Tuesday, January 28, 2020


Alexandros Kampakoglou, Anna Novokhatko (ed.), Gaze, Vision, and Visuality in Ancient Greek Literature. Trends in classics. Supplementary volumes, 54. Berlin; Boston: Walter de Gruyter, 2018. Pp. xiii, 509. ISBN 9783110568998. $137.99. ISBN 9783110571288. ebook.

Reviewed by Froma I. Zeitlin, Princeton University (fiz@princeton.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This volume owes its origins to a conference of the same title (Freiburg, December 2014) although the contents differ somewhat from the proceedings. It claims to differ from other edited collections on similar topics in what admittedly has become a crowded field, by its emphasis "on genres and media," unlike so-called "thematically" organized volumes. The aim here in 18 essays (plus Introduction) amounting to more than 500 pages is to "track the evolution of visual culture in Greece," while also addressing broader topics, such as "theories of vision and the prominence of visuality in specific periods, and the position of visuality in the hierarchization of the senses." While the introduction includes brief descriptions of the 18 essays that follow, abstracts in this multidirectional volume would have been very welcome, considering the range of genres, topics, and periods. In such a project, cross-references among the contributors are non-existent. Proceeding chronologically, however, we begin with epic and lyric—Homer (4 essays), Apollonius Rhodius (2), and Stesichorus (1). The next rubric is drama (4 essays): one on Aeschylus' Oresteia, one on Euripides' Bacchae, and two on Greek comedy. Third is the largest category: Rhetoric, Historiography, and Philosophy with five essays on Gorgias and Isocrates, Herodotus and Thucydides, Procopius, Xenophon's Cyropaideia, and lastly Plato's Phaedo and Timaeus. The final section is called "Literary Texts Meeting Other Media." It contains a lengthy and magisterial essay by Michael Squire on ekphrasis and Philostratus the Younger's depiction of the shield of Achilles, three times removed from the original; next an examination of clothing ("Undressing for Artemis: Sensory Approaches to Clothes Dedications n Hellenistic Epigram and in the Cult of Artemis Brauronia"); and finally "Viewing and Identification: The Agency of the Viewer," in which it is argued that the relative indeterminacy of the identity of a visual image (e.g. is it just a kouros or Apollo?) compels viewers to make their own identification. The quasi-obligatory figure of Helen in such a context appears in both Stesichorus and the two rhetoricians, Gorgias and Isocrates.

In such an ambitious collection, it seems fair to say that not all the essays are of equal quality or interest, even from well-respected scholars whose work I generally admire, and some of the topics are outside my expertise, but I will focus on a few contributions from epic, drama, philosophy, and the visual arts, with apologies to other worthies I have had to omit.

The essays on Homer, alas, are disappointing in the main. Létoublon's "War as a Spectacle," is an odd and disjointed piece from a much admired critic that ranges from Homeric semantics to the notion of the Iliad as a theater, Achilles' anger, the conquest of the gate and the space of fighting, figuring the spectators ('real' and imaginary), followed by Zeus's scales, the poet's address to a character, duel and challenge, Achilles' spear as a character, the chariot race, Hector's Lusis (ransom + Aristotle's idea of lusis), and the simile in book 24 (seeing each other in a mirror). This assortment uses terms arbitrarily (such as 'theater'), jumps from one topic to another, and left this reader mystified on more than one occasion as to what in fact visuality meant to the author. There is a long bibliography, but the different approaches cited in other works do not seem to cohere in any manageable way. If similes, then focus on similes; and if theater, then it needs to be more than a metaphor or a vague allusion to the tragic elements of the Iliad.

Another esteemed scholar, Jonas Grethlein, in "The Eyes of Odysseus. Gaze, Desire, and Control in the Odyssey," is also not at his best here. He singles out passages in which the gaze of Odysseus contributes to the narrative dynamics of the poem as an expression of both desire and aggression. It first posits a disruption of the nexus between gaze and desire on Ogygia and Scheria, where the desire to return (nostos) short-circuits any erotic engagement between Calypso and Nausicaa. Second, the language of the gaze highlights Odysseus' increasing power on Ithaca, which allows him to kill the suitors. Finally, there is the gaze beyond literature—that is, vases: eyes on vases, the gorgoneion and the links between gaze and aggression, focusing on the popularity of the blinding of Polyphemus (the reflexive potential of the eye for visual artist). This reader would have liked a more essential connection between beauty, gaze and desire which one could find in other scenes without any necessary emphasis on vision. The argument for the empowerment of the gazer as Odysseus, who becomes the actor and author of revenge, relies on formulaic repetition of certain phrases, but the points are perhaps too subtle to carry the weight of the argument. The vase paintings are equally tangential and more context is required to make the images more specific to the essay.

Lastly, Claudia Michel's "Blindness and Blinding in the Homeric Odyssey" focuses on three scenes: the blinding of Polyphemus, Penelope's tears as hindering recognition, and thirdly ate and hubris, the atasthaliai of both the suitors and Odysseus's companions. All three rubrics are quite separate, although the author attempts to bring them together. This reader's problem with the second and third points is that blindness in English is applied to Greek terms that are in no way semantically bound to ideas of vision. While we use such terms metaphorically as indeed 'blind' and 'clouding of vision,' the effort to tie the Greek text to these non-Greek terms founders on this simple fact of translation.

Emanuela Bakola's "Seeing the Invisible: Interior Spaces and Uncanny Erinyes in Aeschylus' Oresteia" opens the second section on drama. It argues for the continued presence of the Erinyes, both seen and unseen, as related to the interior of the house and by extension to the earth itself. Relying on a good deal of speculation on staging, it claims a kindred relation between the chorus of women in the Choephoroi and the Erinyes, who manifest themselves finally in the last play. There are some excellent observations on the uses of the interior to signify interiority on a larger scale (including the underworld), but the essay seems to me to be overargued and perhaps too subtle and complicated to be entirely convincing. It is nevertheless a stimulating exercise on the relations between the seen and the unseen.

Anna Lamari's "Visual Intertextuality in Ancient Greek Drama: Euripides' Bacchae and the Use of Art Media" is a heroic effort to connect the play both to current vase paintings and previous plays of Aeschylus that treat Bacchic madness (Lykourgeia, Xantriae and Toxotides. Of course, we have only fragments of these, but Lamari wants to create a web of references in vase painting more contemporary with Euripides. The argument posits a kind of "construction of a mental visual image" (whether "reproducing/recalling or building a new one") to conclude that "theatre and pictorial art, as well as the mythical megatext, all provide material for the production of mental or actual visual images" that subsequently result in their "fusion" into the city's "visual memory." Ingenious, no doubt, but relying on a web of inferences with only three images of vases in the text, the reader will have to work hard to be convinced that an audience would reach this level of awareness (and recall).

Anna Novokhatkos's "You Must Not Stand in One Place: Seeing in Sicilian and Old Attic Comedy," offers some genuine new insights into the visual preoccupations of Aristophanes which increase as the poet's repertory advances. The multitude of allusions to sight and seeing, whether staging some kind of spectacle through words, mapped out by one or more characters, or representing a character by his/her visual appearance, or showing an increasing awareness of theories of vision that come to prominence in this period, are convincingly argued (forget Sicily, though). Comedy, of course, is the site par excellence for creative invention, make-believe, and face-to-face shenanigans. This essay is the best in this section.

Andrea Nightingale's stimulating contribution, "The Aesthetics of Vision in Plato's Phaedo and Timaeus," falls squarely within the stated purview of the volume. Distinguishing between the austerity of the late Philebus and two earlier dialogues, Phaedo and Timaeus, she focuses on the word poikilia. In the Phaedo, the argument centers on the "true earth," a metaphysical realm, open to philosopher-viewers, which displays both the glitter and translucence of the variegated beauties in nature, in their closeness to divinity (what Nightingale calls an "aesthetics of extravagance"). In the Timaeus, on the other hand, the spotlight falls on the 'dance of the stars'('visible gods') and the valorization of vision, to praise the beauty and artistry of the heavens, an agalma, especially in regard to its aspects of gorgeous poikilia.

Finally, Michael Squire's "A Picture of Ecphrasis: The Younger Philostratus and the Homeric Shield of Achilles," the longest by far in the volume (59 pages), gives evidence once again of the preeminence the author has earned as a foremost authority on word and image. Squire focuses on a single chapter of the Younger Philostratus (4th C. CE) entitled "Pyrrhus or the Mysians" which embeds a detailed description of the famed Shield of Achilles. While Pyrrhus (or Neoptolemus) has inherited the renowned shield of his father from Odysseus, the description itself at the same time looks back to the sophist's own famous forebear, the elder Philostratus. Word and image continually refract one another, with added and paramount reference to the first ecphrasis by Homer himself in the Iliad. Ingeniously argued as though through a Möbius strip, this essay, with its copious footnotes and bibliography, offers the reader an entire parcours through the issues that preoccupied the rhetoricians of later antiquity.

To sum up, other readers will follow their own interests, and despite my criticisms of individual essays, the variety of contributions in themselves offers a glimpse into a topic of paramount importance in the study of ancient Greek culture. Likewise, the indexes of authors and subjects are very helpful in navigating the collection. A last word: there is an astonishing number of typos that simple spell-checking would have caught.

Table of Contents

Foreword (v)
List of Images (xi)
Introduction (xv-xxvi)

1.War as Spectacle (F. Létoublon, 3–32)
2. The Eyes of Odysseus: Gaze, Desire and Control in the Odyssey (J. Grethlein, 33–60)
3. Blindness and Blinding in the Homeric Odyssey (C. Michel, 61–87)
4. Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica 4 and the Epic Gaze: There and Back Again (H. Lovatt, 88–112)
5. Gazing at Heroes in Apollonius' Argonautica (A. Kampakoglou, 113–139)
6. Gazing at Helen with Stesichorus (P. J. Finglass, 140–149)

7. Seeing the Invisible: Interior Spaces and Uncanny Erinyes in Aeschylus' Oresteia (E. Bakola, 163–182)
8. Visual Intertextuality in Ancient Greek Drama: Euripides Bacchae and the Use of the Art Media (A. Lamari, 187–204)
9. You Must Not Stand in One Place: Seeing in Sicilian and Old Attic Comedy (A. Novokhatko, 205–232)
10. Visual and Non-Visual Uses of demonstratives with the deictic 'iota' in Greek Comedy (C. Orth, 233–244)

11. Reimagining Helen of Troy: Gorgias and Isocrates on Seeing and Being Seen (E. C. Haskins, 245–271)
12. Metahistory and the Visual in Herodotus and Thucydides (R. Harman, 271–288)
13. Dealing with the Invisible: War in Procopius (F. Maier, 289–307)
14. Being or Appearing Virtuous? The Challenges of Leadership in Xenophon's Cyropaedia (M. Tamiolaki, 308–330)
15. The Aesthetics of Vision in Plato's Phaedo and Timaeus (A. Nightingale, 331–56)

16. A Picture of Ecphrasis: The Younger Philostratus and the Homeric Shield of Achilles (M. Squire, 357–417)
17. Undressing for Artemis: Sensory Approaches to Clothes Dedications in Hellenistic Epigram and in the Cult of Artemis Brauronia (A Petsalis-Diomidis, 418–463)
18. Viewing and Identification: The Agency of the Viewer in Archaic and Early Classical Greek Visual Culture (N. Dietrich, 464–492)

List of Contributors (493–497)
Subject Index (497–502)
Author Index (503–509)

(read complete article)


Marta González González, Funerary Epigrams of Ancient Greece: Reflections on Literature, Society and Religion. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019. Pp. 213. ISBN 9781350062429. £85.00.

Reviewed by Christos Tsagalis, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (xristos.tsangalis@gmail.com)

Version at BMCR home site


The study of inscribed epigrams in Ancient Greece has experienced an impressive impetus during the last years. Apart from epigraphic work, which is to be expected in such a field, interpretive approaches are now opening new vistas to the study of one of the most multidisciplinary genres of ancient Greek literature.

González's book falls within this category of synthetic monographs, with one important difference: it is not aimed at the clarification or exploration of a specific aspect of funerary epigrams but offers a general presentation of metrical epitaphs, which it contextualizes literarily, socially, and religiously. This is the book's principal goal, which it clearly accomplishes.

Chapter 1 explores the evolution of the funerary monument on which the epitaphs were inscribed. After offering a brief survey of funerary practice in the archaic period, González notes the growing attention to and importance of ostentation in Athenian sepulchral monuments. She rightly emphasizes three aspects of prime importance with respect to the function of funerary space: gender (neck-handled amphorae for men, belly-handled amphorae for women), age and social class (korai and kouroi, significant variation among the stelae), and profession (athletes, women with spinning wheel, lyre player etc.). Ostentation presupposes recognition, and recognition presupposes visibility when material culture is involved. The transition from the non-iconic stone over the tomb to an iconic funerary element in the time of the aristocratic polis is paired with a preference for a discernible and easily observable positioning of the funerary monument along the road. Such a picture is at odds with Solonian sumptuary legislation, which was designed to regulate extravagant expenditures or habits especially on moral or religious grounds. González rightly notes that Solonian legislation had no effect with respect to the size and expense of Athenian funerary monuments during this period.

Chapter 2 is devoted to the literary aspects of funerary epigrams, both with respect to their private form as opposed to the epitaphios logos, and with respect to their public form as used in the demosion sema. González takes us on a tour of the genre, using both Simonides and his famous compositions related to the fallen in the Persian Wars and Pindar's threnoi as a backdrop against which one may interpret and evaluate the funerary epigram: an autonomous, condensed, eye-catching composition forming part of a larger whole (the statue or stele), distant from the moment of death and the funeral, aiming not to invite further lamentation but to provoke reflection on human life by all future passers-by, a text becoming a poem through its performance, a poem craving to be read.

In chapter 3 González examines some exceptional funerary monuments and epigrams, like those for Phrasikleia and Kroisos from Attica. Though most of the material contained is well-known from secondary literature, the author offers a concise and focused presentation of the importance for sepulchral epigrams of the themes of the unmarried 'maiden' and the brave 'male youth' dying in battle. The same evaluation applies to the other metrical epitaphs inscribed on stone for young nobles. González is particularly good in contextualizing these epitaphs and in interpreting them as parts of a nexus involving the memorial on which they are inscribed and the ideals and beliefs of the aristocratic world in the sixth century BC.

Chapter 4 explores what is perhaps the most marked feature of archaic and classical Greek epitaphs, the ἄωρος θάνατος (mors immatura) of men and women who died in their prime. This is one of the most rewarding chapters of the book. I found particularly convincing (p. 57) the argument that the absence of the expression ὤλεσαν/ὠλέσατε ἥβην from Attic epitaphs for young women prior to the fourth century BC is due to the close association of ἥβη with ἀνδρεία, which resulted in the anchoring of the former to male youths who are thus singled out for both their youth and virility. The same applies to González's discussion of the function of the mirror (pp. 58–65), which is depicted in various Attic stelae belonging to deceased women. She argues persuasively that the mirror has a two-fold value, since it indicates gender but also age and status. In particular, González makes the attractive suggestion that the way the mirror is depicted is directly relevant to the age and status of the deceased woman: if she is looking into the mirror, then she is an unmarried maiden, whereas if the woman presents the mirror straight on, then she is a married woman (as it is obvious by the presence of various family groups, sometimes involving children and husband).

In chapter 5 González studies the immortal remembrance of friends by analyzing the sepulchral epigram for Biote by her friend Euthylla and the metrical epitaph for Mnesitheus in Boeotia. In the case of Biote and Euthylla, González's analysis rightly stresses that it is pointless and perhaps unimportant to use the modern categories of heterosexuality and homosexuality as interpretive keys for disclosing the complex semantic range of the constitutive elements of ancient φιλία: (φιλότης 'affection' and πίστις 'loyalty or trust'). In the case of the Mnesitheus epitaph, the Problematik trns on the function of the rare term φιλημοσύνη. González supports Andreiomenou's interpretation that this term designates mutual affection, against Dettori who had argued (on the basis of CEG 32, a father expressing his affection for his two dead sons) that φιλημοσύνη is an individual feeling. The discussion is interesting, though sometimes marred by inaccuracies (e.g. p. 88 n. 50, 'Ι do not agree with the idea that in the funerary epigraphy it [i.e. ἀντί] must always mean "in place of" rather than "in return of (sic)"'': The point is not that ἀντί never means 'in return for' in sepulchral epigrams, but only that it always — with one exception — means 'in place of' in fourth-century Attic funerary epitaphs.

Chapter 6 is devoted to the way married women are presented in funerary epigrams. Again, one can find some exemplary new observations (e.g. the influence of φίλη δὲ σὺν φιλέοντι for the bee-wife and her husband in Sim. fr. 7.86 on φιλοῦντα ἀντιφιλοῦσα for Μελίτη and Ὀνήσιμος in CEG 530), but most of those presented here have been made before by other scholars. The last section ('Tribute to their masters') is innovative, dealing with a rather neglected topic. I would certainly have liked to see more space devoted to it, where some important questions could have been asked: e.g. what does it mean for the wife of a deceased man to commission a funerary epitaph (CEG 509), in which it is said that 'his [the deceased's] tribute is increased with the remembrance of his father Olympikhos'? The dialogue with or resonance of Pindaric poetry could have been exploited. Notice that both renderings of the phrase μνήμαισιν πατρὸς…αὔξετ᾽ ἔπαινος (see p. 108 and compare n. 66), which means either that 'the dead father's remembrance is reflected on the son's praise' or that 'the remembrance of the son's praise is reflected on his [dead?] father', are associated with a belief expressed in Pindaric epinician poetry that 'the son's praise will be reflected on his dead father', since the father of the laudandus will share or partake of his son's praise when he hears the news of his son's victory in the Underworld; e.g. Ol. 14.21–24). Let us not forget that Potamon's father was Olympichos, a disciple of Pindar, and Potamon of Thebes may have won a Panhellenic victory (in the Pythia?). Along the same lines, González could have referred to Pi. Pyth. 12.6, in which the language (αὐτόν τέ νιν Ἑλλάδα νικάσαντα τέχναν) used for another auletes (Midas) is similar to that employed in this funerary epigram for Potamon (Ἑλλὰς μὲν πρωτεῖα τέχνης αὐλῶν ἀπένειμεν). After all, the aetiological myth referred to by Pindar concerns Athena's invention of the aulos for imitating the Gorgons' lament for Medusa's beheading by Perseus.

Chapter 7 is devoted to the study of two common causes of death in antiquity, childbirth and sea-journey. González argues for a new comparison between them, i.e. as gender-marked polarity, childbirth pertaining to women, death at sea to men (almost exclusively). She thus offers a fresh look at this polarity, moving away from but not rejecting the well-known comparison of another gender-oriented pair, childbirth versus death in war. However, the evidence she gathers is meagre to support such a claim. Of the examples furnished only the last (IG IX.2 638, p. 120) may (at best) contain a play (ἐγ γαστρὸς κυμοτόκοις ὀδύναις) between imagery pertaining to death in childbirth and death at sea (γαστήρ is also used for the hull of a ship; see Hesych. s.v. Σαμιακὸς τρόπος; notice the aural similarity between ὀδύναις and ὠδίναις 'birth pangs'). Likewise, only the last epitaph referring to death at sea (CEG 722) may (again at best) contain an imagery also employed in metrical epitaphs pertaining to childbirth (ἔλιπον φῶς).

In chapter 8 González discusses beliefs about the afterlife which are reflected in funerary epigrams: the body becoming earth, the wandering of the soul of a man who suffered an ἄδικος θάνατος until his death is avenged, the reward for piety. Particularly rewarding is the discussion of the expression Persephone's chamber (Φερσεφόνης θάλαμος). González asks the question whether the reference to Persephone's chamber may suggest a kind of hope associated with followers of people initiated in mystery cults. She thinks it does, mainly on the basis of the frequent mention of the queen of the Underworld in the lamellae aureae and partly of the use of ὄλβιος, which belongs to the standard diction of mystery cults, as well as the analogy between the expression 'I have sunk beneath the breast of Lady, Chthonian Queen' and 'the earth has received the deceased in her bosom', which are attested in the lamellae aureae and funerary epitaphs respectively.

I conclude with two types of criticism, the first pertaining to the way the arguments are developed, the second to typos and other infelicities. With respect to the former, sometimes the author's thought process is interrupted by secondary considerations and/or asides, thus curtailing the thrust of her argument. For example, what is the purpose of the discussion (pp. 114–117) of the textual problems pertaining to Plut. Lyc. 27.2 (ἐπιγράψαι δὲ τοὔνομα θάψαντας οὐκ ἐξῆν τοῦ νεκροῦ, πλὴν ἀνδρὸς ἐν πολέμωι καὶ γυναικὸς τῶν ἱερῶν ἀποθανόντων) prescribing that in Sparta only the names of those fallen in battle and of the hierai could be inscribed on the grave, when 'regardless of the reading adopted for Plutarch's report' (see Ziegler's emendation λεχοῖ for ἱερῶν referring to women who died at childbirth) González argues that 'special importance was given to death in childbirth' (p. 117)?

As for technical errors, I append a short list that attracted my attention: p. 26: Calinus > Callinus; p. 33: ακοῦσαι > ἀκοῦσαι; p. 56 and 66: ὄλεσθαι > ὀλέσθαι; p. 38: the funerary epigram from Kos containing an explicit use of the expression 'the bride of Hades' is dated to the late 6th century BC (as rightly noted in p. 44. n. 31), and not to the end of the of the 4th century BC (as mistakenly written in p. 38); p. 47 (bis), 70, and 118: πότε > ποτέ; p. 80: ἡδεία > ἡδεῖα; pp. 77 and 81 ἑταῖρα > ἑταίρα; p. 98: χρηείᾳ > χηρείᾳ; p. 100: 'to the Persephone's chamber' > 'to Persephone's chamber'; p. 103: 'the Hansen interpretation' > 'Hansen's interpretation'; p. 108: Προνόμον v Πρόνομον; p. 121: κύμα > κῦμα; p.129: Μενώνος > Μένωνος.

All in all, this is a useful contribution to the study of funerary epigram in ancient Greece. The reader will not find many new interpretations, but he/she will be recompensed by the wide range of factors the author considers before suggesting an interpretation and the admirably balanced treatment of the material at hand. These are clearly the two main advantages of Gonzalez's book, which will become standard reading for anyone interested in Greek funerary epigrams.

(read complete article)


Stella Diakou, The Upper Geometric Cemetery at Lapithos: University of Pennsylvania Museum Excavations 1931-1932. Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology 146. Uppsala: Astrom Editions, 2018. Pp. xxvi, 395. ISBN 9789198153538. €80,00.

Reviewed by Erin Walcek Averett, Creighton University (erinaverett@creighton.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

Despite increasing interest in Cypriot archaeology and the application of more robust methods for fieldwork and analysis, the inaccessibility of the north since the 1974 Turkish invasion has resulted in an uneven picture of the history of the island.1 Recently, scholars such as Jennifer Webb, David Frankel, and Joanna Smith have revisited material from older excavations in the north to ameliorate this situation. The work under review, by Stella Diakou, which builds on her Bryn Mawr dissertation, similarly expands our knowledge of this region through the analysis and publication of the Pennsylvania Cyprus Expedition's (PCE) excavation of the Upper Geometric cemetery at Lapithos, 1931-32. This expedition was organized by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum), but itsresults were never published. The material was eventually stored in the Penn Museum and the Cyprus Museum, where it languished unstudied for generations. Diakou's book rectifies the lack of initial publication and should be considered the primary source on this cemetery.As such, it is a stellar example of the value of studying legacy collections.2

The PCE was directed by Bert Hodge Hill (then director of the Corinth excavations), but the overseeing and recording of the Cypriote expedition were executed by Virginia Grace, Lucy Talcott, and Dorothy Hannah Cox. Diakou studied the artifacts as well as correspondences, Grace and Talcott's field notebooks, the object inventory book, Cox's tomb plans and site map, photographs, and Grace's 1937 unpublished report on the Lower and Upper Geometric cemeteries in the Penn Museum archives. Diakou acknowledges that her study would not have been possible without these womens' detailed and careful recordings.

The volume begins with an Introduction that reviews the history of excavations and introduces the site and landscape of Lapithos, located on the northwest slopes of the Kyrenia mountains.3 Ch. 2 (Tombs and Finds) presents a complete catalogue of the 19 explored chamber tombs, in use from the Cypro-Geometric (CG) I to CG III/Cypro-Archaic I, and their inventories (Tombs 471-489). Each entry includes updated tomb plans, photographs, a description of the dromos and chamber, and a catalogue of finds. All finds are included whether they were discarded by the excavators or are now missing. Ch. 3 (The Pottery) presents a typological classification, catalogue, and analysis of the ceramics from the site. Since most of the grave goods are ceramic vessels (1146 of the 1236 recorded artifacts), this is a major undertaking. Taking into account new regional approaches to CG pottery, especially by Anna Georgiadou, Diakou constructs a typology specific to this cemetery. The wares are homogeneous and typical for the period (Proto-White Painted, White Painted, Bichrome, Black Slip Painted, Black Slip Bichrome, Red Slip, Black on Red, Plain White, Grey Polished, and courseware), and include open and closed shapes that range in size from miniature to large vessels. Imports (flasks) and specialized vessels (e.g., kernoi, askoi) are rare. Diakou concludes by applying the seriation method to construct a convincing relative chronology for the tombs (pp. 218-23). The more infrequent small finds (jewelry, fibulae, pins, spindle whorls, and knives) are discussed in Ch. 4.

Ch. 5 (The Upper Geometric Cemetery and its Customs) explores the evidence for mortuary practices and contextualizes them within their local and regional setting. It should be noted that Diakou's conclusions are limited by the PCE's excavation and recording methods, which were standard for the time. The tombs were not investigated stratigraphically; burials were excavated as a single layer on the tomb floor, although the excavators attempted to reconstruct the burial order and associated objects on the basis of proximity. No human or animal remains were collected with the exception of one remarkably preserved human skeleton (now missing), and some bones collected with rings; no specialists studied these remains at the time of discovery, leaving speculation on the sex and age of the deceased and species identification to non-experts. Yet, Diakou is able to draw some important conclusions. Most of the chamber tombs were re-opened after the initial burial for additional interment(s) (which were all inhumations), and a few had later additions (niches, extra chambers, and benches). Presumably this investment not only in the initial construction, but in continued use (excavating and re-filling the dromos, opening and re-closing the stomion, re-arranging tomb contents, and architectural modifications) suggests that the tombs were used over generations by family or social groups. The ceramic assemblage consists of shapes primarily associated with the consumption of food and drink and the few identified animal remains are of sheep/goat, which suggests that funerary meals occurred at the tomb. Moreover, the presence of identical ceramic sets, the repetition of the same series in different tombs, and the high quantity of pots in some tombs, lead Diakou to postulate that there was a specialized funerary ceramic industry. Other occasional finds are primarily adornments or tools. The dead seem to have been laid out on the chamber floor with pots usually placed around the upper body; earlier burials and associated grave goods were pushed to the sides, with a few reburials in pots. The child and dromos burials are given different treatment. There is potential evidence for the intentional breaking of pots in the chambers and dromoi. Social differentiation and stratification are evident in tomb sizes and perhaps through position within the cemetery (with wealthier tombs higher on the Kastros plateau overlooking the coastal plain), the duration of tomb use, the number of specialized architectural features, the number and quantity of grave goods, and the number of specialized objects (e.g. gold jewelry, metal, ritual ceramics).

Diakou concludes by comparing the Upper Geometric cemetery to other Lapithos cemeteries, including the more humble Lower Geometric, located along the coast, and the wealthier Kastros, located in the center of Lapithos village and likely part of the same cemetery. This holistic view of the Lapithos mortuary record is a first – previously these cemeteries or even individual tombs were considered in isolation (pp. 243-51). The Lapithos cemeteries share funerary customs, with minor variations. Moreover, this analysis confirms that the new burial customs begun in the 11th-10th centuries continue throughout the CG.4

Diakou is clear about the limitations of the material, although at times she is perhaps overly optimistic about the excavators' interpretations regarding associations between certain artifacts and interments as well as their assessment of the biological sex and age of some of the skeletons (e.g., pp. 237-38, 244). Her discussion of the chamber floor areas and the estimation of the "crowdedness" of the tombs as an indication of wealth and social status is less convincing given the imprecise recording of skeletons, and the assumption that each interment was a complete burial and was given equal floor space in the tomb (p. 245). The full details of earlier burials and how artifacts and remains were treated with each subsequent deposition is, unfortunately, obscured. In fact, all we have (at best, provided there were no natural events or looting) is a snapshot of the chamber tomb after the final interment when the stomion was closed for the last time and the dromos filled.

The evidence for social differentiation should also be discussed with an acknowledgement that this cemetery is not likely to contain a complete profile of the associated settlement(s), and that probably not all members of the community were buried in chamber tombs. In fact, it is even possible that not all members of elite family or social groups were granted burial in the existing tombs. To state that the cemetery contains "tombs that may represent the 'aristocracy', to tombs that may have belonged to 'humble fishermen'" (using Donohoe's phrasing 5) is problematic (p. 250). Moreover, the discussion of diachronic patterns in this cemetery does not adequately take into consideration what must have been complex and shifting arenas for the display of social status. Based on the percentages of "wealthy" tombs, Diakou argues that in CGI-II "wealth in the form of grave goods seems to have been accessible to a greater number of families/groups. This does not suggest a rigidly stratified society" (p. 250). Yet, if we keep in mind that not all groups likely had access to such chamber tombs and that this sample size is relatively small, this conclusion presumes that the cemetery represents an accurate cross-section of the population. Diakou goes on to characterize CGIII as more stratified because of the overall fewer number of grave goods and fewer tombs with prestige artifacts. This could certainly be due to a more restricted group who could afford such display at death, but it could equally be the result of changing avenues or forms for such demonstrations (e.g. sanctuaries).

Overall, this work is well written and free of errors; the plans, photographs, and drawings are high quality. Some minor points: Figure 1.2 does not label the locations of the Upper and Lower cemeteries, and it would be helpful to include a more straightforward diagram of the tomb chronology in addition to the seriation results (Pl. 16). Table 5.2 is organized by tomb number, but one organized by chronological phases would be valuable. Finally, there is no mention of the Penn Museum online digital collection, which does include some material from the PCE Lapithos expedition for comparison.

None of these minor points detract from the overall quality of this work and its significance to the field. The Cypro- Geometric period, situated between two distinct urban cultures, has been studied primarily as a transitional phase with scholars mining the almost exclusively mortuary data for the beginnings of the kingdoms, evidence for ethnic groups, and external contacts. Only recently has the deathscape of this period begun to be examined holistically.6 By focusing not just on a single site, but on a single cemetery in a poorly understood area, Diakou's study takes a local micro-approach, which will encourage and facilitate much-needed future comparative studies. While scholars often lament the lack of settlement evidence for this period and the stagnant state of archaeology in northern Cyprus, Diakou's study demonstrates the potential of the funerary landscape to illuminate social developments and serves as a poignant reminder of the value of revisiting old excavation material to gain fresh insights even when new fieldwork is not possible.


1.   Under UNESCO conventions, no legal archaeological work can be conducted in this area. See Pilides, D., and M. Mina, eds. 2017. Four Decades of Hiatus in Archaeological Research in Cyprus: Towards Restoring the Balance. Proceedings of the International One-Day Workshop Held in Lefkosia (Nicosia) on 24th September 2016. Wien.
2.   On the ethics and value of studying legacy collections, see Frieman, C., and L. Janz. 2018. "A Very Remote Storage Box Indeed: The Importance of Doing Archaeology with Old Museum Collections." Journal of Field Archaeology 43: 257-68; Allen, R., and B. Ford, eds. 2019. New Life for Archaeological Collections. Society for Historical Archaeology Series in Material Culture. Lincoln, NE.
3.   See also Diakou, S. 2019. "The Archaeology of the North Coast of Cyprus. The Evidence from Lapithos." In New Directions in Cypriot Archaeology, edited by C. Kearns and S. Manning, 241-65. Ithaka.
4.   As observed by Coldstream, J.N. 1989. "Status Symbols in Cyprus in the Eleventh Century B.C." In Early Society in Cyprus, edited by E.J. Peltenberg, 325-35. Edinburgh; Steele, L. 1995. "Differential Burial Practices in Cyprus at the Beginning of the Iron Age." In The Archaeology of Death in the Ancient Near East, edited by S. Campbell and A. Green, 199-204. Oxford.
5.   Donohoe, J.M. 1992. "The Lapithos-Lower Geometric Cemetery: An Early Iron Age Necropolis in Cyprus (Report of the 1931-32 Excavations of the Cyprus Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania Museum)." Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania. 405.
6.   E.g. Janes, S. 2008. "The Cypro-Geometric Horizon, a View from Below: Identity and Social Change in the Mortuary Record." Ph.D. diss., University of Glasgow.

(read complete article)

Sunday, January 26, 2020


Leendert ​Weeda, Horace's Sermones Book 1: Credentials for Maecenas. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2019. Pp. vii, 296. ISBN 9783110642629. €99,95.

Reviewed by Vicente Flores Militello, University of Mexico (UNAM) (vicente.fm@comunidad.unam.mx)

Version at BMCR home site

Publisher's Preview

How we, as readers of ancient texts in the 21st century, understand and interpret the complex relationship between poets and power, inner friendship and financial dependence, liberty and criticism, or panegyric and propaganda, is a very controversial question. Augustan poetry offers a very fertile ground, since the tension of land confiscations, military clashes and the rigorous construction of a new political order found multifaceted ways of expression in all kinds of poetry, including lyric, elegy, and 'philosophizing' poetry. Leendert Weeda's book focuses on one precise aspect in an important collection by Horace, the first book of the Sermones (hereafter S.1): Horace's literary strategy for being considered suitable by Maecenas to join the main intellectual circle of his time is to thematize contemporary political issues.

The relevance of political issues in ancient poetry has gained academic recognition in recent decades, especially in the genre of satire, but also in epic and bucolic poetry. Since 2010, Weeda's work has focused on the manifestation of the relationships between Octavian and Maecenas and the poets of their circle, in particular Virgil, Horace, and Propertius. The present book is a (chronological) midpoint between his earlier analysis of "Virgil's political commentary in the Eclogues, Georgics and Aeneid" (De Gruyter Open: 2015)1 and his forthcoming publication on Horace's Sermones Book 2 and Epodi.

In the present book, as the subtitle indicates, Weeda reads all ten pieces of S.1. as a collection of "Credentials for Maecenas". That is, he treats them as literary samples, so to speak, in which Horace demonstrates to Maecenas that he is worthy of being included in his intellectual group despite having been on Brutus' side. In order to do so, Horace addresses and comments on contemporary political events in such a way as to present himself as sharing Maecenas' (and Octavian's) ideas. The goal of Horace's efforts would be to become what Weeda calls "an observer of and a commentator on contemporary political issues" (p. 2).

The book is divided into three main sections: 1) A relatively brief introductory chapter on the literary frame within which Weeda aims to work, including Horace's biography and his personal relationship with Maecenas. 2) An extensive chapter (the main one), where Weeda offers a comprehensive analysis of each sermo (in pairs: S.1.1–2; S.1.3–4; S.1.5–6; S.1.7–8; S.1.9–10). 3) A concluding chapter containing a summary of his analysis, an overview into the second Book of the Sermones, the Epodi and some Carmina, and, finally, a short comparison between Virgil's Eclogae and Horace's S.1. A scheme in tabular form of the Iter Brundisinum serves as a small appendix.

Weeda makes it clear from the very beginning that he decided not to read Horace's poetry from a literary point of view, but from what he calls (adapting the name freely from Richard Thomas' article on the Virgilian 'Art of Reference'2) a "functional frame." His focus is on the allusions or rather references the author, Horace, makes in S.1 to specific political circumstances, events, objects or individuals. That is, he interprets most of the sermones as Horace's demonstrations to Maecenas of their shared political and social perspectives, such as condemnation of the nouveaux riches, provincial attitudes, the (Republican) Stoics, Mark Antony and Cleopatra, etc. To demonstrate his hypothesis, Weeda focuses on historical circumstances which he believes can be inferred from Horace's verses.

Weeda's method has the advantage of providing an innovative approach to the Horatian text (and context). Nevertheless, the exclusion of a good many of the literary/poetological questions and the limited engagement with the secondary literature weakens his general argument. I give three examples.

Weeda believes that S.1.5 (the so called Iter Brundisinum) was not written in a Lucilian tradition, i.e. Horace is not emulating Lucilius' Iter Siculum at all: Porphyrio is not to be trusted. Hence, Weeda rejects a generally accepted poetological goal of this poem, but he also excludes any description of a real journey: the cursory topographical descriptions from Rubi to Brundisium (vv. 94-104) show clearly, according to Weeda, that Horace did not follow that route; further, the fact that Horace does not mention any detail about the meeting between Maecenas and Mark Antony reveals that he was actually not a member of the mission. Weeda's Horace only wants to show Maecenas that he agrees with his opinions about the vulgarity of provincials and that he has become equally sophisticated. I agree that Horace treats Maecenas as if they share similar feelings, but the denial of a Lucilian intertext (which could explain the structure of the Horatian poem) is less convincing. Weeda considers neither the excessive length the satire would have with a full account of the geographical details (the Calabrian/Apulian territory was not really densely populated since it was a mountainous and infertile region), nor the fact that Horace had already been to Greece, which was reached from Italy precisely from the harbor town of Brundisium; i.e., he surely knew the route well enough (although I agree that the historic or biographical element is not relevant for poetic fiction). Most of all, Weeda discounts the fact that Horace may have actually deliberately concealed "any political involvement", as indeed Nisbet noted.3 Horace himself recommends doing so in delicate situations in a famous passage in Epist. 1.18.37–38.

About social mobility, which seems to be the main subject of S.1.6, Weeda correctly sees that Horace presents himself as an equal to Maecenas, but he does not attribute this exclusively to the inner feelings and intellectual similarity of both men, but rather to their social origin. Both of them would be considered "upstarts" (p. 142; 242), the only difference being that Maecenas had far more political responsibility than Horace. Of course, Maecenas was not a member of the old Roman aristocracy, but I cannot see Horace either here or anywhere else comparing his own social origin and status with the wealth and prestige of the Etruscan Cilnii (which Livy already defines as genus praepotens and emphasizes their monetary wealth at the end of the 3rd century BC [10.3.2]): suffice it to mention Carm. 1.1.1. In my opinion, it is explicitly (and only) the intellectual similarity and the inner sentiments shared by both men which puts them on par with each other (cf. concepts like vita and pectus in S.1.6.63–64; so too in S.1.9, or even Carm. 2.18.10–11).

An amusing condemnation of witchcraft and superstition, as well as a complimentary remark on Maecenas' reclamation program on the Esquiline, is the main subject in S.1.8. The wooden Priapus has been considered as a stand-in for Horace, and Weeda argues persuasively for this interpretation. At the same time though, he is convinced that the Roman readership immediately identified Priapus with Mark Antony and Cleopatra. That is, Priapus as the son of Dionysus and Venus would have been considered a clear reference to the union of Octavian's enemies, who identified themselves with Dionysus and Venus respectively. That is the reason why Horace ridiculed Priapus in this poem; he wanted to show Maecenas that he shared Octavian's opinion about the necessity of removing Mark Antony. To support the immediate identification of Priapus with Venus, and therefore with Cleopatra (and therefore with Antony), Weeda appeals to Christoph Schäfer, who in his book on Cleopatra4 discusses a famous sculpture from Pompeii (today in Naples), the so called 'Venus in bikini': A sensual and scantily clad Venus leans on a Priapus who possessed a (now missing) gilded phallus–although in the context of the description of Cleopatra arriving at Tarsus in 41 BC (Plut. Ant.26.1 ss.), Schäfer only emphasized the parallel between the luxurious (and provocative) clothing of the Egyptian queen and the gold-painted bikini of the splendid (and provocative) sculpture of the goddess of love (Schäfer 2006: 125–129). My opinion is that the Roman public surely associated Cleopatra with Venus, since in fact even the statue of Venus Genetrix in Caesar's Forum was probably a depiction of the Egyptian queen (cf. Susan Walker's article on a Republican fresco in Pompeii of Venus Genetrix and Eros that, according to her, is a representation of the statue in Rome that portrayed Cleopatra and Caesarion as those Graeco-Roman gods5). Venus, however, was at the same time used for the plastic representation, for example, of Octavia Minor, the daughter of Antony and Octavia, and later even of Livia Drusilla (Walker 2008: 43)–the goddess was, after all, the founder of the gens Julia. I cannot imagine any reason why Horace would want to make such a reference–or why the Roman readership would have understood it straightaway.

A broader engagement with the scholarly literature could have resulted in a deeper examination of the arguments about politics as a motif in Horatian poetry; that is, its relation to political power in particular, or the link between Horace's Sermones and Epodi, and Vergil's Eclogae, or even about Roman amicitia in general (and especially the amicitia between Horace and Maecenas)6. Despite this, I am convinced that Weeda's view about the crucial importance of the references to contemporary political and social events is very useful for an understanding of Horace's work and his engagement with Maecenas and his circle–and with literature in general. It invites the readers to extend their first, literary reading and to consider the cultural horizon the contemporary audience would have had as a further key to the understanding of Augustan poetry and beyond.

The book is well produced with few if any typos.7 I am sure that Weeda's future contributions will be well received.


1.   De Gruyter Open.
2.   R. F. Thomas, "Virgil's Georgics and the Art of Reference", Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 90 (1986), 171–198.
3.   R.G.M. Nisbet, "Orientations: Horace: Life and Chronology", in S.J. Harrison (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Horace, Cambridge 2007, 7-21 (quotation: p. 10). Weeda is not quite convinced about this: p. 137 f.
4.   Reviewed here: BMCR 2007.05.38.
5.   S. Walker, "Cleopatra in Pompeii?", Papers of the British School at Rome 76 (2008), 35–46, 345–348.
6.   Weeda argues intensely with selected literature written in English (although some important titles are surprisingly missing). Works in other languages are scarcely regarded.
7.   The only lapse worth mentioning is that the whole Index locorum (pp. 290-294) is unfortunately printed in the middle of the general Index (pp. 286-296). ​

(read complete article)


Marc Vandersmissen, Discours des personnages féminins chez Sénèque : Approches logométriques et contrastives d'un corpus théâtral. Collection Latomus, Volume 359. Leuven, Bruxelles: Peeters Publishers, 2019. Pp. 399. ISBN 9789042937963. €68,00 (pb).

Reviewed by Mathilde Bru, University of Cambridge (mb2151@cam.ac.uk)

Version at BMCR home site

Marc Vandersmissen's redrafted version of his 2015 doctoral thesis is a welcome work, as, while there have been numerous books and articles published on the topic of female speech in Greek comedy and tragedy 1 and Latin comedy,2 there has, until now, been no discussion by scholars on the evidence for female speech in Latin tragedy. Vandersmissen's work on the speech of female characters in the plays of the Seneca, the only Roman tragedian whose plays survive in their complete form, is therefore valuable in as much as it contributes a new angle to the scholarship on gendered language in ancient dramatic works.

In addition, Vandersmissen has a second, equally significant aim for this book, that is, to apply a logometric approach to an ancient tragic corpus. Logometric principles combine a qualitative and quantitative approach to interpreting speech patterns, and have been used successfully in many different fields of the social sciences. Here, Vandersmissen attempts to show that these can also be applied to a dramatic corpus. Classicists may be less interested in the details of the statistical methods, but these form a crucial part of Vandersmissen's argument: most chapters involve a lengthy explanation of the methods used, as well as tables and tree diagrams showing the results of these procedures.

The complexities of this statistical method of analysis are facilitated by the clear, logical progression of the book. In his introduction, Vandersmissen addresses a couple of problems that arise when looking at the speech of female characters in Seneca: the crucial debate over whether or not the plays were written to be performed (he concludes that, since they were ostensibly written as if to be performed, whether or not this actually happened is not important); and the question of how far we can take features of the speech of Seneca's female characters as reflective of the speech of real-life ordinary women of the first century AD. With regards to the latter, Vandersmissen writes that, while the language of the plays must inevitably contain some codes and norms of the author's time, as the characters in the plays are not ordinary, but either mythical or from the highest ranks of society, it cannot be argued that socio-linguistic patterns found in the plays accurately reflect the actual speech patterns in Rome at the time. This is a different take to other classical linguists, notably Adams and Barrios-Lech, who have frequently used Roman and Greek plays as a source of data from which to make conclusions about sociolinguistic variation in the Ancient World. By contrast, Vandersmissen is more interested in trying to apply a new form of statistical analysis of speech to ancient texts than in making conclusions about socio-linguistic variation which range further than the texts being analysed.

In the first of the five chapters, Vandersmissen creates a preliminary database, comprising the 71 characters with a speaking part in the nine plays (like many other scholars, he excludes the Octavia from this analysis, as scholarly consensus holds that this play was written some time after Seneca's death), and uses tables and tree diagrams to display the results of tests on the frequency of various words and morpho-syntactic features for each of these characters. These tables and tree diagrams are subsequently used throughout the book, wherever a set of data is being discussed and give the reader a visual idea of the distribution of the different characters or groups of characters according to their speech patterns. However, it would perhaps have been more helpful to have been given both a tree diagram and a table for each set of data, as these present the data in slightly different ways visually, rather than sometimes one, and sometimes the other, as is often the case throughout the book.

In the second chapter, Vandersmissen divides the characters into five main categories—the chorus, the nurse, the messenger, female characters and male characters—and identifies sets of vocabulary and morpho-syntax specific to these groups. Male characters, he shows, have fewer lexical items specific to their sex than female characters, but rather there are words specific to each individual character: for example, fera in the language of Hippolytus, and labor in that of Hercules. Another interesting difference is in the use of 'negative' vocabulary: male characters tend to use nouns of agency and transitive verbs, such as arma, odium, occido and perimo, while female characters prefer intransitive verbs, for example pereo and lugeo. Female characters, Vandersmissen shows, do not use the same range of vocabulary when talking about topics such as emotions and family: for example, the noun coniunx is used to mean both 'wife' and 'husband' when used by a female character, but only to mean 'wife' when used by a male character. Specific features of speech can also be identified in the more minor characters: Vandersmissen discusses, for example, the tendency found in the nurse's language to use the words nupta, regina, and alumna (although he omits to point out that the nurse is in fact the only character in all nine of the plays ever to use the latter).

The author expands on his analysis of the difference in the lexicon and morphosyntax of the male and female main characters in chapter three, noting that, compared to the four other groups of characters, there is a preponderance of nouns in the ablative singular in the speech of male characters, while, in the speech of female characters, the vocative singular is particularly prevalent. The speech of male characters appears more descriptive, with a greater use of ablatives and adjectives, than that of female characters, with the notable exception of Manto, whose linguistic features are similar to those of the messengers. Vandersmissen's explanation for this is compelling: narrative speech is associated with male characters owing to the dramatic needs of the myths and the codes of Roman society—men are mobile entities capable of physically moving to the site of the action, whereas women were attached to the sphere of the domus.

Vandersmissen takes on a slightly different approach in the fourth chapter, and looks more closely at each of the nine plays one by one, and at the themes of each play, which may cause certain characters to speak in a certain way. An analysis of the Agamemnon, for example, shows that variation appears to be caused by a difference between dialogue and recitative speech, as well as by the themes being discussed, rather than by any male/female divide: for example, Aegisthus' language is similar to that of Clytemnestra, as they both endure the same emotional turmoil waiting for the return of the Greek army from Troy. However, a detailed examination of each of the nine plays shows that the sex of the character plays a greater role in linguistic variation in some plays than in others: notably, in the plays in which the female characters also happen to be foreigners, slaves, or both, the Medea, Phaedra, and Troades, definite patterns of female speech are found. These include heightened sensitivity to emotion, and a tendency to use more nouns, adjectives and verbs, and fewer prepositions and adverbs than male characters. Linguistic variation appears therefore to be used particularly to draw out themes, as even in the plays where there is an observable male/female linguistic divide, the female characters in question are foreign, and so become an on-scene representation of 'the Other'.

In the fifth and final chapter, Vandersmissen approaches the question of whether a character's way of speaking stays the same throughout the play. In order to do this, he first analyses the language of a selection of characters, male and female, in the prologue, and compares this to the features of speech found in the same characters in other parts of the play. The author finds that the difference in the language used in the prologues compared to the language used in different parts of the play by characters of either sex is greater and more noticeable than any difference found between the speech of male and female characters in the prologues. This again suggests that the content and themes of what is being said is a greater source of linguistic variation than the sex of the character. Vandersmissen then investigates whether characters adapt their language in function of the sex of their interlocutor. This idea has already been proposed in relation to the speech of characters in Plautus and Terence (Dutsch 2008: 49-58). The author finds that, while there is no evidence for individual lexical or morphological features appearing more or less frequently depending on the sex of the speaker and their interlocutor, female characters tend to talk more openly about their feelings to other female characters, while hiding their emotions in front of male characters. Moreover, female characters tend to emphasise their status as a mother or wife in front of men but do not do this in front of other women. Therefore, just as there are no unique and homogeneous features of female speech, there is also no specialised form of speech which is dependent on the sex of the interlocutor, but the features of speech change according to the themes being discussed.

In his conclusion, Vandersmissen displays what he believes are the advantages of using a logometric approach to textual analysis: firstly, a quantitative base is created, making both the research methods and the conclusions drawn from these more objective than close reading of the text. Secondly, small lexical and morpho-syntactical elements that would be invisible to a reader's eye are automatically made apparent (he claims, for example, that the slight preponderance of the imperative in the speech of female characters would not have been evident just by reading the texts. I would argue, however, that this would have been noted by an attentive reader). Thirdly, statistical methods allow scholars to cultivate a critical distance to the text being studied: he cites as an example for this the fact that previous scholars, such a Galimberti Biffino (2000: 92-3) have noted the male characteristics in Medea's speech, but statistical analysis has actually shown that her speech is closer to that of the Nurse than to that of Jason and Creon. To this point, however, I would argue that different scholars look for different features: Medea's speech displays 'male' characteristics in some respects, but is closer to the Nurses' in others.

Despite the advantages of statistical analysis, there is evidently still a place for close reading of texts. While Vandersmissen is able to spot features quickly and accurately, he does not relate his results to the practices of actual spoken language, and so his analysis quickly becomes a number-crunching exercise, and the importance or relevance of gathering information on female speech from plays is lost. While statistics can be used as a tool, they do not create a full argument in and of themselves. For example, it is surprising that female characters in Seneca use a preponderance of imperatives, considering that, in his book on the language of Roman comedy, Barrios-Lech finds that female characters use slightly fewer imperatives than male characters (2016: 43-47). The question of why the female characters found in Seneca do the opposite to this, and whether we can relate this to the sociology of the Roman woman would be central here. Vandersmissen suggests at the end of the book that a logometric approach should be applied to different corpora of plays, both ancient (perhaps starting with Seneca's model Euripides) and modern. Indeed, it does appear to be a useful tool to identify features of speech, although it also seems clear that this method should be combined with a more qualitative close reading of the texts, and a greater emphasis on why an examination of the speech of dramatic characters is relevant to the field of sociolinguistics and furthers the literary appreciation of dramatic texts.


1.   For example, by David Bain (1984), 'Female Speech in Menander' Antichthon 18, 24-42; Andreas Willi (2003), The Languages of Aristophanes: Aspects of Linguistic Variation in Classical Attic Greek, Oxford; and Judith Mossman (2001), 'Women's Speech in Greek Tragedy: The Case of Electra and Clytemnestra in Euripides' "Electra"', Classical Quarterly 51: 374-384.
2.   Notably by James Adams (1984), 'Female Speech in Latin Comedy', Antichthon 18, 43-77 and Peter Barrios-Lech (2016), Linguistic Interaction in Roman Comedy, Cambridge.

(read complete article)