constantine to today, and stresses the continuity of domestic worship in a variety of contexts such as the house-church of Dura-Europos, the miniature church shrines in Crete, shrines to the Virgin Mary in Mexico, the worship of kami in Japan, and Hindu domestic shrines.

Outside of one prominent mistake (calling Leto a mortal woman), the book has no significant editing errors. It includes some end-notes, a short bibliography, and an index. Household Gods has much to offer the uninitiated reader of Greco-Roman culture and religion. The detailed images of the material objects ground the discussions of domestic ritual, daily life, and history in concrete representations and reflections of cultic activity and behavior. In this sense, this short book is a solid introduction to Greco-Roman domestic religion and society. And while the majority of the material covered will be very familiar to the professional academic, there are nuggets of information that may spur new ideas. Most importantly, however, Sofroniew reminds us in many ways and from a variety of perspectives that the key feature of Greek and, particularly, Roman religious ritual, belief and ideology occurred in the private spaces of the house, apart from the public gaze, and it is in these spaces where Greco-Roman notions of spirituality and belief begin and end.

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David Norbrook, Stephen Harrison, Philip Hardie (ed.), Lucretius and the Early Modern. Classical presences. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xv, 313. ISBN 9780198713845. $100.00.

Reviewed by Patrick M. Owens, Calvin College (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

This slim, unassuming volume contains some of the most interesting and cutting-edge research in the reception of Lucretius' De rerum natura (hereafter DRN). The last decade has witnessed a major revival of interest in Lucretian studies, and there has been no dearth of scholarship on Lucretius' reception in and influence on the early modern period. The editors of this volume have done an admirable job of publishing important current research by leading scholars in their fields. The work is comprised of twelve essays (including Norbrook's introduction) which revolve primarily around Lucretius' influence on the literary and philosophical underpinnings of the early modern period.

Norbrook's introduction to the essays is, at the outset, insightful in its contextualization. It is unfortunate that the current habit of handbooks, whereby the editor attempts to introduce every single subsequent article, takes hold of his piece. This fact notwithstanding, the essay is an articulate prolegomenon to the subject matter. Harrison's contribution in chapter one, 'Epicurean Subversion?' is a masterful look at the subversive aspects which undermine traditional Roman culture in favor of Greek Epicurean philosophy. Because the topic of the first chapter is only tenuously related to the volume's theme of the Early Modern, this piece might be more at home in a general companion to the DRN. In the second chapter, Butterfield's essay traces the rediscovery, textual transmission, commentaries (of Lambin and Creech) and early translations of the DRN. In chapter three, Brown argues that there are close parallels between Lucretius and Machiavelli, which demonstrate the influence of Epicurean naturalism on Machiavelli's thought and his break with contemporary orthodoxy. Haskell's chapter is a heavily footnoted tour of Lucretian influence and imitators in sixteenth-century Italy. This magisterial essay focuses on Paleario's De animorum immortalitate, Palingenio's Zodiacus vitae, Capece's De principiis rerum, and Parisetti's De immortalitate animae. Haskell calls attention to several desiderata in the study of these important authors, among them that Sacré's useful commentary on Paleario's poem remains unpublished. One hopes that this attention will help to persuade Sacré to bring his commentary or translation to market.

In chapter five, Davidson shifts the usual focus of Lucretian reception studies from Florence to the literary circles of Venice in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. He demonstrates that there was not the prohibition on reading or discussing the DRN in the Venetian Republic that there was in Florence, and those who held views that were compatible with Epicureanism likely drew their influences from sources other than Lucretius. Through a careful reading of Montaigne's Essais and the reproduction of eight manuscript pages with his marginal notes, Wes Williams investigates Montaigne's 'entanglement' in Lucretius' poetic eloquence and thought. The Epicurean revival of the mid-seventeenth century produced a number of influential vernacular translations; in chapter seven, Cottegnies offers a thorough treatment of the challenging history of French and English reception (primarily the translations of Evelyn [1656] Marolles [1659] and Creech [1682]), which Cottegnies argues is often intertwined and often perplexing. In chapter eight, Poole explores the early modern theories surrounding the genesis of the human race and their Lucretian origins, specifically La Peyrère's Epicurean polygenesis and Milton's inclusion of providence in the process of creation. Hardy offers the ninth chapter on some ancient and early modern perspectives on whether the DRN is a work of natural theology. Hardy's discussion revolves mainly around the interpretations espoused in the translations of Evelyn (1650s), Hutchinson (1650s), and Creech (1682).

In chapter ten, Norbrook focuses on the tumultuous period in England between the regicides to the Exclusion Crisis (1649 - 1681). Norbrook's chapter is admittedly rather narrow in its time span but it is rich in detail and insight. He explores the context of divergent readings offered by Gassendi and Hobbes during the 1650s, which influenced the subsequent receptions of the DRN, and the important role DRN held within English literature and political discourse. In the final chapter, Wilson pivots the discussion away from the significant and overt contribution that the DRN made to early modern thought to the "reasons why Epicurean themes have been largely invisible in political philosophy from Grotius and Rousseau" (p.260). Wilson presents two main reasons why the DRN has been understudied in the political philosophy of the period, namely that (1) contemporary philosophers were disinclined to identify themselves openly as Epicureans or militant atheists, and (2) there is a question of relevance, since the problems of early modern political philosophy ("authority and obedience, the legitimacy of sovereign power and the right of resistance to tyrants," etc.) (p.261) are treated only tangentially by the DRN or Epicurean philosophy if at all.

The contributors and editors of this collection succeeded in creating an exceptionally readable and accessible volume, which will be of interest to students of Lucretius, Epicurean philosophy, early modern philosophy, and the history of political philosophy. There are some rough spots in the text that would have benefitted from closer editorial attention. The length of the chapters is very uneven. Haskell's piece (chapter four) has a much higher than average word count due to the exhaustive footnoting. Norbrook allowed himself a great deal of space, which could have been condensed by one of his fellow editors. The proofreading was not done carefully enough to catch/eliminate several typos in the Latin quotations. For example, "Natura e ius …" should read "Naturae ius..." (p.76, n. 23); A letter quoted at length on p.165-6, n.18, is seriously marred by failed transcription and either typos or lack of bracketed sic.

Christina Alexandra Divioni Moirisotum, Burdelotio suadente, qui Reginae ibi aderat, accersiit. Post varios sermones, Moirisoti religionem inquisivit, qui se Catholicam profiteri asseveravit, simulque adjunxit, si aliâ imbutus esset, se tantae Reginae exemplo illam amplexurum, quam Christina. Ad ista subridens, sciscitata est num sciret que [sic] sacra illa coleret. Respondit illet [sic], palam esse accusavit [sic], seque Philosophorum religionem (verba Christinae sunt) omnibus aliis praeferre, testata est. Moirisotus haec sacra late patere innuens, explicationem dicti illius a Regina modeste efflagitavit, quam sic protulit: Philosophorum Religionem Lucretium optime depinxisse in libris de Natura Rerum [sic?], hancque [sic] se unice probare. Post exiguam moram eidem iniunxit, cum spe praemii regii, ut poetam illum commentario illustraret; qua mille [sic], ut pro cero [sic] mihi relatum, nunc adornat.

There is an index, which, unfortunately, does not include many authors mentioned in the footnotes.

Overall, this volume is a welcome addition to an ever-growing field of study on Lucretian reception. The editors should be congratulated on bringing together the scholars for this volume, and the authors for their insightful contributions.

Authors and Titles

Introduction, David Norbrook
1. Epicurean Subversion? Lucretius' First Proem and Contemporary Roman Culture, Stephen Harrison
2. Lucretius in the Early Modern Period: Texts and Contexts, David Butterfield
3. Lucretian Naturalism and the Evolution of Machiavelli's Ethics, Alison Brown
4. Poetic Flights or Retreats? Latin Lucretian Poems in Sixteenth-Century Italy, Yasmin Haskell
5. Lucretius, Irreligion, and Atheism in Early Modern Venice, Nicholas Davidson
6. 'Well said/well thought': How Montaigne Read his Lucretius, Wes Williams
7. Michel de Marolles's 1650 Translation of Lucretius and its Reception in England, Line Cottegnies
8. Lucretianism and Some Seventeenth-Century Theories of Human Origin, William Poole
9. Natural Reason and the Laws of Nature in Early Modern Versions of Lucretius, Nicholas Hardy
10. Atheists and Republicans: Interpreting Lucretius in Revolutionary England, David Norbrook
11. Political Philosophy in a Lucretian Mode, Catherine Wilson
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Wednesday, February 22, 2017


James Franklin Johnson, Acts of Compassion in Greek Tragic Drama. Oklahoma series in classical culture, 53.. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. vi, 308 p. $34.95. ISBN 9780806151663.

Reviewed by P. J. Finglass, University of Nottingham (

Version at BMCR home site


The compassion and pity (together with fear) created by Greek tragedy in its audience have been a mainstay of scholarly discussion since Gorgias and Aristotle; acts of compassion by the characters of Greek tragedy, however, have not received anything like the same attention. Johnson's pioneering monograph on this topic is thus a welcome addition to the literature; and although aspects of the book make it slightly less helpful than one might have hoped, it will nevertheless deservedly be consulted and cited by scholars and students.

The book opens with an introduction briefly detailing recent work on compassion in ancient Greek society and setting out general thoughts about the nature of compassion during that period. The first chapter, 'Homer and Archaic Greece', examines the role of compassion in literature before tragedy. The second, 'Fifth-Century Athens', looks at compassion in this city, for example in the courts and the assembly. The three chapters that follow, 'Aischylos', 'Euripides', and 'Sophokles', are the heart of the book; they are succeeded by a Conclusion, Notes (i.e. endnotes, regrettably), Bibliography, and an Index. The overall arrangement is well done; Johnson examines the place of compassion in literature before tragedy, then in the society most associated with tragedy, then in the three major tragedians.

Johnson believes that compassion in literature before tragedy is pretty much limited to Homer; as for other writers, 'in general, . . . the philosophers, lyric poets, and didactic poets of this period are not much interested in compassion, or perhaps it is not so central or appropriate to their genres as it is to that of epic, especially "tragic" epic' (p. 45). Johnson goes on to ask 'if . . . Homer, especially the author of the Iliad, emphasized the pity theme beyond the emphasis by other authors or in other texts of the Archaic period, how did this theme come to resurface in Attic tragedies?' (p. 47), concluding that the answer lies in Homer's immense prestige in Athenian society. But Johnson's premise is doubtful; the greater number of references to compassion in Homer and tragedy will more probably reflect the greater proportional loss of the literature in between. Moreover, Johnson in no way exhausts the references to compassion even in the scraps of archaic literature that have reached us. At the opening of Stesichorus' Sack of Troy, the Muse is asked to sing of 'a man learned in measurements and wisdom' who won glory by causing the Sack of Troy thanks to Athena's intervention – 'for the daughter of Zeus pitied him as he continuously carried water for the kings'.1 Epeius, for whom the goddess feels compassion, will become the creator of the wooden horse; the pity of Athena for this one man sets in motion the events that culminate in the brutal destruction of an ancient city. Pity recurs as a motivating factor at the start of the Cypria, where Zeus's pity for Earth, burdened as she was by the weight of so many humans, prompts the beginning of the Trojan War (fr. 1 West). And openings such as these feed into dramas such as Sophocles' Oedipus the King, where early acts of pity lead ironically to disastrous consequences. Fuller investigation of the literature between Homer and tragedy would have produced a different literary history from the one offered in this book.

Johnson's discussion of compassion in the individual tragedians tends to go through different plays, looking at every reference to compassion and then giving an overall sense of the place of compassion within the drama; there are also some general comments on each playwright. Sometimes he sees compassion where playwrights have conspicuously avoided including it. Pelasgus in Aeschylus' Suppliant Women and Demophon in Euripides' Children of Heracles both fail even to mention pity as a motivating factor in their decisions to accept the supplications with which they are confronted, whereas Theseus in a similar context in Euripides' Suppliant Women makes merely a glancing reference to that emotion; yet Johnson assures readers that these figures must have been motivated by compassion (pp. 80, 108, 113; cf. p. 59 on Diodotus' speech in Thucydides), and even mistranslates aidoion as 'so compassionate' (p. 80; cf. p. 79) in order to lend weight to this conclusion. True, aidôs and pity can be associated, but they need not be, and such a translation begs the question. Better to ask why compassion is not a factor in the decisions in these plays, especially since it is in Oedipus' response to the supplication in Sophocles' Oedipus the King; a comparison would have been a fruitful exercise. Other judgments too can seem off the mark. So Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus 'provides redemption for Oidipous and seems to have been used by the playwright to correct some people's negative impressions of Oidipous based on the earlier play' (p. 287 n. 10); if that really was Sophocles' intention, it's hard to say that he made a success of it. Theseus in the same drama 'is a hero who . . . represent[s] the best of Athenian qualities and embodie[s] its best hope in the critical final stages of the war with Sparta' (p. 212). But the character who sends Antigone back to Thebes at the end of the play lacks the foresight that an able leader ought to possess; and when Sophocles was writing OC it was far from clear that the war with Sparta was about to end.2

Some points that will not trouble specialists would nevertheless make me hesitant to recommend this book to students without a warning. So Prometheus Bound is called 'a play traditionally attributed to Aischylos but not universally accepted as such' (p. 88), and Johnson's discussion proceeds on the assumption that the play is indeed Aeschylean; he is of course entitled to that view, but needed to emphasise that most scholars today see things differently. Euripides' Medea is called 'an early play' (p. 143); in that case, the Ninth Symphony is 'early Beethoven', Great Expectations 'early Dickens', and Tess 'early Polanski', seeing that all these works come twenty-four years after their creator's début in the relevant genre. Trojan Women is said to have had its first production 'around 415' (p. 118); why the qualification? Firm dates are so rare in our business that we should not spurn the ones that we have. (The discussion of the play that follows makes no reference to the tetralogy of which it formed part; might compassion have played a role in Alexander, Palamedes, and Sisyphus?) 'Greek' and 'Athenian' are unhelpfully used as synonyms in a discussion of Aeschylus' Persians (pp. 75–6); the same problem is evident in the claim that 'Greek tragedy was obviously written by Athenians for a mostly Athenian audience' (p. 223), which overlooks Ion of Chios, Hieron of Syracuse, and Archelaus of Macedon, for starters.

Johnson falls victim to the biographical fallacy, assuming that we can read the personalities of dramatists from their plays; so for him Euripides 'is keenly sensitive to the pathos of human suffering' (p. 144), whereas 'for Aischylos, compassion . . . is an emotion that he never seems to become fully comfortable with' (p. 71). Other conclusions are somewhat bland, as when we are told that Seven against Thebes 'makes us aware of the suffering on both sides of any martial conflict' (p. 73; who is 'us', by the way?), or that 'compassion and empathy are needed to remind us of the horrible consequences of human aggression and to motivate saving action, comforting solace, and, when the time comes, dignified treatment of the dead' (p. 224), a claim that ignores recent work questioning the value of empathy.3 Other statements are not so much bland as actively misleading because of too ready an acceptance of statements and portrayals in ancient sources. So Sophocles 'exhibit[s] the golden mean in his treatment of the compassion theme, much as he exhibits it in other aspects of his poetic work' (p. 145; cf. p. 212 'the golden mean between the extremes represented by Aischylos and Euripides'), a claim explicitly influenced by Aristophanes' Frogs; while the Athenians 'seem to have been especially disposed to the feeling of compassion' (p. 68). I hope we can all agree that Sophocles does more than split the difference between Aeschylus and Euripides; as for Johnson's characterisation of the Athenians, I wonder what the Melians would have made of it.

Johnson is aware of the latest scholarship on pity in ancient Greece, but has missed some fundamental work on tragedy and early Greek poetry from recent decades. For the Loeb Aeschylus he cites Smyth's old edition, ignoring the new one by Sommerstein (2008). For the Penguin translation of Euripides he uses Vellacott, not the new, much better translation by John Davie (1998–2002). For Sophocles' Philoctetes Johnson cites Webster's long outdated 1970 edition/commentary, ignoring the recent one by S. L. Schein (2013; see BMCR 2013.11.31). He strangely cites Kenneth Dover's edition of Aristophanes' Clouds from the abridged student edition. He is unfamiliar with recent work by Ann Suter on lamentation and tears, which might have led him to revise his remarks on that topic and gender (e.g. pp. 75, 153–4, 251 n. 85). He frequently cites old editions of works subsequently revised, such as Buxton's Sophocles (1995/1984), Dawe's Oedipus Rex (2006/1982), Garvie's Suppliant Women (2006/1969), Lloyd-Jones's Justice of Zeus (1983/1971), the Oxford Classical Dictionary (2014/1996), Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta volume one (1986/1971), West's Iambi et elegi graeci (1989–92/1971–2), and neglects a great deal more. We all miss useful work, all the time; not all new work is good work, and good older pieces can retain their value. But those of us who seek to add to the literature on Greek tragedy should nevertheless try to get to know the latest publications on the subject.

Johnson's writing is generally clear, but can lapse into cliché: gifts keep on giving (pp. 20, 222), babies are thrown out with bathwater (p. 51), coins have two sides (p. 82), roller-coasters are ridden (p. 163), depths are plumbed (p. 194). His use of the phrase 'blurts out' for some of the most moving lines in Sophocles' Electra (pp. 160, 164) unhelpfully suggests clumsiness on the part of their speakers. I do not understand why he refers (p. 155) to 'Western or non-Western religious teachings'; why not say just 'religious teachings'? (And what is his evidence that people influenced by religious teachings are thereby more likely to be compassionate? I can think of a few counterexamples.) He helpfully gives cross-references to Macleod's Collected Papers when citing his articles, but neglects to do so for Calder, Gould, Lloyd-Jones, and Schadewaldt. He refers to the British Institute of Classical Studies; the first letter of that journal's abbreviated title stands for Bulletin.

This book has its problems, then, in matters of substance, presentation, and style. Nevertheless, readers will often find it stimulating, and it will, I hope, generate interest in what is still a relatively neglected area. ​


1.   Stes. fr. 100 F., on which see Finglass, P.J., 'How Stesichorus began his Sack of Troy', ZPE 185 (2013) 1–17. (Available here behind a login.)
2.   See 'Sophocles' Theseus', in A. Markantonatos and B. Zimmermann (eds.), Crisis on Stage (Trends in Classics, Suppl. 13; Berlin and New York 2011) 41–53.
3.   See now P. Bloom, Against Empathy. The Case for Rational Compassion (New York, 2016), previously summarised here.

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Cinzia Bearzot, Franca Landucci (ed.), Studi sull'Epitome di Giustino: II. Da Alessandro Magno a Filippo V di Macedonia. Contributi di storia antica, 13. Milano: Vita e pensiero, 2015. Pp. viii, 144. ISBN 9788834331071. €18.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Filippo Canali De Rossi, Liceo Classico Dante Alighieri, Roma (

Version at BMCR home site

Il presente volume è la continuazione degli Studi sull'Epitome di Giustino: I. Dagli Assiri a Filippo II di Macedonia, Milano 2015, già recensiti in questa rivista,1 e raccoglie sette contributi tenuti lungo il corso di un seminario annuale presso l'Università Cattolica di Milano, dove una parte significativa dei relatori si è formata o anche svolge il proprio insegnamento. Solo un tocco di internazionalità è fornito in questo caso dalla presenza di un docente esercitante in un paese straniero.

In questo volume è presa in considerazione la parte più propriamente macedonica della Epitome di Giustino, i libri XI-XXX che trattano eventi compresi fra la spedizione di Alessandro Magno ed il regno di Filippo V. Come nel precedente volume uno spazio di indagine critica è costituito per ciascun libro dal confronto fra il testo della Epitome e quello dei prologi di Trogo indipendentemente compilati.

Rimanendo in sospeso la questione della origine di Pompeo Trogo, da me suscitata nella precedente recensione, due incognite costanti sono costituite in primo luogo dalla fonte che sarebbe stata di volta in volta utilizzata da Pompeo Trogo per la scrittura delle sue Storie Filippiche, e in secondo luogo dall'epoca in cui l'epitomatore Giustino avrebbe realizzato il suo lavoro.2

Dato quindi il carattere interlocutorio di questo secondo volume—nel quale non è toccata ad esempio la dibattuta questione del presunto antiromanesimo di Trogo—passiamo alla analisi, sia pure sommaria, dei singoli contributi.

Il primo saggio (3-15), di Luisa Prandi, è intitolato Alessandro il Grande in Giustino. Dall'analisi dei libri XI e XII l'autrice evidenzia un implicito confronto presente nella narrazione fra la figura di Alessandro e quella del padre Filippo, a tutto vantaggio del secondo. Questa inferiorità di Alessandro rispetto al padre viene articolata sotto tre aspetti: quello positivo del valore riconosciuto a Filippo e quelli negativi della crudeltà di Alessandro, e di conseguenza della paura nutrita dagli stessi Macedoni e da tutte le genti, fino ai lontani Cartaginesi, nei suoi riguardi.

Il secondo contributo, di Franca Landucci (coeditrice, con Cinzia Bearzot, del volume), si incentra sulla trattazione dei Diadochi presente nei libri XIII-XVII dell'Epitome (17-38). L'autrice, in una serie di tavole sinottiche mette a confronto il contenuto dell'Epitome, ulteriormente da lei abbreviato, con quello dei prologi, presentati invece in forma integrale e tradotti. Il contributo è poi dedicato alla valorizzazione di notizie e parti originali presenti in Giustino. Questi, benché per i libri XIII-XV (che pure presentano notizie originali e particolari unici), sia messo in secondo piano dal più ampio racconto di Diodoro, costituisce, nei due restanti libri XVI-XVII, la nostra fonte principale per la conoscenza degli eventi storici del periodo successivo alla battaglia di Ipso e fino alla morte di Seleuco I (301-281 a.C. circa). Nel capitolo si evidenzia l'attitudine dello storico (Pompeo Trogo) a mettere in rilievo con tratti onorifici le figure dei successori di Alessandro (in particolare Seleuco I, Lisimaco, Tolemeo I), un aspetto che secondo l'autrice si potrebbe far risalire alla perduta opera Sui re di Timagene di Alessandria. A tale ipotesi, che sarebbe avallata dal riscontro negativo presente nel testo di Livio su Alessandro Magno,3 manca la conferma circa l'asserito carattere antiromano dell'opera storica di Timagene; 4 un interessante risvolto è invece costituito dalla possibilità che Timagene e Pompeo Trogo si siano conosciuti, ed abbiano coltivato assieme una determinata interpretazione della storia, presso il circolo culturale di Asinio Pollione.

Nel terzo contributo, Giustino e la storia di Cartagine (39-54), Giovanni Brizzi valorizza diversi passi, sparsi nell'opera, relativi alla storia cartaginese, a partire dalla fondazione della madrepatria Tiro, con una possibile eco della invasione dei 'popoli del mare'. Per quanto riguarda il sacrificio degli infanti, notoriamente praticato dai Cartaginesi e di cui Giustino dà testimonianza esplicita, Brizzi riconduce questo ad un contesto più ampio di 'civiltà del sacrificio', sia esso il suicidio messo in atto dalla regina fondatrice o la crocifissione riservata ai comandanti sconfitti.

Il saggio di Riccardo Vattuone, già autore di uno dei contributi presenti nel primo volume, è intitolato Giustino e l'Occidente greco, II: IV-III secolo a.C. (55-67). L'autore tiene a sottolineare che la narrazione dei fatti relativi alla Sicilia e alla Magna Grecia è inserita nell'opera di Giustino in forma di excursus, con riferimento alla presenza di Pirro in Italia ed al suo passaggio in Sicilia. Viene così evidenziata l'omissione di alcuni riferimenti dovuti in una narrazione continua, quali ad esempio l'ascesa di Dionigi I (di cui comunque viene raccontata la campagna italica), mentre è presente un ritratto a forti tinte (sia pur negativo) di Dionigi II, e soprattutto, senza riguardo per la figura di Timoleonte, vi è la famosa pagina dedicata ad Agatocle.

Il contributo di Maria Teresa Schettino, uno dei più ampî, è riservato alla figura di Pirro in Giustino (69-98). Alle vicende di questo personaggio sono infatti dedicati dall'autore ben sei libri della trattazione, dal XVI al XXIII, sia pure con l'intercalazione di altre vicende, in particolare di excursus sulla Sicilia e sui Cartaginesi, di cui altri han già parlato. Per ordinare le notizie sulle movimentate vicende di cui il re epirota fu protagonista in tutte le fasi della vita, esse vengono ripartite dall'autrice sotto cinque voci: la genealogia, la politica matrimoniale, i rapporti con i diadochi e gli epigoni, la spedizione in Italia, la spedizione in Sicilia. Vi sono nel testo di Giustino alcune varianti rispetto a tutto il resto della tradizione, relative in particolare al suo ferimento in battaglia (Ascoli o Eraclea?), e alla cronologia delle trattative con i Romani.5

Il saggio di Federicomaria Muccioli, L'Oriente seleucidico da Antioco I ai primi anni di Antioco III in Pompeo Trogo / Giustino (99-120) prende in esame un tema che doveva avere un relativamente grande spazio nell'opera di Trogo, e che si presenta invece fortemente ridotto in Giustino. In discussione è il carattere 'macedone' rivendicato dalla dinastia seleucidica, che risulta fortemente sminuito nell'Epitome. Una corrispondenza fra Giustino e il massimo storico ellenistico, Polibio, è rappresentata dalla rilevazione del sincronismo, che si verifica nell'emergere di giovani nuovi sovrani in diverse parti del mondo in un breve periodo di tempo (223-220 a.C. circa).6

Il contributo di Monica D'Agostini, Il discorso del Re: Filippo V in Giustino (121-144) si sofferma invece sulla figura di Filippo V, le cui vicende meno note erano state trattate principalmente nei libri XXIX e XXX dell'opera di Trogo (come si rileva dai Prologi), ma risultano parzialmente omesse da Giustino. Nella narrazione dello scontro con i Romani, che invece è preservata, è possibile il confronto con altre tradizioni più ampie, in primo luogo ovviamente quella polibiana e liviana. Un episodio presente sia in Giustino che in Livio è ad esempio lo scambio di ambascerie avvenuto fra Annibale e Filippo V di Macedonia in vista di una alleanza antiromana.7 La conclusione è che nella persona di Filippo V assistiamo al compimento di un ciclo iniziato con Filippo II, ciclo che riveste una importanza centrale nel determinare il contenuto e soprattutto la denominazione (Storie Filippiche) dell'opera di Trogo.

Sono questi dunque alcuni degli spunti che presenta la lettura di questo libro dall'aspetto dimesso (non vi sono ancora apparati, né di indici né di fonti, forse riservati al III volume), dal costo contenuto, ma che probabilmente investe la parte più necessaria dell'Epitome, quella che maggiormente surroga la mancanza di altre fonti dedicate. Alcune parti dei saggi possono risentire del carattere orale ed episodico della presentazione,8 ma si fondano in generale su una solida, pregressa conoscenza delle parti trattate.9


1.   BMCR 2015.10.27.
2.   Questo secondo aspetto viene affrontato in particolare all'inizio del contributo di Schettino (p. 69 ss.), con propensione per una datazione sostanzialmente 'alta', basata sulla conoscenza, dimostrata da Giustino nella praefatio, di Marco Catone, e quindi su una sua desumibile aderenza allo stile arcaizzante in voga nel II secolo d.C.
3.   Liv. IX, 16-18, ove si nega ai diadochi di aver avuto alcun peso nella potenza macedone.
4.   A questo riguardo di lui sappiamo solo che, per la libertà di parola, si era inimicato Augusto. Sul contenuto delle opere scritte non ho trovato rispondenze.
5.   Rinvio alla trattazione che di questo episodio diedi in F. Canali De Rossi, Le ambascerie dal mondo greco a Roma, Roma 1997, e in Le relazioni diplomatiche di Roma I, Roma 2005.
6.   Iustinus XXIX, 1, 1-7. Polybius IV, 2, 5-10. Questa corrispondenza è rimarcata anche nel saggio della D'Agostini (p. 122).
7.   Anche in questo caso alla bibliografia addotta affianco il mio personale contributo in Le ambascerie, citato a nota 5, e in Le relazioni diplomatiche di Roma III, Roma 2013.
8.   Ad esempio ogni autore ripete considerazioni generali – non sempre peraltro combacianti – sul carattere dell'opera. Tratti colloquiali sono presenti in particolare nel saggio di Brizzi (ad es. p. 42, 'chi vi parla').
9.   Si segnalano le seguenti correzioni: p. 11, nota 29: gaudebant; p. 18, riga 11-12: che Giustino 'ha eliminato ... la digressione su Cirene' è contraddetto dal riassunto fatto dalla stessa autrice; p. 40, riga 25: secondo Giustino la fondazione di Roma è 72 anni prima, non dopo, la fondazione di Roma; p. 47-48, passim, 'ambascieria/e', grafia per lo meno insolita (così p. 79, riga 19, 'nobilità'); p. 64, riga 8: 'democrazia' scritto in greco con épsilon invece di eta; p. 76, nota 35: refuso all'inizio della citazione: Quos Pyrrus; p. 107, ultima riga del testo: XXIV-XXX; p. 109, nota 47: chi è il fanciullo Abide destinato al trono? P. 114, nota 77: Abnuenti; p. 126, nota 18: nota superflua in questo tipo di contributo; p. 137, riga 16: trattandosi di un oracolo la traduzione con il presente del futuro non è ammissibile.

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Étienne Helmer (ed.), Richesse et pauvreté chez les philosophes de l'Antiquité. Tradition de la pensée classique. Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 2016. Pp. 320. ISBN 9782711626854. €29.00.

Reviewed by Mathilde Cambron-Goulet, Université du Québec à Montréal (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

L'ouvrage collectif Richesse et pauvreté chez les philosophes de l'Antiquité, sous la direction d'Étienne Helmer, part de l'observation que la situation de richesse ou de pauvreté dans laquelle se trouvent les philosophes antiques, qu'elle soit le résultat d'un choix ou du hasard, trouve écho dans leur philosophie. Dix contributions examinent comment différents philosophes distinguent argent et richesse matérielle, ou définissent la richesse en lui attribuant tantôt un sens moral, tantôt un sens matériel. L'ensemble est lui-même d'une grande richesse pour tout chercheur portant un intérêt au traitement philosophique de questions économiques, qu'il s'agisse du rôle que joue la richesse dans la capacité à exercer des dispositions éthiques dans la pensée aristotélicienne (Murgier) ; des stratégies pédagogiques retenues par les stoïciens pour amener l'apprenti-philosophe à porter un jugement correct sur la pauvreté ou la richesse (Alexandre) ; de l'usage que fait saint Augustin des figures du pauvre et du riche comme métaphores de l'humanité et de la divinité du Christ, pouvant être conciliées pourvu que la richesse soit définie par le don plutôt que par l'accumulation (Lavaud) ; des implications de la définition que Xénophon donne de la richesse sur sa conception des vertus et des responsabilités politiques (Dorion) ; ou encore de la définition de la véritable richesse chez Aristote, qui la distingue d'une chrématistique dénaturée dans laquelle l'argent, plutôt que de jouer un rôle instrumental dans l'acquisition de biens de consommation, devient principe et fin de l'échange (Tabosa). L'une des principales qualités de l'ouvrage réside dans la diversité des figures philosophiques abordées : les contributions de Teisserenc sur Aristippe, de Bonazzi sur Antiphon et de Gavray sur l'Anonyme de Jamblique constituent une occasion de renouveler les sources de notre connaissance du rapport des philosophes antiques à la richesse.

La contribution de Teisserenc montre que l'anti-eudaimonisme des cyrénaïques entraîne un rapport à l'argent caractérisé par un refus de la rationalité économique. Pour Aristippe, en effet, c'est chaque action qui possède une fin (le plaisir), et non l'ensemble des actions qui est orienté vers une fin (le bonheur). Ce refus de la recherche du bonheur repose, chez les cyrénaïques, sur la dispersion du temps, thème que l'article aborde avec clarté : la contingence du futur, le caractère indisponible du passé et le rejet de la permanence du moi rendent à leurs yeux toute accumulation de richesses en vue d'un bonheur futur insensée, et la dilapidation de richesse, opportune si elle entraîne un plaisir. En outre, l'incommensurabilité des plaisirs dans la doctrine cyrénaïque fait en sorte que seules les circonstances déterminent le bon usage des richesses et des plaisirs. Cette analyse permet à Teisserenc de montrer comment Aristippe justifie la marchandisation du savoir philosophique—pour peu que celui-ci trouve acquéreur. Ce dernier aspect de l'article est d'autant plus intéressant que la critique philosophique du salariat a reçu dans la recherche une attention beaucoup plus grande que la justification de cette pratique.

Bonazzi s'attache quant à lui à mettre en lumière le rôle social et politique majeur que joue l'argent chez les sophistes : l'intérêt d'Antiphon pour la richesse se double d'une réflexion sur le rapport entre les phénomènes psychologiques et les dynamiques économiques. Les fragments d'Antiphon qui nous sont parvenus se caractérisent ainsi plutôt par le désir d'utiliser l'argent que par celui de le posséder, ainsi que par une conscience aiguë du caractère central de l'économie dans la vie de la cité. Le travail de Bonazzi permet de revoir l'analyse traditionnelle du rapport des sophistes à la richesse, chez lesquels celle-ci est vue soit comme un signe de leur avidité, soit comme un témoignage de leur compétence.

Gavray se penche sur l'Anonyme de Jamblique. D'une part, il propose une analyse systématique des trois principales thèses de l'Anonyme sur le thème des richesses, à savoir (1) que la pratique individuelle de la bienfaisance ne profite qu'à un petit nombre d'individus plutôt qu'au bien commun ; (2) que l'usage individualiste de la richesse met en péril la cohésion de la cité, alors que la maîtrise de soi quant aux richesses permet à l'individu d'entretenir avec autrui un lien politique authentique ; (3) que le riche, en mettant ses biens au service de la collectivité, est délivré de l'inquiétude que lui cause le sentiment de manque éprouvé par les plus pauvres. D'autre part, Gavray met en lumière l'intérêt que présentent de telles thèses dans l'argumentation de Jamblique. La doctrine des richesses de l'Anonyme correspond en effet à la hiérarchie des valeurs pythagoriciennes en ce qui concerne le rapport aux richesses qu'il faut avoir et la manière dont on doit user de celles-ci ; en outre, le rôle que joue la confiance envers autrui dans la doctrine de l'Anonyme fait écho aux doctrines des Oracles Chaldaïques et permet au lecteur néoplatonicien de s'élever des vertus éthiques aux vertus politiques.

Certaines contributions du recueil se démarquent en outre par la finesse de l'analyse qu'elles proposent, et permettent de nuancer les interprétations courantes de la richesse et de la pauvreté dans des écoles philosophique où ces dernières jouent un rôle sinon central, du moins bien documenté. C'est le cas des articles remarquables de Morel, Husson, Larivée et Helmer.

L'article de Morel montre que l'autarcie que prônent les épicuriens n'implique pas une indifférence face aux biens matériels ; la limite fixée pour le gain doit toutefois correspondre avec la limite du besoin. Comme le souligne Morel, les richesses et l'usage qu'on en fait font partie de la vie philosophique : porter un jugement correct sur les nécessités et les ressources matérielles participe de l'autosuffisance du sage, définie comme « la capacité à se satisfaire de ce qui est à notre disposition » (p.121). Le bon usage des richesses consiste à ne pas éprouver le manque ; dès lors, ni le goût illimité pour les richesses ni la privation systématique ne respectent la limite fixée par le besoin naturel. Cette analyse permet à Morel de proposer une définition originale de l'autosuffisance épicurienne, vue comme la capacité du sage d'« aller au-delà du strict nécessaire et de jouir du superflu » (p.123), précisément parce qu'il apprécie correctement la satisfaction de ses besoins.

Husson se questionne sur les critères économiques qui permettent à l'individu de se définir comme cynique, en explicitant la justification que les cyniques donnent de leur ascétisme. Elle se penche sur la difficulté pour le cynique d'avoir une source de revenu. L'exercice d'une activité, rémunérée ou non, manuelle ou intellectuelle, semble incompatible avec la vie de philosophe cynique : la seule source de revenu admissible pour un authentique cynique se limite aux dons qu'il reçoit—privés ou publics, sollicités ou non, pourvu qu'ils puissent être consommés au jour le jour. Bien que les possessions canoniques du cynique se limitent à un manteau, un bâton, une besace et son contenu, Husson montre que la possession de certains biens est toutefois tolérée, particulièrement lorsque le cynique n'en fait pas usage. De plus, parce que la pauvreté du cynique est volontaire et non subie, les cyniques d'origine modeste sont forcés de surenchérir sur les cyniques mieux lotis dans leur ascèse et leur refus des conventions. L'étude des fragments de poèmes de Cratès donne l'occasion à Husson de discuter l'apologie cynique de la pauvreté, qui provient de la définition de la prospérité matérielle (ὄλβος) comme la capacité à satisfaire les seuls besoins du corps, ce qui suppose des ressources matérielles minimes. Husson note l'écart entre cyniques et stoïciens à cet égard, en soulignant que l'autarcie cynique implique aussi de se libérer des devoirs sociaux et politiques qui sont attachés à la possession de richesses matérielles et en particulier de terres. Par ailleurs, l'importance qu'accordent les cyniques à l'harmonie entre la doctrine et l'action, ainsi que la dimension pédagogique de leur action, les empêchent de maintenir, à l'égard de leur richesse, un attachement apparent.

Enfin, les contributions de Helmer et de Larivée gagnent à être lues en parallèle : Helmer examine les conditions matérielles de possibilité de la cité idéale, tandis que Larivée étudie les conditions matérielles de possibilité de la philosophie. Larivée souligne le fait que, pour Platon, il faut disposer de loisir et par conséquent d'une certaine aisance matérielle afin d'exercer une activité philosophique—conditions garanties dans la cité idéale par le financement public de la subsistance des gardiens et par la prise en charge des enfants de ceux-ci. En montrant que la pauvreté de Socrate n'est pas choisie, mais résulte plutôt de l'incapacité de prendre soin de ses affaires, à laquelle le réduit la mission d'intérêt public qu'il mène dans la cité, Larivée propose une analyse originale de l'indigence dans laquelle se trouve Socrate et de la suggestion qu'il fait d'être nourri au Prytanée (Apologie 36d) : les ressorts rhétoriques du discours de Socrate reposent sur le désir de richesse de ses auditeurs. Larivée met ainsi en valeur l'usage protreptique que le Socrate de Platon fait de la philochrèmatia qu'il suppose chez son interlocuteur. Helmer, quant à lui, montre comment Platon, plutôt que d'essayer d'enrayer la philochrèmatia—laquelle, souligne-t-il, est susceptible de détruire l'unité de la cité en y attaquant la communauté et le sens de la justice—, cherche plutôt à en tirer profit de manière à favoriser l'unité de la cité. En effet, le mécanisme de transfert de richesse prévu dans les Lois permet de satisfaire le désir de richesse, tout en diminuant les écarts sociaux, en associant la richesse à des charges publiques qui désavantagent autant la grande richesse que l'exploitation minimale du lot. La manière dont le désir de richesse (philochrèmatia) est exploité dans l'argumentation platonicienne est ainsi au cœur des deux analyses de Platon qui sont livrées dans l'ouvrage.

La cohésion de l'ensemble est excellente. L'ouvrage est bien écrit et à peu de choses près exempt de coquilles (à peine une dizaine). La bibliographie classée proposée en fin de recueil est précieuse et met en relief la relative rareté des études sur le thème de la richesse et de la pauvreté en histoire de la philosophie antique—outre les ouvrages de Finley, Berthoud, Helmer et Meikle,1 il n'existe que peu de monographies reliant philosophie antique et économie—études qui, on peut le souhaiter, bénéficieront d'un nouvel essor grâce à cette captivante publication.

Table des matières

Étienne Helmer : Avant-propos 7
Première partie. Richesse et pauvreté : comment les définir et quelle valeur éthique leur accorder ?
Fulcran Teisserenc : Usage et mésusage de l'argent : la leçon d'Aristippe 15
Mauro Bonazzi : Antiphon le philochrèmatos 47
Charlotte Murgier : De l'usage d'un bien extérieur : richesse et vertu dans l'éthique aristotélicienne 59
Sandrine Alexandre : « Mépriser les richesses » : principe pour la vie heureuse, stratégies de réalisation, enjeux politiques 85
Pierre-Marie Morel : Épicure et les biens matériels, ou la pauvreté bien tempérée 111
Suzanne Husson : Peut-on être riche et cynique ? 125
Laurent Lavaud : « Je cherche un pauvre » : visibilité et invisibilité du pauvre dans le Sermon 14 de saint Augustin 147
Deuxième partie. De l'homme à la cité : conséquences sociales, économiques et politiques de la richesse et de la pauvreté
Louis-André Dorion : Richesse et pauvreté dans l'œuvre de Xénophon 167
Étienne Helmer : Platon et le désir de richesse : psychologie, économie et politique 197
Annie Larivée : Si Socrate devenait cité : pauvreté, souci des richesses et soin de l'âme dans l'Apologie et la République 221
Adriana Tabosa : Les métamorphoses de la richesse : économie et chrématistique chez Aristote 251
Marc-Antoine Gavray : De l'Anonyme à Jamblique, ou de l'usage politique de la richesse 275
Bibliographie 305


1.   M. I. Finley, The Ancient Economy. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1973 ; A. Berthoud, Aristote et l'argent. Paris: Maspero, 1981 ; É. Helmer, La Part du bronze. Platon et l'économie. Paris: Vrin, 2010 ; S. Meikle, Aristotle's Economic Thought. London: Oxford Clarendon Press, 1995.

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