Monday, April 24, 2017


Sharon Weisser, Naly Thaler (ed.), Strategies of Polemics in Greek and Roman Philosophy. Jerusalem studies in religion and culture, 21. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2016. Pp. ix, 248. ISBN 9789004319646. $142.00.

Reviewed by Rodrigo Verano, Universidad de los Andes (

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

This volume, edited by S. Weisser and N. Thaler, collects papers presented at the colloquium "Strategies of Polemics in Greek and Roman Philosophy" held at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute in 2014, together with other contributions especially prepared for the book.

Polemic is essential to ancient philosophy. From Plato and Aristotle, and especially in the Hellenistic and Imperial periods, philosophical trends flourished in a polemical context which helped shape thought and discourse, and surviving texts preserve evidence of these confrontations. Some of the papers in this book explore particular examples of this; but probably the main interest of the volume is its thematic approach: polemics becomes the lens through which the authors look at the problems of Greek and Roman philosophy, bringing together texts otherwise set apart, shedding new light on the interrelations between schools and discovering fresh perspectives. In my opinion, these approaches to a complex literature are always welcome, particularly if, as is the case here, the topic selected is so central.

After the introduction, André Laks' chapter effectively sets the agenda, offering a definition of polemic —later taken up in some of the other contributions— and a historical review of the relationship between polemics and philosophy. Laks focuses on the martial denotation of the word and explores the distinction between "war"—a private confrontation between enemies—, and philosophical "polemic", where the participation of a third party—the audience—seems to be required. Laks shows how polemic has served as an identity-making tool for schools and institutions and how it has been used differently through history.

Christopher Shields approaches the Socratic opposition between sophistry and philosophy in Plato and Aristotle. Starting from a passage in which Plato calls "young dogs" the young men who initiate themselves into eristic and cast philosophy aside, the author stresses the fact that sophistic and philosophy actually share common ground, yet differ essentially: one is truth-implicating and free of self-interest, the other is not. Thus, Socrates can act like a sophist, but will never be called such. Aristotle also understands the difference between the sophist and the philosopher in terms of attitude: discriminating the probable and the real can be an arduous task, but it is the mark of the philosopher to have the will to take it on.

Naly Thaler examines the refutation of Protagoras' man-measure doctrine in Plato's Theaetetus. In this dialogue, Socrates examines Protagoras' doctrine and finds two cases in which the doctrine seems to be sound: the judgments of perception and the judgments of value. After a digression (172c-177c), Socrates resumes his discussion of these problematic instances, but in fact only deals with the former judgments. Thaler considers that judgments of value are not treated because they have in effect been refuted in the dialectical parts that precede and follow the digression. Specifically, he points out the moment in which Socrates distinguishes the capacity of cities to assign the name 'just' to whatever they want to lay down as 'just'. According to Thaler, this refutation remains implicit because of the nature of the so-called litigious man, who is not at all interested in the search for the truth, and therefore is not in need of dialectical help to find it. Thaler provides a very subtle insight into this difficult and obscure passage, demonstrating that in Platonic dialogue every element, and not only what appears to be the main body of argumentation, must be considered.

Charlotte Murgier identifies a polemical background to Plato's and Aristotle's texts on pleasure. In Philebus, Plato refers to some "difficult people" and some "refined people" whose ideas and opinions are used as a starting point of the discussion. The first group can be identified as anti-hedonists (to them, pleasure is the mere absence of pain). The second group—the "refined people"—understands pleasure as a becoming (γένεσις) rather than a being (οὐσία). Murgier suggests that Socrates interacts differently with those two visions: while he rejects completely the first one, some ambiguity remains about the second one. In fact, the Platonic conception of pleasure relies on an idea of restoration or replenishment (πλήρωσις) not completely incompatible with the "genesis theory". Aristotle, on the other hand, reacts against it: in the Nicomachean Ethics, he defines pleasure as a perfect activity (ἐνέργεια) which does not fit the structure of γένεσις.

Josef Müller offers a new perspective on the controversial interpretation of Plato's ideal city to be found in Aristotle's Politics. Müller approaches Aristotle's criticism by pointing out that his aim is not to develop a thorough analysis of Plato's political system, but rather to address the problem of social cohesion and its possible foundations. Thus, Aristotle's attack targets communism and ignores other important aspects of Plato's political project not because of a misreading of the Republic, but because Plato establishes that the community of women and children will support φιλία among the guardians. Aristotle strongly disagrees with Plato, arguing that human beings feel a natural inclination to own property. Müller also points out the fact that Aristotle tries to undermine the beauty of Plato's system by resorting to rhetorical devices. It would be very interesting to go more deeply into the analysis of these stylistic factors, which can help us understand the complete strategy of the Aristotelian criticism of Plato.

Voula Tsouna enters Roman philosophy by studying the reception of the ancient rivalry between Cyrenaics and Epicureans in the works of Cicero and Plutarch (representatives of anti-Epicurean thought) and in those of Philodemus and Diogenes of Oinoanda (supporters of Epicureanism). Tsouna suggests that Cicero's striking praise of Cyrenaic hedonism is actually a strategy seeking to counteract the success of Epicurean philosophy. To the orator, the extreme hedonism claimed by the Cyrenaic philosophers was far from taking root in Roman soil, while the arguments they provided against the Garden could be helpful in the fight against the real threat of Epicureanism. On the other side of the reception, Tsouna studies how Philodemus attacks the radical presentism of Cyrenaic hedonism (i.e. the claim that pleasure only exists in the present), arguing that it implies absence of rationality in the making of decisions. She also shows traces of the polemic against the Cyrenaics in some fragments of Diogenes of Oenoanda—the first time that many of these texts are interpreted in this way.

Daniel Marković focuses on Lucretius' treatment of Epicurus in De Rerum Natura. Marković notices that Lucretius presents the intellectual achievement of his master in terms of a military triumph. A look at the structure of Lucretius' exposition of Epicurean ideas reveals that the Roman poet follows a regular pattern: he first introduces the Epicurean arguments, then provides evidence, and finally comes to the refutation of other doctrines—argumentatio, probatio and refutatio—, contrariwise to Aristotelian disposition. As regards the refutation, Marković notes that Lucretius never mentions by name contemporary opponents addressed in the poem. These attacks take multiple forms and make use of many rhetorical strategies, such as parody, reductio ad absurdum, amplification, etc. The combination of these rhetorical devices, the military lexical apparatus and the fact that, as happened with enemy generals after being defeated, the opponents are made to lose their name, leads Marković to suggest that Lucretius is actually writing Epicurus' res gestae.

In his chapter, Mauro Bonazzi approaches the establishment and development of Platonism in the post-Hellenistic context, and its confrontation with the mainstream philosophical trends of the time: the Garden, the Stoa and the Academy. Bonazzi reminds us that the many words related to other philosophical traditions that can be found in the first Platonist texts are usually explained by turning to a lingua franca, a jargon made up of technical terms from all schools of thought. Although this is true, Bonazzi suggests the possibility that some of the first Platonist authors actually try to appropriate some of the achievements of their rivals (hence the "perfidious" strategy that gives name to the paper) in order to strengthen their own position. Bonazzi studies the concept of ἔννοια and its migration from Stoic doctrine to some Platonist texts which take advantage of the term and provide it with a new definition, not based on an understanding of its use in Stoic theory, but framed in terms of the theory of Ideas. Bonazzi's work challenges our understanding of post-hellenistic Platonism and invites a new reading of these texts which sheds light on the mutual relations between the schools of this period.

Carlos Lévy explores the concept of vehementia in Roman philosophy and rhetoric. The first part of the chapter consists of a study of the uses of the term in textual sources related to rhetoric and examines thoroughly the meaning of the word in every context. According to Lévy, Roman rhetoricians did not pay much attention to vehementia and the vehemens: they are linked to types of speech characterized by repetition and emphasis. Lévy's analysis proves how this way of speaking is not consistent with the Roman ideal of gravitas, unless the orator is speaking for virtue. The concept becomes philosophical only from Cicero and, above all, Seneca, who approved its use in philosophical disputations, but always subordinate to the gentle mode of conversation that is more appropriate to philosophy. The chapter is a wonderful portrait of vehementia—as the author says, a notion more than a concept, a tool more than a framework—within Roman culture.

Sharon Weisser studies Plutarchean (On Stoic Self-Contradictions) and Galenic texts (On the doctrines of Hippocrates and Plato) against Chrysippus. Weisser analyses carefully the methodology of self-refutation used by Plutarch and distinguishes different strategies designed for this aim. She focuses particularly on the use of literal quotations of the opponent as a way to achieve a more persuasive effect (in Plutarch), or, sometimes, to hide beneath literalness some non-strictly correct interpretation of his opponent's words (in Galen).

Robert Lamberton's inspiring last chapter reflects on Proclus' relationship with Christianity and suggests that his commentary on the Republic of Plato is actually addressed against Christians and the Christian misinterpretation of Platonic doctrine. Lamberton exposes Proclus' model of explanation of poetry, a threefold model that entails different levels of reading a text and that is also applicable to his own text. The model contains the instructions that allow for decoding a message hidden in the commentary: that "the few" to whom he addresses are the chosen ones, and the allusions to "the many" (and to "giants") actually refer to Christians.

The volume prepared by Weisser and Thaler has extraordinary coherence, something remarkable when it comes to collective volumes. Its pages approach Greek and Roman philosophy in an original way, revisit many unresolved problems, and are an invitation for future research.

Authors and Titles

Notes on Contributors
Introduction by Sharon Weisser and Naly Thaler.
The Continuation of Philosophy by Other Means? by André Laks
The Young Dogs of Eristic: Dialectic and Eristic in the Early Academy by Christopher Shields
A Hidden Argument in Plato's Theaetetus by Naly Thaler
Polemical Arguments about Pleasure: The Controversy within and around the Academy by Charlotte Murgier
The Politics of Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Republic by Jozef Müller
Cyrenaics and Epicureans on Pleasure and the Good Life: The Original Debate and Its Later Revivals by Voula Tsouna
Polemics in Translation: Lucretius by Daniel Marković
The Perfidious Strategy; or, the Platonists against Stoicism by Mauro Bonazzi
Vehementia: A Rhetorical Basis of Polemics in Roman Philosophy by Carlos Lévy
The Art of Quotation: Plutarch and Galen against Chrysippus by Sharon Weisser
The Invisible Adversary: Anti-Christian Polemic in Proclus's Commentary on the Republic of Plato by Robert Lamberton
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Mark D. Stansbury-O'Donnell, A History of Greek Art. Malden, MA; Oxford; Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2015. Pp. xxviii, 387. ISBN 9781444350159. $64.95 (pb).

Steven L. Tuck, A History of Roman Art. Malden, MA; Oxford; Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2015. Pp. xxxiii, 352. ISBN 9781444330250. $64.95 (pb).

Dimitris Plantzos, Greek Art and Archaeology, c. 1200-30 BC. Nicola Wardle, translator. Atlanta, GA: Lockwood Press, 2016. Pp. 304. ISBN 9781937040574. $49.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Linda Maria Gigante, University of Louisville (

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Teaching a survey course whose objective is to offer undergraduates an overview of either Greek or Roman art in one semester is fraught with many challenges. The first problem confronting an instructor involves defining a clear plan for a course intended to offer a comprehensive view of a culture's artistic production. What are students expected to retain from an abundance of monuments, dates, and cultural information presented to them? And, in view of the daunting number of works that can be covered in a semester-long course, how does an instructor select and organize the material so that the students are not overwhelmed by all the information presented to them? For many years the traditional approach to teaching a survey course has been to focus on monuments from a well-established canon and to study them stylistically within a chronological framework. Consequently, the textbooks that have typically been chosen for such courses have been organized historically, with an emphasis on the ways in which works of art exemplify the stylistic and iconographic characteristics of their respective periods. This approach, however, has always been problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it runs the risk of creating the impression in students' minds that Greek art underwent a stylistic evolution over time from abstraction in the Early Iron Age to naturalism in the Hellenistic period and that, in the case of Roman art, the trajectory was in the opposite direction.

Since 2010, the study of Greek and Roman art has been substantially enriched by scholars who have considered works of art in the context of a variety of cultural issues. Topics such as gender and sexuality, ethnicity, reception studies, and cultural patrimony, have expanded our view of ancient art and, consequently, influenced ideas about the best approach to teaching a survey course. For example, Richard Neer (Thames & Hudson, 2011) and Judith Barringer (Cambridge University Press, 2015) have written surveys of Greek art that both maintain the chronological framework and offer new perspectives on the key monuments and the cultures that produced them. Both authors present a large body of material and adhere to the traditional chronological format while, at the same time, recognizing the importance of viewing works within a wider cultural framework. In the case of comprehensive surveys available for the history of Roman art, the texts by Fred Kleiner (Cengage Learning, enhanced ed., 2010) and Nancy and Andrew Ramage (Pearson, 6th ed., 2014) have been popular texts, with the authors contextualizing representative works by including relevant cultural material. In the latter text, for example, the authors include information about non-elite burials in columbaria in their chapter on early Imperial art and architecture.

In 2015, Wiley Blackwell took the unprecedented step of simultaneously publishing surveys of Greek and Roman art and architecture, written by respected scholars and meant to be companion texts. Mark Stansbury-O'Donnell has written a survey of Greek art and architecture in which key monuments are coupled with numerous works that are less well known. His organization is chronological, with timelines paralleling the dates of key monuments with significant historical events. At the same time, the author includes within each chapter and in separate chapters thematic material, like Greek ritual practices and ethnic identity. Steven Tuck's companion volume on Roman art and architecture is also chronologically structured, with key monuments discussed within the framework of Roman history. In each chapter there are textboxes introducing additional historical, cultural, and artistic material. Both authors have endeavored to strike a balance between presenting Greek and Roman art within an historical context and, at the same time, introducing the reader to the issues and problems being addressed by today's scholars.

In 2016, the English translation of a survey of Greek art and archaeology by Dimitris Plantzos was published. In five chapters the author introduces the reader to the research methodology of archaeological investigation and discusses a select number of mostly familiar monuments within their historical and cultural context. Textboxes focus on specific works of art and various cultural issues, with topics ranging from the symposion to the problems associated with using Roman copies to reconstruct lost Greek works. The material covered in the textboxes serves to enhance the reader's appreciation of the material covered in the chapter. The monuments presented in each chapter are, for the most part, canonical but the author departs from the approaches of other authors of survey texts by taking a decidedly archaeological approach and including issues such as excavation history and authenticity.

The objective of this review is to offer a critical evaluation of these three texts in an effort to provide a useful guide to instructors who offer comprehensive surveys of Greek and Roman art. It will also include some personal thoughts on alternative approaches to introducing undergraduates to the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome by utilizing the visual arts as the focus.

Stansbury-O'Donnell's text is divided into fifteen chapters, with the first providing an introduction to the format of the book, followed by an explanation of terms and an overview of each chapter's subject matter. Eight chronologically organized chapters begin with the "Early and Middle Bronze Age" (2) and end with the "Hellenistic Period" (14). In the "Epilogue" (15) the author underscores the continuous communication among ancient cultures by highlighting the adaptation by Greek artists of forms from the artistic vocabulary of other cultures, particularly Persian. There are also five thematic chapters interspersed within the text, with headings such as 'Civic, Domestic, and Funerary Context' (5) and 'Narrative' (9). In the body of each chapter names and terms are highlighted in red, with definitions in the margins. At the beginning of each chapter there is a timeline and at the conclusion a textbox in which various scholarly issues are discussed. These range from problems concerning the dating of Thera's volcanic eruption (2) to the use of color in Greek free-standing and relief sculpture (8). Following each textbox there is a list of References and Further Reading, most consisting of recent publications in English. The volume closes with a seven-page glossary of names and terms.

Tuck's survey of Roman art is divided into twelve chapters, beginning with a note to students on the most effective way to use the book and a 'Walk Through Tour,' with information to help the reader navigate the text. In the first chapter the author discusses a number of issues pertaining to the study of Roman art and culture, such as the role of elites in public art and the values embodied in the portraits of women. Each of the following chapters is chronological, with titles such as "The Julio-Claudians, 14-68 CE: The Rise of Roman Dynastic Art" (6) and "Civil War and Severan Dynasty, 193-235 CE: Calm before the Storm" (10). The organization of the material is essentially the same: each chapter begins with a general historical overview of the period; provides a summary of important artistic trends; discusses the portraiture of empresses and emperors; and finally concludes with the public architecture of the period, including historical reliefs. Throughout each chapter, and highlighted in blue, there are boxes in which pertinent historical events and cultural issues are presented. In the chapter on the Flavians (7), for example, there are discussions of the Jewish Revolt of 66 CE; Pliny's account of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius; the Roman classes and patron-client system; and the Cretan cycle of myths (related to the section on the murals in Pompeii's House of the Vettii). Each chapter also contains three large textboxes entitled: 'A View from the Provinces', 'Scholarly Perspective', and 'Art and Literature.' In each of these highlighted sections, the author focuses on a provincial monument or site; a specific problem or issue; and ancient literary sources, all of which serve to broaden the scope of the material covered in the chapter. In the chapter on the Antonine Emperors (9), for example, 'A View from the Provinces' focuses on portraits from Palmyra; 'Art and Literature' on the connection between Antonine art and the Second Sophistic; and 'Scholarly Perspective' on the problems in interpreting the reliefs on monumental sarcophagi. Each chapter concludes with a summary of the chapter's contents and a list of suggestions for further reading. Tuck ends with a discussion of monuments associated with Constantine, as well as the influence of the Roman visual vocabulary on later monuments, like Paris' Arc de Triomphe. A three-page glossary of names and terms and a guide to further reading conclude the volume.

The material in Plantzos' text on Greek art is organized chronologically, beginning with "The Early Iron Age (1100-700 BC)" in Chapter 2 (omitting Minoan and Cycladic Art) and concluding with "The Hellenistic Period (336-30 BC)" in Chapter 5, and it is clear from the beginning that the author, an eminent classical archaeologist in Greece, has taken a distinctly archaeological perspective in discussing the monuments. In fact, following a brief Preface and Introduction, in which Plantzos summarizes the history of classical archaeology, Chapter 1, "Classical Archaeology: Sources and Methodology," introduces the reader to the development of the discipline of archaeology, defining it as the "systematic and multidisciplinary study" of the societies that produced material remains, and describing classical archaeologists as "cultural historians." Each chapter ends with a one-to-two page select bibliography of relevant texts and internet sites, and there are textboxes in each chapter that cover a variety of topics, from the contributions of Sir John Beazley to the study of black and red figure vase painting (1) to the lost-wax technique of bronze-casting (4). The centerpiece of the volume is Chapter 4: "The Classical Period (480-336 BC)", in which fifth- and fourth-century monuments are given equal attention. Plantzos highlights the architecture and sculptural program of the Parthenon in the first half of the chapter, and Macedonian tomb painting in the second half, with particular attention to the Tombs of Persephone and the so-called Tomb of Philip II at Vergina.

Wiley Blackwell made a wise decision in contracting Stansbury-O'Donnell and Tuck to write their surveys of Greek and Roman art. Both are respected scholars with impressive publication records. Their research interests, Stansbury-O'Donnell's in Greek iconography and narrative and Tuck's in the Sperlonga sculptures and Latin epigraphy, have clearly informed their texts. Stansbury-O'Donnell's breadth of knowledge is evident in his inclusion of works of art that are not only not part of the canon but not discussed, to my knowledge, in any previous survey text. For example, in the thematic chapter entitled "Identity" (13), the discussion of women's lives is illustrated by objects from an Early Geometric woman's burial in the Athenian Agora, the "Boots Tomb" (D16.2). Among the grave goods are personal items, including two pairs of model terracotta boots (Fig. 13.5). The author refers to Susan Langdon's proposal that boots such as these may have signified the discarding of childhood attire by a bride on her wedding day. Perhaps the woman buried in the Agora tomb died before marriage, Stansbury-O'Donnell posits, in spite of her having reached maturity. By citing the research of Langdon and many other scholars in his text, Stansbury-O'Donnell not only acknowledges his debt to the scholarship of others but also reminds his reader that our understanding of Greek art is constantly changing.

Tuck has also enriched his discussion of key monuments of Roman art and architecture by including works not usually seen in a survey textbook. For example, in the chapter on the Early Republic (3), he underscores the cross-cultural connections between Rome and the peoples of the Italian Peninsula by discussing a number of fourth century BCE Lucanian tomb paintings from Paestum (Figs. 3.6-3.9). Tuck's own research on the Tiberian sculptures from the imperial dining room at Sperlonga enlivens his discussion of the art of the Julio-Claudian period in Chapter 6 by offering the thesis that the sculptural groups that once decorated the cave may have operated as mythological metaphors for recent events in the lives of the patrons who commissioned them. The figures of Scylla and Polyphemus, he proposes, may have recalled the numismatic and public imagery of Sextus Pompey in his failed civil war with Octavian/Augustus in the 30s BCE (p. 155).

Plantzos is a prolific scholar whose wide-ranging publications in both Greek and English include studies of Hellenistic and Roman engraved gems and of the connection between the discipline of classical archaeology and constructions of Hellenic identity in twentieth-century Greece. It is no surprise, then, that his survey of Greek art is archaeologically focused. While the monuments are, by and large, canonical, there are works that are probably unfamiliar to the average reader, such as the Archaic kouros from the Kerameikos Cemetery (Figs. 167, 169), the paintings from the Macedonian tomb at Agios Athanasios (Figs. 520-522), and two scientific papyri from Hellenistic Alexandria (Figs. 536, 537). The author is particularly strong in the area of painting, viewing painted pottery as "the connective tissue in the study of Greek art" (p. 86) and underscoring the connection between Hellenistic painting and the four styles of Roman wall painting in Chapter 5. Another strength of Plantzos' text is his attention to the importance of Greek epigraphy. For inscriptions, like the epigram on the base of the Archaic kore of Phrasikleia, he includes both the ancient and modern Greek transcriptions of the text, as well as an English translation of it (textbox, pp. 116-117). Additionally, the link between the development of Greek stone carving in the Archaic period and contacts with Egypt is underscored by the graffiti made by Greek mercenaries who visited the pharaonic Temple at Abu Simbel in the 6th century BCE and marveled at its the colossal statues (Figs. 105, 106); the inscription is included but, sadly, not translated.

In choosing a text for a survey of Greek art, an instructor would be hard pressed to find one that offers students more information than is presented in Stansbury-O'Donnell's volume, but there is a downside to this approach: there are, in fact, too many works discussed in this book and this plethora of monuments may create a distraction for the reader. To compound the problem, when the author refers to monuments discussed in previous chapters and to works to be covered in future chapters (particularly evident in the thematic chapters), one can only wonder whether or not the reader will, in fact, follow the author's direction to flip back and forth through the text. For example, in the introduction to the chapter on Narrative (9), the author refers to six representations of the Gorgon Medusa that were discussed in previous chapters by indicating their pages and figure numbers in parentheses (p. 211). If each chapter had begun with an historical and artistic overview of the period, the text would have been more cohesive. In this way, the reader would have had a clear picture at the outset of the ways in which the works of art to be discussed exemplify the time when they were produced. For example, Chapter 12, "The Fourth Century to 330 BCE" begins with an historical snapshot of the period and a discussion of the differences between Greek culture in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. While the author quite rightly describes fourth-century art as more diverse in its style and mood than Classical art, he might have included a preview of how the works to be considered in the chapter exhibit these qualities. Additionally, if Stansbury-O'Donnell had focused on fewer objects, he might have been able to incorporate the major monuments more successfully into their cultural milieu. If this approach had been taken, the thematic material would have been more smoothly integrated into the body of the text and textboxes and separate chapters might have been unnecessary.

While Tuck's approach to his material is different from Stansbury-O'Donnell's, it is no less problematic. His primary focus is on the most familiar works of art and architecture in the Roman canon, and while monuments not as well known are included, their number is limited. In point of fact, Tuck has, for the most part, restricted his survey of Roman art to public monuments that served to promote imperial ideology. In "The Age of Augustus, 31 BCE-14 CE" (5), for example, he examines well known monuments, including the Via Labicana and Prima Porta portraits of the emperor, as well as the imperial building program in Rome, in particular structures in the Campus Martius and on the Palatine. In view of the numerous publications in recent years on the funerary art and social history of non-elites in the early Empire, it is disappointing that Tuck chose to limit his discussion of non-imperial funerary art to only two works (the reliefs of the bakery scenes on the Tomb of Eurysaces and the funeral procession on the Amiternum Relief). More troubling is the fact that in his discussion of these works the author seems to be primarily interested in discussing the ways in which these reliefs illustrate the "Italic Style," a concept set forth by R. Bianchi-Bandinelli more than four decades ago. If a relief panel from the tomb of a freedman family or a columbarium had been included in his discussion, the social position and cultural values of this large segment of Roman society would have balanced the author's discussion of the imperial works. As it is, Tuck has created the impression, evident throughout most of his text, that Roman art primarily consisted of monuments that served to promote elite, imperial values.

Plantzos takes an archaeological approach to his survey of Greek art, but in so doing gives discussion of the monuments' stylistic features relatively short shrift. For a text geared to a student reader with minimal background, it is essential that there be a clear presentation of the ways in which a given work of art is stylistically characteristic of and culturally relevant to its period. Further, unlike Stansbury-O'Donnell and Tuck, Plantzos does not imbue his discussion of the monuments with information about current scholarly research. There is, for example, no mention of the ongoing discussion about the meaning of the Parthenon's Ionic frieze which the author definitively states depicts the procession of the Panathanaea. Similarly, he declares that the two bronze warriors from Riace were produced in different workshops without noting that alternative views have been proposed.

The volumes written by Stansbury-O'Donnell, Tuck, and Plantzos are noteworthy additions to the textbooks available to instructors who teach survey courses in Greek and Roman art. They are attractive volumes, with high-quality images and minimal typographical errors, and are fairly affordably priced. The authors have met the challenge of providing their readers with a coherent picture of each culture's artistic production while, at the same time, including relevant cultural material and current scholarly research. Stansbury-O'Donnell's strength lies in his acumen in formally analyzing the style and iconography of a Greek work of art; Tuck's is in his ability to interpret Roman monuments as visual expressions of imperial values; and Plantzos' in presenting key monuments with a view to their archaeological history. However, while Stansbury-O'Donnell and Tuck have expended considerable effort in offering new perspectives on the traditional, linear approach that is so often the organizing principle in Greek and Roman survey texts, this reviewer does not believe that either author has succeeded as well as one would have hoped: in one work, there is too much; in the other, too little. Plantzos' text, in contrast, offers a good balance between monuments and narrative; that is, the number of monuments is manageable and the discussions include, to a certain degree, stylistic and cultural information. While this reviewer regards Plantzos' text to be the most readable of the three, it is somewhat lacking in cultural information, so it might be useful for an instructor who chooses it to supplement it with a text like R. Sowerby's The Greeks: An Introduction to Their Culture (Routledge, 2015, 3rd edition) or R. Garland's Daily Life of the Ancient Greeks (Hackett Publishing, 2014, 2nd edition).

Comparing the strengths and weaknesses of these survey texts has prompted this reviewer to pose a question that may appear to some as heretical: does the long-standing approach to teaching a comprehensive ancient art survey course have a place in today's undergraduate curriculum? Would it be worthwhile to consider, and more in keeping with the learning modes of today's students and their financial constraints, taking another approach? Could an instructor instead choose a limited number of works of art and organize them into units of study, with topic headings such as 'Gender and Identity' and 'Death and Commemoration'? Monuments, which could cover the spectrum of elite and non-elite artistic and cultural sensibilities, could then be examined within an overarching socio-historical framework as a way of providing a coherent picture within each topic. At the same time, pertinent archaeological, literary, and historical material could be integrated into each unit, resulting in a seamless presentation of the material. An instructor might even consider offering a more focused type of ancient art course, organizing the material around one or two themes, such as "Life in the Ancient Greek City" or "The Art and Identity of Non-Elite Romans."

In lieu of requiring a single comprehensive textbook, readings could be assigned from a wide variety of secondary sources, thereby introducing students to a diversity of scholarly writing styles and methodologies. It is worth noting that in 2012 Wiley-Blackwell published A Companion to Greek Art, edited by Tyler Jo Smith and Dimitris Plantzos. This two-volume work is a compendium of essays covering a variety of archaeological, art historical, and cultural topics, each written by a distinguished scholar. In 2015, Wiley-Blackwell published A Companion to Roman Art, edited by Barbara E. Borg (reviewed in BMCR 2017.01.09). Although both are extremely expensive and well out of an undergraduate's price range, selections from these publications could provide students with readings that would contextualize the monuments and expose them to current trends in scholarship. An alternative approach would be to frame a course around a thematically organized text like P. Zanker's Roman Art (The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008) or P. Stewart's The Social History of Roman Art (Cambridge University Press, 2014). In truth, students are usually interested in the human element of any subject. And, when it comes to the visual arts, they are fascinated by the ways in which works of art relate to lived experience.

I must confess that, as an educator who taught survey courses in Greek and Roman art for more than three decades, I saw the value of a comprehensive textbook primarily because the students found it a useful resource, especially in view of their inadequate background in ancient history. However, while they often stated that they learned a great deal from reading the text, I always suspected that they used it primarily as a way to review for tests. At the same time, students admitted that the cost of the textbook posed a financial hardship.

Mark Stansbury-O'Donnell, Steven Tuck, and Dimitris Plantzos deserve credit for providing respectable choices to instructors who want to provide their undergraduate students with a comprehensive view of Greek or Roman art and architecture in a one-semester course. Each of the authors has provided a coherent historical context for ancient works and, at the same time, informed their readers of important trends in scholarly research. It is this reviewer's hope that their efforts to meld the standard comprehensive/chronological approach with cultural material can serve to stimulate a meaningful conversation about pedagogy and, possibly, serve as a catalyst for rethinking the traditional approach to offering traditional survey courses in ancient art.

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Jan P. Stronk, Semiramis' Legacy: The History of Persia according to Diodorus of Sicily. Edinburgh studies in ancient Persia. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016. Pp. 552. ISBN 9781474414258. £120.00​.

Reviewed by Christopher Tuplin, University of Liverpool (

Version at BMCR home site

This book consists of annotated translation of 178 non-contiguous sections of Diodorus I-XL, four discursive chapters, bibliography, and indexes of classical sources, modern authors and general themes. The Diodorus sections are those that deal with what Stronk defines as "Persian history".

After general remarks about Diodorus' enterprise and a useful description of salient MS traditions, the bulk of the introduction is devoted to sources. Stronk is a source-maximizer, arguing that Diodorus produced his text by a process involving more than one principal source per book, several secondary sources, personal additions and the imposition of stylistic unity: he was not Stylianou's "epitomator [who] would always seek to simplify his task". The impression created is a far cry from e.g. the view that non-Sicilian bits of XI-XV are essentially Ephorus.1 But how far a genuinely alternative view of Diodorus as weaver of multiple sources can be demonstrated remains moot: with only 55 pages, Stronk does not have space to show much working or offer many proofs. The survey is a valuable starting point for those wishing to pursue the topic and the recent scholarship, but it functions less as a framework for annotation of the translation than as an ostensive demonstration of Stronk's vision of Diodorus' intellectual enterprise. It is an intellectual enterprise for which Stronk has some respect. As in his work on Ctesias, Stronk is dealing with an author whom he considers to have an unjustifiably low reputation. It is certainly true that no other single Greek work contains such a wide range of Persian history, and there is merit in having this brought home by presentation of the material between the covers of a single book.

But what is Persian history? Stronk defines it as "the vicissitudes of all empires or reigns of which, one way or another, either real, alleged, or implicated, the area of Persis and/or Iranian tribes was/were a part" (p. 3)—essentially events in Asia, Egypt or Europe which are part of the story of those who control Persia and/or the Iranian plateau. Asia is the principal focus, and, in defining the story, the sense of interconnection between Asia and elsewhere that a modern historian might have is trumped by Diodorus' explicit packaging of things into Asiatic and European/Macedonian events; and, where the packaging is less clear-cut, relatively restrictive criteria of pertinence are applied. Inevitably there are questions about omissions, both in basic narrative (e.g. 14.28, 10.34.2-9, 11.62.3, 18.24) and non-moralizing digressive material (e.g. 15.44, 17.47.1-6, 18.26-28, 19.94-100). There is also an issue about evaluative material that is either omitted or retained within double-brackets. If the latter "indirectly provide some information on Diodorus' aims and methods" (95) and/or offer a moral reaction to a narrative that is part of Persian history, sidelining them seems at odds with the validation of Diodorus as an autonomous historian, and the same goes for complete omissions in e.g. 2.29.5, 11.11.1-6, 12.1, 17.38.4-7, 18.5.1, 18.59.5-6, 30.15, 37.1.1-4. Much of the moral framework Stronk considers an important part of the Library appears in book introductions that lack Persian aspect and are naturally excluded: it seems a pity to lose points at which that moral framework does touch the Persian material.

The translation reads as well as can be expected. I do not like the idea of substituting barbaroi with an ethnonym (7 n.15): this conceals something about Diodorus' style—something pertinent since Stronk claims Diodorus is comparatively race-blind (541-542). On the other hand, transliteration of aretê does underline the relative frequency with which Diodorus uses this concept. I have not systematically checked for accuracy, but "throughout Asia" (18.50.1) misrepresents kata de tên Asian (which should be "in Asia": the phrase simply marks the shift from the events "in Macedonia" in 18.48-49), I doubt that epi + accusative in 11.44.3 means "beyond" (the LSJ entry adduced in support refers to epi in compounds), I wonder whether "Pharnabazus' staff officers" (15.42.4) is appropriate for hoi peri Pharnabazon stratêgoi, and I am sure that translating philoi or epitropoi as "trustees" (e.g. 12.4.4; 17.30.1; 30.15.1) strikes a false note. At 17.30.2 Stronk oddly follows the Loeb in rendering epitêdeumatôn as "successes", as though it were epitukhêmatôn.2

Translation presupposes a Greek text, and Stronk pays attention to this by reporting on the MSS of Diodorus, the Excerpta Constantiniana and Photius and including nearly a hundred notes about textual issues. The default text is the third Teubner edition (although there is no apparatus in volume 6 of that edition, it is the only more or less uniform presentation of the whole Library), but Stronk has sought to be judiciously independent. Limitation of space precludes further discussion here. I simply note that I disagree with Stronk's treatment at 11.10.4, 11.36.1, 14.21.4, 14.25.4, 17.57.7, 19.30.4,19.85.4, 20.47.5, 20.107.4, 30.15.1, 31.27a.1, that the famous confusion of Pharnabazus and Tissaphernes is dealt with rather haphazardly, and that Geraistou might be better than the MSS reading or Knoepfler's Euboias at 14.79.1.

Stronk stresses that non-textual annotation is limited and not replete with modern scholarly literature, and many notes simply refer to the appropriate Budé or Loeb volume. Perhaps this is reasonable. Even so, 104n.89 needs post-1987 bibliography on Xerxes' destruction of Babylon (and 159n.90, 179n.176 are out-of-date on Babylonian revolt), and 110n.116, 121n.158, 202n.31 and 216n.74 could be more aggiornato on qanats, the Sacaea, the chronology of 424 and Thapsacus. It seems odd to say (89n.14) that Ninus' empire (including the Troad, Phrygia, Propontis and Bithynia) resembles the real Neo-Assyrian empire in extent. 201n.25 is a strangely perfunctory annotation on the Peace of Callias, and 201n.28 does not recognize Diodorus' proleptic allusion to the King's Peace. 262n.267 is ill-formulated: there was a previous defeat of Ochus in 351/0 from the perspective of the real date horizon of 16.44.1. The unique statement about crews and hulls in 11.3.7 deserves attention, while a nine-line note on salpinx (252 n.230) makes more noise than is strictly necessary.

In what sense is Diodorus' account of Persian history distinctive? Stronk's answer lies in the concept of Semiramis' legacy. Stronk holds that Ctesias created the Ninus-Semiramis story to prefigure the Achaemenid Empire (the geography of Achaemenid inscriptions prompting Indian and Ethiopian elements). By virtue of using Ctesias, Diodorus was heir to this enterprise, one to which the Alexander historians also contributed (Semiramis consults Ammon), in part because Alexander himself treated Semiramis (and the Elder Cyrus) as an inspiration or challenge. From that perspective, the Alexander story was part of the Semiramis legacy. But the question remains whether there is any perspicuous sense in which Diodorus' treatment of Alexander or other elements of Persian history is specifically marked by this fact.

We are hampered in responding by the lacuna at 17.83/84 which makes it impossible to know whether Semiramis' Indian campaign was mentioned when Alexander decided to mount one of his own. There is certainly no reference in the description of Alexander's return from the Indus to Carmania and Persia.3 But, in any case, Stronk does not articulate a claim that Diodorus XVII is historiographically marked by "Semiramis' legacy" in any way beyond whatever was implicit in Clitarchus' historiographical choices. One cannot see that Diodorus has moulded his narrative in the light of a larger thesis about Persian history. Nor is any such claim advanced about Achaemenid, Diadochic or Seleucid history.

Stronk does affirm that "the element of continuity of empire is one of the backbones of Diodorus' history of 'Persia'" (531-532). At first (534-535) this seems to be a proposition about imperial behaviour, not historiographical presentation: Darius engaged with India and established an ideology of world-empire (which is what prompted Ctesias' Semiramis retrojection); the Arsacids were interested in their Achaemenid predecessors. (Nothing is said about Seleucids.) But, then, Diodorus "appears ... to believe in a continuous succession of empires, each one characterised by a more or less identical development of rise, apex, and decline" (535). That is potentially a proposition about historiographical presentation, albeit one not limited to the "Persian" history, since the succession involves Greco- Macedonian and Roman empires, and the dynamic of rise and fall is presumably essentially dictated by the extent to which aretê guides the actions of important individuals. Diodorus, we are told (540), merges Greek traditions, Achaemenid propaganda and Stoic beliefs. But in the exposition of this the connections of thought are impressionistic rather than Aristotelian, and a sense of Diodoran agency in the creation of a specific version of eastern history rather elusive.

Still, one might say that a distinctive vision of Diodorus is on offer. Stronk's Diodorus is a teacher of morality, with Clio as his handmaiden (9-10, 540), and his work is not a proper history but one "in which history has become a tool to teach his audience the merits of a life of aretê" (545); "Diodorus has written an account that is to a large extent focused on the rewards of aretê—and the disasters that may befall someone if he (or she, naturally) does not strive for it... In this account, he attributes a significant role to the Persian world" (544). By way of expansion on that claim all we get is a summary of the Persian contents of the Library and the significant role may, therefore, seem to consist simply in the fact that Diodorus has quite a lot of Persian material—"the only account from antiquity that paints such a comprehensive picture of the Persian world" (545). But the fact that no other extant Greek text preserves elements of such a wide sweep of Persian history does not guarantee that those elements amount to more than the sum of their parts, and the title Historical Library might even be seen as a disclaimer. Still, Stronk's claim could perhaps be phrased somewhat more substantially.

The Library starts with Egypt. But Egyptian history stops with Cambyses (and the last Egyptian lawgiver is a Persian king) and, where non-Greek peoples are concerned, it is the strand started by Ninus-Semiramis that turns out to run most continuously through the work (Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Greco-Macedonians, Parthians, Romans), though full appreciation of that continuity is elusive because the Median and pre-480 Achaemenid narrative is largely lost and we have such a patchy impression of Diodoran post-Ipsus history. In that sense the "Hellenistic view of the world, from its very beginnings to the days of the author himself" (541) is a view of the legacy of Semiramis, not of Osiris or of any of the peoples/places in books I-V who have customs, geography, flora and fauna, but no narrative history. But whether, even so, this is a template that Diodorus has imposed on things or one largely predetermined by the way others had already chosen to write history remains a nice question. (It is also a nice question whether one should perceive a parallel legacy that begins with the gods, demigods and heroes of the Greek tradition.) Still, it was Diodorus' deliberate choice to reject the Ephoran model and go back before the Trojan Wars that brought Ninus- Semiramis into play at all, and to that the extent the question perhaps deserves a positive answer. ​


1.   Incidentally there ought to be a reference to G. Parmeggiani, Eforo di Cuma. Studi di storiografia greca (Bologna 2011) and P. Fidia & C. Calamo, Eforo di Cuma nella storia della storiografia greca (Naples 2014). The "almost obsolete" monograph of Barber (p. 9) is now completely superseded.
2.   I have, incidentally, noticed few typos or other errors: Ecbatana is not Isfahan (106 n.97); 177 S44 is 11.24.1, not 11.34.1; "lectures" should be "readings" (p.21); and "all but flawless" (p.11) should, I take it, be "anything but flawless."
3.   There is an allusion to Cyrus and the Ariaspians/Benefactors in 17.81. But an allusion to Cyrus need not be a product of a distinctive piece of pseudo-history in the way that one to Semiramis is. It is curious that in Diodorus' version of the Ariaspian story, by contrast with those in Arrian and Curtius, Alexander gives rewards to the neighbouring Gedrosians as well as the Ariaspians. But, even if this were the remnant of a tradition that forged a link between the Cyrus-Scythians-Ariaspians story and the Cyrus-India-Gedrosian story, the fact would remain that Diodorus made no use of the link.

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Ted Kaizer (ed.), Religion, Society and Culture at Dura-Europos. Yale classical studies, 38. Cambridge; New York: Pp. xxii, 310. ISBN 9781107123793. $99.99.

Reviewed by Graeme Clarke, Australian National University (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This handsomely produced and richly indexed set of essays originated from a colloquium held at Durham University in 2008. Its focus is on aspects of life in the small town of Dura-Europos on the west bank of the Middle Euphrates on the fringes of the Roman Empire, especially during its last century of occupation as a Roman fortress town before its destruction in the course of the 250s CE, the period from which we have the best evidence. Its first two centuries of life as a Greek town are unfortunately largely lost as foundation debris and one chapter only deals specifically with life at Dura-Europos for the long period when it was effectively under nominal Parthian control (c.100 BCE – 165 CE): "Dura-Europos: A Greek Town of the Parthian Empire," by Leonardo Gregoratti. Even so, there are problems enough in trying to delineate a society which was so culturally diverse, literate in a wide range of languages and dialects (but with Greek dominating), and devoted to an astonishing array of divinities, including a community of (not strictly orthodox?) Jews and a conventiculum of Christians. Border-town Dura-Europos may have been, but its destruction enables us to recover, as nowhere else, the rich texture of multi-cultural life on the periphery of the high Roman Empire.

The book opens with a brisk overview of the site, its history of excavation and the coverage of the volume itself by the editor, Ted Kaizer, followed by Gregoratti, who attempts to recover aspects of the governance of Dura-Europos and its Hellenised substrate during its Parthian phase. This is followed by J.A. Baird with a fine chapter (involving much archival work) on the significance for recovering everyday life of the often overlooked "small finds" (dress, textiles, footwear, jewellery, grooming instruments etc.), examining how far they were freighted with gender and ethnic identity and the implications of their find-locations, all adding to the rich complexity of being Roman in the third century.

Michael Sommer then confronts the methodological crux: how to map the stunning cultural diversity of Dura-Europos. As case studies he selects the Jewish community and its choice of synagogue wall-paintings (reflecting at the same time a sense of both accommodation and difference), and the legal options for women in the region in negotiating their business dealings (with their pragmatic choice of appealing either to local or to Roman law). It makes Dura-Europos "an ideal case-study in the cultural set-up of the Roman empire's periphery" (p.67). Lucinda Dirven follows with a detailed and important chapter on "The Problem with Parthian Art at Dura", re-evaluating the (diverse) stylistic characteristics of Dura's wall-paintings over time and re- assessing the sculptural traditions of Dura, Palmyra and Hatra. Her conclusion is that Dura (so far as our available evidence suggests) owes much to Palmyra artistically and that Palmyra itself owes much to "a meeting of Roman and Greco-Semitic art" (p.87). A detailed discussion then follows by Maura K. Heyn on the interpretation of a fresco (damaged in its upper register) from the "temple of Bel", in which it is argued that the theme is Dionysiac and that the discovery of Ariadne on Naxos by Dionysus is depicted (though not all elements of the fresco are thus accounted for).

The role of women in the religious life of Dura-Europos is the theme of the chapter by Jean-Baptiste Yon, specifically the study of the feminine names on the steps in the sanctuaries of Artemis, Atargatis and Azzanathkona. Yon rightly points out the narrow time-period of these inscriptions ("something of a fashion", pp.112-3) when the sanctuaries were going through a period of monumentalisation, and the emphasis of the connexion of these women to their husbands or fathers as well as the overriding dominance of masculine names in these sanctuaries generally.

The so-called "Temples" of Dura-Europos and the functions of the multiple rooms in their complexes are then analysed by Julian Buchmann. He rightly queries the pure assumption that these rooms were for the exclusive use of priests and that those rooms with benches (sometimes multiple in number) were for ritual banqueting only, and emphasises sensibly the likely multi-functional uses to which these rooms were put. Tommaso Gnoli follows with a detailed examination of the frescoes and especially the two cult reliefs in the celebrated Mithraeum of Dura-Europos. In particular he speculates on the significance and possible origins of the unique (largely cosmological) imagery in the upper and larger relief and postulates Iranian influence, concluding: "It is the astonishing flexibility of this god that makes it so difficult for us to seize the 'personalities of Mithras' in the total absence of religious texts" (p.143). That, frustratingly, applies for so much of our understanding of religious sentiment in the ancient world.

The representation of Rome and imperial power in Dura-Europos is the theme of Cristina Marta Acqua's essay, seeking to establish how far this permeated the cultural life not only of the Roman military sector but of the town generally. Her study is enhanced with plans marking those areas with evidence of imperial representation and of their relationship to the possible main thoroughfares through the town from the chief entry in the Palmyrene Gate or the presumed River Gate. Crucial, of course, to this theme is the unresolved question of the Feriale Duranum: was it exclusively a military document or did it include civic festivities? In either case, where were the celebrations held? A fascinating examination by Jacqueline Austin of the mechanics of creating inscriptions and dipinti follows, based on the close examination of two (now lost) dipinti from the principia. She concludes that at Dura at least such official notices and texts were fully executed by clerks within the administrative officia.

A close comparative study of 187 bilingual Aramaic-Greek inscriptions from Palmyra with the 17 equivalent inscriptions from Dura-Europos is contributed by Loren Stuckenbruck: he concludes, as far as the limited evidence allows, that the changing patterns of bi-linguality are similar over time – but one may question his conclusion from this evidence that "…the Palmyrene residents of Dura-Europos, at least linguistically, continued to orientate themselves around and draw from Palmyra as their 'mother city'" (p.189). It is far from established that all those at Dura-Europos who showed themselves literate in the Palmyrene dialect must have hailed from Palmyra itself.

Kai Ruffing provides a convincing and valuable contribution on the economic life in Roman Dura-Europos, emphasizing the stimulus that the presence of the nearly 1,000-strong garrison, and its veterans, with their superior spending-power and their requirements in supplies would have had on the local and regional economy. He rightly points out the lack of evidence that Dura-Europos played any role as a conduit in long-distance trade; rather, its traders and entrepreneurs were active (as in other such towns along the length of the Euphrates) within their region—in the case of Dura-Europos "from the Khabur estuary in the north as far as Eddana in the south" (p.190). Exotic trade goods would have come via the traffic along the Euphrates corridor.

"The Dangers of Adventurous Reconstruction" is the theme chosen by Susan Downey. She concentrates on Frank Brown's imaginative reconstructions of wall-paintings on the back walls of the naoi of Adonis (using only a few of the two hundred fragments) and of Zeus Theos ("a quite audacious restoration of the painted cult image, based on very slim evidence", p.205), as well as his misleading plan of the Citadel Palace (largely lost, fallen down a collapsed cliff-face) and especially the first phase of the Temple of Zeus Megistos. Here Downey's painstaking and brilliant archaeological detective work has established that no such phase existed – leading to the startling conclusion that no sacred building of Hellenistic date has (so far) been located.

The book appropriately concludes with an informative chapter by Lisa R. Brody on "Dura-Europos and Yale: Past, Present and Future", detailing in particular the conservation histories of the Christian paintings and of the Mithraeum and the reinstallation of Dura material in the refurbished Yale University Art Gallery.

This collection of valuable essays demonstrates, if demonstration were necessary, the importance of re-assessing archaeological evidence dug up in the past (and the re-assessment of interpretations placed on it in the past), the importance of the preservation and exploitation of archaeological archives (regrettably this will have to be the case for many sites in Syria for years to come), and the rich potential value of Dura-Europos itself for our further understanding of life in the provincial Roman world.

Table of Contents

1. Ted Kaizer Introduction 1-15
2. Leonardo Gregoratti Dura-Europos: A Greek Town of the Parthian Empire 16-29
3. J.A. Baird Everyday Life in Roman Dura-Europos: The Evidence of Dress Practices 30-56
4. Michael Sommer Acculturation, Hybridity, Créolité: Mapping Cultural Diversity in Dura-Europos 57-67
5. Lucinda Dirven The Problem of Parthian Art at Dura 68-88
6. Maura K. Heyn Gesture at Dura-Europos: A New Interpretation of the So-called "Scène Énigmatique" 89-98
7. Jean-Baptiste Yon Women and the Religious Life at Dura-Europos 99-113
8. Julian Buchmann Multifunctional Sanctuaries at Dura-Europos 114-125
9. Tommaso Gnoli The Mithraeum of Dura-Europos: New Perspectives 126-143
10. Cristina Marta Acqua Imperial Representation at Dura-Europos: Suggestions for Urban Paths 144-164
11. Jacqueline Austin Thoughts on Two Latin Dipinti 165-176
12. Loren T. Stuckenbruck The Bilingual Palmyrene-Greek Inscriptions at Dura-Europos: A Comparison with the Bilinguals from Palmyra 177-189
13. Kai Ruffing Economic Life in Roman Dura-Europos 190-198
14. Susan B. Downey The Dangers of Adventurous Reconstruction: Frank Brown at Europos-Doura 199-205
15. Lisa R. Brody Dura-Europos and Yale: Past, Present, and Future 206-218
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Ilona Zsolnay (ed.), Being a Man: Negotiating Ancient Constructs of Masculinity. Studies in the history of the Ancient Near East. London; New York: Routledge, 2017. Pp. x, 289. ISBN 9781138189362. $140.00.

Reviewed by Agnès Garcia-Ventura, IPOA – Universitat de Barcelona (

Version at BMCR home site

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

Gender studies perspectives applied to the scrutiny of the past are in very good health: in recent decades they have grown in quality as well as in quantity. One symptom of this is the increasing presence of "studies of masculinities" or "men's studies," headings under which the book under review here might be classified. Indeed, in a historiographical tradition that has often equated women with gender, the acknowledgement that women's studies are just one among many possible branches of gender studies is always a good sign. Therefore, Ilona Zsolnay, the editor of the book, and all the authors who took part in it deserve our congratulations for producing this welcome addition to gender studies and to ancient Near Eastern studies in a broad sense.

The kernel of this book was the workshop Mapping Ancient Near Eastern Masculinities, organized by Zsolnay and held at the Penn Museum (Philadelphia, USA) in March 2011. This meeting was a pioneer of its kind, since the study of masculinities is still a rarity in the framework of ancient Near Eastern studies – in stark contrast to other disciplines in antiquity, such as Classical studies, in which it has been present at least since the 1990s. Luckily, the situation is now changing, as witnessed by projects such as the Penn Museum workshop and this publication, the workshop The Construction of Masculinities in Ancient Mesopotamia, which was co-organized by Lorenzo Verderame and the author of this review and held at the "Sapienza" Università degli Studi di Roma (Italy) in February 2015,1 and another recent publication, the monograph Masculinities and Third Gender: The Origins and Nature of an Institutionalized Gender Otherness in the Ancient Near East by Ilan Peled (2016).

Regarding the time span covered by the book under review, the contributions deal with sources as diverse as the cuneiform signs attested in the fourth millennium BCE and a selection of poems and illustrations from the nineteenth century CE. This vast range makes the volume a particularly rich one, even though the level of detail and specialization of some of the papers may prove quite challenging for some readers and perhaps even confusing.

The diversity relates not just to the chronologies but also to the geographies and cultural environments considered. The present volume includes contributions which deal with ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Anatolia, but also Indian literary traditions, the Hebrew Bible and the reception of antiquity in modern times. To quote the editor in her introduction to the volume, it covers the "greater ancient Near Eastern realm" (p. 1). In this framework, it is a pity that the only paper read at the workshop on the subject of ancient Egypt does not appear in article form in the present volume; the cooperation among ancient Near Eastern scholars and Egyptologists remains extremely limited and, in the opinion of this reviewer, is in need of encouragement.

From the thematic point of view, it is worth highlighting that all contributions insist on the complexity of the construction and performance of masculinities. After reading the volume it is clear that the experience of being a man in antiquity could take many forms and was not related only to sex or gender, but also to age, hierarchy, and even social class. Therefore, we should talk about "masculinities" rather than "masculinity," or about "men" rather than "man," along the lines of long-standing claims in feminist research and in gender studies when dealing with women's history: that is, the refusal to consider "woman" as a singular, monolithic category of analysis. In other words, although the term "intersectionality" does not appear explicitly in the current volume, all the contributions apply an intersectional approach.

"Intersectionality," a term coined by the African-American scholar Kimberlé W. Crenshaw,2 has been defined as a perspective which "emphasizes the interlocking effects of race, class, gender and sexuality, highlighting the ways in which categories of identity and structures of inequality are mutually constituted and defy separation into discrete categories of analysis". 3 When applying intersectionality to our analyses, as the contributions of this volume do, the aim is not to privilege one of the above mentioned features over the alternatives, but to approach them and all their mutual influences at the same level. As a consequence, a volume on masculinities is not just a volume on sex or gender, but a volume on identity in all its complexity.

Moving now to the individual chapters, we find that some use similar starting points or reach parallel conclusions. In what follows I will outline some of the chapters and highlight some selected topics and perspectives of study. Due to the limitations of space I am afraid that I will not be able to deal with all the chapters in the same degree of detail.

Four out of the ten chapters in the volume (chapters 1, 2, 4, and 6) discuss case studies related to the study of ancient Mesopotamia, showing the huge diversity of both the sources and the possible approaches to them. The first of these chapters derives from the communication given by Joan Goodnick Westenholz at the workshop (pp. 12-41). Sadly, Westenholz died in 2013 and was unable to work on the edition of her paper. The contribution would have benefited from further work from its first author, but we must thank Zsolnay, who appears as co-author, for taking up the challenge of putting the manuscript in its final form and thus bringing it to the attention of other scholars.

Chapter 2, by Julia Assante (pp. 42-82), and chapter 6, co-authored by Ann K. Guinan and Peter Morris (pp. 150-175), are flagship proposals for the study of the construction of masculinities in relationship to sexual identities and sex between men in ancient Mesopotamia. They are, without any doubt, among the outstanding contributions of the volume. Both papers explicitly apply certain theoretical approaches and use carefully chosen terms in an attempt to discuss the ways in which the relationship between men is shaped, negotiated, and portrayed in images and texts. To do so, both articles place the emphasis on the position of the parties involved, to highlight that it is power, and not just sex, that shapes diverse masculinities. In this direction, if Assante describes the social order of the Neo-Assyrian period as "powerfully homosocial and hierarchical" (p. 42), Guinan and Morris emphasize the usefulness of the term "sodomy" rather than "homosexuality" when dealing with Middle Assyrian laws and some first millennium BCE omens to highlight the relevance of hierarchy as well (especially pp. 155-158). Thus, both papers consider pairs such as active/passive, up/down, rear/front, dominant/dominated, in their analysis of the ways in which several possible masculinities were constructed.

Chapters 3 and 4, by Mary R. Bachvarova (pp. 83-111) and Jerrold S. Cooper (pp. 112-124), work in a different but complementary direction. Both take as their sources a selection of texts, mainly literary ones, to analyze how the masculinity of some characters, kings, and members of the royal family is described and achieved. Interestingly enough, both authors discuss how, in some contexts, the ideal masculinity is portrayed as that of "man versus child" (Bachvarova, p. 84) or "mature vs. immature" (Cooper, p. 119), highlighting how important it is to consider age together with sex to build up an ideal of masculinity. In addition, the crossing of the two factors is decisive to be able to sire offspring, another constitutive element of this ideal masculinity that is often presented with the metaphor of the bow.

Besides age, another factor that potentially intersects with sex is social class. This is the main focus of the argument presented by Simon Brodbeck in chapter 5 (pp. 125-149), in which he deals with masculinities as constructed in the Sanskrit versions of the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa. If Brodbeck concentrates on social class, Marc Brettler, author of chapter 8 (pp. 198- 220), concentrates on the distinction between "sex" and "gender" in its classical form – the former linked to biology and the latter to the social construction – to articulate his analysis of masculinities in the Psalms.

Brettler's chapter, together with chapters 7 and 9 authored by Hilary Lipka and Martti Nissinen, respectively, is part of the block devoted to Biblical studies. The chapters by Lipka (pp. 176-197) and Nissinen (pp. 221-247), as in the case of the chapters by Assante and Guinan and Morris, constitute an illuminating pair, complementing each other and discussing masculinities, from explicit and well-informed theoretical standpoints, in this case taking as sources the Biblical texts. For this reason, they also figure among the outstanding contributions of the volume, as they help the reader to navigate through a range of well-informed theoretical proposals through their careful analysis of well-chosen case studies. Both authors, Lipka and Nissinen, take some of the terms and concepts coined or discussed by Raewyn W. Connell in his pioneer monograph Masculinities (1995, second edition 2005) as an inspiration and a framework for their scrutiny of the Biblical texts: Lipka concentrates on hegemonic masculinities while Nissinen, one of the pioneers of the study of masculinities in the framework of Biblical studies, concentrates on relative masculinities.

Finally, the volume concludes with a wonderful paper (chapter 10) written by Steven H. Holloway (pp. 248-281), a well-known scholar in the field of reception studies. Holloway concentrates on the construction of the masculinity of angels from the Biblical tradition in pre-Victorian poems and illustrations, paying attention to the way they mirrored or counterbalanced nineteenth-century masculinities in England.

To sum up, with its intrinsic diversity, Zsolnay's volume of the study of masculinities constitutes a welcome addition to a field that is still largely unexplored. I agree with her diagnosis of why this is so: "the negotiation and maintenance of certain constructions of masculinities, as they are today, form a, if not the, keystone of societal organization" (p. 5). In this scenario, then, there is no doubt that approaching ancient masculinities as a research topic may help us to assess (or re-assess) some of our current views on masculinities and femininities.

Table of Contents

List of contributors
Introduction, Ilona Zsolnay
1. Categorizing Men and Masculinity in Sumer, Joan Goodnick-Westenholz† and Ilona Zsolnay
2. Men Looking At Men: The Homoerotics of Power in the State Arts of Assyria, Julia Assante
3. Wisdom of Former Days: The Manly Hittite King and Foolish Kumarbi, Father of the Gods, Mary R. Bachvarova
4. Female trouble and troubled males: Roiled Seas, Decadent Royals, and Mesopotamian Masculinities in Myth and Practice, Jerrold S. Cooper
5. Mapping Masculinities in the Sanskrit Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa, Simon Brodbeck
6. Mesopotamia Before and After Sodom: Colleagues, Crack Troops, Comrades-in-Arms, Ann K. Guinan and Peter Morris
7. Shaved Beards and Bared Buttocks: Shame and the Undermining of Masculine Performance in Biblical Texts, Hilary Lipka
8. Happy is the Man who Fills His Quiver with Them (Ps. 127:5): Constructions of Masculinities in the Psalms, Marc Brettler
9. Relative Masculinities in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Martti Nissinen 10. The Masculinity of Male Angels on the Make: Genesis 6:1-4 in Early Nineteenth Century Gothic Imagination, Steven W. Holloway
General index
Terms index
Texts index


1.   The workshop included communications by two PhD candidates which should be mentioned among the ones on the study of masculinities: Omar N'Shea (University of Malta) and Gioele Zisa (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München).
2.   Crenshaw, Kimberlé W. 1989. "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics". The University of Chicago Legal Forum 1: 139-167.
3.   Thornton Dill, Bonnie – Marla H. Kohlman. 2012. "Intersectionality. A Transformative Paradigm in Feminist Theory and Social Justice", in Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber (ed.), Handbook of Feminist Research: Theory and Praxis. Los Angeles; London: SAGE: 154-174. For this definition see p. 154.

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Douglas Cairns, Sophocles: Antigone. Bloomsbury Companions to Greek and Roman Tragedy. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. Pp. ix, 240. ISBN 9781472505095. $29.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Ruth Scodel, The University of Michigan (

Version at BMCR home site


Cairns' little book on Antigone is a very fine example of a very difficult genre. "An accessible introduction," the goal of this series, requires the author not to diverge too far from common views of the play, if such exist, but if the author does not have ideas of his/her own, the book is probably going to be dull and lifeless. It is also tricky to read historically while maintaining the relevance of the work; Cairns distinguishes the ancient Athenian from the modern spectator, but is probably wise not to emphasize cultural distance at the expense of engagement. I have learned from this book, but I would also recommend it without hesitation to students.

The opening chapter, "From Myth to Plot," briefly surveys the evidence about the date and the legend before Sophocles and summarizes the play. This information is succinct and well presented, although, being of vulgar mind, I missed any mention of the circumstances of Tydeus' murder of Ismene. The summary, however, is exceptionally good, because it pays close attention to staging, particularly noting that Creon is onstage during the second stasimon and probably remains there until 1114.

The second chapter, "Tragedy and Sympathy," is a lucid presentation of a nuanced discussion of how members of the original audience are likely to have reacted to the characters, and how we should. Cairns first argues that there is no single "tragic hero," but that the play is about both Antigone and Creon, with sympathies that shift from one to the other. He then addresses how members of an Athenian audience could have responded to the issue of burial, and shows that the play demands that the audience recognize that Creon was wrong, whatever their beliefs about the treatment of dead traitors in actual Athenian practice. Then the discussion turns to the way in which Antigone is a difficult character. Here, and elsewhere, Cairns draws attention to issues of gender, again in a judicious and nuanced way, neither ignoring Antigone's transgressiveness nor overemphasizing it. I especially enjoyed a comment (p. 45) about how sympathy with literary and dramatic characters is relatively easy, since it carries none of the costs that such sympathy could bring in "real life."

"Progress and Pessimism" considers the first and second stasima in relation to each other. Cairns has a long-standing interest in atê, and offers a rich treatment of the importance of atê for both Antigone and Creon, and of the different levels of explanation that the play offers. 1 "Love and Death" addresses the internal contradictions in both the main characters' assertions about their own beliefs and feelings. Antigone stands for the natal family but rejects Ismene (Cairns acknowledges that there are signs of a less hostile attitude in their final scene, but in my view gives these slightly less weight than they deserve.) Creon, similarly, is destroyed by the ties of family that he has undervalued. That comparison is familiar, but Cairns makes a fine comparison between Creon's insistence on the mere functionality of women (569: Haemon can plow a different furrow) and Antigone's argument that husbands and children can be replaced (904–15; Cairns briefly but firmly argues that the passage is genuine). Finally, the chapter considers the marriage-to-death theme, and Antigone's intense attachment to Polynices in particular. Cairns seems to waffle a bit on this point, seeing Antigone's feelings about her brother as somehow erotic, although he does not agree with those who attribute incestuous desire to her. The chapter brings out how Antigone and Creon are both failures in their social roles, Creon as a ruler and father, Antigone as a potential wife and mother.

The final chapter deals with reception. Here, again, even the experienced scholar of Sophocles may win some new clarity. Wisely, the discussion makes no attempt at being comprehensive. Instead, after a brief look at ancient and early modern adaptations, where Statius is more influential than Sophocles, Cairns turns to "Our Antigone." This section has a very clear and useful overall structure, with a section on Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger and postmodernism, a treatment of some the most important adaptations. The play was surprisingly popular in Nazi Germany. Cairns points to the complexity of Anouilh's version, and to Brecht's importance in making Antigone a heroine of resistance to oppression (although in Brecht's version, Antigone has been complicit for too long). Finally, there are sections on Irish and African versions. Cairns' own responses emerge most clearly in his treatment of Paulin's The Riot Act, which he evidently likes very much on its own terms although its reading of Sophocles is reductive. He seems to agree with those who admire the poetry of The Burial at Thebes but think that it does not quite work as a play.

The treatment of the philosophical Antigone is the one part of the book that I fear is too difficult and compressed for its intended audience. There is a rare slip on p.123, when Cairns quotes Hölderlin's "Du scheinst ein rotes Wort zu färben" and does not adequately explain to the reader without German or Greek what is strange in the line. On Hegel, he usefully explains why the common ascription to him of an interpretation that simply sets family and state in opposition is oversimplified. But as he moves past Hegel to Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Lacan, Derrida, Irigaray, and Butler, while the student will certainly appreciate how important the play has been, the reader who lacks earlier acquaintance with this territory may feel lost. High theory, no matter how clearly presented, is not easy to understand in brief summary. The conclusion to this section, though, is clear and significant: the philosophical Antigone, however abstract and remote from the text it may be, is based on the tragedy of Sophocles, not a later ancient, medieval, or early modern composite. And the later parts of this chapter beautifully point out how the Antigone so accessible and familiar to us, the emblematic fighter against oppression and injustice, is a very modern reading. I was strongly reminded of a conversation I was lucky enough to have with Athol Fugard following a performance of "The Island" in Ann Arbor; he said that he would like to direct a performance of the play with a more complex and sympathetic Creon, and to play the role himself.

The book does not really discuss the fourth and fifth stasima, apart from passing references to Lycurgus and Danae and the need to purify Thebes of the Labdacids. Cairns does not consider the possibility that Antigone changes her mind about the advantages of death compared to marriage, although I think that such an interpretation of her lament would support his comparison of Antigone to Creon. No short introduction can do everything, however, and this one is remarkably informative and stimulating for so small a package.


1.   Compare his introduction to his edited volume, Tragedy and Archaic Greek Thought. Swansea and London: The Classical Press of Wales, 2013.

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Steve Reece, Paul's Large Letters: Paul's Autographic Subscriptions in the Light of Ancient Epistolary Conventions. Library of New Testament studies, 561. London; New York: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2017. Pp. x, 317. ISBN 9780567669063. $108.00.

Reviewed by Paul Robertson, Colby-Sawyer College (

Version at BMCR home site


The field of Pauline studies has long desired a book that situates Paul's autobiographic subscriptions in their wider manuscript context. Steve Reece's work does just that, and it does not disappoint. It is learned but approachable, technical but readable, and combines a careful examination of the Pauline data with a wide variety of other ancient pieces of literary evidence. Reece, a classicist who has worked on Homer, also links his conclusions to relevant issues in Pauline studies, commendably touching on several centuries of commentary with differing levels of certainty and support.

The book is laid out in two major sections, each detailing one notable feature in Paul's letters. The first section investigates Paul's autobiographic subscriptions, specifically in 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philemon, as well as Colossians and 2 Thessalonians. This first section details the broader context for autographic subscriptions in ancient writing, proceeding from the process of letter writing (Ch. 2) to comparative evidence from Greek (Ch. 3), Latin (Ch. 4), and Jewish (Ch. 5) sources, to Paul's letters by comparison (Ch. 6), with conclusions (Ch. 7).

The second section investigates Paul's so-called 'large letters' in Galatians 6:11. This part takes the opposite form of the first, starting from the specific Pauline data (Galatians 6:11 in Ch. 8) and moving to the wider comparanda (Eastern Judaea, Northern England, Egypt, and conclusions in Chs. 9-12). Five useful appendices are also included: translations of Galatians 6:11, commentaries on Galatians 6:11, basic statistics concerning published ancient letters, necessarily limited demographics of those writing subscriptions in large script, and evidence for shorthand writing.

Reece's core argument is that Paul's use of autobiographic subscriptions and large letters is typical in light of the ancient evidence, and that we should therefore interpret these two literary features as unremarkable. More specifically on the first feature, Paul writes autobiographic subscriptions for several reasons that are widely attested in other ancient subscriptions: to add weight to his message, to boost the formality and official status of the document, to verify that it is in fact Paul writing (contra forgery, implying the phenomenon was widespread and a point of concern to Paul), and to introduce a personal touch to his letters, which could function as a proxy for individual presence.

On the second feature, Paul's large letters in his own hand are even more simply explained. Like many ancient authors, Reece concludes that Paul used a scribe, and in the extant evidence there is usually a difference in size between the hand of the scribe and that of the author(izer). There is no special significance attached to this difference in letter size, which can be larger or smaller.

Reece's evidence, argument, and conclusions are compelling for both of these Pauline features. His organization and clarity of prose are well matched by his lucid and fair handling of the evidence. His comparanda come from a wide range of places, times, and types of authors, and his careful comparison between Paul's letters and other ancient literary evidence not only comprises the vast majority of the book but is also its chief strength.

These careful and seemingly humdrum conclusions of Pauline typicality stand apart from decades, and even centuries, of biblical commentaries, which have suggested a host of different explanations for these two features in Paul, ranging from the theological to the sociological and beyond. Such explanations are, in Reece's words, eisegetical, which is to say they import the commentator's own ideological and lived experiences into conclusions about Paul and lack internal evidential support from ancient literary comparanda. Indeed, this is one place where Reece, typically even-handed and sometimes equivocal about different proposed explanations, comes down strongly on an interpretive issue: Paul suffered from no physical or psychological malady, nor did his choice of lettering reflect any of the theological or social issues inhering in the letter. It was all simply standard practice in Paul's world.

Notable, though, is Paul's explicit mention of his large letters, which Reece concludes is essentially unique in the extant evidence. In other words, while Reece's ancient evidence provides clear parallels for the form of writing subscriptions in large letters, the same evidence cannot explain the content of Paul's comment in Galatians 6:11. Reece's conclusion is thus no less suppositional than some of the commentators he critiques, as he concludes that Paul's words arise from "a very human act of self-deprecation" which also "served to authenticate the document" (215). The same goes for explaining Paul's "thorn in the side" comment in 2 Corinthians 12:17: Reece persuasively rejects previous explanations but offers no new interpretation on the apostle's statement.

Reece also runs into something of a conundrum as he follows his data and evidence to their logical conclusion. The comparative evidence shows that autobiographic subscriptions served to authenticate and verify a letter's author and its content. This is all well and good for 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philemon. However, it raises a question as to its function in Colosssians and 2 Thessalonians, whose authenticity many scholars question. Much to his credit, Reece follows his evidence with consistency and suggests that perhaps Colossians and 2 Thessalonians deserve another look as potentially authentic.

Reece also uses his comparative conclusions to wade into a few other interpretive matters that will be of interest, and likely dispute, among New Testament scholars. Galatians, for example, is deemed a legalistic document due to an analysis of its form (lacking typical epistolary features we see in other data) and content which Reece dubs "legal challenges that had arisen between the emerging Christian movement and Judaism" (214). The evidence based on the letter's form is here more compelling than this understanding of its content. While Reece does not delve extensively into the interpretive morass of Galatians, his comments here and elsewhere seem to have in mind a sort of 'legalistic Judaism' in Paul's letters, a traditional position that has been increasingly rejected by historians and theologians alike. 1

In a plausible if not definitive account, Reece also speaks to the probable composition and transmission of Paul's letters: the apostle dictated his letters to a scribe who may also have been a faithful companion; the scribe took down his words syllable-by-syllable, or was given a basic overview of the content and was entrusted with the bulk of the composition, or something in between; then Paul reviewed the letter and possibly made corrections or additions; finally, he wrote a post-script and autobiographic subscription. Additionally, the fact that the extant Pauline letter copies do retain their epistolary features (greetings, conclusions, etc.) suggests that it wasn't Paul and his inner circle who collected them (such internal collections typically lacked epistolary trappings) but rather that the apostle's sent and received letters were the ones collected and copied by others as time progressed.

The role of the scribe raises two other issues that create opportunities for me to expand and, with due gratitude, apply Reece's work. First, the author's agnosticism on the exact details of Paul's compositional process does not do much to address the extent to which the ideas in the letters are those of the apostle himself. Admittedly, this is outside of the book's purview, and probably impossible to answer. But Reece's hints throughout of a strong role for the scribe in composition, together with scholarly work done on other authors, to try to separate the voice of the scribe from the voice of the author(izer),2 point to the potential further to pry open Paul's conceptual world. Did his scribe/companion understand the apostle's view of pneuma such that it did not merit much comment, or was the scribe simply relaying this complex concept without gloss, trusting with Paul that his audience would understand it? The formal issues raised in this book thus provide some tools for thinking about related conceptual matters. Indeed, Colossians and 2 Thessalonians (to pick up from above) are often judged non-authentic on conceptual grounds, e.g., eschatology, rather than stylistic and formal ones.3 However one assesses such criteria for authenticity, the point remains that the formal and the conceptual are often inseparable.

Second, the role of the scribe can also speak to Paul's social status, wealth, and education. It must be noted that the points in this paragraph are not Reece's explicit argument, but rather my own inferences derived from his conclusions, which he may or may not hold. Reece notes that ancient authors with means rarely performed the physical task of writing due to its tediousness and unpleasantness. Rather, those with sufficient status, wealth, and education had others write for them. This seems to imply that Paul's status was quite high: he had a fairly advanced education, he had the means to hire one or more scribes and to pay them to deliver his letters, he probably had what were essentially clients in different cities, and so forth.4 In short, Paul was no lower-class, sparingly educated labourer. It is a general view I am inclined to accept, but Paul's status, wealth, and education are widely disputed.

These issues aside, and despite Reece's own self-deprecation as a classicist outsider writing on New Testament literature, the book is a major and definitive step forward. Indeed, Reece's specialties in palaeographical and comparative issues have here contributed greatly to Pauline and New Testament studies. It is a necessary read for Pauline scholars and even readers at the advanced undergraduate level will find it both accessible and beneficial.

Finally, commendable editing has resulted in a volume free from errors of spelling, grammar, or punctuation. The images are smartly displayed and of appropriate size for easy reference, and while their captions are repetitive, such a layout will be useful to scholars who later skim the main literary comparanda images.


1.   An incomplete list of different types of scholars could include the theologically interested 'New Perspective' on Paul (J.G. Dunn, E.P. Sanders, N.T. Wright) as well as the more historically inclined (K. Stendahl, S.K. Stowers).
2.   See discussion on 205, e.g. J.A. Eschlimann (1946) for Paul; Reece also discusses intriguing scholarship on Trajan, Cicero, and some of the documentary papyri attempting this very separation of scribe and author.
3.   A useful summary of the arguments can be found in Philip F. Esler, "2 Thessalonians", in J. Muddiman and J. Barton, eds. The Pauline Epistles, The Oxford Bible Commentary (Oxford University Press, 2010), 235-37.
4.   An important caveat: Reece discusses examples of even (only relatively?) poor people employing scribes for business deals such as clearing land, taking out a loan, or employment. And we could easily suggest that someone else gave a scribe to Paul or the means to hire one; perhaps too scribes might have offered their services as they accompanied Paul in his travels.

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Friday, April 21, 2017


James R. Harrison, L. L. Welborn (ed.), The First Urban Churches 1: Methodological Foundations. Writings from the Greco-Roman world Supplement series, 7. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2015. Pp. xiii, 345. ISBN 9781628371024. $34.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Ulrike Roth, The University of Edinburgh (

Version at BMCR home site

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

The volume under review is the first in a new series that investigates 'the expansion of early Christianity as an urban phenomenon from Jerusalem to Rome' (p. 1). The need for this endeavour, as described by J.R. Harrison in his introduction, arises from 'two blind spots (that) have traditionally vitiated the scholarly study of the corporate and civic life of the first urban believers in the eastern and western Mediterranean basin'—i.e. the dominance of the literary evidence in scholarly analyses, and a widely shared understanding of the first Christians as belonging to a 'lower class'. To set the scene, Harrison offers a brief overview of the study of the ancient city (or: polis, as he insists), followed by short summaries of modern knowledge of cities that have played a key role in early Christianity, such as Jerusalem in Palestine, Ephesus in Asia Minor, and Rome in the West, with a particular eye on the range of available evidence for study. Following the Introduction, eight thematic chapters explore different methodological issues that the source material throws up: most do not, however, provide either in-depth or sustained answers to the problems of method.

The first thematic chapter, by A. Cadwallader, deals with 'the potential of archaeological discoveries for the interpretation of New Testament texts', taking as a case study a recently found marble fragment from (unexcavated) Colossae showing scenes involving gladiators. Copious description of the small fragment is followed by discussion of gladiatorial games and gladiatorial themes in both a Roman and a Greek setting, complemented by a short section that explores the reception of Paul's letter to the Colossians in a world familiar with gladiatorial games. Although the fragment has no provenance, Cadwallader concludes that '(g)iven that Colossae can now be shown, albeit incompletely, to have an array of festivities and games (including gladiator contests) like many Asian cities, then the assumption is warranted that this is part of the cultural atmosphere of those who live there' (p. 61). This, he contends, provides the basis for a new reading of Colossians.

M. Choat's chapter, 'The City in Roman Egypt: The Evidence of the Papyri', offers a patchwork of evidence and discussion relating to cities in general—or, rather, to the city as a concept, and to particular undertakings as documented in one or another Egyptian document. Choat works with a 'strong' notion of 'the Roman city' (pp. 67 and 85), also referred to as 'the early imperial city' (p. 68) or 'a Greco-Roman city' (p. 69). The question as to whether the Egyptian material can form the basis for generalisation is answered in the affirmative: the discussion of some papyri that mention urban spaces shows, according to Choat, that 'Egypt was not some "wild west" that followed its own rules, and (that) what we see there will provide us with a good basis for understanding how the cities that feature in this series articulated themselves in their public life'(p. 85).

In 'Epigraphy and the Study of Polis and Ekklēsia in the Greco-Roman World', P. Trebilco aims to explore the advantages and disadvantages of the use of epigraphy for the study of early Christianity. A basic introduction is followed by discussion of epigraphic examples that have attracted attention from scholars of early Christianity. The discussion is restricted to brief summaries of modern studies that explore the featured texts. The focus on the polis (again) and ekklēsia is blurred. The chapter ends with a list of topics for future epigraphic analysis of quite diverse types and scope. Later in the volume, J. Ogereau revisits in essence the same question(s) in his 'Methodological Considerations in Using Epigraphic Evidence to Determine the Socioeconomic Context of the Early Christians'. After a brief introductory summary of the role of epigraphy in the study of early Christianity, including comments on epigraphic corpora and collections, Ogereau seeks to provide an 'overview of the range and quality of the epigraphic evidence currently available and discuss how we may want to approach it'. In particular, Ogereau aims to highlight '(t)he significance of such material in ascertaining the socioeconomic environment of the first Christians' through a focus on 'Nero's revised customs law of Asia, the lex portorii Asiae' (p. 250), combined with discussion of the nature of Roman imperialism. The concluding remarks 'return to matters of greater relevance to New Testament and early Christianity scholars' (p. 264), offering thoughts on how the kind of information gleaned from the lex portorii Asiae may help to understand Ephesians. Ogereau contends that 'rather than conducting a broad and superficial survey of a wider corpus', the choice of a single epigraphic example helps to 'illustrate more precisely how inscriptions might be employed in studies of early Christianity' (p. 256).

Concerned with the 'visual turn' in NT studies, B. Kahl juxtaposes '(t)he "imperial imagination"' in two imperial statues associated with the Miletus Market Gate and 'the role of Gaia, polis, and ekklēsia in the verbal text-image of Rev 12:16', i.e. 'John's "apocalyptic counterimagination"' (p. 116). In that story, Gaia saves a woman, understood to represent the ekklēsia and pursued by a serpent, from drowning. Kahl concludes that unlike in the Milesian sculptures, where a lush cornucopia and a captive woman support the representation of Roman power, the helping Earth and the woman unyielding to the serpent's power in Revelation undermine the Roman claim to eternal power, as a symbol for the symbioses and collaboration between earth and its natural equilibrium on the one hand, and the Christian ekklēsia on the other.

In the next chapter, B.J. Bitner draws on 'the Julio-Claudian colonial coinage of Roman Corinth to illustrate possibilities and problems with regard to the use of provincial numismatics in New Testament exegesis and social history'. Beginning with 'a selective survey of the uses to which Corinthian scholars have put numismatic evidence'—for which three studies are chosen—the chapter proceeds with generic methodological considerations, before concluding with what Bitner terms 'a series of case studies […] to exemplify the potential the colonial coinage offers for sharpening our understanding of various aspects of Corinthian identity' (all on p. 152). The latter section is limited to brief discussion of how to improve on the three studies that featured in Bitner's first section. Although Bitner states that the final section turns to 'the application of the [aforementioned] methodological principles', what he in fact offers is not application but a 'sketch [of the] potential avenues for further research' (p. 176).

The focus on the poor in L.L. Welborn's chapter is located in the broader debate on the socio-economic standing of early Christians. Welborn opens with discussion of the definition and identification of poverty. The core of the chapter provides brief overviews of different bodies of evidence to ascertain their usefulness in the study of poverty. The repeated reference to the polis (!) and the intention to understand better the socio-economic location of the early Christ-groups sits uncomfortably with the focus on Roman contexts, including discussion of mainly Roman evidence—such as Cicero or Martial. A differentiation is made between 'nonelite writers' (e.g. Aesop) and elite writers such as the aforementioned two. The short section on epigraphy ranges from an edict from Ephesus issued by Paullus Fabius Persicus in 44 BC to graffiti at Pompeii. The section on archaeology considers osteological evidence, insulae, burial pits, and sculpture. The chapter concludes with a longer overview of modern understanding of the situation amongst the Christians in Corinth gleaned from Paul's correspondence with them.

In the final chapter, Harrison focuses attention on 'Urban Portraits of the "Barbarian" on the Fringes of the Roman Empire: The Archaeological, Numismatic, Epigraphic, and Iconographic Evidence'. The reach and impact of Rome on conquered peoples—as articulated on Roman monuments—is explored through a series of case studies: Sebasteion and Res Gestae at Pisidian Antioch, the Triple Arch of Augustus at Rome, La Turbie, the Augustan Arch at Susa, and some inscriptions from Gaul and Spain. Harrison seeks 'to explore the rendering of barbarians' (p. 282) on these monuments and inscriptions 'to see what light they throw on relations between barbarians and Rome', with a view to understanding better 'the Augustan propaganda and how this might relate to the apostle's understanding of his indebtedness to Greek and barbarian (Rom 1:14; cf. Col 3:11)' (p. 283). No images accompany the discussion, which is torn between rushed description and bold interpretation regarding the meaning of rather difficult passages in Paul's correspondence. There is thus a distinct gap between the handling of the Roman monumental and inscriptional evidence and the notion that 'Paul is inverting to some extent the rituals of obligation and indebtedness in the Latin West' (p. 308).

Exciting as the topic is, this is a messy volume whose target audience is not clear. As the brief overview of the individual contributions suggests, description is key in many of the chapters. Some of the claims that are advanced are not actually demonstrated, including methodological ones. An exception to this is the chapter by Kahl, which takes the reader along the author's thought process, and explains and justifies with due reference to the sources the proposed argument. There are moreover unexplained overlaps between the chapters, especially regarding the study of epigraphy —most notably affecting the contributions by Trebilco and Ogereau. Some chapters apply uncritically modern, i.e. anachronistic concepts and perspectives on the ancient evidence: Choat's ideas of what the lack of street names may tell us about ancient cities, for instance, would benefit from confrontation with the reasons for and consequences of the lack of street names in many modern contexts, including in the 21st century and in the western part of the hemisphere. Others lack due engagement with the modern scholarly debate: the study of poverty in Roman social and economic history, for instance, which Welborn cites, goes beyond discussion of authors such as Cicero and Martial, and has produced a vast array of approaches and specialist contributions that are likely to benefit NT studies. And there are missed opportunities for improving our understanding of the NT texts themselves (even if we accept that this is not the primary aim of this volume): could Cadwallader's claim that the archaeology helps improve our reading of Colossians been demonstrated? If so, that would have constituted an intriguing contribution and a demonstration of methological application. Overall, however, the concentration on methodology has led to an unfocussed assemblage of under-researched chapters. The volume reminds one why methodological considerations and advances are more persuasive in their successful application—by way of thorough and skilful creation of new knowledge on the basis of the available (and relevant) evidence. The proof of the pudding lies, as ever, in the eating. There is scope for improvement in the subsequent volumes.1

Table of Contents

The First Urban Churches: Introduction. James R. Harrison
Assessing the Potential of Archaeological Discoveries for the Interpretation of New Testament Texts: The Case of a Gladiator Fragment from Colossae and the Letter to the Colossians. Alan Cadwallader
The City in Roman Egypt: The Evidence of the Papyri. Malcolm Choat
Epigraphy and the Study of Polis and Ekklēsia in the Greco-Roman World. Paul Trebilco
Gaia, Polis, and Ekklēsia at the Miletus Market Gate: An Ecocritical Reimagination of Revelation 12:16. Brigitte Kahl
Coinage and Colonial Identity: Corinthian Numismatics and the Corinthian Correspondence. Bradley J. Bitner
The Polis and the Poor: Reconstructing Social Relations from Different Genres of Evidence. L. L. Welborn
Methodological Considerations in Using Epigraphic Evidence to Determine the Socioeconomic Context of the Early Christians. Julien M. Ogereau
Urban Portraits of the "Barbarians" on the Fringes of the Roman Empire: The Archaeological, Numismatic, Epigraphic, and Iconographic Evidence. James R. Harrison


1.   The second volume in the series has recently appeared: J.R. Harrison and L.L. Welborn (edd.), The First Urban Churches 2: Roman Corinth. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016.

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